Zeena’s empty rocking-chair stood facing him. Mattie rose obediently, and seated herself in it. As her young brown head detached itself against the patch-work cushion that habitually framed his wife’s gaunt countenance, Ethan had a momentary shock. It was almost as if the other face, the face of the superseded woman, had obliterated that of the intruder. After a moment Mattie seemed to be affected by the same sense of constraint. She changed her position, leaning forward to bend her head above her work, so that he saw only the foreshortened tip of her nose and the streak of red in her hair; then she slipped to her feet, saying “I can’t see to sew,” and went back to her chair by the lamp.
Ethan made a pretext of getting up to replenish the stove, and when he returned to his seat he pushed it sideways that he might get a view of her profile and of the lamplight falling on her hands. The cat, who had been a puzzled observer of these unusual movements, jumped up into Zeena’s chair, rolled itself into a ball, and lay watching them with narrowed eyes.
Deep quiet sank on the room. The clock ticked above the dresser, a piece of charred wood fell now and then in the stove, and the faint sharp scent of the geraniums mingled with the odour of Ethan’s smoke, which began to throw a blue haze about the lamp and to hang its greyish cobwebs in the shadowy corners of the room.
All constraint had vanished between the two, and they began to talk easily and simply. They spoke of every-day things, of the prospect of snow, of the next church sociable, of the loves and quarrels of Starkfield. The commonplace nature of what they said produced in Ethan an illusion of long-established intimacy which no outburst of emotion could have given, and he set his imagination adrift on the fiction that they had always spent their evenings thus and would always go on doing so...
“This is the night we were to have gone coasting. Matt,” he said at length, with the rich sense, as he spoke, that they could go on any other night they chose, since they had all time before them.
She smiled back at him. “I guess you forgot!”
“No, I didn’t forget; but it’s as dark as Egypt outdoors. We might go to-morrow if there’s a moon.”
She laughed with pleasure, her head tilted back, the lamplight sparkling on her lips and teeth. “That would be lovely, Ethan!”
He kept his eyes fixed on her, marvelling at the way her face changed with each turn of their talk, like a wheat-field under a summer breeze. It was intoxicating to find such magic in his clumsy words, and he longed to try new ways of using it.
“Would you be scared to go down the Corbury road with me on a night like this?” he asked.
Her cheeks burned redder. “I ain’t any more scared than you are!”
“Well, I’d be scared, then; I wouldn’t do it. That’s an ugly corner down by the big elm. If a fellow didn’t keep his eyes open he’d go plumb into it.” He luxuriated in the sense of protection and authority which his words conveyed. To prolong and intensify the feeling he added: “I guess we’re well enough here.”