Doc Madison swung Helena lightly down from the table to the head of the couch, sat down beside her, one arm circling her waist, and motioned the Flopper to a chair—then he leaned forward and watched Pale Face Harry critically, as the latter carefully replaced the shining little hypodermic in its case.

"Harry," said he abruptly, jerking his free hand toward the hypodermic, "could you give up that dope-needle?"

"Sure, I could—if I wanted to!" asserted Pale Face Harry defiantly.

"That's good," said Madison cheerfully. "Because you'll have to."

"Eh?"—Pale Face Harry stared at Doc Madison in amazement.

"Because you'll have to—by and by," said Madison coolly. "And how about that cough—can you quit coughing?"

"When I'm dead—which won't be long," sniffed Pale Face Harry. "D'ye think I cough because I like it? How'm I going to quit coughing?"

"I don't know," admitted Doc Madison, frowning seriously. "I only know you'll have to."

Pale Face Harry, with jaw dropped, accentuating the gaunt leanness of his hollow-cheeked, emaciated face, gazed at Doc Madison with a curious mingling of incredulity and affront—and coughed.

"Say," he inquired grimly, "what's the answer?"

Doc Madison took his arm from Helena's waist, pulled a newspaper from his pocket, spread it out on the table—and his manner changed suddenly—enthusiasm was in his eyes, his voice, his face.

"I've steered you three through a few deals," said he impressively, "that have sized up big enough to keep you out of the raw vaudeville turn you, Harry, and you, Flopper, are so fond of, and that would have put Helena here on easy street, if you hadn't blown in all you got about ten minutes after you got your hands on it—but I've got one here that sizes up so big you wouldn't be able to spend the money fast enough to close out your bank account if you did your damnedest! Get that? It's the greatest cinch that ever came down from the gateway of heaven—and that's where it came from—heaven. It couldn't have come from anywhere else—it's too good. And it's new, bran new—it's never had the string cut or the wrapper taken off. It's got anything that was ever run beaten by more laps than there are in the track, and it's got a purse tied on to the end of it that's the biggest ever offered since Adam. But you've got to work for it, and that's what I brought you here for to-night—to learn your little pieces so's you can say 'em nice and cute when you get up on the platform before the audience."

The Flopper's tongue made a greedy circuit of his upper and under lips, and he hitched his chair closer to the table.

A flush spread over Pale Face Harry's cheeks, and his eyes, abnormally bright, grew brighter.

"You're all right, Doc," he assured Doc Madison anxiously. "You're all right."

"U-uu-mm!" cooed Helena excitedly. "Go on, Doc—go on!"

"Listen," said Doc Madison, his voice lowered a little. "I found this tucked away as a filler in a corner of the newspaper this evening. It's headed, 'A New Cult,' with an interrogation mark after it. Now listen, while I read it:"


Needley, Maine, offers no attraction for aspiring young medical men. One who tried it recently, and who pulled down his shingle in disgust after a week, says competition is too strong, as the village is obsessed with the belief that they have a sort of faith-healer in their midst to whom is attributed cures of all descriptions stretching back for a generation or more. The healer, he adds, who rejoices in the name of the Patriarch and lives in solitude a mile or so from the village, is something of an anomaly in himself, being both deaf and dumb. We—

"But that's all that interests us," said Doc Madison, as he stopped reading abruptly and lifted his head to scrutinize his companions quizzically.

Pale Face Harry's eyes had lost their gleam and dulled—he gaped reproachfully at Doc Madison. Helena's small mouth drooped downward in a disappointed moue. Only the Flopper evidenced enthusiastic response.

"Sure!" he chortled. "Sure t'ing! I see. De old geezer'll have a pile of shekels hid away, an' he lives by his lonesome a mile from de town. We sneaks down dere, croaks de guy wid de queer monaker, an' beats it wid de shekels—sure!"

Doc Madison turned a sad gray eye on the Flopper.

