When Ethan arrives back home after unsuccessfully trying to collect money from Andrew Hale, he find Zeena sitting in the kitchen, reading a book on medical advice. She tells him that Mattie is moving her trunk downstairs so that Jotham can take it to the station ahead of time. Ethan tries to help Mattie move her trunk from her room to the kitchen, but he finds her sobbing because she had thought that she wasn't going to see him before she left. He tells her not to worry and even kisses her hair while he comforts her. During dinner, Ethan and Mattie are both glum, even though Mattie tries to be cheerful, and Zeena, for once, eats heartily, seeming to relish both the meal and the situation. Rebelling against Zeena's wishes, Ethan tells Jotham Powell that he will drive Mattie over to the station, even though Zeena had commanded Jotham to take Mattie by himself. Zeena is upset because she had wanted Ethan to prepare Mattie's room for the new hired girl, but Ethan is insistent on taking Mattie. After dinner, he goes to prepare the horses for the trip, and when he returns to the house, he loads Mattie's bags on the sled and they leave. Zeena, who had retired to bed when she had finished eating, had not even said good-bye to Mattie.
Instead of driving the sleigh directly to the station, Ethan impulsively turns the horses towards Shadow Pond, where he and Mattie had been at a church-picnic together. Mattie had begged him to go to the picnic with her, but he had refused. Later, however, as he was coming back from cutting timber in the forest, he stopped by the picnic and surprised Mattie, and when she lost her locket and sent all the boys looking for it, Ethan was the one who had found it. At the pond for what they believe will be the last time, Ethan admits to her that she had looked exceptionally pretty at the picnic and wants to continue to tell her how beautiful he is, but the words die on his lips, and she suddenly announces that they should leave.
They again start towards Starkfield when Mattie pulls out the farewell letter that he had written to Zeena. Ethan finally asks her if she would have gone along with him to the West, and she admits to him that she had first felt twinges of love for him at the picnic at Shadow Pond. After confessing their feelings for one another, they are torn by the tragedy of parting from each other for the rest of their lives, and Mattie desperately and pathetically asks Ethan to write to her while they are apart. Ethan suddenly stops the horses and suggests that they take the sled ride that he had promised her. After a successful first run, they passionately kiss and realize that they cannot let go of each other. Mattie asks him to take her down again, but this time, she proposes a suicidal run that will prevent them from having to lead lives of misery and separation from each other. Ethan, driven by love and desperation, agrees to the plan, and before they start down the hill, they kiss passionately. He asks her to sit behind him while he is guiding the sled so that he can feel her arms clasping tightly around him. Ethan begins to direct the sled towards the big elm so that they will crash directly into it, but just as they are about to hit it, he sees an image of Zeena's face floating before him, and he slightly swerves the sled in order to avoid her face. He straightens the sled right before he hits the elm, but the two still survive the crash. As he regains consciousness, he hears a little bird twittering next to him, but he soon realizes that it is not a bird twittering but the maimed Mattie.
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