The Sleuth of St. James's Square - Melville Davisson Post - ebook

"THE first confirmatory evidence of the thing, Excellency, was the print of a woman's bare foot."He was an immense creature. He sat in an upright chair that seemed to have been provided especially for him. The great bulk of him flowed out and filled the chair. It did not seem to be fat that enveloped him. It seemed rather to be some soft, tough fiber, like the pudgy mass making up the body of a deep-sea thing. One got an impression of strength.The country was before the open window; the clusters of cultivated shrub on the sweep of velvet lawn extending to the great wall that inclosed the place, then the bend of the river and beyond the distant mountains, blue and mysterious, blending indiscernibly into the sky. A soft sun, clouded with the haze of autumn, shone over it.

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Melville Davisson Post

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Table of contents

I. The Thing on the Hearth

II. The Reward

III. The Lost Lady

IV. The Cambered Foot

V. The Man in the Green Hat

VI. The Wrong Sign

VII. The Fortune Teller

VIII. The Hole in the Mahogany Panel

IX. The End of the Road

X.-The Last Adventure

XI.-American Horses

XII. The Spread Rails

XIII. The Pumpkin Coach

XIV. The Yellow Flower

XV. Satire of the Sea

XVI. The House by the Loch

I. The Thing on the Hearth

"THE first confirmatory evidence of the thing, Excellency, was the print of a woman's bare foot."He was an immense creature. He sat in an upright chair that seemed to have been provided especially for him. The great bulk of him flowed out and filled the chair. It did not seem to be fat that enveloped him. It seemed rather to be some soft, tough fiber, like the pudgy mass making up the body of a deep-sea thing. One got an impression of strength.The country was before the open window; the clusters of cultivated shrub on the sweep of velvet lawn extending to the great wall that inclosed the place, then the bend of the river and beyond the distant mountains, blue and mysterious, blending indiscernibly into the sky. A soft sun, clouded with the haze of autumn, shone over it."You know how the faint moisture in the bare foot will make an impression."He paused as though there was some compelling force in the reflection. It was impossible to say, with accuracy, to what race the man belonged. He came from some queer blend of Eastern peoples. His body and the cast of his features were Mongolian. But one got always, before him, a feeling of the hot East lying low down against the stagnant Suez. One felt that he had risen slowly into our world of hard air and sun out of the vast sweltering ooze of it.He spoke English with a certain care in the selection of the words, but with ease and an absence of effort, as though languages were instinctive to him—as though he could speak any language. And he impressed one with this same effortless facility in all the things he did.It is necessary to try to understand this, because it explains the conception everybody got of the creature, when they saw him in charge of Rodman. I am using precisely the descriptive words; he was exclusively in charge of Rodman, as a jinn in an Arabian tale might have been in charge of a king's son.The creature was servile—with almost a groveling servility. But one felt that this servility resulted from something potent and secret. One looked to see Rodman take Solomon's ring out of his waistcoat pocket.I suppose there is no longer any doubt about the fact that Rodman was one of those gigantic human intelligences who sometimes appear in the world, and by their immense conceptions dwarf all human knowledge—a sort of mental monster that we feel nature has no right to produce. Lord Bayless Truxley said that Rodman was some generations in advance of the time; and Lord Bayless Truxley was, beyond question, the greatest authority on synthetic chemistry in the world.Rodman was rich and, everybody supposed, indolent; no one ever thought very much about him until he published his brochure on the scientific manufacture of precious stones. Then instantly everybody with any pretension to a knowledge of synthetic chemistry turned toward him.The brochure startled the world.It proposed to adapt the luster and beauty of jewels to commercial uses. We were being content with crude imitation colors in our commercial glass, when we could quite as easily have the actual structure and the actual luster of the jewel in it. We were painfully hunting over the earth, and in its bowels, for a few crystals and prettily colored stones which we hoarded and treasured, when in a manufacturing laboratory we could easily produce them, more perfect than nature, and in unlimited quantity.Now, if you want to understand what I am printing here about Rodman, you must think about this thing as a scientific possibility and not as a fantastic notion. Take, for example, Rodman's address before the Sorbonne, or his report to the International Congress of Science in Edinburgh, and you will begin to see what I mean. The Marchese Giovanni, who was a delegate to that congress, and Pastreaux, said that the something in the way of an actual practical realization of what Rodman outlined was the formulae. If Rodman could work out the formulae, jewel-stuff could be produced as cheaply as glass, and in any quantity—by the carload. Imagine it; sheet ruby, sheet emerald, all the beauty and luster of jewels in the windows of the corner drugstore!And there is another thing that I want you to think about. Think about the immense destruction of value—not to us, so greatly, for our stocks of precious stones are not large; but the thing meant, practically, wiping out all the assembled wealth of Asia except the actual earth and its structures.The destruction of value was incredible.Put the thing some other way and consider it. Suppose we should suddenly discover that pure gold could be produced by treating common