"Flopper," said he pathetically, "your soul, like your bones, runs to rank realism. No; we don't 'croak de guy'—we cherish him, we nurse him, we fondle him. He's our one best bet, and we fold him to our breasts tenderly, and we protect him from all harm and danger and sudden death."

The Flopper blinked a little helplessly.

"Mabbe," said the Flopper, "I got de wrong dope. Some of dem words you read I ain't hip to. Wot's anymaly mean?"

"Anomaly?"—Doc Madison reached for his glass, tossed off the contents and set it down. "It means, Flopper, in this particular instance," he said gravely, "that there shouldn't be any interrogation point after the heading."

Again the Flopper blinked helplessly—and his fingers picked uncertainly at the stubble on his chin. The other two gazed disconsolately—and Helena a little pityingly as well—at Doc Madison.

Doc Madison flung out his arms suddenly.

"What's the matter with you all?" he demanded sarcastically. "You look as though your faces pained you! What's the matter with you? You're bright enough ordinarily, Helena, and, Harry, you're no dub—what's the matter with you? Can't you see it—can't you see it! Why, it's sticking out a mile—it's waiting for us! The whole plant's there and all we've got to do is get steam under the boilers. We'll have 'em coming for the cure from every State in the Union, and begging us to let them throw their diamond tiaras at us for a look-in at the shrine. Don't you see it—can't you get it—can't you get it!"

Helena bent suddenly over Doc Madison's shoulder, her eyes opening wide with dawning comprehension.

"The cure?" she breathed.

"Sure—the cure," said Doc Madison earnestly. "The new cult—that's us. Get the people talking, show 'em something, and you'll have to put up fences and 'keep off the grass' signs to stop the lame and the halt and the blind and the neurasthenics from crowding and suffocating to death for want of air. We'll start a shrine down there that'll be a winner, and the railroads will be running excursion-rate pilgrimages inside of two months."

Pale Face Harry's chair creaked, as, like the Flopper, he now crowded it in toward the table.

"I get you!" said he feverishly. "I get you! I've read about them shrines—only you gotter have churches, and a carload of crutches, and that sort of thing laying around."

Doc Madison smiled pleasantly.

"Yes; you've got me, Harry—only we'll do the stage setting a little differently. Mostly what is required is—faith. Get them going on that, and everybody that's sick or near-sick in this great United States, that's got the swellest collection of boobs and millionaires on earth, will swarm thitherward like bees—there won't be any one left in the sanatoriums throughout the length of this broad land of freedom but the bell boys and the elevator men. Get them going, and all we've got to do is look out we don't let anything get by us in the crush—a snowball rolling down hill will size up like a plugged nickel alongside of a twenty-dollar gold piece when it gets to the bottom, compared with what we start rolling."

"I've got you, too," said Helena. "But I don't see where the faith is coming from, or how you're going to get them coming. You've got to show them—you said so yourself—even the boobs. How are you going to do that?"

"Well," said Doc Madison placidly, "we'll start the show with—a miracle. I haven't thought of anything more effective than that so far."

"A what?" inquired Pale Face Harry, with a grin.

"A miracle," repeated Doc Madison imperturbably. "A miracle—with the Flopper here in the star rôle. The Flopper goes down there all tied up in knots, the high priest, alias the deaf and dumb healer, alias the Patriarch, lays his soothing hands upon him, the Flopper uncoils into something that looks like a human being—and the trumpets blow, the band plays, and the box office opens for receipts."

Helena slid from her seat, and, with hands on the edge of the table, advanced her piquant little face close to Doc Madison's, staring at him, breathing hard.

"Say that again," she gasped. "Say that again—say it just once more."

Pale Face Harry's hand, trembling visibly with emotion, was thrust out across the table.

"Put it there, Doc," he whispered hoarsely.

The Flopper, practical, earnestly so, lifted his right arm, wriggled it a little and began to twist it around, as though it were on a pivot at the elbow, preparatory to drawing it in, a crippled thing, toward his chin.

