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Full text of "Ethan Frome"

EXLIBE1S UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 



JOHN HENRY NASH LIBRARY 

<> SAN FRANCISCO <e> 

PRESENTED TO THE 

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA 

ROBERT GORDON SPROUL.PRESIDENI 



MR.ANDMRS.MILTON S.RAV 

CECILY, VIRGINIA AND ROSALYN RAY 

AND THE 

RAY OIL BURNER COMPANY 







T 7^ 

I* / 



Ethan Frome 



This edition, designed by Bruce Rogers, consists 

oft--wo thousand copies printed from type, which 

has been distributed. 




Fro 



m set painting 6y 
Walter Gay 



Tfte "Ethan Fro me Kitchen " 

Ofd Fair bank's House,Det(ham,Mass. 



Ethan Frome 



BY EDITH WHARTON 



Witfi an Introduction 
written for this Edition 



NEW YORK 

Cfiarfes ScriUner's Sons 

1922 



COPYRIGHT 1911, 1912, BY CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS 



Published September, 1911 

Reprinted twice in November, 1911 ; November, 1912 

May, 19 1 4; August, igi6;<iApril, 1917; February, 1919 

February, 1920; <*August, 1921. 

Limited edition published October, 1922. 



Introdudlion 



had known something of New England village 
life long before I made my home in the same county as 
my imaginary Starkfield; though, during the years 
spent there, certain of its aspects became much more 
familiar to me. 

Even before that final initiation, however, I had 
had an uneasy sense that the New England of 
fiction bore little except a vague botanical and 
dialectical resemblance to the harsh and beautiful 
land as I had seen it. Even the abundant enumer- 
ation of sweet-fern, asters and mountain-laurel, 
and the conscientious reproduction of the vernacu- 
lar, left me with the feeling that the outcropping 
granite had in both cases been overlooked. I give 
the impression merely as a personal one; it accounts 
for Ethan Frome, and may, to some readers, in a 
measure justify it. 

So much for the origin of the story; there is noth- 
ing else of interest to say of it, except as concerns its 
construction. 



II 



"The problem before me> as I saw in the first flash , 
was this: I had to deal with a subject of which the 
dramatic climax ', or rather the anti-climax ', occurs 
a generation later than the first acts of the tragedy. 
Tbis enforced lapse of time would seem to anyone 
persuaded as I have always been that every sub- 
ject (in the novelisfs sense of the term) implicitly 
contains its own form and dimensions, to mark 
"Ethan Frome" as the subject for a novel. But I 
never thought this for a moment l , for I had felt , at 
the same time, that the theme of my tale was not one 
on which many variations could be played. It must 
be treated as starkly and summarily as life had 
always presented itself to my protagonists; any at- 
tempt to elaborate and complicate their sentiments 
would necessarily have falsified the whole. 'They 
were, in truth ^ these figures , my granite outcrop- 
pings; but half -emerged from the soil, and scarcely 
more articulate. 

'This incompatibility between subject and plan 
would perhaps have seemed to suggest that my 
"situation' was after all one to be rejected. Every 
novelist has been visited by the insinuating wraiths 
of false "good situations" siren-subjects luring his 
cockle-shell to the rocks; their voice is of tenest beard, 



Ill 



and their mirage-sea beheld, as he traverses the 
waterless desert which awaits him half-way through 
whatever work is actually in hand. I knew well 
enough what song those sirens sang, and had often 
tied myself to my dull job till they were out of hear- 
ing perhaps carrying a lost masterpiece in their 
rainbow veils. But I had no such fear of them in the 
case of Ethan Frome. It was the first subject I had 
ever approached with full confidence in its value, 
for my own purpose, and a relative faith in my 
power to render at least a part of what I saw in it. 

Every novelist, again, who "intends upon" his 
art, has lit upon such subjects, and been fascinated 
by the difficulty of presenting them in the fullest 
relief, yet without an added ornament, or a trick of 
drapery or lighting. This was my task, if I were to 
tell the story of Ethan Frome; and my scheme of 
construction which met with the immediate and 
unqualified disapproval of the few friends to whom 
I tentatively outlined it / still think justified in 
the given case. It appears to me, indeed, that, while 
an air of artificiality is lent to a tale of complex 
and sophisticated people which the novelist causes 
to be guessed at and interpreted by any mere looker- 
on, there need be no such drawback if the looker-on 



IV 



is sophisticated, and the people he interprets are 
simple. If he is capable of seeing all around them, 
no violence is done to probability in allowing him 
to exercise this faculty; it is natural enough that he 
should act as the sympathizing intermediary be- 
tween his rudimentary characters and the more 
complicated minds to whom he is trying to present 
them. But this is all self-evident, and needs explain- 
ing only to those who have never thought of fiction as 
an art of composition. 

'The real merit of my construction seems to me 
to lie in a minor detail. I had to find means to bring 
my tragedy y in a way at once natural and picture- 
making^ to the knowledge of its narrator. I might 
have sat him down before a village gossip who 
would have poured out the whole affair to him in a 
breath, but in doing this I should have been false 
to two essential elements of my picture : first, the 
deep-rooted reticence and inarticulateness of the 
people I was trying to draw, and secondly the effect 
of "roundness'' (in the plastic sense) produced by 
letting their case be seen through eyes as different 
as those of Harmon Gow and Mrs. Ned Hale. Each 
of my chroniclers contributes to the narrative just 
so much as he or she is capable of understanding 



of what, to them, is a complicated and mysterious 
case; and only the narrator of the tale has scope 
enough to see it all, to resolve it back into simplicity, 
and to put it in its rightful place among his larger 
categories. 

I make no claim for originality in following a 
method of which "La Grande Bretecbe" and "The 
Ring and the Book" had set me the magnificent 
example; my one merit is, perhaps, to have guessed 
that the proceeding there employed was also appli- 
cable to my small tale. 

I have written this brief analysis the first I have 
ever published of any of my books because, as an 
author s introduction to his work, I can imagine 
nothing of any value to his readers except a state- 
ment as to why he decided to attempt the work in 
question, and why he selected one form rather than 
another for its embodiment. 'These primary aims, 
the only ones that can be explicitly stated, must, 
by the artist, be almost instinctively felt and acted 
upon before there can pass into his creation that im- 
ponderable something more which causes life to cir- 
culate in it, and preserves it for a little from decay. 

EDITH WHARTON. 

March jist, 1922. 



Ethan Frome 



Ethan Frome 



I HAD the story, bit by bit, from various people, 
and, as generally happens in such cases, each 
time it was a different story. 

If you know Starkfield, Massachusetts, you 
know the post-office. If you know the post-office 
you must have seen Ethan Frome drive up to it, 
drop the reins on his hollow-backed bay and drag 
himself across the brick pavement to the white 
colonnade: and you must have asked who he was. 

It was there that, several years ago, I saw him 
for the first time; and the sight pulled me up 
sharp. Even then he was the most striking figure 
in Starkfield, though he was but the ruin of a 
man. It was not so much his great height that 
marked him, for the "natives" were easily singled 
out by their lank longitude from the stockier 
foreign breed: it was the careless powerful look 
he had, in spite of a lameness checking each step 



Ethan Frome 



like the jerk of a chain. There was something 
bleak and unapproachable in his face, and he was 
so stiffened and grizzled that I took him for an 
old man and was surprised to hear that he was 
not more than fifty-two. I had this from Harmon 
Gow, who had driven the stage from Bettsbridge 
to Starkfield in pre-trolley days and knew the 
chronicle of all the families on his line. 

"He's looked that way ever since he had his 
smash-up; and that's twenty-four years ago 
come next February," Harmon threw out be- 
tween reminiscent pauses. 

The "smash-up" it was I gathered from the 
same informant which, besides drawing the red 
gash across Ethan Frome's forehead, had so 
shortened and warped his right side that it cost 
him a visible effort to take the few steps from his 
buggy to the post-office window. He used to drive 
in from his farm every day at about noon, and 
as that was my own hour for fetching my mail I 
often passed him in the porch or stood beside him 
while we waited on the motions of the distribut- 
ing hand behind the grating. I noticed that, al- 
though he came so punctually, he seldom received 
anything but a copy of the Bettsbridge Eagle, 



Ethan Frome 5 

which he put without a glance into his sagging 
pocket. At intervals, however, the post-master 
would hand him an envelope addressed to Mrs. 
Zenobia or Mrs. Zeena Frome, and usually 
bearing conspicuously in the upper left-hand cor- 
ner the address of some manufacturer of patent 
medicine and the name of his specific. These doc- 
uments my neighbour would also pocket without 
a glance, as if too much used to them to wonder 
at their number and variety, and would then turn 
away with a silent nod to the post-master. 

Every one in Starkfield knew him and gave 
him a greeting tempered to his own grave mien; 
but his taciturnity was respected and it was only 
on rare occasions that one of the older men of the 
place detained him for a word. When this hap- 
pened he would listen quietly, his blue eyes on 
the speaker's face, and answer in so low a tone 
that his words never reached me; then he would 
climb stiffly into his buggy, gather up the reins 
in his left hand and drive slowly away in the 
direction of his farm. 

"It was a pretty bad smash-up ? " I questioned 
Harmon, looking after Frame's retreating figure, 
and thinking how gallantly his lean brown head, 



Ethan Frome 



with its shock of light hair, must have sat on his 
shoulders before they were bent out of shape. 

"Wust kind," my informant assented. "More'n 
enough to kill most men. But the Fromes are 
tough. Ethan'll likely touch a hundred." 

"Good God!" I exclaimed. At the moment 
Ethan Frome, after climbing to his seat, had 
leaned over to assure himself of the security of 
a wooden box also with a druggist's label on it 
which he had placed in the back of the buggy, 
and I saw his face as it probably looked when he 
thought himself alone. "That man touch a hun- 
dred ? He looks as if he was dead and in hell now ! " 

Harmon drew a slab of tobacco from his pock- 
et, cut off a wedge and pressed it into the leather 
pouch of his cheek. "Guess he's been in Starkfield 
too many winters. Most of the smart ones get 
away." 

' Why didn't fe?" 

"Somebody had to stay and care for the folks. 
There warn't ever anybody but Ethan. Fust his 
father then his mother then his wife." 

"And then the smash-up?" 

Harmon chuckled sardonically. "That's so. 
He had to stay then." 



Ethan Frome 



"I see. And since then they Ve had to care for 
him?" 

Harmon thoughtfully passed his tobacco to the 
other cheek. "Oh, as to that: I guess it's always 
Ethan done the caring." 

Though Harmon Gow developed the tale as far 
as his mental and moral reach permitted, there 
were perceptible gaps between his facts, and I 
had the sense that the deeper meaning of the 
story was in the gaps. But one phrase stuck in 
my memory and served as the nucleus about 
which I grouped my subsequent inferences: 
"Guess he's been in Starkfield too many winters." 

Before my own time there was up I had learned 
to know what that meant. Yet I had come in the 
degenerate day of trolley, bicycle and rural de- 
livery, when communication was easy between 
the scattered mountain villages, and the bigger 
towns in the valleys, such as Bettsbridge and 
Shadd's Falls, had libraries, theatres and Y. M. 
C. A. halls to which the youth of the hills could 
descend for recreation. But when winter shut 
down on Starkfield, and the village lay under a 
sheet of snow perpetually renewed from the pale 
skies, I began to see what life there or rather 



8 Ethan Frome 

its negation must have been in Ethan Frame's 
young manhood. 

I had been sent up by my employers on a job 
connected with the big power-house at Corbury 
Junction, and a long-drawn carpenters' strike 
had so delayed the work that I found myself 
anchored at Starkfield the nearest habitable 
spot for the best part of the winter. I chafed at 
first, and then, under the hypnotising effect of 
routine, gradually began to find a grim satisfac- 
tion in the life. During the early part of my stay 
I had been struck by the contrast between the 
vitality of the climate and the deadness of the 
community. Day by day, after the December 
snows were over, a blazing blue sky poured down 
torrents of light and air on the white landscape, 
which gave them back in an intenser glitter. 
One would have supposed that such an atmos- 
phere must quicken the emotions as well as the 
blood; but it seemed to produce no change except 
that of retarding still more the sluggish pulse of 
Starkfield. When I had been there a little longer, 
and had seen this phase of crystal clearness fol- 
lowed by long stretches of sunless cold; when the 
storms of February had pitched their white 



Ethan Frome 



tents about the devoted village, and the wild 
cavalry of March winds had charged down to 
their support; I began to understand why Stark- 
field emerged from its six months' siege like a 
starved garrison capitulating without quarter. 
Twenty years earlier the means of resistance 
must have been far fewer, and the enemy in 
command of almost all the lines of access between 
the beleaguered villages; and, considering these 
things, I felt the sinister force of Harmon's 
phrase: "Most of the smart ones get away." 
But if that were the case, how could any combi- 
nation of obstacles have hindered the flight of a 
man like Ethan Frome ? 

During my stay at Starkfield I lodged with 
a middle-aged widow colloquially known as 
Mrs. Ned Hale. Mrs. Hale's father had been the 
village lawyer of the previous generation, and 
"lawyer Varnum's house," where my landlady 
still lived with her mother, was the most con- 
siderable mansion in the village. It stood at one 
end of the main street, its classic portico and 
small-paned windows looking down a flagged 
path between Norway spruces to the slim white 
steeple of the Congregational church. It was 



io Ethan Frome 

clear that the Varnum fortunes were at the ebb, 
but the two women did what they could to pre- 
serve a decent dignity; and Mrs. Hale, in par- 
ticular, had a certain wan refinement not out of 
keeping with her pale old-fashioned house. 

In the "best parlour," with its black horse- 
hair and mahogany weakly illuminated by a 
gurgling Carcel lamp, I listened every evening 
to another and more delicately shaded version 
of the Starkfield chronicle. It was not that Mrs. 
Ned Hale felt, or affected, any social superiority 
to the people about her; it was only that the 
accident of a finer sensibility and a little more 
education had put just enough distance between 
herself and her neighbours to enable her to judge 
them with detachment. She was not unwilling 
to exercise this faculty, and I had great hopes of 
getting from her the missing facts of Ethan 
Frome's story, or rather such a key to his charac- 
ter as should co-ordinate the facts I knew. Her 
mind was a store-house of innocuous anecdote, 
and any question about her acquaintances 
brought forth a volume of detail; but on the sub- 
ject of Ethan Frome I found her unexpectedly 
reticent. There was no hint of disapproval in her 



Ethan Frome 



reserve; I merely felt in her an insurmountable 
reluctance to speak of him or his affairs, a low 
"Yes, I knew them both ... it was awful . . . " 
seeming to be the utmost concession that her 
distress could make to my curiosity. 

So marked was the change in her manner, 
such depths of sad initiation did it imply, that, 
with some doubts as to my delicacy, I put the 
case anew to my village oracle, Harmon Gow; 
but got for my pains only an uncomprehending 
grunt. 

"Ruth Varnum was always as nervous as a 
rat; and, come to think of it, she was the first 
one to see 'em after they was picked up. It hap- 
pened right below lawyer Varnum's, down at the 
bend of the Corbury road, just round about the 
time that Ruth got engaged to Ned Hale. The 
young folks was all friends, and I guess she just 
can't bear to talk about it. She's had troubles 
enough of her own." 

All the dwellers in Starkfield, as in more no- 
table communities, had had troubles enough of 
their own to make them comparatively indiffer- 
ent to those of their neighbours; and though all 
conceded that Ethan Frome's had been beyond 



12 Ethan Frome 

the common measure, no one gave me an expla- 
nation of the look in his face which, as I persisted 
in thinking, neither poverty nor physical suffer- 
ing could have put there. Nevertheless, I might 
have contented myself with the story pieced 
together from these hints had it not been for the 
provocation of Mrs. Hale's silence, and a little 
later for the accident of personal contact with 
the man. 

On my arrival at Starkfield, Denis Eady, the 
rich Irish grocer, who was the proprietor of 
StarkfiekTs nearest approach to a livery stable, 
had entered into an agreement to send me over 
daily to Corbury Flats, where I had to pick up 
my train for the Junction. But about the middle 
of the winter Eady's horses fell ill of a local epi- 
demic. The illness spread to the other Starkfield 
stables and for a day or two I was put to it to 
find a means of transport. Then Harmon Gow 
suggested that Ethan Frome's bay was still on 
his legs and that his owner might be glad to 
drive me over. 

I stared at the suggestion. "Ethan Frome? But 
I've never even spoken to him. Why on earth 
should he put himself out for me?" 



Ethan Frome 13 



Harmon's answer surprised me still more. "I 
don't know as he would; but I know he wouldn't 
be sorry to earn a dollar." 

I had been told that Frome was poor, and that 
the saw-mill and the arid acres of his farm yielded 
scarcely enough to keep his household through 
the winter; but I had not supposed him to be in 
such want as Harmon's words implied, and I 
expressed my wonder. 

"Well, matters ain't gone any too well with 
him/' Harmon said. "When a man's been setting 
round like a hulk for twenty years or more, 
seeing things that want doing, it eats inter him, 
and he loses his grit. That Frome farm was al- 
ways 'bout as bare's a milkpan when the cat's 
been round; and you know what one of them 
old water-mills is wuth nowadays. When Ethan 
could sweat over 'em both from sun-up to dark 
he kinder choked a living out of 'em; but his folks 
ate up most everything, even then, and I don't 
see how he makes out now. Fust his father got 
a kick, out haying, and went soft in the brain, 
and gave away money like Bible texts afore he 
died. Then his mother got queer and dragged 
along for years as weak as a baby; and his wife 



14 Ethan Frome 

Zeena, she's always been the greatest hand at 
doctoring in the county. Sickness and trouble: 
that's what Ethan's had his plate full up with, 
ever since the very first helping." 

The next morning, when I looked out, I saw 
the hollow-backed bay between the Varnum 
spruces, and Ethan Frome, throwing back his 
worn bearskin, made room for me in the sleigh 
at his side. After that, for a week, he drove me 
over every morning to Corbury Flats, and on my 
return in the afternoon met me again and carried 
me back through the icy night to Starkfield. 
The distance each way was barely three miles, 
but the old bay's pace was slow, and even with 
firm snow under the runners we were nearly an 
hour on the way. Ethan Frome drove in silence, 
the reins loosely held in his left hand, his brown 
seamed profile, under the helmet-like peak of the 
cap, relieved against the banks of snow like the 
bronze image of a hero. He never turned his 
face to mine, or answered, except in monosylla- 
bles, the questions I put, or such slight pleas- 
antries as I ventured. He seemed a part of the 
mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its 
frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient 



Ethan Frome 15 



in him fast bound below the surface; but there 
was nothing unfriendly in his silence. I simply 
felt that he lived in a depth of moral isolation 
too remote for casual access, and I had the sense 
that his loneliness was not merely the result of 
his personal plight, tragic as I guessed that to be, 
but had in it, as Harmon Gow had hinted, the 
profound accumulated cold of many Starkfield 
winters. 

Only once or twice was the distance between 
us bridged for a moment; and the glimpses thus 
gained confirmed my desire to know more. Once 
I happened to speak of an engineering job I had 
been on the previous year in Florida, and of the 
contrast between the winter landscape about us 
and that in which I had found myself the year 
before; and to my surprise Frome said suddenly: 
"Yes: I was down there once, and for a good 
while afterward I could call up the sight of it in 
winter. But now it's all snowed under." 

He said no more, and I had to guess the rest 
from the inflection of his voice and his sharp 
relapse into silence. 

Another day, on getting into my train at the 
Flats, I missed a volume of popular science I 



1 6 Ethan Frome 

think it was on some recent discoveries in bio- 
chemistry which I had carried with me to read 
on the way. I thought no more about it till I 
got into the sleigh again that evening, and saw 
the book in Frome 's hand. 

"I found it after you were gone/' he said. 

I put the volume into my pocket and we 
dropped back into our usual silence; but as we 
began to crawl up the long hill from Corbury 
Flats to the Starkfield ridge I became aware in 
the dusk that he had turned his face to mine. 

"There are things in that book that I didn't 
know the first word about/' he said. 

I wondered less at his words than at the queer 
note of resentment in his voice. He was evidently 
surprised and slightly aggrieved at his own igno- 
rance. 

"Does thatsortof thing interest you?" I asked. 

"It used to." 

"There are one or two rather new things in the 
book: there have been some big strides lately in 
that particular line of research." I waited a mo- 
ment for an answer that did not come; then I 
said: "If you'd like to look the book through 
I'd be glad to leave it with you." 



Ethan Frome 17 



He hesitated, and I had the impression that 
he felt himself about to yield to a stealing tide 
of inertia; then, "Thank you I'll take it," he 
answered shortly. 

I hoped that this incident might set up some 
more direct communication between us. Frome 
was so simple and straightforward that I was 
sure his curiosity about the book was based on a 
genuine interest in its subject. Such tastes and 
acquirements in a man of his condition made the 
contrast more poignant between his outer situa- 
tion and his inner needs, and I hoped that the 
chance of giving expression to the latter might 
at least unseal his lips. But something in his past 
history, or in his present way of living, had ap- 
parently driven him too deeply into himself for 
any casual impulse to draw him back to his 
kind. At our next meeting he made no allusion 
to the book, and our intercourse seemed fated to 
remain as negative and one-sided as if there had 
been no break in his reserve. 

