Ethan looked at him in surprise. “Better come up and dry off. Looks as if there’d be something hot for supper.”
Jotham’s facial muscles were unmoved by this appeal and, his vocabulary being limited, he merely repeated: “I guess I’ll go along back.”
To Ethan there was something vaguely ominous in this stolid rejection of free food and warmth, and he wondered what had happened on the drive to nerve Jotham to such stoicism. Perhaps Zeena had failed to see the new doctor or had not liked his counsels: Ethan knew that in such cases the first person she met was likely to be held responsible for her grievance.
When he re-entered the kitchen the lamp lit up the same scene of shining comfort as on the previous evening. The table had been as carefully laid, a clear fire glowed in the stove, the cat dozed in its warmth, and Mattie came forward carrying a plate of doughnuts.
She and Ethan looked at each other in silence; then she said, as she had said the night before: “I guess it’s about time for supper.”
Ethan went out into the passage to hang up his wet garments. He listened for Zeena’s step and, not hearing it, called her name up the stairs. She did not answer, and after a moment’s hesitation he went up and opened her door. The room was almost dark, but in the obscurity he saw her sitting by the window, bolt upright, and knew by the rigidity of the outline projected against the pane that she had not taken off her travelling dress.
“Well, Zeena,” he ventured from the threshold.
She did not move, and he continued: “Supper’s about ready. Ain’t you coming?”
She replied: “I don’t feel as if I could touch a morsel.”
It was the consecrated formula, and he expected it to be followed, as usual, by her rising and going down to supper. But she remained seated, and he could think of nothing more felicitous than: “I presume you’re tired after the long ride.”
Turning her head at this, she answered solemnly: “I’m a great deal sicker than you think.”
Her words fell on his ear with a strange shock of wonder. He had often heard her pronounce them before-what if at last they were true?
He advanced a step or two into the dim room. “I hope that’s not so, Zeena,” he said.
She continued to gaze at him through the twilight with a mien of wan authority, as of one consciously singled out for a great fate. “I’ve got complications,” she said.
Ethan knew the word for one of exceptional import. Almost everybody in the neighbourhood had “troubles,” frankly localized and specified; but only the chosen had “complications.” To have them was in itself a distinction, though it was also, in most cases, a death-warrant. People struggled on for years with “troubles,” but they almost always succumbed to “complications.”
Ethan’s heart was jerking to and fro between two extremities of feeling, but for the moment compassion prevailed. His wife looked so hard and lonely, sitting there in the darkness with such thoughts.