“Don’t say that, father,” whimpered Liza.
“Nay, Mattha, nay, man,” cried ’Becca, “it’s nought of that. It’s my life that’s in danger.”
“Shaf! that ’at is nowt is nivver in danger. Whear’s the plague as wad think it worth while to bodder wid a skinflint like thee? Good neet, ’Becca, good neet, and ’od white te, lass, God requite thee!”
So they drove to Matthew Branthwaite’s cottage, and installed the sick man in the disused workroom, where the loom had stood silent for nearly ten years.
A rough shakedown was improvised, a log fire was speedily kindled, and in half an hour Mrs. Branthwaite was sitting at Robbie’s bedside bathing his hot forehead with cloths damped in vinegar. The little woman—timid and nervous in quieter times—was beginning to show some mettle now.
“Robbie has the fever, the brain fever,” she said. She was right. The old wife’s diagnosis was as swift as thought. Next day they sent for the doctor from Gaskarth. He came; looked wise and solemn; asked three questions in six syllables apiece, and paused between them. Then he felt the sick man’s pulse. He might almost have heard the tick of it. Louder was the noise of the beating heart. Still not a word. In the dread stillness out came the lance, and Robbie was bled. Then sundry hums and ahs, but no syllable of counsel or cheer.
“Is there any danger?” asked little Liza in a fretful tone. She was standing with head averted from the bowl which was in her mother’s hands, with nervous fingers and palpitating breast.
The wise man replied in two guarded words.
Robbie had appeared to be conscious before the operation
of the lance.
He was wandering again. He would soon be wildly delirious.
The great man took up his hat and his fee together. His silence at least had been golden.
“Didsta iver see sic a dumb daft boggle?” said Mattha as the doctor disappeared. “It cannot even speak when it’s spoken to.”
The medical ghost never again haunted that particular ghost-walk.
Robbie lay four days insensible, and Mrs. Branthwaite was thenceforward his sole physician and nurse. On the afternoon of the third day of Robbie’s illness—it was Sunday—Rotha Stagg left her own peculiar invalid in the care of one of the farm women and walked over to Mattha’s house.
Willy Ray had not returned from Carlisle. He had exchanged scarcely six words with her since the interview previously recorded. Rotha had not come to Shoulthwaite for Willy’s satisfaction. Neither would she leave it for his displeasure.
When the girl reached the weaver’s cottage and entered the sick-room, Mattha himself was sitting at the fireside, with a pipe, puffing the smoke up the chimney. Mrs. Branthwaite was bathing the sick man’s head, from which the hair had been cut away. Liza was persuading herself that she was busy sewing at a new gown. The needle stuck and stopped twenty times a minute. Robbie was delirious.