The hands are in front of his face. Four rings flash in the light; long fingertips touch, obscuring all but the tips of the waxed, stiletto-pointed mustache. The hands come down and then you see the full face - a cross between Salvador Dali and the vaudeville villain who ties the girl to the railroad tracks.

The hair, thin, and brilliantined straight back from the well-furrowed brow. The stick-figure-thin body, a vision in gray: five-inch wide lapels on the suit with matching rolled-collar vest, gray-striped cravat, pearl gray shirt. Daniel J. Flood is presiding as chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on Health, Education and Welfare.

There is a lot of talk about vitamins at the hearing this day. Flood notices the eyes of witnesses and observers glazing over. The show just might bomb. He raises his voice.

"Why is it, wherever you go, everyone pushes vitamin E? Vitamin E-E-E-E-E-!" Flood slams his hand on the table. "The most useless of the whole batch. Who ever started this? "Take it for everything from ingrown toenails to dandruff." Vitamin E. Big deal."

Everyone laughs. Then Flood takes something bright red from a plastic bag and pops it in his mouth. "I just put a cough drop in my mouth. Is that a drug? What about it?" As the witness answers, yes, Flood grips the lozenge in his front teeth and grimaces, for all to see.The laughs come again. At the end of the hearing, Flood waves the witness off with "Thank you very much. Good show. Very good show."

For 74-year-old, Flood, the actor who left show biz for the theatric of politics 34 years ago - it was not his grandest performance. He was not, after all, in his cerise-lined cape on the red-white-and-blue sneakers he has sported on occasion.

He did not announce himself: "Now hear this, this is the commander. This is Flood talking," as he has in the past.

There was none of the bombast as the time he called a Democratic underling in Pennsylvania who had crossed him and shouted. "This a p --- in it until you check with Flood!"

Still, it is was quite a performance for a man under investigation by the Justice Department and the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct - the subject of daily headlines ever since a former aide, Stephen B. Eldo, convicted of taking kickbacks and now talking in exchange for immunity, charged that Flood received more than $100,000 in payments and bribes for influencing legislative and administrative decisions.

Other colleagues ignore Flood's problems. "We wouldn't say anything to him. That's the American way," says Edward S. Patten, a member of the HEW subcommitte. Some see Flood as unchanged, but others say recent events have visibly attected him. "I rode back with him on the subway," said a member of the Ethics Committee," and he looked distracted and tense, close to the breaking point." Another member said, "You talk to him, and it's as if no one's there."

In his office - decorated floor to ceiling with pictures of Flood through the decades, plaques extolling him as an "ardent patriot" and "uncomprising idealist," flats and models of rockets - Flood sags for just a moment between the rounds of hearings, votes, meetings and parties.

"We aren't going to go into any of that," he says - his face impassive - when his current troubles are raised, professing his innocense as he has all along. An aide interjects that there will be no answers when Flood is asked about Elko.

The show must go on. "It's part of the tradition. To carry on your work day by day, as much in the same way as possible. You must not succumb or yeild to such difficulties."

And so he attended Wednesday night's 15th annual Democratic Congressional blast - just one of the politicians in a mob of 2,600.

Flood sits at an obscure table, near the ballroom door. "I asked for this seat," he says hastily, "because I have to leave early." He is flying to Wilkes-Barre, where the faithful would honor him with a Citizen of the Year award.

A man seated next to Flood says his name is Hinkle and that he is a big farmer from the Midwest. Then he whispers, "I'm just sitting next to him by accident. I never even met him before."

But House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) o'Neill makes a point of coming by, kissing Flood's wife, Catherine, patting Flood on the back. Flood smiles back, with appreciation.

More than Dan Flood is on trial these days. Setting aside any kickback allegations for the moment, at issue is the time-honored way Flood - as a long-time member of the Club - operates. Flood is the unbashed and consummate practitioner of pork-barrel politics, the master of the quid pro quo.

Younger members, who call themselves purists, point to Flood's manner of operating as an example of what is wrong with seniority system power politics. Most of them view him unsypathetically and believe that corruption easily follows such practices.

One member of the older crowd is Joe Waggoner, Democrat form Louisiana. "All this being written about Flood influencing agencies!" The general remark I hear from other members is, 'Hell, I try to influence the agencies every day. I don't care who a colleague is, if he asks for help and we can do it, we do. Flood has helped a lot of us, and we've helped him."

When it came to helping his home district in Pennsylvania during the flood following hurricane Agnes, flood picked up his IOUs, once shouting to a reluctant collegue, "Now Look, goddamn it, I've taken care of you before, now you get in line." He was also not loath to call HEW bureaucrats and tell them to get in line - "if you want to be working tomorrow."

Rep. Robert H. Michel, the ranking minority member of the HEW subcommittee, recalls how Flood rammed through the special $14.5 million appropriation for Philadelphia's Hahnemann Hospital three years ago. The hospital is now under federal grand jury investigation in connection with allegations that Flood and Rep. Joshua Eilberg (D-Pa.) may have profited from the project.