yellow clay with sulphuric acid, or that some genius should set up a machine on the border of the Sahara that received sand at one end and turned out sacked wheat at the other! What, then, would our hoarded gold be worth, or the wheat-lands of Australia, Canada or our Northwest?The illustrations are fantastic. But the thing Rodman was after was a practical fact. He had it on the way. Giovanni and Lord Bayless Truxley were convinced that the man would work out the formulae. They tried, over their signatures, to prepare the world for it.The whole of Asia was appalled. The rajahs of the native states in India prepared a memorial and sent it to the British Government.The thing came out after the mysterious, incredible tragedy. I should not have written that final sentence. I want you to think, just now, about the great hulk of a man that sat in his big chair beyond me at the window.It was like Rodman to turn up with an outlandish human creature attending him hand and foot. How the thing came about reads like a lie; it reads like a lie; the wildest lie that anybody ever put forward to explain a big yellow Oriental following one about.But it was no lie. You could not think up a lie to equal the actual things that happened to Rodman. Take the way he died!....The thing began in India. Rodman had gone there to consult with the Marchese Giovanni concerning some molecular theory that was involved in his formulas. Giovanni was digging up a buried temple on the northern border of the Punjab. One night, in the explorer's tent, near the excavations, this inscrutable creature walked in on Rodman. No one knew how he got into the tent or where he came from.Giovanni told about it. The tent-flap simply opened, and the big Oriental appeared. He had something under his arm rolled up in a prayer-carpet. He gave no attention to Giovanni, but he salaamed like a coolie to the little American."Master," he said, "you were hard to find. I have looked over the world for you."And he squatted down on the dirty floor by Rodman's camp stool.Now, that's precisely the truth. I suppose any ordinary person would have started no end of fuss. But not Rodman, and not, I think, Giovanni. There's the attitude that we can't understand in a genius—did you ever know a man with an inventive mind who doubted a miracle? A thing like that did not seem unreasonable to Rodman.The two men spent the remainder of the night looking at the present that the creature brought Rodman in his prayer-carpet. They wanted to know where the Oriental got it, and that's how his story came out.He was something—searcher, seems our nearest English word to it—in the great Shan Monastery on the southeastern plateau of the Gobi. He was looking for Rodman because he had the light—here was another word that the two men could find no term in any modern language to translate; a little flame, was the literal meaning.The present was from the treasure-room of the monastery; the very carpet around it, Giovanni said, was worth twenty thousand lire. There was another thing that came out in the talk that Giovanni afterward recalled. Rodman was to accept the present and the man who brought it to him. The Oriental would protect him, in every way, in every direction, from things visible and invisible. He made quite a speech about it. But, there was one thing from which he could not protect him.The Oriental used a lot of his ancient words to explain, and he did not get it very clear. He seemed to mean that the creative Forces of the spirit would not tolerate a division of worship with the creative forces of the body—the celibate notion in the monastic idea.Giovanni thought Rodman did not understand it; he thought he himself understood it better. The monk was pledging Rodman to a high virtue, in the lapse of which something awful was sure to happen.Giovanni wrote a letter to the State Department when he learned what had happened to Rodman. The State Department turned it over to the court at the trial. I think it was one of the things that influenced the judge in his decision. Still, at the time, there seemed no other reasonable decision to make. The testimony must have appeared incredible; it must have appeared fantastic. No man reading the record could have come to any other conclusion about it. Yet it seemed impossible—at least, it seemed impossible for me—to consider this great vital bulk of a man as a monk of one of the oldest religious orders in the world. Every common, academic conception of such a monk he distinctly negatived. He impressed me, instead, as possessing the ultimate qualities of clever diplomacy—the subtle ambassador of some new Oriental power, shrewd, suave, accomplished.When one read the yellow-backed court-record, the sense of old, obscure, mysterious agencies moving in sinister menace, invisibly, around Rodman could not be escaped from. You believed it. Against your reason, against all modern experience of life, you believed it.And yet it could not be true! One had to find that verdict or topple over all human knowledge—that is, all human knowledge as we understand it. The judge, cutting short the criminal trial, took the only way out of the thing.There was one man in the world that everybody wished could have been present at the time. That was Sir Henry Marquis. Marquis was chief of the Criminal Investigation Department of Scotland Yard. He had been in charge of the English secret service on the frontier of the Shan states, and at the time he was in Asia.As soon as Scotland Yard could release Sir Henry, it sent him. Rodman's genius was the common property of the world. The American Government could not, even with the verdict of a trial court, let Rodman's death go by under the smoke-screen of such a weird, inscrutable mystery.I was to meet Sir Henry and come here with him. But my train into New England was delayed, and when I arrived at the station, I found that Marquis had gone down to have a look at Rodman's country-house, where the thing had happened.It was on