As 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 step forth into the night, and his eyes, accustomed 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 expressive,
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 his cheap banter!) "But look a 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
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