While Ethan is hauling wood on a cold winter morning, he thinks about his walk home with Mattie the night before. He and Zeena had not spoken to each other after they had gone to bed, and even though he is not even on speaking terms with his own wife, all Ethan can think about is that he had not kissed Mattie when they had been alone. The night before, after he and Zeena had gone to their bedroom together, he had lain awake and listened to Mattie get ready for bed. He clearly cannot get her out of his mind and contemplates the changes that she has undergone since arriving in Starkfield. Ethan had feared that Mattie would hate the hard bareness of life in Starkfield and that she would, like Zeena, soon learn to complain of the cold and loneliness of the town, but to Ethan's delight and fascination, she never uttered a word of dissatisfaction.
Ethan recalls Mattie's tumultuous childhood and feels even more love for her when he considers the troubles that she has had. Her father, who was Zeena's cousin, had been a criminal who had used all his relatives' money for illegal purposes. After he died, Mattie was left alone and had no relatives who were willing to provide her with financial support because of the money that her father had swindled from them. Mattie had tried to work in a department store but was too weak for such work, so she had gladly come to Zeena's aid when one of her doctors recommended that she look for someone who could help her around the house. Even though she is eager to help Zeena around the house and desperately seeks her approval, Mattie lacks the practical knowledge and experience to manage a household.
At the start of Mattie's stay, Zeena had immediately but silently found fault with Mattie's housework, but her silence was still glaringly obvious to both Ethan and Mattie. Ethan had desperately wanted to see Mattie rebel against Zeena and give her what she deserves, but over time, as the situation grew less strained, Zeena became a little bit more lax in her criticism of Mattie, and peace apparently prevailed in the house.
He cannot get Mattie's look of warning from the night before out of his head, and he is filled with an ominous feeling of dread and anxiety. He ends his workday early because he does not want Mattie to be alone in the house with Zeena in case Zeena tries to start trouble. Zeena, who always wants to find new, expensive medicine that will treat her nonexistent illnesses, announces abruptly that she is going to travel to another town to visit a doctor, and Ethan, who wants to spend a night at home with Mattie by himself, lies by telling her that he must stay in town to collect a lumber payment from Andrew Hale. He realizes that in her absence, he and Mattie will be alone for an entire night and will be free from her oppressive presence.
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