There was a group around the Flopper on the Portland platform beside the Bar Harbor express; some wore pitying expressions, others smiled a little tolerantly—Pale Face Harry, from the circle, sneered openly.

"Nutty!" he coughed, and touched his forehead. "Nothing doing in the upper story—some one ought to look after him."

The Flopper, a crippled thing on the ground, fixed Pale Face Harry with a pointed forefinger.

"Youse don't look like you had many weeps to spare for anybody but yerself—yer fallin' to pieces," said the Flopper. "I didn't ask you nor any of youse to butt in—I was talkin' to dis lady here"—he motioned toward a young woman in a wheeled, invalid chair, who, between a trained nurse on one side and a gentleman on the other, was regarding him with a startled expression in her eyes.

She turned now and spoke to the gentleman beside her.

"Robert," she said, in a low, anxious tone, "do you think that—that there can be anything in it?"

"Have you lost your head, Naida?" the man laughed. "The age of miracles has passed."

"But he is so sure," she whispered.

"Poppycock!" said her companion contemptuously.

The Flopper, in good, if unfashionable and ready-made clothes, fresh linen, and a clean shave, turned a bright, intelligent face on the man at this remark.

"I guess youse are de kind," he said, with a grim smile, "dat ain't had to kill yerself worryin' much about any kind of trouble, an' it ain't nothin' to you to cut de ground of hope out from another guy's feet an' let him slide. Mabbe you think I'm nutty too, because I know I'm goin' to be cured—but it don't hurt you none to have me think so, does it? Mabbe someday you might like to hope a little yerself, an' if—"

"'Board! All aboard!"—the conductor's voice boomed down the platform.

The young woman leaned forward in her chair toward the Flopper.

"I know what it is to hope," she said softly. "Will you come back into our car after awhile? I'd like to have you tell me more about this. Please do."

"Sure," said the Flopper amiably. "Sure, mum, I will, if youse wants me to."

The crowd broke up, hurrying for the train; and the Flopper, dragging a valise along beside him, jerked himself toward the steps.

"Swipe me, if I ain't got a bite already!" said the Flopper to himself. "An' outer a private car, too—wouldn't dat bump you! An' say, wait till you see de Doc t'row up his dukes when he listens to me handin' out me sterilized English!"

The brakeman and a kindly-hearted fellow passenger helped the Flopper into the train—and thereafter for an hour or more, in a first class coach, the Flopper held undisputed sway. The passengers, flocking from the other cars, filled the aisle and seriously interfered with the lordly movements of the train crew, challenging the conductor's authority with passive indifference until that functionary, exasperated beyond endurance, threatened to curtail the ride the Flopper had paid for and put him off at the next station—whereat the passive attitude of the passengers vanished. The American public is always interested in a novelty, and on occasions is not to be gainsaid—the American public, as represented by the patrons of the Bar Harbor express, was interested at the moment in the Flopper, and they passed the conductor from hand to hand—it was the only way he could have got through the car—and deposited him outside in the vestibule to tell his troubles to the buffer-plate.

The Flopper was in deadly, serious earnest; there was no doubt, no possible room for doubt on that score—one had but to look at the flush upon his cheeks and note the ring of conviction in his voice. Even Pale Face Harry's gibes and sneers melted before the unshakable assurance, and he became, with reservations, noticeably impressed.

A metropolitan newspaper man was struck with the idea of a humorous series of articles to pay for his vacation, entitled, "Characters I Have Met In Maine"—and forthwith, perched on the back of the seat behind the Flopper, proceeded to sketch out the first one, with the mental determination to get off at Needley for the local color necessary to its climax.

A soap drummer nudged a fellow drummer whose line was lingerie.

"Ever do Needley?" he grinned.

The lingerie exponent had a sense of humor—he grinned back.

"My house is everlastingly rubbing it into me to open up new territory," said the soap salesman.

"Me too," responded the white-goods man.

"Needley," said he of the soap persuasion, "would be virgin soil for any drummer."

"I'd like to see the finish," said the lingerie man—still grinning.

"Well?" inquired the soap man—still grinning. "What do you say?"

"You bet!" said the man with eight trunks full of daintiness in the baggage car ahead. "It's Needley for ours—you're on!"

The Flopper was an artist—and he was in his glory. Where his position was indubitably weak, he side-stepped with the frank admission that he knew no more than they. He knew only one thing, and that was the only thing he cared about, the rest made no odds to him, he was going down to Needley to be cured—and he let them see Mr. Higgins' letter.