an isolated forest ridge of the Berkshires, no human soul within a dozen miles of it—a comfortable stone house in the English fashion. There was a big drawing-room across one end of it, with an immense fireplace framed in black marble under a great white panel to the ceiling. It had a wide black-marble hearth. There is an excellent photograph of it in the record, showing the single andiron, that mysterious andiron upon which the whole tragedy seemed to turn as on a hinge.Rodman used this drawing-room for a workshop. He kept it close-shuttered and locked. Not even this big, yellow, servile creature who took exclusive care of him in the house was allowed to enter, except under Rodman's eye. What he saw in the final scenes of the tragedy, he saw looking in through a crack under the door. The earlier things he noticed when he put logs on the fire at dark.Time is hardly a measure for the activities of the mind. These reflections winged by in a scarcely perceptible interval of it. They have taken me some time to write out here, but they crowded past while the big Oriental was speaking—in the pause between his words."The print," he continued, "was the first confirmation of evidence, but it was not the first indicatory sign. I doubt if the Master himself noticed the thing at the beginning. The seductions of this disaster could not have come quickly; and besides that, Excellency, the agencies behind the material world get a footing in it only with continuous pressure. Do not receive a wrong impression, Excellency; to the eye a thing will suddenly appear, but the invisible pressure will have been for some time behind that materialization."He paused."The Master was sunk in his labor, and while that enveloped him, the first advances of the lure would have gone by unnoticed—and the tension of the pressure. But the day was at hand when the Master was receptive. He had got his work completed; the formula, penciled out, were on his table. I knew by the relaxation. Of all periods this is the one most dangerous to the human spirit."He sat silent for a moment, his big fingers moving on the arms of the chair."I knew," he added. Then he went on: "But it was the one thing against which I could not protect him. The test was to be permitted."He made a vague gesture."The Master was indicated—but the peril antecedent to his elevation remained.... It was to be permitted, and at its leisure and in its choice of time."He turned sharply toward me, the folds of his face unsteady."Excellency!" he cried. "I would have saved the Master, I would have saved him with my soul's damnation, but it was not permitted. On that first night in the Italian's tent I said all I could."His voice went into a higher note."Twice, for the Master, I have been checked and reduced in merit. For that bias I was myself encircled. I was in an agony of spirit when I knew that the thing was beginning to advance, but my very will to aid was at the time environed."His voice descended.He sat motionless, as though the whole bulk of him were devitalized, and maintained its outline only by the inclosing frame of the chair."It began, Excellency, on an August night. There is a chill in these mountains at sunset. I had put wood into the fireplace, and lighted it, and was about the house. The Master, as I have said, had worked out his formulae. He was at leisure. I could not see him, for the door was closed, but the odor of his cigar escaped from the room. It was very silent. I was placing the Master's bed-candle on the table in the hall, when I heard his voice.... You have read it, Excellency, as the scriveners wrote it down before the judge."He paused."It was an exclamation of surprise, of astonishment. Then I heard the Master get up softly and go over to the fireplace... Presently he returned. He got a new cigar, Excellency, clipped it and lighted it. I could hear the blade of the knife on the fiber of the tobacco, and of course, clearly the rasp of the match. A moment later I knew that he was in the chair again. The odor of ignited tobacco returned. It was some time before there was another sound in the room; then suddenly I heard the Master swear. His voice was sharp and astonished. This time, Excellency, he got up swiftly and crossed the room to the fireplace... I could hear him distinctly. There was the sound of one tapping on metal, thumping it, as with the fingers."He stopped again, for a brief moment, as in reflection."It was then that the Master unlocked the door and asked for the liquor." He indicated the court record in my pocket. "I brought it, a goblet of brandy, with some carbonated water. He drank it all without putting down the glass.... His face was strange, Excellency.... Then he looked at me."'Put a log on the fire,' he said."I went in and added wood to the fire and came out."The Master remained in the doorway; he reentered when I came out, and closed the door behind him.... There was a long silence after that; them I heard the voice, permitted to the devocation thin, metallic, offering the barter to the Master. It began and ceased because the Master was on his feet and before the fireplace. I heard him swear again, and presently return to his place by the table."The big Oriental lifted his face and looked out at the sweep of country before the window."The thing went on, Excellency, the voice offering its lure, and presenting it in brief flashes of materialization, and the Master endeavoring to seize and detain the visitations, which ceased instantly at his approach to the hearth."The man paused."I knew the Master contended in vain against the thing; if he would acquire possession of what it offered, he must destroy what the creative forces of the spirit had released to him."Again he paused."Toward morning he went out of the house. I could hear him walking on the gravel before the door. He would walk the full length of the house and return. The night was clear; there was a chill in it, and every sound was audible."That was all, Excellency. The