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Title: The Young Wireless Operator—With the U. S. Secret Service

Author: Lewis E. Theiss

Illustrator: Frank T. Merrill

Release date: August 8, 2020 [eBook #62885]

Language: English

Credits: Produced by Roger Frank and the Online Distributed
Proofreading Team at (This file was
produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)




IN CAMP AT FORT BRADY. A Camping Story. 304 pages.

HIS BIG BROTHER. A Story of the Struggles and Triumphs of a Little Son of Liberty. 320 pages.

LUMBERJACK BOB. A Tale of the Alleghanies. 320 pages.

THE WIRELESS PATROL AT CAMP BRADY. A Story of How the Boy Campers, Through Their Knowledge of Wireless, “Did Their Bit.” 320 pages.

THE SECRET WIRELESS. A Story of the Camp Brady Patrol. 320 pages.

THE HIDDEN AERIAL. The Spy Line on the Mountain. 332 pages.

THE YOUNG WIRELESS OPERATOR—AFLOAT. How Roy Mercer Won His Spurs in the Merchant Marine. 320 pages.

THE YOUNG WIRELESS OPERATOR—AS A FIRE PATROL. The Story of a Young Wireless Amateur Who Made Good as a Fire Patrol. 352 pages.

THE YOUNG WIRELESS OPERATOR—WITH THE OYSTER FLEET. How Alec Cunningham Won His Way to the Top in the Oyster Business. 328 pages.

Cloth Bound—Illustrated by Colored
Plates and Photographs
The Young Wireless Operator—
With the U. S. Secret Service
Copyrighted, 1923,
By W. A. Wilde Company
All rights reserved
The Young Wireless Operator—With the
U. S. Secret Service
Made in U. S. A.
whose youthful interest in this story, as
it grew, chapter by chapter, has been a
real inspiration to its maker    ∷    ∷

It may interest readers of The Young Wireless Operator series to know that most of the happenings in these books are based upon actual occurrences. Years ago, as a reporter, the author wrote for the New York Sun the stories of the auction of bled wool, the cotton-lined cabin, the mystery of the wheat sacks, and other accounts of the work of the United States Secret Service, that appear in this present volume. Although some of the characters in the book are of course fictitious, others, like Sheridan of the Secret Service, are real characters who actually did the things they are portrayed as doing. Of course names have been changed. The practice of keeping note-books and clippings that had to do with work the writer was engaged in, has made all this material available for present use, and brought it once more freshly to mind. The descriptions of parts of New York and her wonderful waterways are written from intimate, personal knowledge of the places described. In effect, therefore, The Young Wireless Operator—With the U. S. Secret Service is a true story.

To make all the tales in this series true has been the earnest desire of the writer. That does not mean that every incident described necessarily happened. It does mean that the incidents used are not only possible under the circumstances, but probable, and that the descriptions are exact and accurate. The picture of life portrayed is in each case as exact as careful observation and careful writing can make it.

Before the author prepared the preceding volume of this series, The Young Wireless Operator—With the Oyster Fleet, he first went to the Delaware Bay and made a cruise on an oyster boat, living aboard with the crew and sharing their life and labors. Furthermore, he had lived for twenty years in that country and had spent many weeks, in all, cruising about on oyster boats.

The writing of The Young Wireless Operator—Afloat, which deals with both New York City and ports on the Mexican Gulf was made possible by residence for some months on the Gulf, and through the coöperation of Southern newspaper men. Practically all the incidents related concerning the tidal wave that destroyed Corpus Christi are stories of actual occurrences, gathered by newspaper men on the spot. Most of the ships described in that story are real vessels and were actually afloat at the time and in the positions given to them by the author. The wireless stations and wireless calls are also real.

Before writing The Young Wireless Operator—As a Fire Patrol, the writer spent many days in the forest with a District Forester, studying the actual working of the Pennsylvania State Forestry system, though in earlier years he had spent weeks camping and tramping in those same mountain forests. Many of the incidents used in the book were contributed by forest rangers. The manuscript of the book was read and approved by both the District Forester and Gifford Pinchot, then Pennsylvania Commissioner of Forestry and now Governor of Pennsylvania, in order that there might be no mistakes in the text. Mr. Pinchot also showed his approval of the book by writing a foreword for it.

This present wireless series really had its inception, years ago, with the appearance of In Camp at Fort Brady. Readers of that book showed so much interest in some of the characters that, when it came to writing further volumes, the author naturally went on with the history of some of those boys. Thus Roy Mercer and Alec Cunningham and Charley Russell and Willie Brown, who have figured in The Young Wireless Operator series, are really old acquaintances, and made their first appearance in In Camp at Fort Brady, and their next in The Secret Wireless and in The Hidden Aerial. The later volumes have dealt with individual members of the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol rather than with the Patrol as a whole. The author has become as much interested in this band of boys as he hopes any of his readers has. And it is his plan to go on with these individual histories until we know what became of each boy.

Lewis Edwin Theiss.
Otzinachson, Muncy, Pa.
January 29, 1923.
I.An Unexpected Opportunity
II.An Adventure with a Secret Service Man
III.A Tip by Wireless
IV.The Capture of the Wool Smugglers
V.On the Trail of a Cotton Thief
VI.What Was Behind the False Partition
VII.Willie Gets His Chance
VIII.In the Armenian Quarter
IX.Under a Cloud
X.The Cloud Grows Darker
XI.Willie Makes a Discovery
XII.The Mystery of the Wheat Sacks
XIII.Saved by Wireless
XIV.Who Made the False Key?
XV.A Watch on a Diamond Smuggler
XVI.Where the Jewels Were Hidden
XVII.After the Whiskey Smugglers
XVIII.The Pursuit in the Dark
The Young Wireless Operator—
With the U.S. Secret Service


The coastwise steamer Lycoming was being warped into her berth along the Hudson River in New York City. A fussy, little tug was pushing against the Lycoming’s bow, while other puffing, bustling tugs butted the great ship astern, in an effort to swing the vessel at right angles to the stream and push her into her dock. On the Lycoming’s lower deck sailors stood ready to cast great hawsers ashore the moment the ship should be within reach of the pier. As motionless as though he were a part of the ship itself, the captain stood on the bridge, silent and watchful, giving occasional orders. The upper decks were alive with passengers, who swarmed to the rail, eagerly scanning the faces of the still distant crowd on the pier. Now some passenger identified the face of a friend ashore, and again some one waiting on the pier discovered a friend on board the steamer, and cheery greetings were called back and forth across the ever-narrowing strip of muddy water that separated the great ship from her pier.

As the vessel slid nearer, the excitement increased. More and more persons on shipboard and on the pier recognized friends and called to them. A very babel of voices arose. The scuffling and tramping of feet intensified the noise. Passengers descended to the lower decks and the people on the pier crowded forward toward the waiting gangplank. The tugs snorted and puffed, churning the water into yeasty foam. From the pier came the rumble and rattle of little hand trucks and the crash and bang of boxes and cases, which a gang of stevedores was piling in a corner for shipment. Outside arose the roar of the street traffic—the clatter of iron shod hoofs on hard paving-stones, the throbbing and churning of innumerable motors, the rattle of trucks and wagons, and the shrill cries of newsies, street venders, taxi drivers, and baggage porters.

The huge steamer was almost in her berth, and the sailors were in the very act of casting their lines ashore, when the door of the wireless cabin, a snug little structure perched on the very top deck of the Lycoming, swung open, and a trim young man, dressed in a well-fitting uniform of the Marconi Service, stepped to the side of the ship. He was the wireless operator, and in his hand he carried a pair of powerful binoculars. Steadying himself against the rail, he slowly swept his glance along the line of faces that fringed the pier. Presently his glasses came to rest. For a single moment they remained stationary. Then the wireless man slipped his binoculars into his pocket, cupped his hands in front of his mouth, and leaned over the rail, giving a long, peculiar whistle. It was the signal of the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol. Apparently the signal was unheard. When the wireless man repeated it, a youthful face, almost hidden by the people on the pier, was upturned. A smile came on the waiting lad’s face. His arms shot up in silent greeting.

“Come to the gangway,” shouted the wireless man through his cupped hands.

There was a little commotion in the crowd on the pier, as the lad to whom the wireless man had called tried to force his way through the crowd toward the gangway. But he was so small, being scarcely larger than a boy, in fact, that he could hardly press forward through the crowd. The heavy suit case he carried made it all the more difficult for him. While the lad was still struggling toward the gangplank, the wireless man slipped down ladder and stairs with the grace and agility of a cat, and within a few seconds stood on the lower deck beside the sailors, who were waiting to make fast the gangplank.

“Just let that little fellow there come aboard,” said the wireless man, pointing to his friend who was still struggling to get through the crowd.

“Aye, aye, Mr. Mercer,” called back a husky hand on the dock, who stood ready to help shove the gangplank into place. Then, turning around, the huge fellow shouldered his way through the crowd, whisked the suit case out of the little lad’s hand, and opened a way for him through the press. In another moment the gangplank was run out and made fast; and before the little lad knew what was happening, he and his suit case were bundled up the gangplank and aboard ship. A second later the eager passengers were pouring down the gangway in a torrent.

Eagerly the visiting lad caught the outstretched hand of the wireless man, and they stepped to one side, out of the way. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Willie Brown,” said the wireless man, shaking his friend’s hand again and again. “Gee! But I sure am glad to see you.”

“You can’t be any more pleased to see me than I am to see you, Roy.” Then the little visitor drew back a pace and admired his friend. “Gee whiz!” he said. “Just look at your fine uniform. I guess it’s true that clothes make the man. Why, I heard that dock hand even call you Mister. Think of that! You don’t catch me calling you Mister, even if you are the wireless operator. You’re just plain Roy Mercer of the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol to me.”

The wireless operator laughed gleefully. “You bet you won’t call me Mr. Mercer. I’d chuck you overboard if you did. But come on. Let’s get out of this. We’ll go to the wireless cabin where we can talk without interruption.”

He picked up his visitor’s suit case. Then he turned toward his friend with an expression of astonishment on his face. “Whatever have you got in that suit case, Willie Brown?” he asked. “It’s as heavy as a ton of bricks.”

“I’ve got my wireless set in it, Roy, and a bunch of fresh batteries.”

“Your wireless set! Well, of all the fool ideas! To bring your dinky home-made wireless outfit with you, when the Lycoming has one of the most up-to-date equipment money can buy! But I don’t care if you’ve got a crocodile in your suit case. It’s you I’m interested in, Willie. Gee whiz! It does seem good to see you. Tell me about the rest of the bunch. How are they?”

“Fine as silk,” said Willie.

By this time they had reached the wireless house. Willie’s eyes opened wide in astonishment as he saw the magnificent wireless outfit. “Whew!” he whistled. “That’s a dandy set. Won’t you show it to me?”

“Sure,” said Roy, “but first tell me about the fellows at home. How’s the Wireless Patrol coming on? And what are the fellows all doing? Tell me about them.”

“There is mighty little to tell you that you don’t already know, Roy. We’ve told you by wireless everything that’s worth telling. Charley Russell is still a forest ranger and doing well. He’s getting ahead fast. And Alec is making good in the oyster business. We had a letter from him telling us how you saved him and his friends when their ship became disabled in a storm in the Delaware Bay and drifted to sea. That was a wonderful rescue, Roy. Gee whiz! We fellows of the Wireless Patrol were proud of you.”

“Rats! I hadn’t anything to do with the rescue. Captain Lansford is the man who saved Alec and his friends. I merely caught his SOS.”

“We know all about how much you had to do with it. We know that Alec would never have been saved if you hadn’t been at your post, doing your duty. We know——”

“Forget it, Willie, and tell me about the bunch. I’m crazy to know all about them.”

“Well, I was just running through the list. Next comes Roy Mercer,” and Willie’s eyes twinkled. “He’s become famous as the wireless operator——”

Willie dodged just in time to miss a book that Roy shied at him. “Tell me something about yourself, Willie. It’s some time now since Commencement, and I suppose you have a fine job all salted away for autumn delivery. What are you going to do with yourself, Willie?”

All the joy went out of Willie’s face. His eyes sought the floor. “I—I—I—I haven’t anything in prospect, Roy,” he said gloomily.

“You’re too particular, Willie. A fellow can’t always get the job he wants just at the start.”

“I can’t get any job at all, Roy. That’s the hard part of it.”

“Get out! A boy with your ability and with a high school diploma and with your good record as a student! Of course you can get a job. You’re too particular, that’s all.”

“If only that was the case, Roy, I’d be the happiest fellow in the world. But it isn’t a matter of being particular. I can’t get any job at all.”

Poor Willie looked so sober that Roy laughed outright. Then, seeing the hurt look on Willie’s face, he said: “Forgive me, Willie. But you pulled such a funny face I just couldn’t help laughing. And anyway, I know you’re mistaken. Why, business men everywhere are constantly on the lookout for bright young fellows like you, Willie.”

For a long time Willie was silent. “Perhaps they are,” he admitted gloomily. “But they want them lar—lar”—he appeared almost to choke over the word—“they want them larger.”

“Well, I’ll be switched,” cried Roy, getting to his feet in indignation. “If that doesn’t beat the band. As though size had anything to do with a fellow’s ability. I just can’t believe it, Willie. Have you really tried to get a place?”

“Tried? Why, Roy, I’ve applied to every business man in Central City for a job. And they all tell me the same thing. They’re willing to hire me as an errand boy or to cut grass or weed onions, but not one of them wanted to give me a job worth anything.”

“Did they tell you so? Are you sure you didn’t imagine all this?”

“Absolutely. Why, old man Gulliver, who owns the big department store, told me flatly that he couldn’t afford to put me behind a counter because his customers would be offended by being waited upon by a boy. Nothing I could say would make him change his mind. He said the customers would judge by appearances.”

“Why, Willie, those men are crazy. There isn’t a keener boy in Central City than you. Great guns! Those fellows know how the Wireless Patrol captured the German dynamiters at the Elk City reservoir, and they know that you were one of the four boys that Captain Hardy picked from the entire patrol, to track those fellows to their lair. What do you suppose Captain Hardy did that for, anyway? Your size certainly was against you in that desperate business. And it was your brains alone that finally brought success to us. And everybody in Central City knows about our search here in New York during the war for the secret wireless. Great heavens! Does anybody suppose you would have been one of the four fellows selected for that job if you hadn’t had brains? Why, Willie, the Secret Service really owes it to you that they were able to find the secret wireless and nab the German spy who was operating it.”

At the words Secret Service, Willie looked up. “There’s what I’d like to do,” he said, “but I’ll never get a chance.”

“What? Secret Service work?”


“I can’t think of anybody I ever knew who is better qualified for that sort of work, Willie. You had us all skinned a mile when it came to tracking and trailing and observing things. The rest of us were a bunch of blind men alongside of you. Nothing ever was missed by you; and you never forgot anything you saw. And you almost always knew what things meant, too. We would all see something and the rest of us would stand looking at it like a set of wooden men, and you would tell us what it meant. Honest, Willie, those Central City business men are so stupid they’re funny.”

“Maybe they are,” said Willie, ruefully, “but laughing at them won’t help me to get a job.”

“Did you ever try to do any detective work in Central City?”

“Of course I didn’t. You know how much chance there is to do that sort of thing in a little town like Central City. Why, people would have thought I was nutty for sure. They would have thought I had been reading dime novels.”

“Guess you are right, Willie, and it’s a good thing you didn’t attempt it. Yet I’m sure you have the qualifications. I hadn’t thought about you in that connection before; but I can see how your ability fits you for the work. You remember the time we discovered some smuggling taking place aboard this very boat——”

“The time you discovered it,” corrected Willie.

“No interruptions now. I have the floor. You remember I wrote you about the smuggling. One of the Secret Service men that came to investigate the matter said that good detective work was nothing but close observation, correct thinking, and persistence. And I believe it. And I never knew anybody that could hold a candle to you for close observation.”

“I wish I could believe it,” sighed Willie.

“Well, it’s true, and sooner or later you’ll get a chance to use your powers of observation the way you want to. But in the meantime, don’t you worry about a job. We’ll make this trip to Galveston and back, and we’ll have a corking good time. And when we come back I’ll try to get you a job. You’re a mighty good wireless man for an amateur, and with a little help I can give you, you’d soon be competent to take a job.”

“Gee! If you could get me a job, Roy, I’d be grateful to you to my dying day. I don’t care what it is. I’d take anything, so it was a job. Later on I could perhaps find just the sort of job I want. And you needn’t be afraid to recommend me, Roy. I’d make good.”

“Of course you would. There isn’t any question about that. And anyway, I wouldn’t want to get a fellow a job if I thought he wouldn’t make good.”

Just then the door of the wireless house opened, and a grinning, white-headed, old darky thrust his head through the doorway. “De puhsuh’s compliments, Mr. Mercer, and he say could you help him a bit he’d be ’bliged to you.”

“Tell the purser I’ll be with him in a moment. And hold on, Sam. Just step in here. I want you to know my old friend, Mr. Brown. We went to school together and have been friends all our lives. Willie is going to make the next trip with us, Sam, and there isn’t anything on this boat too good for him. Do you understand?”

“’Deed I does, Mr. Mercer. ’Deed I does, suh. It’s a pleasure to do anything for a friend of yours, Mr. Mercer.” And the grinning darky advanced and shook Willie’s proffered hand with seeming pleasure.

“Thank you, Sam. Thank you. Please tell Mr. Robbins that I’ll be there in a moment.”

The colored steward withdrew. Roy turned to Willie. “I’m sorry, Willie,” he said, “but I shall have to leave you for a little while. I offered to help the purser with some manifests, as soon as I had my telegrams off. He doesn’t know you are here, of course, or he wouldn’t have sent Sam up.”

“I notice you are aces high on this ship, Roy,” said Willie. “And I understand it all right enough. It’s that old trick of yours of being nice to everybody. No wonder they all like you.”

“You understand about this matter, Willie, don’t you?” replied Roy, ignoring his friend’s remark. “I’m just as sorry as I can be that I have to leave you. It’ll take me an hour or two with the purser. Just make yourself at home. As soon as I get done, I’ll show you the wireless outfit, as you asked me to. Ought to have done it right off, anyway. You’ll excuse me, won’t you, Willie?”

“Beat it,” said Willie. “You don’t owe me any excuses. I’m a million times obliged to you merely for the opportunity to be here, let alone being entertained. I’ll take a stroll while you’re helping the purser. I’ll be back in a couple of hours or so.”

Roy accompanied his guest to the pier, made sure that the men on guard would know him so that Willie would have no difficulty in getting back aboard the ship, and hurried away to the purser’s office.

Once on land, Willie drew a little to one side, out of the way of the traffic, to take a good look about him. Wonderful was the scene that greeted his eye. Although Willie lived in central Pennsylvania, the scene was familiar enough to him. As Roy had said, Willie was one of the four members of the Wireless Patrol who had spent some time in New York during the war, running down the secret wireless of a German spy. During that visit he had become well acquainted with New York—he had to become well acquainted with it, in fact, as part of the preparation for the work to be done. So now he felt entirely at home.

Yet always he was thrilled by the sight of the teeming activities of this great, roaring city. Being from an inland town, he especially liked the water-front, and all its suggestive activities. The coming and going of huge, laden drays and trucks, with their mysterious bales and boxes, always fired his imagination. What was in these commonplace containers, and whence had it come or whither might it be going? To what strange lands might not some of these packages of merchandise eventually come, and in what curious ways might they not travel? Chinese sampans might eventually bear some of these goods up brawling Chinese rivers; camel trains might carry them over the burning desert; elephants might convey a portion of this merchandise through Indian jungles or long safaris of African porters struggle through the dark continent with some part of these products on their heads.

Always it fired Willie’s imagination to see this stirring life along the water-front. And a powerful imagination was one of Willie’s most precious gifts. It was this imagination that had given him the power Roy ascribed to him of being able to interpret things correctly, for Willie did possess that ability in an astonishing degree. Constantly his imagination was at play, working upon anything that caught his eye; just as now, in the things that most of those passing near him saw only as boxes or bundles, he was seeing camel trains crossing the desert, and other sights equally delightful.

No wonder Willie loved this wonderful waterfront, with its argosies from the seven seas; and no wonder that now, after gazing for a time at the flow of traffic before him, he darted across the street and turned south toward the Battery. Powerful memories drew him that way. He must see once more the Staten Island ferry, by which he had so often journeyed to Staten Island during that never-to-be-forgotten spy hunt. And the Aquarium, with its unbelievably odd and curious fish life; the fire-boat, lying ready to dash off to a blaze at a second’s notice; the harbor police-station, with its trim little police boat; and in the distance that grand old memorial of the thing he and all his fellow Americans had so desperately fought for—Liberty—all these things and a hundred others drew him along the water-front as irresistibly as a magnet draws a needle.

Slowly he made his way along, passing from pier to pier, reveling in everything he saw, yet always eager to go a bit farther and see a bit more. So he made his way along the Hudson, through old Battery Park, past the ferry landing and on to the East River front. How he delighted in the East River front! Here were assembled the old and the odd and the curious water-craft. In place of the majestic ocean liners, Willie here found public docks full of canal-boats. And here were sailing vessels, with their masts towering aloft. And, of course, there were innumerable steamships, too, though the East River was too cramped to accommodate the largest. But it was the sailing ships and the canal-boats that most attracted Willie.

Presently he came to an open pier that fairly gripped him. No moving-picture show, no storybook, no tale of mouth, ever was more fascinating than the scene on this pier. Canal-boats lay in the dock, dozens and dozens of them. And sailing ships were moored near by, to add picturesqueness to the view. River-craft of all sorts were plowing the East River. Up-stream a little way ferry-boats were shuttling back and forth to Brooklyn. Occasionally a big steamer passed by. Long strings of canal-boats, towed by tugs, forged slowly along. Innumerable lighters, convoyed by other puffing tugs, buffeted the waves. Floats, bearing laden freight-cars, went clumsily past. Occasional motor-boats scooted noisily by, and even a lone oarsman in a rowboat was visible, working his way against the current.

Out on the pier went Willie. Fascinated, he gazed about him. How the stirring life before him stimulated and thrilled him. Indeed, he hardly felt like the little country lad who had just come to New York to take a steamship voyage as the guest of an old chum. His spirit was like the eagle’s. He soared over vast distances, and saw strange lands. He was a globe-trotter, a world traveler. And in truth, Willie actually saw more of the world, standing on that East River pier than some folks do who circle it; for there be many who, having eyes, see not. Indeed, Willie not only saw, but also heard and even smelled and tasted; for the wind was bringing to him the delicious aroma from the near-by coffee-roasting establishments, and the ravishing odor of freshly made cocoa, and the scent of perfumes, and other odd and curious smells so tropical of this part of old New York. Willie had read of the perfumes of the Orient, but he doubted if they were any more pleasing than some of the odors that now assailed his nostrils.

Presently Willie became conscious of the fact that he was tired. He had been on his feet a long time, for he had stood on the pier for two or three hours before the Lycoming docked. The paving-stones and the wooden planks of the pier suddenly felt very hard to his feet. He sought for a place to rest. At one side of the pier some lumber was piled. Willie made his way to it. At the river end there was a sort of little recess in the pile, where some short lengths of board had been put in the centre of the lumber. A projecting plank or two made a comfortable seat. Willie sank down in this snug nook with a sigh of relief and comfort. His feet were really very tired. He found the wind was shut off by the lumber, too, and that was welcome, for the day was far along and it was growing cool. In perfect comfort Willie now sat in his little retreat, watching the river life before him. Without realizing it, Willie had chosen an observation post where he could hardly be observed himself, so well was he snuggled down among the projecting lengths of lumber.

As the afternoon waned, the activities on the pier almost ceased. In fact, the place was practically deserted. Out toward the end of the pier Willie had casually noticed an old fellow who was aimlessly walking about. He appeared to be a tramp. Willie would never have given him a second thought had the man not suddenly disappeared. Willie was not watching him, and in fact was not directly conscious of the man’s presence on the pier; yet suddenly Willie’s subconsciousness told him that something was missing from the picture before him. That startled Willie into conscious mental effort. What was that something and why had it disappeared?

Now Willie brought into play that mental gift he had used to such good effect in the hunt for the German dynamiters at Elk City. His comrades of the Wireless Patrol always said that Willie had a mental photograph in his head of anything he had ever looked at. He did, too. Perhaps everybody has. But Willie was able to visualize a scene as few people are able. He could see not only the broad outlines of a remembered picture, but also the minute details. And that ability, originally native, had been developed to a wonderful degree by practice. Lacking size, Willie had taken the only possible means of putting himself on a par with his fellows. He had developed his wits.

So now, startled through his subconsciousness, he sat bolt upright and began to concentrate on the problem before him. Something had suddenly disappeared from the picture. What was it? He drove his memory over the back track, and presently he saw the old tramp wandering about. And he was able to remember even the very spot where he had last seen the tramp. Willie gave a sigh of relief when he made this discovery, for he was troubled lest the old fellow might have tumbled overboard. He was certain he had last seen the man just beside a big pile of boxes near the centre of the pier.

