She let her lids sink slowly, in the way he loved. “Yes, we’re well enough here,” she sighed.
Her tone was so sweet that he took the pipe from his mouth and drew his chair up to the table. Leaning forward, he touched the farther end of the strip of brown stuff that she was hemming. “Say, Matt,” he began with a smile, “what do you think I saw under the Varnum spruces, coming along home just now? I saw a friend of yours getting kissed.”
The words had been on his tongue all the evening, but now that he had spoken them they struck him as inexpressibly vulgar and out of place.
Mattie blushed to the roots of her hair and pulled her needle rapidly twice or thrice through her work, insensibly drawing the end of it away from him. “I suppose it was Ruth and Ned,” she said in a low voice, as though he had suddenly touched on something grave.
Ethan had imagined that his allusion might open the way to the accepted pleasantries, and these perhaps in turn to a harmless caress, if only a mere touch on her hand. But now he felt as if her blush had set a flaming guard about her. He supposed it was his natural awkwardness that made him feel so. He knew that most young men made nothing at all of giving a pretty girl a kiss, and he remembered that the night before, when he had put his arm about Mattie, she had not resisted. But that had been out-of-doors, under the open irresponsible night. 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.
To ease his constraint he said: “I suppose they’ll be setting a date before long.”
“Yes. I shouldn’t wonder if they got married some time along in the summer.” She pronounced the word married as if her voice caressed it. It seemed a rustling covert leading to enchanted glades. A pang shot through Ethan, and he said, twisting away from her in his chair: “It’ll be your turn next, I wouldn’t wonder.”
She laughed a little uncertainly. “Why do you keep on saying that?”
He echoed her laugh. “I guess I do it to get used to the idea.”
He drew up to the table again and she sewed on in silence, with dropped lashes, while he sat in fascinated contemplation of the way in which her hands went up and down above the strip of stuff, just as he had seen a pair of birds make short perpendicular flights over a nest they were building. At length, without turning her head or lifting her lids, she said in a low tone: “It’s not because you think Zeena’s got anything against me, is it?”
His former dread started up full-armed at the suggestion. “Why, what do you mean?” he stammered.
She raised distressed eyes to his, her work dropping on the table between them. “I don’t know. I thought last night she seemed to have.”
“I’d like to know what,” he growled.
“Nobody can tell with Zeena.” It was the first time they had ever spoken so openly of her attitude toward Mattie, and the repetition of the name seemed to carry it to the farther corners of the room and send it back to them in long repercussions of sound. Mattie waited, as if to give the echo time to drop, and then went on: “She hasn’t said anything to you?”