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
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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"`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.'"
"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.
"That gave me a new flash on the creature. He was a slicker
article than I imagined. I was not to get off with a tip. He
was taking some pains to touch me for a greenback. I thought I
saw his line. It would not account for his hitting the
description of Mulehaus in the make-up of his straw-man, but it
would furnish the data for the dollar story. I had drawn the
latter a little before he was ready. It belonged in what he
planned to give me at two o'clock. But I thought I saw what the
creature was about. And I was right."
Walker put out his hand and moved the pages of his memoir on the
table. Then he went on:
"I was smoking a cigar on a bench at the entrance to Heinz's Pier
when the hobo shuffled up. He came down one of the streets from
Pacific Avenue, and the direction confirmed me in my theory. It
also confirmed me in the opinion that I was all kinds of a fool
to let this dirty hobo get a further chance at me.
"I was not in a very good humor. Everything I had set going
after Mulehaus was marking time. The only report was progress in
linking things up; not only along the Canadian and Mexican
borders and the customhouses, but we had also done a further
unusual thing, we had an agent on every ship going out of America
to follow through to the foreign port and look out for anything
picked up on the way.
"It was a plan I had set at immediately the robbery was
discovered. It would cut out the trick of reshipping at sea from
some fishing craft or small boat. The reports were encouraging
enough in that respect. We had the whole country as tight as a
drum. But it was slender comfort when the Treasury was raising
the devil for the plates and we hadn't a clew to them."
Walker stopped a moment. Then he went on:
"I felt like kicking the hobo when he got to me, he was so
obviously the extreme of all worthless creatures, with that
apologetic, confidential manner which seems to be an abominable
attendant on human degeneracy. One may put up with it for a
little while, but it presently becomes intolerable.
"`Governor,' he began, when he'd shuffled up, `you won't git mad
if I say a little somethin'?
"`Go on and say it,' I said.
"The expression on his dirty unshaved face became, if possible,
"`Well, then, Governor, askin' your pardon, you ain't Mr. Henry
P. Johnson, from Erie; you're the Chief of the United States
Secret Service, from Washington.'"
Walker moved in his chair.
"That made me ugly," he went on, "the assurance of the creature
and my unspeakable carelessness in permitting the official
letters brought to me on the day before by the post-office
messenger to be seen. In my relaxation I had forgotten the eye
of the chair attendant. I took the cigar out of my teeth and
looked at him.
"`And I'll say a little something myself!' I could hardly keep
my foot clear of him. `When you got sober this morning and
remembered who I was, you took a turn up round the post office to
make sure of it, and while you were in there you saw the notice
of the reward for the stolen bond plates. That gave you the
notion with which you pieced out your fairy story about how you
got the dollar tip. Having discovered my identity through a
piece of damned carelessness on my part, and having seen the
postal notice of the reward, you undertook to enlarge your little
game. That's the reason you wouldn't take fifty cents. It was
your notion in the beginning to make a touch for a tip. And it
would have worked. But now you can't get a damned cent out of
me.' Then I threw a little brush into him: `I'd have stood a
touch for your finding the fake tanner, because there isn't any
"I intended to put the hobo out of business," Walker went on,
"but the effect of my words on him were even more startling than
I anticipated. His jaw dropped and he looked at me in
"`No such person!' he repeated. `Why, Governor, before God, I
found a man like that, an' he was a banker - one of the big ones,
sure as there's a hell!'"
Walker put out his hands in a puzzled gesture.
"There it was again, the description of Mulehaus! And it puzzled
me. Every motion of this hobo's mind in every direction about
this affair was perfectly clear to me. I saw his intention in
every turn of it and just where he got the material for the
details of his story. But this absolutely distinguishing
description of Mulehaus was beyond me. Everybody, of course,
knew that we were looking for the lost plates, for there was the
reward offered by the Treasury; but no human soul outside of the
trusted agents of the department knew that we were looking for
Walker did not move, but he stopped in his recital for a moment.
