Madison, quite in command of himself again in an instant, stepped, smiling, into the cottage. He took the Patriarch's extended hand in a cordial grip and nodded understandingly as the other, with quick, rapid motions, touched lips and ears to signify that he could neither hear nor speak. But, inwardly puzzled, Madison searched the Patriarch's face—was the other playing a part? Could he hear, after all—and perhaps speak as well, if he wanted to! There was certainly no guile in the venerable, gentle face—or was it guile of a very high order?

The Patriarch closed the door, and drawing his own armchair to the table offered it to Madison with a courteous smile.

Madison refused by gently forcing the old man into it himself, pulled another up to face the Patriarch, sat down—and his eyes fixed suddenly on the ceiling above his head. Swaying slowly back and forth was a sort of miniature punkah of waving white canvas. He studied this for a moment, then his eyes shifted to the Patriarch, who was regarding him humorously.

The Patriarch rose from his chair, walked to the door, opened it, moved the knocker up and down—and pointed to the ceiling. The canvas was waving violently now, and Madison traced the cord attachment, on little pulleys, across the ceiling to where it ran through the door and was affixed to the knocker without. It was very simple, even primitive—every time the knocker was lifted the cord was pulled and the canvas waved back and forth. Madison nodded his head and smiled approvingly, as the Patriarch once more closed the door and resumed his seat.

Madison leaned back in his chair and allowed his eyes to stray, not impertinently but with pleased endorsement, around the room, to permit an unhampered opportunity for the scrutiny of the blue eyes which he felt upon him.

"And to think," he mused reproachfully, "that I could have doubted him for a single instant—he certainly hung one on me that time."

The Patriarch reached into the drawer of the table beside him, took out a slate and pencil, scratched a few words on the slate and handed both pencil and slate to Madison.

"Your name is Madison, isn't it?" Madison read. "From New York? Hiram told me about you."

"Hiram," said Madison to himself, "is a man of many parts, and the most useful man I have ever known. Hiram, by reflected glory, will some day become famous." On the slate he replied: "Yes; that is my name—John Madison. It was good of Mr. Higgins to speak of me."

The Patriarch held the slate within a bare inch or two of his face, and moved it back and forth before his eyes to follow the lines. As he lowered it, Madison reached for it politely.

"I am afraid you do not see very well," he scribbled. "Shall I write larger?"

Again the Patriarch deciphered the words laboriously; then he wrote, and handed the slate to Madison.

"I am going blind," he had written. "Please write as large as possible."

"Blind!"—Madison's attitude and expression were eloquent enough not only to be a perfect interpretation of his exclamation, but to convey his shocked and pained surprise as well.

The Patriarch bowed his head affirmatively, smiling a little wistfully.

Madison impetuously drew his chair closer to the other, laid his hand sympathetically upon the Patriarch's sleeve, and, with the slate upon his knee, wrote with the other hand impulsively:

"I am sorry—very, very sorry. Would you care to tell me about it?"

The Patriarch's face lighted up while reading the slate, but he shook his head slowly as he smiled again.

"By and by, if you wish," he wrote. "But first about yourself. You are sick—and you have come to me for help?"

The slate now passed from hand to hand quite rapidly.

"Yes," wrote Madison. "Can you cure me?"

"No," replied the Patriarch; "not in your present mental condition."

"What do you mean?" asked Madison.

"Your question itself implies that you are skeptical. While that state of mind exists, I can do nothing—it depends entirely on yourself."

"And if I put skepticism aside?" Madison's pencil demanded. "Can you cure me then?"

"Unquestionably," wrote the Patriarch, "if you really put it aside. Faith is the simplest thing in the world and the most complex—but it is fundamental. Without faith nothing is possible; with faith nothing is impossible."

Madison's gray eyes rested, magnificently thoughtful and troubled, upon the Patriarch.

"I have never thought much about it," he replied upon the slate, after a tactful moment's pause. "But I believe that. There is something here, about the place, about you that inspires confidence—I was prepared to cling to my skepticism when I came in, but I do not feel that way now. If only I knew you a little better, were with you a little more, I believe I could have the faith you speak of."

"How long do you remain in Needley?" the Patriarch wrote.

Madison got up from his chair, went slowly to the fireplace, and, with his back to the Patriarch, stood watching the crackling logs.

"The old chap's no fool," he informed himself, "even if he is gone a little in one particular. He certainly does believe in himself for fair! Wonder where he got his education—notice the English he writes? And, say—going blind! Fancy that! Santa Claus, you overwhelm me, you are too bountiful, you are too generous—you'll have nothing left for the next chimney! Deaf and dumb—and blind. Really, I do not deserve this—I really don't—let me at least tip the hat-boy, or I'll feel mean."