Frome had been driving me over to the Flats 
for about a week when one morning I looked out 
of my window into a thick snow-fall. The height 
of the white waves massed against the garden- 



Ethan Frome 



fence and along the wall of the church showed 
that the storm must have been going on all 
night, and that the drifts were likely to be heavy 
in the open. I thought it probable that my train 
would be delayed; but I had to be at the power- 
house for an hour or two that afternoon, and I 
decided, if Frome turned up, to push through to 
the Flats and wait there till my train came in. 
I don't know why I put it in the conditional, 
however, for I never doubted that Frome would 
appear. He was not the kind of man to be turned 
from his business by any commotion of the ele- 
ments; and at the appointed hour his sleigh glid- 
ed up through the snow like a stage-apparition 
behind thickening veils of gauze. 

I was getting to know him too well to express 
either wonder or gratitude at his keeping his ap- 
pointment; but I exclaimed in surprise as I saw 
him turn his horse in a direction opposite to that 
of the Corbury road. 

"The railroad's blocked by a freight-train that 
got stuck in a drift below the Flats/' he explained, 
as we jogged off into the stinging whiteness. 

"But look here where are you taking me, 
then?" 



Ethan Frome 19 



"Straight to the Junction, by the shortest way," 
he answered, pointing up School House Hill with 
his whip. 

"To the Junction in this storm? Why, it's a 
good ten miles!" 

"The bay '11 do it if you give him time. You 
said you had some business there this afternoon. 
Til see you get there." 

He said it so quietly that I could only answer: 
"You're doing me the biggest kind of a favour." 

"That's all right," he rejoined. 

Abreast of the schoolhouse the road forked, 
and we dipped down a lane to the left, between 
hemlock boughs bent inward to their trunks by 
the weight of the snow. I had often walked that 
way on Sundays, and knew that the solitary roof 
showing through bare branches near the bottom 
of the hill was that of Frome's saw-mill. It looked 
exanimate enough, with its idle wheel looming 
above the black stream dashed with yellow-white 
spume, and its cluster of sheds sagging under 
their white load. Frome did not even turn his 
head as we drove by, and still in silence we began 
to mount the next slope. About a mile farther, 
on a road I had never travelled, we came to an 



Ethan Frome 



orchard of starved apple-trees writhing over a 
hillside among outcroppings of slate that nuzzled 
up through the snow like animals pushing out 
their noses to breathe. Beyond the orchard lay 
a field or two, their boundaries lost under drifts; 
and above the fields, huddled against the white 
immensities of land and sky, one of those lonely 
New England farm-houses that make the land- 
scape lonelier. 

"That's my place," said Frome, with a side- 
way jerk of his lame elbow; and in the distress 
and oppression of the scene I did not know what 
to answer. The snow had ceased, and a flash of 
watery sunlight exposed the house on the slope 
above us in all its plaintive ugliness. The black 
wraith of a deciduous creeper flapped from the 
porch, and the thin wooden walls, under their 
worn coat of paint, seemed to shiver in the wind 
that had risen with the ceasing of the snow. 

"The house was bigger in my father's time: I 
had to take down the *L,' a while back," Frome 
continued, checking with a twitch of the left rein 
the bay's evident intention of turning in through 
the broken-down gate. 

I saw then that the unusually forlorn and 



Ethan Frome 



stunted look of the house was partly due to the 
loss of what is known in New England as the 
"L": that long deep-roofed adjunct usually built 
at right angles to the main house, and connecting 
it, by way of store-rooms and tool-house, with 
the wood-shed and cow-barn. Whether because 
of its symbolic sense, the image it presents of a 
life linked with the soil, and enclosing in itself 
the chief sources of warmth and nourishment, 
or whether merely because of the consolatory 
thought that it enables the dwellers in that harsh 
climate to get to their morning's work with- 
out facing the weather, it is certain that the 
"L" rather than the house itself seems to be the 
centre, the actual hearth-stone, of the New Eng- 
land farm. Perhaps this connection of ideas, 
which had often occurred to me in my rambles 
about Starkfield, caused me to hear a wistful 
note in Frome's words, and to see in the dimin- 
ished dwelling the image of his own shrunken 
body. 

"We're kinder side-tracked here now," he 
added, "but there was considerable passing be- 
fore the railroad was carried through to the 
Flats." He roused the lagging bay with another 



22 Ethan Frome 

twitch; then, as if the mere sight of the house 
had let me too deeply into his confidence for any 
farther pretence of reserve, he went on slowly: 
"I've always set down the worst of mother's 
trouble to that. When she got the rheumatism so 
bad she couldn't move around she used to sit up 
there and watch the road by the hour; and one 
year, when they was six months mending the 
Bettsbridge pike after the floods, and Harmon 
Gow had to bring his stage round this way, she 
picked up so that she used to get down to the 
gate most days to see him. But after the trains 
begun running nobody ever come by here to 
speak of, and mother never could get it through 
her head what had happened, and it preyed on 
her right along till she died." 

As we turned into the Corbury road the snow 
began to fall again, cutting off our last glimpse of 
the house; and Frome's silence fell with it, letting 
down between us the old veil of reticence. This 
time the wind did not cease with the return of the 
snow. Instead, it sprang up to a gale which now 
and then, from a tattered sky, flung pale sweeps 
of sunlight over a landscape chaotically tossed. 
But the bay was as good as Frome's word, and 



Ethan Frome 23 



we pushed on to the Junction through the wild 
white scene. 

In the afternoon the storm held off, and the 
clearness in the west seemed to my inexperienced 
eye the pledge of a fair evening. I finished my 
business as quickly as possible, and we set out 
for Starkfield with a good chance of getting there 
for supper. But at sunset the clouds gathered 
again, bringing an earlier night, and the snow 
began to fall straight and steadily from a sky 
without wind, in a soft universal diffusion more 
confusing than the gusts and eddies of the morn- 
ing. It seemed to be a part of the thickening 
darkness, to be the winter night itself descending 
on us layer by layer. 

The small ray of Frome's lantern was soon lost 
in this smothering medium, in which even his sense 
of direction, and the bay's homing instinct, final- 
ly ceased to serve us. Two or three times some 
ghostly landmark sprang up to warn us that we 
were astray, and then was sucked back into the 
mist; and when we finally regained our road the 
old horse began to show signs of exhaustion. I 
felt myself to blame for having accepted Frame's 
offer, and after a short discussion I persuaded him 



24 Ethan Frome 

to let me get out of the sleigh and walk along 
through the snow at the bay's side. In this way 
we struggled on for another mile or two, and at 
last reached a point where Frome, peering into 
what seemed to me formless night, said: "That's 
my gate down yonder." 

The last stretch had been the hardest part of 
the way. The bitter cold and the heavy going 
had nearly knocked the wind out of me, and I 
could feel the horse's side ticking like a clock 
under my hand. 

"Look here, Frome," I began, "there's no 
earthly use in your going any farther " but he 
interrupted me: "Nor you neither. There's been 
about enough of this for anybody." 

I understood that he was offering me a night's 
shelter at the farm, and without answering I 
turned into the gate at his side, and followed him 
to the barn, where I helped him to unharness 
and bed down the tired horse. When this was 
done he unhooked the lantern from the sleigh, 
stepped out again into the night, and called to 
me over his shoulder: "This way." 

Far off above us a square of light trembled 
through the screen of snow. Staggering along in 



Ethan Frome 25 



Frame's wake I floundered toward it, and in the 
darkness almost fell into one of the deep drifts 
against the front of the house. Frome scrambled 
up the slippery steps of the porch, digging a way 
through the snow with his heavily booted foot. 
Then he lifted his lantern, found the latch, and led 
the way into the house. I went after him into a low 
unlit passage, at the back of which a ladder-like 
staircase rose into obscurity. On our right a line 
of light marked the door of the room which had 
sent its ray across the night; and behind the door 
I heard a woman's voice droning querulously. 

Frome stamped on the worn oil-cloth to shake 
the snow from his boots, and set down his lan- 
tern on a kitchen chair which was the only piece 
of furniture in the hall. Then he opened the door. 

"Come in," he said; and as he spoke the dron- 
ing voice grew still . .4, 

It was that night that I found the clue to 
Ethan Frome, and began to put together this 
vision of his story / , . . . 



THE village lay under two feet of snow, with 
drifts at the windy corners. In a sky of iron 
the points of the Dipper hung like icicles and 
Orion flashed his cold fires. The moon had set, 
but the night was so transparent that the white 
house- fronts between the elms looked grey 
against the snow, clumps of bushes made black 
stains on it, and the basement windows of the 
church sent shafts of yellow light far across the 
endless undulations. 

Young Ethan Frome walked at a quick pace 
along the deserted street, past the bank and 
Michael Eady's new brick store and Lawyer 
Varnum's house with the two black Norway 
spruces at the gate. Opposite the Varnum gate, 
where the road fell away toward the Corbury 
valley, the church reared its slim white steeple 
and narrow peristyle. As the young man walked 
toward it the upper windows drew a black arcade 



Ethan Frome 27 



along the side wall of the building, but from the 
lower openings, on the side where the ground 
sloped steeply down to the Corbury road, the 
light shot its long bars, illuminating many fresh 
furrows in the track leading to the basement 
door, and showing, under an adjoining shed, a 
line of sleighs with heavily blanketed horses. 

The night was perfectly still, and the air so dry 
and pure that it gave little sensation of cold. The 
effect produced on Frome was rather of a com- 
plete absence of atmosphere, as though nothing 
less tenuous than ether intervened between the 
white earth under his feet and the metallic dome 
overhead. "It's like being in an exhausted re- 
ceiver," he thought. Four or five years earlier 
he had taken a year's course at a technological 
college at Worcester, and dabbled in the labora- 
tory with a friendly professor of physics; and the 
images supplied by that experience still cropped 
up, at unexpected moments, through the totally 
different associations of thought in which he had 
since been living. His father's death, and the 
misfortunes following it, had put a premature 
end to Ethan's studies; but though they had not 
gone far enough to be of much practical use they 



28 Ethan Frome 

had fed his fancy and made him aware of huge 
cloudy meanings behind the daily face of things. 

As he strode along through the snow the sense 
of such meanings glowed in his brain and mingled 
with the bodily flush produced by his sharp 
tramp. At the end of the village he paused before 
the darkened front of the church. He stood there 
a moment, breathing quickly, and looking up 
and down the street, in which not another figure 
moved. The pitch of the Corbury road, below 
lawyer Varnum's spruces, was the favourite 
coasting-ground of Starkfield, and on clear eve- 
nings the church corner rang till late with the 
shouts of the coasters; but to-night not a sled 
darkened the whiteness of the long declivity. 
The hush of midnight lay on the village, and all 
its wakening life was gathered behind the church 
windows, from which strains of dance-music 
flowed with the broad bands of yellow light. 

The young man, skirting the side of the build- 
ing, went down the slope toward the basement 
door. To keep out of range of the revealing 
rays from within he made a circuit through the 
untrodden snow and gradually approached the 
farther angle of the basement wall. Thence, still 



Ethan Frome 19 

hugging the shadow, he edged his way cautiously 
forward to the nearest window, holding back his 
straight spare body and craning his neck till he 
got a glimpse of the room. 

Seen thus, from the pure and frosty darkness in 
which he stood, it seemed to be seething in a mist 
of heat. The metal reflectors of the gas-jets sent 
crude waves of light against the whitewashed 
walls, and the iron flanks of the stove at the end 
of the hall looked as though they were heaving 
with volcanic fires. The floor was thronged with 
girls and young men. Down the side wall facing 
the window stood a row of kitchen chairs from 
which the older women had just risen. By this 
time the music had stopped, and the musicians 
a fiddler, and the young lady who played the 
harmonium on Sundays were hastily refreshing 
themselves at one corner of the supper-table 
which aligned its devastated pie-dishes and ice- 
cream saucers on the platform at the end of the 
hall. The guests were preparing to leave, and the 
tide had already set toward the passage where 
coats and wraps were hung, when a young man 
with a sprightly foot and a shock of black hair 
shot into the middle of the floor and clapped his 



3 Ethan Frome 

hands. The signal took instant effect. The musi- 
cians hurried to their instruments, the dancers 
some already half-muffled for departure fell into 
line down each side of the room, the older spec- 
tators slipped back to their chairs, and the lively 
young man, after diving about here and there in 
the throng, drew forth a girl who had already 
wound a cherry-coloured "fascinator" about her 
head, and, leading her up to the end of the floor, 
whirled her down its length to the bounding tune 
of a Virginia reel. 

Frome's heart was beating fast. He had been 
straining for a glimpse of the dark head under 
the cherry-coloured scarf and it vexed him that 
another eye should have been quicker than his. 
The leader of the reel, who looked as if he had 
Irish blood in his veins, danced well, and his 
partner caught his fire. As she passed down the 
line, her light figure swinging from hand to hand 
in circles of increasing swiftness, the scarf flew off 
her head and stood out behind her shoulders, and 
Frome, at each turn, caught sight of her laugh- 
ing panting lips, the cloud of dark hair about 
her forehead, and the dark eyes which seemed 
the only fixed points in a maze of flying lines. 



Ethan Frome 3 1 



The dancers were going faster and faster, and 
the musicians, to keep up with them, belaboured 
their instruments like jockeys lashing their 
mounts on the home-stretch; yet it seemed to 
the young man at the window that the reel 
would never end. Now and then he turned his 
eyes from the girl's face to that of her partner, 
which, in the exhilaration of the dance, had tak- 
en on a look of almost impudent ownership. 
Denis Eady was the son of Michael Eady, the 
ambitious Irish grocer, whose suppleness and ef- 
frontery had given Starkfield its first notion of 
"smart" business methods, and whose new brick 
store testified to the success of the attempt. 
His son seemed likely to follow in his steps, and 
was meanwhile applying the same arts to the 
conquest of the Starkfield maidenhood. Hitherto 
Ethan Frome had been content to think him a 
mean fellow; but now he positively invited a 
horse-whipping. It was strange that the girl did 
not seem aware of it : that she could lift her rapt 
face to her dancer's, and drop her hands into his, 
without appearing to feel the offence of his look 
and touch. 

Frome was in the habit of walking into Stark- 



32 Ethan Frome 



field to fetch home his wife's cousin, Mattie 
Silver, on the rare evenings when some chance 
of amusement drew her to the village. It was his 
wife who had suggested, when the girl came to 
live with them, that such opportunities should 
be put in her way. Mattie Silver came from 
Stamford, and when she entered the Fromes' 
household to act as her cousin Zeena's aid it 
was thought best, as she came without pay, not 
to let her feel too sharp a contrast between the 
life she had left and the isolation of a Starkfield 
farm. But for this as Frome sardonically re- 
flected it would hardly have occurred to Zeena 
to take any thought for the girl's amusement. 

When his wife first proposed that they should 
give Mattie an occasional evening out he had 
inwardly demurred at having to do the extra 
two miles to the village and back after his hard 
day on the farm ; but not long afterward he had 
reached the point of wishing that Starkfield might 
give all its nights to revelry. 

Mattie Silver had lived under his roof for a 
year, and from early morning till they met at 
supper he had frequent chances of seeing her; but 
no moments in her company were comparable 



Ethan Frome 33 



to those when, her arm in his, and her light step 
flying to keep time with his long stride, they. 
walked back through the night to the farm. He 
had taken to the girl from the first day, when 
he had driven over to the Flats to meet her, and 
she had smiled and waved to him from the train, 
crying out "You must be Ethan !" as she jumped 
down with her bundles, while he reflected, look- 
ing over her slight person: "She don't look much 
on house-work, but she ain't a fretter, anyhow." 
But it was not only that the coming to his house 
of a bit of hopeful young life was like the light- 
ing of a fire on a cold hearth. The girl was more 
than the bright serviceable creature he had 
thought her. She had an eye to see and an ear 
to hear: he could show her things and tell her 
things, and taste the bliss of feeling that all he 
imparted left long reverberations and echoes he 
could wake at will. 

It was during their night walks back to the 
farm that he felt most intensely the sweetness 
of this communion. He had always been more 
sensitive than the people about him to the appeal 
of natural beauty. His unfinished studies had 
given form to this sensibility and even in his un- 



34 Ethan Frome 

happiest moments field and sky spoke to him 
with a deep and powerful persuasion. But hith- 
erto the emotion had remained in him as a 
silent ache, veiling with sadness the beauty that 
evoked it. He did not even know whether any 
one else in the world felt as he did, or whether 
he was the sole victim of this mournful privilege. 
Then he learned that one other spirit had trem- 
bled with the same touch of wonder: that at his 
side, living under his roof and eating his bread, 
was a creature to whom he could say: "That's 
Orion down yonder; the big fellow to the right 
is Aldebaran, and the bunch of little ones like 
bees swarming they're the Pleiades . . ."or 
whom he could hold entranced before a ledge of 
granite thrusting up through the fern while he 
unrolled the huge panorama of the ice age, and 
the long dim stretches of succeeding time. The 
fact that admiration for his learning mingled with 
Mattie's wonder at what he taught was not the 
least part of his pleasure. And there were other 
sensations, less definable but more exquisite, 
which drew them together with a shock of silent 
joy: the cold red of sunset behind winter hills, 
the flight of cloud-flocks over slopes of golden 



Ethan Frome 35 

stubble, or the intensely blue shadows of hem- 
locks on sunlit snow. When she said to him once: 
"It looks just as if it was painted!" it seemed to 
Ethan that the art of definition could go no 
farther, and that words had at last been found 
to utter his secret soul. . . . 

As he stood in the darkness outside the church 
these memories came back with the poignancy 
of vanished things. Watching Mattie whirl down 
the floor from hand to hand, he wondered how 
he could ever have thought that his dull talk 
interested her. To him, who was never gay but 
in her presence, her gaiety seemed plain proof 
of indifference. The face she lifted to her dancers 
was the same which, when she saw him, always 
looked like a window that has caught the sunset. 
He even noticed two or three gestures which, 
in his fatuity, he had thought she kept for him: 
a way of throwing her head back when she was 
amused, as if to taste her laugh before she let it 
out, and a trick of sinking her lids slowly when 
anything charmed or moved her. 

The sight made him unhappy, and his un- 
happiness roused his latent fears. His wife had 
never shown any jealousy of Mattie, but of late 



36 Ethan Frome 



she had grumbled increasingly over the house- 
work and found oblique ways of attracting 
attention to the girl's inefficiency. Zeena had 
always been what Starkfield called "sickly/' and 
Frome had to admit that, if she were as ail- 
ing as she believed, she needed the help of a 
stronger arm than the one which lay so lightly 
in his during the night walks to the farm. Mattie 
had no natural turn for house-keeping, and her 
training had done nothing to remedy the defect. 
She was quick to learn, but forgetful and dreamy, 
and not disposed to take the matter seriously. 
Ethan had an idea that if she were to marry a 
man she was fond of the dormant instinct would 
wake, and her pies and biscuits become the 
pride of the county; but domesticity in the ab- 
stract did not interest her. At first she was so 
awkward that he could not help laughing at her; 
but she laughed with him and that made them 
better friends. He did his best to supplement her 
unskilled efforts, getting up earlier than usual 
to light the kitchen fire, carrying in the wood 
overnight, and neglecting the mill for the farm 
that he might help her about the house during 
the day. He even crept down on Saturday nights 



Ethan Frome 37 



to scrub the kitchen floor after the women had 
gone to bed; and Zeena, one day, had surprised 
him at the churn and had turned away silently, 
with one of her queer looks. 

Of late there had been other signs of his wife's 
disfavour, as intangible but more disquieting. 
One cold winter morning, as he dressed in the 
dark, his candle flickering in the draught of the 
ill-fitting window, he had heard her speak from 
the bed behind him. 

"The doctor don't want I should be left without 
anybody to do for me," she said in her flat whine. 

He had supposed her to be asleep, and the 
sound of her voice had startled him, though she 
was given to abrupt explosions of speech after 
long intervals of secretive silence. 

He turned and looked at her where she lay in- 
distinctly outlined under the dark calico quilt, her 
high-boned face taking a greyish tinge from the 
whiteness of the pillow. 

"Nobody to do for you?" he repeated. 

"If you say you can't afford a hired girl when 
Mattie goes." 

Frome turned away again, and taking up his 
razor stooped to catch the reflection of his 



3 8 Ethan Frome 

stretched cheek in the blotched looking-glass 
above the wash-stand. 

"Why on earth should Mattie go?" 

"Well, when she gets married, I mean," his 
wife's drawl came from behind him. 

"Oh, she'd never leave us as long as you need- 
ed her," he returned, scraping hard at his chin. 

"I wouldn't ever have it said that I stood in 
the way of a poor girl like Mattie marrying a 
smart fellow like Denis Eady," Zeena answered 
in a tone of plaintive self-effacement. 

Ethan, glaring at his face in the glass, threw 
his head back to draw the razor from ear to chin. 
His hand was steady, but the attitude was an 
excuse for not making an immediate reply. 

"And the doctor don't want I should be left 
without anybody," Zeena continued. "He want- 
ed I should speak to you about a girl he's heard 
about, that might come " 

Ethan laid down the razor and straightened 
himself with a laugh. 

"Denis Eady! If that's all I guess there's no 
such hurry to look round for a girl." 

"Well, I'd like to talk to you about it," said 
Zeena obstinately. 



Ethan Frome 39 



He was getting into his clothes in fumbling 
haste. "All right. But I haven't got the time 
now; I'm late as it is," he returned, holding his 
old silver turnip-watch to the candle. 

Zeena, apparently accepting this as final, lay 
watching him in silence while he pulled his sus- 
penders over his shoulders and jerked his arms 
into his coat; but as he went toward the door 
she said, suddenly and incisively: "I guess you're 
always late, now you shave every morning." 

