Faith is an inheritance common to the human race; and the human race in its daily life, in its daily dealings, man to man, could not go on without it—but faith is a matter of degree. Faith, in the abstract, the element of it, is inborn in every soul; and while dormant, until put to a crucial test along any given line, is boundless and unlimited—a sort of tacitly accepted, existing state, unquestioned. Faith in many is a sturdy, virile thing—to a certain point. It is the fire that proves.

Needley had faith in the Patriarch—a faith that never before had been questioned. But Needley had more than that—Needley held the Patriarch in affection, as a cherished thing, almost sacredly, almost as an idol. Faith the simple people of Needley had always had—to a certain point—but it faltered before this grotesque, inhuman, twisted shape that squatted in the road before the Congress Hotel like a hideous caricature of an abnormal toad. Their faith failed to bridge the span that gave the Patriarch power over such as this, and they saw their idol shattered in their own eyes, and held up to mockery before the eyes of these strangers who had so suddenly and tempestuously swarmed upon them.

Hiram Higgins, seeking out Doc Madison inside the hotel, was in a state bordering on distraction.

"I druve him over from the station 'cause he couldn't walk, him an' a man, an' two women, an' a wheel-chair," Mr. Higgins explained. "But what's to be done now? He wants me to drive him out to the Patriarch's. I got faith in the Patriarch, but I never said he could work miracles—there ain't no one on earth could straighten that critter out. Don't stand to reason that the Patriarch's to be made a fool of."

"Certainly not," agreed Madison emphatically. "It's most unfortunate. I suppose all of us here in Needley"—he looked around at the assembled group of leading citizens—"feel the same way, too?"

"Of course we do," said Mr. Higgins helplessly. "Couldn't feel no ways else."

Madison laid his hand suddenly, impressively, upon Mr. Higgins' shoulder and looked meaningly into Mr. Higgins' eyes—and into the eyes of the selectmen, the overseers of the poor, the general-store proprietor, and the school committee.

"Don't drive him over, then," he said significantly. "Don't any of the rest of you do it either—and tell everybody else not to. Make him crawl. If he's determined to go, let him get there by himself if he can, make him crawl—he'll never be able to do it."

"That's so," said Mr. Higgins, brightening, while the others nodded; then, dubiously: "But s'pose he does get there—how be we goin' to stop him?"

"If he can get there by himself you can't stop him," said Madison seriously. "You can't do anything like that. To use force would be carrying things too far, and would only place the Patriarch in a worse light. If this fellow—what's his name?—Coogan?—can crawl there, let him—that's his own business. None of us are encouraging him, the Patriarch didn't ask him to come, and no one has a right to expect miracles—so it can't hurt the Patriarch seriously under those conditions. Besides, if this Coogan has got faith enough to crawl that mile, who knows what might happen—make him crawl."

Mr. Higgins, with a grim nod, headed a determined exodus from the hotel office—and Madison strolled out onto the veranda.

Needley was in a furor. The news spread like an oil-fed conflagration. The farmers left their work in the fields and hurried into the village; from the houses and cottages came the women and children to cluster around the Congress Hotel; from the station, scarcely of less interest to the inhabitants than the Flopper himself, straggled in those curious enough to have left the train, nearly a dozen of them—and amongst them Pale Face Harry coughed, as he trudged laboriously along.

Larger and larger grew the circle around the Flopper, filling and blocking the road, overflowing into front yards, and massing on the little lawn of the hotel clear up to the veranda—until fields and houses were deserted, and to the last inhabitant Needley was there.

Upon the ground squatted the Flopper, his eyes sweeping the ring of faces that was like a wall around him—the grinning faces of his fellow passengers from the train; the stony, concerned and rather sullen faces of the men of Needley; the anxious, excited faces of the women; the bewildered, curious and somewhat frightened faces of the children, who pushed and shoved their elders for better vantage ground.

The Flopper licked his lips, and renewed the appeal he had been making for nearly five minutes.

"Ain't no one goin' to drive me out to de Patriarch's?"

"Horses are all busy in the fields," said a voice, uncompromisingly.

"Yes," said the Flopper, with bitter irony, "drivin' each other around, while youse are here starin' at me an' won't help."

His eyes caught Doc Madison's from the veranda and held an instant to read a message and interpret the almost imperceptible, but significant, movement of Madison's head.

"Gee!" said the Flopper to himself, as his eyes swept the faces around him again. "Dis is a nice game de Doc's planted on me—he wants me to do de wiggle out dere fer de rubes! Ain't dey a peachy lot—look at de saucer eyes on de kids!"