He turned gravely to the Patriarch; resuming his chair with an expression on his face as one arrived at a weighty decision after a mental battle with one's self.

"I will stay here until I am cured. I put myself in your hands. What am I to do?" he wrote quickly—and held out his hand almost anxiously for the other's assent.

The Patriarch smiled seriously as, after peering at the slate, he took the outstretched hand and laid his other one unaffectedly upon Madison's shoulder.

"Be sure then that I can help you," wrote the Patriarch cheerfully. "There is no course of treatment such as you may, perhaps, imagine. My power lies in a perfect faith to help you once you, in turn, have faith yourself—that is all. It is but the practical application of the old dogma that mind is superior to matter. You must come and see me every day, and we will talk together."

"I will come—gladly," Madison replied; and, taking the slate, carefully wiped off the writing—as he had previously wiped it off every time it came into his hands—with a damp rag that the Patriarch had taken from the table drawer when he had produced the slate and pencil.

"This slate racket is the limit," said Madison to himself, as his pencil began to move and screech again; "but I've got to get a little deeper under his vest yet."

He handed the slate to the Patriarch, and on it were the words:

"Won't you tell me something of yourself, how you came to live here alone, and your name, perhaps? I do not mean to presume, but I am deeply interested."

"There is never presumption in kindliness and sympathy," answered the Patriarch. "But my name and story is buried in the past—perhaps when I am gone those who care to know may know. I have not hurt you by refusing to answer?"

"No, indeed!" said Madison politely to himself. "The element of mystery is one of the best drawing cards I know—it's got Needley going strong. Far, far be it from me to tear the veil asunder. I mentioned it only as a feeler."

But upon the slate he wrote:

"Far from being hurt, I respect your silence. But your eyes—you were to tell me about them."

The Patriarch's face saddened suddenly as he read the words.

"I have made no secret of it," he wrote. "I have been going blind for nearly a year now. The end, I am afraid, is very near—within a few days, perhaps even to-morrow. I think I should not mind it much myself, for I am very old and have not a great while longer to live in any case, but for the time that is left it will mar my usefulness. I have been able to help the people here and they have come to depend upon me—that is my life. I trust I am not boastful if I say my greatest joy has been in helping others."

He had come to the bottom of the slate and held it out for Madison to read; then wiped it off, and went on:

"I have dreamed often of a wider field, of reaching out to help the thousands beyond this little town—but I have realized that it could be no more than a dream. I have been successful here because the people believe in me and have unquestioning faith in me—to go outside amongst strangers would only have been to be received as a charlatan and faker, or as a poor deaf and dumb fool at best."

Madison took the slate.

"But if these thousands of others came to you—what then?"

The Patriarch's face glowed.

"It would be a wondrous joy," he wrote. "Too wondrous to dwell upon—because it could never be. If they came I could help them, for their very coming would be an evidence of faith—and faith alone is necessary. Think of the joy of helping so many others—it is the fulness of life. But let us not dream any more, friend Madison."

"Of course," communed Madison, studying the illumined face, "he's slightly touched in his upper story on the faith stunt; but he's in dead earnest, and he's got the brotherhood-of-man bug bad. Come to think of it, Hiram did say something about his 'sight failing,' but I didn't think it was anything like this. If he's going to go finally blind in, say, a week, perhaps it would be just as well to postpone the opening night until he does."

Madison took the slate.

"Stranger things than that have happened," he wrote. "I never heard of you before, yet I am one of the thousands beyond this little town and I am here—why not the others?"

The Patriarch shook his head sadly.

"It is but a dream," he wrote.

Madison held the slate in his hands for quite a long time before he wrote again; his attitude one of sympathetic hesitancy as his eyes played over the form and face before him, while the Patriarch smiled at him with gentle, patient resignation. Back in Madison's fertile brain the germ of an inspiration was developing into fuller life.

"What will you do here alone when you are blind?" he asked—and his face was disturbed and solicitous as he passed the Patriarch the slate.

"I need very little," the Patriarch wrote back. "You must not worry about me. My garden supplies nearly all my wants, and there are many in the village, I am sure, who will help me with that when the snow is gone."

"I am quite certain of that," Madison's pencil agreed. "But here in the house you cannot be alone—there are so many things to do, little things that I am sure you have not thought of—some one must cook for you, for instance. You will need a woman's hand here—have you no one, no relative that you can call upon?"

The Patriarch lowered the slate from his eyes, shook his head a little pathetically, and began to write.

