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black and brittle. He said to himself: “This is Matt’s last day,” and
tried to think what the place would be without her.
As he stood there he heard a step behind him and she entered.
“Oh, Ethan-were you here all night?” She looked so small and
pinched, in her poor dress, with the red scarf wound about her,
and the cold light turning her paleness sallow, that Ethan stood
before her without speaking.
“You must be frozen,” she went on, fixing lustreless eyes on him.
He drew a step nearer. “How did you know I was here?” “Because
I heard you go down stairs again after I went to bed, and I listened
all night, and you didn’t come up.” All his tenderness rushed to his
lips. He looked at her and said: “I’ll come right along and make up
the kitchen fire.” They went back to the kitchen, and he fetched the
coal and kindlings and cleared out the stove for her, while she
brought in the milk and the cold remains of the meat-pie. When
warmth began to radiate from the stove, and the first ray of
sunlight lay on the kitchen floor, Ethan’s dark thoughts melted in
the mellower air. The sight of Mattie going about her work as he
had seen her on so many mornings made it seem impossible that
she should ever cease to be a part of the scene. He said to himself
that he had doubtless exaggerated the significance of Zeena’s
threats, and that she too, with the return of daylight, would come
to a saner mood.
He went up to Mattie as she bent above the stove, and laid his
hand on her arm. “I don’t want you should trouble either,” he said,
looking down into her eyes with a smile.
She flushed up warmly and whispered back: “No, Ethan, I ain’t
going to trouble.” “I guess things’ll straighten out,” he added.
There was no answer but a quick throb of her lids, and he went on:
“She ain’t said anything this morning?” “No. I haven’t seen her
yet.” “Don’t you take any notice when you do.” With this
injunction he left her and went out to the cow-barn. He saw Jotham
Powell walking up the hill through the morning mist, and the
familiar sight added to his growing conviction of security.
As the two men were clearing out the stalls Jotham rested on his
pitch-fork to say: “Dan’l Byrne’s goin’ over to the Flats to-day
noon, an’ he c’d take Mattie’s trunk along, and make it easier ridin’
when I take her over in the sleigh.” Ethan looked at him blankly,
and he continued: “Mis’ Frome said the new girl’d be at the Flats at
five, and I was to take Mattie then, so’s ‘t she could ketch the six
o’clock train for Stamford.”
Ethan felt the blood drumming in his temples. He had to wait a
moment before he could find voice to say: “Oh, it ain’t so sure