Mrs. Thornton, in her wheel-chair on the inner edge of the circle, turned to her husband.

"It's very strange that no one seems willing to drive him," she said.

"Oh, not very," responded Thornton, with a short laugh. "I don't blame them—they don't want this healer of theirs made a monkey of."

"If no one will drive him, he shall have my wheel-chair," announced Mrs. Thornton impulsively. "I think it is a perfect shame—the poor man!"

"Nonsense!" said Thornton gruffly. "You'll do nothing of the kind."

"Yes, Robert, I will," declared Mrs. Thornton with determination. She leaned forward and called to the Flopper. "Mr. Coogan," she said anxiously, "if you can't find any other way of getting out there, I want you to take this chair of mine—you'll be able to manage with it, I am sure."

The Flopper looked at her with gratitude—but shook his head—mindful of Doc Madison.

"T'anks, mum," he said, "but I couldn't t'ink of it—you needs it more'n me."

"Please do," she insisted.

"T'anks, mum," said the Flopper again, "but I couldn't. You needs it, an' I can get along widout it. Dey're stallin' on me, but I can get dere by myself if any one'll show me de way."

"I'll show you, mister," piped a shrill voice—and young Holmes on his crutch hopped into the circle. "I'll show you, mister—an' 'tain't fur, neither."

"Swipe me!" muttered the Flopper, as he surveyed the lad. "Dis is de limit fer fair!" Perturbed and uncertain what to do, he tried to catch Doc Madison's eye again, but a movement in the crowd had hidden Madison.

Some one in the crowd, the lingerie drummer, getting the grim humor of the situation, laughed—and the laugh came like a challenge, taunting the quick-tempered, turbulent soul of the Flopper.

"Come on, mister!" urged the boy excitedly. "'Tain't fur—I'll show you."

"God bless you, son," said the Flopper, while he flung an inward curse at the man who had laughed. "Son, God bless you fer yer good heart—go ahead—I'll stick to you."

The crowd opened, making a lane through which the boy stumped on his crutch, his face flushed and eager, and through which the Flopper followed, slowly, rocking from side to side as he helped himself along with the palm of his left hand flat in the dust of the road, trailing his wobbling leg behind him.

The crowd closed in behind and moved forward.

Mrs. Thornton's face was fever-flushed, her eyes bright; in her weak state she was on the verge of nervous hysteria.

"I want to go, Robert," she cried. "I must go."

"But, my dear," protested Thornton harshly, "this is simply the height of absurdity. For Heaven's sake be sensible, Naida. Just imagine what people would say if they saw us here with this outfit of idiots—they'd think we'd gone mad."

"I don't care what they'd think," she returned feverishly, her frail fingers plucking nervously at the arms of her chair. "I must go—I must—I must."

Thornton glanced at the nurse, then stared at his wife—Miss Harvey's meaning look was hardly necessary to drive home to him the fact that Mrs. Thornton was in no condition to be denied anything.

Red-faced, Thornton strode to the back of the chair and began to push it along.

"Of all the damned foolishness that ever I heard of," he gritted savagely, "this is the worst!" His face went redder still with mortification. "If this ever leaks out I'll never hear the last of it. Look at us—bringing up the rear of a gibbering mob of yokels! We're fit for a padded cell!"

In the crowd, Madison rubbed shoulders for a moment with Pale Face Harry.

"Who's the party with the wheel-chair behind?" he asked.

"Millionaire—Chicago—private car—Flopper's got the wife going hard—rode down with them," coughed Pale Face Harry behind his hand.

"I guess I'll get acquainted," said Madison. "Circulate, Harry, and cough your head off—don't hide your light under a bushel—circulate." And Madison fell back to scrape acquaintance with the man of millions.

Close-packed upon the road, the procession spread out for a hundred yards behind the Flopper—bare-footed children; women in multi-colored gingham and calico; men in the uncouth dress of the fields, the uncouthness accentuated by the sprinkling of more pretentious clothing worn by those who had come from the train. And slowly, very slowly, this conglomerate human cosmorama moved on, undulating queerly with the variant movements of its component parts, snail-like, for the Flopper's pace was slow—as strange a spectacle, perhaps, as the human eye had ever witnessed, something of grimness, something of humor, something of awe, something of fear exuding from it—it seemed to contain within itself the range, and to express, the gamut of all human emotion.

