Due to a carpenters' strike, the narrator finds himself based in the small Massachusetts town of Starkfield for the winter. He learns Ethan Frome's story from many sources. Frome was crippled by an accident almost a quarter of a century earlier. When the narrator's horse rides are ceased due to an illness in the stable. So he hitches a ride with Frome in his carriage. One-day the narrator's train is cancelled and Ethan Frome offers to take him all the way to his work. On the way back the storm grows and it becomes too hard to press on so the narrator is offered to spend the night at Ethan's house.
This chapter flashes back to a time before the accident. Ethan was sent to the church to escort Mattie Silver, Ethan's wife Zeena's cousin, home. Mattie has been living with Ethan and Zeena for over a year working as a housekeeper.
He has become attached to her over the course of a year, finding a subject that they are both interested in: nature. He wonders if there could ever be anything between them, but he remembers that she is meant to marry Denis Eady and that she will eventually leave. This thought disheartens him and he begins to brood.
The dance ends and Ethan shrinks into shadows instead of going and getting Mattie directly. He watches her say no to Denis Eady's offer for a ride home. Finally he comes up and surprises her by coming up from behind. As they pass through the gate to the farm, Ethan puts his arm around her decidedly for the first time. Zeena greets them at the door because she couldn't sleep due to her illness; and, she forces Ethan to follow her upstairs.