For a moment Willie dismissed the matter from his mind. Then into his head popped the question: “Why did that tramp disappear so suddenly?”

Again Willie was afire with a problem. He turned the matter over in a hundred ways, and at length decided that the tramp had crawled into the pile of boxes, even as he, Willie, had snuggled down among the lumber, for rest. Likely the old fellow had found a snug berth to catch a little sleep. More than likely there were tarpaulins there, and the fellow had crawled into a bunch of them. They would both keep him warm and make a fairly soft place to rest. Yes, that was undoubtedly the reason. Willie was satisfied that he had solved the problem. He had no doubt that if he nosed about the pile of boxes, he would find the old fellow snug inside. But that was the last thing Willie thought of doing. Even a tramp had a right to sleep.

Presently men began to gather on the pier again. Some of them came up over the side of the pier, from canal-boats in the dock. Others came from shore. Willie guessed at once that they were barge captains. At least, such men are called captains. They live on the barges with their families and look after the craft for the owners. Usually they are a rough set, and these particular canal-boat captains now gathering on the pier were no exception. Willie looked at them closely and decided that he would not want to be at their mercy if they were angry at him. They looked like a desperate lot, and Willie could not help feeling that they must be as desperate as they looked. Certainly they led irresponsible lives, for they were here to-day and gone to-morrow, their homes being wherever fate and a cargo took their craft. How easy it would be for them to make away with an enemy. The water-front was dark and the rushing tide so near at hand. A silent blow, a quick push over the end of a pier, and there was the end of some one. And more than once, Willie knew, that had been the end of some one. He had read of such cases and heard of others.

The more Willie thought about these men, the more interested he became in them. It was his old habit asserting itself. He had given rein to his imagination. And he was picturing to himself the evil side of canal-boat life. And evil enough Willie knew it could be. More than once, when he was working to trace the secret wireless of that German spy, he had been told about the piratical river life led by some of these bargemen. Enormous amounts of property they carried in their barges, and not all of it, Willie knew, reached its rightful destination.

While Willie was wondering about these things, his eyes were focused on the growing group of river-men before him. Suddenly he became aware that they were gathering in a circle. They were drawing close together, right beside the pile of boxes where Willie believed the tramp was curled up. Willie had had no interest in the tramp previously, but now he suddenly felt the keenest sympathy for him. Closer together drew the bargemen, and Willie could see that they were discussing something. Probably, he thought, they were plotting a robbery of some float or lighter. And if they were, and if they discovered the tramp concealed so close at hand, they would instantly suspect him of being an eavesdropper. And what they would do to him Willie did not even like to imagine. He hoped the tramp would keep quiet and lie low.

Either the tramp was already asleep, or was possessed of discretion, for no sign of him was to be seen. Dusk was coming fast, and Willie should have returned to the Lycoming, but, like the tramp, he hated to move. Though he was at some distance from the gang of boatmen, they might nevertheless think he was spying on them. So he snuggled down closer than ever in the lumber pile and watched. Presently the group of bargemen broke up, and the various canal-boat captains and others started to go their separate ways.

“Don’t forget,” Willie heard the man who had done most of the talking say. “To-morrow night. And it will be rich pickings for somebody.”

The speaker slid over the side of the pier to a canal-boat. To other boats and toward the street the other members of the gang made their way. In a few moments the pier was vacant.

“Now for the Lycoming,” thought Willie. “Roy will think I’m lost.”

He started to rise, then sank back quickly in his seat. Something was moving in the pile of boxes. Willie looked intently. A head was thrust quickly up among the boxes. It was the tramp. He took a quick look around, saw that the pier was deserted, and leaped from his place of concealment. Willie did the same. There was no reason why he should delay a moment longer in getting back to the Lycoming. But before he had taken a dozen paces, the tramp was beside him. The tramp opened a wallet and took out a crisp dollar bill.

“If you will send a telephone message for me,” he said, “the change from this bill is yours.”

“Sure,” said Willie, too much astonished even to question the man.

“Run to the nearest ’phone. There’s one in that building over there. Call this number and say that Sheridan wants a man to help him at once in the neighborhood of South Street and Coenties Slip. If there’s any answer, try to find me. I’ll probably be in some of these sailors’ hangouts along the water-front. There’ll be another dollar in it if you get me.”

Into Willie’s hand the man thrust the crisp dollar bill and a piece of cardboard. Then he turned abruptly away and hurried up South Street. Willie shoved the bill into his pocket and took a look at the telephone number on the piece of pasteboard. Then he gave a sharp cry. The figures in his hand were the secret call of the United States Secret Service in New York. He knew that number because it had been given to him when he was engaged in the search for the secret wireless.


Willie was fairly paralyzed with astonishment. For a moment he stood staring dumbly at the card in his hand. Then he comprehended the situation. The man who had given him the cardboard was not a tramp, but a Secret Service agent; and his name was Sheridan. Something crooked was afoot among the bargemen, even as Willie had fancied might be the case. Sheridan was trailing the conspirators and needed help. At that thought, Willie’s indecision dropped from him like a cloak. He must act. Like a shot he started for the place Sheridan had pointed out, where there was a public telephone.

As he ran, he looked up South Street. The thoroughfare was full of vehicles and people. Still Willie could distinguish the bargemen from the remainder of the crowd, although they were now well up the street. Sheridan was not far away, and yet Willie had almost more difficulty in recognizing him than in distinguishing the bargemen farther up the street. Of course, there were several of the latter, and that made a difference. Sheridan was a single individual. But Willie quickly divined why there was this difference. Sheridan was keeping in close to the buildings, where he was much less conspicuous than persons in the middle of the walk.

Willie had no time to consider the matter, however, for he had reached the place where he was to telephone. He took a last, sharp look up the street, and saw the bargemen just entering a door. Willie tried to determine exactly which building they were entering. Then he turned and stepped through the door before him.

He found himself in a typical South Street ship-chandlery. About him were ropes, compasses, lanterns, rubber coats, chains, anchors, and other nautical equipment. A clerk stepped forward.

“Do you have a public telephone?” inquired Willie.

“In the booth over there,” said the clerk, pointing across the room.

The clerk paid no further attention to Willie, who stepped into the booth, closed the door, dropped a nickel into the slot, and called his number. Immediately came the reply.

“Sheridan wants a man to help him at once in the neighborhood of South Street and Coenties Slip,” said Willie.

“Is this Sheridan speaking?” came the query.

“No. This is a messenger for Sheridan.”

“Hold the wire a moment, please.” And a little later the voice added: “Tell Sheridan there isn’t a single operative here at present. We’ll send him help if anybody comes in.”

Willie hung up the receiver but remained in the booth, thinking. Sheridan might need help badly. Those bargemen looked like a desperate lot. Yet the office could send him no aid. Possibly he himself could give Sheridan some help. At that thought, Willie’s heart beat wildly. “I’ll try,” said Willie to himself, “and at any rate I must get the message to Sheridan.”

He left the ship-chandler’s and hurried up South Street. Diligently he studied the moving crowd ahead of him. Nowhere could he see any one that resembled either the bargemen or the Secret Service man. Willie felt certain that the latter would be not far from the former. He was equally confident of his own ability to recognize the place the bargemen had entered. He cast about in his mind for possible ways to help Sheridan. Presently he became so excited that he found himself running. At once he took a grip on himself.

“This won’t do,” he muttered. “Above all things you must not do anything to attract attention to yourself. If you are going to be of any use to Sheridan, you’ll have to make yourself as inconspicuous as possible.” At once Willie dropped to a walk and became a cipher in the mass of people moving along the sidewalk. Before it seemed possible, he reached the building into which he was sure the bargemen had disappeared. He knew it by its wooden awning and peculiar dormer-windows.

Something about the place made it seem sinister and forbidding. The building was badly battered, as though it had had hard usage at the hands of hard men. Heavy curtains hung inside the lower sash of each window, as though to conceal something questionable within.

If Willie was right, the bargemen were within this building. Possibly Sheridan was also, though it was quite as likely he might merely be in the neighborhood, keeping watch until the bargemen should come out. So Willie began to scout around for Sheridan. He looked in every likely place he could think of—every accessible place from which a man could see the door of the suspected house and not be easily seen himself. But nowhere could Willie find a trace of Sheridan.

“He’s in that house,” said Willie to himself. “He wants to do more than merely follow those fellows. He wants to hear what they say. It’s up to me to go in and give him the message.”

But here was a difficulty. How should he go about it? He might much better not deliver the message than do anything that would draw attention to Sheridan or possibly put him in danger. Willie had no idea what sort of a place this building was. There was no sign outside to tell him, or rather the sign was so old and weather-beaten as to be actually undecipherable. It might be a private house, or a store, or a saloon, even though saloons were no longer supposed to exist. Or it might be a club or a shop or any one of a hundred things. Suppose he went in and did not see Sheridan? What was he to do? He mustn’t ask for him. That would give the whole thing away. And then there were his own clothes to be considered. If he went into a place like this tough looking house before him, dressed as he was now, with his shoes shined and his trousers creased, he would instantly attract attention. He must find some way out of the difficulty.

Willie was fairly at his wit’s end when somebody bumped into him. He wheeled about to see who had shoved him. It was a ragged newsy.

“Sun! Woild! Joinal!” shrieked the lad, paying no attention to Willie.

For a moment Willie stood looking at the ragamuffin. Then he sprang after him and touched him on the shoulder. “Give you a dollar for your coat and papers, and trade you caps,” said Willie, briefly.

The newsy looked at him in astonishment. “What’s your game, pardner?” he asked.

“Never mind,” said Willie with a smile. “I’ve got use for just such a cap and coat. If I can get them from you, it will save me a trip to Baxter Street.” And Willie held out the crisp dollar bill Sheridan had given him.

“I guess you’re a wise guy all right,” commented the newsy. “It’s a go.”

He gave Willie his few papers. Then he shoved the dollar bill into his trousers’ pocket, peeled off his coat, and handed it to Willie. An exchange of caps followed.

“Much obliged to you,” said Willie.

“Hope they help you,” said the newsy. “Wish I knowed what your game is anyway. Me for Sheeny Ike’s now. I kin get a new coat and my supper and a night’s lodgin’ out o’ this dollar. So long.”

Willie smiled good-bye. When the newsy turned away, he darted around the corner and bolted into the first vacant hallway he came to.

The lad that emerged from that hallway a moment later bore little resemblance to the boy who had entered it. The ragged old coat that Willie had obtained was many sizes too large for him, even as it had been for the newsy, and it effectually concealed Willie’s own coat. His neat, well-creased trousers looked strangely at variance with the coat, but Willie remedied that in a moment. Some ash cans stood by the curb. It took very little of the ashes to spoil the good appearance of both his trousers and his shoes. It came hard to Willie to soil his clothes this way, even though he knew the dust would brush out; for these were the best clothes he owned. A few smears of dirt on his face, and the old, torn cap completed the change so effectively that Willie would hardly have known himself could he have looked in a mirror. As for selling papers, that was nothing new at all for Willie. He had sold papers for years at home, when he was a bit younger.

Satisfied that his appearance was right for the business in hand, Willie promptly entered the house. It proved to be just what Willie suspected—a saloon; though it was run under the guise of a coffee-house. Willie was satisfied of that the moment he entered the door.

Before him he saw many small, round tables, with men seated about them. At a larger table in one corner were the bargemen. And Willie’s heart went pitapat when one of them looked at him and scowled savagely. But Willie felt reassured when the man began to quarrel with one of his fellows. The scowl was evidently not meant for Willie. Nowhere could Willie discover Sheridan. He was not able to see every one in the place, however, for some partitions extended out a little way from the street wall where a partition wall had evidently been partly removed to enlarge the dining-room. He must get a look at the space shut off by these partitions.

Quietly Willie began to move about among the tables, offering his papers for sale. All went well until a waiter, coming from the kitchen with a tray of food, espied him.

“Get out of here,” he thundered. But, having his hands full, he could not chase the newsy out.

“Can’t a fellow get a bite to eat here?” demanded Willie.

The waiter gave him a surly look. “Be quick about it,” he said. “This ain’t a kindergarten.”

Willie walked rapidly past the jutting partitions, apparently looking for a vacant table. Every table was in use. But just behind one of the partitions was a table at which only one diner was seated. Willie hardly wanted to sit down at the same table, for the man was obviously drunk. He was slouched down in his chair, and his cap had slid far down over his face. Before him were some steaming platters of food. But when Willie stepped a little closer his reluctance suddenly disappeared. He recognized the battered old clothes the drunken man was wearing. It was the same suit of clothes Willie had seen on the tramp that crawled out of the box pile on the pier. Willie comprehended the situation in a second. The bargemen were at the table immediately on one side of the partition, and the tramp at the table on the other side. He had picked out a spot where he could hear the bargemen, but could not be seen by them.

The tramp looked up sharply enough as Willie took the vacant seat opposite him. In a moment he apparently roused himself and began eating his supper. Willie saw plainly enough that Sheridan recognized him. But at first Willie made no effort to speak to him. Presently everybody seemed to be talking loudly at the same time, and the bargemen were quarreling noisily among themselves. There was a perfect babel of voices.

“There was nobody to send,” whispered Willie across the table. “They will send help if anybody comes in.”

The Secret Service man nodded comprehension. “Eat your supper and go out. Watch for somebody from the office. Wait for me,” whispered Sheridan. Then he went to eating noisily and paid no attention whatever to Willie.

The latter ordered some coffee and doughnuts, ate them, paid the waiter, and went out. Nobody paid the least attention to him.

Once outside, Willie breathed freely again. Though nothing alarming had happened to him in the restaurant, he had been in a state of suppressed excitement all the time he was inside the place. Now he felt as though he could not keep quiet another instant. He wanted to run or shout or do something violent to give vent to his feelings. Yet he didn’t want to do anything that would draw undesirable attention to himself. Just then he thought of his papers.

“Sun! Woild! Joinal!” he cried, imitating as nearly as he could the gutter English of the newsies. He ran about among the crowd, now here, now there, crying his papers, but making few sales.

Presently he worked off his excitement and suddenly he thought of Roy. “Gee whiz!” he muttered to himself. “I forgot all about Roy. He’ll be bothered to death about me. He probably will think I’ve gotten into trouble. I must telephone him at once.”

He looked closely up and down the street, to see if any one in sight looked like a Secret Service man, then scurried along the street, looking for a telephone-booth. Soon he saw one in a shop, and in another moment he was speaking to the watchman at the Lycoming’s pier. The watchman said he would tell Mr. Mercer that his friend was unavoidably delayed, but was all right, and would be home during the evening, and that Mr. Mercer should eat his supper without his friend.

With his mind relieved about Roy, Willie returned to his vigil outside the evil-looking coffee-house. The street became deserted. Darkness had long since come and the street lamps had been lighted. It made Willie’s job both harder and easier. The deep shadows rendered concealment easy. On the other hand, the stirring life of the city had disappeared. There was little of interest to arrest the attention, and Willie’s vigil grew tiresome enough. He kept his eyes open for passers-by who might prove to be possible helpers for Sheridan, but every one went briskly past, as though he had a definite destination and was in a hurry to reach it.

To Willie it seemed as though it must be nearly midnight, though it was really scarcely eight o’clock, when a group of men came noisily out of the coffee-house and headed down South Street. Willie knew them instantly, though in the dim light he could not distinguish faces. They were the bargemen. He was almost minded to follow them. Then he thought better of it. Sheridan would trail them, if it were necessary. So Willie stood still in the shadowy hallway where he was watching, and waited. In a few moments the tramp came out, and Willie was afraid the man really was intoxicated, so uncertainly did he start out. But when Willie ran up to him, crying, “Paper! Sun! Woild! Joinal!” the Secret Service man got control of his faculties quickly enough.

“Go round the corner,” he muttered, “and meet me under the elevated.”

Willie went on down the street, turned the corner, and walked to Pearl Street. There he waited in the shadow beside a pillar of the elevated railway. Presently Sheridan came round the other corner of the block and joined him.

Willie was all afire with curiosity. He wanted to ask his companion a thousand questions, but had discretion enough to keep quiet.

“See here, kid,” said the Secret Service man. “What’s your name?”

“Willie Brown.”

“What part of town do you live in?”

“I live in Central City, Pennsylvania. I’m just visiting in New York. Got here this afternoon.”

The Secret Service man stopped and looked at his companion searchingly.

“Well, you’re the cleverest country kid I ever saw. What made you try to disguise yourself and slip your message to me so quietly, just as though I was doing detective work?”

“Why, you are doing detective work,” said Willie. “You’re a United States Secret Service man.”

The man laughed. “Whatever gave you such an idea?” he said.

“The telephone number you gave me was the secret call of the Secret Service,” said Willie.

Willie could feel his companion’s eyes fairly boring through him. “Look here,” the man said. “Where do you get all these funny ideas?”

“You needn’t try to deceive me,” said Willie. “I know you are a Secret Service man and I know you are watching those bargemen.”

“If you know so much,” said the man, “tell me how you know it.”

“That’s easy,” said Willie. “I worked with the Secret Service myself during the war and I know their secret number. The minute you gave me that number I guessed what you were and what you were up to.”

“What did you ever do for the Secret Service?” demanded Willie’s companion, plainly astonished.

“Do you remember the search for that German spy with the secret wireless? And do you remember that little bunch of boys from the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol that came here to help the Secret Service when you were so hard pressed?”

“I sure do. Were you one of those fellows?”

“Surest thing you know,” said Willie.

“Well, shake hands. It’s no use to try to fool you any longer. I am a Secret Service man as you know. And I’m after that gang of canal boat men. I’m mightily obliged to you for your help to-night.”

“It was mighty little help I gave you,” said Willie, “though I’d have been glad to help you if I could.”

“You were a good deal of help. A fellow always likes to know he has somebody near that he can rely on. Nothing turned up, to be sure, but if those fellows had tumbled to who I was, I’d have needed you all right enough—and a whole platoon of cops beside.” And the Secret Service man chuckled.

“What—what are those bargemen up to?” asked Willie, with some hesitation.

“Wool smuggling. The case doesn’t amount to much itself, but it may help us to solve some matters that do amount to a great deal. But you haven’t told me yet how you got those old rags you have on and how you found me.”

“That’s easy,” laughed Willie. “I watched the bargemen go up the street until they turned in at the coffee-house. So I felt sure I knew where you would be. And after I had telephoned to the office and gotten an answer for you, I came across a ragged newsy. I knew my own clothes might attract attention in a place like that coffee-house, and I gave the newsy your dollar bill for his outfit. That’s how I became a newsy myself.”

“Well, you’ve got a lot of sense, kid. You’d make a good Secret Service man yourself.”

“Do you really think so?” cried Willie, his heart beginning to beat fast.

“Haven’t any doubt of it.”

“Do you think I could get a job with the Secret Service?”

“See here. Have you been reading dime novels?”

“No, indeed. But I would like to be a Secret Service man more than anything else I know of.”

“I don’t believe you’d have much chance. You know the government wants only experienced, trustworthy operatives for the Secret Service. And besides, you’re too young. When you grow up, you might work into something of that sort.”

Willie’s hopes fell with a crash. There was the same old difficulty again. He was too small. He could hardly keep the tears back, as he replied, “But why should a fellow’s size make any difference?”

“Who said it did?” replied the Secret Service man. “I said you were too young, not too small. Now, after you get into high school and finish your course there, you might have a show to become an office boy.”

“Get into high school!” cried Willie. “Why, I was graduated from high school last June. You think I’m just a kid because I’m so—so little.”

“The deuce you say! A high school graduate. Well, you don’t look it.”

“Yes,” said Willie, seeing that he must strike now, while the iron was hot. “And I was graduated with honors. I’ve had pretty good experience with wireless and I can send and receive almost as fast as a professional. You know about our work here in finding the secret wireless. Before we helped in that spy hunt, we ran down some German dynamiters up in Pennsylvania, we fellows of the Wireless Patrol, and I had a hand in that. You see, I’ve had some experience already, and I’m sure I can learn fast. Isn’t there any job I could get with the Secret Service?”

“They might take you on as an office boy,” suggested Sheridan.

Office boy! There it was again. The same difficulty Willie had been bumping into ever since his graduation. Everybody thought he was fit only to be an office boy. His face grew very dark.

“What’s the use of going to school and studying hard,” he cried, “if all the benefit you get from it is to qualify as an office boy. Why, I could have had a job as an office boy years ago.”

The detective’s face hardened a bit. “I began at the bottom myself,” he said, “and so far as I know, so did every other operative in the service.”

“You don’t understand,” cried Willie. “I don’t mean that I am unwilling to begin at the bottom. But being an office boy is another thing.”

“Not necessarily,” said the detective. “They can’t take anybody into the government Secret Service as an operative until they are sure of his ability and honesty. If you can get a job in the office, you’ll get a chance to show what’s in you. And if you are cut out to be a detective, I don’t know of any better way to get into the United States Secret Service.”

Willie still looked rueful. “It wouldn’t surprise me,” he said bitterly, “if I couldn’t even get a job as an office boy.”

“Maybe you wouldn’t want to be a Secret Service man after all, if you knew a little better what is involved in the work. It isn’t all fun and it isn’t all as easy as this little trick of to-day. It’s always dangerous, and sometimes it’s hard and disagreeable.”

“But how am I ever to know what it is like, if I can’t get a chance to try my hand at it?”

Detective Sheridan looked at Willie long and searchingly. “I believe you’re a good lad,” he said, “and I believe you would make good. You showed me to-day that you have some stuff in you. I didn’t need your help, but if I had needed it, I believe you would have stuck to me.”

“Of course I would!” cried Willie.

“So I am indebted to you, anyway, for it’s quite evident that you didn’t try to serve me just for the money I offered you. In fact, you spent what I gave you, and I haven’t yet given you the other dollar I promised you.” And Detective Sheridan reached for his pocket.

“Keep your money,” said Willie. “I won’t take it. I didn’t take the first dollar because I wanted it, but because I was so astonished when you gave me that telephone number that I forgot about everything else.”

“It’s evident that you don’t belong in New York,” said the detective with a smile, as he thrust his wallet back into his coat pocket. “If you won’t take money, perhaps I can repay you in a way you will like even better. We’re going to grab this wool-smuggling barge captain to-morrow. How’d you like to have a hand in that?”

“Do you mean it?”

“Sure. You’ve had a hand in the case, and you might as well be in at the finish.”

“That will be bully!” cried Willie. “What do you want me to do?”

“Go home and keep your mouth shut. And by the way, where are you staying?”

“I’m a guest on board the Confederated liner Lycoming.”

“The deuce you are! That’s Captain Lansford’s boat. We had a case over there some time back. Some Mexicans tried to smuggle in some stuff. The police got them red-handed, but we went over to make a further investigation. They’ve got a slick young wireless man on that ship. I believe he discovered the smugglers at work.”

“That’s Roy Mercer!” cried Willie, with pride. “I’m his guest. We’re both members of the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol, and he was one of the fellows who helped run down the secret wireless here in New York.”

“I understand he’s a good one. The purser was telling me how he saved the Lycoming by wireless from colliding with another steamer in a fog.”

“You bet he’s a good one,” said Willie, loyally.

“Well,” said the detective, “I’ll see you to-morrow in time for our little party. Good-bye.”

“Where shall I meet you?”

“Oh! I have some business in your neighborhood and I’ll stop for you some time in the late afternoon. Good luck to you. Take care of yourself. And remember not to give the thing away. We want to get these wool smugglers right.”


So elated was Willie at the prospect of taking a further part in the wool smuggling case that he forgot his tattered appearance until he reached the Lycoming’s pier and attempted to enter it. Then he was brought up sharp by the curt query of the watchman: “What do you want?”

At first Willie did not comprehend why he was halted so peremptorily. But when he remembered about his ragged coat and torn cap he understood readily enough. He laughed, and stripping off his coat and cap, said: “No wonder you didn’t know me. I’m the fellow from Pennsylvania that’s visiting Mr. Mercer. He introduced us when I went out and I telephoned you to tell Mr. Mercer I couldn’t get back to supper. Don’t you remember me?”

“Sure I know ye now,” said the watchman, “but whativer be ye doin’ in thim togs?”

“Oh! I gave a newsy some money to get himself a better coat with,” laughed Willie, “and he gave me the old one. I put it on to see how I’d look.”

“Well, it does not improve your appearance,” replied the watchman, “and if ye want to keep out of trouble ye’d better wear it on a clothes hook in your cupboard, so ye had. Whativer happened to your pants, lad?”

“I bumped into an ash can on the sidewalk,” said Willie.

The watchman chuckled. “Look out ye don’t buy no goold bricks,” he said.

“I’ll be careful,” laughed Willie, and he went on down the pier. “He takes me for a greeny,” he said to himself.

