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



AS SOON as his wife had driven off Ethan took his coat and cap
from the peg. Mattie was washing up the dishes, humming one of
the dance tunes of the night before. He said “So long, Matt,” and
she answered gaily “So long, Ethan”; and that was all.

It was warm and bright in the kitchen. The sun slanted through the
south window on the girl’s moving figure, on the cat dozing in a
chair, and on the geraniums brought in from the door-way, where
Ethan had planted them in the summer to “make a garden” for
Mattie. He would have liked to linger on, watching her tidy up and
then settle down to her sewing; but he wanted still more to get the
hauling done and be back at the farm before night.

All the way down to the village he continued to think of his return
to Mattie.

The kitchen was a poor place, not “spruce” and shining as his
mother had kept it in his boyhood; but it was surprising what a
homelike look the mere fact of Zeena’s absence gave it. And he
pictured what it would be like that evening, when he and Mattie
were there after supper. For the first time they would be alone
together indoors, and they would sit there, one on each side of the
stove, like a married couple, he in his stocking feet and smoking
his pipe, she laughing and talking in that funny way she had,
which was always as new to him as if he had never heard her

The sweetness of the picture, and the relief of knowing that his
fears of “trouble” with Zeena were unfounded, sent up his spirits
with a rush, and he, who was usually so silent, whistled and sang
aloud as he drove through the snowy fields. There was in him a
slumbering spark of sociability which the long Starkfield winters
had not yet extinguished. By nature grave and inarticulate, he
admired recklessness and gaiety in others and was warmed to the
marrow by friendly human intercourse. At Worcester, though he
had the name of keeping to himself and not being much of a hand
at a good time, he had secretly gloried in being clapped on the
back and hailed as “Old Ethe” or “Old Stiff”; and the cessation of
such familiarities had increased the chill of his return to Starkfield.
There the silence had deepened about him year by year. Left alone,
after his father’s accident, to carry the burden of farm and mill, he
had had no time for convivial loiterings in the village; and when
his mother fell ill the loneliness of the house grew more oppressive
than that of the fields. His mother had been a talker in her day, but
after her “trouble” the sound of her voice was seldom heard,
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