That thrust had frightened him more than any 
vague insinuations about Denis Eady. It was a 
fact that since Mattie Silver's coming he had 
taken to shaving every day; but his wife always 
seemed to be asleep when he left her side in the 
winter darkness, and he had stupidly assumed 
that she would not notice any change in his 
appearance. Once or twice in the past he had 
been faintly disquieted by Zenobia's way of let- 
ting things happen without seeming to remark 
them, and then, weeks afterward, in a casual 
phrase, revealing that she had all along taken 
her notes and drawn her inferences. Of late, 
however, there had been no room in his thoughts 
for such vague apprehensions. Zeena herself, 



4 Ethan Frome 



from an oppressive reality, had faded into an 
insubstantial shade. All his life was lived in the 
sight and sound of Mattie Silver, and he could 
no longer conceive of its being otherwise. But 
now, as he stood outside the church, and saw 
Mattie spinning down the floor with Denis 
Eady, a throng of disregarded hints and menaces 
wove their cloud about his brain . 



II 



A the dancers poured out of the hall Frome, 
drawing back behind the projecting storm- 
door, watched the segregation of the grotesquely 
muffled groups, in which a moving lantern ray 
now and then lit up a face flushed with food and 
dancing. The villagers, being afoot, were the first 
to climb the slope to the main street, while the 
country neighbours packed themselves more 
slowly into the sleighs under the shed. 

"Ain't you riding, Mattie?" a woman's voice 
called back from the throng about the shed, and 
Ethan's heart gave a jump. From where he stood 
he could not see the persons coming out of the 
hall till they had advanced a few steps beyond 
the wooden sides of the storm-door; but through 
its cracks he heard a clear voice answer: "Mercy 
no! Not on such a night." 

She was there, then, close to him, only a thin 
board between. In another moment she would 



Ethan Frome 



step forth into the night, and his eyes, accus- 
tomed to the obscurity, would discern her as 
clearly as though she stood in daylight. A wave 
of shyness pulled him back into the dark angle 
of the wall, and he stood there in silence instead 
of making his presence known to her. It had 
been one of the wonders of their intercourse that 
from the first, she, the quicker, finer, more ex- 
pressive, instead of crushing him by the contrast, 
had given him something of her own ease and 
freedom; but now he felt as heavy and loutish 
as in his student days, when he had tried to 
"jolly" the Worcester girls at a picnic. 

He hung back, and she came out alone and 
paused within a few yards of him. She was 
almost the last to leave the hall, and she stood 
looking uncertainly about her as if wondering 
why he did not show himself. Then a man's 
figure approached, coming so close to her that 
under their formless wrappings they seemed 
merged in one dim outline. 

"Gentleman friend gone back on you? Say, 
Matt, that's tough! No, I wouldn't be mean 
enough to tell the other girls. I ain't as low-down 
as that." (How Frome hated Denis's cheap ban- 



Ethan Frome 43 



ter!) "But look at here, ain't it lucky I got the 
old man's cutter down there waiting for us?" 

Frome heard the girl's voice, gaily incredulous: 
"What on earth's your father's cutter doin' down 
there?" 

"Why, waiting for me to take a ride. I got the 
roan colt too. I kinder knew I'd want to take a 
ride to-night," Eady, in his triumph, tried to put 
a sentimental note into his bragging voice. 

The girl seemed to waver, and Frome saw her 
twirl the end of her scarf irresolutely about her 
fingers. Not for the world would he have made a 
sign to her, though it seemed to him that his 
life hung on her next gesture. 

"Hold on a minute while I unhitch the colt," 
Denis called to her, springing toward the shed. 

She stood perfectly still, looking after him, in 
an attitude of tranquil expectancy torturing to 
the hidden watcher. Frome noticed that she no 
longer turned her head from side to side, as 
though peering through the night for another 
figure. She let Denis Eady lead out the horse, 
climb into the cutter and fling back the bear- 
skin to make room for her at his side; then, with 
a swift motion of flight, she turned about and 



44 Ethan Frome 



darted up the slope toward the front of the 
church. 

"Good-bye! Hope you'll have a lovely ride!" 
she called back to him over her shoulder. 

Denis laughed, and gave the horse a cut that 
brought him quickly abreast of her. 

"Come along! Get in quick! It's as slippery as 
thunder on this turn/' he cried, leaning over to 
reach out a hand. 

She laughed back at him: "Good-night! I'm 
not getting in." 

By this time they had passed beyond Frome's 
earshot and he could only follow the shadowy 
pantomime of their silhouettes as they continued 
to move along the crest of the slope above him. 
He saw Eady, after a moment, jump from the 
cutter and go toward the girl with the reins over 
one arm. The other he tried to slip through hers; 
but she eluded him nimbly, and Frome's heart, 
which had swung out over a black void, trembled 
back to safety. A moment later he heard the 
jingle of departing sleigh bells and discerned a 
figure advancing alone toward the empty ex- 
panse of snow before the church. 

In the black shade of the Varnum spruces he 



Ethan Frome 45 



caught up with her and she turned with a quick 
"Oh!" 

"Think I'd forgotten you, Matt?" he asked 
with sheepish glee. 

She answered seriously: "I thought maybe you 
couldn't come back for me." 

"Couldn't? What on earth could stop me?" 

"I knew Zeena wasn't feeling any too good 
to-day." 

"Oh, she's in bed long ago." He paused, a 
question struggling in him. "Then you meant to 
walk home all alone?" 

"Oh, I ain't afraid!" she laughed. 

They stood together in the gloom of the spruces, 
an empty world glimmering about them wide and 
grey under the stars. He brought his question out. 

"If you thought I hadn't come, why didn't you 
ride back with Denis Eady ?" 

"Why, where were you? How did you know? 
I never saw you!" 

Her wonder and his laughter ran together like 
spring rills in a thaw. Ethan had the sense of hav- 
ing done something arch and ingenious. To pro- 
long the effect he groped for a dazzling phrase, and 
brought out, in a growl of rapture : "Come along." 



4 6 Ethan Frome 

He slipped an arm through hers, as Eady had 
done, and fancied it was faintly pressed against 
her side; but neither of them moved. It was so 
dark under the spruces that he could barely see 
the shape of her head beside his shoulder. He 
longed to stoop his cheek and rub it against her 
scarf. He would have liked to stand there with 
her all night in the blackness. She moved for- 
ward a step or two and then paused again above 
the dip of the Corbury road. Its icy slope, scored 
by innumerable runners, looked like a mirror 
scratched by travellers at an inn. 

"There was a whole lot of them coasting be- 
fore the moon set," she said. 

"Would you like to come in and coast with 
them some night?" he asked. 

"Oh, would you, Ethan? It would be lovely!" 

"We'll come to-morrow if there's a moon." 

She lingered, pressing closer to his side. "Ned 
Hale and Ruth Varnum came just as near run- 
ning into the big elm at the bottom. We were all 
sure they were killed." Her shiver ran down his 
arm. "Wouldn't it have been too awful? They're 
so happy!" 

"Oh, Ned ain't much at steering. I guess I 



Ethan Frome 47 



can take you down all right!" he said disdain- 
fully. 

He was aware that he was "talking big," like 
Denis Eady; but his reaction of joy had un- 
steadied him, and the inflection with which she 
had said of the engaged couple "They're so 
happy!" made the words sound as if she had 
been thinking of herself and him. 

"The elm is dangerous, though. It ought to be 
cut down," she insisted. 

"Would you be afraid of it, with me?" 

"I told you I ain't the kind to be afraid," she 
tossed back, almost indifferently; and suddenly 
she began to walk on with a rapid step. 

These alterations of mood were the despair and 
joy of Ethan Frome. The motions of her mind 
were as incalculable as the flit of a bird in the 
branches. The fact that he had no right to show 
his feelings, and thus provoke the expression of 
hers, made him attach a fantastic importance 
to every change in her look and tone. Now he 
thought she understood him, and feared; now 
he was sure she did not, and despaired. To-night 
the pressure of accumulated misgivings sent the 
scale drooping toward despair, and her indiffer- 



Ethan Frome 



ence was the more chilling after the flush of joy 
into which she had plunged him by dismissing 
Denis Eady. He mounted School House Hill at 
her side and walked on in silence till they reached 
the lane leading to the saw-mill; then the need 
of some definite assurance grew too strong for 
him. 

"You'd have found me right off if you hadn't 
gone back to have that last reel with Denis," he 
brought out awkwardly. He could not pronounce 
the name without a stiffening of the muscles of 
his throat. 

"Why, Ethan, how could I tell you were there ?" 

"I suppose what folks say is true," he jerked 
out at her, instead of answering. 

She stopped short, and he felt, in the darkness, 
that her face was lifted quickly to his. "Why, 
what do folks say?" 

"It's natural enough you should be leaving 
us," he floundered on, following his thought. 

"Is that what they say?" she mocked back 
at him; then, with a sudden drop of her sweet 
treble: "You mean that Zeena ain't suited with 
me any more?" she faltered. 

Their arms had slipped apart and they stood 



Ethan Frome 49 



motionless, each seeking to distinguish the other's 
face. 

"I know I ain't anything like as smart as I ought 
to be/' she went on, while he vainly struggled for 
expression. "There's lots of things a hired girl 
could do that come awkward to me still and 
I haven't got much strength in my arms. But 
if she'd only tell me I'd try. You know she hardly 
ever says anything, and sometimes I can see she 
ain't suited, and yet I don't know why." She 
turned on him with a sudden flash of indignation. 
"You'd ought to tell me, Ethan Frome you'd 
ought to! Unless you want me to go too " 

Unless he wanted her to go too! The cry was 
balm to his raw wound. The iron heavens seemed 
to melt and rain down sweetness. Again he strug- 
gled for the all-expressive word, and again, his 
arm in hers, found only a deep "Come along." 

They walked on in silence through the black- 
ness of the hemlock-shaded lane, where Ethan's 
saw-mill gloomed through the night, and out 
again into the comparative clearness of the 
fields. On the farther side of the hemlock belt 
the open country rolled away before them grey 
and lonely under the stars. Sometimes their way 



5 Ethan Frome 

led them under the shade of an overhanging 
bank or through the thin obscurity of a clump 
of leafless trees. Here and there a farmhouse 
stood far back among the fields, mute and cold 
as a grave-stone. The night was so still that they 
heard the frozen snow crackle under their feet. 
The crash of a loaded branch falling far off in the 
woods reverberated like a musket-shot, and once 
a fox barked, and Mattie shrank closer to Ethan, 
and quickened her steps. 

At length they sighted the group of larches at 
Ethan's gate, and as they drew near it the sense 
that the walk was over brought back his words. 

"Then you don't want to leave us, Matt?" 

He had to stoop his head to catch her stifled 
whisper: "Where'd I go, if I did?" 

The answer sent a pang through him but the 
tone suffused him with joy. He forgot what else 
he had meant to say and pressed her against him 
so closely that he seemed to feel her warmth in 
his veins. 

"You ain't crying are you, Matt?" 

"No, of course I'm not," she quavered. 

They turned in at the gate and passed under 
the shaded knoll where, enclosed in a low fence, 



Ethan Frome 5 1 



the Frome grave-stones slanted at crazy angles 
through the snow. Ethan looked at them curi- 
ously. For years that quiet company had mocked 
his restlessness, his desire for change and free- 
dom. "We never got away how should you?" 
seemed to be written on every headstone; and 
whenever he went in or out of his gate he 
thought with a shiver: "I shall just go on living 
here till I join them." But now all desire for 
change had vanished, and the sight of the little 
enclosure gave him a warm sense of continuance 
and stability. 

"I guess we'll never let you go. Matt/' he 
whispered, as though even the dead, lovers once, 
must conspire with him to keep her; and brushing 
by the graves, he thought: "We'll always go on 
living here together, and some day she'll lie there 
beside me." 

He let the vision possess him as they climbed 
the hill to the house. He was never so happy with 
her as when he abandoned himself to these 
dreams. Half-way up the slope Mattie stumbled 
against some unseen obstruction and clutched 
his sleeve to steady herself. The wave of warmth 
that went through him was like the prolonga- 



5 2 Ethan Frome 

tion of his vision. For the first time he stole his arm 
about her, and she did not resist. They walked on 
as if they were floating on a summer stream. 

Zeena always went to bed as soon as she had 
had her supper, and the shutterless windows of 
the house were dark. A dead cucumber-vine 
dangled from the porch like the crape streamer 
tied to the door for a death, and the thought 
flashed through Ethan's brain: "If it was there 
for Zeena " Then he had a distinct sight of his 
wife lying in their bedroom asleep, her mouth 
slightly open, her false teeth in a tumbler by the 
bed ... 

They walked around to the back of the house, 
between the rigid gooseberry bushes. It was 
Zeena's habit, when they came back late from 
the village, to leave the key of the kitchen door 
under the mat. Ethan stood before the door, his 
head heavy with dreams, his arm still about 
Mattie. "Matt " he began, not knowing what 
he meant to say. 

She slipped out of his hold without speaking, 
and he stooped down and felt for the key. 

"It's not there!" he said, straightening him- 
self with a start. 



Ethan Frome 53 



They strained their eyes at each other through 
the icy darkness. Such a thing had never hap- 
pened before. 

"Maybe she's forgotten it," Mattie said in a 
tremulous whisper ; but both of them knew that 
it was not like Zeena to forget. 

"It might have fallen off in to the snow/' Mat- 
tie continued, after a pause during which they 
had stood intently listening. 

"It must have been pushed off, then/' he re- 
joined in the same tone. Another wild thought 
tore through him. What if tramps had been 
there what if . . . 

Again he listened, fancying he heard a distant 
sound in the house; then he felt in his pocket for 
a match, and kneeling down, passed its light 
slowly over the rough edges of snow about the 
doorstep. 

He was still kneeling when his eyes, on a level 
with the lower panel of the door, caught a faint 
ray beneath it. Who could be stirring in that 
silent house? He heard a step on the stairs, and 
again for an instant the thought of tramps tore 
through him. Then the door opened and he saw 
his wife. 



54 Ethan Frome 

Against the dark background of the kitchen 
she stood up tall and angular, one hand drawing 
a quilted counterpane to her flat breast, while 
the other held a lamp. The light, on a level with 
her chin, drew out of the darkness her puckered 
throat and the projecting wrist-bone of the hand 
that clutched the quilt, and deepened fantastic- 
ally the hollows and prominences of her high- 
boned face under its ring of crimping-pins. To 
Ethan, still in the rosy haze of his hour with 
Mattie, the sight came with the intense precision 
of the last dream before waking. He felt as if he 
had never before known what his wife looked 
like. 

She drew aside without speaking, and Mattie 
and Ethan passed into the kitchen, which had 
the deadly chill of a vault after the dry cold of 
the night. 

"Guess you forgot about us, Zeena," Ethan 
joked, stamping the snow from his boots. 

"No. I just felt so mean I couldn't sleep." 

Mattie came forward, unwinding her wraps, 
the colour of the cherry scarf in her fresh lips and 
cheeks. "I'm so sorry, Zeena! Isn't there any- 
thing I can do?" 



Ethan Frome 55 



"No; there's nothing." Zeena turned away 
from her. "You might V shook off that snow 
outside/' she said to her husband. 

She walked out of the kitchen ahead of them 
and pausing in the hall raised the lamp at arm's- 
length, as if to light them up the stairs. 

Ethan paused also, affecting to fumble for the 
peg on which he hung his coat and cap. The 
doors of the two bedrooms faced each other 
across the narrow upper landing, and to-night 
it was peculiarly repugnant to him that Mattie 
should see him follow Zeena. 

"I guess I won't come up yet awhile," he said, 
turning as if to go back to the kitchen. 

Zeena stopped short and looked at him. "For 
the land's sake what you going to do down 
here?" 

"I've got the mill accounts to go over." 

She continued to stare at him, the flame of the 
unshaded lamp bringing out with microscopic 
cruelty the fretful lines of her face. 

"At this time o' night? You'll ketch your 
death. The fire's out long ago." 

Without answering he moved away toward the 
kitchen. As he did so his glance crossed Mattie's 



5 6 Ethan Frome 

and he fancied that a fugitive warning gleamed 
through her lashes. The next moment they sank 
to her flushed cheeks and she began to mount the 
stairs ahead of Zeena. 

"That's so. It is powerful cold down here/' 
Ethan assented; and with lowered head he went 
up in his wife's wake, and followed her across the 
threshold of their room. 



Ill 



THERE was some hauling to be done at the 
lower end of the wood-lot, and Ethan was 
out early the next day. 

The winter morning was as clear as crystal. 
The sunrise burned red in a pure sky, the shad- 
ows on the rim of the wood-lot were darkly blue, 
and beyond the white and scintillating fields 
patches of far-off forest hung like smoke. 

It was in the early morning stillness, when his 
muscles were swinging to their familiar task and 
his lungs expanding with long draughts of moun- 
tain air, that Ethan did his clearest thinking. 
He and Zeena had not exchanged a word after 
the door of their room had closed on them. She 
had measured out some drops from a medicine- 
bottle on a chair by the bed and, after swallow- 
ing them, and wrapping her head in a piece of 
yellow flannel, had lain down with her face 
turned away. Ethan undressed hurriedly and 



58 Ethan Frome 

blew out the light so that he should not see her 
when he took his place at her side. As he lay 
there he could hear Mattie moving about in her 
room, and her candle, sending its small ray 
across the landing, drew a scarcely perceptible 
line of light under his door. He kept his eyes 
fixed on the light till it vanished. Then the room 
grew perfectly black, and not a sound was audi- 
ble but Zeena's asthmatic breathing. Ethan felt 
confusedly that there were many things he ought 
to think about, but through his tingling veins 
and tired brain only one sensation throbbed: the 
warmth of Mattie's shoulder against his. Why 
had he not kissed her when he held her there ? 
A few hours earlier he would not have asked 
himself the question. Even a few minutes earlier, 
when they had stood alone outside the house, 
he would not have dared to think of kissing her. 
But since he had seen her lips in the lamplight 
he felt that they were his. 

Now, in the bright morning air, her face was 
still before him. It was part of the sun's red and 
of the pure glitter on the snow. How the girl had 
changed since she had come to Starkfield! He 
remembered what a colourless slip of a thing she 



Ethan Frome 59 

had looked the day he had met her at the station. 
And all the first winter, how she had shivered with 
cold when the northerly gales shook the thin clap- 
boards and the snow beat like hail against the 
loose-hung windows ! 

He had been afraid that she would hate the 
hard life, the cold and loneliness; but not a sign 
of discontent escaped her. Zeena took the view 
that Mattie was bound to make the best of 
Starkfield since she hadn't any other place to go 
to; but this did not strike Ethan as conclusive. 
Zeena, at any rate, did not apply the principle 
in her own case. 

He felt all the more sorry for the girl because 
misfortune had, in a sense, indentured her to 
them. Mattie Silver was the daughter of a 
cousin of Zenobia Frome's, who had inflamed 
his clan with mingled sentiments of envy and 
admiration by descending from the hills to 
Connecticut, where he had married a Stamford 
girl and succeeded to her father's thriving "drug" 
business. Unhappily Orin Silver, a man of far- 
reaching aims, had died too soon to prove that 
the end justifies the means. His accounts re- 
vealed merely what the means had been; and 



60 Ethan Frome 

these were such that it was fortunate for his wife 
and daughter that his books were examined only 
after his impressive funeral. His wife died of the 
disclosure, and Mattie, at twenty, was left alone 
to make her way on the fifty dollars obtained 
from the sale of her piano. For this purpose her 
equipment, though varied, was inadequate. She 
could trim a hat, make molasses candy, recite 
"Curfew shall not ring to-night," and play "The 
Lost Chord" and a pot-pourri from "Carmen." 
When she tried to extend the field of her activi- 
ties in the direction of stenography and book- 
keeping her health broke down, and six months 
on her feet behind the counter of a department 
store did not tend to restore it. Her nearest 
relations had been induced to place their savings 
in her father's hands, and though, after his death, 
they ungrudgingly acquitted themselves of the 
Christian duty of returning good for evil by 
giving his daughter all the advice at their dis- 
posal, they could hardly be expected to supple- 
ment it by material aid. But when Zenobia's 
doctor recommended her looking about for some 
one to help her with the house-work the clan 
instantly saw the chance of exacting a compensa- 



Ethan Frome 61 

tion from Mattie. Zenobia, though doubtful of 
the girl's efficiency, was tempted by the freedom 
to find fault without much risk of losing her; 
and so Mattie came to Starkfield. 

Zenobia's fault-finding was of the silent kind, 
but not the less penetrating for that. During the 
first months Ethan alternately burned with the 
desire to see Mattie defy her and trembled with 
fear of the result. Then the situation grew less 
strained. The pure air, and the long summer 
hours in the open, gave back life and elasticity 
to Mattie, and Zeena, with more leisure to devote 
to her complex ailments, grew less watchful of 
the girl's omissions ; so that Ethan, struggling 
on under the burden of his barren farm and fail- 
ing saw-mill, could at least imagine that peace 
reigned in his house. 

There was really, even now, no tangible evi- 
dence to the contrary; but since the previous 
night a vague dread had hung on his sky-line. 
It was formed of Zeena's obstinate silence, of 
Mattie's sudden look of warning, of the memory 
of just such fleeting imperceptible signs as those 
which told him, on certain stainless mornings, 
that before night there would be rain. 



62 Ethan Frome 

His dread was so strong that, man-like, he 
sought to postpone certainty. The hauling was 
not over till mid-day, and as the lumber was to 
be delivered to Andrew Hale, the Starkfield 
builder, it was really easier for Ethan to send 
Jotham Powell, the hired man, back to the farm 
on foot, and drive the load down to the village 
himself. He had scrambled up on the logs, and 
was sitting astride of them, close over his shag- 
gy greys, when, coming between him and their 
steaming necks, he had a vision of the warning 
look that Mattie had given him the night before. 

