“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.”
“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!”