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.