A porter from the rear car squirmed and wriggled his way down to the seat occupied by the Flopper.

"Mistah Tho'nton, sah," he announced importantly, "would like to see you in his private car, if you could done make it convenient, sah."

"Sure!" said the Flopper.

The passengers crowded up, standing on the seats and arm-rests, to make room for the Flopper to crawl down the aisle, while the porter preceded him to open the doors.

Through the car in the rear of the one he had occupied, the regular parlor car, the Flopper, a piteous spectacle, made his way—chairs turned, the occupants craned their necks after the deformed and broken creature, while smothered exclamations and little cries of sympathy from the women followed him along. The Flopper's eyes never lifted from the strip of carpet before him, but his lips moved.

"Gee!" he muttered. "Dis has de gape-wagon skun a mile. Wish I could pass de hat—I'd make de killin' of me young life. Pipe de hydrogen hair on de gran'mother wid de sparkler on her thumb an' weeps in her eyes, an' look at de guy wid de yellow gloves rolled back on his wrists to heighten de intelligint look on his face, dat she's kiddin'—I could play dem to a fare-thee-well if I only had de chanst. Oh, gee!"—the Flopper sighed—"an' I got to let it go!"

With regret still poignantly affecting him, the Flopper passed on into the private car, and the porter ushered him into a sort of combination observation and sitting-room compartment. The Flopper's eyes lifted and made a quick, comprehensive tour of his surroundings. The young woman who had spoken to him on the platform was reclining on a couch; the nurse sat on the foot of the couch; and the man was tilted back in an armchair against the window.

The young woman raised herself to a sitting posture and held out her hand.

"I am Mrs. Thornton," she said, with a smile. "This is my husband, and this is Miss Harvey, my nurse. It was very good of you to come, Mr.—?" she paused invitingly.

"Coogan," supplied the Flopper. "Michael Coogan."

"Let me offer you a chair, Mr. Coogan," said Thornton, a little ironically, pushing one toward the Flopper. "Or would you be more comfortable on the floor?"

The Flopper's eyelids fell—covering a quick, ugly glint.

"T'anks!" he said—and swung himself, by his arms, into the chair.

"I want you to tell me all about this strange man in Needley, and how you came to hear of him and believe in him," said Mrs. Thornton. "I was only able to get just the barest outline of it out there on the platform with the crowd around."

"Dat's easy," said the Flopper earnestly. "Sure, I'll tell you. I saw a piece about dis Patriarch in one of de Noo Yoik papers, so I writes to de postmaster of de town to find out if he was on de level—see?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Thornton. "And what did the postmaster say?"

The Flopper took Hiram Higgins' letter from his pocket and handed it to Mrs. Thornton.

"Youse can read it fer yerself, mum," he said, with an air of one delivering a final and irrefutable argument.

Mrs. Thornton read the letter carefully, almost anxiously.

"If only a part of this is true," she said wistfully, passing it to her husband, "it is perfectly wonderful."

Mr. Thornton read it—with a grin.

"I don't know, I am sure," he observed caustically, handing the letter to Miss Harvey, "how the medical profession would stand on this—would your school endorse it, nurse?"

Miss Harvey read it with her back to the others—then she glanced at Mrs. Thornton—and checked herself as she was about to speak. She folded the letter slowly and returned it to the Flopper without comment.

Robert Thornton, master of millions, hard-headed and practical for all his youth, leaned forward in his chair toward the Flopper.

"Look here," he said bluntly, "you don't mean to say that you believe this seriously, do you?"

"Oh, no!" said the Flopper softly. "Nothin' like dat! Of course I don't believe it! I'm only guyin' myself—see? I'm just goin' dere fer fun—an' spendin' me last red to get dere. Say"—his voice snapped—"wot do youse t'ink I am, anyway?"

"Surely, Robert," said Mrs. Thornton gently, "it is evident enough that he believes it."

Thornton did not look at her—he was still gazing at the Flopper, his brows knitted.

"How long have you been like this?" he demanded sharply.

"All me life," said the Flopper. "I was born dat way."

"And you expect to go down here and by some means, which I must confess is quite beyond my ability to grasp, be cured in a miraculous manner!"—Thornton smiled tolerantly.