Master returned a little later and ascended to his bedroom as usual."Then he added:"It was when I went in to put wood on the fire that I saw the footprint on the hearth."There was a force, compelling and vivid, in these meager details, the severe suppression of things, big and tragic. No elaboration could have equaled, in effect, the virtue of this restraint.The man was going on, directly, with the story."The following night, Excellency, the thing happened. The Master had passed the day in the open. He dined with a good appetite, like a man in health. And there was a change in his demeanor. He had the aspect of men who are determined to have a thing out at any hazard."After his dinner the Master went into the drawing-room and closed the door behind him. He had not entered the room on this day. It had stood locked and close-shuttered!"The big Oriental paused and made a gesture outward with his fingers, as of one dismissing an absurdity."No living human being could have been concealed in that room. There is only the bare floor, the Master's table and the fireplace. The great wood shutters were bolted in, as they had stood since the Master took the room for a workshop and removed the furniture. The door was always locked with that special thief-proof lock that the American smiths had made for it. No one could have entered."It was the report of the experts at the trial. They showed by the casing of rust on the bolts that the shutters had not been moved; the walls, ceiling and floor were undisturbed; the throat of the chimney was coated evenly with old soot. Only the door was possible as an entry, and this was always locked except when Rodman was himself in the room. And at such times the big Oriental never left his post in the hall before it. That seemed a condition of his mysterious overcare of Rodman.Everybody thought the trial court went to an excessive care. It scrutinized in minute detail every avenue that could possibly lead to a solution of the mystery. The whole country and every resident was inquisitioned. The conclusion was inevitable. There was no human creature on that forest crest of the Berkshires but Rodman and his servant.But one can see why the trial judge kept at the thing; he was seeking an explanation consistent with the common experience of mankind. And when he could not find it, he did the only thing he could do. He was wrong, as we now know. But he had a hold in the dark on the truth—not the whole truth by any means; he never had a glimmer of that. He never had the faintest conception of the big, amazing truth. But as I have said, he had his fingers on one essential fact.The man was going on with a slow, precise articulation as though he would thereby make a difficult matter clear."The night had fallen swiftly. It was incredibly silent. There was no sound in the Master's room, and no light except the flicker of the logs smoldering in the fireplace. The thin line of it appeared faintly along the sill of the door."He paused."The fireplace, Excellency, is at the end of the great room, directly opposite this door into the hall, before which I always sat when the Master was within. The fireplace is of black marble with an immense black-marble hearth. And the gift which I had brought the Master stands on one side of the fire, on this marble hearth, as though it were a single andiron."The man turned back into the heart of his story."I knew by the vague sense of pressure that the devocations of the thing were again on the way. And I began to suffer in the spirit for the Master's safety. Interference, both by act and by the will, were denied me. But there is an anxiety of spirit, Excellency, that the uncertainty of an issue makes intolerable."The man paused."The pressure continued—and the silence. It was nearly midnight. I could not distinguish any act or motion of the Master, and in fear I crept over to the door and looked in through the crevice along the threshold."The Master sat by his table; he was straining forward, his hands gripping the arms of his chair. His eyes and every tense instinct of the man were concentrated on the fireplace. The red light of the embers was in the room. I could see him clearly, and the table beyond him with the calculations; but the fireplace seemed strangely out of perspective—it extended above me."My gift to the Master, not more than four handbreaths in length, including the base, stood now like an immense bronze on an extended marble slab beside a gigantic fireplace. This effect of extension put the top of the fireplace and the enlarged andiron, above its pedestal, out of my line of vision. Everything else in the chamber, holding its normal dimensions, was visible to me."The Master's face was a little lifted. He was looking at the elevated portions of the andiron which were invisible to me. He did not move. The steady light threw half of his face into shadow. But in the other half every feature stood out sharply as in a delicate etching. It had that refined sharpness and distinction which intense moments of stress stamp on the human face. He did not move, and there was no sound."I have said, Excellency, that my angle of vision along the crevice of the doorsill was sharply cut midway of this now enlarged fireplace. From the direction and lift of the Master's face, he was watching something above this line and directly over the pedestal of the andiron. I watched, also, flattening my face against the sill, for the thing to appear."And it did appear."A naked foot became slowly visible, as though some one were descending with extreme care from the elevation of the andiron to the great marble hearth, under this strange enlargement, now some distance below."The big Oriental paused, and looked down at me."I knew then, Excellency, that the Master was lost! The creative energies of the Spirit suffer no division of worship; those of the body must be wholly denied. I had warned the Master. And in travail, Excellency, I turned over with my face to the floor."But