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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 2
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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 2 Post by :mikman Category :Long Stories Author :Mary E Wilkins Freeman Date :May 2012 Read :2095

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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 2

Chapter II

Jerome started, and once started he raced. Long-legged, light-flanked, long-winded, and underfed, he had the adaptability for speed of a little race-horse. Jerome Edwards was quite a famous boy in the village for his prowess in running. No other boy could equal him. Marvellous stories were told about it. "Jerome Edwards, he can run half a mile in five minutes any day, yes he can, sir," the village boys bragged if perchance a cousin from another town came a-visiting and endeavored to extol himself and his comrades beyond theirs. In some curious fashion Jerome, after he had out-speeded all the other boys, furnished them with his own victories for a boast. They seemed, in exulting over the glory of this boy of their village, to forget that the glory came only through their defeat. It was national pride on a very small and childish scale.

Jerome, swift little runner that he was, ran that day as he had never run before. The boys whom he met stood aside hastily, gaped down the road behind him to see another runner laboring far in the rear, and then, when none appeared, gaped after his flying heels.

"Wonder what he's a-runnin' that way fur?" said one boy.

"Ain't nobody a-tryin' to ketch up with him, fur's I can see," said another.

"Mebbe his mother's took worse, an' he's a-runnin' fur the doctor," said a third, who was Henry Judd, a distant cousin of Jerome's.

The boys stood staring even when Jerome was quite out of sight. Jerome had about three-quarters of a mile to run to Doctor Prescott's house. He was almost there when he caught sight of a team coming. "There's father, now," he thought, and stood still, breathing hard. Although Jerome's scanty food made him a swift runner, it did not make him a strong one.

The team came rattling slowly on. The old white horse which drew it planted his great hoofs lumberingly in the tracks, nodding at every step.

As it came nearer, Jerome, watching, gave a quick gasp. The wagon contained wood nicely packed; the reins were wound carefully around one of the stakes; and there was no driver. Jerome tried to call out, tried to run forward, but he could not. He could only stand still, watching, his boyish face deadly white, his eyes dilating. The old white horse came on, dragging his load faithfully and steadily towards his home. He never swerved from his tracks except once, when he turned out carefully for a bad place in the road, where the ground seemed to be caving in, which Abel Edwards had always avoided with a loaded team. There was something awful about this old animal, with patient and laborious stupidity in every line of his plodding body, obeying still that higher intelligence which was no longer visible at his guiding-reins, and perhaps had gone out of sight forever. It had all the uncanny horror of a headless spectre advancing down the road.

Jerome collected himself when the white horse came alongside. "Whoa! Whoa, Peter!" he gasped out. The horse stopped and stood still, his great forefeet flung stiffly forward, his head and ears and neck hanging as inertly as a broken tree-bough with all its leaves drooping.

The boy stumbled weakly to the side of the wagon and stretched himself up on tiptoe. There was nothing there but the wood. He stood a minute, thinking. Then he began searching for the hitching-rope in the front of the wagon, but he could not find it. Finally he led the horse to the side of the road, unwound the reins from the stake, and fastened him as well as he could to a tree.

Then he went on down the road. His knees felt weak under him, but still he kept up a good pace. When he reached the Prescott place he paused and looked irresolutely a moment through the trees at the great square mansion-house, with its green, glancing window-panes.

Then he ran straight on. The ten-acre wood-lot which belonged to his father was about a half-mile farther. It was a birch and chestnut wood, and was full of the green shimmer of new leaves and the silvery glistening of white boughs as delicate as maidens' arms. There was a broad cart-path leading through it. Jerome entered this directly when he reached the wood. Then he began calling. "Father!" he called. "Father! father!" over and over again, stopping between to listen. There was no sound in response; there was no sound in the wood except the soft and elusive rustling of the new foliage, like the rustling of the silken garments of some one in hiding or some one passing out of sight. It brought also at this early season a strange sense of a presence in the wood. Jerome felt it, and called with greater importunity: "Father! father! father, where be you? Father!"

