"Bet you a cookie," shrilled Hiram Higgins, in what he meant to be a breathless whisper, "that there's where he's goin' now—only he don't want us to know he's give in."

"Shet your fool mouth, Hiram!" cautioned Walt Perkins, the proprietor of the Congress Hotel. "He kin hear you."

"Get out!" retorted Mr. Higgins. "No, he can't neither. He ain't feelin' no ways perky, any one can see that, an' I'm tickled most to pieces that he's come 'round—I've took up with him consid'rable, I have. Patriarch'll just make a new-born critter outer him—you watch through the window where he goes. Bet you a quarter that's what he's up to!"

John Garfield Madison, outside on the veranda of the Congress Hotel, smiled at the words, as he lighted his cigar and turned up his coat collar. He stepped off the veranda, crossed the little lawn to the village street, and began to saunter nonchalantly and indifferently oceanwards. He did not look around—he had no desire to bring consternation to the massed faces of the leading citizens flattened against the window panes—but he chuckled inwardly as he pictured them. There would be Hiram Higgins, postmaster and town constable, Walt Perkins, hotel man and town moderator, Lem Hodges, selectman, assessor and overseer of the poor, Nathan Elmes, likewise selectman, assessor and overseer of the poor, and Cale Rodgers, school committee-man and proprietor of the general store.

Madison sauntered slowly along.

"I have arrived," he said, "not at a cemetery, but at an El Dorado and a land flowing with milk and honey."

There was a humorous pucker around the corners of Madison's eyes, as he reviewed his two days' sojourn in Needley—spent mostly in the "office" of the Congress Hotel beside the stove with his feet up on the wood-box. He had never lacked company—the office stove and the spitbox filled with sawdust was the admitted rendezvous of the chosen spirits who were still gazing after him from the window. Morning, afternoon and evening they congregated there, and he had been promptly admitted to membership in the select circle. At each sitting they had discussed the spring planting and the weather, and then inevitably, led by Hiram Higgins, had resolved themselves into an "experience" meeting on the Patriarch—he, Madison, as a minority leader of one, grudgingly conceding an occasional point. The sessions had invariably ended the same way—Hiram Higgins, with the back of his hand underneath his chin, would stroke earnestly at his chin-whiskers, and remark:

"Well, now, Mr. Madison, 'twon't do you a mite of harm to go out there an' see for yourself. We've kinder got to look on you as one of us, an' there ain't no use in you sufferin' around with what ails you when there ain't no need of it."

Madison's replies had been equally void of versatility—he would shake his head doubtfully, while his cigar-case circulated around the group.

Madison sniffed luxuriously at his thoroughbred Havana. He had passed out of sight of the hotel window now, and he swung into a brisk walk. It was a mile to the Patriarch's by a wagon track through the woods, that led off from the road to the left just across the bridge. He had not needed to ask directions. With magnificent inadvertence Hiram Higgins had mentioned the exact way to reach the Patriarch's a dozen times, if he had once. Also, by now, Madison had learned all that the town knew about the Patriarch—which after all, he reflected with some satisfaction, wasn't much. The Patriarch was over eighty years of age, and he had come, deaf and dumb, to Needley sixty years ago—nobody knew from where, nor his previous history, nor his name. They had called him the Hermit at first, for immediately on his arrival he had gone out to the shore of the ocean, away from the village, and built a crude hut there for himself—which, in the after years, he had made into a more pretentious dwelling. The cures had come "kinder gradual-like an' took the folks mabbe forty years to get around to believin' in him real serious," as Hiram Higgins put it; and then, as the Hermit grew old, and the local reverence for him had become more deep-seated, they had changed his name to the Patriarch. That was about all—but it seemed to suit Madison, for his smile broadened.

"I wonder," said he to himself, as he stepped onto the bridge to cross the little river, "if I'm not dreaming—this is like being let loose in the U.S. Treasury with nobody looking!"

"Hullo, mister!" piped a young voice suddenly out of the dusk.

"Hullo!" responded Madison mechanically—and turned to watch a small figure, going in the opposite direction, thump by him on a crutch. Madison stopped and stared after the cripple—and removed his cigar very slowly from his lips. "That's that Holmes boy," he muttered. "I don't know as he'd look well on the platform when the excursion trains get to running. Wonder if I can't get a job for his father somewhere about a thousand miles from here and have the family move!"

The cripple disappeared down the road, and Madison, with a sort of speculative flip to the ash of his cigar, resumed his way. Just across the bridge he found the wagon track, and turned into it. It ran through a thick wood of fir and spruce, and here, apart from now being able to see but little before him—he had elected to "steal" away in the darkness after supper—he found the going far from good.

Half curiously, half whimsically, he tried to visualize the Patriarch from the word pictures that had been painted around the stove in the hotel office. The man would be old—of course. And to have lived alone for sixty years, to have shunned human companionship he must have been either mildly or violently insane to begin with, which would account for his belief in himself as a healer—he would unquestionably, in some form or other, "have bats in his belfry," as Pale Face Harry had put it.

Madison's brows contracted as he went along. A man living by himself under such conditions, with no incentive for the care of his person, not even the pride engendered by the association of others, erudite as the standard might be in his vicinity, was apt to grow very shortly into a somewhat sorry spectacle. Give him sixty years of this and add an unbalanced mind, and—Madison did not like the picture that now rose up suddenly before him—a creature, bent, vapid of face, deaf and dumb, frowsy of dress, and a world removed from the thought of a morning bath. It might be picturesque in a way—but it wasn't a way Madison liked. Somehow, he'd have to jerk the old chap out of his rut and get him rigged up a little more becomingly, before the trusting public, simple as they were, were invited down to see the exhibit. Madison's dramatic instinct, which was developed to a keen sense of what the public craved for, rebelled against any faux pas in the scenic effects. He fell to designing a costume that would more appropriately expound the rôle.

