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


scrupulously clean shirt was always fastened by a small diamond
stud. This display of opulence was misleading, for though he did a
fairly good business it was known that his easygoing habits and
the demands of his large family frequently kept him what
Starkfield called “behind.” He was an old friend of Ethan’s family,
and his house one of the few to which Zeena occasionally went,
drawn there by the fact that Mrs. Hale, in her youth, had done
more “doctoring” than any other woman in Starkfield, and was
still a recognised authority on symptoms and treatment.

Hale went up to the grays and patted their sweating flanks.
“Well, sir,” he said, “you keep them two as if they was pets.” Ethan
set about unloading the logs and when he had finished his job he
pushed open the glazed door of the shed which the builder used as
his office.

Hale sat with his feet up on the stove, his back propped against a
battered desk strewn with papers: the place, like the man, was
warm, genial and untidy.

“Sit right down and thaw out,” he greeted Ethan.
The latter did not know how to begin, but at length he managed to
bring out his request for an advance of fifty dollars. The blood
rushed to his thin skin under the sting of Hale’s astonishment. It
was the builder’s custom to pay at the end of three months, and
there was no precedent between the two men for a cash settlement.
Ethan felt that if he had pleaded an urgent need Hale might have
made shift to pay him; but pride, and an instinctive prudence, kept
him from resorting to this argument. After his father’s death it had
taken time to get his head above water, and he did not want
Andrew Hale, or any one else in Starkfield, to think he was going
under again. Besides, he hated lying; if he wanted the money he
wanted it, and it was nobody’s business to ask why. He therefore
made his demand with the awkwardness of a proud man who will
not admit to himself that he is stooping; and he was not much
surprised at Hale’s refusal.

The builder refused genially, as he did everything else: he treated
the matter as something in the nature of a practical joke, and
wanted to know if Ethan meditated buying a grand piano or
adding a “cupolo” to his house; offering, in the latter case, to give
his services free of cost.

Ethan’s arts were soon exhausted, and after an embarrassed pause
he wished Hale good day and opened the door of the office. As he
passed out the builder suddenly called after him: “See here-you
ain’t in a tight place, are you?” “Not a bit,” Ethan’s pride retorted
before his reason had time to intervene.
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