It wasn't wholly an interrogation—it seemed to Madison that there was even sympathy in the parlor-car conductor's voice, as the other took his seat check.

"Health," said Madison meekly. "Perfect rest and quiet—been overdoing it, you know."

"Needley!"—the train conductor of the Bar Harbor Express, collecting the transportation, threw the word at Madison as though it were a personal affront.

The tone seemed to demand an apology from Madison—and Madison apologized.

"Health," he said apologetically. "Perfect rest and quiet—been overdoing it, you know."

"We're five minutes late now," grunted the conductor uncompromisingly and, to Madison, quite irrelevantly, as he passed on down the aisle.

Somehow, this inspired Madison to consult his timetable. He drew it from his pocket, ran his eye down the long list of stations—and stopped at "Needley." Needley had an asterisk after it. By consulting a block of small type at the bottom of the page, he found a corresponding asterisk with the words: "Flag station. Stops only on signal, or to discharge eastbound passengers from Portland."

John Garfield Madison went into the smoking compartment of the car for a cigar—several cigars—until Needley was reached some two hours later, when the dusky attendant, as he pocketed Madison's dollar, set down his little rubber-topped footstool with a flourish on a desolate and forbidding-looking platform.

Madison was neither surprised nor dismayed—the parlor-car conductor, the train conductor and the timetable had in no way attempted to deceive him—he was only cold. He turned up his coat collar—and blew on his kid-gloved fingers.

As far as he could see everything was white with a thin layer of snow—he kicked some of it off his toes onto the unshovelled platform. The landscape was disconsolately void of even a vestige of life, there was not a sign of habitation—just woods of bare trees, except the firs, whose green seemed out of place.

"I have arrived," said John Garfield Madison to himself, "at a cemetery."

There was a very small station, and through the window he caught sight of a harassed-faced, red-haired man. There was a thump, another one, a very vicious one—and Madison stirred uneasily—the train, with its five minutes' delinquency hanging over it, was already moving out, as his trunks, from the baggage car ahead, shot unceremoniously to the platform. Madison watched a man, the sole occupant of the platform apart from himself, save the trunks from rolling under the wheels of the train; then his eyes fastened on a rickety, two-seated wagon, drawn by a horse that at first glance appeared to earn all it got.

The train left the platform—and left quite as uninviting a perspective on the other side of the track as had previously greeted Madison's restricted view. But now the man who had salvaged his baggage came down the platform toward him. Madison inspected the approaching figure with interest. The man ambled along without haste, his jaws wagging industriously upon his tobacco, his iron-gray chin whiskers, from the wagging, flapping like a burgee in a breeze. He wore a round fur cap, quite bare of fur at the edges where the pelt showed shiny, and a red woollen tippet was tied round his neck and knotted at the back with the ends dangling down over his coat. The coat itself, a long one of some fuzzy material, with huge side pockets into which the man's hands were plunged, reached to the cavernous tops of jackboots where the nether ends of his trousers were stowed away.

The man halted before Madison, and, reaching a mittened hand under his chin, reflectively lifted his whiskers to an acute angle, while his blue eyes over the rims of steel-bowed spectacles wandered from Madison to Madison's dress-suit case and back to Madison again.

"Be you goin' to git off here?" he inquired.

Madison smiled at him engagingly.

"Well," he said, "I wouldn't care to have it known, but if you can keep a secret—"

"Hee-hee!" tittered the other. "Now that's right smart, that be. Waren't expectin' nobody to meet you, was you? I ain't heerd of none of the folks lookin' for visitors."

"No," said Madison. "But there's a hotel in the town, isn't there?"

"Two of 'em," said the other. "The Waalderf an' the Congress, but the Waalderf ain't done a sight of business since we got pro'bition in the State an' has kinder got run down. I reckon the Congress'll suit you best if you ain't against payin' a mite more, which I reckon you ain't for I see you come down in the parler car."

"And what," asked Madison, "does the Congress charge?"

"Well," said the other, "ordinary, it's a dollar a day or five dollars a week, but this bein' off season an' nobody there, 'twouldn't surprise me if Walt'ud kind of shade the price for you—Waalderf's three an' a half a week. Them your duds up the platform? I'll drive you over for forty cents. What was it you said your name was?"

"Forty cents is a most disinterested offer, and I accept it heartily," said Madison affably. "And my name's Madison—John Garfield Madison, from New York."

"Mine's Higgins," volunteered the other. "Hiram Higgins, an' I'm postmaster an' town constable of Needley. An' now, Mr. Madison, I reckon we'll just get these effects of your'n onto the wagon an' move along—folks'll be gettin' kinder rambunctious for their mail."

Hiram Higgins backed the democrat around, roped the baggage onto the tail-board, picked up the hungry-looking mail-bag from where the mail clerk had slung it from the car to the platform, threw it down in front of the dashboard, and got in after it. Madison clambered into the back seat, and they bumped off along the road.