"If there's going to be any trouble I want to be 
there," was his vague reflection, as he threw to 
Jotham the unexpected order to unhitch the 
team and lead them back to the barn. 

It was a slow trudge home through the heavy 
fields, and when the two men entered the kitchen 
Mattie was lifting the coffee from the stove and 
Zeena was already at the table. Her husband 
stopped short at sight of her. Instead of her 
usual calico wrapper and knitted shawl she wore 
her best dress of brown merino, and above her 
thin strands of hair, which still preserved the 
tight undulations of the crimping-pins, rose a 



Ethan Frome 63 



hard perpendicular bonnet, as to which Ethan's 
clearest notion was that he had had to pay five 
dollars for it at the Bettsbridge Emporium. On 
the floor beside her stood his old valise and a 
bandbox wrapped in newspapers. 

"Why, where are you going, Zeena?" he ex- 
claimed. 

"I've got my shooting pains so bad that Fm 
going over to Bettsbridge to spend the night with 
Aunt Martha Pierce and see that new doctor/' 
she answered in a matter-of-fact tone, as if she 
had said she was going into the storeroom to 
take a look at the preserves, or up to the attic to 
go over the blankets. 

In spite of her sedentary habits such abrupt 
decisions were not without precedent in Zeena's 
history. Twice or thrice before she had suddenly 
packed Ethan's valise and started off to Betts- 
bridge, or even Springfield, to seek the advice of 
some new doctor, and her husband had grown to 
dread these expeditions because of their cost. 
Zeena always came back laden with expensive 
remedies, and her last visit to Springfield had 
been commemorated by her paying twenty dol- 
lars for an electric battery of which she had never 



64 Ethan Frome 

been able to learn the use. But for the moment 
his sense of relief was so great as to preclude all 
other feelings. He had now no doubt that Zeena 
had spoken the truth in saying, the night before, 
that she had sat up because she felt "too mean" 
to sleep : her abrupt resolve to seek medical advice 
showed that, as usual, she was wholly absorbed 
in her health. 

As if expecting a protest, she continued plain- 
tively : " If you're too busy with the hauling I pre- 
sume you can let Jotham Powell drive me over with 
the sorrel in time to ketch the train at the Flats." 

Her husband hardly heard what she was say- 
ing. During the winter months there was no 
stage between Starkfield and Bettsbridge, and 
the trains which stopped at Corbury Flats were 
slow and infrequent. A rapid calculation showed 
Ethan that Zeena could not be back at the farm 
before the following evening. . . . 

"If I'd supposed you'd 'a' made any objection 
to Jotham Powell's driving me over " she began 
again, as though his silence had implied refusal. 
On the brink of departure she was always seized 
with a flux of words. "All I know is," she con- 
tinued, "I can't go on the way I am much longer. 



Ethan Frome 65 



The pains are clear away down to my ankles 
now, or Fd 'a' walked in to Starkfield on my own 
feet, sooner'n put you out, and asked Michael 
Eady to let me ride over on his wagon to the 
Flats, when he sends to meet the train that 
brings his groceries. I'd V had two hours to wait 
in the station, but I'd sooner 'a* done it, even 
with this cold, than to have you say " 

"Of course Jotham'll drive you over," Ethan 
roused himself to answer. He became suddenly 
conscious that he was looking at Mattie while 
Zeena talked to him, and with an effort he turned 
his eyes to his wife. She sat opposite the window, 
and the pale light reflected from the banks of 
snow made her face look more than usually 
drawn and bloodless, sharpened the three parallel 
creases between ear and cheek, and drew queru- 
lous lines from her thin nose to the corners of her 
mouth. Though she was but seven years her 
husband's senior, and he was only twenty-eight, 
she was already an old woman. 

Ethan tried to say something befitting the occa- 
sion, but there was only one thought in his mind: 
the fact that, for the first time since Mattie had 
come to live with them, Zeena was to be away for 



66 Ethan Frome 

a night. He wondered if the girl were thinking of 
it too. . . . 

He knew that Zeena must be wondering why 
he did not offer to drive her to the Flats and let 
Jotham Powell take the lumber to Starkfield, and 
at first he could not think of a pretext for not 
doing so; then he said: "I'd take you over myself, 
only I've got to collect the cash for the lumber." 

As soon as the words were spoken he regretted 
them, not only because they were untrue there 
being no prospect of his receiving cash payment 
from Hale but also because he knew from experi- 
ence the imprudence of letting Zeena think he was 
in funds on the eve of one of her therapeutic ex- 
cursions. At the moment, however, his one desire 
was to avoid the long drive with her behind the 
ancient sorrel who never went out of a walk. 

Zeena made no reply: she did not seem to hear 
what he had said. She had already pushed her 
plate aside, and was measuring out a draught 
from a large bottle at her elbow. 

"It ain't done me a speck of good, but I guess 
I might as well use it up," she remarked; adding, 
as she pushed the empty bottle toward Mattie: 
"If you can get the taste out it'll do for pickles." 



IV 



A soon as his wife had driven off Ethan took 
his coat and cap from the peg. Mattie was 
washing up the dishes, humming one of the dance 
tunes of the night before. He said "So long, 
Matt," and she answered gaily "So long, Ethan"; 
and that was all. 

It was warm and bright in the kitchen. The 
sun slanted through the south window on the 
girl's moving figure, on the cat dozing in a chair, 
and on the geraniums brought in from the door- 
way, where Ethan had planted them in the sum- 
mer to "make a garden" for Mattie. He would 
have liked to linger on, watching her tidy up and 
then settle down to her sewing; but he wanted 
still more to get the hauling done and be back at 
the farm before night. 

All the way down to the village he continued 
to think of his return to Mattie. The kitchen 
was a poor place, not "spruce" and shining as his 



68 Ethan Frome 

mother had kept it in his boyhood; but it was 
surprising what a homelike look the mere fact of 
Zeena's absence gave it. And he pictured what it 
would be like that evening, when he and Mattie 
were there after supper. For the first time they 
would be alone together indoors, and they would 
sit there, one on each side of the stove, like a 
married couple, he in his stocking feet and smok- 
ing his pipe, she laughing and talking in that 
funny way she had, which was always as new 
to him as if he had never heard her before. 

The sweetness of the picture, and the relief of 
knowing that his fears of "trouble" with Zeena 
were unfounded, sent up his spirits with a rush, 
and he, who was usually so silent, whistled and 
sang aloud as he drove through the snowy fields. 
There was in him a slumbering spark of sociabil- 
ity which the long Starkfield winters had not yet 
extinguished. By nature grave and inarticulate, 
he admired recklessness and gaiety in others and 
was warmed to the marrow by friendly human 
intercourse. At Worcester, though he had the 
name of keeping to himself and not being much 
of a hand at a good time, he had secretly gloried 
in being clapped on the back and hailed as "Old 



Ethan Frome 69 

Ethe" or "Old Stiff"; and the cessation of such 
familiarities had increased the chill of his return 
to Starkfield. 

There the silence had deepened about him year 
by year. Left alone, after his father's accident, 
to carry the burden of farm and mill, he had 
had no time for convivial loiterings in the village; 
and when his mother fell ill the loneliness of the 
house grew more oppressive than that of the 
fields. His mother had been a talker in her day, 
but after her "trouble" the sound of her voice 
was seldom heard, though she had not lost the 
power of speech. Sometimes, in the long winter 
evenings, when in desperation her son asked her 
why she didn't "say something," she would lift a 
finger and answer: "Because I'm listening"; and 
on stormy nights, when the loud wind was about 
the house, she would complain, if he spoke to her : 
"They're talking so out there that I can't hear you." 

It was only when she drew toward her last ill- 
ness, and his cousin Zenobia Pierce came over 
from the next valley to help him nurse her, that 
human speech was heard again in the house. 
After the mortal silence of his long imprisonment 
Zeena's volubility was music in his ears. He felt 



7 Ethan Frome 

that he might have "gone like his mother" if the 
sound of a new voice had not come to steady him. 
Zeena seemed to understand his case at a glance. 
She laughed at him for not knowing the simplest 
sick-bed duties and told him to "go right along 
out" and leave her to see to things. The mere 
fact of obeying her orders, of feeling free to go 
about his business again and talk with other men, 
restored his shaken balance and magnified his 
sense of what he owed her. Her efficiency shamed 
and dazzled him. She seemed to possess by in- 
stinct all the household wisdom that his long 
apprenticeship had not instilled in him. When 
the end came it was she who had to tell him to 
hitch up and go for the undertaker, and she 
thought it "funny" that he had not settled 
beforehand who was to have his mother's clothes 
and the sewing-machine. After the funeral, when 
he saw her preparing to go away, he was seized 
with an unreasoning dread of being left alone on 
the farm; and before he knew what he was doing 
he had asked her to stay there with him. He had 
often thought since that it would not have hap- 
pened if his mother had died in spring instead of 
winter . 



Ethan Frome 71 



When they married it was agreed that, as soon 
as he could straighten out the difficulties result- 
ing from Mrs. Frome's long illness, they would 
sell the farm and saw-mill and try their luck in 
a large town. Ethan's love of nature did not take 
the form of a taste for agriculture. He had always 
wanted to be an engineer, and to live in towns, 
where there were lectures and big libraries and 
"fellows doing things." A slight engineering job 
in Florida, put in his way during his period of 
study at Worcester, increased his faith in his 
ability as well as his eagerness to see the world; 
and he felt sure that, with a "smart" wife like 
Zeena, it would not be long before he had made 
himself a place in it. 

Zeena's native village was slightly larger and 
nearer to the railway than Starkfield, and she 
had let her husband see from the first that life 
on an isolated farm was not what she had ex- 
pected when she married. But purchasers were 
slow in coming, and while he waited for them 
Ethan learned the impossibility of transplanting 
her. She chose to look down on Starkfield, but 
she could not have lived in a place which looked 
down on her. Even Bettsbridge or Shadd's Falls 



7 2 Ethan Frome 



would not have been sufficiently aware of her, 
and in the greater cities which attracted Ethan 
she would have suffered a complete loss of iden- 
tity. And within a year of their marriage she 
developed the "sickliness" which had since made 
her notable even in a community rich in patho- 
logical instances. When she came to take care of 
his mother she had seemed to Ethan like the very 
genius of health, but he soon saw that her skill 
as a nurse had been acquired by the absorbed 
observation of her own symptoms. 

Then she too fell silent. Perhaps it was the 
inevitable effect of life on the farm, or perhaps, 
as she sometimes said, it was because Ethan 
"never listened." The charge was not wholly un- 
founded. When she spoke it was only to com- 
plain, and to complain of things not in his power 
to remedy; and to check a tendency to impatient 
retort he had first formed the habit of not 
answering her, and finally of thinking of other 
things while she talked. Of late, however, since 
he had had reasons for observing her more 
closely, her silence had begun to trouble him. 
He recalled his mother's growing taciturnity, 
and wondered if Zeena were also turning"queer." 



Ethan Frome 73 



Women did, he knew. Zeena, who had at her 
finger's ends the pathological chart of the whole 
region, had cited many cases of the kind while 
she was nursing his mother; and he himself knew 
of certain lonely farm-houses in the neighbour- 
hood where stricken creatures pined, and of 
others where sudden tragedy had come of their 
presence. At times, looking at Zeena's shut face, 
he felt the chill of such forebodings. At other 
times her silence seemed deliberately assumed to 
conceal far-reaching intentions, mysterious con- 
clusions drawn from suspicions and resentments 
impossible to guess. That supposition was even 
more disturbing than the other; and it was the one 
which had come to him the night before, when 
he had seen her standing in the kitchen door. 

Now her departure for Bettsbridge had once 
more eased his mind, and all his thoughts were on 
the prospect of his evening with Mattie. Only 
one thing weighed on him, and that was his hav- 
ing told Zeena that he was to receive cash for the 
lumber. He forsaw so clearly the consequences 
of this imprudence that with considerable reluc- 
tance he decided to ask Andrew Hale for a small 
advance on his load. 



74 Ethan Frome 

When Ethan drove into Kale's yard the builder 
was just getting out of his sleigh. 

"Hello, Ethe!" he said. "This comes handy." 

Andrew Hale was a ruddy man with a big grey 
moustache and a stubby double-chin uncon- 
strained by a collar; but his scrupulously clean 
shirt was always fastened by a small diamond 
stud. This display of opulence was misleading, 
for though he did a fairly good business it was 
known that his easy-going habits and the de- 
mands of his large family frequently kept him 
what Starkfield called "behind." He was an old 
friend of Ethan's family, and his house one of 
the few to which Zeena occasionally went, drawn 
there by the fact that Mrs. Hale, in her youth, 
had done more "doctoring" than any other 
woman in Starkfield, and was still a recognised 
authority on symptoms and treatment. 

Hale went up to the greys and patted their 
sweating flanks. 

"Well, sir," he said, "you keep them two as if 
they was pets." 

Ethan set about unloading the logs and when 
he had finished his job he pushed open the glazed 
door of the shed which the builder used as his 



Ethan Frome 75 

office. Hale sat with his feet up on the stove, his 
back propped against a battered desk strewn 
with papers: the place, like the man, was warm, 
genial and untidy. 

"Sit right down and thaw out," he greeted 
Ethan. 

The latter did not know how to begin, but at 
length he managed to bring out his request for 
an advance of fifty dollars. The blood rushed to 
his thin skin under the sting of Rale's astonish- 
ment. It was the builder's custom to pay at the 
end of three months, and there was no precedent 
between the two men for a cash settlement. 

Ethan felt that if he had pleaded an urgent 
need Hale might have made shift to pay him; 
but pride, and an instinctive prudence, kept 
him from resorting to this argument. After his 
father's death it had taken time to get his head 
above water, and he did not want Andrew Hale, 
or any one else in Starkfield, to think he was 
going under again. Besides, he hated lying; if he 
wanted the money he wanted it, and it was no- 
body's business to ask why. He therefore made 
his demand with the awkwardness of a proud 
man who will not admit to himself that he is 



76 Ethan Frome 

stooping; and he was not much surprised at 
Male's refusal. 

The builder refused genially, as he did every- 
thing else: he treated the matter as something 
in the nature of a practical joke, and wanted to 
know if Ethan meditated buying a grand piano 
or adding a "cupolo" to his house; offering, in 
the latter case, to give his services free of cost. 

Ethan's arts were soon exhausted, and after an 
embarrassed pause he wished Hale good-day and 
opened the door of the office. As he passed out 
the builder suddenly called after him: "See here 
you ain't in a tight place, are you?" 

"Not a bit," Ethan's pride retorted before his 
reason had time to intervene. 

"Well, that's good! Because I am, a shade. 
Fact is, I was going to ask you to give me a 
little extra time on that payment. Business is 
pretty slack, to begin with, and then I'm fixing 
up a little house for Ned and Ruth when they're 
married. I'm glad to do it for 'em, but it costs." 
His look appealed to Ethan for sympathy. "The 
young people like things nice. You know how it 
is yourself: it's not so long ago since you fixed 
up your own place for Zeena." 



Ethan Frome 77 



Ethan left the greys in Hale's stable and went 
about some other business in the village. As he 
walked away the builder 's last phrase lingered in 
his ears, and he reflected grimly that his seven years 
with Zeena seemed to Starkfield "not so long/' 

The afternoon was drawing to an end, and here 
and there a lighted pane spangled the cold grey 
dusk and made the snow look whiter. The bitter 
weather had driven every one indoors and Ethan 
had the long rural street to himself. Suddenly he 
heard the brisk play of sleigh-bells and a cutter 
passed him, drawn by a free-going horse. Ethan 
recognised Michael Eady's roan colt, and young 
Denis Eady, in a handsome new fur cap, leaned 
forward and waved a greeting. "Hello, Ethe !" he 
shouted and spun on. 

The cutter was going in the direction of the 
Frome farm, and Ethan's heart contracted as he 
listened to the dwindling bells. What more likely 
than that Denis Eady had heard of Zeena's de- 
parture for Bettsbridge, and was profiting by 
the opportunity to spend an hour with Mattie? 
Ethan was ashamed of the storm of jealousy in 
his breast. It seemed unworthy of the girl that 
his thoughts of her should be so violent. 



Ethan Frome 



He walked on to the church corner and entered 
the shade of the Varnum spruces, where he had 
stood with her the night before. As he passed 
into their gloom he saw an indistinct outline 
just ahead of him. At his approach it melted for 
an instant into two separate shapes and then 
conjoined again, and he heard a kiss, and a half- 
laughing "Oh!" provoked by the discovery of 
his presence. Again the outline hastily disunited 
and the Varnum gate slammed on one half while 
the other hurried on ahead of him. Ethan smiled 
at the discomfiture he had caused. What did it 
matter to Ned Hale and Ruth Varnum if they 
were caught kissing each other? Everybody in 
Starkfield knew they were engaged. It pleased 
Ethan to have surprised a pair of lovers on the 
spot where he and Mattie had stood with such a 
thirst for each other in their hearts ; but he felt 
a pang at the thought that these two need not 
hide their happiness. 

He fetched the greys from Hale's stable and 
started on his long climb back to the farm. The 
cold was less sharp than earlier in the day and 
a thick fleecy sky threatened snow for the 
morrow. Here and there a star pricked through, 



Ethan Frome 79 



showing behind it a deep well of blue. In an hour 
or two the moon would push up over the ridge 
behind the farm, burn a gold-edged rent in the 
clouds, and then be swallowed by them. A mourn- 
ful peace hung on the fields, as though they felt 
the relaxing grasp of the cold and stretched 
themselves in their long winter sleep. 

Ethan's ears were alert for the jingle of sleigh- 
bells, but not a sound broke the silence of the 
lonely road. As he drew near the farm he saw, 
through the thin screen of larches at the gate, a 
light twinkling in the house above him. "She's 
up in her room," he said to himself, "fixing her- 
self up for supper"; and he remembered Zeena's 
sarcastic stare when Mattie, on the evening of 
her arrival, had come down to supper with 
smoothed hair and a ribbon at her neck. 

He passed by the graves on the knoll and 
turned his head to glance at one of the older 
headstones, which had interested him deeply as 
a boy because it bore his name. 

SACRED TO THE MEMORY OF 

ETHAN FROME AND ENDURANCE HIS WIFE, 

WHO DWELLED TOGETHER IN PEACE 

FOR FIFTY YEARS. 



Ethan Frome 



He used to think that fifty years sounded like 
a long time to live together; but now it seemed 
to him that they might pass in a flash. Then, 
with a sudden dart of irony, he wondered if, 
when their turn came, the same epitaph would 
be written over him and Zeena. 

He opened the barn-door and craned his head 
into the obscurity, half- fearing to discover Denis 
Eady's roan colt in the stall beside the sorrel. 
But the old horse was there alone, mumbling his 
crib with toothless jaws, and Ethan whistled 
cheerfully while he bedded down the greys and 
shook an extra measure of oats into their man- 
gers. His was not a tuneful throat, but harsh 
melodies burst from it as he locked the barn and 
sprang up the hill to the house. He reached the 
kitchen-porch and turned the door-handle; but 
the door did not yield to his touch. 

Startled at finding it locked he rattled the 
handle violently; then he reflected that Mattie 
was alone and that it was natural she should 
barricade herself at nightfall. He stood in the 
darkness expecting to hear her step. It did not 
come, and after vainly straining his ears he called 
out in a voice that shook with joy : "Hello, Matt !" 



Ethan Frome 81 

Silence answered; but in a minute or two he 
caught a sound on the stairs and saw a line of 
light about the door-frame, as he had seen it the 
night before. So strange was the precision with 
which the incidents of the previous evening were 
repeating themselves that he half expected, when 
he heard the key turn, to see his wife before him 
on the threshold; but the door opened, and Mat- 
tie faced him. 

She stood just as Zeena had stood, a lifted 
lamp in her hand, against the black background 
of the kitchen. She held the light at the same 
level, and it drew out with the same distinctness 
her slim young throat and the brown wrist no 
bigger than a child's. Then, striking upward, it 
threw a lustrous fleck on her lips, edged her eyes 
with velvet shade, and laid a milky whiteness 
above the black curve of her brows. 

She wore her usual dress of darkish stuff, and 
there was no bow at her neck; but through her 
hair she had run a streak of crimson ribbon. 
This tribute to the unusual transformed and 
glorified her. She seemed to Ethan taller, fuller, 
more womanly in shape and motion. She stood 
aside, smiling silently, while he entered, and 



82 Ethan Frome 

then moved away from him with something soft 
and flowing in her gait. She set the lamp on the 
table, and he saw that it was carefully laid for 
supper, with fresh dough-nuts, stewed blue- 
berries and his favourite pickles in a dish of gay 
red glass. A bright fire glowed in the stove and 
the cat lay stretched before it, watching the 
table with a drowsy eye. 

Ethan was suffocated with the sense of well- 
being. He went out into the passage to hang up 
his coat and pull off his wet boots. When he 
came back Mattie had set the teapot on the 
table and the cat was rubbing itself persuasively 
against her ankles. 

"Why, Puss! I nearly tripped over you," she 
cried, the laughter sparkling through her lashes. 

Again Ethan felt a sudden twinge of jealousy. 
Could it be his coming that gave her such a 
kindled face? 

"Well, Matt, any visitors?" he threw off, 
stooping down carelessly to examine the fasten- 
ing of the stove. 

She nodded and laughed "Yes, one," and he 
felt a blackness settling on his brows. 