Willie boarded the Lycoming and hustled up to the wireless house. But before entering, he once more put on his newsy’s coat and cap. Then he opened the door and stepped in.

“Hello, Roy,” he called.

“Hello, yourself,” replied Roy. He was busy at his wireless and for a moment he did not look up. “Glad you got back. Whatever kept you?”

Willie closed the door and stood where the light shone full on him. He remained there grinning, until Roy glanced around at him.

“What in the mischief happened to your clothes, Willie?” exclaimed Roy, springing to his feet.

“Nothing,” said Willie gravely. “This is my favorite disguise. I’m Hawkshaw, the detective, you know. Been out trailing thieves.”

“What’s all this nonsense?” demanded Roy. “What happened to you? Get into a fight?”

Willie told him all about his adventure of the afternoon.

“Well, I’ll be switched,” said Roy. “First thing you know, you’ll be doing real Secret Service work.”

“To-morrow,” said Willie. “We’re going to close in on those fellows and pinch them to-morrow.”

“Get out!” said Roy. “You’re kidding me.”

“Fact!” replied Willie. And he told his friend about the plan to nab the wool smugglers on the following day.

“Sounds good,” said Roy. “But what I don’t understand is why they let you in on it.”

“That’s candy for good behavior,” said Willie. “You know they always give children sweetmeats when they’re good.” But there was a bitter tone to the joke.

“What do you mean, Willie?”

“It’s the same old story, Roy.” And now Willie’s voice was full of bitterness. “I helped Sheridan out, and I believe I did as well as most men would have done. But when I spoke to him about a job, I got the same old answer: You’re too small.”

“Did he really tell you that, Willie? I should think your size would almost be a help to you in Secret Service work. You can pass for a small boy so readily. And small boys can be mighty useful in detective work, because nobody pays much attention to them.”

“He didn’t exactly say that, Roy. He put it even worse. He said that after I had gotten into high school and finished a course there, and had grown up a bit, then there might be an opening for me in the Secret Service as an”—Willie hung his head—“as an office boy! What do you think of that, Roy? Isn’t it tough to be so small?”

Roy ignored the question. “I’ll say that’s bully!” he cried. “It doesn’t make a particle of difference where you find an entrance, Willie, so you get in. If you still want to be a Secret Service man, take the office boy job. They’ll find out soon enough that you’re more than an office boy. Take any chance you can find to get into the service, even if you have to start by sweeping floors and washing windows.”

“It’s all very well for you to say that, Roy. But you never did it yourself. You never had a bit of trouble to land a job, and you got a full-sized man’s job when you were only through high school. I’ve gone through high school, too, and I can hardly get a boy’s job.”

“You don’t look at it right, Willie. There are thousands of men in the country who can’t get any jobs at all. And they are known to be experienced. Nobody knows what you can do—except the fellows of the Wireless Patrol. We all know you’re a wiz, Willie. You take my advice and grab this office boy job. Then you can show them what you can do. And once they know, you’ll get your chance all right enough. Why, the world is crying out for fellows who can deliver the goods.”

“But I don’t have any assurance that I can get even an office boy’s job, Roy. Sheridan just told me that maybe, if I grew bigger, I might have a chance.”

“Now see here, Willie. You’ll go nutty if you keep harping on that old string. You’ve been out of high school two or three months, and because you haven’t been made president of the United States yet, you go around snuffling like a fellow with hay-fever. Cut it out. You’ll get your chance, and you’ll make good when you do. But don’t get everybody sore on you in the meantime. Now tell me what you are going to do about those wool smugglers to-morrow.”

“Gee! I wish I knew. I don’t know a thing about it except what I have already told you. I don’t know how or where they smuggled in the wool, or how Sheridan intends to nab them. All I know is that he said I could go along.”

“Maybe it will be your chance, Willie.”

“If it is, I’ll be ready for it. Now won’t you show me your wireless?”

They turned to the shining instruments on Roy’s operating table. Eagerly Willie examined each instrument from key to aerial. “They’re fine!” he cried. “Gee! It must be bully to work with such a set.”

“Try it,” smiled Roy. “Maybe you can pick up something interesting.”

Eagerly Willie plumped himself down in the operator’s chair, adjusted the receivers to his ears, threw over the switch and began to tune in. And as suddenly he snatched off the headpiece and jumped from the chair.

“I’ll couple up my own receivers, Roy,” he said, “and then we can both listen in.”

Willie dragged his heavy suit case out, threw open the cover, and quickly uncoupled the receivers from the wireless outfit in the case. In a moment he and Roy had coupled this additional headpiece to the Lycoming’s outfit. Roy drew up another chair, and the two sat down at the table and adjusted their headpieces. Roy considerately let Willie work the instruments, giving him, from time to time, such directions as seemed necessary.

When first Willie threw over the switch and began to tune in, the air seemed like a very bedlam. The headpieces screeched and wailed. Innumerable buzzings sounded. Spoken words could distinctly be heard. Yet the whole was an undecipherable jargon. But once Willie had gauged his instruments correctly, he soon made harmony out of discord. He was really a very good operator for an amateur, and he quickly began to pick up individual messages and shut out waves of conflicting length. Delighted, he listened to operator after operator, tuning in, now to messages in one wave-length, now to those in another.

“That’s the Brooklyn Navy Yard,” said Roy, as a powerful, whining note suddenly shrieked through the air. “They’re calling for the coast guard cutter Modoc. And that’s Cape May calling. I’d know both those calls in my sleep. I get so close to both those stations that the operators almost seem to be in the cabin here with me.”

“You called Cape May the time you rescued Alec, didn’t you? He wrote us about it.”

“Yes; we had to get a tug to tow his boat into Cape May Harbor after we had picked it up.”

After they had listened in silence for a few moments Roy said, “That’s the New York Marconi Station,” as another powerful wireless voice spoke out. “Isn’t that operator a peach? He can send like a streak. Just listen to him.”

Now they heard ships at sea, first one and then another. The Mallory liner Lampasas, somewhere off the Atlantic Coast, was sending out messages for passengers. Nearer at hand, another coastwise steamer, the Cherokee, of the Clyde Line, was calling her New York office. From far out on the ocean came other voices. The White Star liner Majestic, largest vessel afloat, was relaying commercial messages received from ships far behind her on the highway from Europe to America. The Cunarder Berengaria was informing its New York office about some repairs made to its bow plates after a slight collision off the English coast. The Kroonland was shrieking out a call for the City of Paris, but getting no reply. Very, very faintly sounded in their receivers a whispering message from the Atlantic Transport steamer Minnetonka.

“She must be far out on the ocean,” said Roy, after he had told Willie what ship was calling. “We can barely hear her.”

For a long time they sat silent before the wireless table, listening to the myriad voices in the air. Then a step was heard, and the door of the wireless house opened. The purser appeared at the door.

“Come in,” cried Roy, and he was about to snatch the receivers from his head and jump up to welcome his visitor, when a message that was sounding in his ear held him motionless. “Watch for J. Simonski. Diamonds,” said the message.

“Did you hear that, Willie?” called Roy. “That’s a message from the White Star liner Majestic. It’s from a treasury agent aboard, and he’s tipping off the Secret Service here to watch for a smuggler named Simonski. They’ll nab that gentleman at the pier, when he tries to bring his diamonds ashore.”

“Is that how they do it?” cried Willie. “Why, that’s as easy as rolling off a log.”

“Yes—after you know how,” said Roy. “The agent on the ship has somehow got to find out that Simonski has the diamonds, before he can inform on him.”

“And that,” said Willie, “is a gray horse of another color. Gee! I wonder how he did it.”

Roy threw down his receivers, and rose to welcome the purser. Willie switched off his instrument and followed Roy’s example. He was introduced to the purser. Presently Roy turned another switch, juggled some buttons on a black box, and music began to sound. At one end of his table, partly concealed by a screen-like partition, was a radio outfit. The purser had come up to listen to the evening’s radio entertainment and Roy had tuned in to WJZ, the broadcasting station at Newark. Presently Sam brought some cakes and hot coffee, and the three friends sat for a long time listening to the music. Then the purser went down to his quarters, and Willie and Roy crowded into Roy’s bunk. But it was a long time before Willie could get to sleep. He was thinking of the morrow, and what it might possibly mean to him.


Except for the watchman, not a soul was astir about the Lycoming when Willie awoke the next morning. Eagerly he rose and dressed. Even with a multitude of interesting things about him to occupy the hours, he could hardly wait to resume the pursuit of the wool smugglers. But somehow he managed to pass the day, though as the afternoon waned his impatience increased visibly. When supper-time came and Sheridan had not yet appeared, Willie was almost in despair. He felt certain the Secret Service man had decided not to take him on the adventure.

All things come to him who waits, however, and time brought Sheridan to Willie. After the distressed lad had almost given up hope of seeing him, the Secret Service man appeared. Willie was too much agitated to remain quietly aboard the boat, and was pacing up and down the pier, when he heard a voice speaking to the watchman at the pier entrance. He recognized the voice instantly and raced down the pier to greet the Secret Service man.

“Well,” smiled Sheridan, “do you still want to go with me? Haven’t got cold feet, have you?”

“Want to go with you?” repeated Willie. “Why, I was almost sick for fear you had passed me up.”

Sheridan laughed. “I should have told you just when to expect me,” he said. “But the fact is that a fellow in this business never knows where he will be from hour to hour. However, I might have told you that this auction was set for nine o’clock.”

“Auction!” cried Willie. “Aren’t we going after the wool smugglers? I don’t want to go to any auction.”

“You will want to go to this one, all right. It’s going to be an auction of bled wool.”

“An auction of bled wool! What do you mean? Has it anything to do with those smuggling bargemen?”

“Everything. That’s the way they get rid of their wool. You see they steal it while they are carrying it on their barges. The wool comes into this port in great bales, weighing hundreds of pounds. A barge is loaded with, say, five hundred bales of it. The barge captain ‘bleeds’ the bales. Perhaps he takes only a pound from each bale. When he reaches his destination, he has to deliver the five hundred bales. He does it, of course, but each bale is just a little short in weight. Perhaps the bargeman has taken enough in all to make a bale for himself.”

“I see,” said Willie. “And then he sells this stolen wool at auction.”


“But who will buy it? People must know it is stolen.”

“Sure they know it. They buy it because they are dishonest, like the bargeman himself.”

“But sooner or later some of them will be caught. Why do they run the risk when they can buy wool that isn’t stolen?”

“They can get this cheaper. When wool comes into this country, the importer has to pay a heavy duty or tax on every pound. On the coarse wool that is used in making carpets he pays no duty at all; but on finer grades he has to pay a heavy tax. The importer either pays the duty outright, or has the wool put in a bonded warehouse, where it is under control of the government, and pays the duty as he takes it out. The wool carried by these barges is largely on its way to bonded warehouses. No duty has been paid on it. So every time a bale is bled, the government is cheated out of its revenue and the owner loses his wool. The crooked wool merchants buy the stuff because they can get it cheaper this way than they could if they bought it from an honest dealer.”

“Shall we be going?” asked Willie, who was too impatient to delay any longer.

Sheridan chuckled. “It’s easy to see you don’t have cold feet,” he commented. “But we can’t go with you dressed up like that. Get on those duds you got yesterday from the newsy.”

“Gee!” protested Willie. “Do I have to dust up my pants again?”

The Secret Service man laughed. “Get some overalls on board your ship,” he advised.

Willie took a good look at his companion. In the dusk of the pier shed, he had not noticed particularly how the detective was dressed. Now he saw that he looked even more like a tramp than he had the previous day. Willie raced back to the ship and laid the matter before Roy, who speedily borrowed some overalls from a deckhand. Even Willie had to laugh at himself when he got them on and looked in a mirror. After he had turned up the legs several times, and taken a reef in each shoulder strap, the things would stay on him, but they fitted like a meal sack. He pulled on his ragged coat and cap, and taking a last look at himself in the glass, called out, “Now for the wool auction. Good-bye, Roy.”

By the time the two wool hunters had left the pier, it was dark. Rapidly they made their way down West Street, for a distance, and then they cut straight across the city. At some other time Willie would have been glad to pause and look at the tower of the Woolworth Building, now glowing like some fairy structure in the light of myriads of concealed electric lamps, or to gaze at the lofty spire of the Singer Building, or to study the great hulks of other huge sky-scrapers. But now he had a mind for one thing only: he was absorbed in thoughts of the wool auction.

Presently they approached the East River water-front. The Secret Service man slowed down his pace until he was sauntering along like a snail. So impatient was Willie that he could hardly keep with him. He wanted to push ahead and get there.

“Just hold your horses,” said Sheridan. “This is a time when you want to make haste slowly. Use your ears and eyes, keep your mouth shut, and take it easy. Then you won’t blunder into something you can’t get out of.”

They were now on South Street, and approaching the pier where Willie had first seen his companion. He knew perfectly well where he was. Few people were on the streets, though along the wharves little knots of men had gathered here and there. Mostly they were smoking and sprawled at ease on string-pieces or in doorways. Nobody seemed to pay any attention to Willie and his companion.

“They are going to hold this auction on the pier where I met you,” said Sheridan in a low voice. “We are near it now, and you can see a number of men gathered there. I suppose old Larsen—he’s the fellow with the wool to sell—will hold his little show out near the end of the pier. There’s less likelihood of discovery there. Also, it’s easier to throw overboard anybody who interferes.”

“What do you want me to do?” asked Willie.

“We’ll have to keep out of sight until the gang begins to collect on the end of the pier. It will be pretty dark by that time, and we can probably join the group without attracting attention. But it won’t do for us to go together.”

It had never occurred to Willie that he might have to act alone, and he did not relish the idea of being left wholly to his own resources, on that dark pier, among these rough men. But he said quietly, “I’ll do just what you tell me to.”

“I don’t know exactly what to tell you,” replied the Secret Service man. “Boys aren’t supposed to be in on this game. If they notice you they may throw you out. You’ll just have to act like a street urchin and take what comes. But if they do order you off the pier, you’d better go quick. Otherwise you might get hurt. I can’t interfere for you. To do that might spoil my whole game.”

“I’ll do my best,” said Willie, looking very sober.

“If they do run you out, just hang around and try to see all you can. I might need you before we are done with this. There’s no telling. This isn’t a Sunday-school class we are going to, remember.”

“You can depend upon me,” said Willie.

“All right then. You go on down the street. I’ll hang around here for a while. Remember, we don’t know each other, and we have never seen each other before.”

“All right. Good-bye.” And Willie went on down the street, while Sheridan turned into a cigar store to buy some tobacco.

After Willie had walked several blocks he turned about and started back. He thought it must be nearly time for the auction to begin, and when he looked up the street toward the public pier, he was sure of it. No longer could he see men grouped on the street there. Again he felt the desire to run, that had mastered him on the preceding day. But this time he mastered it, and sauntered slowly along. When he came near the pier, he could see that the shoreward end of it was deserted, while a mass of black figures was dimly discernible at the far end. Fortunately there was no electric light immediately in front of this pier, and Willie slipped across the street, thankful for the protecting darkness. Once on the pier, he made his way quietly toward the circle of men. Unnoticed, he joined the group.

After a few moments, his eyes became accustomed to the unlighted pier and he realized that it was not nearly so dark as he had thought it was. He could make out the faces of those around him more or less distinctly. He knew that his own could be as readily distinguished. He pulled down his cap as far as he could and was in high hopes of going unnoticed.

His hopes were in vain, however. For suddenly a rough voice spoke out. “Well, we might as well get down to business. But first let’s be sure that everybody’s all right in this crowd.”

The speaker was Larsen, the possessor of the stolen wool. He began to move about among the gang, addressing now one, now another, by name. Presently he boomed out, “Who the deuce are you? I never seen you before.”

Sheridan’s voice replied, and Willie held his breath while he heard the Secret Service man reply in an unconcerned tone of voice: “Who? Me? Why, I’m Mike Carola, a junkie from Greenpoint.”

Apparently Larsen was satisfied. He continued his inspection of the crowd. Willie tried to avoid observation, but Larsen’s eagle eye spotted him.

“What the deuce you doin’ here?” he cried with an oath. “Kids ain’t allowed here. Get off this pier, and be quick about it, too.”

Willie lost no time about going. But he stopped running the instant he was off the pier. His heart was beating wildly, but he took a grip on himself and presently returned to the street end of the pier. Not so very far from the group of men were stacked the boxes among which Sheridan had been concealed the day before. Willie slowly edged his way toward these boxes, and finally gained their protection unobserved. Snuggled down among them he was safe from discovery. He could hear most of what was said, for the gang soon forgot their caution in the heat of competitive bidding. The auction had started.

“Twenty-five cents,” was the first word Willie heard.

“Twenty-six,” another voice said.

“Raise you a cent,” came another voice.

“Twenty-eight,” said the first voice, after a short pause.

The bidding continued fairly brisk until forty cents was reached. Then no more offers were forthcoming.

Larsen swore roundly. “What do you take me for? A sucker?” he said. “I can read the papers as well as anybody, and wool was selling for fifty-five cents on the market to-day. You don’t get my wool for no forty cents.”

“And we ain’t buyin’ no bled wool at market prices, neither,” retorted a truculent voice. “The risk we have to take is worth the difference in price. Forty cents is the limit. You can take that or keep your wool.”

Larsen swore loudly. “You needn’t think you can put up no job on me,” he said. “You know well enough the wool’s worth more than that. If you fellows don’t want it, there’s others that do. And I can get my price, too.”

“If them Secret Service guys don’t get it first,” said a voice with a hint of threat in the tone. “Somebody’s liable to peach on you any minute.”

“And if I found who done it,” said Larsen with another oath, “I’d put him in the East River quick. That ain’t a safe game to play on Andy Larsen.”

The voices had grown loud and threatening. “Shut up!” growled somebody. “Do you want to draw all the cops on South Street?” For a moment there was silence.

“Who takes my wool?” demanded Larsen. “Who’ll raise the ante?”

For a space there was no answer. Then Willie heard the voice of Sheridan. “Give you forty-two.”

Evidently there had been an agreement among the prospective buyers, as Larsen had suggested, for now an indignant murmur went up. “Who is the guy?” Willie heard some one say.

“That junkie from Greenpoint,” came the answer, accompanied by an oath.

“The wool is yours,” said Larsen. “The rest of you can go kick yourselves.” And he gave a hoarse laugh. The combination against him was beaten.

At once there was an outburst of angry voices. In the babel of sound Willie could hardly distinguish one word from another, but he understood that the crowd had turned on Sheridan. Willie’s heart almost stood still with fear for his friend. Then above all the noise rang out the voice of Larsen, bellowing a warning about “the cops.” Instantly the clamor subsided, only to start again as the crowd began to move toward the shore. Soon everybody was gone excepting a few barge captains whose boats lay in the dock beside the pier. They seemed to be cronies of Larsen’s.

Now Willie could hear plainly. Larsen was cursing the combination of junkies that had tried to put up a game on him. Presently he stopped swearing at them and turned to Sheridan, roughly inviting him to come into the cabin of his boat to see the wool and pay for it. The burly wool thief led the way, and Sheridan followed him without hesitation. Willie breathed easy until the other boatmen followed the barge captain and the Secret Service man over the side of the pier. A moment later loud voices arose within the hull of the barge. The sound of blows followed. Then all was still. Frightened, almost terrified, Willie scrambled from his hiding-place and raced for shore. He was certain Sheridan had been murdered.

Willie’s first impulse was to cry aloud for help. A second thought sealed his lips. The crowd his cries would draw might finish him as well as Sheridan: for the members of it would be friendly to Larsen. It was better to find a policeman. Sheridan might not be dead yet, and it might still be possible to save his life. But no policeman was in sight. Willie reached the end of the pier and glanced desperately up the street, then down. No bluecoat was to be seen. Which way should he go for help? Involuntarily Willie faced south and turned to his left. Then he ran south. He guessed wrong, for the policeman he sought was at that moment at the northern extremity of his beat. But Willie did not find it out until he had run far down South Street. Then he turned and raced back.

As he approached the public pier again, he looked down its black length, hoping against hope for some glimpse of his friend. Then he stopped dead in his tracks, struck dumb with amazement. There were Larsen and Sheridan, walking peaceably side by side, and just emerging from the darkness of the unlighted pier. They crossed the street and turned north. Willie followed close behind them. At the first street light Sheridan stopped, said something to his companion, and drew back his coat. Willie caught the gleam of a gold badge on his vest. He heard Larsen bellow profanely, but before the hulking bargeman could lift a finger, something shone in the light, there was a sharp click, and a handcuff glittered on his wrist.

Then Willie heard Sheridan say: “Be quiet, Larsen, and come on. I’ve got you right. If you try any monkey business, I’ll put a hole in you quick.” And in another second a wicked-looking automatic gleamed dully in Sheridan’s free hand.


“How did you do it?” demanded Willie, the minute Sheridan stepped from the door of the Old Slip police-station, whither he had taken Larsen and where Willie had followed him. “I was scared to death about you. I was sure they had murdered you when you went down in the hold of that barge to pay for the wool. So I ran to get a cop, but I couldn’t find one.”

Sheridan chuckled. “I reckon they would pretty nearly have murdered me if they had found out who I was. They had a pretty good chance, down in that barge.”

“But how did you ever get Larsen out without a struggle? I heard him ask you to come inside and settle for the wool.”

“That was easy enough,” explained the Secret Service man. “I asked him to go have a drink and said I’d pay him in the saloon.”

“Oh! Of course,” said Willie, chagrined at his own dullness. “But what was all that noise I heard in the barge? It was like the sound of blows.”

“So it was. But they were blows of a hatchet that Larsen was using to break open some hogsheads. He even took the trouble to wrap a rag around his hatchet, so as to deaden the noise.”

“That must be what fooled me. The noise didn’t sound like hatchet blows. But what were the hogsheads he was knocking to pieces, and why did he do it?”

“You don’t suppose he was going to carry that stolen wool in plain sight on his boat, do you? He had to hide it somewhere, and he was pretty slick about it, too. He had some hogsheads in the rear end of his boat, with false tops in them. There was about a foot of coal and then came the false tops. Under that was the wool. Nobody would ever have guessed that there was anything but coal in the hogsheads.”

“Slick, wasn’t he?” said Willie.

“These longshoremen are no fools. You have to get up pretty early to be ahead of them.”

“How did you ever get track of this smuggling, anyway?”

“That was easy enough. The wool bales were inventoried at so many pounds each, when they left Australia. But when they reached the bonded warehouse, they weighed less. There had been a leak somewhere. All we had to do was to find it. We simply had to keep hunting until we found where that leak was. That was an easy matter, for the wool had been transported in certain boats and handled by certain crews. It was just a question of time until we’d run down the thief.”

“But what I’d like to know,” said Willie, “is how you knew these fellows were going to gather on that pier and arrange for this wool auction. I’ve been wondering about it ever since I met you yesterday.”

The Secret Service agent laughed. “That was a piece of luck,” he said. “I’ve been on this wool business for several days and the scent was getting pretty close to Larsen. I tried to get aboard his boat by applying for a job as a deckhand.”

“You did?”

“Sure. But there was nothing doing. He’s a fly guv, all right, and I didn’t dare fool around his boat. So I changed my clothes and hung around the neighborhood until I saw a chance to get out on the pier unnoticed. Then I wandered out and hid among the boxes. I was expecting to stay there most of the night, hoping I might overhear something that would give me a line on the thief.”

“Why did you hide in the box pile?”

“Because these boatmen gather on that pier every evening. And they know pretty well what’s going on. But I played in luck. It happened that the tip had gone out for a wool sale last evening, though I didn’t know it. But Larsen saw a chance to get a little more wool to-day, so he put the auction off until to-night. I overheard the whole scheme.”

“Gee! You sure were in luck. Did you learn anything more when you followed those fellows to the coffee-house?”

“Not a thing.”

They walked on in silence for a time. “What will you do next, now that you have solved the problem of the wool theft?”

“Oh! We aren’t done with that business yet. We’ve got to get the wool from Larsen’s boat, and then find the rest of what was stolen. Larsen’s wool is only a part of the stuff.”

“When will you go after the wool?”

“We’ll get that to-night. If we left it until morning, there wouldn’t be any wool there. We’ll have to act quick before they get wise to Larsen’s arrest. I got him out of there so quietly that I don’t think any of his pals know about his arrest yet. But he’ll get word to them quick enough. I told the warden to hold up any messages for two or three hours. That will give us time to grab the wool. Then Larsen can send out all the alarms he wants to.”

“May I go with you when you get the wool?”

“Oh! I’m not going myself,” said Sheridan. “I’ve already telephoned the office to hustle a truck down there, and McCarthy will go along with it. If I went down on that pier when the barge is raided, every bargeman on the waterfront would have me spotted. I’m supposed to keep on with this job until we get all the wool, and I don’t want those pirates to get wise to me.”

