The chapter begins over 20 years before the novel's start, but the town of Starkfield has not changed at all during that time period; it has always been a sleepy town covered by two feet of thick, silencing snow. The night is perfectly quiet and still, and Ethan feels that he has blended into the atmosphere and can silently observe the world without anyone noticing him. Ethan is 28 years old and is waiting for his young cousin, Mattie Silver, to leave a dance in the town hall. Mattie had come to live with the Fromes from Stamford to take care of Zeena, and Zeena didn't want her walking back to the farm by herself. Ethan recalls the first time that he had seen Mattie and recalls fondly the bubbling enthusiasm with which she had met him. Outside the hall, Ethan peers inside and hungrily seeks a glimpse of Mattie, who is dancing happily with the other young people of the village, full of vitality and laughter. He searches through the crowd to see the bright red scarf that Mattie weaves throughout her hair, a red so brilliant that it dramatically contrasts with the colorlessness of Starkfield. A wave of jealousy sweeps over him when he sees her enjoying herself with others, giving them the same looks and smiles that he had believed were reserved for him.
Watching Mattie reminds him of the youthful energy and optimism that he loves about her and the intellectual and psychological decaying that he himself has undergone. Ethan had once taken a year's course at a technological school in Worcester, and he had had the opportunity to befriend a professor at the school who was both friendly and intellectually stimulating. Unlike his wife and many of the other Starkfield citizens, Mattie, like his former professor, is curious and eager; she shows interest in everything that he wishes to teach her. The awe that she feels while admiring nature echoes the same wonder that Ethan feels within his own soul, and he is amazed that he has found someone who is as fascinated with nature and beauty as he is.
While jealously watching Mattie happily dance an energetic Irish jig with the ambitious Denis Eady, Ethan remembers a conversation that he had had earlier with the conniving Zeena. Denis Eady is the son of Michael Eady, the industrious Irish grocer who had been the first person to bring "smart" business methods to sleepy Starkfield. Mattie, a poor housekeeper, was often the object of Zeena's biting criticism, and Zeena tells Ethan that he must consider the possibility of employing a hired girl once Mattie gets engaged to Denis Eady and leaves their home. Ethan tries to hide his hurt and surprise and tries to end the conversation by claiming that he was late meeting Mattie to walk her home, but in actuality, Ethan had simply turned to jelly in front of Zeena and had found himself unable to argue with her. Zeena quickly cuts him down by telling him that he had only started worrying about time once he had begun the routine of shaving daily, a habit that had coincided with Mattie's arrival on the farm. This conversation with Zeena replays in his mind as he jealously watches Mattie spinning on the dance floor with Denis Eady.
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