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<- Previous | Table of Contents | Next -> Digital Library-Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton


He had taken to the girl from the first day, when he had driven
over to the Flats to meet her, and she had smiled and waved to him
from the train, crying out, “You must be Ethan!” as she jumped
down with her bundles, while he reflected, looking over her slight
person: “She don’t look much on housework, but she ain’t a fretter,
anyhow.” But it was not only that the coming to his house of a bit
of hopeful young life was like the lighting of a fire on a cold
hearth. The girl was more than the bright serviceable creature he
had thought her. She had an eye to see and an ear to hear: he could
show her things and tell her things, and taste the bliss of feeling
that all he imparted left long reverberations and echoes he could
wake at will.

It was during their night walks back to the farm that he felt most
intensely the sweetness of this communion. He had always been
more sensitive than the people about him to the appeal of natural
beauty. His unfinished studies had given form to this sensibility
and even in his unhappiest moments field and sky spoke to him
with a deep and powerful persuasion. But hitherto the emotion had
remained in him as a silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty
that evoked it. He did not even know whether any one else in the
world felt as he did, or whether he was the sole victim of this
mournful privilege. Then he learned that one other spirit had
trembled with the same touch of wonder: that at his side, living
under his roof and eating his bread, was a creature to whom he
could say: “That’s Orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right is
Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones-like bees swarming-
they’re the Pleiades...” or whom he could hold entranced before a
ledge of granite thrusting up through the fern while he unrolled
the huge panorama of the ice age, and the long dim stretches of
succeeding time.

The fact that admiration for his learning mingled with Mattie’s
wonder at what he taught was not the least part of his pleasure.
And there were other sensations, less definable but more exquisite,
which drew them together with a shock of silent joy: the cold red
of sunset behind winter hills, the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes
of golden stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hemlocks on
sunlit snow. When she said to him once: “It looks just as if it was
painted!” it seemed to Ethan that the art of definition could go no
farther, and that words had at last been found to utter his secret

As he stood in the darkness outside the church these memories
came back with the poignancy of vanished things. Watching Mattie
whirl down the floor from hand to hand he wondered how he
could ever have thought that his dull talk interested her. To him,
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