"The tramp shuffled up a step closer to the bench where I sat.
The anxiety in his big slack face was sincere beyond question.
"`I can't find the banker man, Governor; he's skipped the coop.
But I believe I can find what he's hid.'
"`Well,' I said, `go and find it.'
"The hobo jerked out his limp hands in a sort of hopeless
"`Now, Governor,' he whimpered, `what good would it do me to find
"`You'd get five thousand dollars,' I said.
"`I'd git kicked into the discard by the first cop that got to
me,' he answered, `that's what I'd git.'
"The creature's dirty, unshaved jowls began to shake, and his
voice became wholly a whimper.
"`I've got a line on this thing, Governor, sure as there's a
hell. That banker man was viewin' the layout. I've thought it
all over, an' this is the way it would be. They're afraid of the
border an' they're afraid of the customhouses, so they runs the
loot down here in an automobile, hides it up about the Inlet, and
plans to go out with it to one of them fruit steamers passing on
the way to Tampico. They'd have them plates bundled up in a
sailor's chest most like.
"`Now, Governor, you'd say why ain't they already done it? An'
I'd answer, the main guy - this banker man - didn't know the
automobile had got here until he sent me to look, and there ain't
been no ship along since then . . . . I've been special careful
to find that out.' And then the creature began to whine. `Have
a heart, Governor, come along with me. Gimme a show!'
"It was not the creature's plea that moved me, nor his pretended
deductions; I'm a bit old to be soft. It was the `banker man'
sticking like a bur in the hobo's talk. I wanted to keep him in
sight until I understood where he got it. No doubt that seems a
slight reason for going out to the Inlet with the creature; but
you must remember that slight things are often big signboards in
He continued, his voice precise and even
"We went directly from the end of the Boardwalk to the old shed;
it was open, an unfastened door on a pair of leather hinges. The
shed is small, about twenty feet by eleven, with a hard dirt
floor packed down by the workmen who had used it; a combination
of clay and sand like the Jersey roads put in to make a floor.
All round it, from the sea to the board fence, was soft sand.
There were some pieces of old junk lying about in the shed; but
nothing of value or it would have been nailed up.
"The hobo led right off with his deductions. There, was the
track of a man, clearly outlined in the soft sand, leading from
the board fence to the shed and returning, and no other track
"`Now, Governor,' he began, when he had taken a look at the
tracks, `the man that made them tracks carried something into
this shed, and he left it here, and it was something heavy.'
"I was fairly certain that the hobo had salted the place for me,
made the tracks himself; but I played out a line to him.
"`How do you know that?' I said.
"`Well, Governor,' he answered, `take a look at them two lines of
tracks. In the one comin' to the shed the man was walkin' with
his feet apart and in the one goin' back he was walkin' with his
feet in front of one another; that's because he was carryin'
somethin' heavy when he come an' nothin' when he left.'
"It was an observation on footprints," he went on, "that had
never occurred to me. The hobo saw my awakened interest, and he
"`Did you never notice a man carryin' a heavy load? He kind of
totters, walkin' with his feet apart to keep his balance. That
makes his foot tracks side by side like, instead of one before
the other as he makes them when he's goin' light."'
Walker interrupted his narrative with a comment:
"It's the truth. I've verified it a thousand times since that
hobo put me onto it. A line running through the center of the
heel prints of a man carrying a heavy burden will be a zigzag,
while one through the heel prints of the same man without the
burden will be almost straight.
"The tramp went right on with his deductions:
"`If it come in and didn't go out, it's here.'
"And he began to go over the inside of the shed. He searched it
like a man searching a box for a jewel. He moved the pieces of
old castings and he literally fingered the shed from end to end.
He would have found a bird's egg.
"Finally he stopped and stood with his hand spread out over his
mouth. And I selected this critical moment to touch the powder
off under his game.
"`Suppose,' I said, `that this man with the heavy load wished to
mislead us; suppose that instead of bringing something here he
took one of these old castings away?'
