"Black bread, we have, mynheer, and porridge," replied Dame Brinker cheerily. "They have always agreed with him well."
"Tut, tut!" said the doctor, frowning. "Nothing of the kind. He must have the juice of fresh meat, white bread, dried and toasted, good Malaga wine, and--ahem! The man looks cold. Give him more covering, something light and warm. Where is the boy?"
"Hans, mynheer, has gone into Broek to look for work. He will be back soon. Will the meester please be seated?
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."