Jerome looked very small among the trees--no more than a little pale child. His voice rang out shrill and piteous. It seemed as much a natural sound of the wood as a bird's, and was indeed one of the primitive notes of nature: the call of that most helpless human young for its parent and its shield.

Jerome pushed on, calling, until he came to the open space where his father had toiled felling trees all winter. Cords of wood were there, all neatly piled and stacked. The stumps between them were sending out shoots of tender green. "Father! father!" Jerome called, but this time more cautiously, hushing his voice a little. He thought that his father might be lying there among the stumps, injured in some way. He remembered how a log had once fallen on Samuel Lapham's leg and broken it when he was out alone in the woods, and he had lain there a whole day before anybody found him. He thought something like that might have happened to his father. He searched everywhere, peering with his sharp young eyes among the stumps and between the piles of wood. "Mebbe father's fainted away," he muttered.

Finally he became sure that his father was nowhere in the clearing, and he raised his voice again and shouted, and hallooed, and listened, and hallooed again, and got no response.

Suddenly a chill seemed to strike Jerome's heart. He thought of the pond. Little given as he was to forebodings of evil, when once he was possessed of one it became a certainty.

"Father's fell in the pond and got drowned," he burst out with a great sob. "What will mother do?"

The boy went forward, stumbling half blindly over the stumps. Once he fell, bruising his knee severely, and picked himself up, sobbing piteously. All the child in Jerome had asserted itself.

Beyond the clearing was a stone wall that bounded Abel Edwards's property. Beyond that was a little grove of old thick-topped pine-trees; beyond that the little woodland pond. It was very shallow in places, but it never dried up, and was said to have deep holes in it. The boys told darkly braggart stories about this pond. They had stood on this rock and that rock with poles of fabulous length; they had probed the still water of the pond, and "never once hit the bottom, sir." They had flung stones with all their might, and, listening sharply forward like foxes, had not heard them "strike bottom, sir."

One end of this pond, reaching up well among the pine-trees, had the worst repute, and was called indeed a darkly significant name--the "Dead Hole." It was confidently believed by all the village children to have no bottom at all. There was a belief current among them that once, before they were born, a man had been drowned there, and his body never found.

They would stand on the shore and look with horror, which yet gave somehow a pleasant titillation to their youthful spirits, at this water which bore such an evil name. Their elders did not need to caution them; even the most venturesome had an awe of the Dead Hole, and would not meddle with it unduly.

Jerome climbed over the stone wall. The land on the other side belonged to Doctor Prescott. He went through the grove of pine-trees and reached the pond--the end called the Dead Hole. He stood there looking and listening. It was a small sheet of water; the other shore, swampy and skirted with white-flowering bushes and young trees, looked very near; a cloying, honey sweetness came across, and a silvery smoke of mist was beginning to curl up from it. The frogs were clamorous, and every now and then came the bass boom of a bull-frog. A red light from the westward sun came through the thin growth opposite, and lay over the pond and the shore. Little swarms of gnats danced in it.

A swarm of the little gauzy things, so slight and ephemeral that they seemed rather a symbolism of life than life itself, whirled before the boy's wild, tearful eyes, and he moved aside and looked down, and then cried out and snatched something from the ground at his feet. It was the hat Abel Edwards had worn when he left home that morning. Jerome stood holding his father's hat, gazing at it with a look in his face like an old man's. Indeed, it may have been that a sudden old age of the spirit came in that instant over the boy. He had not before conceived of anything but an accident happening to his father; now all at once he saw plainly that if his father, Abel Edwards, had come to his death in the pond it must have been through his own choice. "He couldn't have fell in," muttered Jerome, with stiff lips, looking at the gently curving shore and looking at the hat.

Suddenly he straightened himself, and an expression of desperate resolution came into his face. He set his teeth hard; somehow, whether through inherited instincts or through impressions he had got from his mother, he had a firm conviction that suicide was a horrible disgrace to the dead man himself and to his family.

