Ethan Frome HTML version

Chapter III
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 shadows 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 mountain 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 swallowing them, and
wrapping her head in a piece of yellow flannel, had lain down with her face
turned away. Ethan undressed hurriedly and 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 audible 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 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 clapboards 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 revealed merely what the means had been; and
these were such that it was fortunate for his wife and daughter that his books