On the procession went—so slowly as to be almost sinister in its movement. And a strange sound rose from it and seemed to float and hover over it like a weird, invisible, acoustic canopy. Three hundred voices, men's, women's and children's, rose and fell, rose and fell—at first in a medley of scoffings, laughter, sullen murmurs, earnest dispute and children's prattle—a strange composite sound indeed! But as the minutes passed and the mass moved on and stopped as the Flopper paused to rest, and moved on and stopped and moved on again, gradually this changed, very gradually, not abruptly, but as though the scoffings and the laughter were dying away almost imperceptibly in the distance. For as the Flopper stopped to rest, those near him gazed upon his face, distorted, full of muscular distress, sweat pouring from his forehead, pain and suffering written in every lineament—and drew back whispering into the crowd, giving place to others until all had seen. And so the strange sound from this strange congregation grew lower, until it was a sort of breathless, long-sustained and wavering note, a prescience, a premonition of something to come, a ghastly mockery or a tragedy to befall, until it was an awe-struck murmuring thing.

Some spoke to him now and in pity offered to get him a horse and wagon, offered even to carry him—but the Flopper shook his head.

"'Tain't goin' to be but a few minutes now," he panted in an exalted voice, "before I'm cured—I got de faith to know dat—I got de faith."

And the crippled lad upon the crutch beside him urged him on. The boy's face was strained and eager, full of mingled emotions—pride in the leading part he played, wonder and expectancy.

"Come on, mister, come on!" he kept saying, impatiently accommodating his own restricted pace to the Flopper's still slower one.

Through the wagon track, through the woods beneath the trees, the dead, slow, shuffling tread went on—and now even the murmuring sound was hushed. Men and women stared into each other's faces—children sought their elders' hands. What did it mean? Faith—yes, they had had faith—but never faith like this. They looked at the awful deformity over one another's heads, crawling inch by inch along before them—watched the stubborn, bitter struggle of pain and suffering of the wretched man who led them, spurred on by a faith cast in a heroic mold such as none there had ever dreamed of before—and they spoke no more. There was only the sound of movement now—and that curiously subdued. Men seemed to choose their footing, seeking to tread noiselessly, as though in some solemn presence that awed them and held them in an intangible, heart-quickening suspense.

Onward they went—following the lurching, wriggling, reeling, broken thing before them—following the Flopper, his right hand and arm curved piteously inward to his chin, his neck thrown sideways, his sagging leg seeming to hold only to his body by spasmodic jerks to catch up with the body itself, like the steel when detached from the magnet that bounds forward to re-attach itself again, his eyes starting from his head, his face bloodless with exertion and twisted as fearfully as were his limbs, but upon his lips a smile of resolution, of indomitable assurance.

Onward they went—a huddled mass of humanity, literate and illiterate, of all ages, of all conditions, and none laughed, none grinned, none smiled, none spoke—all that was past. They stopped, they moved again—as the Flopper stopped and moved. Occasionally a child cried out—occasionally there came a discordant, racking cough—that was all.

Tenser grew the very atmosphere they breathed—heavier upon them fell the sense of something almost supernatural, beyond the human and the finite. Skeptic and faint believer, sinner, Christian and scoffer, they were all alike now in the presence of a faith whose evidence was before them in harrowing vividness, in the torment and agony of a fellow creature who sought again through faith a restoration to the image of his kind. There was no creed, no school of ethical belief, no conflicting orthodoxy to quibble over, no ground on which atheist and theologian even might stand apart—there was only faith—a faith whose trappings none might take issue with, for it was naked faith and the trappings were stripped from it—it was faith in its very essence, boundless, utter, simple, limitless, staggering, appalling them.

Its consummation? That was another thing—a thing that in the presence of such faith as this brought human pity, sympathy and sorrow to its full, brought dread and terror. Faith such as this they had never conceived; faith such as this, if it was to prove a shattered thing, was for its exponent to drink the very dregs of misery and despair—and yet, rising above that possibility, flinging grim challenge at their doubts, stood this very faith, mighty in itself, perfect in its confidence, heroic in its agony, that all might gaze upon from a common standpoint and know—as faith.

No whispering breeze stirred the young leaves in the trees; in the stillness of the afternoon came only the heavy, pulsing throb of Nature's breathing. One hundred, two, three hundred, they moved along, slow, sinuous, troubled, their eyes straight before them or upon the ground at their feet—only the children looked with frightened, startled eyes into their parents' faces, and clung the closer.

Out upon the wagon track they debouched and spread in a long, thin line beneath the maples on either side of the Flopper—and waited.

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