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THERE WAS some hauling to be done at the lower end of the
wood-lot, and Ethan was out early the next day.
The winter morning was as clear as crystal. The sunrise burned red
in a pure sky, the shadows on the rim of the wood-lot were darkly
blue, and beyond the white and scintillating fields patches of far-
off forest hung like smoke.
It was in the early morning stillness, when his muscles were
swinging to their familiar task and his lungs expanding with long
draughts of mountain air, that Ethan did his clearest thinking. He
and Zeena had not exchanged a word after the door of their room
had closed on them. She had measured out some drops from a
medicine-bottle on a chair by the bed and, after swallowing them,
and wrapping her head in a piece of yellow flannel, had lain down
with her face turned away.
Ethan undressed hurriedly and blew out the light so that he should
not see her when he took his place at her side. As he lay there he
could hear Mattie moving about in her room, and her candle,
sending its small ray across the landing, drew a scarcely
perceptible line of light under his door. He kept his eyes fixed on
the light till it vanished. Then the room grew perfectly black, and
not a sound was audible but Zeenaís asthmatic breathing. Ethan
felt confusedly that there were many things he ought to think
about, but through his tingling veins and tired brain only one
sensation throbbed: the warmth of Mattieís shoulder against his.
Why had he not kissed her when he held her there? A few hours
earlier he would not have asked himself the question. Even a few
minutes earlier, when they had stood alone outside the house, he
would not have dared to think of kissing her.
But since he had seen her lips in the lamplight he felt that they
Now, in the bright morning air, her face was still before him. It was
part of the sunís red and of the pure glitter on the snow. How the
girl had changed since she had come to Starkfield! He remembered
what a colourless slip of a thing she had looked the day he had met
her at the station. And all the first winter, how she had shivered
with cold when the northerly gales shook the thin clapboards and
the snow beat like hail against the loose-hung windows!
He had been afraid that she would hate the hard life, the cold and
loneliness; but not a sign of discontent escaped her. Zeena took the
view that Mattie was bound to make the best of Starkfield since she
hadnít any other place to go to; but this did not strike Ethan as