Doc Madison reached out hurriedly and stopped him.

"Here, that'll do, Flopper," he said quietly. "You don't need any rehearsal to hold your job—you're down for the number and your check's written out."

"Swipe me!" said the Flopper to the universe. "I can smell de pine woods of Maine in me nostrils now. When does I beat it, Doc—to-morrer?"

Doc Madison laughed.

"No, Flopper, not to-morrow—nor for several to-morrows—not till the bill-posters get through, and the stage is dark, and you can hear a pin drop in the house. I don't want you camping out and catching cold and missing any of the luxuries you're accustomed to, so I'll start along ahead in a day or so myself and see what kind of accommodations I can secure."

"Swipe me!" said the Flopper again. "An' to think of me wastin' me talent on rubber-neck fleets!"

A puzzled little frown puckered Helena's forehead.

"I was thinking about the deaf and dumb man," she said slowly. "How about him, when we pull this off—will he stand for it—and what'll he do?"

"Aw!" said Pale Face Harry impatiently. "He don't count! He'll have bats in his belfry anyway, and if he ain't he'll go off his chump for fair getting stuck on himself when he sees the stunt he'll think he's done. He'll be looking for the wings between his shoulder blades, and hunting for the halo around his head."

"Harry is waking up," observed Doc Madison affably. "That's about the idea, Helena. I haven't seen the Patriarch yet, but I don't imagine from his description that it'll be very hard to make him believe in himself. He doesn't stand for anything—we don't deal him any cards—he's just the kitty that circles around with the jackpots while we annex the chips."

Doc Madison reached into his vest pocket, took out a penknife whose handle was gold-chased, opened it, and very carefully cut the article he had read from the paper.

"Flopper," said he, "you've heard of gold bonds, haven't you?"

The Flopper's eyes gleamed an eloquent response.

"Only you've never had any, eh?" supplied Doc Madison.

"Where'd I get 'em?" inquired the Flopper, with some bitterness.

"Right here," smiled Doc Madison, handing him the clipping. "Here's a trainload and a bank vault full of them combined. Put it away, Flopper, and don't lose it. Lose anything you've got first—lose your life. It's worth a private car to you with a buffet full of fizz, and Sambo to wait on you for the rest of your life. Get that? Don't lose it!"

The Flopper tucked the clipping into the mysterious recess of his shirt.

"Say," he said earnestly, "if you say so, Doc, it'll be here when dey plant me."

"All right, Flopper," nodded Doc Madison. "And now let's get down to cases. I've been able to pay my club dues lately, and there's money enough on deck to buy the costumes and put the show on the road. I start for Needley as soon as I can get away. When I'm ready for the support, you three will hear from me—and in the meantime you lay low. Nothing doing—understand? You'll get all the lime-light you want before you're through, and it's just as well not to show up so familiar when they throw the spot on you that even the school kids will know the date of your birth, and the population will start in squabbling over the choice of reserved niches for you in the Hall of Fame. See?"

The Flopper, Pale Face Harry and Helena nodded their heads with one accord.

"Give us the whole lay, Doc," urged Pale Face Harry. "And give it to us quick."

"Me mouth's waterin'," observed the Flopper, licking his lips again.

Helena lighted another cigarette, and swung herself back to her perch on the head of the couch.

Doc Madison surveyed the three with mingled admiration and delight.

"The world is ours!" he murmured softly.

"Oh, hurry up and give us the rest of it," purred Helena. "We know we're an all-star cast, all right."

"Very good," said Doc Madison—and laughed. "Well then, the order of your stage cues will depend on circumstances and what turns up down there, but we'll start with the Flopper now. First of all, Flopper, you've got to have a name. What's your real name—what did they decorate you with at the baptismal font back in the dark ages?"

The Flopper scrubbed at his very dirty chin with a very dirty thumb and forefinger.