"The hobo looked at me without changing his position.
"`How could he, Governor; he was pointin' this way with the
"`By walking backward,' I said. For it occurred to me that
perhaps the creature had manufactured this evidence for the
occasion, and I wished to test the theory."
Walker went on in his slow, even voice:
"The test produced more action than I expected.
"The hobo dived out through the door. I followed to see him
disappear. But it was not in flight; he was squatting down over
the footprints. And a moment later he rocked back on his
haunches with a little exultant yelp.
"`Dope's wrong, Governor,' he said; `he was sure comin' this
way.' Then he explained: `If a man's walkin' forward in sand or
mud or snow the toe of his shoe flirts out a little of it, an' if
he's walkin' backward his heel flirts it out.'
"At this point I began to have some respect for the creature's
ability. He got up and came back into the shed. And there he
stood, in his old position, with his fingers over his mouth,
looking round at the empty shed, in which, as I have said, one
could not have concealed a bird's egg.
"I watched him without offering any suggestion, for my interest
in the thing had awakened and I was curious to see what he would
do. He stood perfectly motionless for about a minute; and then
suddenly he snapped his fingers and the light came into his face.
"`I got it, Governor!' Then he came over to where I stood.
`Gimme a quarter to git a bucket.'
"I gave him the coin, for I was now profoundly puzzled, and he
went out. He was gone perhaps twenty minutes, and when he came
in he had a bucket of water. But he had evidently been thinking
on the way, for he set the bucket down carefully, wiped his hands
on his canvas breeches, and began to speak, with a little
apologetic whimper in his voice.
"`Now look here, Governor,' he said, `I'm a-goin' to talk turkey;
do I git the five thousand if I find this stuff ?'
"`Surely,' I answered him.
"`An' there'll be no monkeyin', Governor; you'll take me down to
a bank yourself an' put the money in my hand?'
"`I promise you that,' I assured him.
"But he was not entirely quiet in his mind about it. He shifted
uneasily from one foot to the other, and his soft rubber nose
"`Now, Governor,' he said, `I'm leery about jokers - I gotta be.
I don't want any string to this money. If I git it I want to go
and blow it in. I don't want you to hand me a roll an' then
start any reformin' stunt - a-holdin' of it in trust an' a
probation officer a-pussyfootin' me, or any funny business. I
want the wad an' a clear road to the bright lights, with no word
passed along to pinch me. Do I git it?'
"`It's a trade!' I said.
"`O. K.,' he answered, and he took up the bucket. He began at
the door and poured the water carefully on the hard tramped
earth. When the bucket was empty he brought another and another.
Finally about midway of the floor space he stopped.
"`Here it is!' he said.
"I was following beside him, but I saw nothing to justify his
"`Why do you think the plates are buried here?' I said.
"`Look at the air bubbles comin' up, Governor,' he answered."
Walker stopped, then he added:
"It's a thing which I did not know until that moment, but it's
the truth. If hard-packed earth is dug up and repacked air gets
into it, and if one pours water on the place air bubbles will
He did not go on, and I flung at him the big query in his story.
"And you found the plates there?"
"Yes, Sir Henry," he replied, "in the false bottom of an old
"And the hobo got the money?"
"Certainly," he answered. "I put it into his hand, and let him
go with it, as I promised."
Again he was silent, and I turned toward him in astonishment.
"Then," I said, "why did you begin this story by saying the hobo
faked you? I don't see the fake; he found the plates and he was
entitled to the reward."
Walker put his hand into his pocket, took out a leather case,
selected a paper from among its contents and handed it to me.
"I didn't see the fake either," he said, "until I got this
I unfolded the letter carefully. It was neatly written in a hand
like copper plate and dated Buenos Aires.
DEAR COLONEL WALKER: When I discovered that you were planting an
agent on every ship I had to abandon the plates and try for the
reward. Thank you for the five thousand; it covered expenses.
Very sincerely yours,