When these nightly duties were performed there was nothing left to do but to bring in the tin candlestick from the passage, light the candle and blow out the lamp. Ethan put the candlestick in Mattie’s hand and she went out of the kitchen ahead of him, the light that she carried before her making her dark hair look like a drift of mist on the moon.
“Good night, Matt,” he said as she put her foot on the first step of the stairs.
She turned and looked at him a moment. “Good night, Ethan,” she answered, and went up.
When the door of her room had closed on her he remembered that he had not even touched her hand.
The next morning at breakfast Jotham Powell was between them, and Ethan tried to hide his joy under an air of exaggerated indifference, lounging back in his chair to throw scraps to the cat, growling at the weather, and not so much as offering to help Mattie when she rose to clear away the dishes.
He did not know why he was so irrationally happy, for nothing was changed in his life or hers. He had not even touched the tip of her fingers or looked her full in the eyes. But their evening together had given him a vision of what life at her side might be, and he was glad now that he had done nothing to trouble the sweetness of the picture. He had a fancy that she knew what had restrained him...
There was a last load of lumber to be hauled to the village, and Jotham Powell-who did not work regularly for Ethan in winter-had “come round” to help with the job. But a wet snow, melting to sleet, had fallen in the night and turned the roads to glass. There was more wet in the air and it seemed likely to both men that the weather would “milden” toward afternoon and make the going safer. Ethan therefore proposed to his assistant that they should load the sledge at the wood-lot, as they had done on the previous morning, and put off the “teaming” to Starkfield till later in the day. This plan had the advantage of enabling him to send Jotham to the Flats after dinner to meet Zenobia, while he himself took the lumber down to the village.
He told Jotham to go out and harness up the greys, and for a moment he and Mattie had the kitchen to themselves. She had plunged the breakfast dishes into a tin dish-pan and was bending above it with her slim arms bared to the elbow, the steam from the hot water beading her forehead and tightening her rough hair into little brown rings like the tendrils on the traveller’s joy.
Ethan stood looking at her, his heart in his throat. He wanted to say: “We shall never be alone again like this.” Instead, he reached down his tobacco-pouch from a shelf of the dresser, put it into his pocket and said: “I guess I can make out to be home for dinner.”
She answered “All right, Ethan,” and he heard her singing over the dishes as he went.