there is always hope, hope over the certainties of experience, over the certainties of knowledge. Perhaps the Master, even now, sustained in the spirit, would put away the devocation.... No, Excellency, I was not misled. I knew the Master was beyond hope! But the will to hope moved me, and I turned back to the crevice at the doorsill."He paused."There was now a delicate odor, everywhere, faintly, like the blossom of the little bitter apple here in your country. The red embers in the fireplace gave out a steady light; and in the glow of it, on the marble hearth, stood the one who had descended from the elevation of the andiron."Again the man hesitated, as for an accurate method of expression."In the flesh, Excellency, there was color that would not appear in the image. The hair was yellow, and the eyes were blue; and against the black marble of the fireplace the body was conspicuously white. But in every other aspect of her, Excellency, the woman was on the hearth in the flesh as she is in the clutch of the savage male figure in the image."There is no dress or ornament, as you will recall, Excellency. Not even an ear-jewel or an anklet, as though the graver of the image felt that the inherent beauty of his figure could take nothing from these ostentations. The woman's heavy yellow hair was wound around her head, as in the image. She shivered a little, faintly, like a naked child in an unaccustomed draught of air, although she stood on the warm marble hearth and within the red glow of the fire."The voice from the male figure of the image, which I had brought the Master, and which stood as the andiron, now so immensely enlarged, was beginning again to speak. The thin metallic sounds seemed to splinter against the dense silence, as it went forward in the ritual prescribed."But the Master had already decided; he stood now on the great marble hearth with his papers crushed together. And as I looked on, through the crevice under the doorsill, he put out his free hand and with his finger touched the woman gently. The flesh under his finger yielded, and stooping over, he put the formulas into the fire."Like one who has come to the end of his story, the huge Oriental stopped. He remained for some moments silent. Then he continued in an even, monotonous voice:"I got up from the floor then, and purified myself with water. And after that I went into an upper chamber, opened the window to the east, and sat down to write my report to the brotherhood. For the thing which I had been sent to do was finished."He put his hand somewhere into the loose folds of his Oriental garment and brought out a roll of thin vellum like onion-skin, painted in Chinese characters. It was of immense length, but on account of the thinness of the vellum, the roll wound on a tiny cylinder of wood was not above two inches in thickness."Excellency," he said, "I have carefully concealed this report through the misfortunes that have attended me. It is not certain that I shall be able to deliver it. Will you give it for me to the jewel merchant Vanderdick, in Amsterdam? He will send it to Mahadal in Bombay, and it will go north with the caravans."His voice changed into a note of solicitation."You will not fail me, Excellency—already for my bias to the Master I am reduced in merit."I put the scroll into my pocket and went out, for a motorcar had come into the park, and I knew that Marquis had arrived.I met Sir Henry and the superintendent in the long corridor; they had been looking in at my interview through the elevated grating."Marquis," I cried, "the judge was right to cut short the criminal trial and issue a lunacy warrant. This creature is the maddest lunatic in this whole asylum. The human mind is capable of any absurdity."Sir Henry looked at me with a queer ironical smile."The judge was wrong," he said. "The creature, as you call him, is as sane as any of us.""Then you believe this amazing story?" I said."I believe Rodman was found at daylight dead on the hearth, with practically every bone in his body crushed," he replied."Certainly," I said. "We all know that is true. But why was he killed?"Again Sir Henry regarded me with his ironical smile."Perhaps," he drawled, "there is some explanation in the report in your pocket, to the Monastic Head. It's only a theory, you know."He smiled, showing his white, even teeth.We went into the superintendent's room, and sat down by a smoldering fire of coals in the gate. I handed Marquis the roll of vellum. It was in one of the Shan dialects. He read it aloud. With the addition of certain formal expressions, it contained precisely the Oriental's testimony before the court, and no more."Ah!" he said in his curiously inflected Oxford voice.And he held the scroll out to the heat of the fire. The vellum baked slowly, and as it baked, the black Chinese characters faded out and faint blue ones began to appear.Marquis read the secret message in his emotionless drawl:"'The American is destroyed, and his accursed work is destroyed with him. Send the news to Bangkok and west to Burma. The treasures of India are saved."'I cried out in astonishment."An assassin! The creature was an assassin! He killed Rodman simply by crushing him in his arms!"Sir Henry's drawl lengthened."It's Lal Gupta," he said, "the cleverest Oriental in the whole of Asia. The jewel-traders sent him to watch Rodman, and to kill him if he was ever able to get his formulae worked out. They must have paid him an incredible sum.""And that is why the creature attached himself to Rodman!" I said."Surely," replied Sir Henry. "He brought that bronze Romulus carrying off the Sabine woman and staged the supernatural to work out his plan and to save his life. I knew the bronze as soon as I got my eye on it—old Franz Josef gave it as a present to Mahadal in Bombay for matching up some rubies."I swore bitterly."And we took him for a lunatic!""Ah, yes!" replied Sir Henry. "What was it you said as I came in? 'The human mind is capable of any absurdity!'"

