Chapter 5 Summary
After dinner, Ethan goes to care for the animals for the night while Mattie tidies the kitchen. When he returns, Ethan sees the picture he envisioned, Mattie sitting with her sewing by the light of a lamp. It is, to him, perfect contentment. He takes off his boots, picks up his pipe, and becomes part of the domestic scene. When he realizes he is unable to see Mattie from his position, he asks her to come sit nearer to him. Mattie does so, seating herself in Zeena’s nearby rocking chair. Looking at her there gives Ethan a start because he sees Zeena’s face superimposed over the younger woman’s face. Mattie, too, feels ill at ease and moves back to the light of the lamp. Ethan gets up to stoke the fire and uses the opportunity to move his chair so he can watch Mattie. He reminds her they were to have gone coasting tonight. Ethan insists that it is a dangerous ride and Mattie insists she would not be afraid, but both are content to stay where they are.
Ethan leans over, touches the end of her needlework, and asks her to guess who he saw getting kissed this afternoon. Mattie blushes and guesses correctly, and the conversation dies. Her blush sets up a “flaming guard” around her. They are in a setting too intimate for such things, which might easily have been spoken about in the open air of a moonlight walk. Ethan supposes the young lovers will get married soon and that Mattie will probably be next. Mattie has no such thoughts and wonders what prompts him to mention it. He tells her he is trying to prepare himself, but Mattie soon asks if Zeena is preparing to get rid of her. Mattie expresses her nervousness around Zeena lately but dismisses it when Ethan says he has heard nothing of the kind from his wife. Ethan moves his hand further up the end of Mattie’s needlework, and a current seems to flow between them.
Suddenly the cat darts from Zeena’s chair to chase a mouse, leaving the empty chair rocking. Ethan realizes Zeena will be back in that chair before long, and he tightly clenches the end of the needlework then bends to kiss it. As he does, the fabric moves and Mattie is gathering up her work for the evening. It is eleven o’clock, and they proceed to do the small tasks that must be done before bed. Mattie goes up the stairs, pauses to tell Ethan goodnight, and then closes her bedroom door behind her. Ethan realizes he had not even touched her hand that evening.