Arriving back home, where a sleigh has come to take away Mattie’s trunk, Ethan enters the kitchen to find Zeena reading a book of medical advice. When he asks about Mattie, Zeena tells him that she is upstairs packing. Ethan climbs the stairs and enters her room, finding Mattie sitting on her trunk in the middle of the emptied room, sobbing. She confesses her fear that she will never see him again. He reassures her, pulling her close to him and placing his lips on her hair. They are interrupted by Zeena, who calls for the trunk to be hurried down. Ethan carries it downstairs to the sleigh, and as he and Mattie watch the horse and rider depart, Ethan resolves that he, not Powell, will drive Mattie to the train.
At dinner, Ethan is unable to touch his food, while Zeena eats heartily. After the meal, Powell asks what time he should return to deliver Mattie. Ethan explains that he won’t need to come to the farm at all, as Ethan himself will be delivering Mattie to the station. This sudden change of plans does not sit well with Zeena, who tells Ethan that he needs to attend to the stove in the spare bedroom. A bitter exchange ensues, and Ethan firmly insists on taking Mattie in spite of Zeena’s protests.
Filled with nostalgia and regret, Ethan prepares his horse for the journey. Returning to the house, he finds the kitchen empty; he eventually locates Mattie in his old study, where she explains that she had wanted to take one last look around. Zeena has retired to her bedroom after dinner without a single word of goodbye to Mattie. After casting one last glance around the kitchen, Mattie is ready to join Ethan, entering the sleigh and starting down the hill.
Ethan decides to take Mattie the long way around, along Shadow Pond, in order to relive a handful of memories. Ethan stops the sleigh in a pine wood and helps Mattie down. As they walk together through the wintry landscape, they remember their encounter of the previous summer at a church picnic on this very spot, where Ethan found a lost gold locket of Mattie’s. Lingering in the glow of their reminiscence, Ethan longs to reach out to Mattie and declare his affections openly, but she rises to go before he can make his move.
They drive on under a setting sun, and Ethan asks Mattie about her plans for the future. She outlines a vague notion of finding work in a store. Ethan declares his devotion to her, and she responds by showing him his aborted letter of goodbye to Zeena, which he had left in his study and which Mattie had then found. Ethan is exhilarated by her discovery and asks if she has the same feelings for him that he does for her. In despair, she dismisses his question as useless, tearing up the note and casting the fragments into the snow. However, moments later, she quietly confesses her own love for him.
Ethan explains the impossibility of his situation, and Mattie insists that he write to her. Worried that she will eventually marry, Ethan asserts that he would almost sooner see her dead, and Mattie tearfully agrees with his sentiment. As they drive, they come across a group of boys with sleds, which reminds them of their long-harbored plan to go sledding. Suddenly, Ethan proposes that they embark on their sledding adventure right away, reassuring Mattie that the hired girl can wait for them at the station. Sighting a sled beneath the Varnum spruces, they make their way over to it and climb aboard.