"Sure, I do!" asserted the Flopper doggedly. "If he's done it fer de crowd dere, why can't he do it fer me? Didn't de postmaster say all yer gotter have is faith? Well, I got de faith—an' I got it hard enough to stake all I got on it. Dis time to-morrow—say, dis time to-morrow I wouldn't change places wid any man in de United States."

Thornton's tolerant smile deepened.

"I guess you're sincere enough," he said; "and I'm not trying to cut the ground of hope out from under your feet, as you put it out on the platform—but it seems to me that it is only the kindly thing to do to warn you that the more faith you put in a thing like this the worse you are making it for yourself—you are laying up a bitter disappointment in store that can only make your present misfortune the more unbearable."

The Flopper shook his head.

"If he's done it fer others, he can do it fer me," he repeated, with unshaken conviction. "An' dat goes—I can't lose."

Thornton tilted his chair back again, and stared at the Flopper with pitying incredulity.

There was silence for a moment; then Mrs. Thornton spoke.

"Robert," she said slowly, "I want to stop at Needley."

The front legs of Thornton's chair came down on the heavy carpet with a dull thud, and he whirled around in his seat to stare at his wife.

"You don't mean to say, Naida," he gasped, "that you've got faith in this thing, too!"

"No; not faith," she answered pathetically. "I hardly dare to hope. I have hoped so much in the last year, and—"

"But this is sheer nonsense!" Thornton broke in with irritable impatience. "I can understand this man here, in a way—he has the superstition, if you like to call it that, due to lack of education, if he'll pardon my saying so in his presence; but you, Naida, surely you can't take any stock in it!"

She smiled at him a little wanly.

"I have told you that I didn't even dare to hope," she said. "But I want to see—I want to see. I have tried sanatoriums and consulted specialists until it has all become a nightmare to me and I am no better—I sometimes think I never shall be any better."

"But," exploded Thornton, rising from his chair, "that's nothing to do with this—this is rank foolishness! Nurse, you—"

Miss Harvey, too, had risen, and was regarding Mrs. Thornton anxiously.

"It is better to humor her than to excite her," she said in a low voice.

Mrs. Thornton had dropped back on the couch and her face was turned away from the others, but she stretched out her hand to her husband.

"I am not asking very much, Robert, dear—am I?" she said. "Not very much. Won't you do this for me?"

Thornton bit his lips and scowled at the Flopper.

"Well, I'll be damned!" he muttered—and moving to the side of the car pushed a bell-button viciously. "Sam," he snapped, as his colored man appeared, "go and tell the conductor that I want my car put off on the siding at Needley."

"Yes, sah," said Sam.

Thornton sat down again heavily.

"Mabbe," announced the Flopper tactfully, "mabbe I'd better be gettin' back to me valise—we're most dere, ain't we?"

Mrs. Thornton turned toward him.

"No; please don't go, Mr. Coogan—it's too hard for you to get through the train. Sam will get your things as soon as he comes back. Do stay right where you are until we get to Needley."

"No; don't think of going, Mr. Coogan," said Thornton savagely.

The Flopper looked at Mrs. Thornton gratefully, and at Mr. Thornton thoughtfully.

"T'anks!" said the Flopper pleasantly—and wriggled himself into a more comfortable position in his chair.

Half an hour later, the train, that stopped only on signal to discharge eastbound passengers from Portland, drew up at Needley—and Hiram Higgins, on the platform, stared at a scene never before witnessed in the history of the town.

It was not one passenger, or two, or three, that alighted—they streamed in a bewildering fashion from every vestibule of every car. It is true that the majority got back into the train later, but that did not lessen the effect any on Mr. Higgins. Mr. Higgins' jaw dropped, and he grabbed at his chin whiskers for support.

"Merciful daylights!" he breathed heavily. "Now what in the land's sakes be it all about?" His eyes, following the hurrying passengers, fixed on the twisted shape of the Flopper, being helped to the platform from the private car.

"Three cheers for Coogan!" yelled some excitable passenger.

The cheers were given with a will.

"Good luck to you, Coogan!" shouted another—and the crowd took it up in chorus: "Good luck to you, Coogan!"

"Coogan!"—Mr. Higgins' face paled, and he took a firmer grip on his whiskers. "Now if you ain't gone an' put your fool foot in it, Hiram Higgins," he said miserably. "If that there's the fellow that you writ to, you've just laid out to make a plumb fool of the Patriarch, 'cause I reckon the Almighty knew His own mind when He made a critter like that, an' didn't calc'late to have His work upsot much this side of the grave—not even by the Patriarch."

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