"It came in without a hearing. He proposed it at final markup. I raised objections, asked what was the rationale. Flood said, 'Well, this is what I want.' The chairman has a heckuva lot of power. Other members don't want to cross him. The Democrats have all the votes. Then over in the senate Magnuson (Warren G., senator from Wahington) needed something for Puget Sound. It's a horrible game you play in conference. "We'll give Dan what he wants and Maggy what he wants."'

Flood has endeared himself to his constituents by such deals. He managed to persuade the Army to use anthracite coal which was more expensive than any other fuel.

He smiles about a current victory. At his behest, the Department of Energy is setting up an office for anthracite coal. How did he arrange this? Flood smiles. "I know (Secretary of Energy James) Schlesinger very well. I talked to him personally several times."

If Dan Flood won't talk about his problems, Catherine Flood, his wife of 30 years, will. She is 10 years his junior, a blue-eyed, dyed-blonde former actress who took one look at Flood at a Wilkes-Barre church affair and decided, "He's mine." They've acted together occasionally ("I wanted to play Tondaleo with him in 'White Cargo' but I wasn't nearly sexy enough for the part."

In their two-bedroom apartment in the old Congressional Hotel (now mostly a House annex with a few apartments left) Catherine Flood explodes.

"We are simple, beautiful people. For Elko, that nasty, nasty person, to do what he did. Dan has nothing to be guilty of. That Elko, that mucko, why he sat and looked at Dan and said, 'I am not guilty. I wouldn't do anything to hurt you.' I walked out of the room, it was so touching. Well, I hope they throw the key away on Elko."

Mrs. Flood's voice rises and she rollsher r's asshe starts quoting the high school oration that won her a college scholarship, Lincoln's "contribution to the constitution" . . . "NEITHER SLAVERY NOR INVOLUNTARY SERVITUDE . . ." She stops and says, "My husband, like Lincoln, is dedicated to this country and anything to the contrary is a lot of hogwash."

One major question that puzzles everyone, including Elko's lawyer, Alan May, is this: If Flood did take the money, what has he done with it? With the exception of their clothes and his indulgence in a white Cadillac, they live modestly. Their Wilkes-Barre home is a modest white frame.

One of his closest friends, John Kresco, a car dealer and moted owner in Wilkes-Barre, says, "Dan's so tight with the buck - why I wouldn't buy my wife the fits he buys her for Chrismas. I must have bought him 200 dinners over the years and he's bought me two. That's my way of paying Dan back. He got my son into the Naval Academy. Everyone in his district just loves Dan."

Catherine and Dan Flood have a mutual dependency and an almost eerily similar view of life as a drama. "It is as if they are acting out their parts," recalls a Hill observer.

One legendary story has them driving home to Wilkes-Barre in the white Cadillac - Catherine in the back seat, holding parakeet in its cage, a gold fish nestled in a fish bowl at her feet. An aide was driving in a commodore's hat. The top was down. Flood had fortified himself with a drink or two. "This is the Captain - full speed ahead," he roared. It began to rain. The aide said, "Shouldn't we put the top up?" "Bull -," roared Flood, "drive between the drops!" They continued on, soaking wet into Wilkes-Barre.

Flood became a teetotaler 15 years ago. He had cancer of the esophagus and such patients usually live no more than two years. Catherine Flood recalls how President John F. Kennedy came to visit her husband.

"And to think now those 'Young Turks' would like to see Dan out. I call 'em the 'Young Skunks.' Sometimes I wonder why we stay on, but we don't want this country run by a bunch of amateurs. We could be living on easy street - pretty clothes, entertaining our friends. We have saved and Dan makes a good income. We can afford things because of this - not because of any other reason, mind you."

Some of Flood's projects are now reportedly being held up - nervous bureaucrats apparently do not feel the need to jump at his bidding anymore. Colleagues say it is too soon to see if his credibility has faded - they will know at markup time when he goes to bat for certain items in the budget. "I can't conceive of him asking for one goodie anymore," said one. "And if he is indicted, I can't see him getting re-elected chairman."

Mrs. Flood seems aghast at the thought. "They wouldn't do that. Why the other leaders, the men who've known Dan Flood wouldn't let them."

Her voice becomes a stage whisper. "We mustn't ever let anyone hurt Dan Flood."

In Wilkes-Barre, yesterday was Dan Flood Day. They sold 550 tickets to the celebration. "We could've gone to 2,000 but we had space problems," said Bill Cherkes, chairman of the event.

"How do we react to this stuff about Flood? I'm speaking now for many, many people. He has become a part of everyone's family. He's been to all our graduations and all our weddings and all our funerals.

"We don't care what outsiders say. They're just trying to hurt a member of the family."