"I dunno," said the Flopper anxiously.

"Well, never mind," said Doc Madison reassuringly. "Maybe you are blessed above most people—you can pick one out for yourself. What'll it be?"

The Flopper's thumb and forefinger scratched desperately for a moment, then his face lighted with inspiration.

"Swipe me!" said he excitedly. "I got it—Jimmy de Squirm."

Doc Madison shook his head gravely.

"No, Flopper, I'm afraid not," he said gently. "That's another weak point in your interpretation of the rôle, that I'll come to in a minute. We'll give you an Irish name by way of charity—it'll help to make your classical English sound like brogue. We'll call you Coogan—Michael Coogan—that lets you off with plain Mike in times of stress."

"Swipe me!" said the Flopper, with perfect complacence.

"Glad it pleases you," smiled Doc Madison, "Here's your lay, then. You've got to remember that you were born crooked and—"

Helena giggled.

"I didn't mean it"—Doc Madison's gray eyes twinkled. "You are waking up, too, Helena. I mean, Flopper, you've got to remember that you were born twisted up into the same shape you are in when you hit Needley. You come from—let's see—we'll have to have a big city where the next door neighbors pass each other with a vacant stare. Ever been in Chicago?"

"Naw! Wot fer?" said the Flopper, with withering spontaneity. "Noo Yoik fer mine."

"Well, all right—New York it is, then," agreed Doc Madison. "You're poor, but respectable—and that brings us to the other point. Before you go down there, Helena's going to start a little night-school with a grammar, and teach you to paddle along the fringe of the great American language so's you won't fall in and get wet all over every time you open your mouth."

"My!" exclaimed Helena. "Won't that be nice!"

"I hope so," said Doc Madison drily. "And don't run away with the idea that I'm joking about this—that goes. I don't expect to make a silver-tongued orator out of you, Flopper, and perhaps not even a purist—but I hope to eradicate a few minor touches of Bad Land vernacular from your vocabulary."

"I've gotcher—swipe me!" grinned the Flopper. "Me at school! Say, wouldn't that put a smile on de maps of de harness bulls, an' de dips, an' de lags doin' spaces up de river!"

"Quite so," admitted Doc Madison pleasantly.

"You won't laugh when I get through with you," remarked Helena, her eyes on the curl of smoke from her cigarette.

"There's just one more thing," went on Doc Madison, "and I'm through with you, Flopper. Don't come down there looking like a skate—that's too raw. Get new clothes and a shave—and keep shaved. And from the minute you buy your ticket, you keep your bones, or whatever a beneficent nature has given you in place of them, out of joint—see?"

"I'm hip," declared the Flopper—and the dog-like admiration for Doc Madison burned in his eyes. "Say, Doc, youse are de—"

"Never mind, Flopper," Madison cut in brightly. "It's getting late. Now, Harry, about you. You've got a name, I believe. Evans, isn't it? Yes—well, that will do. Now, don't kill yourself at it, but the more you work your dope needle overtime before you start, and the harder you cough when you first land there the better. We've got to have variety, you know. You're a physical wreck with the folks back home sending the casket and trimmings after you on the next train in care of the station agent."

"I guess," coughed Pale Face Harry, with a sickly smile, "I look the part."

"You certainly do," said Helena cheerfully, beating a tattoo with her heels on the end of the couch.

Pale Face Harry scowled.

"I ain't no artist with the paint," he sniffed.

"I don't paint," said Helena sweetly. "It's rouge."

"Are you through?" inquired Doc Madison patiently. "Because, if you are, I'll go on. When the train whistles for Needley, Harry, you put the soft pedal on the dope—that ought to help some. And then you begin to taper that cough off and become a cure—that's all."

"I ain't like the Flopper," said Pale Face Harry ruefully. "I told you once I can't stop the hack, and I ask you again how'm I going to?"

"Have faith in the Patriarch," suggested Helena innocently.

