After Zeena's caustic explosion, Ethan retires to his private "parlor," a room that his mother had given to him for his books and for his own privacy and security. He finds a note from Mattie that reads, "Don't trouble, Ethan," and he treasures it because it is the first message that Mattie has ever written to him. The simple message, though, infuriates him because he realizes that all that he can have from Mattie are cold words on a piece of paper - he cannot have her love or her trust because of Zeena. He is overwhelmed by a feeling of rebellion as he remembers a story that he had heard about a young man who had left his wife and taken his true love with him to the West. His wife had divorced him and become quite wealthy, and he and his new bride were happy and had a beautiful little girl. Inspired to follow in the man's footsteps, Ethan even begins to write a farewell letter to Zeena until he realizes that he does not have nearly enough money to travel to the West, let alone acquire food and lodging. He finally admits to himself that he will remain a prisoner in Starkfield for the rest of his life, and he sadly contemplates a sad existence in which he will have no Mattie to love. After sadly remembering that he was supposed to have taken Mattie sledding that night, he falls asleep in his parlor. Things don't look promising at this point.
In the morning, Ethan tells Mattie not to trouble either, and they both hope that since neither of them has seen Zeena yet that morning, she has changed her mind about sending Mattie away. But Ethan and Mattie soon discover that Zeena has already made plans for Jotham Powell to take Mattie to the station in the afternoon and to pick up the new hired girl later that day. Ethan, realizing that Zeena's decision would not change, goes in desperation to ask Andrew Hale for an advance payment on the lumber because he believes that if he finds money, he can pay for the board of both Mattie and the new hired girl. However, Ethan discovers from Mrs. Hale that Andrew Hale has taken ill and that there is no way for him to receive his money in advance. In spite of this bad news, he is still comforted by the sympathetic words of the kindly Mrs. Hale, who compliments him on remaining so strong during his personal troubles. In spite of Mrs. Hale's good intentions, she succeeds only in making Ethan feel even more guilty for wanting to run away with Mattie.
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