“My head! my head!” broke from Lionel, as he entered, in the intensity of his pain. “Matthew, I think I must have got a sun-stroke.”
Old Matthew pulled off his straw hat, and lifted himself slowly out of his chair. All his movements were slow now. Lionel had sat himself down on the settle, his head clasped by both hands, and his pale face turned to fiery red—as deep a crimson as Mrs. Verner’s was habitually.
“A sun-stroke?” echoed old Matthew, leaning on his stick, as he stood before him, attentively regarding Lionel. “Ay, sir, for sure it looks like it. Have you been standing still in the sun, this blazing day?”
“I have been standing in it without my hat,” replied Lionel. “Not for long, however.”
“It don’t take a minute, sir, to do the mischief. I had one myself, years before you were born, Mr. Lionel. On a day as hot as this, I was out in my garden, here, at the back of this cottage. I had gone out without my hat, and was standing over my pig, watching him eat his wash, when I felt something take my head—such a pain, sir, that I had never felt before, and never wish to feel again. I went indoors, and Robin, who might be a boy of five, or so, looked frightened at me, my face was so red. I couldn’t hold my head up, sir; and when the doctor came, he said it was a sun-stroke. I think there must be particular moments and days when the sun has this power to harm us, though we don’t know which they are nor how to avoid them,” added old Matthew, as much in self-soliloquy as to Lionel. “I had often been out before, without my hat, in as great heat; for longer, too; and it had never harmed me. Since then, sir, I have put a white handkerchief inside the crown of my hat in hot weather. The doctor told me to do so.”
“How long did the pain last?” asked Lionel, feeling his pain growing worse with every moment. “Many hours?”
“Hours?” repeated old Matthew, with a strong emphasis on the word. “Mr. Lionel, it lasted for days and weeks. Before the next morning came, sir, I was in a raging fever; for three weeks, good, I was in my bed, above here, and never out of it; hardly the clothes smoothed a-top of me. Sun-strokes are not frequent in this climate, sir, but when they do come, they can’t be trifled with.”
Perhaps Lionel felt the same conviction. Perhaps he felt that with this pain, increasing as it was in intensity, he must make the best of his way home, if he would get home at all. “Good-day, Matthew,” he said, rising from the bench. “I’ll go home at once!”
“And send for Dr. West, sir, or for Mr. Jan, if you are no better when you get there,” was the parting salutation of the old man.
He stood at the door, leaning on his stick, and watched Lionel down Clay Lane. “A sun-stroke, for sure,” repeated he, slowly turning in, as the angle of the lane hid Lionel from his view.