"Who was that?" he questioned, raising him- 



Ethan Frome 83 



self up to slant a glance at her beneath his scowl. 

Her eyes danced with malice. "Why, Jotham 
Powell. He came in after he got back, and asked 
for a drop of coffee before he went down home." 

The blackness lifted and light flooded Ethan's 
brain. "That all? Well, I hope you made out to 
let him have it." And after a pause he felt it 
right to add: "I suppose he got Zeena over to the 
Flats all right?" 

"Oh, yes; in plenty of time." 

The name threw a chill between them, and 
they stood a moment looking sideways at each 
other before Mattie said with a shy laugh: "I 
guess it's about time for supper." 

They drew their seats up to the table, and the 
cat, unbidden, jumped between them into 
Zeena's empty chair. "Oh, Puss!" said Mattie, 
and they laughed again. 

Ethan, a moment earlier, had felt himself on 
the brink of eloquence; but the mention of 
Zeena had paralysed him. Mattie seemed to feel 
the contagion of his embarrassment, and sat 
with downcast lids, sipping her tea, while he 
feigned an insatiable appetite for dough-nuts 
and sweet pickles. At last, after casting about 



84 Ethan Frome 



for an effective opening, he took a long gulp of 
tea, cleared his throat, and said: "Looks as if 
there'd be more snow." 

She feigned great interest. "Is that so? Do 
you suppose it'll interfere with Zeena's getting 
back?" She flushed red as the question escaped 
her, and hastily set down the cup she was lifting. 

Ethan reached over for another helping of 
pickles. 

"You never can tell, this time of year, it 
drifts so bad on the Flats." The name had be- 
numbed him again, and once more he felt as if 
Zeena were in the room between them. 

"Oh, Puss, you're too greedy!" Mattie cried. 

The cat, unnoticed, had crept up on muffled 
paws from Zeena's seat to the table, and was 
stealthily elongating its body in the direction of 
the milk-jug, which stood between Ethan and 
Mattie. The two leaned forward at the same 
moment and their hands met on the handle of 
the jug. Mattie's hand was underneath, and 
Ethan kept his clasped on it a moment longer 
than was necessary. The cat, profiting by 
his unusual demonstration, tried to effect an 
unnoticed retreat, and in doing so backed into 



Ethan Frame 85 



the pickle-dish, which fell to the floor with a 
crash. 

Mattie, in an instant, had sprung from her 
chair and was down on her knees by the frag- 
ments. 

"Oh, Ethan, Ethan it's all to pieces! What 
willZeena say?" 

But this time his courage was up. "Well, she'll 
have to say it to the cat, any way!" he rejoined 
with a laugh, kneeling down at Mattie's side to 
scrape up the swimming pickles. 

She lifted stricken eyes to him. "Yes, but, you 
see, she never meant it should be used, not even 
when there was company; and I had to get up on 
the step-ladder to reach it down from the top shelf 
of the china-closet, where she keeps it with all 
her best things, and of course she'll want to 
know why I did it " 

The case was so serious that it called forth all 
of Ethan's latent resolution. 

"She needn't know anything about it if you 
keep quiet. I'll get another just like it to-morrow. 
Where did it come from? I'll go to Shadd's Falls 
for it if I have to!" 

"Oh, you'll never get another even there! It 



86 Ethan Frame 

was a wedding present don't you remember? 
It came all the way from Philadelphia, from 
Zeena's aunt that married the minister. That's 
why she wouldn't ever use it. Oh, Ethan, Ethan, 
what in the world shall I do?" 

She began to cry, and he felt as if every one of 
her tears were pouring over him like burning 
lead. "Don't, Matt, don't oh, don't /" he im- 
plored her. 

She struggled to her feet, and he rose and fol- 
lowed her helplessly while she spread out the 
pieces of glass on the kitchen dresser. It seemed 
to him as if the shattered fragments of their 
evening lay there. 

"Here, give them to me," he said in a voice of 
sudden authority. 

She drew aside, instinctively obeying his tone. 
"Oh, Ethan, what are you going to do?" 

Without replying he gathered the pieces of glass 
into his broad palm and walked out of the kitch- 
en to the passage. There he lit a candle-end, 
opened the china-closet, and, reaching his long 
arm up to the highest shelf, laid the pieces to- 
gether with such accuracy of touch that a close 
inspection convinced him of the impossibility of 



Ethan Frome 87 

detecting from below that the dish was broken. 
If he glued it together the next morning months 
might elapse before his wife noticed what had 
happened, and meanwhile he might after all be 
able to match the dish at Shadd's Falls or Betts- 
bridge. Having satisfied himself that there was 
no risk of immediate discovery he went back to 
the kitchen with a lighter step, and found Mattie 
disconsolately removing the last scraps of pickle 
from the floor. 

"It's all right, Matt. Come back and finish 
supper," he commanded her. 

Completely reassured, she shone on him 
through tear-hung lashes, and his soul swelled 
with pride as he saw how his tone subdued her. 
She did not even ask what he had done. Except 
when he was steering a big log down the mountain 
to his mill he had never known such a thrilling 
sense of mastery. 



THEY finished supper, and while Mattie 
cleared the table Ethan went to look at 
the cows and then took a last turn about the 
house. The earth lay dark under a muffled sky 
and the air was so still that now and then he 
heard a lump of snow come thumping down from 
a tree far off on the edge of the wood-lot. 

When he returned to the kitchen Mattie had 
pushed up his chair to the stove and seated her- 
self near the lamp with a bit of sewing. The scene 
was just as he had dreamed of it that morning. 
He sat down, drew his pipe from his pocket and 
stretched his feet to the glow. His hard day's work 
in the keen air made him feel at once lazy and light 
of mood, and he had a confused sense of being in 
another world, where all was warmth and harmony 
and time could bring no change. The only draw- 
back to his complete well-being was the fact that 
he could not see Mattie from where he sat ; but 



Ethan Frome 



he was too indolent to move and after a moment he 
said: "Come over here and sit by the stove." 

Zeena's empty rocking-chair stood facing him. 
Mattie rose obediently, and seated herself in it. 
As her young brown head detatched itself against 
the patch-work cushion that habitually framed 
his wife's gaunt countenance, Ethan had a 
momentary shock. It was almost as if the other 
face, the face of the superseded woman, had 
obliterated that of the intruder. After a moment 
Mattie seemed to be affected by the same sense 
of constraint. She changed her position, leaning 
forward to bend her head above her work, so 
that he saw only the foreshortened tip of her 
nose and the streak of red in her hair; then she 
slipped to her feet, saying "I can't see to sew," 
and went back to her chair by the lamp. 

Ethan made a pretext of getting up to replen- 
ish the stove, and when he returned to his seat he 
pushed it sideways that he might have a view of 
her profile and of the lamplight falling on her 
hands. The cat, who had been a puzzled observer 
of these unusual movements, jumped up into 
Zeena's chair, rolled itself into a ball, and lay 
watching them with narrowed eyes. 



90 Ethan Frome 

Deep quiet sank on the room. The clock ticked 
above the dresser, a piece of charred wood fell 
now and then in the stove, and the faint sharp 
scent of the geraniums mingled with the odour of 
Ethan's smoke, which began to throw a blue haze 
about the lamp and to hang its greyish cobwebs 
in the shadowy corners of the room. 

All constraint had vanished between the two, 
and they began to talk easily and simply. They 
spoke of every-day things, of the prospect of 
snow, of the next church sociable, of the loves 
and 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 j v 

"This is the night we were to have gone coast- 
ing, 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 



Ethan Frome 9 1 



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, Fd 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 



9 2 Ethan Frome 

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 hem- 
ming. "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 eve- 
ning, 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 awkward- 
ness that made him feel so. He knew that most 
young men made nothing at all of giving a pretty 



Ethan Frome 93 



girl a kiss, and he remembered that the night 
before, when he had put his arm about Mattie, 
she had not resisted. But that had been out-of- 
doors, under the open irresponsible night. Now, 
in the warm lamplit room, with all its ancient 
implications of conformity and order, she seemed 
infinitely farther away from him and more un- 
approachable. 

To ease his constraint he said: "I suppose 
they'll be setting a date before long." 

"Yes. I shouldn't wonder if they got married 
some time along in the summer." She pro- 
nounced the word married as if her voice caressed 
it. It seemed a rustling covert leading to en- 
chanted glades. A pang shot through Ethan, and 
he said, twisting away from her in his chair: 
"It'll be your turn next, I wouldn't wonder." 

She laughed a little uncertainly. "Why do you 
keep on saying that?" 

He echoed her laugh. "I guess I do it to get 
used to the idea." 

He drew up to the table again and she sewed 
on in silence, with dropped lashes, while he sat 
in fascinated contemplation of the way in which 
her hands went up and down above the strip of 



94 Ethan Frome 

stuff, just as he had seen a pair of birds make 
short perpendicular flights over a nest they were 
building. At length, without turning her head 
or lifting her lids, she said in a low tone: "It's 
not because you think Zeena's got anything 
against me, is it?" 

His former dread started up full-armed at the 
suggestion. "Why, what do you mean?" he 
stammered. 

She raised distressed eyes to his, her work 
dropping on the table between them. "I don't 
know. I thought last night she seemed to have." 

"I'd like to know what," he growled. 

"Nobody can tell with Zeena." It was the first 
time they had ever spoken so openly of her atti- 
tude toward Mattie, and the repetition of the 
name seemed to carry it to the farther corners 
of the room and send it back to them in long 
repercussions of sound. Mattie waited, as if to 
give the echo time to drop, and then went on: 
"She hasn't said anything to you?" 

He shook his head. "No, not a word." 

She tossed the hair back from her forehead 
with a laugh. "I guess I'm just nervous, then. 
I'm not going to think about it any more." 



Ethan Frome 95 



"Oh, no don't let's think about it, Matt!" 

The sudden heat of his tone made her colour 
mount again, not with a rush, but gradually, 
delicately, like the reflection of a thought steal- 
ing slowly across her heart. She sat silent, her 
hands clasped on her work, and it seemed to him 
that a warm current flowed toward him along 
the strip of stuff that still lay unrolled between 
them. Cautiously he slid his hand palm-down- 
ward along the table till his finger-tips touched 
the end of the stuff. A faint vibration of her 
lashes seemed to show that she was aware of his 
gesture, and that it had sent a counter-current 
back to her; and she let her hands lie motionless 
on the other end of the strip. 

As they sat thus he heard a sound behind him 
and turned his head. The cat had jumped from 
Zeena's chair to dart at a mouse in the wainscot, 
and as a result of the sudden movement the 
empty chair had set up a spectral rocking. 

"She'll be rocking in it herself this time to- 
morrow," Ethan thought. "I've been in a dream, 
and this is the only evening we'll ever have to- 
gether." The return to reality was as painful 
as the return to consciousness after taking an 



96 Ethan Frome 



anaesthetic. His body and brain ached with 
indescribable weariness, and he could think of 
nothing to say or to do that should arrest the 
mad flight of the moments. 

His alteration of mood seemed to have com- 
municated itself to Mattie. She looked up at him 
languidly, as though her lids were weighted with 
sleep and it cost her an effort to raise them. Her 
glance fell on his hand, which now completely 
covered the end of her work and grasped it as if 
it were a part of herself. He saw a scarcely per- 
ceptible tremor cross her face, and without 
knowing what he did he stooped his head and 
kissed the bit of stuff in his hold. As his lips 
rested on it he felt it glide slowly from beneath 
them, and saw that Mattie had risen and was 
silently rolling up her work. She fastened it with 
a pin, and then, finding her thimble and scissors, 
put them with the roll of stuff into the box 
covered with fancy paper which he had once 
brought to her from Bettsbridge. 

He stood up also, looking vaguely about the 
room. The clock above the dresser struck eleven. 

"Is the fire all right?" she asked in a low voice. 

He opened the door of the stove and poked 



Ethan Frome 9? 



aimlessly at the embers. When he raised himself 
again he saw that she was dragging toward the 
stove the old soap-box lined with carpet in which 
the cat made its bed. Then she recrossed the 
floor and lifted two of the geranium pots in her 
arms, moving them away from the cold window. 
He followed her and brought the other gerani- 
ums, the hyacinth bulbs in a cracked custard 
bowl and the German ivy trained over an old 
croquet hoop. 

When these nightly duties were performed 
there was nothing left to do but to bring in the 
tin candlestick from the passage, light the candle 
and blow out the lamp. Ethan put the candle- 
stick in Mattie's hand and she went out of the 
kitchen ahead of him, the light that she carried 
before her making her dark hair look like a drift 
of mist on the moon. 

"Good night, Matt," he said as she put her 
foot on the first step of the stairs. 

She turned and looked at him a moment. "Good 
night, Ethan," she answered, and went up. 

When the door of her room had closed on her 
he remembered that he had not even touched 
her hand. 



VI 



THE next morning at breakfast Jotham Powell 
was between them, and Ethan tried to hide 
his joy under an air of exaggerated indifference, 
lounging back in his chair to throw scraps to the 
cat, growling at the weather, and not so much as 
offering to help Mattie when she rose to clear 
away the dishes. 

He did not know why he was so irrationally 
happy, for nothing was changed in his life or 
hers. He had not even touched the tip of her 
fingers or looked her full in the eyes. But their 
evening together had given him a vision of what 
life at her side might be, and he was glad now 
that he had done nothing to trouble the sweet- 
ness of the picture. He had a fancy that she 
knew what had restrained him . . . 

There was a last load of lumber to be hauled 
to the village, and Jotham Powell who did not 
work regularly for Ethan in winter had "come 



Ethan Frome 99 

round" to help with the job. But a wet snow, 
melting to sleet, had fallen in the night and 
turned the roads to glass. There was more wet 
in the air and it seemed likely to both men that 
the weather would "milden" toward afternoon 
and make the going safer. Ethan therefore pro- 
posed to his assistant that they should load the 
sledge at the wood-lot, as they had done on the 
previous morning, and put off the "teaming" to 
Starkfield till later in the day. This plan had the 
advantage of enabling him to send Jotham to 
the Flats after dinner to meet Zenobia, while he 
himself took the lumber down to the village. 

He told Jotham to go out and harness up the 
greys, and for a moment he and Mattie had the 
kitchen to themselves. She had plunged the break- 
fast dishes into a tin dish-pan and was bending 
above it with her slim arms bared to the elbow, 
the steam from the hot water beading her forehead 
and tightening her rough hair into little brown 
rings like the tendrils on the traveller's joy. 

Ethan stood looking at her, his heart in his 
throat. He wanted to say: "We shall never be 
alone again like this." Instead, he reached down 
his tobacco-pouch from a shelf of the dresser, 



ioo Ethan Frome 

put it into his pocket and said: "I guess I can 
make out to be home for dinner." 

She answered "All right, Ethan/* and he heard 
her singing over the dishes as he went. 

As soon as the sledge was loaded he meant to 
send Jotham back to the farm and hurry on foot 
into the village to buy the glue for the pickle- 
dish. With ordinary luck he should have had 
time to carry out this plan; but everything went 
wrong from the start. On the way over to the 
wood-lot one of the greys slipped on a glare of ice 
and cut his knee; and when they got him up again 
Jotham had to go back to the barn for a strip of 
rag to bind the cut. Then, when the loading 
finally began, a sleety rain was coming down once 
more, and the tree trunks were so slippery that 
it took twice as long as usual to lift them and 
get them in place on the sledge. It was what 
Jotham called a sour morning for work, and the 
horses, shivering and stamping under their wet 
blankets, seemed to like it as little as the men. 
It was long past the dinner-hour when the job 
was done, and Ethan had to give up going to 
the village because he wanted to lead the injured 
horse home and wash the cut himself. 



Ethan Frome 101 



He thought that by starting out again with the 
lumber as soon as he had finished his dinner he 
might get back to the farm with the glue before 
Jotham and the old sorrel had had time to fetch 
Zenobia from the Flats; but he knew the chance 
was a slight one. It turned on the state of the roads 
and on the possible lateness of the Bettsbridge 
train. He remembered afterward, with a grim flash 
of self-derision, what importance he had attached 
to the weighing of these probabilities . , .. 

As soon as dinner was over he set out again 
for the wood-lot, not daring to linger till Jotham 
Powell left. The hired man was still drying his 
wet feet at the stove, and Ethan could only give 
Mattie a quick look as he said beneath his 
breath: 'Til be back early." 

He fancied that she nodded her comprehen- 
sion; and with that scant solace he had to trudge 
off through the rain. 

He had driven his load half-way to the village 
when Jotham Powell overtook him, urging the 
reluctant sorrel toward the Flats. 'Til have to 
hurry up to do it," Ethan mused, as the sleigh 
dropped down ahead of him over the dip of the 
school-house hill. He worked like ten at the un- 



102 Ethan Frome 

loading, and when it was over hastened on to 
Michael Eady's for the glue. Eady and his assist- 
ant were both "down street/* and young Denis, 
who seldom deigned to take their place, was 
lounging by the stove with a knot of the golden 
youth of Starkfield. They hailed Ethan with 
ironic compliment and offers of conviviality; but 
no one knew where to find the glue. Ethan, con- 
sumed with the longing for a last moment alone 
with Mattie, hung about impatiently while Denis 
made an ineffectual search in the obscurer cor- 
ners of the store. 

"Looks as if we were all sold out. But if you'll 
wait around till the old man comes along maybe 
he can put his hand on it." 

"I'm obliged to you, but I'll try if I can get it 
down at Mrs. Roman's," Ethan answered, burn- 
ing to be gone. 

Denis's commercial instinct compelled him to 
aver on oath that what Eady's store could not 
produce would never be found at the widow 
Homan's; but Ethan, heedless of this boast, had 
already climbed to the sledge and was driving 
on to the rival establishment. Here, after con- 
siderable search, and sympathetic questions as to 



Ethan Frome 103 



what he wanted it for, and whether ordinary 
flour paste wouldn't do as well if she couldn't 
find it, the widow Homan finally hunted down 
her solitary bottle of glue to its hiding-place in a 
medley of cough-lozenges and corset-laces. 

"I hope Zeena ain't broken anything she sets 
store by," she called after him as he turned the 
greys toward home. 

The fitful bursts of sleet had changed into a 
steady rain and the horses had heavy work even 
without a load behind them. Once or twice, 
hearing sleigh-bells, Ethan turned his head, 
fancying that Zeena and Jotham might over- 
take him; but the old sorrel was not in sight, and 
he set his face against the rain and urged on his 
ponderous pair. 

The barn was empty when the horses turned 
into it and, after giving them the most perfunc- 
tory ministrations they had ever received from 
him, he strode up to the house and pushed open 
the kitchen door. 

Mattie was there alone, as he had pictured her. 
She was bending over a pan on the stove; but at 
the sound of his step she turned with a start and 
sprang to him. 



104 Ethan Frome 

"See, here, Matt, I've got some stuff to mend 
the dish with ! Let me get at it quick," he 
cried, waving the bottle in one hand while he 
put her lightly aside; but she did not seem to 
hear him. 

"Oh, Ethan Zeena's come," she said in a 
whisper, clutching his sleeve. 

They stood and stared at each other, pale as 
culprits. 

"But the sorrel's not in the barn!" Ethan 
stammered. 

"Jotham Powell brought some goods over from 
the Flats for his wife, and he drove right on home 
with them," she explained. 

He gazed blankly about the kitchen, which looked 
cold and squalid in the rainy winter twilight. 

"How is she?" he asked, dropping his voice to 
Mattie's whisper. 

She looked away from him uncertainly. "I don't 
know. She went right up to her room." 

"She didn't say anything?" 

"No." 

Ethan let out his doubts in a low whistle and 
thrust the bottle back into his pocket. "Don't 
fret; I'll come down and mend it in the night," 



Ethan Frome 105 



he said. He pulled on his wet coat again and went 
back to the barn to feed the greys. 

While he was there Jotham Powell drove up 
with the sleigh, and when the horses had been 
attended to Ethan said to him: "You might as 
well come back up for a bite." He was not sorry 
to assure himself of Jotham's neutralising pres- 
ence at the supper table, for Zeena was always 
"nervous" after a journey. But the hired man, 
though seldom loth to accept a meal not included 
in his wages, opened his stiff jaws to answer 
slowly: "I'm obliged to you, but I guess I'll go 
along back." 

Ethan looked at him in surprise. "Better come 
up and dry off. Looks as if there'd be something 
hot for supper." 

Jotham's facial muscles were unmoved by this 
appeal and, his vocabulary being limited, he 
merely repeated: "I guess I'll go along back." 

To Ethan there was something vaguely omi- 
nous in this stolid rejection of free food and 
warmth, and he wondered what had happened 
on the drive to nerve Jotham to such stoicism. 
Perhaps Zeena had failed to see the new doctor 
or had not liked his counsels: Ethan knew that 



io6 Ethan Frome 

in such cases the first person she met was likely 
to be held responsible for her grievance. 

When he re-entered the kitchen the lamp lit 
up the same scene of shining comfort as on the 
previous evening. The table had been as care- 
fully laid, a clear fire glowed in the stove, the cat 
dozed in its warmth, and Mattie came forward 
carrying a plate of dough-nuts. 

She and Ethan looked at each other in silence; 
then she said, as she had said the night before: 
"I guess it's about time for supper." 



VII 



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 hesita- 
tion he went up and opened her door. The room was 
almost dark, but in the obscurity he saw her sit- 
ting 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." 



io8 Ethan Frome 



Turning her head at this, she answered solemn- 
ly: "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 twi- 
light with a mien of wan authority, as of one con- 
sciously 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 j erking to and fro between two 
extremities of feeling, but for the moment compas- 
sion 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. 



