Ethan Frome HTML version

Chapter I
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 gray 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 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 complete
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 receiver," he thought. Four or five years earlier he had
taken a year's course at a technological college at Worcester, and dabbled in the
laboratory 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 had fed his
fancy and made him aware of huge cloudy meanings behind the daily face of
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 evenings
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 waking 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 building, 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 hugging the shadow, he edged his way