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


“She went upstairs right after dinner. She said she had those
shooting pains again, and didn’t want to be disturbed.” “Didn’t
she say good-bye to you?” “No. That was all she said.”

Ethan, looking slowly about the kitchen, said to himself with a
shudder that in a few hours he would be returning to it alone.
Then the sense of unreality overcame him once more, and he could
not bring himself to believe that Mattie stood there for the last time
before him.

“Come on,” he said almost gaily, opening the door and putting her
bag into the sleigh. He sprang to his seat and bent over to tuck the
rug about her as she slipped into the place at his side. “Now then,
go ‘long,” he said, with a shake of the reins that sent the sorrel
placidly jogging down the hill.

“We got lots of time for a good ride, Matt!” he cried, seeking her
hand beneath the fur and pressing it in his. His face tingled and he
felt dizzy, as if he had stopped in at the Starkfield saloon on a zero
day for a drink.

At the gate, instead of making for Starkfield, he turned the sorrel to
the right, up the Bettsbridge road. Mattie sat silent, giving no sign
of surprise; but after a moment she said: “Are you going round by
Shadow Pond?” He laughed and answered: “I knew you’d know!”
She drew closer under the bearskin, so that, looking sideways
around his coatsleeve, he could just catch the tip of her nose and a
blown brown wave of hair.

They drove slowly up the road between fields glistening under the
pale sun, and then bent to the right down a lane edged with spruce
and larch. Ahead of them, a long way off, a range of hills stained
by mottlings of black forest flowed away in round white curves
against the sky. The lane passed into a pine-wood with boles
reddening in the afternoon sun and delicate blue shadows on the
snow. As they entered it the breeze fell and a warm stillness
seemed to drop from the branches with the dropping needles. Here
the snow was so pure that the tiny tracks of wood-animals had left
on it intricate lace-like patterns, and the bluish cones caught in its
surface stood out like ornaments of bronze.

Ethan drove on in silence till they reached a part of the wood
where the pines were more widely spaced, then he drew up and
helped Mattie to get out of the sleigh. They passed between the
aromatic trunks, the snow breaking crisply under their feet, till
they came to a small sheet of water with steep wooded sides.
Across its frozen surface, from the farther bank, a single hill rising
against the western sun threw the long conical shadow which gave
the lake its name. It was a shy secret spot, full of the same dumb
melancholy that Ethan felt in his heart.
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