Ethan Frome HTML version

Chapter VI
The next morning at breakfast Jotham Powell was between them, and Ethan
tried to hide his joy under an air of exaggerated indifference, lounging back in his
chair to throw scraps to the cat, growling at the weather, and not so much as
offering to help Mattie when she rose to clear away the dishes.
He did not know why he was so irrationally happy, for nothing was changed in his
life or hers. He had not even touched the tip of her fingers or looked her full in the
eyes. But their evening together had given him a vision of what life at her side
might be, and he was glad now that he had done nothing to trouble the
sweetness of the picture. He had a fancy that she knew what had restrained
There was a last load of lumber to be hauled to the village, and Jotham Powell-
who did not work regularly for Ethan in winter-had "come round" to help with the
job. But a wet snow, melting to sleet, had fallen in the night and turned the roads
to glass. There was more wet in the air and it seemed likely to both men that the
weather would "milden" toward afternoon and make the going safer. Ethan
therefore proposed to his assistant that they should load the sledge at the wood-
lot, as they had done on the previous morning, and put off the "teaming" to
Starkfield till later in the day. This plan had the advantage of enabling him to
send Jotham to the Flats after dinner to meet Zenobia, while he himself took the
lumber down to the village.
He told Jotham to go out and harness up the greys, and for a moment he and
Mattie had the kitchen to themselves. She had plunged the breakfast dishes into
a tin dish-pan and was bending above it with her slim arms bared to the elbow,
the steam from the hot water beading her forehead and tightening her rough hair
into little brown rings like the tendrils on the traveller's joy.
Ethan stood looking at her, his heart in his throat. He wanted to say: "We shall
never be alone again like this." Instead, he reached down his tobacco-pouch
from a shelf of the dresser, put it into his pocket and said: "I guess I can make
out to be home for dinner."
She answered "All right, Ethan," and he heard her singing over the dishes as he
As soon as the sledge was loaded he meant to send Jotham back to the farm
and hurry on foot into the village to buy the glue for the pickle-dish. With ordinary
luck he should have had time to carry out this plan; but everything went wrong
from the start. On the way over to the wood-lot one of the greys slipped on a
glare of ice and cut his knee; and when they got him up again Jotham had to go
back to the barn for a strip of rag to bind the cut. Then, when the loading finally
began, a sleety rain was coming down once more, and the tree trunks were so
slippery that it took twice as long as usual to lift them and get them in place on
the sledge. It was what Jotham called a sour morning for work, and the horses,
shivering and stamping under their wet blankets, seemed to like it as little as the
men. It was long past the dinner-hour when the job was done, and Ethan had to