“Oh, yes; in plenty of time.”
The name threw a chill between them, and they stood a moment looking sideways at each other before Mattie said with a shy laugh. “I guess it’s about time for supper.”
They drew their seats up to the table, and the cat, unbidden, jumped between them into Zeena’s empty chair. “Oh, Puss!” said Mattie, and they laughed again.
Ethan, a moment earlier, had felt himself on the brink of eloquence; but the mention of Zeena had paralysed him. Mattie seemed to feel the contagion of his embarrassment, and sat with downcast lids, sipping her tea, while he feigned an insatiable appetite for dough-nuts and sweet pickles. At last, after casting about for an effective opening, he took a long gulp of tea, cleared his throat, and said: “Looks as if there’d be more snow.”
She feigned great interest. “Is that so? Do you suppose it’ll interfere with Zeena’s getting back?” She flushed red as the question escaped her, and hastily set down the cup she was lifting.
Ethan reached over for another helping of pickles. “You never can tell, this time of year, it drifts so bad on the Flats.” The name had benumbed him again, and once more he felt as if Zeena were in the room between them.
“Oh, Puss, you’re too greedy!” Mattie cried.
The cat, unnoticed, had crept up on muffled paws from Zeena’s seat to the table, and was stealthily elongating its body in the direction of the milk-jug, which stood between Ethan and Mattie. The two leaned forward at the same moment and their hands met on the handle of the jug. Mattie’s hand was underneath, and Ethan kept his clasped on it a moment longer than was necessary. The cat, profiting by this unusual demonstration, tried to effect an unnoticed retreat, and in doing so backed into the pickle-dish, which fell to the floor with a crash.
Mattie, in an instant, had sprung from her chair and was down on her knees by the fragments.
“Oh, Ethan, Ethan-it’s all to pieces! What will Zeena say?”
But this time his courage was up. “Well, she’ll have to say it to the cat, any way!” he rejoined with a laugh, kneeling down at Mattie’s side to scrape up the swimming pickles.
She lifted stricken eyes to him. “Yes, but, you see, she never meant it should be used, not even when there was company; and I had to get up on the step-ladder to reach it down from the top shelf of the china-closet, where she keeps it with all her best things, and of course she’ll want to know why I did it-”
The case was so serious that it called forth all of Ethan’s latent resolution.
“She needn’t know anything about it if you keep quiet. I’ll get another just like it to-morrow. Where did it come from? I’ll go to Shadd’s Falls for it if I have to!”
“Oh, you’ll never get another even there! It was a wedding present-don’t you remember? It came all the way from Philadelphia, from Zeena’s aunt that married the minister. That’s why she wouldn’t ever use it. Oh, Ethan, Ethan, what in the world shall I do?”