“Won’t I have any more chances to help you?” asked Willie, and his voice was so sorrowful that Sheridan laughed outright.

“The only way you can help me now,” he said, “is to join me in a bite to eat. I didn’t have time to get supper, and I’m hungry as a spring bear.”

“Haven’t you had anything to eat since noon? You must be nearly starved.”

“I had a sandwich and a cup of coffee just before I came for you, but that doesn’t stay by a fellow very long. Come on. We’ll go back to South Street and get a bite. It’s only a step and there are some sailors’ hangouts you might like to see. We’ll just keep our eyes and ears open and we might pick up something interesting. In this business you never can tell when you’ll stumble on something.”

Back to South Street they went, and along that forbidding thoroughfare. Gone were the bustle and activity of the daytime, that lent so much charm to the scene. Only the dirt and squalor remained. No longer could one see inland the towering shafts of granite and marble, that thrust their heads into the very clouds. Invisible now was the swelling river, with its stirring life and stately vessels. Only the grimy fronts of ancient, battered houses, the foul gutters, and the rough pier sheds were visible. But dimly could one discern the vessels in the docks. And the water-front, that sunlight made so fascinating, with its extended panorama of ships and shipping, now appeared dull, dark, and forbidding.

Down the dingy street they went, their footsteps echoing in the deserted thoroughfare; though here and there little knots of longshoremen were congregated about the piers. Occasional saloons, but poorly disguised as coffee-houses, sent shafts of yellow light and the noise of revelry out into the night. And into one of these Sheridan presently led his young companion.

It was a rather roomy place, with a low, dingy ceiling, and a bar at one side; but the bar now held stacks of oysters piled on cakes of ice. Swinging doors led to the kitchen. Little round tables filled the floor space. About these sat, lounging, a considerable number of longshoremen and other rough-visaged frequenters of the water-front. Practically all of them were smoking pipes, and the air was so dense with tobacco smoke that Willie almost choked. The room was hazy with it, and every new current of air drew the smoke out in thin horizontal clouds. The odor of the place was indescribable. With the smell of the tobacco was mingled the sickening odor of grease, from the kitchen, and the smell of the steaming dishes on various tables; for some of the men in the place were eating. But most of those present sat smoking and sipping “coffee” from the cups before them. But the coffee was cold and strangely suggestive, in its odor, of old rye.

The Secret Service man led the way to a little table in a corner, where they would be partly hidden from observation. As they crossed the floor, Willie felt as though a hundred eyes were fairly boring through him. Instantly he became self-conscious and embarrassed. But he kept his eyes on the back of his companion, and noticing the appearance of utter unconcern with which Sheridan walked along, Willie tried to imitate him, and to appear as though unconscious that there was anybody in the room except himself and his companion. More and more he admired the big Secret Service man. Nothing seemed to fluster him or excite him. Apparently Sheridan had walked through the room without glancing to right or left; and yet Willie felt very certain his companion could pass an examination on the men in that room and describe every one of them perfectly. He hoped the time would come when he would be able to do the same thing. Willie was a great deal nearer being able to do that than he understood.

Sheridan’s first question after they were seated at their table showed that. “Did you notice that fellow by the door, as we came in?” he asked very quietly.

“Which one—the man with the blue cap or the one with the red necktie? There was a man on each side of the door.”

Willie could not see either man as he spoke. He had remembered how they were dressed. Sheridan was quick to appreciate this fact.

“You’ve got an eye like a hawk’s,” he commented. “I meant the fellow with the red necktie. Get a good look at him when you go out. He’s one of the toughest nuts on the water-front. And he’s about the only man that wears a necktie, too. That’s a bug of his—red neckties. Whenever there’s any crooked work along the water-front, you can be sure he’s got a hand in it.”

“What’s his name?” asked Willie.

“They call him ‘Red’ Anderson. I don’t know what his real name is.”

Sheridan ordered some hot oyster soup and when the waiter brought a steaming tureen and lifted the cover, the smell that rose was so savory that Willie was glad enough to “help” Sheridan with his supper. When they had finished the soup, and some other good things besides, Sheridan lighted a cigar and lounged back in his chair.

A waiter promptly came. “Did you want some coffee?” he asked with one eye closed.

Willie did not comprehend what the waiter really meant, even though he noticed the wink. But when Sheridan nodded, and the waiter brought a coffee-cup containing whiskey, Willie understood quickly enough.

“Where did it come from?” said Sheridan indifferently. “Is it all right?”

“From Bermuda, I guess, and it’s the real stuff.” And the waiter withdrew.

“We’re going to have a good deal of trouble before we are done with that stuff,” said Sheridan. “The fellows that are bringing it into the country are a dangerous gang. They stick at nothing.”

He did not drink the stuff, however, but surreptitiously emptied his cup in a spittoon. “A fellow would be taking a long chance to drink any of this South Street booze,” he said. “More than likely it’s wood alcohol.”

“What did you buy it for if you didn’t intend to drink it?” asked Willie, in astonishment.

“When you’re in Rome,” said Sheridan, “you must do as the Romans do. These fellows have come here for booze and nothing else. A fellow that came in here and didn’t order a drink would attract attention right away. You and I are not looking for attention. Now we’ll get out, and we’ll try to slip out without attracting any more attention than we can help. These longshoremen are mighty suspicious.”

He paid his reckoning and the two started for the door. Willie was all eyes. He tried to see everything and yet not seem to be looking. Right away his eye was attracted by that flaming red necktie of Anderson’s, and he noticed that its owner had moved away from the door and joined a knot of men, who had their heads close together over a table. One of them had evidently been drinking too freely, for his voice was plainly raised above the general hum of conversation.

“I’ve got a fine jag of cotton to sell,” Willie heard him say.

“Shut up. Not so loud. Keep quiet,” came the protesting voices of his fellows.

Sheridan was already out of the door and did not hear the remark. Willie caught it plainly, but did not understand its significance. He shut the door and followed Sheridan down the steps.

“What did that fellow mean about having a jag of cotton to sell?” he asked Sheridan.

“Who said he had cotton to sell?” asked Sheridan instantly.

“Why, a fellow at that table with Red Anderson.”

“I didn’t hear anybody say anything about cotton.”

“You were already out of the door. But I heard him distinctly. The others told him to keep quiet.”

“They had more reason to than they knew,” said Sheridan. “I suppose the guy has been stealing cotton and is ready for a little cotton auction.”

“What will you do about it?” demanded Willie, afire in a moment at the suggestion of another adventure.

“Don’t know whether I’ll do anything. All we are interested in is smugglers. The cotton comes from the South, you know, so there is no question of smuggling. It’s simply a case of larceny.”

“Then I suppose you’ll report the case to the police and let them arrest the man.”

Unwittingly Willie had touched a sore spot. He had yet to learn about the power of professional jealousy. But he had his first lesson at once.

“Not on your life,” said Sheridan. “We’ll grab him ourselves. The cops would bungle the whole business and give out a fine fairy story of how they discovered the theft. We’ll just keep an eye on that bird and see who he is.”

“What are you going to do? Go back into the restaurant?”

“No, we’ll just trail him after he comes out. This time you’ll have to help me, for I don’t know which one of the gang it was who said he had the cotton.”

“You bet I’ll help you,” said Willie, delighted to be of real assistance at last.

As luck would have it, there was an electric light almost in front of the coffee-house door. Diagonally across the street was a pile of timbers, close to the string-piece of a dock. The timbers were in a shadow, and at the end of the pile was a hollow space, formed by some projecting beams, that was inky black. Glancing hastily up and down the street to make sure they were not observed, Sheridan slipped across the street, followed by Willie, and in a second they were securely hidden in the recesses of the lumber pile.

Fortunately they did not have long to wait. Soon the door of the coffee-house opened and a group of men came out. One of them was singing noisily.

“That’s the fellow,” said Willie.

“I don’t know who he is. But we’ll soon find out.”

The men from the coffee-house parted on the sidewalk, and the roistering one started off alone, the others going in the opposite direction.

“That’s luck,” muttered Sheridan.

When the man was half a block down the street, the watchers slipped from their retreat and trailed the man until he crossed the road and disappeared in the darkness. The trailers hurried along and were just in time to see him crawling unsteadily over the side of the pier to the deck of a barge. Returning a little later, they found everything dark and deserted about the pier. So they ventured out on it and made a swift examination of the barge.

“She’s the Dixie,” muttered Sheridan, studying the name on the stern of the boat. “And she belongs to the Coastwise Steamship Company. They operate between here and the South. We’ll have a look at her to-morrow.”

“May I go along?” demanded Willie.

“Surest thing you know. Why, you’re a material witness in this case. You meet me at Bowling Green at eight o’clock to-morrow morning, and we’ll have a look at the Dixie.”


Long before eight o’clock, Willie Brown, no longer arrayed in overalls but dressed in his best, was at the place of rendezvous, at Bowling Green. Sheridan was not yet there. Willie knew something of the history of this tiny oval of grass, at the foot of Broadway, the longest street in the world. And now, while he was waiting for the Secret Service man he looked up that thoroughfare, which in ways other than mere length has no counterpart in the earth. He could not help thinking of the difference that three short centuries had made in its appearance.

Now he was looking up a thoroughfare so narrow that six wagons abreast filled it from curb to curb. Of course there were tiny side streets, near at hand, like Petticoat Lane, in which two teams could not pass each other. Indeed, one team practically occupied all that roadway. And there were scores of streets all about him, crooked, twisting little highways that originally were probably paths worn through the brush by the cattle of the early Dutch settlers. But Willie was facing up Broadway, the main artery of traffic for the great metropolis. And though this street would have been plenty wide enough for a country town, it was hopelessly inadequate for the great city.

For on either hand, as far as he could see, rose the hugest buildings in existence. Ten, twenty, thirty, forty, and even fifty stories, the various buildings towered aloft. More than one of the colossal sky-scrapers housed ten thousand workers—a number of people several times greater than the entire population of the town in which Willie lived. And yet Broadway here was no wider than Main Street in Central City. No wonder Broadway was so crowded, when building after building poured out its thousands upon thousands of workers into this one thoroughfare.

But all these majestic buildings, all these wondrous changes that had altered lower Manhattan from a forested rocky island to a magic city of cloud-touching structures, were not as remarkable as this tiny oval of grass in which Willie stood. The remarkable thing about this grass plot is that it is a grass plot. For three hundred years one change has followed hard upon the heels of another about Bowling Green. Yet Bowling Green is still Bowling Green, even as it was in the days of old Peter Stuyvesant. A little smaller it is no doubt. But it is still open and still softly carpeted with turf, even as it was when those early Dutch settlers played at bowls on its well cropped sward.

In imagination Willie could see them now, in their voluminous knee-length breeches, rolling their wooden balls over the grass. And the Custom-house that rose majestically across the street on the site of the old Dutch fort became in Willie’s eyes the old fort itself; with its great earthen walls so neglected by the placid Dutch that their roving swine rooted holes entirely through them.

As he gazed at the marble statue of an early, Dutch city father, within the little oval, he remembered that he had read that long before it had been erected, there stood in this same Bowling Green Park a leaden statue of George III, of England. And Willie recalled, too, that a crowd of patriots, during the Revolution, had fastened ropes to this statue, at a time when Washington was in sore need of ammunition, and had pulled it down and melted it, and cast the molten lead into bullets to teach that same George III a needed lesson. And that thought recalled to mind another occurrence of Revolutionary days that took place in this exact spot where he stood. The iron-picketed fence that surrounds Bowling Green was built in 1771, and each of the cast-iron posts bore on its summit a royal coat of arms or some other royal insignia, that the patriots did not like. And so, with hammers and axes, they knocked off these offending finials. Plainly did the rough-topped supports show where these offensive emblems had been broken away; and Willie had just started to examine the telltale marks, when a voice said, “Hello, youngster. I see you are getting well posted.”

“You’re mistaken,” laughed Willie. “I am doing picket duty.”

“Well, come along and we’ll do something that you will find more interesting. We’ll have to hustle, too. So be brisk.”

The voice was familiar enough, but Willie hardly recognized the well-dressed and really handsome man who was speaking to him. He had never before seen Sheridan in anything but old clothes. After an astonished look at him Willie leaped to join the Secret Service man. But the latter, instead of starting for the waterfront, turned up Broadway. A very short walk brought them to a towering office-building into which the detective turned. Willie wondered, but kept his peace. He was learning to use his mouth less and his eyes and ears more.

They stepped into an express elevator and were shot upward to the twenty-fifth floor. They walked down a long corridor and came to a door which bore the name “Coastwise Steamship Company.” Willie was glad that he had asked no questions. They entered the office, but were held up by a pompous office boy, who demanded to know their business. Willie’s companion took a card from his pocket and began to write on it. Willie saw that the card was engraved with the name of “Franklin P. Sheridan, United States Secret Service.” And on the face of the card Sheridan wrote this message: “Would like to see Mr. Morgan at once on a matter of importance.”

When the office boy looked at the card, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. Willie heard him mutter to himself, “Gee! He’s a Secret Service man!” The way the lad lost his dignity and bolted into Mr. Morgan’s office made both Willie and his companion laugh. A moment later the office boy came hustling out.

“Mr. Morgan wants to know if you will please step right in,” said the lad who led the way and threw open the door for them. Then reluctantly, and with many a backward glance, he withdrew.

Mr. Morgan rose to greet his visitors. “Mr. Sheridan?” he asked.

“Yes, Mr. Morgan,” said the Secret Service man, taking the steamship manager’s extended hand. “And this is my assistant, Mr. Willie Brown.”

“Indeed!” said Mr. Morgan, with a world of astonishment in his tone. “What can I do for you, Mr. Sheridan?”

“I have reason to think,” said the Secret Service man, “that the captain of one of your lighters has some stolen cotton in his possession. Have you carried any lately?”

“Yes,” replied Mr. Morgan. “The lighter Dixie has carried several loads this week from one of our steamers to a New Haven Railway pier.”

“That’s the very barge we had in mind,” said Sheridan.

“Have you examined her?” asked the steamship manager with interest.

“No; we haven’t been aboard of her at all. We didn’t want to do anything to excite the suspicion of her captain. But we haven’t the least doubt he has some stolen cotton in his possession, and if he has, it is almost certainly in his lighter.”

“What makes you think so, if you haven’t been on board the boat? How did you get track of the matter?”

“We owe it to my assistant here. We have been on the track of wool thieves for some time. They steal the wool while it is being conveyed to the bonded warehouses, you know. And so the owner loses his property and Uncle Sam loses the revenue on the stolen wool. We were nosing around in South Street last night, when my assistant overheard a fellow say he had a jag of cotton to sell. We kept tabs on the fellow and he proved to belong on the Dixie.”

“Aren’t those rather slender grounds on which to accuse a man of theft?” said Mr. Morgan, a frown wrinkling his forehead. “I have no doubt this fellow may have been stealing. We are losing property in transit all the time. But we have enough trouble with our boatmen as it is. I don’t want to accuse one of them of dishonesty unless we can make good on the accusation.”

“We don’t have to accuse anybody of anything. Let’s go examine the boat and see what’s in it.”

“But that would arouse suspicion.”

“Not a bit. I’m a prospective purchaser for the craft. You are the seller. Of course I want to see what I’m going to buy, before I buy it.”

“Of course,” said the steamship manager. “That’s as simple as can be. What is the best way to get at it?”

“Better get the craft out in the river. Then we’ll have everything at our mercy, including the captain.”

“To be sure. We’ll do it.” Mr. Morgan turned to his telephone and gave a brusque order. Then he rose, put on his hat, and turned to his stenographer. “I’ll be back in——” He appealed to Sheridan. “How long?” he asked.

“An hour and a half. Maybe an hour, if we are not delayed,” replied the Secret Service man.

“I’ll be back in an hour and a half, and perhaps sooner,” said Mr. Morgan.

His stenographer nodded comprehension, and the three investigators left the office. This time the office boy not only had his eyes open, but his mouth as well. “Gee!” he muttered, “I wonder what’s up.”

Straight across the island the three investigators went hustling. A very few minutes brought them to the East River piers of the Coastwise Steamship Company. A tug, with steam up, was moored at the end of one of these piers. Through the great pier shed went Mr. Morgan and his two companions. The executive nodded greetings to employees as he went. Arrived at the end of the pier, the three leaped aboard the tug.

“Good-morning, Mr. Morgan,” said the pilot. “Where do you want to go?”

“Take us down to the pier where our lighters are. Make fast to the Dixie and take her out into the stream. You can pull down between Governor’s Island and Brooklyn. This gentleman wants to examine that boat.”

Lines were cast off, the pilot rang a bell, and the tug’s propeller began to churn the water. Slowly the tug drew away from the pier. In a very short time she was abreast of the barge wharf. The pilot nosed his way in beside the Dixie. The latter’s captain was on her deck.

“Catch these lines and make fast,” called a hand on the tug, as he threw a hawser toward the Dixie.

The Dixie’s captain caught it and made it fast. Then he caught and fastened a second line forward.

“We’re going to pull down the river,” said the tug captain, leaning out of the pilot-house. “Just cast off.”

The Dixie’s captain drew in the lines that held the barge to the pier. Mr. Morgan, followed by Sheridan and Willie, stepped from the tug to the lighter.

“Your name is——” said Mr. Morgan, hesitating.

“Jensen,” replied the captain of the Dixie.

“Ah, yes. I had forgotten. Well, Jensen, this gentleman wants to buy a lighter. We’d like to sell the Dixie. But he won’t take her until he has looked her over well and seen how she behaves under tow.”

“She’s a good boat,” said Jensen, with the customary pride of a sailor in his craft. “There ain’t none better afloat.”

“I told him so, but he wants to be shown.”

“We’ll show him.”

Meantime the tug had gotten under way, and was drawing out of the dock, with the Dixie fast beside her. Once clear of the pier, her captain turned down-stream.

Sheridan remained on deck for a time, apparently watching the movement of the boat through the water. Then he turned to Jensen. “How’s her cabin?” he asked.

“Snuggest little cabin on the East River,” replied Jensen. “Step in and have a look.”

The inspecting party descended to the cabin. It was, indeed, snug enough. Jensen had it in pretty tidy shape. There were bunks along both sides and Jensen’s bed was made. He had a few articles of clothing piled neatly in a vacant bunk. Sheridan walked about and eyed everything keenly.

“Don’t you have any closets?” he asked. “A boat like this ought to have closets.”

“Sure there’s closets,” and the sailor pointed to some partitions that opened toward the hold of the barge. Sheridan peered into them eagerly, but they were practically empty.

“What’s the size of this cabin?” he asked. “How big a family could live in it? You know most boatmen are married and want to have their families aboard with them.”

“It’s about twelve feet long,” said Jensen, “and the width of the boat.”

“Now, there ought to be room for some closets in the stern,” said Sheridan, “on either side of the companionway, between the cabin wall and the hull itself.” He stooped down and keenly examined the rear wall.

“There ain’t no closets there,” said Jensen, “and there ain’t no room for any, neither. I tried one time to make a closet there. Needed more storage room for myself. The cabin wall is right up against the stern o’ the boat.”

Sheridan glanced expressively at Mr. Morgan, but said nothing. Instead, he turned to the boatman. “How long is your craft over all?” he asked.

“One hundred feet.”

“And you say this rear cabin wall is plumb against the boat’s hull?”

“Snug against it.”

“How deep are these closets here, forward?”

“About three feet. You can see for yourself.”

The Secret Service man drew a little searchlight from his vest pocket and stooping, walked through one of the closet doors. He produced a tape and measured the space. “Exactly three feet,” he remarked.

“How much cargo can you carry?” he asked, suddenly shifting the subject.

“A pile of it,” said Jensen. “She’ll carry more stuff than any boat of her size in the harbor.”

“But I must know exactly.”

“I can’t tell you exactly.”

“Maybe I can figure it myself. Let’s take a look at the hold.”

The party came up from the cabin and went forward, dropping through an open hatchway, inside the boat. The hold was bare and perfectly clean. With his tape Sheridan rapidly measured the hold, beginning at the bow and working back toward the cabin in the stern.

“Twenty-four feet wide and eighty-three feet long,” he said. He paused a moment, figuring, “Twelve feet for the cabin, three for the closets, and eighty-three for the cargo. That totals ninety-eight feet. There are two feet of space unaccounted for. I don’t pay for one hundred feet of boat if there’s only ninety-eight,” and again he looked significantly at Mr. Morgan.

“What about that, Jensen?” asked the steamship manager. “Are you sure this craft is one hundred feet long?”

“Come to think of it,” said the boatman uneasily, “it is only ninety-eight feet. I got so used to thinkin’ it was about a hundred that I just called it an even hundred. That’s all it is, sir, ninety-eight feet.”

“Well, I’m going to make sure,” said Sheridan. “I don’t buy any boat unless I know exactly what I’m getting.”

He climbed to the deck and rapidly measured. “She’s a hundred feet exactly,” he said. And he turned on the boatman severely. “How do you account for those two missing feet?” he demanded.

A crafty look came into Jensen’s eyes. “Two feet is it?” he said. “Why, I just boarded a little space in the back of the hold to keep my cabin warm.”

Once more Sheridan glanced at the steamship manager. “You didn’t need to board up a space two feet wide to keep your cabin warm. Six inches would have been plenty. Why, that cuts down the cargo space tremendously. We’ll have to have that partition down. I want to know exactly how much I can carry in this boat. And besides, there might be some rotten planks in the hull in that two-foot space. I’d like to look in there.”

“Tear out your partition,” said Mr. Morgan. “This man is entitled to see every part of the boat before he buys her.”

“I ain’t got nothin’ to do it with,” said Jensen. “I’ll do it to-night and he can have a look at her to-morrow.”

“That won’t do. I’ve got to choose between this boat and another this very morning. Surely you’ve got a hatchet. What did you use to put the partition up?”

“No, I ain’t got no hatchet,” replied Jensen, very sullenly.

Mr. Morgan stepped to the hatchway and called to a hand on the tug. “Bring me an axe,” he said.

In a second the fellow dropped through the hatchway with an axe. Mr. Morgan directed him to knock down the partition. The man from the tug drove his axe blade between two of the partition boards and pried one loose. Some tightly stuffed burlap bags promptly bulged into the space he had opened. He tore off one board after another and the bulging sacks came tumbling out on the floor of the lighter. They were filled with cotton.

“What does this mean?” demanded Mr. Morgan, confronting the sullen barge captain. “Where did this cotton come from and how did it get behind this false partition?”

“I don’t know,” growled Jensen. “I never seen it before. I didn’t know it was behind there.”

“See here, Jensen,” said Sheridan, stepping up to the boatman. “The jig is up. You are under arrest for grand larceny,” and he threw back his coat, displaying on his vest the glittering shield of the Secret Service.

“I don’t know nothin’ about that cotton,” persisted Jensen.

“There’s no use lying about it,” said Sheridan sharply. “We’ve got you dead to rights and you’ll go to prison as sure as you stand here. None of that.”

He leaped forward, grabbed the boatman’s right hand, and whirled the fellow around. From the man’s hip pocket he drew a loaded revolver. Deftly he “frisked” his prisoner, and finding no other weapons on him, let go of him.

“Now, Jensen,” he said, “we’ve got you right. You will only hurt yourself by lying. You may help yourself if you tell the truth. Where did this cotton come from?”

“From bales we carried to the New Haven pier.”


“Just this week.”

“How much is there?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t weigh it.”

“But you have a pretty good idea of what it will weigh. What does one of these bags weigh?”

“About seventy-five pounds, I guess,” replied Jensen.

Sheridan lifted a bag. “That’s a close guess,” he said. “We’ll call it seventy-five, anyway.” Rapidly he counted the bags. “Thirty-five,” he said. “That makes thirty-five times seventy-five.” He stopped and made some figures on an old envelope. “Twenty-six hundred and twenty-five pounds,” he said. “More than a ton and a quarter of cotton, Mr. Morgan. That’s a little better than five bales. It’s worth something more than $650 wholesale at present prices. Have you had any complaints about loss of cotton?”

“Lots of them, but we have seldom been able to put our hands on the thieves.”

“Let me suggest that you have every one of your lighters examined and measured and all space accounted for. It might be worth your while.”

Then Sheridan turned to Jensen once more. “Who helped you steal this stuff?” he demanded.

“Nobody,” said Jensen gruffly.

“Come on, now. Cough up. Who’s in this with you?”

“Not a soul,” insisted Jensen.

“If you’re lying, we’ll find it out,” said Sheridan, “and it will go all the harder with you.”

“Is there anything more you want to see, Mr. Sheridan?” asked the steamship man.

“Not a thing. We’ve seen all there is to see.”

“Then we’ll head for shore.” He gave the signal to the tug’s pilot, and in a few minutes, the party was once more ashore. Sheridan slipped a pair of handcuffs on his prisoner.

