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 herself 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 drawback to his complete well-being was the fact that he could not see
Mattie from where he sat; but 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 detached 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 It was almost as if the other face, the face of the superseded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 replenish the stove, and when he returned
to his seat he pushed it sideways that he might get 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.
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
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...
"This is the night we were to have gone coasting. 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!"