"Nobody shall ever know it," the boy thought. He nodded fiercely, as if to confirm it, and began picking up stones from the shore of the pond. He filled the crown of the hat with them, got a string out of his pocket, tied it firmly around the crown, making a strong knot; then he swung his arm back at the shoulder, brought it forward with a wide sweep, and flung the hat past the middle of the Dead Hole.

"There," said Jerome; "guess nobody 'll ever know now. There ain't no bottom to the Dead Hole." The boy hurried out of the woods and down the road again. When he reached the Prescott house a man was just coming out of the yard, following the path from the south door. When he came up to Jerome he eyed him curiously; then he grasped him by the shoulder.

"Sick?" said he.

"No," said Jerome.

"What on airth makes you look so?"

"Father's lost."

"Lost--where's he lost? What d'ye mean?"

"Went to get a load of wood for Doctor Prescott this mornin', an' 'ain't got home."

"Now, I want to know! Didn't I see his team go up the road a few minutes ago?"

Jerome nodded. "Met it, an' he wa'n't on," said he.

"Lord!" cried the man, and stared at him. He was a middle-aged man, with a small wiry shape and a gait like a boy's. His name was Jake Noyes, and he was the doctor's hired man. He took care of his horse, and drove for him, and some said helped him compound his prescriptions. There was great respect in the village for Jake Noyes. He had a kind of reflected glory from the doctor, and some of his own.

Jerome pulled his shoulder away. "Got to be goin'," said he.

"Stop," said Jake Noyes. "This has got to be looked into. He must have got hurt. He must be in the woods where he was workin'."

"Ain't. I've been there," said Jerome, shortly, and broke away.

"Where did ye look?"

"Everywhere," the boy called back. But Jake followed him up.

"Stop a minute," said he; "I want to know. Did you go as fur 's the pond?"

"What should I want to go to the pond for, like to know?" Jerome looked around at him fiercely.

"I didn't know but he might have fell in the pond; it's pretty near."

"I'd like to know what you think my father would jump in the pond for?" Jerome demanded.

"Lord, I didn't say he jumped in. I said fell in."

"You know he couldn't have fell in. You know he would have had to gone in of his own accord. I'll let you know my father wa'n't the man to do anything like that, Jake Noyes!" The boy actually shook his puny fist in the man's face. "Say it again, if ye dare!" he cried.

"Lord!" said Jake Noyes, with half-comical consternation. He screwed up one blue eye after a fashion he had--people said he had acquired it from dropping drugs for the doctor--and looked with the other at the boy.

"Say it again an' I'll kill ye, I will!" cried Jerome, his voice breaking into a hoarse sob, and was off.

"Be ye crazy?" Jake Noyes called after him. He stood staring at him a minute, then went into the house on a run.

Jerome ran to the place where he had left his father's team, untied the horse, climbed up on the seat, and drove home. He could not go fast; the old horse could proceed no faster than a walk with a load. When he came in sight of home he saw a blue flutter at the gate. It was Elmira's shawl; she was out there watching. When she saw the team she came running down the road to meet it. "Where's father?" she cried out. "Jerome, where's father?"

"Dun'no'," said Jerome. He sat high above her, holding the reins. His pale, set face looked over her head.

"Jerome--haven't you--seen--father?"


Elmira burst out with a great wail. "Oh, Jerome, where's father? Jerome, where is he? Is he killed? Oh, father, father!"

"Keep still," said Jerome. "Mother 'll hear you."

"Oh, Jerome, where's father?"

"I tell you, hold your tongue. Do you want to kill mother, too?"

Poor little Elmira, running alongside the team, wept convulsively. "Elmira, I tell you to keep still," said Jerome, in such a voice that she immediately choked back her sobs.