II. The Reward

I was before one of those difficult positions unavoidable to a visitor in a foreign country.

I had to meet the obligations of professional courtesy. Captain Walker had asked me to go over the manuscript of his memoirs; and now he had called at the house in which I was a guest, for my opinion. We had long been friends; associated in innumerable cases, and I wished to suggest the difficulty rather than to express it. It was the twilight of an early Washington winter. The lights in the great library, softened with delicate shades, had been turned on. Outside, Sheridan Circle was almost a thing of beauty in its vague outlines; even the squat, ridiculous bronze horse had a certain dignity in the blue shadow.

If one had been speculating on the man, from his physical aspect one would have taken Walker for an engineer of some sort, rather than the head of the United States Secret Service. His lean face and his angular manner gaffe that impression. Even now, motionless in the big chair beyond the table, he seemed—how shall I say it?—mechanical.

And that was the very defect in his memoir. He had cut the great cases into a dry recital. There was no longer in them any pressure of a human impulse. The glow of inspired detail had been dissected out. Everything startling and wonderful had been devitalized.

The memoir was a report.

The bulky typewritten manuscript lay on the table beside the electric lamp, and I stood about uncertain how to tell him.

"Walker," I said, "did nothing wonderful ever happen to you in the adventure of these cases?"

"What precisely do you mean, Sir Henry?" he replied.

The practical nature of the man tempted me to extravagance.

"Well," I said, "for example, were you never kissed in a lonely street by a mysterious woman and the flash of your dark lantern reveal a face of startling beauty?"

"No," he said, as though he were answering a sensible question, "that never happened to me."

"Then," I continued, "perhaps you have found a prince of the church, pale as alabaster, sitting in his red robe, who put together the indicatory evidence of the crime that baffled you with such uncanny acumen that you stood aghast at his perspicacity?"

"No," he said; and then his face lighted. "But I'll tell you what I did find. I found a drunken hobo at Atlantic City who was the best detective I ever saw."

I sat down and tapped the manuscript with my fingers.

"It's not here," I said. "Why did you leave it out?"

He took a big gold watch out of his pocket and turned it about in his hand. The case was covered with an inscription.

"Well, Sir Henry," he said, "the boys in the department think a good deal of me. I shouldn't like them to know how a dirty tramp faked me at Atlantic City. I don't mind telling you, but I couldn't print it in a memoir."

He went directly ahead with the story and I was careful not to interrupt him:

"I was sitting in a rolling chair out there on the Boardwalk before the Traymore. I was nearly all in, and I had taken a run to Atlantic for a day or two of the sea air. The fact is the whole department was down and out. You may remember what we were up against; it finally got into the newspapers.

"The government plates of the Third Liberty Bond issue had disappeared. We knew how they had gotten out, and we thought we knew the man at the head of the thing. It was a Mulehaus job, as we figured it.

"It was too big a thing for a little crook. With the government plates they could print Liberty Bonds just as the Treasury would. And they could sow the world with them."

He paused and moved his gold-rimmed spectacles a little closer in on his nose.

"You see these war bonds are scattered all over the country. They are held by everybody. It's not what it used to be, a banker's business that we could round up. Nobody could round up the holders of these bonds.

"A big crook like Mulehaus could slip a hundred million of them into the country and never raise a ripple."

He paused and drew his fingers across his bony protruding chin.