“Young man,” said Mr. Morgan, turning to Willie, “I understand that we are indebted to you for this discovery and very important arrest. The continued loss of cotton has cost our line thousands of dollars in damages. Come along to the office with me. I have something for you.”

“If you mean money,” said Willie, “I cannot take it.”

“Why not? Is it against the rules of the Secret Service?”

“I don’t know,” replied Willie. “I don’t belong to the Secret Service.”

“You don’t? Then what’s all this about your being Mr. Sheridan’s assistant?”

“You’re perfectly free to take anything the gentleman wants to give you,” remarked Sheridan, “but you would not be if you did belong to the Service. No Secret Service man may accept a cent for any service from any one but the government. And as for his being my assistant, Mr. Morgan, it happens this way. This lad was coming along the water-front when I was trailing wool smugglers. I needed to get a message to my office badly, but I didn’t dare take my eyes off the men I was trailing. I asked this lad to send a message for me. He never saw me before and I never saw him. But it seems that he was one of those four boys from Pennsylvania that helped to find that German secret wireless station during the war.”

“I remember reading about it. So you were one of those boys, eh?”

“Yes, sir,” said Willie modestly.

“And so he knew the private call of the Secret Service,” went on Sheridan. “When I gave him the number I wanted him to call up, he knew right away that I was a Secret Service man. He delivered my message in fine shape and then came back to help me, because he found the office couldn’t do anything for me. We got the men I was after, and a lot of smuggled wool too. And while we were working on the case, this lad picked up the hint about your cotton here. So I told him he might go with me when I went to look for the cotton.”

“Young man,” said Mr. Morgan, “the Coastwise Steamship Company is really greatly indebted to you, and I wish you would let me give you a little token of our appreciation.”

“I couldn’t do that,” insisted Willie. “I didn’t do it for money.”

“Then what did you do it for?”

“I did it to help Mr. Sheridan and because I want to learn all I can about the Secret Service. I want to be a Secret Service man.”

“You’re certainly qualified to be one, and I hope you land a job with the Service. Come see me if you don’t. There might be a stray job in my office by that time.”

“Thank you, Mr. Morgan. I am obliged to you. But there isn’t anything else I want to do so much as to be a Secret Service man. Good-bye.”

The Secret Service man, meantime, had hustled away from the pier with his prisoner as fast as he could go. He did not want to be seen by any more longshoremen than he could help. But Willie knew where he had gone, and after he had shaken hands with Mr. Morgan, he hustled down the street after his friend. He reached the police-station just as Sheridan was coming out of it. Sheridan was smiling. Willie guessed it was because he had beaten the police.

“What next?” he asked.

“I guess we’ll go report to the Chief on these seizures,” Sheridan said. “And I’ll do all I can to try to get you into the Service in some capacity. You have proved your worth.”

“I’ll take any job I can get,” said Willie, “even to being an office boy. And I’ll be glad to get the job.”

“Now you’re talking sense,” said Willie’s companion. “The way to get into any place or any job is to get in. It doesn’t matter whether you go in by the front door, or the kitchen door, or the cellar door. Once you are inside, you can go pretty much where you like. You may think that starting as an office boy in the Secret Service is like coming in through the cellar door. Maybe it is. But the point is that you are in. You can climb as fast as you have the ability to. But you can’t ever get anywhere in the Secret Service as long as you don’t belong to it—or in any other job, can you?”

“No,” agreed Willie. “I’ve been dead wrong about that notion. If I can get an office boy job, I’ll be the happiest fellow in the world.”

“You can get on the waiting list, and that’s sure. There may not be any vacancy at the present time. At any rate, we’ll see what happens. Come on.”


Without further incident, the two made their way to Headquarters. Sheridan reported to his chief the discovery of the wool together with the arrest of the wool smuggler. He also described in some detail the manner in which the cotton thief had been found and arrested.

“Of course we are not directly interested in mere theft,” said the Chief, “but that was a good piece of work and I am glad you got the man. He would have stolen wool just as readily as he took cotton, if he had happened to be transporting wool. And sooner or later he would have had a load of it to carry. So you probably saved yourself trouble later on.”

“No doubt of it. We owe that to our young friend here. It seems that he is quite desirous of getting into the Secret Service.”

The Chief swung around in his chair and faced Willie. “I’m afraid you’re aiming a bit high,” he said, with a smile. “You know we never take anybody into the Service except the ablest and most experienced operators. And we have to be very certain of a man’s integrity before we even consider him.”

“I understand all that,” said Willie, “and I have no idea of trying to become a Secret Service agent offhand. But even the best men you have, had to make a start somewhere. I am willing to start at the very bottom, to do anything that would connect me with the Service, so that I could learn about your methods and study your problems. Mr. Sheridan thinks that maybe there might be a chance to work as an office boy. If I could get such a position you’d never be sorry you hired me. I would do the work just as near right as I knew how.”

“I believe you would be glad to have a lad like him in the Service, Chief,” remarked Sheridan. “He has had quite a bit of experience, and he seems to grasp a situation quickly. Now, when I was trailing those fellows before we arrested Larsen, there were several men in the bunch I wanted to keep under observation. I feared the gang would split up and I would lose some of them, so I wanted to telephone for McCarthy or somebody else to help me. But I didn’t want to risk losing the trail while telephoning. This kid was coming along the street. I never saw him before, but you can see by his face that he is intelligent. So I got him to telephone for me.”

The Chief nodded comprehension.

“Do you know what the lad did? When I gave him our telephone number he recognized it as the private call of the Secret Service, and——”

“What!” exclaimed the Chief, turning sharply on Willie. His eyes seemed to bore right through Willie. “How did you know that number was the Secret Service call?”

“Because your predecessor in office here gave us the number, when we came here during the war to help the Secret Service run down that secret wireless of the Germans. I belong to the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol, sir.”

“You don’t say!” cried the Chief. “Of course I wasn’t in this district then, as you know, but I remember hearing about that matter. You boys were of very material assistance to the Secret Service then.”

“We were mighty glad we could help,” said Willie.

“You see, Chief,” said Sheridan, “I had reason for saying you would be glad to have the boy in the outfit. But I didn’t finish my story. I want you to know the rest of it. When this lad telephoned in and found it would not be possible for the office to send help, he decided he’d supply the help himself. I had on some old togs like a longshoreman, and the kid right away grasped the idea that his dolled up appearance would attract attention in a South Street booze joint. So he grabbed the first newsy he met, bought his old coat and cap, and dusted up his own good pants, so that he looked the part of a gutter-snipe all right. Then he trailed me to that hotbed of crookedness, Bill Dirkin’s oyster-house, and quietly slipped the message to me. And while we were in another of those joints last night, he used his ears to such good advantage that we landed that fellow Jensen, with his stolen cotton. That’s one we put over on the cops, and this lad is responsible for it.”

“I wish I could help you, my lad,” said the Chief kindly. “I wish I had a place for you in this office. But there isn’t a thing I can give you and I don’t see a chance of any opening.”

“Not even as an office boy?” cried Willie. His face became very sober and he looked so doleful that both his companions laughed.

“Don’t take it so hard,” said the Chief. “Boys who are really ambitious and really capable are so scarce that there’s always a chance for one somewhere. Now, I’m going to send you down to the office of Mr. William King, the Special Agent of the Treasury. He’s always having trouble with inefficient office boys. He told me so the other day. He may have a place for you.”

“But I don’t want to work for the Treasury Department,” protested Willie. “I want to become a Secret Service man.”

“The work is pretty much the same thing,” explained the Chief. “The Special Agent of the Treasury is particularly charged to look after the collection of import duties in the port of New York. He has to see that all just duties are collected. In short, his particular business is to prevent smuggling and all frauds against the customs revenue. And he has a force of special agents who are Secret Service men, under another name, to see that smuggling is prevented. This wool smuggling case really belongs to them, but their men have become so well known about the water-front that we handled it for them. We are all secret agents of the government and we work together if it is necessary, though the Secret Service proper now confines its attention mostly to preventing counterfeiting and frauds against national papers like Liberty bonds. We also guard the President and national guests.”

“Oh! I see,” replied Willie. “And do you think there might be a chance for me there?”

“Maybe not right away,” was the reply, “but I’m sure there would be before very long.”

“I’m a thousand times obliged to you,” said Willie. “Shall I go right down and see the Special Agent?”

“Mr. Sheridan will go with you. Good-bye and good luck to you.” He shook hands heartily with Willie, then turned to his desk. With high hopes, Willie followed Sheridan down the corridor to the elevator.

Arriving presently at the Custom-house, the two mounted the broad flight of steps, with beautiful groups of heroic statuary on either hand. They passed through the great door, and entered the building. Engrossed though Willie was in the matter of getting a job, he paused involuntarily to gaze at the beautiful structure in which he now found himself. So well proportioned was the building that Willie had twice looked at it that very morning without ever a thought of its size. In fact, it had seemed to him to be small. But now, as he looked down the long, roomy corridors and noted the lofty ceiling and the general air of spaciousness, he suddenly remembered that the building occupied the entire block on which it was located, and that it was seven stories high.

Any one might be deceived by the exterior of the building, but nobody could be by the interior. It was rich and beautiful, and Willie felt very certain that it must be one of the finest custom-houses in the world—as it is. The beautiful marble corridors, the exquisite metal work, of bronze and other materials, the wonderful woodwork, all impressed Willie by their beauty and finish. It made him proud to think that this magnificent structure belonged to his government. Some day, he hoped, this would be his headquarters, the place where he worked. His heart beat faster at the thought.

He stepped into the elevator with his companion and was shot up to the fourth floor. Down a long corridor they went, and through a door at the end of it. The door opened into an anteroom. A sort of settee for callers occupied the space along one wall, and opposite this was a low railing, barring visitors from further progress. Inside of this railing were a chair and a desk, obviously the place for an office boy. But no office boy was visible. Willie wondered if he would ever sit in that chair. For a moment or two they hesitated in the anteroom. Then Sheridan pushed through the gate and stuck his head through an inner door, that opened into a large, spacious, well-furnished office.

“Hello, Frank. Come in,” Willie heard a hearty voice calling from within the inner room.

Sheridan turned and beckoned to Willie, who scurried through the gate and followed hard on the Secret Service man’s heels.

“How are you, Mr. King?” Willie heard his companion say. “I didn’t like to butt in here this way, but I couldn’t find anybody to take a word to you.”

“Drat that office boy!” Mr. King said vehemently. “He’s never on the job when he’s needed. I’d like to see an office boy once who would attend to his job.”

“Then take a good look at my young friend here, Mr. King. His name is Willie Brown. Willie, this is Mr. King. I knew you wanted a good office boy, and I brought him around. He’s all ready to go to work.”

Mr. King looked puzzled. “What’s the joke, Frank?” he asked, after he had spoken to Willie.

“There’s no joke at all,” said Sheridan. “This lad wants a job the worst way. But he’s awful particular. There’s only one job he’ll take. He wants to be an office boy for the Special Agent of the Treasury, and he came all the way from central Pennsylvania to get the job.”

The Special Agent of the Treasury looked more puzzled than ever. “I am no mind reader, Frank,” he said. “Explain.”

The Secret Service man laughed. “It’s this way, Mr. King. This boy is dead set upon becoming a Secret Service man, and——”

“Been reading dime novels, like the rest of them, I’ll bet,” said Mr. King. “I don’t want him.”

“Of course you don’t,” went on the Secret Service man, “but you will when you find out a little more about him. In the first place, he doesn’t read dime novels. In the second, he belonged to that bunch of wireless boys that helped to catch the German spy, Sanders, and his crew during the war. Third, he has set his heart upon becoming a Secret Service man. You know as well as I do that we couldn’t take him into the Service. But the Chief is interested in the lad, and he knows that you are in need of a good office boy. So he sent me down here to see what you could do for the lad.”

“Passed the buck to me, did he?” said Mr. King, but he smiled when he said it.

“B-rrrrrrrrrrr,” went the desk telephone.

The Special Agent leaned forward and swung the instrument around toward himself. “Hello,” he called.

“Yes. This is King.... Yes. They are all ready. I’ll send them this minute. Goodbye.”

He pressed a button on his desk. “B-zzzzzzzzz! B-zzzzzzzz! B-zzzzzzzz!” went the buzzer at the office boy’s desk. There was no response. “B-zzzzzzzz!” went the buzzer again, long and angrily.

“Drat that boy!” said the Special Agent. “I need him the worst way and I’d bet a dollar he’s out playing craps. I’ve got to get some papers up to the Deputy Attorney General at once.”

Willie leaped to his feet. “May I take them?” he said.

“Do you know where the Attorney General’s office is?”

“No, sir. But I can find it if you give me the address.”

“Do you think I dare trust him with these papers, Frank? They are important.”

“They’ll be perfectly safe,” said the Secret Service man.

“Then you take this package, Willie, and deliver it at the Attorney General’s office. Then come back here, and I’ll make it right with you.” The Special Agent wrote down an address on a slip of paper and handed it to Willie.

Willie took it, thrust the package of papers into the inside pocket of his coat, buttoned the coat up tight, and bolted out of the office.

When Willie was gone, the Special Agent turned to the Secret Service man. “Tell me all you know about the lad, Frank,” he said. “Your Chief telephoned me you were coming and put in a good word for the kid. Is he really any good?”

“My own opinion is that he’s a very unusual boy, though I wouldn’t dare say that where he could hear me. I’ve known him only a couple of days, but I happen to know a great deal about that business with Sanders. Those Germans had us worried sick, Mr. King, absolutely sick. The increase in crimes against the government, after we declared war upon Germany, was so tremendous that our force of operatives was ridiculously inadequate. We couldn’t begin to cope with the situation. Those spies were sending out news of every movement made by our naval vessels and transports, and we simply didn’t have the men to run them down. Then these boys came from Pennsylvania, to help us. I no longer remember how they were brought here: but they established a wireless watch, caught and deciphered the spy messages, and finally located the German wireless outfit itself. And we got the spies, too. Between you and me, those boys did some mighty fine detective work. Of course, they had an older man working with them, but the boys themselves displayed an unusual amount of initiative and judgment.”

“I’m mighty glad to hear all this. You see what sort of an office boy I have. If you are sure Willie Brown would be an improvement, I’ll transfer my present boy to another post and try Willie.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what I know about him myself,” and the Secret Service man related the incidents of the past two days.

“If he proves to be half as good as he sounds,” commented Mr. King, “I’ll be indebted to you to my dying day. Hello, here he is back again. He didn’t waste any time.”

Willie came into the office and handed Mr. King a piece of paper. “What is this?” asked the Treasury Agent.

“A receipt for the papers,” replied Willie.

“I didn’t ask you to get me a receipt,” said Mr. King.

“I know you didn’t,” replied Willie. “I got that receipt for myself. It’s proof that I did my job right.”

“Do you always do things as clever as that?”

“That wasn’t clever, Mr. King. That was common sense. Sometimes I make mistakes, Mr. King. But I always do the best I know how.”

“You admit that you make mistakes? And then you come asking for a job?” And the Special Agent looked very stern.

“I guess a fellow who didn’t make mistakes sometimes wouldn’t make much of anything else,” said Willie.

“Well, you didn’t make the mistake of lying to me,” said Mr. King. “If there’s anything I hate, it’s a boy who lies.” And now his face was full of smiles.

“If you’ll give me a job,” said Willie, “I’ll engage to tell you the truth—always.”

“Mr. Sheridan has been telling me a little about your work. Now I want to know a little more about yourself. Do you smoke cigarettes?”

“No, sir.”

“Do you play craps?”

“Never played in my life.”

“Do you read dime novels? Mr. Sheridan says you don’t, but perhaps he doesn’t know.”

“I don’t,” said Willie, “but I read lots of other things. I wouldn’t want to agree not to read. I can’t go to school any longer, and if I am to go on learning, I must continue to read.”

“That’s all right so long as it doesn’t interfere with your work. Now if I give you a job, will you be on hand during office hours, attend promptly to the work you are given to do, and answer that buzzer promptly when it rings?”

“Absolutely,” answered Willie.

“Then I guess you’re hired. Report here to-morrow at eight o’clock.”

“Do you really mean it?” cried Willie, so delighted that he could hardly keep from throwing his hat in the air.

“Surest thing you know. Now, be sure you’re on time—to-morrow and every other day. Good-bye. I’ll see you in the morning. I’m obliged to you, Frank,” and the Special Agent nodded good-bye to his visitors.

All the way out of the building Willie walked on air. This beautiful structure was going to be his headquarters after all. Here he was going to build his fortune. At last he had his chance. To be sure, his chance was only that of an office boy, but Willie no longer cared about that. He had seen a light.


Willie was determined that that light should not fail. He meant to keep it burning brightly. He determined never to forget that the point was not where he started in the race, but where he ended. The main thing was to get into the race. And now he was in. He remembered that somebody had said there were three secrets of success: first, work; second, more work; third, still more work. That made Willie happy, because he knew he could work as hard as anybody, and he believed he could learn to work as effectively as anybody. At any rate, he meant to try. He was going to think of nothing but his work—that is, after he got to work. To-day, he was going to celebrate with Roy. And so, after parting with his big friend, Sheridan, he made haste to reach the Lycoming.

“Talk of angels and they are sure to appear,” laughed Roy, as Willie came bustling into the Lycoming’s wireless cabin. “We were just talking about you and hoping we should see you soon. Mr. Robbins was good enough to come up to chat with me. His big rush is over now.”

“Mighty glad to see you both again,” said Willie, shaking hands with Roy and the purser. “I’ve got the best news in the world. I’ve got a job, Roy. And what do you think it is? I’m an office boy.” And Willie laughed so heartily and good-naturedly that both his friends laughed with him.

“Congratulations!” returned Roy. “I’m glad you got a job, and better pleased still that you like it. What changed your mind about being an office boy?”

“I guess you did. Mr. Sheridan helped, too. You both told me the same thing: that the point was not so much where I started as it was to get started. I see that this is true. I’m under way now. Watch me go.” And Willie laughed happily.

“We’ll do more than watch,” said the purser. “We’ll boost. Let’s start off with a little feed to celebrate. It’s about dinner-time. I’m deucedly tired of ship’s grub. Let’s go get a bite of some landsman’s cooking—something we don’t get every day in the week. Now let me see. There’s Chinatown. Roy and I have been there. And we’ve been to Little Italy. And we’ve eaten in the Ghetto. Where can we find something that is new to both of you?”

The purser paused in thought. Then, “I know,” he said. “We’ll step into an Armenian restaurant. That will be new to you both, I’m sure. And it is the handiest place we can find. The Armenians and Syrians have located close by, in this end of New York, and we can get a first-class meal. Come on. Let’s go.”

“That will be bully!” cried Willie, with enthusiasm. “I’d like that.”

“What about you, Roy?” asked the purser.

“I’m willing to try anything once. And after my experiences with you, I know it will be worth while. You certainly have all the places spotted where they make good things to eat.”

The purser laughed. “Come on, then. Let’s go.”

The three put on their hats and left the Lycoming. They passed through the long pier shed to West Street and turned down that thoroughfare. Willie felt very proud to be walking with his two friends, for they looked really distinguished in their well-fitting, neatly kept uniforms. The street was jammed with people, and thousands more were pouring out of the great office-buildings to get their noonday meal. More than one passer-by turned to look at Willie’s nautical friends.

“We picked out a pretty poor time to get anything to eat,” said the purser. “This is the very height of the luncheon hour. If you aren’t real hungry, I suggest we knock about a bit and let the jam ease up. Then we’ll feel free to eat as slowly as we like and stay as long as we like. And we’ll get better service, too. What do you say?”

“Suits me,” said Willie, who was so happy that he didn’t care what happened.

“I’m agreed,” said Roy.

“Good,” replied the purser. “The only question is how we shall put in the time.”

“I suspect Willie would like to see some of the sights,” remarked Roy. “He’s been in New York before, but there are lots of things neither of us have seen.”

“All right. We’ll just keep going until we strike something he wants to see.”

They continued on down West Street, along the water-front. The movement of traffic proved a continual fascination to Willie. He never tired of watching the endless procession of trucks, drays, express wagons, motor-cars, and other vehicles, with their unbelievable loads of merchandise. From time to time they sauntered out on a pier, their uniforms gaining them admission without question.

“See that odd little boat over there?” said the purser, as they walked out on one of the piers.

“Sure,” replied Willie. “I can’t help seeing her. She’s the only boat in the dock.”

“Do you notice anything unusual about her?” said the purser.

“Sure. It’s the way she’s decked over. She looks like a trim little steam-yacht boarded up for the winter. It looks as though her owner had built a sort of second story on her deck. She has hardly any windows, either. I notice she flies the United States flag.”

“Have you any idea what she is?”

“Not the slightest,” said Willie.

“Well, that’s a mail-boat. She conveys the mails from incoming steamers. The mail-boat rushes down to Quarantine, comes up alongside of a liner, and opens her hatches. The steamer shoots the mail-sacks down into the little boat, which rushes them to land.”

“That’s something else I didn’t know,” remarked Willie. “I’m obliged to you for pointing her out.”

They left the pier and continued on down West Street. As they crossed that thoroughfare to the sidewalk, a truck passed them, loaded with bananas. But the bananas were far different in appearance from the bunches of rich yellow fruit seen so commonly in the windows of grocery stores. Each bunch was green—fruit as well as stem. And there were dozens and dozens of bunches. Willie noticed the truck, but thought little of it. He had seen green bananas before, though perhaps never so many at one time. Before they had gone half a block, another truck passed them, also loaded high with green bananas. Soon another came past and then another.

“Well,” cried Willie, “would you look at all the bananas? Got enough there to feed the nation.”

“If you knew how many it takes to feed the nation,” said the purser, “you would know that those few wagon loads are hardly a drop in the bucket. Why, the banana ships are going all the time, rushing right back to Central America as soon as they get rid of their cargo, and then rushing home again as fast as they can, so that their fruit won’t get baked on the way.”

“Baked bananas!” exclaimed Willie, his eyes open wide with astonishment. “You’re stringing me.”

“Not a bit of it,” smiled the purser.

“Tell me what you mean, then.”

“Just what I said. If they don’t hustle home with their fruit as fast as steam will carry them, the bananas are likely to cook. Then they are a dead loss, for the Board of Health will not allow the sale of bananas like that. Why, I stood on one of these banana piers one night and watched the handlers throw half a million bananas overboard.”

“A half million bananas!” cried Willie. “How many bananas does one ship carry, anyway?”

“I can’t tell you exactly, but it runs in my head that a ship carries somewhere in the neighborhood of 5,000 bunches.”

“How many bananas are there in a bunch?”

“I can’t tell you that exactly, either. But if you will recall how a bunch of bananas looks, you will remember that the bananas come in little clusters, like hands. I often buy one of those clusters, and I know they have a dozen or more good bananas to the hand. A good bunch of bananas will probably have twelve to eighteen or twenty of these hands. So I would say that a small bunch contains 150 bananas and a big bunch 300. If we split the difference, and say 200 bananas to a bunch and multiply that by 5,000, we’ll be within gunshot of the number of bananas in a boat load. That makes 1,000,000 bananas.”

“Whew!” whistled Willie. “Think of that. A million bananas in one boat load. But tell me. How can they get baked?”

“Did you ever sit on a tin roof in the middle of a hot July day?” demanded the purser.

Willie chuckled. “I have sat down on one,” he said, “but I didn’t stay long.”

His companions laughed, and Mr. Robbins continued, “A steel steamer in the tropics heats up just about the way a tin roof does in July. Of course an effort is made to ventilate the fruit, but if the ship does not get out of that intense tropic heat in pretty quick time, you can imagine what happens to the bananas inside. Perhaps they do not literally bake, but they are so affected by the heat that they are unfit to eat.”

“That must have been a sight—to watch them throw half a million bananas overboard,” said Willie. “How do they handle bananas, anyway? They can’t handle them as they do bales and boxes.”

“Would you like to see them unloading a banana boat?” asked the purser.

“I sure would.”

“Well, there’s evidently a boat unloading now, or these wagon loads of fresh fruit would not be passing. The fruit pier is near at hand and we’ll drop in and watch them unload, while we are waiting to get our dinner.”

“Thank you,” said Willie. “That will be bully!”

Presently they came to a banana pier. Empty wagons were streaming into it and trucks laden with green bananas were issuing from it. The visitors entered the pier and walked along it until they came to where the unloading was in progress. Then, standing to one side, out of the way, they watched the process.

The empty wagons formed a line on the far side of the pier. On the near side of the pier, beside the steamer, several wagons were being loaded. The banana handlers were apparently mostly foreigners. They had neither trucks nor baskets, however, but carried the great bunches of bananas in their arms as carefully as they might convey so many infants. Down one side of the gangplank walked a line of empty-handed carriers, while up the other side came the men bearing the big bunches of fruit. They moved in a steady stream—into the ship and out, into the ship and out; and one man walked close on another’s heels. The bananas were passed by the carriers to waiting hands in the trucks, and the great bunches were piled carefully and skilfully, sometimes with layers of salt hay between to save them from being bruised in the trucks.