"Got to give 'em something for their money," murmured John Garfield Madison. "Some sort of long, flowing robe now, washed every day, sort of Grecian effect with a rope girdle, bare feet and sandals—um-m—dunno about the sandals—don't want to slop over, and besides"—Madison grinned a little to himself—"he might kick!"

Still reflecting, but arrived at no conclusion other than first to size up the Patriarch and see how best to handle him, Madison reached the end of the wagon track—and halted.

It was a little lighter here, now that he had left the woods, and what appeared to be a sweep of snow-covered lawn was before him. Around this, forming a perfect square, was a row of full-grown, magnificent maples—a regal hedge, as it were, bordering the four sides—planted sixty years ago! Madison's imagination fired exhilarantly at the inspiring thought of these in leaf—in another few weeks. He shook hands with himself cordially.

"Behold the amphitheater!" he said. "This is where we stage the greatest act of the century!"

Behind the row of trees, directly across the lawn in front of him, loomed the dark shadow of a long, low, cottage-like building, and from a window a light twinkled out between the tree trunks; while from beyond again came the roll of surf, low, rhythmic, like the soft accompaniment of orchestral music.

"Wonderful!" breathed Madison. "I feel," said he, "as though I had just had a drink!"

He walked across the lawn, passed between the trees, and reached the end of the cottage away from where the light showed in the window.

"The Patriarch being deaf," he remarked, "I might as well explore."

From the row of trees to the cottage was perhaps twenty feet. The door of the cottage, porticoed with trellis-work, was in the center of the cottage itself. Everywhere Madison turned were trellis-work frames for flowers—the walls of the cottage were covered, literally covered, with bare, slumbering shoots of Virginia creeper. In a little while now the place would be a veritable paradise. Madison raised his hat reverently.

"Fancy this on a New York stage!" said he esthetically, invoking the universe. "Could you beat it! I could play the Patriarch myself with this setting, and everybody would fall for it. There's nothing to it, nothing to it, but his make-up—and I'll guarantee to take care of that. And now we'll have a look at Aladdin's lamp and see just what kind of rubbing up will invoke the genii!"

Madison walked along the length of the cottage, past the door, and, as he reached the lighted window, drew well away from the wall—and stared inside. Surprise and incredulity swept across his features, and then his face beamed and his gray eyes lighted with the fire of an artist who sees the elusive imagery of the Great Picture at last transferred to canvas, vivid, actual, transcending his wildest hopes. He was gazing upon the sweetest and most venerable face he had ever seen.

Here and there within upon the floor were strewn old-fashioned, round rag mats that would enrapture a connoisseur, and the floor where it showed between the mats was scrubbed to a glistening white. The furnishings were few and homemade, but full of simple artistry—a chair or two, and a table, upon which burned a lamp. In a fireplace, made of stones cemented together, the natural effect unspoiled by any attempt to hew the stones into uniformity, a log fire glowed, sputtered, and now and then leaped cheerily into flame.

Between the table and the fire, half turned toward Madison, sat the Patriarch. He was reading, his head bent forward, his book held very close to his eyes. Hair, a wealth of it, soft, silky and snow-white, reached just below his coat collar—a silvery beard fell far below his book. But it was the face itself, no single distinguishing feature, neither the blue eyes, the sensitive lips, nor the broad, fine forehead, that held Madison's gaze—it seemed to combine something that he had never seen in a face before, and to look upon it was to be drawn instantly to the man—there was purity of thought and act stamped upon it with a seal ineffaceable, and there was gentleness there, and sympathy, and trust, and a simple, unassuming dignity and self-possession—and, too, there was a shadow there, a little of sadness, a little of weariness, a background, a relief, as it were, a touch such as a genius might conceive to lift the picture with his brush into wondrous, lingering, haunting consonance.

Madison's eyes, slowly, as though loath to leave the Patriarch's face, travelled over the gray homespun suit that clothed the man, the white wristbands of the home-washed shirt, unstarched, but spotlessly clean—and his fancy of flowing, Grecian robes with rope girdles seemed to hold him up to mockery as a crude and paltry bungler before the perfect, unostentatious harmony of reality.

"There's nothing to it!" whispered Madison softly to himself. "Nothing to it! There isn't a thing left to do—not even a chance of making a bluff at earning the money—it's just like stealing it. Why, say, it would get me if I weren't behind the scenes—honest now, it would!"

Madison drew back from the window and walked toward the door of the cottage.

"It should take me about fifteen minutes to establish myself on the basis of a long-lost son with the Patriarch clinging confidingly around my neck," he observed. "If it takes me any longer than that I'd feel depressed every time I met myself in the looking-glass."

He reached the cottage door, and, lifting the brass knocker that shone dimly in the darkness, knocked once, lifted it to knock again—and his hand fell away as he smiled a little foolishly.

"I forgot the Patriarch was deaf," he muttered. "Wonder what you're supposed to do? Walk right in, or—"

The door swung suddenly wide open, and upon Madison's face, usually so perfectly at its owner's control, came a look of stunned surprise. The Patriarch was standing on the threshold, and, with a gesture of welcome, was motioning him to enter.

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