She murmured back: “I think Zeena wants I should go with Jotham.”
“I’m going to drive you over,” he repeated; and she went into the kitchen without answering.
At dinner Ethan could not eat. If he lifted his eyes they rested on Zeena’s pinched face, and the corners of her straight lips seemed to quiver away into a smile. She ate well, declaring that the mild weather made her feel better, and pressed a second helping of beans on Jotham Powell, whose wants she generally ignored.
Mattie, when the meal was over, went about her usual task of clearing the table and washing up the dishes. Zeena, after feeding the cat, had returned to her rocking-chair by the stove, and Jotham Powell, who always lingered last, reluctantly pushed back his chair and moved toward the door.
On the threshold he turned back to say to Ethan: “What time’ll I come round for Mattie?”
Ethan was standing near the window, mechanically filling his pipe while he watched Mattie move to and fro. He answered: “You needn’t come round; I’m going to drive her over myself.”
He saw the rise of the colour in Mattie’s averted cheek, and the quick lifting of Zeena’s head.
“I want you should stay here this afternoon, Ethan,” his wife said. “Jotham can drive Mattie over.”
Mattie flung an imploring glance at him, but he repeated curtly: “I’m going to drive her over myself.”
Zeena continued in the same even tone: “I wanted you should stay and fix up that stove in Mattie’s room afore the girl gets here. It ain’t been drawing right for nigh on a month now.”
Ethan’s voice rose indignantly. “If it was good enough for Mattie I guess it’s good enough for a hired girl.”
“That girl that’s coming told me she was used to a house where they had a furnace,” Zeena persisted with the same monotonous mildness.
“She’d better ha’ stayed there then,” he flung back at her; and turning to Mattie he added in a hard voice: “You be ready by three, Matt; I’ve got business at Corbury.”
Jotham Powell had started for the barn, and Ethan strode down after him aflame with anger. The pulses in his temples throbbed and a fog was in his eyes. He went about his task without knowing what force directed him, or whose hands and feet were fulfilling its orders. It was not till he led out the sorrel and backed him between the shafts of the sleigh that he once more became conscious of what he was doing. As he passed the bridle over the horse’s head, and wound the traces around the shafts, he remembered the day when he had made the same preparations in order to drive over and meet his wife’s cousin at the Flats. It was little more than a year ago, on just such a soft afternoon, with a “feel” of spring in the air. The sorrel, turning the same big ringed eye on him, nuzzled the palm of his hand in the same way; and one by one all the days between rose up and stood before him...