“Where’s Peter? It’s almost time for dinner. Hannah, will you call him?”
The kitchen was a bustle of clanging and banging and clattering. Each of the children had a part in the preparation. Delicious odors floated in the clouds of steam. The long table was graced with a linen cloth and rows of gilded plates and glassware. Platters of meat and bowls of bread stood at attention, waiting for all the family to arrive.
“Mama, I can’t find him.”
“What am I going to do with that boy?” Mama wiped her hands on her apron and brushed some hair from her face as she leaned out the back door. “Peeeeeter!”
“He’s been fighting with Andrew again, Mama.”
“Oh, I hope he didn’t go sulking off into the woods. It’s so easy to get off the main path and lose your sense of direction.”
“Mama, should I go look for him? Maybe he went down by the shore. You know how he’s tempted by it, especially now that the pollywogs have hatched.”
“Yes! Yes! Go get others to look, too! Oh….he can be so naïve, but yet so impulsive. He’d walk off with the first person to offer him a puppy or a ride on a boat and for some unknown reason punch them in the nose. Oh, someone go see if he’s down by the old well! It gives me nightmares to think of that rotten well cover. It should have been replaced years ago!”
The splendid dinner is forgotten as brothers and sisters and neighbors holler up the woodland pathways, around the water’s edge, in the barn, in the closets, and even under the table. Mama’s forehead puckers with worry, for Father will be home soon, and little Peter is still missing.
Squeals and cheers of welcome are rewarded by hugs and loving pats on their heads, but the question in Papa’s sharp eyes deflates their joy into sad silence. Sarah looks up with tear-filled eyes. “We can’t find Peter, Papa.”
He picks her up and kisses her curls. “Don’t worry. I know where he is.”
“You do?” asks Hannah. “Where?”
“The rest of you wash up and get the dinner ready. I’ll go find Peter.”
Papa peers in the gloomy depths of the crawl space beneath the woodshed. “Peter?”
There’s a slight gasp and shuffle of legs that curl tighter in the corner.
“Peter, it’s dinner time. I know you’re in there. Why are you hiding?”
“I don’t want you to see me.” The boy scoots farther back.
“Because… you’ll be angry at me.”
“Why, Peter?” Papa ducks under the rough wood and crawls on his belly through the mud. Pushing his body over the rocks and old nails with his hands, he crosses the distances between them. “Have you disobeyed me, Son?”
“Andrew started it.”
Papa sat in the dark corner with him, his arms wrapped around his long legs and head bent close. “Peter, I already talked to Andrew. He’s been forgiven.”
“I took your special Book, because I wanted to see the pictures. Andrew pulled it away, and I pulled it back and it ripped.”
“I can fix it, Peter, it’s only a book. You’re more important to me than any book. I’m glad you told me. Although, I’d really like you to ask me for the Book and then we could look at it together, so I could tell you what the pictures mean.”
“Papa, I’m sorry.” He leaned his tear-streaked face against his father’s side. He felt the warmth and strength of the strong arms around him and heard love in every heartbeat.
“I love you more than my special Book.”
“I love you, too, Papa. I’m sorry.”
“I forgive you. Let’s go get ready for dinner.”
As they emerged into the dazzling sunlight, Papa picked him up his little son and held him close.
“Papa! Your hands are bleeding! Why did you get dirty for me?”
“Because, Peter, I love you; you are my child.”
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