"You close your trap!" exclaimed Pale Face Harry savagely; then, to Madison: "Go on, Doc—it's up to you."

"No," said Doc Madison coolly, "it's up to you. You've got to try, and if you can't stop altogether you can make yourself scarce when you feel the fit coming on—you won't have to climb up on the grandstand and cough in people's faces, will you?"

"He might carry a screen around with him and cough behind that," volunteered Helena. "That's enough about the Flopper and Pale Face—what about muh? Where do I get off?"

"You?" said Doc Madison calmly. "Oh, you're a moral neurasthenic."

"And what's that when it's at home?" demanded Helena sharply.

Doc Madison threw out his hands in a comically helpless, impotent gesture.

"It's what we need to keep up the standard of variety," he said. "We're playing to the masses. Don't you like the rôle, Helena—it's the leading woman's."

"What do I do?" countered Helena non-committingly.

"Do?" echoed Doc Madison. "Why, you go down there like a whole parade and a gorgeous pageant rolled into one, in feathers and paint and diamond boulders in your ears—and you come out of it in a gingham apron and coy sunbonnet as sweet sixteen."

"Oh!" said Helena—and her eyes were on the curl of smoke from her cigarette again.

"Say," said Pale Face Harry suddenly, evidently still worried about his cough, "we ain't going to have no easy cinch of this."

"No," said Doc Madison, with a grim smile; "you're not! It's going to be the hardest work any of you have ever done—you've got to lead decent lives for awhile."

"Sure—dat's right," said the loyal Flopper; "but we stands fer anyt'ing dat de Doc says—an' dat goes!"

"It'll come hard on some of us," remarked Pale Face Harry, with a sly glance at Helena, which met with contemptuous silence.

Doc Madison leaned back, felt carefully at his carefully adjusted tie—and smiled engagingly.

"Well?" he asked. "Can you see them coming?"

Pale Face Harry stared at him with a far-away expression in his eyes.

"When we get through with this, if I ain't handed in my checks before," he said dreamily, "it's mine for a brownstone on the Avenue, and one of them life-size landscapes with a shack on it for the season down to Pa'm Beach that they call country cottages. I'll dress the ginks that scrub the horses down in solid gold braid, and put the corpse of chamber ladies in Irish lace—I bust into society, marry a duke's one and only, and swipe her coronet for my manly brow. Did you ask me anything, Doc?"

"Swipe me!" said the Flopper. "Me in me private Pullman in a plush seat an' anudder to put me feet in, an' me thumbs in de armholes of me vest. I wears a high polished lid an' a red tie, an' scatters simoleans outer de window in me travels to the gazaboes on de platforms as I pass—an' den I joins Tammany Hall so's I can stick me fingers to me nose every time I sees a cop."

"Flopper," said Doc Madison in an awed voice, "the honor is all mine."

Helena went off into a peal of rippling, silvery, contagious laughter, and her little heels again beat an exuberant tattoo on the end of the couch.

"Yes?" invited Doc Madison, smiling at her.

"I'm seeing them coming," said Helena—and one heel went through the cretonne upholstery of the couch.

"Good!" said Doc Madison—and from the inside pocket of his coat he pulled out a package of crisp, new, yellow-backed bills. "You understand that down there none of you ever heard of each other or of me before, and you drop the 'doc'—bury it! My name is John G. Madison—G. for Garfield." His fingers passed deftly over the edges of the bills. He pushed a little pile toward the Hopper, another toward Pale Face Harry, and tucked the remainder into his coat pocket again. "That'll do for expenses," he said. "And now, if you understand everything, principally that you're to go to church Sundays till you hear from me, and you're quite satisfied with the lay, we'll adjourn, sine die, to Needley."

Helena was holding out a very dainty hand, with pink, wiggling fingers.

"I'll need, oh, ever so much more than they will," she declared, with a bewitching pout. "And, please, I'm waiting very patiently."

Doc Madison laughed.

