Ethan does not immediately make his presence known to Mattie once the dance ends and watches her movements from the shadows. Denis Eady offers to take her home in his father's cutter, but she refuses and begins to walk home alone. Ethan finally approaches her, much to her surprise and delight, and he is secretly thrilled at her initial pleasure at seeing him. She tells him that she had planned on walking home alone because she had figured that Ethan had stayed home with Zeena, who had felt particularly ill that night. Ethan is amazed by (and in love with) her courage, for she bravely tells him that she wouldn't have been afraid of walking home by herself if he hadn't shown up. They slowly walk together, arm-in-arm, and as they pause to watch some night-sledders, Ethan offers to take her sledding one night, an idea which both thrills her and pleases him. Ethan, at this point, is on cloud nine, and he is desperate to say anything that will please her and wonders what it would be like to rub his cheek against her scarf (definitely a G-rated move, but let's remember that Wharton's writing was pretty refined - she didn't dabble in blatant sexuality).
During their walk, they pass the big elm at the bottom of the sledding slope, and she tells him that she would not be afraid of crashing into the tree if she were sledding with him because he would be able to avoid it. Ethan, thrilled by her confidence in him, coyly asks about her supposed engagement to Denis Eady, and she adamantly tells him that she would never want to leave him and Zeena. She would have nowhere else to go to if she could not stay with them on the farm.
When they reach the farm, they discover that the key that Zeena usually leaves out for them is gone, and they both panic. Zeena, whom they had believed was asleep, surprises them by opening the door for them, and Ethan is shocked by how pale and lifeless his wife looks, especially in comparison to the lively and energetic Mattie. Ethan is reluctant to accompany Zeena up the stairs into their bedroom because he does not want Mattie to see him following Zeena rather than following her, but Mattie seems to secretly urge him to go to bed with Zeena because she does not want Ethan and Zeena to fight with each other. Ethan submits to Mattie's silent urging and follows Zeena to bed, with his head lowered.
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