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?”
“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.”
“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.