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


seized with horror of the scene and shame at his own share in it. It
was as senseless and savage as a physical fight between two
enemies in the darkness.

He turned to the shelf above the chimney, groped for matches and
lit the one candle in the room. At first its weak flame made no
impression on the shadows; then Zeena’s face stood grimly out
against the uncurtained pane, which had turned from grey to

It was the first scene of open anger between the couple in their sad
seven years together, and Ethan felt as if he had lost an
irretrievable advantage in descending to the level of recrimination.
But the practical problem was there and had to be dealt with.

“You know I haven’t got the money to pay for a girl, Zeena. You’ll
have to send her back: I can’t do it.” “The doctor says it’ll be my
death if I go on slaving the way I’ve had to. He doesn’t understand
how I’ve stood it as long as I have.” “Slaving!-” He checked himself
again, “You sha’n’t lift a hand, if he says so.

I’ll do everything round the house myself-” She broke in: “You’re
neglecting the farm enough already,” and this being true, he found
no answer, and left her time to add ironically: “Better send me over
to the almshouse and done with it... I guess there’s been Fromes
there afore now.” The taunt burned into him, but he let it pass. “I
haven’t got the money. That settles it.” There was a moment’s
pause in the struggle, as though the combatants were testing their
weapons. Then Zeena said in a level voice: “I thought you were to
get fifty dollars from Andrew Hale for that lumber.” “Andrew
Hale never pays under three months.” He had hardly spoken when
he remembered the excuse he had made for not accompanying his
wife to the station the day before; and the blood rose to his
frowning brows.

“Why, you told me yesterday you’d fixed it up with him to pay
cash down.

You said that was why you couldn’t drive me over to the Flats.”
Ethan had no suppleness in deceiving. He had never before been
convicted of a lie, and all the resources of evasion failed him. “I
guess that was a misunderstanding,” he stammered.

“You ain’t got the money?” “No.” “And you ain’t going to get it?”
“No.” “Well, I couldn’t know that when I engaged the girl, could

“No.” He paused to control his voice. “But you know it now. I’m
sorry, but it can’t be helped. You’re a poor man’s wife, Zeena; but
I’ll do the best I can for you.” For a while she sat motionless, as if
reflecting, her arms stretched along the arms of her chair, her eyes
fixed on vacancy. “Oh, I guess we’ll make out,” she said mildly.
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