"By and by, Helena," he said, patting her hand. "Well, Flopper, well, Harry—what do you say?"

The Flopper pushed back his chair and stood up hesitantly like a man unexpectedly called upon for an after-dinner speech. He stood there awkwardly a moment gazing at Doc Madison, his tongue slowly circling his lips; then, with a gulp, as though words to express his feelings were utterly beyond him, he turned and started for the door.

Pale Face Harry, as he rose, shoved out his hand.

"I don't deserve my luck to be in on this," he said modestly. "Only, Doc, push it along on the high gear, will you—I ain't going to be able to sleep thinking about it." He looked at Helena a little undecidedly—and compromised on brevity. "'Night, Helena," he flung out.

"Oh, good-night, Harry," she smiled.

The Flopper turned at the door and came back a few steps into the room.

"Say, Doc," he said, blinking furiously, "youse can wipe yer feet on me any time youse like—dat's wot!"

"All right, Flopper," said Doc Madison gravely. "When you've joined Tammany Hall—good-night." He followed across the room, and from the doorway watched the two descend the stairs. "Good-night," he said again, then closed the door and came back into the room. "Well, Helena?" he remarked tentatively.

"Well—Garfield?"—Helena clasped her hands around one knee and rocked gently.

"Don't be familiar, Helena," Doc Madison chuckled. "Is that all you've got to say?"

"I'm busy thinking about The Great American Play," she said pertly. "There's one thing you forgot."

"What's that?" he asked, still smiling.

"The curtain on the last act," she said. "The getaway."

Doc Madison shook his head.

"Nothing doing!" he returned. "There's no getaway. It's safe—so safe that there's nothing to it. We don't guarantee anything, and there's no entrance fee to the pavilion—all contributions are strictly voluntary."

"That's all right," said Helena. "But of course we can't really cure them. We can get them going hard enough to make them think they are for awhile, but after they've thrown away their crutches and got back home—what then?"

"Well, what then?" inquired Doc Madison easily.

"They'll yell 'fake!' and swear out warrants," said Helena, her dark eyes studying Doc Madison.

"Not according to statistics," replied Doc Madison, and his lips twitched quizzically at the corners. "According to statistics they'll buy another crutch and come back to buck the tiger again. Say, Helena, to-morrow, you go up to the public library and read up on shrines—they've been running since the ark—and they're running still. You never heard any howl about them, did you? What's the answer to those cures?"

"That's different," said Helena. "That's religion, and they've got relics and things."

"It's faith," said Doc Madison, "and it doesn't matter what the basis of it is. Faith, Helena, faith—get that? And we're going to imbue them with a faith that'll set them crazy and send them into hysterics. And talk about relics! Haven't we got one? Look at the Patriarch! Can't you see the whole town yelling 'I told you so!' and swopping testimonials hard enough to crowd the print down so fine, if you tried to get it all into the papers, that you'd have to use a magnifying glass to read it, once we've pulled off the miracle? Don't you worry about the getaway. If there's any sign of anything like that, you and I, Helena, will be taking moonlight rides in the gondolas of Venice long before it breaks."

Helena choked—and began to laugh deliciously.

Doc Madison stared at her for a moment whimsically—then he, too, burst into a laugh.

"Oh, Lord!" he gurgled. "It's rich, isn't it?" And sweeping Helena off the couch and into his arms, he began to dance around and around the table. "Ring-around-a-rosy!" he cried. "We haven't done so bad in the misty past, but here's where we cross to the enchanted shore and play on jewelled harps with golden strings and—"

"Is that all?" gasped Helena, laughing and breathless, as at last she pulled herself away.

"No," panted Doc Madison. "There's a table I've reserved up at the Rivoli that's waiting for us now. We're about to part for days and days, lady mine, that's the tough luck of it, but we'll make a night of it to-night anyway—what?"

"You bet!" said Helena, doing a cake-walk towards the door. "Come on!"

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