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 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 between 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
distributing hand behind the grating. I noticed that, though he came so
punctually, he seldom received anything but a copy of the Bettsbridge Eagle,
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 corner
the address of some manufacturer of patent medicine and the name of his
specific. These documents 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
happened 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 Frome's
retreating figure, and thinking how gallantly his lean brown head, with its shock of
light hair, must have sat on his strong shoulders before they were bent out of