As fast as a wagon was loaded, the driver drove away, and a wagon from the waiting line turned and pulled into its place. Thus the fruit moved in a ceaseless stream from vessel to wagon, and from pier shed to store or freight-house. For many of these bananas would be sent inland by train, to supply folks in interior towns.

The steady movement of fruit fascinated Willie. It made him think of the constant flow of a stream of water. For a long time he watched in silence. Then the purser caught his eye.

“What do you think of it?” he asked.

“I can’t tell you,” said Willie. “It’s wonderful. It gives me a feeling I can’t express. But I know one thing. I shall never forget this scene. And I am a thousand times obliged to you for showing it to me.”

“I’m glad we happened to think of it,” said the purser. “It’s as good as a movie.”

“It’s a heap sight better,” commented Willie. “This is real.”

“I thought the movie was reel, too,” said Roy. “If it weren’t for the possibility of spoiling your fine uniform, Roy,” laughed Willie, “I’d soak you with one of those green bananas.” And he pointed to the pieces of unripe fruit on the pier that had dropped from the bunches while they were being handled.

“Do you know,” said the purser, after consulting his watch, “that it has been more than an hour since we left the Lycoming? It’s half-past one. I think we can safely get under way.”

They left the fruit pier, and striking directly away from the water-front, at once found themselves in a maze of small streets. Curious, indeed, was the transformation. All about them stood sky-scrapers, towering aloft hundreds of feet. Yet the little thoroughfares they were now penetrating were lined with low, old, brick buildings, mostly dwellings or dwelling-houses that had been converted into shops. They were small, low, dingy, ill-kept buildings of three or four stories with sloping roofs and dormer-windows. Their lines were good. Some of the doorways were still beautiful, despite the rough treatment they had had. It required little imagination to picture the time when these were the homes of well-to-do people.

They passed what had been a saloon, and probably still was, which bore on its window the name of Casey.

“Just look at that name,” said the purser. “That’s a relic of antiquity.”

“What do you mean?” asked Willie.

“Why, that is a reminder of a lost people,” laughed the purser.

“A lost people!” cried Roy. “With Tammany Hall full of Murphys, and Caseys, and Hennesseys, and O’Haras! What are you giving us?”

“It’s a fact, though,” said the purser. “Of course, there are plenty of Irishmen in New York, but not around here. Yet some years ago, this was a solid Irish settlement. And before the Irish, it was a region of fine American homes. Now nobody lives here except Armenians, Syrians, and a few Turks. We have migrations from location to location in a city, as well as from country to country.”

“So these folks are Syrians and Armenians, are they?” said Willie, quietly. “I’m mighty glad to have a chance to see them.”

All about them were Armenian shops. Swarthy, black-haired women sat in dark doorways, singly and in groups, chatting and industriously doing needlework as they talked. Mostly their features were regular and pleasing. Their olive complexions were strikingly beautiful. Their teeth, exposed when they laughed, seemed to be as fine as pearls. Generally they wore shawls about their shoulders, or thrown over their heads. These were of fine, thin material, gay and even gaudy, but very beautiful for all that. They formed splendid settings for the dark faces they framed. There were men of the same races about, too. Not large, also swarthy, with piercing, black eyes, the men attracted far less attention than the women. Their dress appeared quite similar to that of most Europeans or Americans, though a close observer would have noticed many small differences, in shoes, neckwear, ornaments, and so on.

All these foreigners talked for the most part in their native tongues. They seemed to chatter interminably. The men from the Lycoming could understand nothing of what was said. But they gathered, from the tones and the glances that were bestowed upon them, that they themselves were the subject of some of the talk. Indeed, on several occasions Willie noticed that as they came along women jumped from the shop steps on which they were sitting and darted into the stores behind them or called excitedly to persons within. Then the women sat down on the steps again and went on with their lace making or knitting. But always the women seemed to be watching them. At first Willie thought nothing of this. But after two or three of the women had gone through same performance, Willie saw that it was more than a coincidence. Something about their appearance attracted undue attention to them.

Presently Willie fell behind his comrades, in passing a group of pedestrians, and he purposely remained behind, even dropping back several yards, as though he had no connection with Roy and the purser. They were deep in an argument and for some time did not notice that Willie was not abreast of them.

Willie took advantage of this opportunity to observe what was passing. He saw that he himself attracted no attention whatever, but that at shop after shop, on the approach of Roy and the purser, there was a flutter of skirts and a woman scurried into the shop. But Willie could see nothing in the shops that explained it. After a while he came to the conclusion that it must be his friends’ uniforms that caused the commotion. He was a bit puzzled about that, but when he recalled that he had heard how badly some of these foreigners had fared at the hands of American immigration officials, he thought he understood it. The women, he thought, must have some fear of ship’s officers.

Willie was just stepping forward to speak to his friends about it, when he heard the purser say, “Here we are. Where’s Willie?”

“Right here,” called Willie.

“This is the place where we eat,” said the purser, and the three entered a dingy old house that had become an Armenian restaurant. Willie entirely forgot about the incident he had observed, for the restaurant was unlike any place in which he had ever been.

It was on the second floor of one of the old houses with which the street was filled. The brick wall on the street side had largely been removed, and great glass windows put in, making the place light and pleasant. The room was not large. It was furnished with small, round tables. On the walls were various printed cards and placques, but Willie could read none of them. He judged that they were printed in Turkish characters. There were a few tapestries hung about, but otherwise little attempt had been made at ornamentation.

Willie’s attention was instantly riveted by the men in the place. Slight of build, dressed in dark clothes, and displaying considerable jewelry, with swarthy skins, black hair, and piercing eyes, they sat indolently in groups, conversing in their native tongue. All of them were smoking, mostly cigarettes; but two of the groups were gathered about Turkish hookahs, from which all of those in the groups were smoking.

Willie had never before seen hookahs, but he had read about them, and he knew instantly that the strange things he was looking at were hubble-bubbles or water-pipes, so extensively used in the Orient. The thing made him think of a large water carafe with a gaudy, handleless teacup set atop of it. The teacup was a highly ornate tobacco-bowl. From it a tube descended into the carafe-like water container, which was of glass, also ornamented. Leading from this water bowl were several pliant tubes of some length, that terminated in mouthpieces like pipes. Each of the smokers held one of these tubes in his hand. From time to time each smoker raised his mouthpiece to his lips and drew smoke through the tube. At each inhalation the smoke was sucked down from the glowing tobacco-bowl through the water, which bubbled and bubbled.

At the entrance of the three Americans a sudden hush fell on the place. Every eye in the room was directed toward them. But when the purser and his companions returned the gaze, eyes were turned away again. Yet Willie saw well enough, that though no one was staring at them, not a move of theirs escaped observation. The observation was sly, furtive. It made Willie think of a cat watching for a mouse, apparently half asleep, with eyes all but closed, yet intensely alert and ready to spring at the appearance of so much as a whisker. In the same way Willie felt that the purser, Roy, and he were being watched. The various groups in the place resumed their talk. The men lounged in their chairs in an indolent, indescribably lazy way, not unlike a cat stretched out by a kitchen fire. And indolently they puffed at their cigarettes and hookah tubes.

Soon the feeling of uneasiness wore off. The purser seemed to feel perfectly at home, and Roy likewise paid small attention to those about him. He was continuing his discussion with the purser.

The latter picked up a bill of fare and shoved it across the table to his companions. “What shall it be?” he inquired.

“You might as well ask me what the people of Mars look like,” laughed Roy, examining the card. “I could answer just as intelligently. These names don’t mean a thing to me.”

“How would it be if I order?” inquired the purser. “We can have several large orders, from which we can all be helped. We’ll find some things that way that we shall all like, I’m sure.”

“That suits us,” said Roy and Willie together.

The purser consulted his card and then talked to the waiter, who presently returned with a huge tray full of curious foods. He brought rice with cooked tomatoes and meat and spice in it, called pilau; and meat rolled into a hollow cylinder and filled with unnamable but delectable vegetables and savory spices and raisins; and cucumbers, hollowed out and stuffed, then baked; and curious forms of bread; and pastries; and dishes composed of baked fruits with raisins; and other strange delicacies, so that the little table was filled to overflowing. But the party did not object to that. Each was hungry by this time and they attacked the food vigorously. After a single mouthful they needed no urging. “Yum! Yum!” said Roy, sampling the stuffed meat roll. “This sure is great!” Then he fell to with a will. The purser smiled with pleasure. For a few moments there was little conversation among the three. They were too busy to talk. When they had ended, the platters were bare. Turkish coffee was served in tiny cups. When they were entirely through with their meal, the purser paid the bill, and the three went out.

Every eye followed them. Willie was the last one out of the door. He paused a moment in the hallway. And in that moment he heard a perfect babel of voices within the restaurant. Apparently every man in the place was talking at full speed.

“They’re discussing us,” thought Willie. Then he followed his companions down-stairs.

It took the party but a few minutes to get back to the Lycoming. As they climbed up to the wireless cabin, they met a young man coming down. He wore the uniform of a wireless operator.

“Hello, Reynolds,” cried Roy, springing forward and holding out his hand to the visitor. “I’m mighty glad to see you. Can’t you come back and stay a while?”

“Sure,” said the visitor. “That’s what I came for. I had a little time off and thought I’d come over for a chat.”

The purser stepped forward and shook hands warmly with the visitor. Then Roy presented Willie.

“Mr. Reynolds,” he said, “I am glad to make you acquainted with my old friend, Willie Brown. Willie belongs to the Wireless Patrol you have heard me tell about. He’s a fine wireless man, so we have much in common.”

Then turning to Willie, Roy continued, “Willie, Mr. Reynolds is the wireless man on the Ward liner Morro Castle. We got acquainted down in Galveston, and we’ve become pretty good friends. You see our boats run up and down the coast. Usually we are within talking distance of each other, and when our work is out of the way, we often chat at long range. We keep each other posted as to what is happening along the route.”

Willie and Mr. Reynolds shook hands warmly. “I’m mighty glad to know you, Mr. Reynolds,” said Willie. “I’m glad to know any of Roy’s friends, for he and Mr. Robbins are almost the only people I know in New York. And I’m especially glad you are a wireless man. I’ve got my own wireless set here, but, besides Roy, I have no one near that I can talk to. Maybe I can talk to you when you’re near port.”

“I’d be delighted,” said Reynolds. “And when I’m not near port, too, if we can reach each other. How far can your set carry?”

“I don’t know,” said Willie. “I made my outfit myself. I run it now with dry cells, so it won’t carry very far. But when I’m able to, I’m going to get a battery powerful enough to carry as far as Central City, Pennsylvania. I want to be able to talk to the fellows back home.”

“Then we can talk at considerable distances,” said Mr. Reynolds. “Where is your set installed?”

“It’s in that old suit case under Roy’s bunk,” laughed Willie. “I don’t know where I’ll set it up. I just landed in New York and have no boarding-house yet. I’m going to work in the Custom-house. If it is possible, I should like to live near by. That will save time and be interesting, too. There are so many fascinating things to see down here. Then, too, I’d be near Roy’s pier, so he and I can see each other easily when he gets into port.”

“That sounds like sense. I have no doubt you will find just what you are looking for. Suppose we exchange call signals. Then we can talk as soon as you get your outfit rigged up. The Morro Castle’s call is KWC.”

“And my call,” said Willie, “will be the same that I had back home. I am regularly licensed, but I suppose I may have to have my license transferred. At any rate, my old call is CBM. Our club call is CBWC. It’s a bit irregular, perhaps, but it is the call we chose when we formed the wireless club. The initials stand for Camp Brady Wireless Club.”

“I see,” said Mr. Reynolds. “And how do you come to have the call CBM?”

“It’s this way. The CB stands for Camp Brady and the M is my letter.”

“I should think your letter would be B for Brown.”

“You would naturally think so, but we couldn’t choose our calls that way. We had more than one fellow with the same initial. So we just picked our letters in our regular firing order. You know we had a pistol squad, and we used to shoot in turn. The letter M fell to me.”

“I see,” said Mr. Reynolds. “As Shakespeare says, ‘What’s in a name,’ anyway? So I know your call, that is sufficient.”

“Well, any time you hear the call CBWC, you’ll know that somebody is trying to get the fellows at home. And it would almost certainly be either Roy or myself. And if you hear the call CBM, you’ll know that somebody wants me. That would most likely be Roy. At any rate, I hope you will be sounding the call CBM before very long. I’ll let you know when I get my outfit set up.”

In a few minutes the purser went back to his office. Mr. Reynolds chatted a while and returned to his steamer. Roy and Willie were alone.

“Roy,” said Willie, his face suddenly sober, “I don’t feel exactly right about this business. I was so happy over getting my job that I didn’t think about you at first. I came here as your guest. Now I’ve accepted a job and engaged to go to work to-morrow. That means I can’t make the trip to Galveston with you. I didn’t think before how that looks. I’ve half a notion to go back and throw up the job. I’m not treating you fair, Roy.”

“You blooming old chump,” cried Roy. “You’ll do nothing of the sort. Of course, I am sorry that you are not going to make the trip with me. But that is only a pleasure deferred. You can go the first time you have a vacation. And besides, having you permanently in New York means a hundred times as much to me as having you on shipboard with me for a few days. Why, now you’ll always be here when I get back from the South. We can have several nights together after each trip. And we can talk to each other for some hours after I leave port or before I reach it on the return. I’ll say it’s bully. So don’t you worry one bit longer about me. We’ll have to-day together, anyway. Then I want you to jump in and make a reputation for yourself. And I know you’re going to do it. You’ve got it in you, and I expect soon to hear that you are having wonderful adventures.”

“Yes, sharpening lead-pencils and filling the boss’s ink-well,” laughed Willie.

Alas for Willie! Life was not to be so placid for him as he fancied.


Willie’s troubles began the next morning. Long before the appointed hour, he was on hand at the Custom-house. But he found he was alone. The elevator man was there and a few persons who seemed to be employed about the building were visible, but the office in which Willie was to work was deserted. Willie did not know what to do. He did not like to venture boldly into the offices, nor was he desirous of waiting outside, at the door. So he stepped within the anteroom and sat down on the little settee. Presently one or two men entered the anteroom and brushed past him without paying any attention to him.

After a while a rangy, well-grown boy came up the corridor, whistling noisily. Willie had a good opportunity to observe him as he came down the long passageway. There was a swagger about the lad’s carriage that suggested conceit or at least self-complacency. The boy’s cap was tilted rakishly over one ear. Even before Willie could see his face distinctly, he felt sure the lad before him was a “smarty.” When the boy drew close enough so that his features could be distinguished plainly, Willie was certain that his guess was correct. In fact, he saw at once that the fellow was more than “smart.” He was tough. A leering, ugly expression was plainly marked on his face. Hard lines were already stamped about his mouth and eyes. And Willie knew without ever hearing the boy speak, that his talk would be vulgar and profane. He was the more certain when the lad came blustering into the office, laid his hand on the swinging gate, and pushed it open. The first two fingers of the hand were stained a deep brown, from cigarettes.

The lad pushed through the gate, which he allowed to slam shut with a bang. He glanced into all the rooms of the suite, probably trying to discover if he was on hand before the boss. He saw no one but a few minor clerks who had come in while Willie was waiting at the door. Then he returned to the little railing, and facing Willie, said in a coarse voice, “Whatcha want?”

“I’m the new office boy,” said Willie, quietly, feeling an instant and instinctive dislike for the lad before him.

“You are, hey?” said the lad, giving Willie an ugly stare. “Well, you’re a deuce of an office boy!” and the fellow swore noisily. Then, after another stare, he went on, “Whose cradle did they rob to get you, huh?”

At this reference to his size, Willie flushed angrily. The lad who was talking to him was a full head taller than Willie, and yet he was a full year younger. Willie, of course, did not know that, but he instantly guessed that the office boy had not had nearly as much schooling as he himself had had. Willie was right, for the office boy had never even gotten into high school.

Willie’s impulse was to make an angry and cutting reply, but he restrained himself. It wouldn’t do, he thought, to get into a quarrel with his predecessor before he himself was actually installed in office. And no sooner had Willie thought that than it occurred to him that perhaps the lad before him was trying to pick a quarrel with him. He might want to discredit him, or he might want to give him a beating. There wasn’t any question that the lad probably could whip him in a fight. Not only was the boy a head taller than Willie, but he probably weighed forty pounds more than Willie. So Willie decided to take a tight rein on himself. He sat still and made no reply.

The insolent office boy promptly tried another line of attack. He began to question Willie, as though he were examining him for the place. But at that juncture Mr. King came bustling in. Willie was greatly relieved when the tall Special Agent stepped through the doorway.

“Hello, Willie!” he cried, seeing his new helper. “Glad to see you’re on hand promptly.” Then the Special Agent turned to the big office boy. “Tom,” he said, “I wish you’d show this boy just what his duties are, before you go to your new job.”

The big lad took Willie in charge and instructed him in his new duties. “You sit at this here desk,” he said, “and when anybody comes in, you see that he gets to the Chief quick. See? And you answer the buzzer when Mr. King rings. See? And you take care of his desk and his mail. See?” The lad glanced quickly round. Mr. King was not in his room. The old office boy stepped into it and beckoned to Willie. “You gotta keep the ink-wells filled and good pens on the desk. You’ll find them in that cupboard. Be sure you keep several on the desk. And when the mail comes, grab it quick and put it on the boss’s desk. Don’t do a thing to it, but put it on his desk. He don’t want anybody to monkey with his mail. And you’ll have to clean out these spittoons twice every day. About the middle of the morning and the middle of the afternoon you want to take them down-stairs to the wash-room and clean them out. See? The boss is awful particular about it.”

“Where is the wash-room?” asked Willie.

“The elevator man will show you. I couldn’t exactly tell you how to find it.”

Just then the Special Agent came into the room and sat down at his desk. The office boy promptly withdrew, and Willie followed. The office boy gave him some further directions and disappeared. Willie sat down at his desk in the anteroom. Almost at once the buzzer sounded, startling Willie so that he fairly jumped from his chair. He stepped to the Special Agent’s desk.

“Just sit down and answer the questions on this card,” said Mr. King. “This is your examination.”

Willie was taken aback. “My examination?” he said. “I don’t understand.”

“This is a Civil Service job you’ve got,” replied Mr. King. “You have to pass an examination before I can regularly appoint you.”

Willie looked a little alarmed.

“You needn’t worry,” smiled the Special Agent. “You’ve been to high school and you will have no difficulty in passing the examination.”

“If this is a Civil Service post,” said Willie, “how could you discharge that other office boy so suddenly?”

“Oh! I got rid of him by promoting him.”

“By promoting him!” gasped Willie.

“Sure. They need a boy in one of the departments here. He has to be a boy on the Civil Service list, who has had at least a little experience. They always get their boys that way. The boys start in my office and move on up.”

“Then I suppose he’s glad he lost his place here.”

“In a way, perhaps. But he knows I moved him along to get rid of him. It really isn’t much of a promotion. He’ll get an extra dollar a week, maybe, but he’ll have to work to earn it. And he knows it. He didn’t do any work here at all. He was the worst loafer I ever had on the job. I’m hoping you will be an improvement.”

“I’m going to be,” said Willie, very quietly, and more to himself than to his new boss.

He took the papers back to his desk and read them over. The questions were simple and he found that he could answer all of them readily. He drafted his answers, then went over each answer carefully to see whether he had misspelled any words, and whether he could improve the wording. When he was fully satisfied that he had his answers in as good shape as he could put them, he copied them neatly on fresh paper and handed the sheets to Mr. King.

The latter went over the papers at once. Then he touched the buzzer. “Your papers are satisfactory,” he said, “and you are formally appointed to the job. You are now in a Civil Service position and cannot be ousted from it except for misbehavior or incompetency.”

“Thank you, Mr. King,” said Willie. “I’m glad to know it.”

“Very well. But don’t think that because you are a Civil Service employee you can loaf on the job. We don’t always promote boys when we get rid of them. Just remember that.”

Willie went back to his desk and began to familiarize himself with his tasks. He made some mistakes at first. When a man inquired for Mr. King and Willie took the man into the inner office without first speaking to Mr. King, the Special Agent was provoked. The minute the man was gone, Mr. King rang his buzzer and reprimanded Willie.

“Don’t do that again,” he said sharply. “Always find out a caller’s name and business, and then find out whether it is convenient for us to see him. That applies to any of us here in the office. We can’t be bothered by every Tom, Dick, and Harry who chooses to walk in.”

“Very well, sir,” said Willie. “I’m sorry I made a mistake.” He was puzzled about the mistake, too, for he was certain the old office boy had told him his business was to conduct callers promptly to the Chief. “Probably I misunderstood him,” thought Willie.

Presently the mail-carrier came with a great bunch of letters. Willie promptly took them to Mr. King. Hardly had he resumed his seat at his desk before the buzzer rang angrily. “Sort this mail,” said Mr. King sharply. “Deliver each letter to the man it’s addressed to. Be sure you slit the envelopes in my own mail. I can’t waste time opening envelopes.”

Willie’s eyes popped open wide. “Why, I thought,” he began, and then was silent.

He sorted, slit, and delivered the mail as directed. But while he was doing it, he was trying to recall what the old office boy had told him. Willie was certain he had been told not to slit any letters. Could it be that he had misunderstood?

Time went faster than he dreamed it could. Willie was busy every moment. Before he knew it, the morning was almost past. Willie thought of the spittoons. He leaped to his feet and darted into the Special Agent’s office. From either side of the big mahogany desk he lifted a shining brass cuspidor and started for the door.

“Hold on there,” roared the Chief. “What in blazes are you doing with those spittoons? Don’t get so gay. There’ll be plenty of jobs worth doing, without wasting your time on cuspidors. What did you mean to do with them, anyway?”

Willie’s suspicions were becoming certainties, as he answered, “Clean them, of course. Isn’t that part of my work?”

“Certainly not,” exploded the Special Agent. “That’s work for the scrub women. What in blazes do you think I would do while you were off somewhere cleaning spittoons, and half a hundred people were waiting outside my office? Where did you intend to wash those things, anyway?”

Willie stepped close to his Chief’s desk, and very quietly and distinctly said, “In the washroom—just where I was instructed to clean them.”

“Instructed!” roared the Special Agent. “Who instructed you to clean spittoons?”

“I was told that was part of my work,” said Willie, dodging the question. “I thought I had to clean them twice a day.”

Despite his anger, the Special Agent burst into laughter. “I see somebody has been stringing you,” he said. “And I see you don’t exactly like to be a telltale. All right. You needn’t name anybody. I am a good guesser. But tell me this. Why did you bring that man into my office without first announcing him? Did you understand that that also was a part of your duties?”

“I thought so,” said Willie.

“And did you understand that you were to dump the mail on my desk the way you did?”

Willie grinned. “I understood that it was important that it be done in just that way,” he said.

“Well, I’ll be hanged!” exploded the Chief. “This is really funny.” And all his bottled-up wrath effervesced in laughter. “See here,” he went on. “I guess the safest plan will be for you to inquire how to do things, each time you tackle a new task. Then you’ll get things straight.”

“I’ll do it, sir,” said Willie. “And I’ll ask one question right away. I didn’t have time to get the pens ready for your desk. How many do you want, and how do you want them?”

“Pens!” cried the Special Agent. “That’s one thing I can’t abide on my desk. I use a fountain pen. I want my desk just as it is now—as clear as possible. I’ll attend to my mail, sort it, answer it, and get it out of the way. I want my desk clear—always.”

“Thank you,” said Willie, grinning. “I think I understand a lot of things.”

The Special Agent grinned back. “I do, too,” he smiled. “Now go back to your desk and—do the best you can under the circumstances.”

Thereafter Willie got on excellently. In a few days’ time he felt quite at home in his job. His duties were simple enough. They were to do the ordinary tasks done by an ordinary office boy—to run errands, to distribute the incoming mail, to post outgoing mail, to wrap and unwrap packages, to look after the office supplies, such as pens and ink, and so on. In particular he was to receive visitors at the gate.

All the remainder of his tasks were so trivial for a boy of Willie’s ability that Willie was inclined at first greatly to underrate his job. For he did not at once comprehend the full importance, either to himself or to his employer, of this matter of inquirers. Least of all did he see at first what bearing it might have on his own fortunes. Naturally cheerful and well-mannered, Willie tried to be polite to every one who called. In that respect he was so different from his predecessor that people who were familiar with the latter at once noticed the change. Willie’s first understanding of what his conduct might mean to him came when he unwittingly overheard a conversation between his Chief and a stranger he had just conducted to the Special Agent’s office.

