The next morning Ethan wonders why he didn't kiss Mattie the night before when he had the chance. The red sunrise reminds him of the rosy color of Mattie's cheeks. In contrast to Zeena's constant discontent, Mattie's positive attitude seems remarkable to him, considering how difficult her life has been. Penniless and orphaned after the failure of her father's business and her parents' death, Mattie worked for a while in a department store, but her health broke down. She was forced to seek help from relatives, who had lost their own savings when Mattie's father's business collapsed. In revenge, these relatives sent Mattie to work for Zeena without pay.
The contrast between the vibrant Mattie and sour Zeena couldn't be more strong. Mattie is what, in Ethan's traditionalist estimation, a woman should be. Unlike Ethan, Mattie's father escaped rural Massachusetts by moving to the city of Stamford, but did not succeed there despite his ambitious nature. Like many daughters of middle-class families, Mattie has no education, so she is reduced to working menial jobs for a living.
The next morning, Zeena informs Ethan that she is going to Bettsbridge to consult a new doctor and stay overnight with her Aunt Martha Pierce. Despite his fear that Zeena will spend what little money the Fromes have on expensive medicines, he looks forward to being alone with Mattie. Zeena appears old and wrinkled even though she is only 35, eight years older than Ethan.
Zeena's ugliness and the fact that she is eight years older than Ethan further emphasizes what a bad match they are. Ethan's concerns about money, which he feels he can do nothing about, make it apparent that Zeena's "illness" allows her to control Ethan.
At the last minute, in order to buy more time with Mattie, Ethan lies to Zeena—he says he needs to collect payment for the delivery of lumber from his mill to Andrew Hale, a builder in Starkfield, and that therefore Jotham Powell, the hired man, will have to take Zeena to the train.
Ethan finally takes action—he lies, compromising his ethics, in order to spend more time alone with Mattie.