"Had a mite of snow night before last," observed Mr. Higgins, pointing it out with his whip, as he settled himself comfortably. "Kinder reckoned we'd got rid of it for good till next fall till this come along, but you can't never tell. What was it you said brought you down here, Mr. Madison?"

Madison smiled.

"Rest and quiet—complete change," he said. "Nervous breakdown, according to the doctors—that's what they always call it, you know, when they can't find any other name for it. I've been overdoing it, I suppose."

"Be that so!" returned Mr. Higgins sympathetically. "I want to know! Well, now, that's too bad! Lookin' for quiet, be you? Well, I reckon mabbe folks don't scurry around here quite so lively as they do in some of the bigger towns like Noo York, but there's a tolerable lot goin' on most every week, church festivals, an' spellin' bees, an' such. Folks here is right hospitable, but you ain't in no way obliged to join in if you don't feel up to it. I'll explain matters to 'em, an'—" Hiram Higgins stopped, excitedly gathered reins and whip into one hand, and with the other smote his knee a resounding whack. "Well, I swan!" he exclaimed. "An' I never thought of it until this minute! I reckon you've come to just the right place, and just as soon as you get settled you go right out an' see the Patriarch—you won't need no more doctor, an' folks up your way won't know when you go back."

"The Patriarch?" inquired Madison, with a puzzled air. "Who is he?"

"Why," said Mr. Higgins, "he's—he's the Patriarch. Been curin' us folks around here longer'n any one can remember—just does it by faith, too."

Madison shook his head slowly.

"I might just as well be frank with you, Mr. Higgins," he said. "I've never taken much stock in faith cure and that sort of thing."

"Mabbe," suggested Mr. Higgins deeply, "you ain't had much experience."

"No," confessed Madison reflectively; "I haven't—I haven't had any."

"Well then, you just wait an' see," said Mr. Higgins, waving his mittened hand as though the whole matter were conclusively settled. "You just wait an' see."

"But I'm afraid I don't quite understand," prodded Madison innocently. "What kind of cures does he perform?"

They turned a right-angled bend in the road, disclosing a straggling hamlet in a hollow below, and, farther away in the distance, a sweep of ocean.

"Most any kind," said Mr. Higgins. "There's Needley now. All you've got to do is ask the first person you see about him."

"Yes," said Madison, "but take yourself, for instance. Did this Patriarch ever do anything for you?"

"He did," said Mr. Higgins impressively. "An' 'twasn't but last week. I'm glad you asked me. For two nights I couldn't sleep. Had the earache powerful. Poured hot oil an' laud'num into it, an' kept a hot brick rolled up in flannel against it, but didn't do no good. Then Mrs. Higgins says, 'Hiram, why in the land's sake don't you go out an' see the Patriarch?' An' I hitched right up, an' every step that horse took I could feel it gettin' better, an' I wasn't five minutes with the Patriarch before I was cured, an' I ain't had a twinge since."

"It certainly looks as though there were something in that," admitted Madison cautiously.

Hiram Higgins smiled a world of tolerance.

"'Tain't worth mentionin' alongside some of the things he's done," he said deprecatingly. "You'll hear about 'em fast enough."

"What's the local doctor say about it?" asked Madison.

"There ain't enough pickin's to keep a doctor here, though some of 'em's tried," chuckled Mr. Higgins. "Have to have 'em for some things, of course—an' then he drives over from Barton's Mills, seven miles from here."

"And do all the people in Needley believe in the Patriarch?"—Madison's voice was full of grave interest.

"Well," said Mr. Higgins, "to be plumb downright honest with you, they don't. Folks as was born here an' are old inhabitants do, but the Holmes, bein' newcomers, is kinder set in their ways. They come down here eight years ago last August with new-fangled notions, which they ain't got rid of yet. You can see the consequences for yourself—got a little boy, twelve year old, walking around lame on a crutch—an' I reckon he always will. Doctor looks at him every time he comes over from Barton's Mills, but it don't do no good. Folks tried to get the Holmes to take him out to the Patriarch's till they got discouraged. 'Pears old man Holmes kinder got around to a common sense view of it, but the women folks say Mrs. Holmes is stubborner than all git-out, an' that old man Holmes' voice ain't loud enough to be heerd when she gets goin'. 'Tain't but fair to mention 'em, as I dunno of any one else that's an exception." Mr. Higgins pointed ahead with his whip. "See them woods over there beyond the town?"

"Yes," said Madison.

"That's where the Patriarch lives," said Mr. Higgins. "On the other side of 'em, down by the seashore. An' here we be most home. Folks'll be glad to see you, Mr. Madison, and now you're here I hope you'll make a real smart stay—we'll try to make you feel to home."

"Thank you," said Madison cordially. "I haven't any idea, of course, how long I'll be here—it all depends on circumstances."

"No," said Mr. Higgins; "I don't suppose you have. Anyway, I hope you'll take a notion to go out an' see what the Patriarch can do for you. An' now you ain't told me yet which hotel you're goin' to."

"Oh!" said Madison gravely. "Well, since you recommend it, I guess we'd better make it the Congress."

Share on Twitter Share on Facebook