Startled at finding it locked he rattled the handle violently; then he reflected that Mattie was alone and that it was natural she should barricade herself at nightfall. He stood in the darkness expecting to hear her step. It did not come, and after vainly straining his ears he called out in a voice that shook with joy: “Hello, Matt!”
Silence answered; but in a minute or two he caught a sound on the stairs and saw a line of light about the door-frame, as he had seen it the night before. So strange was the precision with which the incidents of the previous evening were repeating themselves that he half expected, when he heard the key turn, to see his wife before him on the threshold; but the door opened, and Mattie faced him.
She stood just as Zeena had stood, a lifted lamp in her hand, against the black background of the kitchen. She held the light at the same level, and it drew out with the same distinctness her slim young throat and the brown wrist no bigger than a child’s. Then, striking upward, it threw a lustrous fleck on her lips, edged her eyes with velvet shade, and laid a milky whiteness above the black curve of her brows.
She wore her usual dress of darkish stuff, and there was no bow at her neck; but through her hair she had run a streak of crimson ribbon. This tribute to the unusual transformed and glorified her. She seemed to Ethan taller, fuller, more womanly in shape and motion. She stood aside, smiling silently, while he entered, and then moved away from him with something soft and flowing in her gait. She set the lamp on the table, and he saw that it was carefully laid for supper, with fresh doughnuts, stewed blueberries and his favourite pickles in a dish of gay red glass. A bright fire glowed in the stove and the cat lay stretched before it, watching the table with a drowsy eye.
Ethan was suffocated with the sense of well-being. He went out into the passage to hang up his coat and pull off his wet boots. When he came back Mattie had set the teapot on the table and the cat was rubbing itself persuasively against her ankles.
“Why, Puss! I nearly tripped over you,” she cried, the laughter sparkling through her lashes.
Again Ethan felt a sudden twinge of jealousy. Could it be his coming that gave her such a kindled face?
“Well, Matt, any visitors?” he threw off, stooping down carelessly to examine the fastening of the stove.
She nodded and laughed “Yes, one,” and he felt a blackness settling on his brows.
“Who was that?” he questioned, raising himself up to slant a glance at her beneath his scowl.
Her eyes danced with malice. “Why, Jotham Powell. He came in after he got back, and asked for a drop of coffee before he went down home.”
The blackness lifted and light flooded Ethan’s brain. “That all? Well, I hope you made out to let him have it.” And after a pause he felt it right to add: “I suppose he got Zeena over to the Flats all right?”