"I do not think they would have cared to come, even if they were still alive; but they are all gone many years ago—except perhaps a grand-niece, and I do not know what has become of her."

"Why, that's just the thing," wrote Madison. "Suppose we try to find her?"

Again the Patriarch shook his head.

"I am afraid that would be impossible. I do not even know that she is alive. I know only of her birth, and that is twenty years ago."

"Even that is not hopeless," wrote Madison optimistically, and his face as he looked at the Patriarch was seriously thoughtful. "Where was she born?"

"New York," the Patriarch answered.

"And I never half appreciated the old town nor the fulness thereof until I came to Needley!" said Madison plaintively to the toe of his boot, while his hand scrawled the inquiry: "What is her name?"

"Vail," wrote the Patriarch. "That was her father's name. She is my grand-niece on her mother's side. I do not know what they christened her."

Madison once more, apparently deep in thought, sought refuge at the fireplace, his hands plunged in his pockets, his shoulders drawn a little forward, his back to the Patriarch.

"Fiction," he assured a crack in the cement between two stones, "was never, never like this. It seems to me that I remember the occurrence. It had grown a little dim with the lapse of time, it is true; but now that I recall it, it comes back with remarkable clearness. I am quite sure they christened her—Helena. Helena Vail! Now isn't that a perfectly lovely name for a novel! And she'll be so good to the dear old chap too—washing and ironing and cooking for him—and stealing out into the woodshed for a drag on her cigarette—not. No, my dear, not even that—this is serious business."

He turned, came back to his chair, picked up the slate, and wrote:

"I have the fortune, or misfortune perhaps, to be what is commonly called a rich man. Money, they say, will do anything, and if it will I'll find this niece for you."

The Patriarch's eyes grew moist as he read the words, and his hand trembled a little with emotion as he held the pencil.

"I cannot let you do that," he protested. "You are very kind, and it seems almost as though you had been brought to me providentially at the end of long years of loneliness for a purpose, when my hour of helplessness was near; but, indeed, I have no right to allow you to do this."

"They tell me in the village," wrote Madison in reply, "that you have always refused to accept a penny for anything you have ever done for them. I have no doubt you would equally refuse to accept anything from me for what you may do, and I should hesitate to offer it however much I felt indebted, but this is something that you must let me do. It will make me feel more—how shall I say it?—more as though I had a right to the privilege of coming here."

The Patriarch wiped his still moist eyes before he answered.

"What can I say to you? It does not seem right that I should let a stranger do so much, and yet it seems that I should not say no because—"

Madison was bending over the slate, reading as the other wrote, and he took the pencil gently from the Patriarch's hand.

"You must not look on me any longer as a stranger," he wrote. "Let us just consider that it is all arranged—only I would strongly advise making no mention of it until we make sure that she is alive."

"I think nothing should be said," agreed the Patriarch. "For even if you found her she might not care to come—I have little here to offer a young girl—few comforts—the care of a blind man who is deaf and dumb."

"We'll see about that when we find her"—Madison smiled brightly at the Patriarch, as he wrote. "Now that's settled for the time being, isn't it?"

The dumb lips moved and both hands reached out to Madison.

Madison took them in a firm, strong, reassuring clasp, then shook his finger in a sort of playfully emotional embarrassment, excellently well done, at the Patriarch—and picked up the slate again.

"It is getting late," he wrote, "and I must not tire you out. I am afraid you will think I am far more inquisitive than I have any right to be, but there is one more question that I would like to ask—may I?"

The Patriarch nodded his head, and laid his hand on Madison's sleeve in a quaint, almost affectionate way.

"It is about your education. You came here sixty years ago, and you have lived alone. You could have had but few advantages, with your handicap, previous to that, and yet you write and use such perfect English."

"The answer is very simple," replied the Patriarch on the slate. "Until within the last year, I have read largely. Would you care to look at my books? They are there in the nook on the other side of the fireplace."

Madison, promptly and full of interest, rose from his chair, passed around the fireplace, and halted before a row of shelves set in against the wall.

"I pass," Madison admitted to himself after a moment, during which his eyes roved over the well chosen classics. "I've heard of one or two of these before—casually. I've an idea that if the Patriarch's got all this inside his gray matter, it's just as well for the Flopper, for Pale Face Harry, for Helena and yours truly that he's deaf and dumb—and will be blind."

Madison came back to the Patriarch with beaming face, and picked up the slate.

"I read a great deal myself," he wrote. "It is a pleasure to find real books here. May I, during my stay in Needley, look upon them in a little way as my own library?"