Jerome drew up the wood-team at the gate with a great creak. "Stand here 'side of the horse a minute," he said to Elmira. He swung himself off the load and went up the path to the house. As he drew near the door he could hear his mother's chair. Ann Edwards, crippled as she was, managed, through some strange manipulation of muscles, to move herself in her rocking-chair all about the house. Now the jerking scrape of the rockers on the uncarpeted floor sounded loud. When Jerome opened the door he saw his mother hitching herself rapidly back and forth in a fashion she had when excited. He had seen her do so before, a few times.

When she saw Jerome she stopped short and screwed up her face before him as if to receive a blow. She did not ask a question.

"I met the team comin' home," said Jerome.

Still his mother said nothing, but kept that cringing face before a coming blow.

"Father wa'n't on it," said Jerome.

Still his mother waited.

"I hitched the horse," said Jerome, "and then I went up to the ten-acre lot, and I looked everywhere. He ain't there."

Suddenly Ann Edwards seemed to fall back upon herself before his eyes. Her head sank helplessly; she slipped low in her chair.

Jerome ran to the water-pail, dipped out some water, and sprinkled his mother's face. Then he rubbed her little lean hands with his hard, boyish palm. He had seen his mother faint before. In fact, he had been all prepared for it now.

Presently she began to gasp and struggle feebly, and he knew she was coming to. "Feel better?" he asked, in a loud voice, as if she were miles away; indeed, he had a feeling that she was. "Feel better, mother?"

Mrs. Edwards raised herself. "Your--father has fell down and died," she said. "There needn't anybody say anything else. Wipe this water off my face. Get a towel." Jerome obeyed.

"There needn't anybody say anything else," repeated his mother.

"I guess they needn't, either," assented Jerome, coming with the towel and wiping her face gently. "I'd like to hear anybody," he added, fiercely.

"He's fell down--and died," said his mother. She made sounds like sobs as she spoke, but there were no tears in her eyes.

"I s'pose I ought to go an' take the horse out," said Jerome.


"I'll send Elmira in; she's holdin' him."


Jerome lighted a candle first, for it was growing dark, and went out. "You go in and stay with mother," he said to Elmira, "an' don't you go to cryin' an' makin' her worse--she's been faintin' away. Any tea in the house?"

"No," said the little girl, trying to control her quivering face.

"Make her some hot porridge, then--she'd ought to have something. You can do that, can't you?"

Elmira nodded; she dared not speak for fear she should cry.

"Go right in, then," said Jerome; and she obeyed, keeping her face turned away. Her childish back looked like an old woman's as she entered the door.

Jerome unharnessed the horse, led him into the barn, fed him, and drew some water for him from the well. When he came out of the barn, after it was all done, he saw Doctor Prescott's chaise turning into the yard. The doctor and Jake Noyes were in it. When the chaise stopped, Jerome went up to it, bobbed his head and scraped his foot. A handsome, keenly scowling face looked out of the chaise at him. Doctor Seth Prescott was over fifty, with a smooth-shaven face as finely cut as a woman's, with bright blue eyes under bushy brows, and a red scratch-wig. Before years and snows and rough winds had darkened and seamed his face, he had been a delicately fair man. "Has he come yet?" he demanded, peremptorily.

Jerome bobbed and scraped again. "No, sir."

"You didn't see a sign of him in the woods?"

Jerome hesitated visibly.

The doctor's eyes shone more sharply. "You didn't, eh?"

"No, sir," said Jerome.

"Does your mother know it?"

"Yes, sir."

"How is she?"

"She fainted away, but she's better."

The doctor got stiffly out of the chaise, took his medicine-chest, and went into the house. "Stay here till I come out," he ordered Jerome, without looking back.

"The doctor's goin' to send a posse out lookin' with lanterns," Jake Noyes told Jerome.

Jerome made a grunt, both surly and despairing, in response. He was leaning against the wheel of the chaise; he felt strangely weak.

"Mebbe we'll find him 'live an' well," said Jake, consolingly.

"No, ye won't."

"Mebbe 'twon't be nothin' wuss than a broken bone noway, an' the doctor, he can fix that."