“Billy,” the visitor was saying, “where did you get that new office boy? He’s a peach. He was as courteous to me as though I were his rich uncle. And he’s very intelligent. He understood at once why I was here. When he found you could not see me right away, he came out and expressed regret at the delay and handed me a magazine to read while I waited. Then he went on about his work just as quietly and industriously as could be. Wasn’t a bit fresh. Didn’t try to pick up a conversation with me or anything. But he kept his eye on you, and the instant you were free, he stepped to the doorway and waited for your orders. Then he brought me in to you. And he didn’t say, ‘Mr. King will see you now.’ Instead he said, ‘Won’t you please step in. Mr. King is free now.’ He opened the gate and escorted me in himself, giving my name to you as I entered. He’s a peach. I’m minded to steal him from you.”

That was all Willie overheard. It was enough. It set him to thinking. Evidently the man appreciated the fact that Willie had tried to make him comfortable. If he had not over-heard this conversation, Willie would never have given a thought to the occurrence. He had not made any special effort to be nice to the man. It was natural for Willie to treat people kindly. He had been brought up that way.

Now Willie reviewed the entire occurrence in his mind. He tried to remember every word and act of his. When he had thought it all over, he said to himself very soberly, “Of course that man liked to be treated politely. I know how it makes a fellow feel when a fresh office boy barks out ‘Whatcha want?’ as that guy did who held this job before me. Anybody would like to be treated politely. And it pleased him that I handed him a magazine. I don’t know why I did that. Just happened to, I guess. But he thought I was trying to make him comfortable. I’ll remember that. If it makes a man feel like giving a fellow a job in his own office, it’s a trick worth remembering. In future I’ll make a real effort to make everybody comfortable. Mr. King said he didn’t always promote boys when he got rid of them, and some day something might happen and I’d be glad of a chance at another job.”

Poor Willie! Much sooner than he would have believed possible, he was wondering very seriously if he could find another job.

He thought the matter over a bit further and a new idea came to him. “Why, I believe that’s one of the best ways to keep the job I’ve already got,” muttered Willie. “I could see that that man went into Mr. King’s office feeling mighty good about something, though I never dreamed I had anything to do with it. Mr. King can put through a whole lot more work in an hour if he deals with people that feel good than he could if he had to talk to a lot of soreheads. That’s a cinch. Why, if I could keep callers all jollied up so they feel good-natured, it ought to make things easier for Mr. King.”

A minute later Willie chuckled. “That’s one thing I tumbled to, myself,” he muttered, “without being shown by my predecessor.” Then he laughed good-naturedly at the recollection of the spittoons he had tried to clean. “I sure was a greeny,” he said. “But the affair didn’t hurt me a bit. So I have no call to feel sore at the other office boy. I’ll just forget him.”

That was easier to say than to do, however, for every day or so Willie met the fellow somewhere. Always the older lad tried to bully Willie. If they met in a corridor, he would walk in the middle of the way and roughly crowd Willie to one side. He nicknamed Willie Peanut. If there was no one around to hear him, he called Willie names and swore at him. So far, Willie had never met the fellow outside of the Custom-house. He had no doubt that the boy would handle him roughly if they did meet on the street, for Smith—that was the bully’s name, Tom Smith—had threatened him with a good whipping the first time he caught him alone. So Willie resolved to keep his eyes open when he was on the street.

It really was not difficult to avoid the bully, however, for there was slight chance of their meeting except in the Custom-house. The Smith boy lived up-town and ducked into the subway the minute the clock struck five. Willie, on the other hand, came to work early and left late. He had found a boarding-house very near at hand. It was close to the Armenian quarter, and was not five minutes’ walk from the Custom-house. It was not at all the sort of home he would want to live in permanently, but it would answer very well for the present. An Irish tugboat man and his wife named McMichael had a room to rent, and Willie engaged it. The Irishman and his wife were rough, but very kind-hearted, and they were honest. The woman had lost her only son, and she took a great liking to Willie. So he fortunately had a place that was clean and convenient, and he received the best of treatment.

It puzzled Willie, too, to know how he was going to install his wireless. The house in which he lived was close to the elevated railway. Willie knew that the powerful electric currents in the third rail would affect his communication badly. Furthermore, high buildings arose on every hand. So far as wireless communication was concerned, Willie was like a man down in a well. He was walled in on all sides. Besides, there was no really good place to string up an aerial. So Willie postponed the installation of his wireless system.

The question was settled for him, however, in a way that was unexpected to Willie. Although Uncle Sam had agents created expressly to prevent infractions of the prohibition laws, the Special Agent of the Treasury was also charged with the duty of preventing the unlawful entry of liquor into the country.

There had always been more or less liquor smuggling going on, but since the prohibition amendment became effective, the smuggling of liquor had assumed the proportions of a great industry. Liquor manufacturers in countries where the liquor traffic was not forbidden, were shipping vast quantities of wet goods to America, because of the high prices that could be obtained for the forbidden products.

Whole fleets of whiskey-laden vessels were constantly sailing from Bermuda and other foreign West Indian ports, and anchoring in the ocean just outside the three-mile limit, where Uncle Sam’s jurisdiction ceases. Small boats by the score, equipped with powerful motors and manned by desperate crews, were smuggling the stuff ashore in the dark. The “dry Navy” composed of former submarine chasers, and the Customs Department’s own sea-going force of four boats were working hard to prevent the landing of these rum ships and to seize the smuggled liquor.

Most of these patrol craft were equipped with wireless, and the Special Agent had to issue his orders at long distance. He lacked a wireless outfit in his own office, however, and had to use a government wireless in another part of the city. He telephoned his messages to the operator there. This would have been satisfactory enough if the operator had not been so busy with other work that sometimes the Special Agent’s messages were held up for hours before the operator could send them.

After an especially provoking delay one day, Mr. King called to his office boy. “Willie,” he said, “are you competent to communicate with my boats by wireless?”

“Yes, sir,” replied Willie. “I can talk to them if you wish.”

“Well, we don’t have any wireless in this office, and I have no appropriation to buy any. But I am tired of all this delay in sending orders. What would an outfit cost? If it doesn’t set me back too much, I’ll be hanged if I don’t buy an outfit myself.”

“If you could get me a good battery,” said Willie, eagerly, “you could use my set. I’ve got everything we need except a strong battery.”

“What would that cost?”

“Maybe it wouldn’t cost anything. We might be able to use the battery from an old motor-truck. You’ve got a lot of them in the department.”

“That’s a fact. And we likely have some extra batteries. We could use one of them, couldn’t we?”

“Sure,” said Willie. “It won’t cost a cent, if you can get a battery. I’ll rig up the outfit and run it for you.”

“Then I’ll do it. But there’s one thing we want understood. If we put in this outfit, you mustn’t neglect your work to be fooling with your wireless. You can use it before and after office hours, and during your hour off at noon, as much as you like. But during business hours you’re not to touch it unless you are handling messages for me.”

“That’s agreed to,” replied Willie.

“Then I’ll see what we can do about the battery. And by the way, please get me a fresh supply of stationery from that cupboard in the corner. Just fill this compartment in my drawer.” And the Chief tossed his bunch of keys to Willie.

While Willie was trying to find the key that fitted the cupboard, Mr. King turned to his telephone and called up the motor equipment bureau. Then he stepped out of the room.

Willie got the cupboard open, filled his superior’s desk drawer with stationery, and locked the cupboard. He laid the keys on Mr. King’s desk. Then he picked them up and put them in his pocket. “Somebody might take them,” said Willie to himself, “or they might be lost.”

Before Mr. King returned to his desk, a powerful, highly charged battery was delivered at the office door. Willie receipted for it. Just then Mr. King returned.

“Get your outfit and rig it up as quick as you can,” he said.

Willie slipped over to his boarding-house to get his suit case. Mrs. McMichael was not at home and Willie could not get in the house. He thought she might be visiting some of the neighbors and he walked about the neighborhood looking for her. After a time she came back. Willie was waiting on the step. He got his suit case and hurried back to the office. He realized that he had been gone quite a while.

“I’ll work all the faster to make up for it,” thought Willie.

As he entered the office, he thought of Mr. King’s keys and handed them to their owner. Then he got busy with his wireless set. Before night he had it installed, with a long, single-wire aerial on the roof, and his lead-in wire running to an inner room not visible from the Special Agent’s office. Willie tested the outfit and found it worked satisfactorily, but he did not remain after office hours to try it further. Instead, he hustled out to buy a few little things he needed to improve his outfit—a new detector, some additional wire, and a few other trifles.

Very early next morning he was on hand, and he had all his adjustments made before the time came for Willie to be at his desk. The instant the clock struck twelve he rushed out to luncheon, got a sandwich and a cup of coffee, and hurried back to use his wireless. He glanced into the Special Agent’s room. Mr. King was still at his desk. His back was turned and he did not see Willie. The clock showed that Willie had been gone only fifteen minutes.

“I’ll have forty-five minutes,” thought Willie. “Maybe I can get in touch with some of the fellows at home. I’m sure the battery will carry far enough, and some of the boys might be listening in during the noon hour, the way we used to do.”

He went into the inner room, closed the door, and for three-quarters of an hour tried to call his friends at Central City. Over and over again he flashed out the signals CBWC—CBWC—CBWC—de CBM—CBM—CBM. But he flashed it in vain. No answering signal came to him.

At one o’clock he went to his desk. Mr. Somers, the head clerk, was just entering the office. One by one, the other assistants came in. Then the Special Agent returned to his desk. A few moments later the buzzer rang briskly. Willie sprang to answer.

“Send Mr. Somers here,” said the Special Agent so sharply that Willie was surprised. He had never heard his boss use that tone before.

Mr. Somers came at the call. “Shut the door,” he heard Mr. King say, as Mr. Somers entered the inner office. A few moments later Mr. Somers came out, looking grave.

Again the buzzer sounded. “Send Mr. Rawley,” ordered the Treasury Agent.

Mr. Rawley came and was succeeded by Mr. Finn. Others followed him. Presently every employee in the Special Agent’s office had been closeted with Mr. King. Willie wondered what was afoot. Once more the buzzer rang. Willie promptly answered the summons.

“What time did you leave this office to get your luncheon?” asked Mr. King sharply.

“Twelve o’clock exactly,” said Willie.

“When did you get back?”

“Twelve-fifteen, exactly.”

“Was anybody in the office when you returned?”

“I did not see a soul, sir, except yourself.”

“What did you do between twelve-fifteen and one o’clock?”

“I was in the wireless room during every moment.”

“Can you prove it?”

“I—I—I don’t know, sir. Nobody saw me go in and nobody saw me come out. There was nobody in the office when I got back except yourself. I don’t think you saw me, sir.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“And I returned to my desk just as Mr. Somers came in. He was the first man to get back from luncheon. I don’t see how I can prove I was in the wireless room during that time. Why do you ask if I can?”

“Because,” said the Special Agent slowly, while his eyes seemed to bore clear through Willie, “I was the last person apparently to leave this office for luncheon. You were the only person in the place during the noon hour. During that hour a package of very important papers was taken from my desk.”


For a moment Willie was almost stunned. He stood as motionless as a statue. His Chief was studying his face with searching gaze. Willie endured the examination without flinching. Not for a second did he turn away from the penetrating look. Then he found his voice.

“Do you accuse me of taking the papers?” he demanded.

“I haven’t accused you of anything,” said the Chief. “I have merely stated the facts. Circumstances point to you. It’s up to you to prove that you did not touch those papers.”

“Nothing of the sort,” Willie retorted indignantly. “If you want to make me out a thief, it’s up to you to prove I did take them. It’s the law in this land that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty.”

The Chief seemed to be weighing Willie’s words, as though to determine whether Willie was making a bold bluff or voicing a natural indignation. If he came to any conclusion, he did not mention it. Instead, he went on, “What you say is true, in a general way. But if you really are honest, you will be eager to prove your innocence.”

“Of course I am eager to prove my innocence,” cried Willie. “And I shall not rest day or night until the truth is known. But it isn’t fair to think I’m the thief, merely because I happened to be in the building when the papers were stolen. And anyway, was it fair for you to leave the papers where they could be taken, and not notify me so I could be on the watch?”

“The papers were not left where they could be easily taken. They were locked in my desk.”

“Then you should have been careful to keep your keys in your pocket,” said Willie.

“The keys were in my pocket, all right. Whoever opened the drawer had a duplicate key.” And again the Chief looked hard at Willie.

“Then I don’t see why you should suspect me,” said Willie. “I certainly have no duplicate keys.”

“Perhaps not,” continued the Special Agent, looking harder than ever at Willie. “But I lent you my keys yesterday to open that cupboard in the corner. You had the keys in your pocket when you went to your boarding-place to get your wireless outfit. What was there to prevent you from having a duplicate key made while you were away? You were gone a long time.”

Poor Willie! He was almost overwhelmed. Circumstances certainly did point to him. He knew it was useless to protest his innocence. He saw now that what he must do was to prove it.

“Mr. King!” he cried, as soon as he could get command of himself. “I’ll have to admit that circumstances are badly against me. But I am absolutely innocent. I shall not rest until this matter is cleared up. I want you to search me this instant, and my desk, and the wireless room.”

“Then take off your coat and give it to me.”

Willie pulled off his coat. Mr. King examined it thoroughly, then carefully ran his hands over Willie. Next he searched Willie’s desk and finally the wireless room. He found no trace of his missing papers.

“See!” cried Willie jubilantly. “I do not have them.”

“That doesn’t prove you didn’t take them.”

“Aren’t you going to give me a fair deal?” cried Willie passionately.

“Of course I’ll give you a square deal. I’ll prove that by sending for a Secret Service man to investigate the matter at once.” Again he looked hard at Willie, but Willie never flinched.

“I’ll be very glad if you will,” he said. “If anybody can find out the truth, the Secret Service men can.”

Within a short time a Secret Service operative arrived. Willie ushered him into Mr. King’s office and closed the door. If ever in his life he wanted to be an eavesdropper, it was now. He resolutely fought down the idea and went back to his desk. But it was hard to keep his mind on his work.

After a time the Secret Service man came out of Mr. King’s office and began to question Willie. He asked him about every move he had made during the dinner hour, and Willie, comprehending his purpose, tried to account for every second. He explained that he had left the office on the very stroke of twelve, in order to get a quick bite so he could use his wireless during his free time.

“I ran over to the Childs’ restaurant,” said Willie, “and got a sandwich and a cup of coffee.”

“Can you prove it?” demanded the Secret Service man.

“I think so. I can pick out the waitress who brought me the food.”

“Then do it,” said the detective.

Willie asked Mr. King if he might step out with the detective. “Certainly,” replied the Chief. “Ask one of the clerks to keep his eye on the door.”

Willie did so and joined the Secret Service man. The restaurant was just across Bowling Green, on the east side of Broadway. The two descended in the elevator, walked across the little park, and entering the restaurant, stood near the door. Willie watched the waitresses come and go, for there were still some people eating. Presently Willie touched the detective’s arm. “That’s the girl,” he said, and he pointed to a black-haired waitress just coming from the kitchen with a tray of food.

The detective walked over to her table, followed by Willie. When she had distributed her food, the detective spoke to her quietly. “Did you ever see this lad before?” he asked.

The waitress looked keenly at Willie. “Yes,” she said. “He’s been in here several times.”

“When did you see him last?”

“At dinner-time.”

“Do you remember what he had to eat?”

“I’m not sure, but I think he had coffee and a sandwich.”

“How are you able to recall him?”

The girl hesitated. “Maybe it’s because he’s so little, but I guess it’s because he’s so polite. Anyway, he’s different from most of the boys that come in here, and I like him. He often eats at my table.”

“I’m obliged to you,” said the Secret Service man, and the two investigators went out.

“So far so good,” said the Secret Service man. “Now let’s return to your office.” They walked back to the Custom-house. “How do you know it was twelve-fifteen when you got back?” asked the detective.

“I looked at the clock, to see how long I could stay in the wireless room.”

“Was anybody in the office then?”

“Mr. King was. He sat at his desk, but his back was toward me and he was busy so that I am sure he did not notice me.”

“What did you do next?”

“I went directly into the wireless room.”

“Let’s take a look at it.”

They passed through one or two of the office rooms and then into a small inner room that had been made for a sort of storeroom, but was little used for any purpose. The Secret Service man looked around the room.

“What did you do after you came here?” he demanded.

“I shut the door, so I would not be interrupted. Then I sat down at my instrument and called my old chums at home.”

“How long did you call them?”

“I can’t say exactly. I called and called at frequent intervals, right up to the time I went back to the office. When I reached my desk, it was exactly one o’clock.”

“Can you prove you were calling all that time?”

“I’m afraid I can’t. I didn’t get a single answer. If I could find any other operator who heard me, I might be able to. But I don’t believe there’s much chance that I could find such a person.”

“Why not? There are lots of operators talking and listening in all the time.”

“Certainly. But mostly they use longer wave-lengths than I did. You know we amateur operators are limited to a low wave-length. There are hundreds of operators, no doubt, who were near enough to have heard me, but mostly they work in longer wave-lengths.”

The detective frowned. “You don’t seem very eager to find out,” he said.

“On the contrary, I’d give anything I own to find another operator who had a complete record of my calls. But I realize that probably no such record exists, either on paper or in some operator’s memory. You would hardly expect anybody to listen for three-quarters of an hour to a strange call or to make a note of hearing such a call. But just the same I’m going to begin a search for an operator who did hear me. I’ll get a list of stations within talking distance, and I’ll comb that list until I find somebody who heard my call. But it will be a big job and it will take me a long time. You know I can’t work very late in the evening, for I have to leave the building when it closes for the night.”

“Very well,” said the Secret Service man. “I advise you to make every effort you can. We have no proof whatever that you were in the wireless room at all during the noon hour. There is only your word for it.”

Poor Willie! The further matters went, the worse it seemed for him. He didn’t know where to turn for help or counsel. Roy’s ship had sailed during the forenoon, taking the purser and Roy with it. They were the only people in all this great city that Willie felt were really his friends. He didn’t know how they could help him, even if he could see them. But it would at least relieve his mind if he could talk the matter over with some one who was friendly. Then Willie thought of Reynolds, of the Morro Castle. He knew that he had sailed away two or three hours behind Roy, so he couldn’t talk with him. The only other person Willie could think of who might have a friendly interest in him was Sheridan. At the thought of Sheridan, Willie felt heartened. He would see the big Secret Service man at the first opportunity. Also he would get the list of radio stations and begin immediately to search for an operator who had heard his calls. And he would do some detective work on his own account. If ever there was occasion for him to make use of what detective powers he had, now was the time. The stake was the biggest he could ever work for. It was his own reputation.

The moment Willie was free that afternoon, he hurried to the Secret Service office and there he found Sheridan. He told him of the difficulty he was in.

“Do you think I would steal those papers?” he asked, after telling the Secret Service man his story.

“No, I don’t. But my belief in you won’t help you any. What we want to do is to find out who did take the papers. Now tell me everything that has occurred in that office since you started to work there.”

Willie reviewed in detail the story of his services to date, beginning with the first morning he went to work. He did not even neglect to tell Sheridan how Tom Smith had bullied him and threatened him, or how he, Willie, had made the ridiculous mistakes about the spittoons and other things, though evidently these things could have no possible bearing on the case. Yet he tried not to omit even the smallest details.

“That’s a good, clear statement,” commented Sheridan, when Willie had finished his story. “I have confidence in your innocence, but I’ll tell you frankly that things look bad for you. I hope the man on the case will get to the bottom of it.”

Willie stepped back aghast. “Aren’t you going to make an investigation yourself?” he cried.

“It is not for me to decide what I shall investigate,” replied the Secret Service man. “That’s up to the Chief. Besides, there’s a man already detailed to the case. I wouldn’t like to butt into another man’s job.”

“Then I’ll appeal to the Chief,” said Willie desperately. “The man that’s on the job believes I’m the thief and is trying hard to fasten the crime on me.”

“Hold on! Hold on!” said Sheridan. “United States Secret Service men don’t try to fasten crimes on any one.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Willie. “But I can’t help feeling indignant at the way he questioned me.”

“That questioning may mean your salvation, young man. If you are innocent, you want the truth disclosed. And the only way we can get at the truth is to follow out every clue that presents. He naturally started with you, because that seemed the obvious clue to follow. But it doesn’t follow that he thinks you guilty or that he is trying to prove you took the papers. If it had been my lot to make this investigation, I should doubtless have done just what he did. Now don’t queer your case with the Chief by making any such charges.”

“I’ll think twice before I speak once,” said Willie. “Will you ask the Chief if he will see me?”

“Yes, but it won’t do you any good. He’s busy.”

The Chief, however, was willing to see Willie. How much Sheridan had to do with making that possible, he did not say. But he came back, smiling, and told Willie to step into the Chief’s office.

“Hello, youngster,” said the Chief cordially. “What brings you back to the Secret Service? Lost your job at the Custom-house already?”

“No, sir,” said Willie, “but it looks as though I’m in a fair way to do so.” And he told the Chief all about his difficulties. He told him so heart-brokenly and fervently, moreover, that the Chief was touched.

“A fellow who appeals to the Secret Service for help when he’s accused of wrong,” said the Chief, “isn’t very likely to be guilty, is he?”

“Thank you,” said Willie. “That’s the first encouraging word anybody has said to me since this thing happened. I am not guilty, and all I ask is to have Mr. Sheridan investigate the matter and show who is.”

“You may be very sure we shall go into the matter thoroughly,” replied the Chief. “It is a serious business. But I cannot promise to put any particular man on the investigation. You may be sure, however, that you will have a fair deal and that we will get to the bottom of the affair.”

Willie went away, feeling that his effort had been in vain. It was, however, more fruitful than he ever dreamed it would be. The first Secret Service operative questioned others besides Willie, and at once everybody in the office knew him for what he was. Thereafter his usefulness was past. The Chief recalled him and sent a second operative: and the new man was Sheridan. But no one knew he was a Secret Service man. He came into the building as a cleaner and porter; and even Willie would not have known him had he seen him. For a long time he made no more headway than did Willie, who was industriously communicating, day after day, with wireless operators, in a quest for some one who had heard his signals on the day the papers were stolen from the Special Agent’s desk. But apparently the quest was vain. Meanwhile Willie did his work with absolute fidelity, putting into it every bit of mind and energy he possessed. But he could see that he was watched on all sides, and that belief in his guilt did not lessen as time passed.


But though Willie made no headway in his investigation, he was making splendid progress with his other work. He was on his mettle now. He had but one thought, night and day. That was to prove his worth. That meant, first, to prove his innocence; and second, to prove his ability. Time might or might not show who really took the papers. Willie, seemingly, could do nothing to clarify the situation. But to attain his other ends, he could do everything.

He began to study his various tasks, to see if there were better or more efficient ways of doing them. He tried harder and harder to be efficient at the gate, to keep things running smoothly, to do all he could to help forward the business of the office. Very quickly he learned where all the various supplies were. He soon knew the ins and outs of the entire place. He knew all the offices in the huge building, and could tell offhand who were in charge of them.

And while he thus became more useful, he was absorbing information that was to make him more useful still. Day after day, the operatives or special agents who worked with the customs inspectors to prevent smuggling, came in and discussed their cases. Willie often heard much that they said. So he came to know the names of persons who had tried to smuggle in goods, the methods they resorted to, and the artifices employed to trap them.

It was extremely fortunate for Willie that there was no other boy in the office. It has been said that one boy is worth half as much as a man, while two boys are worth nothing at all. It might have been somewhat that way with Willie, had he had a companion anywhere near his own age, for he was full of fun and mischief. But every one else in the office had outgrown his puppy days. Even so, Willie might have indulged in some harmless fun at intervals, had not the Chief’s papers been stolen. After Willie once found that the finger of suspicion pointed to him, he lost much of his natural buoyancy of spirit. He was too sick at heart even to want to play. So he settled down sedately, like an elderly gentleman, to his work. Thus he gained fast in knowledge and ability, and without realizing it, turned a disadvantage into an advantage.

It was impossible, however, to repress for very long a nature so buoyant and cheerful as Willie’s. Day followed day. And though the days did not lift the burden of suspicion from Willie, neither did they add to it. Slowly but surely Willie returned to his normal, cheerful frame of mind.

Once this change had come, Willie’s natural curiosity about life asserted itself. In that respect, Willie was like a fox-terrier, now nosing this thing and now that, and always on the alert. Truly he was in a favorable place for one curious about life. All the world was spread out before him, in tabloid form. He had only to search, and he would find near at hand peoples from the farthest corners of the earth. He had only to look, and he would see how men lived in far countries, what they ate and drank and how they worked and what they did to amuse themselves. And all these things Willie was keen enough to learn. So Willie’s return to better spirits fired his curiosity afresh; and his curiosity in turn renewed his spirits. Before he knew it, Willie was very much like the old Willie Roy had known back home—a likable, dependable, whole-souled, jolly lad, but with an unusual amount of sense and understanding.