Ethan Frome 109 



"Yes. He says any regular doctor would want 
me to have an operation." 

Ethan was aware that, in regard to the import- 
ant 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. 

In the agitation caused by the gravity of her 
announcement he sought a consolatory short cut. 
"What do you know about this doctor anyway? 
Nobody ever told you that before." 

He saw his blunder before she could take it up: 
she wanted sympathy, not consolation. 

"I didn't need to have anybody tell me I 
was losing ground every day. Everybody but 
you could see it. And everybody in Bettsbridge 
knows about Dr. Buck. He has his office in 
Worcester, and comes over once a fortnight to 
Shadd's Falls and Bettsbridge for consultations. 
Eliza Spears was wasting away with kidney 
trouble before she went to him, and now she's 
up and around, and singing in the choir." 

"Well, I'm glad of that. You must do just what 



10 Ethan Frome 



he tells you," Ethan answered sympathetically. 

She was still looking at him. "I mean to/' she 
said. He was struck by a new note in her voice. 
It was neither whining nor reproachful, but drily 
resolute. 

4 What does he want you should do ?" he asked, 
with a mounting vision of fresh expenses. 

"He wants I should have a hired girl. He says 
I oughtn't to have to do a single thing around 
the house." 

"A hired girl?" Ethan stood transfixed. 

"Yes. And Aunt Martha found me one right 
off. Everybody said I was lucky to get a girl to 
come away out here, and I agreed to give her a 
dollar extry to make sure. She'll be over to-mor- 
row afternoon." 

Wrath and dismay contended in Ethan. He 
had foreseen an immediate demand for money, 
but not a permanent drain on his scant resources. 
He no longer believed what Zeena had told him 
of the supposed seriousness of her state : he saw 
in her expedition to Bettsbridge only a plot 
hatched between herself and her Pierce relations 
to foist on him the cost of a servant; and for the 
moment wrath predominated. 



Ethan Frome m 

"If you meant to engage a girl you ought to 
have told me before you started/* he said. 

"How could I tell you before I started? How 
did I know what Dr. Buck would say?" 

"Oh, Dr. Buck " Ethan's incredulity escaped 
in a short laugh. "Did Dr. Buck tell you how I 
was to pay her wages?" 

Her voice rose furiously with his. "No, he 
didn't. For I'd V been ashamed to tell him 
that you grudged me the money to get back my 
health, when I lost it nursing your own mother!" 

"You lost your health nursing mother?" 

"Yes; and my folks all told me at the time you 
couldn't do no less than marry me after " 

"Zeena!" 

Through the obscurity which hid their faces 
their thoughts seemed to dart at each other like 
serpents shooting venom. Ethan was 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 



Ethan Frome 



out against the uncurtained pane, which had 
turned from grey to black. 

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 ad- 
vantage in descending to the level of recrimina- 
tion. 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 under- 
stand 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." 



Ethan Frome 113 



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 An- 
drew 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 I ?" 

"No." He paused to control his voice. "But 
you know it now. I'm sorry, but it can't be helped. 



Ethan Frome 



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. 

The change in her tone reassured him. "Of 
course we will ! There's a whole lot more I can do 
for you, and Mattie - " 

Zeena, while he spoke, seemed to be follow- 
ing out some elaborate mental calculation. She 
emerged from it to say: "There'll be Mattie's 
board less, anyhow - " 

Ethan, supposing the discussion to be over, 
had turned to go down to supper. He stopped 
short, not grasping what he heard. "Mattie's 
board less ?" he began. 

Zeena laughed. It was an odd unfamiliar sound 
he did not remember ever having heard her 
laugh before. "You didn't suppose I was going 
to keep two girls, did you ? No wonder you were 
scared at the expense!" 

He still had but a confused sense of what she 
was saying. From the beginning of the discus- 
sion he had instinctively avoided the mention of 



Ethan Frome 115 



Mattie's name, fearing he hardly knew what: 
criticism, complaints, or vague allusions to the 
imminent probability of her marrying. But the 
thought of a definite rupture had never come to 
him, and even now could not lodge itself in his 
mind. 

"I don't know what you mean," he said. "Mat- 
tie Silver's not a hired girl. She's your relation." 

"She's a pauper that's hung onto us all after 
her father'd done his best to ruin us. I've kep' her 
here a whole year: it's somebody else's turn now." 

As the shrill words shot out Ethan heard a tap 
on the door, which he had drawn shut when he 
turned back from the threshold. 

"Ethan Zeena !" Mattie's voice sounded gaily 
from the landing, "do you know what time it is? 
Supper's been ready half an hour." 

Inside the room there was a moment's silence; 
then Zeena called out from her seat: "I'm not 
coming down to supper." 

"Oh, I'm sorry! Aren't you well? Shan't I 
bring you up a bite of something ?" 

Ethan roused himself with an effort and opened 
the door. "Go along down, Matt. Zeena's just a 
little tired. I'm coming." 



Ethan Frome 



He heard her "All right!" and her quick step 
on the stairs; then he shut the door and turned 
back into the room. His wife's attitude was un- 
changed, her face inexorable, and he was seized 
with the despairing sense of his helplessness. 
"You ain't going to do it, Zeena?" 
"Do what ?" she emitted between flattened lips. 
"Send Mattie away like this?" 
"I never bargained to take her for life!" 
He continued with rising vehemence: "You 
can't put her out of the house like a thief a 
poor girl without friends or money. She's done 
her best for you and she's got no place to go to. 
You may forget she's your kin but everybody 
else'll remember it. If you do a thing like that 
what do you suppose folks'll say of you?" 

Zeena waited a moment, as if giving him time 
to feel the full force of the contrast between his 
own excitement and her composure. Then she 
replied in the same smooth voice: "I know well 
enough what they say of my having kep' her 
here as long as I have." 

Ethan's hand dropped from the door-knob, 
which he had held clenched since he had drawn 
the door shut on Mattie. His wife's retort was 



Ethan Frome 



like a knife-cut across the sinews and he felt 
suddenly weak and powerless. He had meant to 
humble himself, to argue that Mattie's keep 
didn't cost much, after all, that he could make 
out to buy a stove and fix up a place in the attic 
for the hired girl but Zeena's words revealed 
the peril of such pleadings. 

"You mean to tell her she's got to go at 
once?" he faltered out, in terror of letting his 
wife complete her sentence. 

As if trying to make him see reason she replied 
impartially: "The girl will be over from Betts- 
bridge to-morrow, and I presume she's got to 
have somewheres to sleep." 

Ethan looked at her with loathing. She was no 
longer the listless creature who had lived at his side 
in a state of sullen self-absorption, but a mysteri- 
ous alien presence, an evil energy secreted from 
the long years of silent brooding. It was the sense 
of his helplessness that sharpened his antipathy. 
There had never been anything in her that one 
could appeal to; but as long as he could ignore 
and command he had remained indifferent. Now 
she had mastered him and he abhorred her. Mat- 
tie was her relation, not his : there were no means 



n8 Ethan Frome 

by which he could compel her to keep the girl 
under her roof. All the long misery of his baffled 
past, of his youth of failure, hardship and vain 
effort, rose up in his soul in bitterness and seemed 
to take shape before him in the woman who at 
every turn had barred his way. She had taken 
everything else from him; and now she meant to 
take the one thing that made up for all the 
others. For a moment such a flame of hate rose 
in him that it ran down his arm and clenched his 
fist against her. He took a wild step forward and 
then stopped. 

"You're you're not coming down?" he said 
in a bewildered voice. 

"No. I guess Til lay down on the bed a little 
while," she answered mildly; and he turned and 
walked out of the room. 

In the kitchen Mattie was sitting by the stove, 
the cat curled up on her knees. She sprang to her 
feet as Ethan entered and carried the covered 
dish of meat-pie to the table. 

"I hope Zeena isn't sick?" she asked. 

"No." 

She shone at him across the table. "Well, sit 
right down then. You must be starving." She 



Ethan Frome 119 

uncovered the pie and pushed it over to him. So 
they were to have one more evening together, her 
happy eyes seemed to say ! 

He helped himself mechanically and began to 
eat; then disgust took him by the throat and he 
laid down his fork. 

Mattie's tender gaze was on him and she 
marked the gesture. 

"Why, Ethan, what's the matter ? Don't it 
taste right?" 

"Yes it's first-rate. Only I" He pushed 
his plate away, rose from his chair, and walked 
around the table to her side. She started up with 
frightened eyes. 

"Ethan, there's something wrong! I knew 
there was!" 

She seemed to melt against him in her terror, 
and he caught her in his arms, held her fast there, 
felt her lashes beat his cheek like netted butter- 
flies. 

"What is it what is it?" she stammered; but 
he had found her lips at last and was drinking 
unconsciousness of everything but the joy they 
gave him. 

She lingered a moment, caught in the same 



120 Ethan Frome 

strong current; then she slipped from him and 
drew back a step or two, pale and troubled. Her 
look smote him with compunction, and he cried 
out, as if he saw her drowning in a dream: "You 
can't go, Matt! I'll never let you!" 

"Go go?" she stammered. "Must I go?" 

The words went on sounding between them as 
though a torch of warning flew from hand to 
hand through a black landscape. 

Ethan was overcome with shame at his lack 
of self-control in flinging the news at her so bru- 
tally. His head reeled and he had to support him- 
self against the table. All the while he felt as if he 
were still kissing her, and yet dying of thirst for 
her lips. 

"Ethan what has happened? Is Zeena mad 
with me?" 

Her cry steadied him, though it deepened his 
wrath and pity. "No, no," he assured her, "it's 
not that. But this new doctor has scared her 
about herself. You know she believes all they 
say the first time she sees them. And this one's 
told her she won't get well unless she lays up 
and don't do a thing about the house not for 
months " 



Ethan Frome 



He paused, his eyes wandering from her 
miserably. She stood silent a moment, drooping 
before him like a broken branch. She was so 
small and weak-looking that it wrung his heart; 
but suddenly she lifted her head and looked 
straight at him. "And she wants somebody 
handier in my place? Is that it?" 

"That's what she says to-night." 

"If she says it to-night she'll say it to-morrow." 

Both bowed to the inexorable truth: they knew 
that Zeena never changed her mind, and that in 
her case a resolve once taken was equivalent to 
an act performed. 

There was a long silence between them; then 
Mattie said in a low voice: "Don't be too sorry, 
Ethan." 

"Oh, God oh, God," he groaned. The glow of 
passion he had felt for her had melted to an ach- 
ing tenderness. He saw her quick lids beating 
back the tears, and longed to take her in his 
arms and soothe her. 

"You're letting your supper get cold," she ad- 
monished him with a pale gleam of gaiety. 

"Oh, Matt Matt where'll you go to?" 

Her lids sank and a tremor crossed her face. 



122 Ethan Frome 

He saw that for the first time the thought of the 
future came to her distinctly. "I might get some- 
thing to do over at Stamford/' she faltered, as if 
knowing that he knew she had no hope. 

He dropped back into his seat and hid his face 
in his hands. Despair seized him at the thought 
of her setting out alone to renew the weary quest 
for work. In the only place where she was known 
she was surrounded by indifference or animosity; 
and what chance had she, inexperienced and 
untrained, among the million bread-seekers of 
the cities? There came back to him miserable 
tales he had heard at Worcester, and the faces 
of girls whose lives had begun as hopefully as 
Mattie's. ... It was not possible to think of 
such things without a revolt of his whole being. 
He sprang up suddenly. 

"You can't go, Matt! I won't let you! She's 
always had her way, but I mean to have mine 
now " 

Mattie lifted her hand with a quick gesture, 
and he heard his wife's step behind him. 

Zeena came into the room with her dragging 
down-at-the-heel step, and quietly took her ac- 
customed seat between them. 



Ethan Frome 123 

"I felt a little mite better, and Dr. Buck says 
I ought to eat all I can to keep my strength up, 
even if I ain't got any appetite/' she said in her 
flat whine, reaching across Mattie for the teapot. 
Her "good" dress had been replaced by the black 
calico and brown knitted shawl which formed her 
daily wear, and with them she had put on her 
usual face and manner. She poured out her tea, 
added a great deal of milk to it, helped herself 
largely to pie and pickles, and made the familiar 
gesture of adjusting her false teeth before she 
began to eat. The cat rubbed itself ingratiatingly 
against her and she said "Good Pussy," stooped 
to stroke it and gave it a scrap of meat from 
her plate. 

Ethan sat speechless, not pretending to eat, 
but Mattie nibbled valiantly at her food and 
asked Zeena one or two questions about her 
visit to Bettsbridge. Zeena answered in her 
every-day tone and, warming to the theme, re- 
galed them with several vivid descriptions of 
intestinal disturbances among her friends and 
relatives. She looked straight at Mattie as she 
spoke, a faint smile deepening the vertical lines 
between her nose and chin. 



124 Ethan Frome 

When supper was over she rose from her seat 
and pressed her hand to the flat surface over the 
region of her heart. "That pie of yours always sets 
a mite heavy, Matt," she said, not ill-naturedly. 
She seldom abbreviated the girl's name, and 
when she did so it was always a sign of affability. 

"I've a good mind to go and hunt up those 
stomach powders I got last year over in Spring- 
field," she continued. "I ain't tried them for quite 
a while, and maybe they'll help the heartburn." 

Mattie lifted her eyes. "Can't I get them for 
you, Zeena?" she ventured. 

"No. They're in a place you don't know about," 
Zeena answered darkly, with one of her secret looks. 

She went out of the kitchen and Mattie, rising, 
began to clear the dishes from the table. As she 
passed Ethan's chair their eyes met and clung to- 
gether desolately. The warm still kitchen looked 
as peaceful as the night before. The cat had 
sprung to Zeena's rocking-chair, and the heat of 
the fire was beginning to draw out the faint 
sharp scent of the geraniums. Ethan dragged 
himself wearily to his feet. 

"I'll go out and take a look round," he said, 
going toward the passage to get his lantern. 



Ethan Frome 125 

As he reached the door he met Zeena coming 
back into the room, her lips twitching with 
anger, a flush of excitement on her sallow face. 
The shawl had slipped from her shoulders and 
was dragging at her down-trodden heels, and in 
her hands she carried the fragments of the red 
glass pickle-dish. 

"I'd like to know who done this," she said, 
looking sternly from Ethan to Mattie. 

There was no answer, and she continued in a 
trembling voice: "I went to get those powders 
I'd put away in father's old spectacle-case, top 
of the china-closet, where I keep the things I set 
store by, so's folks sha'n't meddle with them " 
Her voice broke, and two small tears hung on 
her lashless lids and ran slowly down her cheeks. 
"It takes the step-ladder to get at the top shelf, 
and I put Aunt Philura Maple's pickle-dish up 
there o' purpose when we was married, and it's 
never been down since, 'cept for the spring clean- 
ing, and then I always lifted it with my own hands, 
so's 't it shouldn't get broke." She laid the frag- 
ments reverently on the table. "I want to know 
who done this," she quavered. 

At the challenge Ethan turned back into the 



126 Ethan Frome 

room and faced her. "I can tell you, then. The 
cat done it." 



"That's what I said." 

She looked at him hard, and then turned her 
eyes to Mattie, who was carrying the dish-pan 
to the table. 

"I'd like to know how the cat got into my 
china-closet," she said. 

"Chasin' mice, I guess," Ethan rejoined. 
"There was a mouse round the kitchen all last 
evening." 

Zeena continued to look from one to the other; 
then she emitted her small strange laugh. "I 
knew the cat was a smart cat," she said in a high 
voice, "but I didn't know he was smart enough 
to pick up the pieces of my pickle-dish and lay 
'em edge to edge on the very shelf he knocked 
'em off of." 

Mattie suddenly drew her arms out of the 
steaming water. "It wasn't Ethan's fault, Zeena ! 
The cat did break the dish; but I got it down from 
the china-closet, and I'm the one to blame for 
its getting broken." 

Zeena stood beside the ruin of her treasure, 



Ethan Frome 127 



stiffening into a stony image of resentment. 
"You got down my pickle-dish what for?" 

A bright flush flew to Mattie's cheeks. "I want- 
ed to make the supper-table pretty," she said. 

"You wanted to make the supper-table pretty; 
and you waited till my back was turned, and 
took the thing I set most store by of anything 
I've got, and wouldn't never use it, not even 
when the minister come to dinner, or Aunt 
Martha Pierce come over from Bettsbridge " 
Zeena paused with a gasp, as if terrified by her 
own evocation of the sacrilege. "You're a bad 
girl, Mat tie Silver, and I always known it. It's 
the way your father begun, and I was warned 
of it when I took you, and I tried to keep my 
things where you couldn't get at 'em and now 
you've took from me the one I cared for most 
of all " She broke off in a short spasm of sobs 
that passed and left her more than ever like a 
shape of stone. 

"If I'd 'a' listened to folks, you'd 'a' gone 
before now, and this wouldn't 'a' happened," 
she said; and gathering up the bits of broken 
glass she went out of the room as if she carried 
a dead body . . v'v 8 



VIII 



WHEN Ethan was called back to the farm 
by his father's illness his mother gave him, 
for his own use, a small room behind the un ten- 
anted "best parlour." Here he had nailed up 
shelves for his books, built himself a box-sofa 
out of boards and a mattress, laid out his papers 
on a kitchen- table, hung on the rough plaster 
wall an engraving of Abraham Lincoln and a 
calendar with "Thoughts from the Poets," and 
tried, with these meagre properties to produce 
some likeness to the study of a "minister" who 
had been kind to him and lent him books when 
he was at Worcester. He still took refuge there 
in summer, but when Mattie came to live at the 
farm he had had to give her his stove, and con- 
sequently the room was uninhabitable for several 
months of the year. 

To this retreat he descended as soon as the 
house was quiet, and Zeena's steady breathing 



Ethan Frome 129 



from the bed had assured him that there was to 
be no sequel to the scene in the kitchen. After 
Zeena's departure he and Mattie had stood 
speechless, neither seeking to approach the 
other. Then the girl had returned to her task of 
clearing up the kitchen for the night and he had 
taken his lantern and gone on his usual round 
outside the house. The kitchen was empty when 
he came back to it; but his tobacco-pouch and 
pipe had been laid on the table, and under them 
was a scrap of paper torn from the back of a 
seedsman's catalogue, on which three words were 
written: "Don't trouble, Ethan." 

Going into his cold dark "study" he placed 
the lantern on the table and, stooping to its 
light, read the message again and again. It was 
the first time that Mattie had ever written to 
him, and the possession of the paper gave him a 
strange new sense of her nearness; yet it deepened 
his anguish by reminding him that henceforth they 
would have no other way of communicating with 
each other. For the life of her smile, the warmth 
of her voice, only cold paper and dead words ! 

Confused motions of rebellion stormed in him. 
He was too young, too strong, too full of the sap 



Ethan Frome 



of living, to submit so easily to the destruction 
of his hopes. Must he wear out all his years at 
the side of a bitter querulous woman ? Other pos- 
sibilities had been in him, possibilities sacrificed, 
one by one, to Zeena's narrow-mindedness and 
ignorance. And what good had come of it ? She 
was a hundred times bitterer and more discon- 
tented than when he had married her: the one 
pleasure left her was to inflict pain on him. All 
the healthy instincts of self-defence rose up in 
him against such waste . . . 

He bundled himself into his old coon-skin coat 
and lay down on the box-sofa to think. Under his 
cheek he felt a hard object with strange pro- 
tuberances. It was a cushion which Zeena had 
made for him when they were engaged the 
only piece of needlework he had ever seen her 
do. He flung it across the floor and propped his 
head against the wall . ; .;v 

He knew a case of a man over the mountain 
a young fellow of about his own age who had 
escaped from just such a life of misery by going 
West with the girl he cared for. His wife had 
divorced him, and he had married the girl and 
prospered. Ethan had seen the couple the sum- 



Ethan Frome 13 l 



mer before at Shadd's Falls, where they had come 
to visit relatives. They had a little girl with fair 
curls, who wore a gold locket and was dressed 
like a princess. The deserted wife had not done 
badly either. Her husband had given her the farm 
and she had managed to sell it, and with that and 
the alimony she had started a lunch-room at 
Bettsbridge and bloomed into activity and im- 
portance. Ethan was fired by the thought. Why 
should he not leave with Mattie the next day, 
instead of letting her go alone ? He would hide his 
valise under the seat of the sleigh, and Zeena would 
suspect nothing till she went upstairs for her after- 
noon nap and found a letter on the bed . . *, 

His impulses were still near the surface, and 
he sprang up, re-lit the lantern, and sat down at 
the table. He rummaged in the drawer for a 
sheet of paper, found one, and began to write. 

"Zeena, I've done all I could for you, and I 
don't see as it's been any use. I don't blame you, 
nor I don't blame myself. Maybe both of us will 
do better separate. I'm going to try my luck 
West, and you can sell the farm and mill, and 
keep the money " 

His pen paused on the word, which brought 



Ethan Frome 



home to him the relentless conditions of his lot. 
If he gave the farm and mill to Zeena what 
would be left him to start his own life with ? Once 
in the West he was sure of picking up work he 
would not have feared to try his chance alone. 
But with Mattie depending on him the case was 
different. And what of Zeena's fate? Farm and 
mill were mortgaged to the limit of their value, 
and even if she found a purchaser in itself an 
unlikely chance it was doubtful if she could 
clear a thousand dollars on the sale. Meanwhile, 
how could she keep the farm going? It was only 
by incessant labour and personal supervision that 
Ethan drew a meagre living from his land, and his 
wife, even if she were in better health than she 
imagined, could never carry such a burden alone. 
Well, she could go back to her people, then, 
and see what they would do for her. It was the 
fate she was forcing on Mattie why not let her 
try it herself? By the time she had discovered his 
whereabouts, and brought suit for divorce, he 
would probably wherever he was be earning 
enough to pay her a sufficient alimony. And the 
alternative was to let Mattie go forth alone, with 
far less hope of ultimate provision . . v 



Ethan Frome 133 



He had scattered the contents of the table- 
drawer in his search for a sheet of paper, and as 
he took up his pen his eye fell on an old copy of 
the Bettsbridge Eagle. The advertising sheet was 
folded uppermost, and he read the seductive 
words: "Trips to the West: Reduced Rates." 

