They finish supper and sit down to relax; Mattie knits, and Ethan smokes and watches her. The entire kitchen is wrapped up in an atmosphere of comfort and ease. They sit in chairs around the fire, and Mattie tries to sit in Zeena's chair but leaves it because she feels uncomfortable usurping her chair. The cat, which acts as Zeena's representative in her absence, jumps into Zeena's chair, and they are both reminded that she will once again be in the house tomorrow morning. As a result of the cat's interference, the two are submerged in a tense silence that both are afraid to break because they are both too acutely aware of Zeena's oppressive influence. But soon, the awkwardness that had surrounded them during suppertime disappears while they chat by the fire, and they begin to talk of everyday things, like going on a sleigh ride together and discussing the engagement of Mattie's friends. He mentions stumbling upon Ned and Ruth kissing, causing Mattie to blush, and he tries to joke that he must get accustomed to the idea of getting engaged and married soon. During their conversation, Ethan is fascinated by all of Mattie's gestures and mannerisms, and he realizes that he has never felt as relaxed and happy with Zeena as he always feels with Mattie.
Ethan again tries to corner Mattie on the issue of becoming engaged to Denis Eady, and Mattie suddenly asks Ethan if Zeena means to send her away. Because Ethan had asked her about being married and moving away, she had inferred that he and Zeena had wanted her out of the house because she was inefficient and couldn't help Zeena enough. She confesses to Ethan that she is almost sure that Zeena does not like her. Filled with passion and incensed by his antipathy for Zeena, Ethan fervently tells her to not worry about it. He suddenly realizes that in less than twelve hours, Zeena will again be sitting in her chair, and the dream that he has been sharing with Mattie will be over. Without knowing what he is doing, he bends to kiss the tip of the fabric that Mattie is knitting with. Mattie silently pulls the fabric away from him, overwhelmed by passion and confusion. They finally both go to bed, and Ethan realizes that throughout the entire night, he had not even touched her hand.
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