“Go-go?” she stammered. “Must I go?”
The words went on sounding between them as though a torch of warning flew from hand to hand through a black landscape.
Ethan was overcome with shame at his lack of self-control in flinging the news at her so brutally. His head reeled and he had to support himself against the table. All the while he felt as if he were still kissing her, and yet dying of thirst for her lips.
“Ethan, what has happened? Is Zeena mad with me?”
Her cry steadied him, though it deepened his wrath and pity. “No, no,” he assured her, “it’s not that. But this new doctor has scared her about herself. You know she believes all they say the first time she sees them. And this one’s told her she won’t get well unless she lays up and don’t do a thing about the house-not for months-”
He paused, his eyes wandering from her miserably. She stood silent a moment, drooping before him like a broken branch. She was so small and weak-looking that it wrung his heart; but suddenly she lifted her head and looked straight at him. “And she wants somebody handier in my place? Is that it?”
“That’s what she says to-night.”
“If she says it to-night she’ll say it to-morrow.”
Both bowed to the inexorable truth: they knew that Zeena never changed her mind, and that in her case a resolve once taken was equivalent to an act performed.
There was a long silence between them; then Mattie said in a low voice: “Don’t be too sorry, Ethan.”
“Oh, God-oh, God,” he groaned. The glow of passion he had felt for her had melted to an aching tenderness. He saw her quick lids beating back the tears, and longed to take her in his arms and soothe her.
“You’re letting your supper get cold,” she admonished him with a pale gleam of gaiety.
“Oh, Matt-Matt-where’ll you go to?”
Her lids sank and a tremor crossed her face. He saw that for the first time the thought of the future came to her distinctly. “I might get something to do over at Stamford,” she faltered, as if knowing that he knew she had no hope.
He dropped back into his seat and hid his face in his hands. Despair seized him at the thought of her setting out alone to renew the weary quest for work. In the only place where she was known she was surrounded by indifference or animosity; and what chance had she, inexperienced and untrained, among the million bread-seekers of the cities? There came back to him miserable tales he had heard at Worcester, and the faces of girls whose lives had begun as hopefully as Mattie’s.... It was not possible to think of such things without a revolt of his whole being. He sprang up suddenly.
“You can’t go, Matt! I won’t let you! She’s always had her way, but I mean to have mine now-”
Mattie lifted her hand with a quick gesture, and he heard his wife’s step behind him.
Zeena came into the room with her dragging down-at-the-heel step, and quietly took her accustomed seat between them.