‘It’s me, doctor—me—Matt, yo’ know—Matt Heap—th’ missis is i’ bed, and some bad an’ o’. Ne’er mind dressin’. Come naa;’ and the half-demented man panted for breath.
’I’ll be with you in a minute, Matt. Don’t lose your head, that’s a good fellow,’ and so saying, the doctor withdrew to prepare for the journey.
To Matt, the doctor’s minute seemed unending. He shuffled his feet impatiently along the gravel-path, and beat a tattoo with his fingers on the panels of the door, muttering under his breath words betraying an impatient and agitated mind; and when at last the doctor joined him, ready for departure, the strain of suspense was so great that both tears and sobs wrung themselves from his overstrained nature.
The two men walked along in silence, Matt being too timid to question the doctor, the doctor not caring to give Matt the chance of worrying him with foolish fears. Now and again Matt in his impatience tried to lead the doctor into a run, but in this the self-possessed man checked him, knowing that he covered the most ground who walked with an even step. For a little time Matt submitted to the restraint without a murmur. At last, however, his patience failed him, and he said:
‘Do yo’ never hurry, doctor?’
’And when is those times, doctor?
‘They’re bad times, Matt—times of emergency, you know.’
‘An’ durnd yo’ think my missis is hevin’ a bad time up at th’ cottage yonder? I welly think yo’ might hurry up a bit, doctor. You’ll geet paid for th’ job, yo’ know. I’m noan afraid o’ th’ brass.’
Dr. Hale laughed at the importunity of Matt, but knowing the doggedness of the man, somewhat quickened his steps, assuring his impatient companion that all would be well. The doctor soon, however, regretted his easy-going optimism, for on mounting the brow before the cottage, Malachi o’ th’ Mount’s wife met him, and running out towards him, said:
’Hurry up, doctor; thaa’rt wanted badly, I con tell thee. Hoo’s hevin’ a bad time on’t, and no mistak’.’
It did not take the doctor long to see that his patient was in the throes of a crisis, and with a will he set about his trying work, all the more confident because he knew the two women by his side were experienced hands—hands on whom he could rely in hours of emergency such as the one he was now called to face.
As for Matt, he sat in the silent kitchen with his feet on the fender and an unlighted pipe between his teeth. The morning sun had long since crossed the moors, but its light brought no joy to his eyes—with him, all was darkness. He heard overhead the occasional tread of the doctor’s foot, and the movements of the ministering women, while occasionally one of them would steal quietly down for something needed by the patient above. Between these breaks—welcome breaks to Matt—the silence became distressful, and the suspense a burden. Why that hush?