Jerome shook his head.

"The doctor, he's goin' to do everything that can be done," said Jake. "He's sent Lawrence over to East Corners for some ropes an' grapplin'-hooks."

Then Jerome roused himself. "What for?" he demanded, in a furious voice.

Jake hesitated and colored. "Mebbe I hadn't ought to have said that," he stammered. "Course there ain't no need of havin' 'em. It's just because the doctor wants to do everything he can."

"What for?"

"Well--you know there's the pond--an'--"

"Didn't I tell you my father didn't go near the pond?"

"Well, I don't s'pose he did," said Jake, shrewdly; "but it won't do no harm to drag it, an' then everybody will know for sure he didn't."

"Can't drag it anyhow," said Jerome, and there was an odd accent of triumph in his voice. "The Dead Hole 'ain't got any bottom."

Jake laughed. "That's a darned lie," said he. "I helped drag it myself once, forty year ago; a girl by the name of 'Lizy Ann Gooch used to live 'bout a mile below here on the river road, was missin'. She wa'n't there; found her bones an' her straw bonnet in the swamp two years afterwards, but, Lord, we dragged the Dead hole--scraped bottom every time."

Jerome stared at him, his chin dropping.

"Of course it ain't nothin' but a form, an' we sha'n't find him there any more than we did 'Lizy Ann," said Jake Noyes, consolingly.

Doctor Prescott came out of the house, and as he opened the door a shrill cry of "There needn't anybody say anything else" came from within.

"Now you'd better go in and stay with your mother," ordered Doctor Prescott. "I have given her a composing powder. Keep her as quiet as possible, and don't talk to her about your father."

Doctor Prescott got into his chaise and drove away up the road, and Jerome went in to his mother. For a while she kept her rocking-chair in constant motion; she swung back and forth or hitched fiercely across the floor; she repeated her wild cry that her husband had fallen down and died, and nobody need say anything different; she prayed and repeated Scripture texts. Then she succumbed to the Dover's powder which the doctor had given her, and fell asleep in her chair.

Jerome and Elmira dared not awake her that she might go to bed. They sat, each at a window, staring out into the night, watching for their father, or some one to come with news that his body was found--they did not know which. Now and then they heard the report of a gun, but did not know what it meant. Sometimes Elmira wept a little, but softly, that she might not waken her mother.

The moon was full, and it was almost as light as day outside. When a little after midnight a team came in sight they could tell at once that it was the doctor's chaise, and Jake Noyes was driving. The boy and girl left the windows and stole noiselessly out of the house. Jake drew up at the gate. "You'd better go in an' go to bed, both on you," he said. "We'll find him safe an' sound somewheres to-morrow. There's nigh two hundred men an' boys out with lanterns an' torches, an' firin' guns for signals. We'll find him with nothing wuss than a broken bone to-morrow. We've dragged the whole pond, an' he ain't there, sure."

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A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 3 A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 3

A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 3
Chapter IIIThe pond undoubtedly partook somewhat of the nature of an Eastern myth in this little New England village. Although with the uncompromising practicality of their natures the people had given it a name so directly significant as to make it lose all poetical glamour, and render it the very commonplace of ghastliness, it still appealed to their imaginations.The laws of natural fancy obtained here as everywhere else, although in small and homely measure. The village children found no nymphs in the trees of their New England woods. If there were fauns among them, and the children took their pointed ears

A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 1 A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 1

A Jerome, Poor Man: A Novel - Chapter 1
Chapter IOne morning in early May, when the wind was cold and the sun hot, and Jerome about twelve years old, he was in a favorite lurking-place of his, which nobody but himself knew.Three fields' width to the northward from the Edwardses' house was a great rock ledge; on the southern side of it was a famous warm hiding-place for a boy on a windy spring day. There was a hollow in the rock for a space as tall as Jerome, and the ledge extended itself beyond it like a sheltering granite wing to the westward.The cold northwester blowing from over