"You are very welcome indeed," the Patriarch answered.

"Thank you," wrote Madison. "And now, surely, I must go"—he smiled at the Patriarch.

"Come to-morrow," invited the Patriarch. "I would like to show you all around my little place here."

"Indeed, I will," Madison scratched upon the slate, "and do you know that somehow, since I came here to-night, I feel a sense of relief, a sort of guarantee that everything is going to be all right with me in the future."

The Patriarch smiled quietly, almost tolerantly.

"I know that," he wrote. "Keep your mind free of doubt, be optimistic and cheerful as regards yourself, nourish the faith that has already taken root and that I feel responds to mine; keep in the open air and take plenty of exercise."

Slowly, with an apparently abstracted air, Madison read the slate, wiped it carefully, laid it down, and then held out his hand.

"Good-night!" he nodded warmly.

The Patriarch, still with the quiet smile upon his lips, rose from his armchair, and, keeping his clasp on Madison's hand, led Madison to the door, opened it, and with a gesture at once courtly and affectionate bade his guest good-night.

Madison crossed the lawn at a thoughtful pace, turned into the wagon track, and, in the shelter of the woods now, whimsically felt his pulse; then, lighting a cigar, tramped on with a buoyant stride.

"There's only one answer, of course," he mused. "The Patriarch's got a brain kink on faith—it's the natural outcome of living alone for sixty years. Outside of that and his books, he's as simple and innocent and trusting as a babe. I suppose the thing's kind of grown on him—Hiram said it had taken forty years—which isn't sudden unless you say it quick. Hanged if I don't like the old sport though, and if Helena isn't the best ever to him I'll stop her chewing gum allowance." Madison looked up through the arched, leafless branches overhead. "Beautiful night, isn't it?" said he pleasantly.

A little later he reached the main road and paused a moment on the bridge, as though to sum up the thoughts and imaginings that had occupied him on the way along.

"It's a queer world," said John Garfield Madison profoundly to the turbid little stream that flowed beneath his feet. "I wonder why some of us are born with brains—and some are born just plain damned fools!"

He went on again, arrived at the Congress Hotel, and, discovering through the window that the leading citizens of Needley were still in session, negotiated the back entrance. On the way upstairs he stumbled—quite inadvertently—and stopped to listen.

"There he be now," announced Hiram Higgins' voice excitedly. "Goin' up to his room to meditate. Knew he'd come back feelin' like that. I be goin' out there to-morrow to see the Patriarch myself."

Madison smiled, mounted the remaining stairs, entered his room, and lighted his lamp.

"Having got my hand in at writing," he remarked, "I guess I'd better keep it up and write Helena—Vail."

He extracted a pad of writing paper and an envelope from the tray of his trunk, his fountain pen from his pocket, and, drawing his chair to the table and laying down his cigar reluctantly at his elbow, began to write. At the end of fifteen minutes, he tilted back his chair, relighted the stub of his cigar, and critically read over his epistle.

"Dear Kid," it ran. "Do not be anxious about me—I am feeling better already. Have had my first treatment, and am now eating fried eggs and ham regularly three times a day. A Sunday-school picnic taking to washboilers full of thin coffee and the left-over cakes kindly contributed by Deacon Jones' household, is nothing to the way the boobs will take to the Patriarch—who has kindly consented to go blind to make our thorny paths as smooth as possible for us.

"Do you get that, Helena—he's going blind! In just a few days, my dear, you will be with me, have patience. The meteorological bureau is a little hazy yet on the exact date of the total eclipse, but it's due to happen any minute. Now listen. Your name is Helena Vail. You're the Patriarch's grand-niece, and you're coming to live alone with him and soothe his declining years; but you can't come yet because I've got to find you first, and besides, until he's blind, he'll stick to a nasty habit he's got of asking questions on his little slate. You needn't have any hesitation about coming on the score of propriety, I assure you it is perfectly proper—he is running Methuselah pretty near a dead heat. And, as far as the town is concerned, apart from the fact that you are a grand-niece, orphaned, you don't have to know anything about yourself, either—that's part of the Patriarch's dark, mysterious past, where the lights go out and the fiddles get rickets.

"That's about all. I'll let you know when to come. Remember me to Mr. Coogan and Harry, and keep my picture under your pillow. Ever thine, J.G.M."

Madison picked up his pen again and added another line:

"P.S. Better buy a cook-book."

He folded the pages, inserted them in the envelope, sealed the envelope and addressed it to Miss Helena Smith—street and number not far from the tenderloin district of New York.

Then Madison yawned pleasantly, tucked the letter in his pocket—and prepared for bed.

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