Lubbers put his bag down and removed his dusty top hat. His head was almost completely bald, and I noticed only now that his right ear was missing.
He turned to Tessa Bongers. “Has he taken a look at Hendrika?”
She hesitated briefly, then nodded.
“It can’t hurt to enlist a second expert opinion,” said Lubbers, smiling at me. “Isn’t that so, colleague?”
I found the man hard to assess, but I didn’t take it with him on sight. He radiated a combination of cool competence and latent menace.
“There’s something to be said for your diagnosis of antenatal brain damage,” I replied. “Indeed there is!” Lubbers rejoined loudly. “What’s more, I know what inflicted that damage.”
I said nothing, feeling sure that he wouldn’t keep me in ignorance.
“Your people are to blame.” Pale as death until a moment ago, Lubbers’s face had gone puce with anger. “This woman was pregnant when the
British Army employed scorched-earth tactics against us.”
Tessa Bongers attempted to stem his furious outburst. “Please, doctor!” she entreated.
Lubbers ignored her. “Lord Kitchener, your commander in chief, decreed the torching of our farms and villages and stuck our women and children in concentration camps, where they were exposed to violence, adverse weather conditions, and starvation. Tens of thousands died there, and it was in one such camp that this woman’s child was damaged in utero, Mijnheer Doyle!” He picked up his bag and hurried past me. “I must see to Hendrika now.”
“I’m sorry,” Tessa Bongers said in a low voice as Lubbers stomped off up the stairs to the attic, breathing hard.
“No,” I said, “I’m sorry. I heard tell of those camps during the war, but I didn’t know their true extent.” I cleared my throat. “Perhaps I didn’t want to know. Please excuse me now. I’ll go and see how your husband and Mr. Woolf are getting on with that repair.”
I bowed and went out into the darkness.
I met the two men in the Wolseley halfway there. The car was drivable again, so I got in.
Howard Woolf dropped Ruud Bongers back at the farmhouse. The doctor’s carriage was still standing outside.
Given my silence, Woolf turned and asked if all was well. Perhaps he thought I was annoyed by the breakdown and the long wait it had entailed.
“I saw the daughter of the house,” I told him.
He sighed. “Poor little thing. Whenever her parents think she’s improving, she suffers a relapse.”
“I only hope Dr.Lubbers is using the correct method of treatment.”
Woolf skillfully avoided a pothole. He never for a moment took his eyes off the track. The Wolseley’s feeble headlights and the hazy moonlight were insufficient to illuminate the way ahead.
“So you crossed swords with him… ” Woolf remarked.
“What makes you say that?”
“A lot of people think Lubbers is a competent doctor,” he said, “but he abominates everything British and makes no secret of it.”
“Does he only treat Boers?”
The car jolted over a small rock that Woolf had failed to spot.
“No, no, he does not distinguish in that respect, but Brits like us find it hard to endure the political tirades he delivers, whether he’s setting a dislocated shoulder or attending a birth. Lubbers can afford to indulge in them, being the only doctor far and wide.”
“Is it known how he lost his right ear?” “Oh yes,” Woolf replied, “there’s no one he hasn’t told.