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Now, in the warm lamplit room, with all its ancient implications of conformity and order, she seemed infinitely farther away from him and more unapproachable.
After supper, Mattie clears up while Ethan takes a last turn around the yard. He returns to the kitchen to find Mattie busy at her sewing. Taking up his pipe, he sits down contentedly by the stove. When Ethan calls Mattie in to join him, she sits in Zeena’s rocking chair, and Ethan suddenly imagines the specter of Zeena’s face to have appeared in place of Mattie’s features. Perhaps sensing her companion’s unease and feeling uneasy herself, Mattie returns to her station in the kitchen. In time, Ethan and Mattie’s disquiet begins to melt away, and they begin a carefree conversation about everyday matters—including, once again, the possibility of going sledding on the next moonlit night. However, when Ethan brings up his sighting of Ned and Ruth kissing among the spruces, Mattie suddenly becomes silent.
Once again, Ethan and Mattie find themselves avoiding the subject that is on both of their minds—their relationship. Ethan discusses Mattie’s marriage prospects, and Mattie discusses Zeena’s ill will toward her. Dismissing the subject of Zeena, they fall silent again, until Ethan boldly places his hand on the opposite end of the piece of cloth on which Mattie is working. Mattie, in recognition of this gesture, ceases her activity and waits.
The stillness is interrupted by a clatter. Behind Ethan and Mattie, the cat has leapt from Zeena’s rocking chair in pursuit of a stray mouse. This sudden reminder of Zeena oppresses Ethan, and he impulsively picks up his end of Mattie’s sewing work and kisses it gently. As he does so, the fabric slips from his hold, and he looks up to see Mattie putting away her sewing kit for the evening. The clock strikes eleven. Mattie asks about the fire, and after straightening up the room, she lights a candle and blows out the lamp. As she prepares to climb the stairs, Ethan says goodnight to her, and she responds in kind. Ethan, hearing the door to her room pull shut, realizes that he has not even touched Mattie’s hand during the course of the evening.
At breakfast the following morning, Jotham Powell sits between Ethan and Mattie. Overnight, the wet snow has turned to sleet, creating poor road conditions and giving the men cause to load the remaining lumber at once, but delay their last actual haul until the afternoon. When Powell heads out to harness up the horses, Ethan and Mattie are left alone again, and Ethan has an urge to say, “We shall never be alone again like this.” He stifles it, however, and settles for telling her that he will be home for dinner.
In town, after unloading the lumber, Ethan heads to the Eady store in search of some glue to fix Zeena’s broken dish, but he can’t find any there. Ethan then hastily goes to the widow Homan’s store, where, after a lengthy search, he finally finds a single bottle of glue. In a driving rain, Ethan pushes his team of horses furiously toward home. When he arrives, he puts them away without a thought and dashes into the kitchen.
Ethan triumphantly announces to Mattie that he has obtained the glue, but his excitement quickly dissipates when Mattie whispers that Zeena has returned—she has headed upstairs to her room without so much as a word to Mattie. Out at the barn, while Ethan feeds the horses, Powell returns to put away the sleigh. Ethan invites him to stay for supper, but Powell declines. His refusal throws Ethan into a fit of unease, and he is filled with foreboding as he goes back inside, where Mattie tells him that dinner is ready.
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