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ETHAN WENT OUT into the passage to hang up his wet
garments. He listened for Zeena’s step and, not hearing it, called
her name up the stairs. She did not answer, and after a moment’s
hesitation he went up and opened her door. The room was almost
dark, but in the obscurity he saw her sitting by the window, bolt
upright, and knew by the rigidity of the outline projected against
the pane that she had not taken off her travelling dress.
“Well, Zeena,” he ventured from the threshold.
She did not move, and he continued: “Supper’s about ready. Ain’t
you coming?” She replied: “I don’t feel as if I could touch a
morsel.” It was the consecrated formula, and he expected it to be
followed, as usual, by her rising and going down to supper. But
she remained seated, and he could think of nothing more felicitous
than: “I presume you’re tired after the long ride.” Turning her
head at this, she answered solemnly: “I’m a great deal sicker than
you think.” Her words fell on his ear with a strange shock of
wonder. He had often heard her pronounce them before-what if at
last they were true? He advanced a step or two into the dim room.
“I hope that’s not so, Zeena,” he said.
She continued to gaze at him through the twilight with a mien of
wan authority, as of one consciously singled out for a great fate.
“I’ve got complications,” she said.
Ethan knew the word for one of exceptional import. Almost
everybody in the neighbourhood had “troubles,” frankly localized
and specified; but only the chosen had “complications.” To have
them was in itself a distinction, though it was also, in most cases, a
death-warrant. People struggled on for years with “troubles,” but
they almost always succumbed to “complications.” Ethan’s heart
was jerking to and fro between two extremities of feeling, but for
the moment compassion prevailed. His wife looked so hard and
lonely, sitting there in the darkness with such thoughts.
“Is that what the new doctor told you?” he asked, instinctively
lowering his voice.
“Yes. He says any regular doctor would want me to have an
operation.” Ethan was aware that, in regard to the important
question of surgical intervention, the female opinion of the
neighbourhood was divided, some glorying in the prestige
conferred by operations while others shunned them as indelicate.
Ethan, from motives of economy, had always been glad that Zeena
was of the latter faction.