He drew the lantern nearer and eagerly scanned 
the fares; then the paper fell from his hand and 
he pushed aside his unfinished letter. A moment 
ago he had wondered what he and Mattie were 
to live on when they reached the West; now he 
saw that he had not even the money to take 
her there. Borrowing was out of the question: 
six months before he had given his only security 
to raise funds for necessary repairs to the mill, 
and he knew that without security no one at 
Starkfield would lend him ten dollars. The in- 
exorable facts closed in on him like prison- 
warders hand-cuffing a convict. There was no 
way out none. He was a prisoner for life, and 
now his one ray of light was to be extinguished. 

He crept back heavily to the sofa, stretching 
himself out with limbs so leaden that he felt as 
if they would never move again. Tears rose in 
his throat and slowly burned their way to his lids. 



134 Ethan Frome 

As he lay there, the window-pane that faced 
him, growing gradually lighter, inlaid upon 
the darkness a square of moon-suffused sky. A 
crooked tree-branch crossed it, a branch of the 
apple-tree under which, on summer evenings, 
he had sometimes found Mattie sitting when he 
came up from the mill. Slowly the rim of the 
rainy vapours caught fire and burnt away, and 
a pure moon swung into the blue. Ethan, rising 
on his elbow, watched the landscape whiten and 
shape itself under the sculpture of the moon. 
This was the night on which he was to have 
taken Mattie coasting, and there hung the lamp 
to light them ! He looked out at the slopes bathed 
in lustre, the silver-edged darkness of the woods, 
the spectral purple of the hills against the sky, 
and it seemed as though all the beauty of the 
night had been poured out to mock his wretch- 
edness . . . 

He fell asleep, and when he woke the chill of the 
winter dawn was in the room. He felt cold and 
stiff and hungry, and ashamed of being hungry. 
He rubbed his eyes and went to the window. A 
red sun stood over the grey rim of the fields, be- 
hind trees that looked black and brittle. He said 



Ethan Frome 135 



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 



136 Ethan Frome 

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 day- 
light, 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. 



Ethan Frome 13? 



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 con- 
tinued: "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 about Mattie's 
going 

"That so?" said Jotham indifferently; and 
they went on with their work. 

When they returned to the kitchen the two 
women were already at breakfast. Zeena had an 
air of unusual alertness and activity. She drank 
two cups of coffee and fed the cat with the scraps 
left in the pie-dish; then she rose from her seat 
and, walking over to the window, snipped two 
or three yellow leaves from the geraniums. "Aunt 
Martha's ain't got a faded leaf on 'em; but they 
pine away when they ain't cared for," she said re- 



138 Ethan Frome 

flectively. Then she turned to Jotham and asked : 
"What time'd you sayDan'l Byrne'd be along?" 

The hired man threw a hesitating glance at 
Ethan. "Round about noon/' he said. 

Zeena turned to Mattie. "That trunk of yours 
is too heavy for the sleigh, and Dan'l Byrne'll 
be round to take it over to the Flats/' she said. 

"I'm much obliged to you, Zeena/ 'said Mat tie. 

"I'd like to go over things with you first/' 
Zeena continued in an unperturbed voice. "I 
know there's a huckaback towel missing; and I 
can't make out what you done with that match- 
safe 't used to stand behind the stuffed owl in 
the parlour." 

She went out, followed by Mattie, and when 
the men were alone Jotham said to his employer: 
"I guess I better let Dan'l come round, then." 

Ethan finished his usual morning tasks about 
the house and barn; then he said to Jotham: 
"I'm going down to Starkfield. Tell them not 
to wait dinner." 

The passion of rebellion had broken out in him 
again. That which had seemed incredible in the 
sober light of day had really come to pass, and 



Ethan Frome 139 

he was to assist as a helpless spectator at Mattie's 
banishment. His manhood was humbled by the 
part he was compelled to play and by the thought 
of whatMattie must think of him. Confused im- 
pulses struggled in him as he strode along to the 
village. He had made up his mind to do some- 
thing, but he did not know what it would be. 

The early mist had vanished and the fields lay 
like a silver shield under the sun. It was one of 
the days when the glitter of winter shines through 
a pale haze of spring. Every yard of the road was 
alive with Mattie's presence, and there was hardly 
a branch against the sky or a tangle of brambles 
on the bank in which some bright shred of mem- 
ory was not caught. Once, in the stillness, the 
call of a bird in a mountain ash was so like her 
laughter that his heart tightened and then grew 
large; and all these things made him see that 
something must be done at once. 

Suddenly it occurred to him that Andrew Hale, 
who was a kind-hearted man, might be induced 
to reconsider his refusal and advance a small 
sum on the lumber if he were told that Zeena's 
ill-health made it necessary to hire a servant. 
Hale, after all, knew enough of Ethan's situation 



Ethan Frome 



to make it possible for the latter to renew his 
appeal without too much loss of pride; and, more- 
over, how much did pride count in the ebullition 
of passions in his breast? 

The more he considered his plan the more 
hopeful it seemed. If he could get Mrs. Kale's 
ear he felt certain of success, and with fifty 
dollars in his pocket nothing could keep him 
from Mattie . . . 

His first object was to reach Starkfield before 
Hale had started for his work; he knew the car- 
penter had a job down the Corbury road and 
was likely to leave his house early. Ethan's long 
strides grew more rapid with the accelerated 
beat of his thoughts, and as he reached the foot 
of School House Hill he caught sight of Hale's 
sleigh in the distance. He hurried forward to 
meet it, but as it drew nearer he saw that it was 
driven by the carpenter's youngest boy and that 
the figure at his side, looking like a large upright 
cocoon in spectacles, was that of Mrs. Andrew 
Hale. Ethan signed to them to stop, and Mrs. 
Hale leaned forward, her pink wrinkles twinkling 
with benevolence. 

"Mr. Hale? Why, yes, you'll find him down 



Ethan Frome 



home now. He ain't going to his work this fore- 
noon. He woke up with a touch o' lumbago, and 
I just made him put on one of old Dr. Kidder's 
plasters and set right up into the fire." 

Beaming maternally on Ethan, she bent over 
to add: "I on'y just heard from Mr. Hale 'bout 
Zeena's going over to Bettsbridge to see that 
new doctor. I'm real sorry she's feeling so bad 
again ! I hope he thinks he can do something 
for her? I don't know anybody round here's had 
more sickness than Zeena. I always tell Mr. Hale 
I don't know what she'd 'a' done if she hadn't 'a* 
had you to look after her; and I used to say the 
same thing 'bout your mother. You've had an 
awful mean time, Ethan Frome." 

She gave him a last nod of sympathy while her 
son chirped to the horse; and Ethan, as she drove 
off, stood in the middle of the road and stared 
after the retreating sleigh. 

It was a long time since any one had spoken 
to him as kindly as Mrs. Hale. Most people were 
either indifferent to his troubles, or disposed to 
think it natural that a young fellow of his age 
should have carried without repining the burden 
of three crippled lives. But Mrs. Hale had said 



Ethan Frome 



"You've had an awful mean time, Ethan Frome," 
and he felt less alone with his misery. If the Hales 
were sorry for him they would surely respond to 
his appeal . . . 

He started down the road toward their house, 
but at the end of a few yards he pulled up sharply, 
the blood in his face. For the first time, in the 
light of the words he had just heard, he saw what 
he was about to do. He was planning to take 
advantage of the Hales' sympathy to obtain 
money from them on false pretences. That was 
a plain statement of the cloudy purpose which 
had driven him in headlong to Starkfield. 

With the sudden perception of the point to 
which his madness had carried him, the madness 
fell and he saw his life before him as it was. He 
was a poor man, the husband of a sickly woman, 
whom his desertion would leave alone and desti- 
tute; and even if he had had the heart to desert 
her he could have done so only by deceiving two 
kindly people who had pitied him. 

He turned and walked slowly back to the farm. 



IX 



A 1 the kitchen door Daniel Byrne sat in his 
sleigh behind a big-boned grey who pawed 
the snow and swung his long head restlessly from 
side to side. 

Ethan went into the kitchen and found his 
wife by the stove. Her head was wrapped in her 
shawl, and she was reading a book called "Kid- 
ney Troubles and Their Cure" on which he had 
had to pay extra postage only a few days before. 

Zeena did not move or look up when he entered, 
and after a moment he asked : "Where's Mattie ?" 

Without lifting her eyes from the page she re- 
plied: "I presume she's getting down her trunk." 

The blood rushed to his face. "Getting down 
her trunk alone?" 

"Jotham Powell's down in the wood-lot, and 
Dan'l Byrne says he darsn't leave that horse," 
she returned. 

Her husband without stopping to hear the end 



144 Ethan Frome 

of the phrase, had left the kitchen and sprung 
up the stairs. The door of Mattie's room was 
shut, and he wavered a moment on the landing. 
"Matt," he said in a low voice; but there was no 
answer, and he put his hand on the door-knob. 

He had never been in her room except once, 
in the early summer, when he had gone there to 
plaster up a leak in the eaves, but he remembered 
exactly how everything had looked : the red and 
white quilt on her narrow bed, the pretty pin- 
cushion on the chest of drawers, and over it the 
enlarged photograph of her mother, in an oxy- 
dized frame, with a bunch of dyed grasses at the 
back. Now all these and other tokens of her pres- 
ence had vanished, and the room looked as bare 
and comfortless as when Zeena had shown her 
into it on the day of her arrival. In the middle 
of the floor stood her trunk, and on the trunk 
she sat in her Sunday dress, her back turned to 
the door and her face in her hands. She had 
not heard Ethan's call because she was sobbing; 
and she did not hear his step till he stood close 
behind her and laid his hands on her shoulders. 

"Matt oh, don't-oh, Matt!" 

She started up, lifting her wet face to his. 



Ethan Frome 145 



"Ethan I thought I wasn't ever going to see 
you again!" 

He took her in his arms, pressing her close, and 
with a trembling hand smoothed away the hair 
from her forehead. 

"Not see me again? What do you mean?" 

She sobbed out: "Jotham said you told him we 
wasn't to wait dinner for you, and I thought " 

"You thought I meant to cut it?" he finished 
for her grimly. 

She clung to him without answering, and he laid 
his lips on her hair, which was soft yet springy, 
like certain mosses on warm slopes, and had the 
faint woody fragrance of fresh sawdust in the sun. 

Through the door they heard Zeena's voice call- 
ing out from below: "Dan'l Byrne says you better 
hurry up if you want him to take that trunk." 

They drew apart with stricken faces. Words of 
resistance rushed to Ethan's lips and died there. 
Mattie found her handkerchief and dried her eyes; 
then, bending down, she took hold of a handle of 
the trunk. 

Ethan put her aside. "You let go, Matt," he 
ordered her. 

She answered: "It takes two to coax it round 



146 Ethan Frome 

the corner"; and submitting to this argument 
he grasped the other handle, and together they 
manoeuvred the heavy trunk out to the landing. 

"Now let go/* he repeated; then he shouldered 
the trunk and carried it down the stairs and 
across the passage to the kitchen. Zeena, who 
had gone back to her seat by the stove, did not 
lift her head from her book as he passed. Mattie 
followed him out of the door and helped him to 
lift the trunk into the back of the sleigh. When 
it was in place they stood side by side on the 
door-step, watching Daniel Byrne plunge off 
behind his fidgety horse. 

It seemed to Ethan that his heart was bound 
with cords which an unseen hand was tightening 
with every tick of the clock. Twice he opened 
his lips to speak to Mattie and found no breath. 
At length, as she turned to re-enter the house, he 
laid a detaining hand on her. 

"I'm going to drive you over, Matt," he 
whispered. 

She murmured back: "I think Zeena wants I 
should go with Jotham." 

"I'm going to drive you over," he repeated; 
and she went into the kitchen without answering. 



Ethan Frome 14? 



At dinner Ethan could not eat. If he lifted his 
eyes they rested on Zeena's pinched face, and the 
corners of her straight lips seemed to quiver 
away into a smile. She ate well, declaring that 
the mild weather made her feel better, and 
pressed a second helping of beans on Jotham 
Powell, whose wants she generally ignored. 

Mattie, when the meal was over, went about 
her usual task of clearing the table and washing 
up the dishes. Zeena, after feeding the cat, had 
returned to her rocking-chair by the stove, and 
Jotham Powell, who always lingered last, reluc- 
tantly pushed back his chair and moved toward 
the door. 

On the threshold he turned back to say to 
Ethan: "What time'll I come round for Mattie?" 

Ethan was standing near the window, mechan- 
ically filling his pipe while he watched Mattie 
move to and fro. He answered: "You needn't 
come round; I'm going to drive her over myself." 

He saw the rise of the colour in Mattie's averted 
cheek, and the quick lifting of Zeena's head. 

"I want you should stay here this afternoon, 
Ethan," his wife said. "Jotham can drive Mattie 



over." 



148 Ethan Frome 

Mattie flung an imploring glance at him, but 
he repeated curtly: "I'm going to drive her over 
myself." 

Zeena continued in the same even tone: "I 
wanted you should stay and fix up that stove in 
Mattie's room afore the girl gets here. It ain't 
been drawing right for nigh on a month now/' 

Ethan's voice rose indignantly. "If it was good 
enough for Mattie I guess it's good enough for 
a hired girl." 

"That girl that's coming told me she was used 
to a house where they had a furnace/' Zeena per- 
sisted with the same monotonous mildness. 

"She'd better ha' stayed there then," he flung 
back at her; and turning to Mattie he added in a 
hard voice: "You be ready by three, Matt; I've 
got business at Corbury." 

Jotham Powell had started for the barn, and 
Ethan strode down after him aflame with anger. 
The pulses in his temples throbbed and a fog was 
in his eyes. He went about his task without 
knowing what force directed him, or whose hands 
and feet were fulfilling its orders. It was not till 
he led out the sorrel and backed him between the 
shafts of the sleigh that he once more became 



Ethan Frome 149 



conscious of what he was doing. As he passed the 
bridle over the horse's head, and wound the 
traces around the shafts, he remembered the day 
when he had made the same preparations in 
order to drive over and meet his wife's cousin at 
the Flats. It was little more than a year ago, on 
just such a soft afternoon, with a "feel" of spring 
in the air. The sorrel, turning the same big 
ringed eye on him, nuzzled the palm of his hand 
in the same way; and one by one all the days 
between rose up and stood before him . . . 

He flung the bearskin into the sleigh, climbed 
to the seat, and drove up to the house. When 
he entered the kitchen it was empty, but Mat- 
tie's bag and shawl lay ready by the door. He 
went to the foot of the stairs and listened. No 
sound reached him from above, but presently 
he thought he heard some one moving .about in 
his deserted study, and pushing open the door 
he saw Mattie, in her hat and jacket, standing 
with her back to him near the table. 

She started at his approach and turning 
quickly, said: "Is it time?" 

"What are you doing here, Matt?" he asked 
her. 



i5 Ethan Frome 

She looked at him timidly. "I was just taking 
a look round that's all/' she answered, with a 
wavering smile. 

They went back into the kitchen without speak- 
ing, and Ethan picked up her bag and shawl. 

"Where's Zeena?" he asked. 

"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 



Ethan Frome 



cried, seeking her hand beneath the fur and press- 
ing 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 Betts- 
bridge 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 coat-sleeve, he could 
just catch the tip of her nose and a blown brown 
wave of hair. They drove slowly up the road be- 
tween 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 



Ethan Frome 



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 Mat- 
tie 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 fro- 
zen 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. 

He looked up and down the little pebbly beach 
till his eye lit on a fallen tree-trunk half sub- 
merged in snow. 

"There's where we sat at the picnic," he re- 
minded her. 

The entertainment of which he spoke was one 
of the few that they had taken part in together: 
a "church picnic" which, on a long afternoon 
of the preceding summer, had filled the retired 



Ethan Frome 153 



place with merry-making. Mattie had begged 
him to go with her but he had refused. Then, 
toward sunset, coming down from the mountain 
where he had been felling timber, he had been 
caught by some strayed revellers and drawn into 
the group by the lake, where Mattie, encircled 
by facetious youths, and bright as a blackberry 
under her spreading hat, was brewing coffee 
over a gipsy fire. He remembered the shyness he 
had felt at approaching her in his uncouth 
clothes, and then the lighting up of her face, and 
the way she had broken through the group to 
come to him with a cup in her hand. They had 
sat for a few minutes on the fallen log by the 
pond, and she had missed her gold locket, and 
set the young men searching for it; and it was 
Ethan who had spied it in the moss . . . That 
was all; but all their intercourse had been made 
up of just such inarticulate flashes, when they 
seemed to come suddenly upon happiness as if 
they had surprised a butterfly in the winter 
woods . . . 

"It was right there I found your locket," he 
said, pushing his foot into a dense tuft of blue- 
berry bushes. 



154 Ethan Frome 

"I never saw anybody with such sharp eyes!" 
she answered. 

She sat down on the tree-trunk in the sun and 
he sat down beside her. 

"You were as pretty as a picture in that pink 
hat/* he said. 

She laughed with pleasure. "Oh, I guess it was 
the hat!" she rejoined. 

They had never before avowed their inclina- 
tion so openly, and Ethan, for a moment, had 
the illusion that he was a free man, wooing the 
girl he meant to marry. He looked at her hair 
and longed to touch it again, and to tell her that 
it smelt of the woods; but he had never learned 
to say such things. 

Suddenly she rose to her feet and said: "We 
mustn't stay here any longer." 

He continued to gaze at her vaguely, only 
half-roused from his dream. "There's plenty of 
time," he answered. 

They stood looking at each other as if the 
eyes of each were straining to absorb and hold 
fast the other's image. There were things he had 
to say to her before they parted, but he could not 
say them in that place of summer memories, and 



Ethan Frome 155 



he turned and followed her in silence to the 
sleigh. As they drove away the sun sank behind 
the hill and the pine-boles turned from red to 
grey. 

By a devious track between the fields they 
wound back to the Starkfield road. Under the 
open sky the light was still clear, with a reflec- 
tion of cold red on the eastern hills. The clumps 
of trees in the snow seemed to draw together in 
ruffled lumps, like birds with their heads under 
their wings; and the sky, as it paled, rose higher, 
leaving the earth more alone. 

As they turned into the Starkfield road Ethan 
said: "Matt, what do you mean to do?" 

She did not answer at once, but at length she 
said: "I'll try to get a place in a store." 

"You know you can't do it. The bad air and 
the standing all day nearly killed you before." 

"I'm a lot stronger than I was before I came 
to Starkfield." 

"And now you're going to throw away all the 
good it's done you!" 

There seemed to be no answer to this, and 
again they drove on for a while without speak- 
ing. With every yard of the way some spot 



156 Ethan Frome 

where they had stood, and laughed together or 
been silent, clutched at Ethan and dragged him 
back. 

"Isn't there any of your father's folks could 
help you?" 

"There isn't any of 'em I'd ask." 

He lowered his voice to say: "You know there's 
nothing I wouldn't do for you if I could." 

"I know there isn't." 

"But I can't " 

She was silent, but he felt a slight tremor in 
the shoulder against his. 

"Oh, Matt," he broke out, "if I could ha' 
gone with you now, I'd ha' done it " 

She turned to him, pulling a scrap of paper 
from her breast. "Ethan I found this," she 
stammered. Even in the failing light he saw it 
was the letter to his wife that he had begun the 
night before and forgotten to destroy. Through 
his astonishment there ran a fierce thrill of joy. 

"Matt " he cried; "if I could ha' done it, would 

5> 
your 

"Oh, Ethan, Ethan what's the use?" With 
a sudden movement she tore the letter in shreds 
and sent them fluttering off into the snow. 



Ethan Frome 15? 



"Tell me, Matt! Tell me!" he adjured her. 

She was silent for a moment ; then she said, 
in such a low tone that he had to stoop his head 
to hear her: "I used to think of it sometimes, 
summer nights, when the moon was so bright I 
couldn't sleep." 

His heart reeled with the sweetness of it. "As 
long ago as that?" 

She answered, as if the date had long been fixed 
for her: "The first time was at Shadow Pond." 

"Was that why you gave me my coffee before 
the others?" 

"I don't know. Did I? I was dreadfully put 
out when you wouldn't go to the picnic with me; 
and then, when I saw you coming down the 
road, I thought maybe you'd gone home that 
way o' purpose; and that made me glad." 

They were silent again. They had reached the 
point where the road dipped to the hollow by 
Ethan's mill and as they descended the darkness 
descended with them, dropping down like a black 
veil from the heavy hemlock boughs. 

"I'm tied hand and foot, Matt. There isn't a 
thing I can do," he began again. 

"You must write to me sometimes, Ethan." 



158 Ethan Frome 

"Oh, what goocTll writing do? I want to put 
my hand out and touch you. I want to do for 
you and care for you. I want to be there when 
you're sick and when you're lonesome." 

"You mustn't think but what I'll do all right." 

"You won't need me, you mean ? I suppose 
you'll marry!" 

