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


Ethan, a moment earlier, had felt himself on the brink of eloquence;
but the mention of Zeena had paralysed him. Mattie seemed to feel
the contagion of his embarrassment, and sat with downcast lids,
sipping her tea, while he feigned an insatiable appetite for dough-
nuts and sweet pickles. At last, after casting about for an effective
opening, he took a long gulp of tea, cleared his throat, and said:
“Looks as if there’d be more snow.” She feigned great interest. “Is
that so? Do you suppose it’ll interfere with Zeena’s getting back?”
She flushed red as the question escaped her, and hastily set down
the cup she was lifting.

Ethan reached over for another helping of pickles. “You never can
tell, this time of year, it drifts so bad on the Flats.” The name had
benumbed him again, and once more he felt as if Zeena were in the
room between them.

“Oh, Puss, you’re too greedy!” Mattie cried.
The cat, unnoticed, had crept up on muffled paws from Zeena’s
seat to the table, and was stealthily elongating its body in the
direction of the milk-jug, which stood between Ethan and Mattie.
The two leaned forward at the same moment and their hands met
on the handle of the jug. Mattie’s hand was underneath, and Ethan
kept his clasped on it a moment longer than was necessary. The cat,
profiting by this unusual demonstration, tried to effect an
unnoticed retreat, and in doing so backed into the pickle-dish,
which fell to the floor with a crash.

Mattie, in an instant, had sprung from her chair and was down on
her knees by the fragments.

“Oh, Ethan, Ethan-it’s all to pieces! What will Zeena say?” But this
time his courage was up. “Well, she’ll have to say it to the cat, any
way!” he rejoined with a laugh, kneeling down at Mattie’s side to
scrape up the swimming pickles.

She lifted stricken eyes to him. “Yes, but, you see, she never meant
it should be used, not even when there was company; and I had to
get up on the step-ladder to reach it down from the top shelf of the
china-closet, where she keeps it with all her best things, and of
course she’ll want to know why I did it-” The case was so serious
that it called forth all of Ethan’s latent resolution.

“She needn’t know anything about it if you keep quiet. I’ll get
another just like it to-morrow. Where did it come from? I’ll go to
Shadd’s Falls for it if I have to!” “Oh, you’ll never get another even
there! It was a wedding present-don’t you remember? It came all
the way from Philadelphia, from Zeena’s aunt that married the
minister. That’s why she wouldn’t ever use it. Oh, Ethan, Ethan,
what in the world shall I do?” She began to cry, and he felt as if
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