Therefore, by sundown it was well known throughout the neighboring country that Dr. Boekman, chancing to stop at the cottage, had given the idiot Brinker a tremendous dose of medicine, as brown as gingerbread. It had taken six men to hold him while it was poured down. The idiot had immediately sprung to his feet, in full possession of all his faculties, knocked over the doctor or thrashed him (there was admitted to be a slight uncertainty as to which of these penalties was inflicted), then sat down and addressed him for all the world like a lawyer. After that he had turned and spoken beautifully to his wife and children. Dame Brinker had laughed herself into violent hysterics. Hans had said, "Here I am, Father, your own dear son!" And Gretel had said, "Here I am, Father, your own dear Gretel!" And the doctor had afterward been seen leaning back in his carriage looking just as white as a corpse.
When Dr. Boekman called the next day at the Brinker cottage, he could not help noticing the cheerful, comfortable aspect of the place. An atmosphere of happiness breathed upon him as he opened the door. Dame Brinker sat complacently knitting beside the bed, her husband was enjoying a tranquil slumber, and Gretel was noiselessly kneading rye bread on the table in the corner.
The doctor did not remain long. He asked a few simple questions, appeared satisfied with the answers, and after feeling his patient's pulse, said, "Ah, very weak yet, jufvrouw. Very weak, indeed. He must have nourishment. You may begin to feed the patient. Ahem! Not too much, but what you do give him let it be strong and of the best."
"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.