"Oh, Ethan!" she cried. 

"I don't know how it is you make me feel, 
Matt. I'd a'most rather have you dead than 
that!" 

"Oh, I wish I was, I wish I was!" she sobbed. 

The sound of her weeping shook him out of 
his dark anger, and he felt ashamed. 

"Don't let's talk that way," he whispered. 

"Why shouldn't we, when it's true? I've been 
wishing it every minute of the day." 

"Matt! You be quiet! Don't you say it." 

"There's never anybody been good to me but 
you." 

"Don't say that either, when I can't lift a hand 
for you!" 

"Yes; but it's true just the same." 

They had reached the top of School House Hill 
and Starkfield lay below them in the twilight. 



Ethan Frome 159 



A cutter, mounting the road from the village, 
passed them by in a joyous flutter of bells, and 
they straightened themselves and looked ahead 
with rigid faces. Along the main street lights had 
begun to shine from the house-fronts and stray 
figures were turning in here and there at the 
gates. Ethan, with a touch of his whip, roused 
the sorrel to a languid trot. 

As they drew near the end of the village the 
cries of children reached them, and they saw a 
knot of boys, with sleds behind them, scattering 
across the open space before the church. 

"I guess this'll be their last coast for a day or 
two," Ethan said, looking up at the mild sky. 

Mattie was silent, and he added: "We were to 
have gone down last night." 

Still she did not speak and, prompted by an 
obscure desire to help himself and her through 
their miserable last hour, he went on discursively : 
"Ain't it funny we haven't been down together 
but just that once last winter?" 

She answered: "It wasn't often I got down to 
the village." 

"That's so," he said. 

They had reached the crest of the Corbury 



160 Ethan Frome 

road, and between the indistinct white glimmer 
of the church and the black curtain of the Var- 
num spruces the slope stretched away below 
them without a sled on its length. Some erratic 
impulse prompted Ethan to say : "How'd you like 
me to take you down now?" 

She forced a laugh. "Why, there isn't time!" 

"There's all the time we want. Come along!" 
His one desire now was to postpone the moment 
of turning the sorrel toward the Flats. 

"But the girl," she faltered. "The girl'll be 
waiting at the station." 

"Well, let her wait. You'd have to if she didn't. 
Come!" 

The note of authority in his voice seemed to 
subdue her, and when he had jumped from the 
sleigh she let him help her out, saying only, with 
a vague feint of reluctance: "But there isn't a 
sled round anywheres." 

"Yes, there is! Right over there under the 
spruces." 

He threw the bearskin over the sorrel, who 
stood passively by the roadside, hanging a medi- 
tative head. Then he caught Mattie's hand and 
drew her after him toward the sled. 



Ethan Frome 161 



She seated herself obediently and he took his 
place behind her, so close that her hair brushed 
his face. "All right, Matt ? " he called out, as if the 
width of the road had been between them. 

She turned her head to say: "It's dreadfully 
dark. Are you sure you can see?" 

He laughed contemptuously: "I could go down 
this coast with my eyes tied!" and she laughed 
with him, as if she liked his audacity. Neverthe- 
less he sat still a moment, straining his eyes down 
the long hill, for it was the most confusing hour 
of the evening, the hour when the last clearness 
from the upper sky is merged with the rising 
night in a blur that disguises landmarks and 
falsifies distances. 

"Now!" he cried. 

The sled started with a bound, and they flew 
on through the dusk, gathering smoothness and 
speed as they went, with the hollow night open- 
ing out below them and the air singing by like 
an organ. Mattie sat perfectly still, but as they 
reached the bend at the foot of the hill, where 
the big elm thrust out a deadly elbow, he fancied 
that she shrank a little closer. 

"Don't be scared, Matt!" he cried exultantly, 



162 Ethan Frome 

as they spun safely past it and flew down the 
second slope; and when they reached the level 
ground beyond, and the speed of the sled began 
to slacken, he heard her give a little laugh of glee. 

They sprang off and started to walk back up 
the hill. Ethan dragged the sled with one hand 
and passed the other through Mattie's arm. 

"Were you scared I'd run you into the elm?" 
he asked with a boyish laugh. 

"I told you I was never scared with you," she 
answered. 

The strange exultation of his mood had brought 
on one of his rare fits of boastfulness. "It is a 
tricky place, though. The least swerve, and we'd 
never ha' come up again. But I can measure 
distances to a hair's-breadth always could." 

She murmured: "I always say you've got the 
surest eye ..." 

Deep silence had fallen with the starless dusk, 
and they leaned on each other without speaking; 
but at every step of their climb Ethan said to 
himself: "It's the last time we'll ever walk to- 
gether." 

They mounted slowly to the top of the hill. 
When they were abreast of the church he stooped 



Ethan Frome 163 



his head to her to ask: "Are you tired?" and she 
answered, breathing quickly: "It was splendid!" 

With a pressure of his arm he guided her to- 
ward the Norway spruces. "I guess this sled 
must be Ned Male's. Anyhow I'll leave it where 
I found it." He drew the sled up to the Varnum 
gate and rested it against the fence. As he raised 
himself he suddenly felt Mattie close to him 
among the shadows. 

"Is this where Ned and Ruth kissed each 
other?" she whispered breathlessly, and flung 
her arms about him. Her lips, groping for his, 
swept over his face, and he held her fast in a 
rapture of surprise. 

"Good-bye good-bye," she stammered, and 
kissed him again. 

"Oh, Matt, I can't let you go !" broke from him 
in the same old cry. 

She freed herself from his hold and he heard 
her sobbing. "Oh, I can't go either!" she wailed. 

"Matt! What'll we do? What'll we do?" 

They clung to each other's hands like children, 
and her body shook with desperate sobs. 

Through the stillness they heard the church 
clock striking five. 



164 Ethan Frome 

"Oh, Ethan, it's time!" she cried. 

He drew her back to him. "Time for what? 
You don't suppose I'm going to leave you now?" 

"If I missed my train where'd I go?" 

"Where are you going if you catch it?" 

She stood silent, her hands lying cold and re- 
laxed in his. 

"What's the good of either of us going any- 
wheres without the other one now?" he said. 

She remained motionless, as if she had not 
heard him. Then she snatched her hands from 
his, threw her arms about his neck, and pressed a 
sudden drenched cheek against his face. "Ethan ! 
Ethan! I want you to take me down again!" 

"Down where?" 

"The coast. Right off," she pan ted. "So 't we'll 
never come up any more." 

"Matt! What on earth do you mean?" 

She put her lips close against his ear to say: 
"Right into the big elm. You said you could. 
So 't we'd never have to leave each other any 



more." 



"Why, what are you talking of? You're crazy !" 
"I'm not crazy; but I will be if I leave you." 
"Oh, Matt, Matt " he groaned. 



Ethan Frome 165 



She tightened her fierce hold about his neck. 
Her face lay close to his face. 

"Ethan, where'll I go if I leave you? I don't 
know how to get along alone. You said so your- 
self just now. Nobody but you was ever good 
to me. And there'll be that strange girl in the 
house . . . and she'll sleep in my bed, where I 
used to lay nights and listen to hear you come 
up the stairs ..." 

The words were like fragments torn from his 
heart. With them came the hated vision of the 
house he was going back to of the stairs he 
would have to go up every night, of the woman 
who would wait for him there. And the sweetness 
of Mattie's avowal, the wild wonder of know- 
ing at last that all that had happened to him 
had happened to her too, made the other vision 
more abhorrent, the other life more intolerable 
to return to ... 

Her pleadings still came to him between short 
sobs, but he no longer heard what she was say- 
ing. Her hat had slipped back and he was strok- 
ing her hair. He wanted to get the feeling of it 
into his hand, so that it would sleep there like a 
seed in winter. Once he found her mouth again, 



1 66 Ethan Frome 

and they seemed to be by the pond together in 
the burning August sun. But his cheek touched 
hers, and it was cold and full of weeping, and he 
saw the road to the Flats under the night and 
heard the whistle of the train up the line. 

The spruces swathed them in blackness and 
silence. They might have been in their coffins 
underground. He said to himself: "Perhaps it'll 
feel like this . . . " and then again: "After this 
I sha'n't feel anything . . ." 

Suddenly he heard the old sorrel whinny across 
the road, and thought: "He's wondering why he 
doesn't get his supper ..." 

"Come," Mat tie whispered, tugging at his 
hand. 

Her sombre violence constrained him: she 
seemed the embodied instrument of fate. He 
pulled the sled out, blinking like a night-bird as 
he passed from the shade of the spruces into the 
transparent dusk of the open. The slope below 
them was deserted. All Starkfield was at supper, 
and not a figure crossed the open space before 
the church. The sky, swollen with the clouds 
that announce a thaw, hung as low as before a 
summer storm. He strained his eyes through the 



Ethan Frome 167 



dimness, and they seemed less keen, less capable 
than usual. 

He took his seat on the sled and Mattie in- 
stantly placed herself in front of him. Her hat 
had fallen into the snow and his lips were in her 
hair. He stretched out his legs, drove his heels 
into the road to keep the sled from slipping for- 
ward, and bent her head back between his hands. 
Then suddenly he sprang up again. 

"Get up," he ordered her. 

It was the tone she always heeded, but she 
cowered down in her seat, repeating vehemently: 
"No, no, no!" 

"Get up!" 

"Why?" 

"I want to sit in front." 

"No, no! How can you steer in front?" 

"I don't have to. We'll follow the track." 

They spoke in smothered whispers, as though 
the night were listening. 

"Get up! Get up!" he urged her; but she kept 
on repeating: "Why do you want to sit in front?" 

"Because I because I want to feel you hold- 
ing me," he stammered, and dragged her to her 
feet. 



1 68 Ethan Frome 

The answer seemed to satisfy her, or else she 
yielded to the power of his voice. He bent down, 
feeling in the obscurity for the glassy slide worn 
by preceding coasters, and placed the runners 
carefully between its edges. She waited while he 
seated himself with crossed legs in the front of 
the sled; then she crouched quickly down at his 
back and clasped her arms about him. Her 
breath in his neck set him shuddering again, and 
he almost sprang from his seat. But in a flash he 
remembered the alternative. She was right : this 
was better than parting. He leaned back and 
drew her mouth to his. . . 

Just as they started he heard the sorrel's 
whinny again, and the familiar wistful call, and 
all the confused images it brought with it, went 
with him down the first reach of the road. Half- 
way down there was a sudden drop, then a rise, 
and after that another long delirious descent. 
As they took wing for this it seemed to him that 
they were flying indeed, flying far up into the 
cloudy night, with Starkfield immeasurably 
below them, falling away like a speck in space 
. . . Then the big elm shot up ahead, lying in 
wait for them at the bend of the road, and he 



Ethan Frome 169 



said between his teeth: "We can fetch it; I know 

we can fetch it " 

As they flew toward the tree Mattie pressed 
her arms tighter, and her blood seemed to be 
in his veins. Once or twice the sled swerved a 
little under them. He slanted his body to keep 
it headed for the elm, repeating to himself again 
and again: "I know we can fetch it"; and little 
phrases she had spoken ran through his head 
and danced before him on the air. The big tree 
loomed bigger and closer, and as they bore down 
on it he thought: "It's waiting for us: it seems 
to know." But suddenly his wife's face, with 
twisted monstrous lineaments, thrust itself be- 
tween him and his goal, and he made an instinc- 
tive movement to brush it aside. The sled 
swerved in response, but he righted it again, 
kept it straight, and drove down on the black 
projecting mass. There was a last instant when 
the air shot past him like millions of fiery wires; 
and then the elm . . . 

The sky was still thick, but looking straight up 
he saw a single star, and tried vaguely to reckon 
whether it were Sirius, or or The effort tired 



i? Ethan Frome 

him too much, and he closed his heavy lids and 
thought that he would sleep. . . The stillness 
was so profound that he heard a little animal 
twittering somewhere near by under the snow. It 
made a small frightened cheep like a field mouse, 
and he wondered languidly if it were hurt. Then 
he understood that it must be in pain: pain so 
excruciating that he seemed, mysteriously, to 
feel it shooting through his own body. He tried 
in vain to roll over in the direction of the sound, 
and stretched his left arm out across the snow. 
And now it was as though he felt rather than 
heard the twittering; it seemed to be under 
his palm, which rested on something soft and 
springy. The thought of the animal's suffering 
was intolerable to him and he struggled to raise 
himself, and could not because a rock, or some 
huge mass, seemed to be lying on him. But he 
continued to finger about cautiously with his 
left hand, thinking he might get hold of the little 
creature and help it; and all at once he knew that 
the soft thing he had touched was Mattie's hair 
and that his hand was on her face. 

He dragged himself to his knees, the mon- 
strous load on him moving with him as he moved, 



Ethan Frome 



and his hand went over and over her face, and he 
felt that the twittering came from her lips . . . 

He got his face down close to hers, with his ear 
to her mouth, and in the darkness he saw her 
eyes open and heard her say his name. 

"Oh, Matt, I thought we'd fetched it," he 
moaned; and far off, up the hill, he heard the 
sorrel whinny, and thought: "I ought to be 
getting him his feed. . . " 



THE querulous drone ceased as I entered 
Frome's kitchen, and of the two women 
sitting there I could not tell which had been the 
speaker. 

One of them, on my appearing, raised her tall 
bony figure from her seat, not as if to welcome 
me for she threw me no more than a brief 
glance of surprise but simply to set about pre- 
paring the meal which Frome's absence had 
delayed. A slatternly calico wrapper hung from 
her shoulders and the wisps of her thin grey 
hair were drawn away from a high forehead and 
fastened at the back by a broken comb. She had 
pale opaque eyes which revealed nothing and 
reflected nothing, and her narrow lips were of 
the same sallow colour as her face. 

The other woman was much smaller and 
slighter. She sat huddled in an arm-chair near 
the stove, and when I came in she turned her 
head quickly toward me, without the least cor- 



Ethan Frome 173 



responding movement of her body. Her hair was 
as grey as her companion's, her face as bloodless 
and shrivelled, but amber-tinted, with swarthy 
shadows sharpening the nose and hollowing the 
temples. Under her shapeless dress her body kept 
its limp immobility, and her dark eyes had the 
bright witch-like stare that disease of the spine 
sometimes gives. 

Even for that part of the country the kitchen 
was a poor-looking place. With the exception of 
the dark-eyed woman's chair, which looked like 
a soiled relic of luxury bought at a country auc- 
tion, the furniture was of the roughest kind. 
Three coarse china plates and a broken-nosed 
milk-jug had been set on a greasy table scored 
with knife-cuts, and a couple of straw-bottomed 
chairs and a kitchen dresser of unpainted pine 
stood meagrely against the plaster walls. 

"My, it's cold here! The fire must be 'most 
out," Frome said, glancing about him apolo- 
getically as he followed me in. 

The tall woman, who had moved away from 
us toward the dresser, took no notice; but the 
other, from her cushioned niche, answered com- 
plainingly, in a high thin voice: "It's on'y just 



J 74 Ethan Frome 

been made up this very minute. Zeena fell asleep 
and slep' ever so long, and I thought I'd be 
frozen stiff before I could wake her up and get 
her to 'tend to it." 

I knew then that it was she who had been 
speaking when we entered. 

Her companion, who was just coming back to 
the table with the remains of a cold mince-pie 
in a battered pie-dish, set down her unappetising 
burden without appearing to hear the accusation 
brought against her. 

Frome stood hesitatingly before her as she ad- 
vanced; then he looked at me and said: "This 
is my wife, Mis' Frome." After another interval 
he added, turning toward the figure in the arm- 
chair : "And this is Miss Mattie Silver . . 

Mrs. Ned Hale, tender soul, had pictured me 
as lost in the Flats and buried under a snow- 
drift; and her satisfaction on seeing me safely 
restored to her the next morning made me feel 
that my peril had caused me to advance several 
degrees in her favour. 

Great was her amazement, and that of old 
Mrs. Varnum, on learning that Ethan Frome's 



Ethan Frome 175 



old horse had carried me to and from Corbury 
Junction through the worst blizzard of the win- 
ter; greater still their surprise when they heard 
that his master had taken me in for the night. 

Beneath their exclamations of wonder I felt a 
secret curiosity to know what impressions I had 
received from my night in the Frome household, 
and divined that the best way of breaking down 
their reserve was to let them try to penetrate 
mine. I therefore confined myself to saying, in a 
matter-of-fact tone, that I had been received 
with great kindness, and that Frome had made 
a bed for me in a room on the ground-floor which 
seemed in happier days to have been fitted up as 
a kind of writing-room or study. 

"Well," Mrs. Hale mused, "in such a storm I 
suppose he felt he couldn't do less than take you 
in but I guess it went hard with Ethan. I don't 
believe but what you're the only stranger has 
set foot in that house for over twenty years. 
He's that proud he don't even like his oldest 
friends to go there; and I don't know as any do, 
any more, except myself and the doctor. . . " 

"You still go there, Mrs. Hale?" I ventured. 

"I used to go a good deal after the accident, 



Ethan Frome 



when I was first married; but after a while I got 
to think it made 'em feel worse to see us. And 
then one thing and another came, and my own 
troubles . . . But I generally make out to 
drive over there round about New Year's, and 
once in the summer. Only I always try to pick 
a day when Ethan's off somewheres. It's bad 
enough to see the two women sitting there but 
his face, when he looks round that bareplace,just 
kills me ... You see, I can look back and call 
it up in his mother's day, before their troubles." 

Old Mrs. Varnum, by this time, had gone up 
to bed, and her daughter and I were sitting 
alone, after supper, in the austere seclusion of 
the horse-hair parlour. Mrs. Hale glanced at me 
tentatively, as though trying to see how much 
footing my conjectures gave her; and I guessed 
that if she had kept silence till now it was be- 
cause she had been waiting, through all the years, 
for some one who should see what she alone had 
seen. 

I waited to let her trust in me gather strength 
before I said: "Yes, it's pretty bad, seeing all 
three of them there together." 

She drew her mild brows into a frown of pain. 



Ethan Frome 177 

"It was just awful from the beginning. I was here 
in the house when they were carried up they 
laid Mat tie Silver in the room you're in. She and 
I were great friends, and she was to have been 
my brides-maid in the spring . . . When she 
came to I went up to her and stayed all night. 
They gave her things to quiet her, and she didn't 
know much till to'rd morning, and then all of a 
sudden she woke up just like herself, and looked 
straight at me out of her big eyes, and said . . . 
Oh, I don't know why I'm telling you all this," 
Mrs. Hale broke off, crying. 

She took off her spectacles, wiped the moisture 
from them, and put them on again with an un- 
steady hand. "It got about the next day," she 
went on, "that Zeena Frome had sent Mattie off 
in a hurry because she had a hired girl coming, 
and the folks here could never rightly tell what 
she and Ethan were doing that night coasting, 
when they'd ought to have been on their way to 
the Flats to ketch the train ... I never knew 
myself what Zeena thought I don't to this day. 
Nobody knows Zeena's thoughts. Anyhow, when 
she heard o' the accident she came right in and 
stayed with Ethan over to the minister's, where 



Ethan Frome 



they'd carried him. And as soon as the doctors 
said that Mattie could be moved, Zeena sent for 
her and took her back to the farm." 

"And there she's been ever since?" 

Mrs. Hale answered simply: "There was no- 
where else for her to go;" and my heart tightened 
at the thought of the hard compulsions of the 
poor. 

"Yes, there she's been/' Mrs. Hale continued, 
"and Zeena's done for her, and done for Ethan, 
as good as she could. It was a miracle, consider- 
ing how sick she was but she seemed to be 
raised right up just when the call came to her. 
Not as she's ever given up doctoring, and she's 
had sick spells right along; but she's had the 
strength given her to care for those two for over 
twenty years, and before the accident came she 
thought she couldn't even care for herself." 

Mrs. Hale paused a moment, and I remained 
silent, plunged in the vision of what her words 
evoked. "It's horrible for them all," I murmured. 

"Yes: it's pretty bad. And they ain't any of 
'em easy people either. Mattie was, before the 
accident; I never knew a sweeter nature. But 
she's suffered too much that's what I always 



Ethan Frome 179 



say when folks tell me how she's soured. And 
Zeena, she was always cranky. Not but what 
she bears with Mattie wonderful I've seen that 
myself. But sometimes the two of them get go- 
ing at each other, and then Ethan's face'd break 
your heart . . . When I see that, I think it's 
him that suffers most . . . anyhow it ain't 
Zeena, because she ain't got the time . . . It's a 
pity, though," Mrs. Hale ended, sighing, "that 
they're all shut up there'n that one kitchen. In 
the summertime, on pleasant days, they move 
Mattie into the parlour, or out in the door-yard, 
and that makes it easier . . . but winters there's 
the fires to be thought of; and there ain't a dime 
to spare up at the Fromes'." 

Mrs. Hale drew a deep breath, as though her 
memory were eased of its long burden, and she 
had no more to say; but suddenly an impulse of 
complete avowal seized her. 

She took off her spectacles again, leaned toward 
me across the bead-work table-cover, and went 
on with lowered voice: "There was one day, about 
a week after the accident, when they all thought 
Mattie couldn't live. Well, I say it's a pity she 
did. I said it right out to our minister once, and 



i8o Ethan Frome 

he was shocked at me. Only he wasn't with me 
that morning when she first came to ... And 
I say, if she'd ha' died, Ethan might ha' lived; 
and the way they are now, I don't see's there's 
much difference between the Fromes up at the 
farm and the Fromes down in the graveyard; 
'cept that down there they're all quiet, and the 
women have got to hold their tongues." 



THE END