“It’s on the way,” cried Elmira, frantically. “Hurry up! Oh, do hurry up, Jerome! Poor father! Mother says he’s—fell—down—” Elmira crooked her little arm around her face and broke into a long wail as she started down the hill. “Poor—father—oh—oh—poor—father!” floated back like a wake of pitiful sound.
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.