The story switches back to the narrator's stay at the Frome farm over 20 years after the tragic smash-up. The whiny voice that the narrator hears as he enters the home ends when they come in from the snow, and he sees two women in the threadbare, poorly lit kitchen. A taller, gaunt woman rises to set the table while another smaller, slighter woman remains huddled in an armchair by the stove. The narrator realizes that the smaller woman is the one who had been complaining when he had entered, and even though most readers would have guessed that Zeena would have been the whining woman, she is, in fact, Mattie, left an invalid after the smash-up and dependent upon the efficient Zeena for aid. Ethan and Mattie's plan to live in eternal happiness had completely backfired, for after the accident, Mattie had assumed the personality of the woman whom he had grown to despise.
The narrator is struck by the utter poverty of the kitchen, with its seemingly ancient, decaying furniture. With the lone exception of an ornate rocking chair, the kitchen looks thousands of years old and seems to be covered with a thin layer of dust and is filled with an air of loneliness and want. Ethan looks apologetically around the kitchen as he introduces the narrator to his wife and to Mattie.
The narrator finally returns to the home of Mrs. Hale, who had worried that he had died during the snowstorm, and he tells her and Mrs. Varnum that Ethan Frome had opened his home to him during the snowstorm. They are both amazed that Ethan had invited him to spend the night and then launch into their own opinions of his situation. Mrs. Hale, who had been initially hesitant to share with the narrator her memory of the smash-up, tells him that she truly pities Ethan because of the endless suffering that he has had to undergo since his parents' illness. She and Mattie had been great friends when they were younger, and Mattie was even supposed to have been one of her bridesmaids - before the accident. No one had ever understood why Mattie and Ethan had decided to go sledding that day, and no one had ever known Zeena's initial reaction to their tragic accident. As soon as Zeena had heard about the smash-up, she had sent for Mattie and had her taken back to the farm. Mrs. Hale tells them that even though Zeena had been very sickly herself, she had immediately recovered in order to take care of Ethan and Mattie.
Mrs. Hale admits that of the three, she pities Ethan the most because of all that he has had to bear. He has to worry about keeping both Zeena and Mattie happy, preventing the farm from decay, and keeping himself financially afloat. Mrs. Hale even speculates that it might have been better for all of them if Mattie had died because then Ethan would have been able to live. Instead, the three of them must remain together in misery and loneliness in the crumbling Frome kitchen until death saves one of them.
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