Denis’s commercial instinct compelled him to aver on oath that what Eady’s store could not produce would never be found at the widow Homan’s; but Ethan, heedless of this boast, had already climbed to the sledge and was driving on to the rival establishment. Here, after considerable search, and sympathetic questions as to what he wanted it for, and whether ordinary flour paste wouldn’t do as well if she couldn’t find it, the widow Homan finally hunted down her solitary bottle of glue to its hiding-place in a medley of cough-lozenges and corset-laces.
“I hope Zeena ain’t broken anything she sets store by,” she called after him as he turned the greys toward home.
The fitful bursts of sleet had changed into a steady rain and the horses had heavy work even without a load behind them. Once or twice, hearing sleigh-bells, Ethan turned his head, fancying that Zeena and Jotham might overtake him; but the old sorrel was not in sight, and he set his face against the rain and urged on his ponderous pair.
The barn was empty when the horses turned into it and, after giving them the most perfunctory ministrations they had ever received from him, he strode up to the house and pushed open the kitchen door.
Mattie was there alone, as he had pictured her. She was bending over a pan on the stove; but at the sound of his step she turned with a start and sprang to him.
“See, here, Matt, I’ve got some stuff to mend the dish with! Let me get at it quick,” he cried, waving the bottle in one hand while he put her lightly aside; but she did not seem to hear him.
“Oh, Ethan-Zeena’s come,” she said in a whisper, clutching his sleeve.
They stood and stared at each other, pale as culprits.
“But the sorrel’s not in the barn!” Ethan stammered.
“Jotham Powell brought some goods over from the Flats for his wife, and he drove right on home with them,” she explained.
He gazed blankly about the kitchen, which looked cold and squalid in the rainy winter twilight.
“How is she?” he asked, dropping his voice to Mattie’s whisper.
She looked away from him uncertainly. “I don’t know. She went right up to her room.”
“She didn’t say anything?”
Ethan let out his doubts in a low whistle and thrust the bottle back into his pocket. “Don’t fret; I’ll come down and mend it in the night,” he said. He pulled on his wet coat again and went back to the barn to feed the greys.
While he was there Jotham Powell drove up with the sleigh, and when the horses had been attended to Ethan said to him: “You might as well come back up for a bite.” He was not sorry to assure himself of Jotham’s neutralising presence at the supper table, for Zeena was always “nervous” after a journey. But the hired man, though seldom loth to accept a meal not included in his wages, opened his stiff jaws to answer slowly: “I’m obliged to you, but I guess I’ll go along back.”