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


quarrels of Starkfield. The commonplace nature of what they said
produced in Ethan an illusion of long-established intimacy which
no outburst of emotion could have given, and he set his
imagination adrift on the fiction that they had always spent their
evenings thus and would always go on doing so...

“This is the night we were to have gone coasting. Matt,” he said at
length, with the rich sense, as he spoke, that they could go on any
other night they chose, since they had all time before them.

She smiled back at him. “I guess you forgot!” “No, I didn’t forget;
but it’s as dark as Egypt outdoors. We might go to-morrow if
there’s a moon.” She laughed with pleasure, her head tilted back,
the lamplight sparkling on her lips and teeth. “That would be
lovely, Ethan!” He kept his eyes fixed on her, marvelling at the
way her face changed with each turn of their talk, like a wheat-
field under a summer breeze. It was intoxicating to find such magic
in his clumsy words, and he longed to try new ways of using it.
“Would you be scared to go down the Corbury road with me on a
night like this?” he asked.

Her cheeks burned redder. “I ain’t any more scared than you are!”
“Well, I’d be scared, then; I wouldn’t do it. That’s an ugly corner
down by the big elm. If a fellow didn’t keep his eyes open he’d go
plumb into it.” He luxuriated in the sense of protection and
authority which his words conveyed. To prolong and intensify the
feeling he added: “I guess we’re well enough here.” She let her lids
sink slowly, in the way he loved. “Yes, we’re well enough here,”
she sighed.

Her tone was so sweet that he took the pipe from his mouth and
drew his chair up to the table. Leaning forward, he touched the
farther end of the strip of brown stuff that she was hemming. “Say,
Matt,” he began with a smile, “what do you think I saw under the
Varnum spruces, coming along home just now? I saw a friend of
yours getting kissed.” The words had been on his tongue all the
evening, but now that he had spoken them they struck him as
inexpressibly vulgar and out of place.

Mattie blushed to the roots of her hair and pulled her needle
rapidly twice or thrice through her work, insensibly drawing the
end of it away from him. “I suppose it was Ruth and Ned,” she
said in a low voice, as though he had suddenly touched on
something grave.

Ethan had imagined that his allusion might open the way to the
accepted pleasantries, and these perhaps in turn to a harmless
caress, if only a mere touch on her hand. But now he felt as if her
blush had set a flaming guard about her. He supposed it was his
natural awkwardness that made him feel so. He knew that most
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