Whether the hard polished stool offered by Dame Brinker did not look particularly tempting, or whether the dame herself frightened him, partly because she was a woman, and partly because an anxious, distressed look had suddenly appeared in her face, I cannot say. Certain it is that our eccentric doctor looked hurriedly about him, muttered something about "an extraordinary case," bowed, and disappeared before Dame Brinker had time to say another word.
Strange that the visit of their good benefactor should have left a cloud, yet so it was. Gretel frowned, an anxious, childish frown, and kneaded the bread dough violently without looking up. Dame Brinker hurried to her husband's bedside, leaned over him, and fell into silent but passionate weeping.
"Why, Mother," he whispered in alarm, "what ails thee? Is the father worse?"
She turned her quivering face toward him, making no attempt to conceal her distress.
"Yes. He is starving--perishing. A meester said it."
"What does this mean, Mother? We must feed him at once. Here, Gretel, give me the porridge."
"Nay!" cried his mother, distractedly, yet without raising her voice. "It may kill him. Our poor fare is too heavy for him. Oh, Hans, he will die--the father will DIE, if we use him this way. He must have meat and sweet wine and a dekbed. Oh, what shall I do, what shall I do?" she sobbed, wringing her hands. "There is not a stiver in the house."
Gretel pouted. It was the only way she could express sympathy just then. Her tears fell one by one into the dough.