I was surprised when the farmer’s wife told me about her daughter’s age. “She’s ten. Her name is Hendrika.”
The mother was far from being a giantess herself, but the child’s appearance would have inclined me to put her age at six or seven at most.
The girl did not react, she just went on staring at the wood elves above her head.
“She isn’t always like this,” said Tessa Bongers, gently stroking Hendrika’s cheek. “Her condition seems to improve sometimes. Then we take her outside in the farmyard.”
She explained that her daughter had developed more slowly than other children. She hadn’t learned to walk until she was over three years old, and she had never been steady on her feet. She sometimes fell over for no apparent reason, which was dangerous because she made no instinctive attempt to recover her balance or at least protect her head.
“Is her hearing, eyesight, or speech affected?” I asked.
Tessa hesitated for a moment, and I could see her fighting back tears. “Hendrika doesn’t speak; She merely makes sounds when she’s hungry or thirsty, or when she’s happy about something. Her eyesight is excellent, but she has trouble hearing.”
“You’ve taken her to a doctor, surely?” I queried.
She nodded, so vigorously that a strand of red hair fell over her brow. “Dr. Lubbers looks in on her regularly. He lives quite near.”
“Then he must have reached a diagnosis.”
“He thinks it very probable that something was wrong with Hendrika’s brain before birth.”
If the brain damage was congenital, no curative treatment existed, and steps could be taken only to mitigate symptoms and improve mobility.
In London, there were specialists whose treatments were achieving results, at least where their patients’ motor
The activity was concerned. I doubted whether Dr. Lubbers would know of such things.
I endeavored to examine the girl more closely, insofar as this was possible without the requisite instruments.
Just then, through the thin walls, I heard the sound of a horse-drawn carriage approaching. It pulled up outside the house.
“Oh!” Tessa exclaimed. “Come with me, please. Quickly!”
After a last worried glance at the apathetic child, I followed her downstairs.
Mevrou Bongers opened the front door to a tall man of my age. His face was remarkably pale and his eyes were bloodshot. He looked as if he shunned the light of day and spent many a sleepless night. His right hand was holding a leather medical bag.
His face conveyed a mixture of surprise and displeasure when he saw me.
I wasn’t expecting you this evening, Dr.Lubbers sais Tessa Bongers, she brushed the lock of hair out of her eyes, looking rather flushed.
I stepped forward. “Good evening, doctor. My name is Arthur Conan Doyle. My host, Howard Woolf, has a technical problem with his car. Mevrou Bongers’s husband is being kind enough to assist him with the repair.”
“I encountered Howard and Ruud on the way,” Lubbers replied. “I gather you’re a physician yourself.”
“I am,” I said.