"I'll say this for Mulehaus: He's the hardest man to identify in the whole kingdom of crooks. Scotland Yard, the Service de la Surete, everybody, says that. I don't mean dime-novel disguises—false whiskers and a limp. I mean the ability to be the character he pretends—the thing that used to make Joe Jefferson, Rip Van Winkle—and not an actor made up to look like him. That's the reason nobody could keep track of Mulehaus, especially in South American cities. He was a French banker in the Egypt business and a Swiss banker in the Argentine."

He turned back from the digression:

"And it was a clean job. They had got away with the plates. We didn't have a clew. We thought, naturally, that they'd make for Mexico or some South American country to start their printing press. And we had the ports and border netted up. Nothing could have gone out across the border or, through any port. All the customs officers were, working with us, and every agent of the Department of Justice."

He looked at me steadily across the table.

"You see the Government had to get those plates back before the crook started to print, or else take up every bond of that issue over the whole country. It was a hell of a thing!

"Of course we had gone right after the record of all the big crooks to see whose line this sort of job was. And the thing narrowed down to Mulehaus or old Vronsky. We soon found out it wasn't Vronsky. He was in Joliet. It was Mulehaus. But we couldn't find him.

"We didn't even know that Mulehaus was in America. He's a big crook with a genius for selecting men. He might be directing the job from Rio or a Mexican port. But we were sure it was a Mulehaus' job. He sold the French securities in Egypt in '90; and he's the man who put the bogus Argentine bonds on our market—you'll find the case in the 115th Federal Reporter.

"Well," he went on, "I was sitting out there in the rolling chair, looking at the sun on the sea and thinking about the thing, when I noticed this hobo that I've been talking about. He was my chair attendant, but I hadn't looked at him before. He had moved round from behind me and was now leaning against the galvanized pipe railing.

"He was a big human creature, a little stooped, unshaved and dirty; his mouth was slack and loose, and he had a big mobile nose that seemed to move about like a piece of soft rubber. He had hardly any clothing; a cap that must have been fished out of an ash barrel, no shirt whatever, merely an old ragged coat buttoned round him, a pair of canvas breeches and carpet slippers tied on to his feet with burlap, and wrapped round his ankles to conceal the fact that he wore no socks.

"As I looked at him he darted out, picked up the stump of a cigarette that some one had thrown down, and came back to the railing to smoke it, his loose mouth and his big soft nose moving like kneaded putty.

"Altogether this tramp was the worst human derelict I ever saw. And it occurred to me that this was the one place in the whole of America where any sort of a creature could get a kind of employment and no questions asked.

"Anything that could move and push a chair could get fifteen cents an hour from McDuyal. Wise man, poor man, beggar man, thief, it was all one to McDuyal. And the creatures could sleep in the shed behind the rolling chairs.

"I suppose an impulse to offer the man a garment of some sort moved me to address him.

"'You're nearly naked,' I said.

"He crossed one leg over the other with the toe of the carpet slipper touching the walk, in the manner of a burlesque actor, took the cigarette out of his mouth with a little flourish, and replied to me:

"'Sure, Governor, I ain't dolled up like John Drew.'

"There was a sort of cocky unconcern about the creature that gave his miserable state a kind of beggarly distinction. He was in among the very dregs of life, and he was not depressed about it.

"'But if I had a sawbuck," he continued, "I could bulge your eye .... Couldn't point the way to one?'

"He arrested my answer with the little flourish of his fingers holding the stump of the cigarette.

"'Not work, Governor,' and he made a little duck of his head, 'and not murder.... Go as far as you please between 'em.'

"The fantastic manner of the derelict was infectious.

"'O. K.' I said. 'Go out and find me a man who is a deserter from the German Army, was a tanner in Bale and began life as a sailor, and I'll double your money—I'll give you a twenty-dollar bill.'

"The creature whistled softly in two short staccato notes.

"'Some little order,' he said. And taking a toothpick out of his pocket he stuck it into the stump of the cigarette which had become too short to hold between his fingers.

"At this moment a boy from the post office came to me with the daily report from Washington, and I got out of the chair, tipped the creature, and went into the hotel, stopping to pay McDuyal as I passed.

"There was nothing new from the department except that our organization over the country was in close touch. We had offered five thousand dollars reward for the recovery of the plates, and the Post Office Department was now posting the notice all over America in every office. The Secretary thought we had better let the public in on it and not keep it an underground offer to the service.

"I had forgotten the hobo, when about five o'clock he passed me a little below the Steel Pier. He was in a big stride and he had something clutched in his hand.

"He called to me as he hurried along: 'I got him, Governor.... See you later!'

"'See me now,' I said. 'What's the hurry?'

"He flashed his hand open, holding a silver dollar with his thumb against the palm.

"'Can't stop now, I'm going to get drunk. See you later.'

"I smiled at this disingenuous creature. He was saving me for the dry hour. He could point out Mulehaus in any passing chair, and I would give some coin to be rid of his pretension."

Walker paused. Then he went on:

"I was right. The hobo was waiting for me when I came out of the hotel the following morning.

"'Howdy, Governor,' he said; 'I located your man.'

"I was interested to see how he would frame up his case.

"'How did you find him?' I said.

"He grinned, moving his lip and his loose nose.

"'Some luck, Governor, and some sleuthin'. It was like this: I thought you was stringin' me. But I said to myself I'll keep out an eye; maybe it's on the level—any damn thing can happen.'

"He put up his hand as though to hook his thumb into the armhole of his vest, remembered that he had only a coat buttoned round him and dropped it.

"'And believe me or not, Governor, it's the God's truth. About four o'clock up toward the Inlet I passed a big, well-dressed, banker-looking gent walking stiff from the hip and throwing out his leg. "Come eleven!" I said to myself. "It's the goosestep!" I had an empty roller, and I took a turn over to him.'

"'"Chair, Admiral?" I said.

"'He looked at me sort of queer.

"'"What makes you think I'm an admiral, my man?" he answers.

"Well," I says, lounging over on one foot reflective like, "nobody could be a-viewin' the sea with that lovin', ownership look unless he'd bossed her a bit.... If I'm right, Admiral, you takes the chair."

"'He laughed, but he got in. "I'm not an admiral," he said, "but it is true that I've followed the sea."

"The hobo paused, and put up his first and second fingers spread like a V.

"'Two points, Governor—the gent had been a sailor and a soldier; now how about the tanner business?

"He scratched his head, moving his ridiculous cap.

"'That sort of puzzled me, and I pussyfooted along toward the Inlet thinkin' about it. If a man was a tanner, and especially a foreign, hand-workin' tanner, what would his markin's be?

"'I tried to remember everybody that I'd ever seen handlin' a hide, and all at once I recollected that the first thing a dago shoemaker done when he picked up a piece of leather was to smooth it out with his thumbs. An' I said to myself, now that'll be what a tanner does, only he does it more.... he's always doin' it. Then I asks myself what would be the markin's?'

"The hobo paused, his mouth open, his head twisted to one side. Then he jerked up as under a released spring.

"'And right away, Governor, I got the answer to it flat thumbs!'

"The hobo stepped back with an air of victory and flashed his hand up.

"'And he had 'em! I asked him what time it was so I could keep the hour straight for McDuyal, I told him, but the real reason was so I could see his hands.'"

Walker crossed one leg over the other.

"It was clever," he said, "and I hesitated to shatter it. But the question had to come.

"'Where is your man?' I said.

"The hobo executed a little deprecatory step, with his fingers picking at his coat pockets.

"'That's the trouble, Governor,' he answered; 'I intended to sleuth him for you, but he gave me a dollar and I got drunk... you saw me. That man had got out at McDuyal's place not five minutes before. I was flashin' to the booze can when you tried to stop me.... Nothin' doin' when I get the price.'"

Walker paused.

"It was a good fairy story and worth something. I offered him half a dollar. Then I got a surprise.

"The creature looked eagerly at the coin in my fingers, and he moved toward it. He was crazy for the liquor it would buy. But he set his teeth and pulled up.

"'No, Governor,' he said, 'I'm in it for the sawbuck. Where'll I find you about noon?'

"I promised to be on the Boardwalk before Heinz's Pier at two o'clock, and he turned to shuffle away. I called an inquiry after him... You see there were two things in his story: How did he get a dollar tip, and how did he happen to make his imaginary man banker-looking? Mulehaus had been banker-looking in both the Egypt and the Argentine affairs. I left the latter point suspended, as we say. But I asked about the dollar. He came back at once.

"'I forgot about that, Governor,' he said. 'It was like this: The admiral kept looking out at the sea where an old freighter was going South. You know, the fruit line from New York. One of them goes by every day or two. And I kept pushing him along. Finally we got up to the Inlet, and I was about to turn when he stopped me. You know the neck of ground out beyond where the street cars loop; there's an old board fence by the road, then sand to the sea, and about halfway between the fence and the water there's a shed with some junk in it. You've seen it. They made the old America out there and the shed was a tool house.

"'When I stopped the admiral says: "Cut across to the hole in that old board fence and see if an automobile has been there, and I'll give you a dollar." An' I done it, an' I got it.'

"Then he shuffled off.

"'Be on the spot, Governor, an' I'll lead him to you.'"

Walker leaned over, rested his elbows on the arms of his chair, and linked his fingers together.