Once his desire to see was whetted again, Willie turned eagerly to the pleasant task of getting better acquainted with New York. To be sure, he already knew the town’s geography by heart. He could tell an inquirer in an instant where Albany Street or Minetta Lane or Coenties Slip was located. He had learned the names and locations on a map during the search for the secret wireless. Yet mostly these places were still but names to him. When he said Mulberry Street, he did not think of tall brick tenements strung from fire-escape to fire-escape with red peppers, or of gaudy street festivals, or of the teeming population of swarthy Italians that lived in these brick tenements. And when he spoke of Allen Street, he had no vision of a dark, reeking thoroughfare, with the elevated railway trains thundering overhead and shutting out the sunlight, the garbage cans overflowing on the sidewalks, the glittering shops of the brass merchants, and the chattering swarms of Hebrews that filled the street. Now, Willie felt, the time had come for him to know the places themselves, the topography, the life that was lived in these places.

But he was sadly restricted in his efforts. Only after office hours had he opportunity to do any sightseeing. Being at the very end of Manhattan Island, it was necessary for him to ride if he meant to go any distance. Car fares cost money. And the small salary Willie was getting hardly more than sufficed to provide him with food and shelter. He had to be very careful of his pennies. In some respects that was fortunate for Willie. It encouraged, and almost necessitated, his seeing what lay near at hand and could be seen quickly and at no cost. So it came about that Willie began to make a systematic survey of what is probably the most interesting part of old New York—the region from Canal Street to the Battery.

Naturally Willie wanted to see more of the Armenians and the quarter in which they lived. He had never forgotten the occurrences that marked his first visit, nor had he ceased to wonder at those occurrences. And as he boarded right around the corner from the district, he was much to be seen in this odd little nook of lower Manhattan. He had already found the food toothsome and cheap; and more and more he ate in these Oriental cafes. Quite as naturally he began to visit the shops; but as he had little to spend, the few purchases he did make were of the most inexpensive sorts.

He never tired, however, of looking at the curious goods offered for sale. There were dried figs, packed in the most curious, bowl-shaped baskets woven of straw or grass; and dried dates, put up in various odd packages; and curious Turkish candies and pastries, unlike anything Willie had ever seen; and Turkish tobaccos, and pistachio nuts, which Willie had never seen before, and which he promptly sampled. And Willie was amused at one ferret-eyed shopman’s embarrassment, when, in pouring the nuts out of a can for Willie, he found a little white handkerchief in the can, that doubtless one of the man’s numerous babies had hidden away there. For the can was kept down low, behind the counter. And the trinkets were so interesting—the rings and bracelets and earrings and necklaces of semi-precious stones and even of cheap metals like copper and brass.

But what took Willie’s eye especially was the lace work. Again and again he had seen the Armenian women on the sidewalks and doorsteps plying their needles and making these beautiful pieces. There were wonderful shawls edged with lace, and lace handkerchiefs, and lace scarfs, and marvelous table-cloths, and no end of laces for edging waists and skirts and pillows, and other beautiful things. Most of all Willie looked with envious eyes on the lace collars. He wanted one for his mother. Often she wore simple lace collars, and Willie thought she never was so beautiful as when she wore a dark dress with a lace collar to frame her face. He meant to buy one of these collars just as soon as he could save the necessary amount of money. It really required no great sum, Willie found, to buy many of these articles. But he did not yet have even that little.

Willie would have paid small heed to the relative price of these Oriental offerings, and indeed he would hardly have known the prices were very different from prices elsewhere for similar goods, had it not been for an incident that occurred one day. Mr. King, in hunting through one of his pockets, came upon a neglected and forgotten letter. It was an announcement of the marriage of an old friend.

“By George!” said the Special Agent, gazing ruefully at the recovered announcement. “I forgot about that. I meant to send Frank some little token. I mustn’t wait another minute.” Then he looked at his engagement calendar, and sank back in his seat. He could not possibly get away that day to buy anything.

“Willie,” called the Treasury Agent through the open door, “I wish you’d do an errand for me.”

“I’ll be glad to,” said Willie, stepping to Mr. King’s desk.

“Here’s a ten-dollar bill, Willie. Jump into the subway and run up to Wanamaker’s. Get me a dozen nice napkins. If you can get some with embroidered edges for that price, I’d like them. If you can’t, get some plain ones. But they must be of good quality and a pretty pattern.”

“I’d be glad to do the errand, Mr. King, but are you sure you would like what I select?”

“Oh! You can pick a pretty pattern as well as anybody, and besides, if I don’t like your choice, I can exchange the napkins for others.”

Willie hurried away and reached the store in no time. He had no difficulty in finding plenty of beautiful napkins, but the prices were appalling. The embroidered ones were simply out of his reach. To get even the plain ones of good size and best quality required most of his ten-dollar bill. He got the best bargain he could and hurried back to his employer.

“There were plenty of fine embroidered napkins, Mr. King,” said Willie, “but ten dollars wouldn’t touch them. These are very fine napkins, but they are plain. Here’s your change.”

Mr. King unwrapped the napkins, looked at the purchase slip, and then counted the change Willie had given him. He found it correct.

“Here’s fifty cents for you, Willie,” he said, handing out a half dollar. “And I’m obliged to you.”

Willie laid the half dollar on the desk. “I’ve been paid once for my time,” he said. “I cannot take the money. But I thank you.”

Mr. King gave Willie a sharp look. He saw nothing but sincerity in the lad’s face. “Very well,” he remarked. “You are at least entitled to car fare. All our agents have their expenses paid when on duty.” And he handed a dime to Willie.

“Thank you,” said Willie, as he pocketed the money.

“Now we’ll see what sort of taste you have,” said Mr. King, as he spread the linen out on his desk.

“Well,” he said, “that suits me first-rate and it would suit Frank. But whether it will suit Frank’s wife or not I don’t know. She might not like them because they are not fancy.”

“I’m sorry I couldn’t get the embroidered ones,” said Willie. “They were almost double the price of the plain napkins. And the price of the plain ones was a fright.”

“Yes, I knew they would come high. These are imported goods, and the duty is something like eighty or ninety per cent. ad valorem.

“What does that mean?” inquired Willie.

“Simply this. The import duty is eighty or ninety per cent. of the original value of the goods. If an article is worth ten dollars, say, and the import duty is eighty per cent., the importer would have to pay a tax of eighty per cent. of ten dollars, or eight dollars, to get the stuff in. So he would have to have eighteen dollars merely to cover the purchase price and the revenue tax.”

“Whew!” whistled Willie. “Are import duties as high as that?”

“No, not all of them. Some are very low. It just depends. Articles of necessity, like food, pay very little duty and often none at all. But articles of luxury, like silks, laces, linens, and so on, pay very heavy duties. It takes a pile of money to run this government. If everybody was taxed directly, and had to pay in dollars and cents, right out of his pocket, there would be a tremendous howl. So Uncle Sam gets part of his money through indirect taxes, like import duties. That places the tax burden where it can best be borne, too, for poor people cannot afford many luxuries. The well-to-do pay a great deal, merely for the privilege of wearing fine clothes and having beautiful objects in their houses.”

Just then the arrival of a caller at the gate cut short the conversation, and Willie thought no more about the matter until the next time he saw an Armenian woman making lace on a doorstep.

“I understand now why these Armenian things are so cheap,” thought Willie. “The women make them here and there is no duty to pay on them.”

The woman who was knitting saw Willie looking at her laces. “Only two dolla,” she said, holding out a beautiful piece of lace for Willie’s inspection. “Cheap.”

“It sure is,” said Willie. An idea came to him. “How long did it take you to make this?” he inquired.

“Maybe one week,” said the woman. “Don’t know exactly.”

Willie handed the woman back her laces, thanked her, and went on. Presently he stopped dead in his tracks. There were only a few of these Oriental women, relatively, and yet their shops contained large quantities of needlework. It was as plain as could be that these few women never made all that lace.

“Then where did it come from?” asked Willie. He pondered the matter a moment. “By George!” he said to himself, “that stuff’s smuggled. I’ll bet a dollar to a doughnut it is. That’s why they can sell it so cheap.” He paused to consider the matter further. Another idea came into his mind. “It’s as plain as daylight,” he said to himself after a moment. “It explains everything. That’s why those women watched Roy and Mr. Robbins so closely the day we first came here for luncheon. They saw they had on uniforms something like those of the customs inspectors at the piers. They thought they might be looking for smuggled goods. That’s why those women all scooted into the shops as we came along. It was to sound a warning. And that’s why the men in that restaurant sized us up so closely. Likely they are all in the smuggling game. They thought we were spying on them. No wonder they watched us.”

Once more Willie pondered the matter. “I don’t suppose it is any news to the boss that there is smuggling going on here,” he thought, “but I don’t believe the office is doing a thing about it. They’re too busy with the booze situation. I’ll just keep my eyes open and my wits about me and maybe I can find out something the boss will like to know. This may be the very chance I am looking for.”


At once Willie was afire with the idea. Here was his chance. If his suspicions were correct, there must be a great deal of stuff for sale in these little shops that had been brought into the country without paying the duty on it. One thing was certain: if duty had been paid on these articles, they could never be sold at the prices asked for them. There was absolutely no question about that. The only point in doubt was whether the goods were home-made as represented, or imported. The more Willie turned the matter over in his mind, the more certain he became that many of the pieces were of foreign make. He distinctly recalled several shops that he had visited, where there were dozens of lace pieces on view. There might be many more not in sight. But certainly it would have taken many women many weeks to make all the pieces offered in just one of these shops. Willie was certain that the women of the Armenian quarter could never have done all that work.

But it was one thing to make up his mind that the goods in question were smuggled, and quite another thing to decide how he should go about proving it. In fact, at first, Willie could see no way by which he was to get the proof. But as he considered the matter, the situation began to clarify itself. Probably there were some particular men or firms engaged in bringing the stuff into the country. If he could find who these men were, it might not be so difficult to find how they got the stuff in.

Willie fell to wondering how goods like these laces could be packed so as to deceive the customs inspectors. That seemed to be a simple thing to do. The goods could be rolled up or doubled up and hidden in almost anything that was dry and clean. It occurred to Willie that if one were to study the lists of imports one might find a clue there. If any particular Armenian merchant were making repeated importations, there might be reason for an investigation of these importations.

But when he came to try this method, he found it was anything but simple. To begin with, he did not have access to the needed records. To get access, he would have to explain why he wanted to examine the records. He had made up his mind to say nothing about his suspicions until he had something definite to go on. So he dropped the idea of examining the import lists. The idea, as he saw later, was a sound one.

For a time Willie could see no way to proceed. Then, as he was thinking the matter over one day, he suddenly remembered the handkerchief in the can of pistachio-nuts. At once the incident took on a new meaning. He had wondered, at the time, why the merchant seemed so flustered over the matter. Now he believed that he knew. The handkerchief was smuggled. Likely it had been brought into the country in the can of pistachio-nuts and the merchant had overlooked it. Here was something to work on. Here was a tangible clue. If one handkerchief was smuggled through in nut cans, why might not others be?

That evening Willie walked into the store where he had bought the pistachio-nuts. He had been in several times, and the merchant knew him. He nodded in a friendly way as Willie entered, and stepped behind the counter to serve him. Willie priced a number of things and explained that when he earned more money he would buy some of them. The merchant grinned.

“I’ll take some of these nuts,” said Willie, and he laid down a dime.

“Ten cent worth?” asked the shopkeeper.

“Yes,” said Willie.

The man put a weight on his scales and poured the nuts out of a small can. There were just enough nuts in it to fill the order. The man set the empty can on the counter, while he dumped the nuts from his scales into a paper sack. Willie picked up the can. He could not read the label on it. The characters were strange. He did not know whether they were Greek or Turkish or what they were.

“They’re good,” said Willie, picking up the nuts. “Where do they come from? Armenia?”

“No understand,” replied the merchant.

“Where from?” asked Willie again, holding up the bag of nuts. “Home?”

“No understand,” said the merchant, again.

Just then his wife came into the shop. She could speak English more readily. “What you want know?” she inquired.

Willie smiled. “Where these good nuts come from?” he said.

“Habib Mahaleb,” said the woman.

Instantly her husband frowned and angrily muttered something in his own tongue. The woman seemed distressed.

“No, no,” said Willie, with quick intuition. “What country do they come from? Turkey?”

The smile came back to the woman’s face. “Syria,” she said.

“Good!” said Willie. “Fine country, Syria.”

The woman smiled more broadly than ever. “My home,” she said. “Fine country.”

“When I get enough money saved,” said Willie, “I am going to buy a lace collar for my mother.”

“Fine laces. Cheap!” said the woman. “Mother like lace?”

“Round her neck,” said Willie. “So,” and he drew his fingers along the lapels of his coat.

The woman laughed, showing her pearly teeth. “Very good,” she said.

“How long did it take you to make that scarf?” asked Willie, picking up a beautiful lace head-dress.

“Me no make. Buy.”

“Where? Syria?”

The woman shrugged her shoulders and made no reply. In his mind Willie replied for her. “Habib Mahaleb, I’ll bet,” he thought.

Then he smiled good-bye, took his pistachio-nuts, and left the store. He went along the street, studying the sign over each door. He was searching for Habib Mahaleb. Down one street and up another went Willie, but with no success. Finally on the window of almost the only Oriental store remaining, Willie found the name he was searching for. The place seemed to be a business house of considerable size. Willie entered and asked for a dime’s worth of pistachio nuts. A clerk promptly took from a shelf a tin can exactly similar to the one the other merchant had emptied, and weighed out the nuts.

The clerk was a young fellow and seemed inclined to converse. He was dressed exactly like an American and talked English readily, though with a marked accent.

“Like America?” asked Willie.


“Where’s your home? Syria?”

“No. Armenia.”

“Going to stay in America?”

“Sure. America good place.”

“Going to be a merchant?”


“Sell laces and nuts and shawls?” and Willie swept his hand around at the stock about him.

The young man nodded.

“Where do these things come from? Armenia?” asked Willie, pointing to the laces.

A subtle change came over the young merchant’s face. “All American,” said the clerk.

“But our American women cannot make such beautiful things,” said Willie.

“Armenians make them,” said the lad, with obvious pride. “Armenians here. All made in America.”

Willie said good-bye and went out. He felt absolutely certain the fellow had been lying to him. Otherwise, why came that crafty look into his face? “Mr. Habib Mahaleb,” muttered Willie, “I think I’ve got something on you, all right. I’m going to look into your import records and see how many pistachio-nuts and other goods you are importing. I believe I’ve got something to go on, now.”

At his first opportunity to talk to Mr. King, on the following day, Willie set forth his suspicions concerning Habib Mahaleb, with his reasons for those suspicions.

“I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you are correct in your guess,” said Mr. King. “Are you going any further with your investigations? Or do you want our special investigators to take up the case now?” There was a smile on his face, but it was a pleasant smile.

“I’d like permission to look over some import records,” said Willie, “and find out what that fellow is shipping in.”

“We’ll look the records over all right enough,” said Mr. King, “but it will be best to have the work done by one of the clerks who is familiar with those records.”

When Mr. King saw that Willie looked disappointed, he went on, “You needn’t feel bad about it. You’ll get the credit if anything is turned up. But it is better to have them do the work because they can do it so much faster and also because I cannot spare you from that gate.”

“Very well, sir,” said Willie, but he was plainly disappointed.

Mr. King at once ordered an inspection of the list of goods imported from the Near East. The records showed nothing to confirm Willie’s suspicions. The name of Habib Mahaleb appeared relatively few times on the record of shipments from Turkey.

Willie was as much puzzled as he was mortified. For he hadn’t the least doubt in his own mind that he was right about the matter. Yet for a time he was completely baffled. He saw no way to get any farther with his investigation. But one day a secret agent of the department came in, who seemed to know a great deal about goods from the Near East. Willie overheard the man explaining to Mr. King about some shipments from Constantinople. As soon as the agent was done talking to Mr. King, Willie put some questions to him.

“Mr. Easterly,” he said, “is there any way in which the shipment of goods from the Near East can be covered up?”

“What do you mean?” asked the agent.

“Why, suppose you have reason to believe that certain goods came into this country from Turkey, and yet you cannot find any record of such shipments from Turkey. How could that be?”

“That’s simple enough. They might have been transshipped at some intermediate point, and your record would perhaps show only that they came from that intermediate point.”

“Ah!” cried Willie. “That must be it. I never thought of that. What would be a likely port at which to transship goods from Armenia?”

“Oh! They might go to almost any Mediterranean port—Genoa, Naples, or almost any place. It’s hard to say. It would depend upon circumstances.”

“Thank you,” said Willie. “You have given me exactly the clue I want.”

At his first opportunity Willie once more spoke to Mr. King about the matter. “I believe I know why we couldn’t find any trace of Habib Mahaleb’s shipments,” said Willie. “They were likely transshipped at some intermediate port. May I make an examination of the records?”

“You’re nothing if not persistent,” laughed Mr. King. “I don’t believe we can afford to put any more time on the matter. The clerks are already overloaded, and I don’t like to ask them to go over those records again. Besides, I don’t believe that this smuggling, if smuggling there be, amounts to very much.”

“I didn’t ask to have the clerks examine the records,” explained Willie. “I asked if I might examine them myself. I’ll be glad to do it after hours, if you’ll let me.”

Mr. King studied the lad before him keenly. “Why are you so determined to go on with this case?” he asked. “Have you a bone to pick with your friend Habib?”

“No, sir,” replied Willie. “I have no reason whatever except that I want to get ahead in Secret Service work. I am absolutely certain I am right in my suspicions. If I could run this matter down, it would help both you and me. The government would get some revenues due it and I would get some experience I need. I am more than willing to do the work.”

“Very well, then. Have it as you wish. I’ll instruct the clerks to show you how to examine the lists and to allow you to work at them in your own time.”

“Thank you,” said Willie. “Maybe I am wrong, but I’ll never be satisfied until I know I am.”

Willie plunged into this new labor with enthusiasm. Half of his noon hour and at least an hour every evening he spent in poring over the records in question. He found it dull, dry, and at first disappointing work. Some importations he found in the name of Habib Mahaleb, but they were not such as to excite suspicion.

But one thing Willie noticed that presently burned itself into his consciousness. From the port of Genoa repeated importations of wheat and pistachio-nuts were being sent to Marrash Roukas. The importation of pistachio-nuts seemed proper enough. But why should anybody be shipping wheat, a few hundred pounds at a time, from the Orient to America? Willie could form no theory that seemed to explain it. Right here the detective sense that was really born in him asserted itself. Something told him that the thing was suspicious.

When he had completed his search, Willie reported to the Special Agent. “I can’t find a thing that looks suspicious about Habib Mahaleb’s importations,” said Willie, “unless it be that they are suspicious because of their absence. There are relatively few shipments credited to him. That seems queer, because he has a pretty big store.”

“He may get his stuff from other dealers in America,” said Mr. King.

“That’s a possibility I hadn’t thought about. But there is one thing, Mr. King, that I’d like to call your attention to. A fellow named Marrash Roukas has been importing wheat and pistachio-nuts into this country from Genoa. There has been shipment after shipment, and always in small lots. Now what does any one want to ship wheat to America for, anyway, when we raise so much? And why does he want to buy it in three-hundred pound lots?”

The Chief pricked up his ears. “Willie,” he said, “that’s a subject of interest. I think I’ve never heard of a case just like that before. It is interesting enough to justify our looking into it.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Why, we’ll find out when the gentleman makes another shipment and have a look at the stuff.”

“It’s been coming pretty regularly,” said Willie. “There’s a steamer due from Genoa and other Mediterranean ports in a couple of days, and she might have some wheat for Roukas aboard of her.”

“I’ll just make a note of that,” said Mr. King, “and have Easterly keep his eye open for such a shipment.”

“Gee! I’d like to be there when the boat comes in,” thought Willie, but he did not venture to ask for permission. All he could do was to wait and see whether the steamer had any goods for Roukas, and if so, whether or not Easterly found anything suspicious about it.

Like an eager hound straining at his leash was Willie during the next two days. The possibility of success in his venture seemed to Willie to mean so much that he could hardly keep his mind on his work. It seemed to him that he must be present to aid in the search of the suspected goods—provided, of course, the steamer contained any. A hundred times he was on the point of asking his chief for this favor. But each time he fought down the wish. His place, he knew well enough, was right where he was—at the gate. And the best way he could make good with his chief was by staying right at his post, at the gate. But it was not strange that Willie began to hate that gate. It seemed to be a bar to his own desires.

Somehow he managed to keep his lips sealed, though his manner showed plainly enough that something was troubling him.

“What’s worrying you, Willie?” said Mr. King, late on the afternoon of the second day.

“I can’t help thinking that maybe—perhaps—Mr. Easterly might—might miss—might overlook something,” stammered Willie, afraid to say too much, yet fearful of saying too little.

Mr. King laughed. He had been a boy himself, and the time was not so far distant, either, that he had forgotten how boys feel about things that mean a great deal to them.

“I think I understand,” he said sympathetically. “I’ll tell Mr. Easterly to be particularly careful if he finds anything for Roukas.”

When word came, next day, that the steamer they were looking for had left Quarantine and was on her way to her dock, Mr. King called Willie to his desk. “That boat you’re looking for,” he said, “is on her way up from Quarantine now. She’ll be docked by ten o’clock. I want you to take this letter to Mr. Henderson. You know him, don’t you? He’s one of our special agents.”

“Yes, sir, I know him,” said Willie.

“Well, you may leave here at twenty minutes of ten. Put the message in Mr. Henderson’s own hands. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And,” said Mr. King, with a smile, “if you don’t get back here until one o’clock it will be all right.”

“Oh!” gasped Willie. “Thank you ever so much, Mr. King.”

Willie could hardly stay in his seat until nine-forty came. Then he grabbed his cap and bolted through the gate. Like so many other seeming obstacles in life, it was no longer a bar to progress. It was an opening to advancement. At least so it seemed to Willie. He ran to the subway, caught a train, rode to the proper station, then tore away hotfoot for the pier.

The scene he had witnessed while he was waiting for the Lycoming to get into her pier was reënacted now, though with this difference. The throng that awaited the arrival of the Lycoming was composed almost wholly of native Americans, and mostly of people of means and culture. They were quiet and self-contained. The crowd Willie saw now was largely made up of Greeks, Italians, Syrians, Turks, Armenians, and other strange peoples from strange lands. It was an interesting, picturesque crowd, and Willie was glad of a chance to see all these foreigners at such close quarters. But what a difference there was in their behavior!

“My gracious!” thought Willie. “You might think there was a fire, or at least a prize-fight going on, the way they talk.”

It was no wonder Willie was so amazed at the manner of conversation he now beheld. Such violent gestures, such excited explosive speech, he had never before witnessed. He could hardly believe that anybody could converse in that way except under stress of violent emotion. Yet what he saw now was hardly a circumstance to what he saw later, when the boat was docked, and these foreign folks were greeting their compatriots from far lands.

But at first Willie had eyes for nothing but luggage. He had delivered his letter to Mr. Henderson, and found Mr. Easterly; and with him, he took up a position where he could watch the incoming baggage put ashore.

Interesting enough was the manner of its delivery. Huge slings or nets made of rope were lowered into the hold, by a long derrick arm. The nets were filled with trunks and bags and boxes and bales. Then the donkey engines rattled and up through the open hatchways came the laden slings. A moment the loads dangled in air, while the cumbersome derrick arms swung round. Then the slings were lowered to the decks. Strong hands threw back the nets and, lifting the contents, sent trunk after trunk, box after box, and bundle after bundle, down an inclined conveyor to the pier, where gangs of freight handlers stood in line, with hand trucks, to wheel each piece of baggage to the proper place on the pier.

Willie had noticed long lines of huge placards, running lengthwise of the pier, and high overhead, bearing the letters of the alphabet. Now he saw what these letters were for. Near the foot of the baggage chute stood a man in charge of the baggage handlers. As each piece of baggage came down to the pier, this man looked at the label pasted on it, and called out S or P or T or whatever letter the label bore. The truckman who wheeled away the piece of baggage took it directly to that section of the pier under the corresponding letter. The baggage was marked in conformity with the owner’s name. Thus, if a man’s name was Jones, his baggage would bear a label marked J, and go to the section under the letter J, and thither Jones would follow and wait until a customs inspector came to examine his baggage, to see that the custom laws were not violated. If the inspector found the baggage all right, he pasted another label on it, and the owner was free to remove the piece of baggage so passed. But if the inspector was not satisfied about any piece of baggage, he could order it removed for further search or for seizure.

It was indeed a picturesque sight to see the inspectors going through piece after piece of baggage, while the excited owners gesticulated and tried to explain about this or that, in broken English, or volubly explained in explosive speech to an interpreter.

Yet interesting as these things were, they were not what Willie had come to see. Under different circumstances, he might have lost himself completely in contemplation of this interesting spectacle. But now he had small taste for it. The more prosaic boxes of freight were what interested Willie now.

The minute the luggage of passengers was out of the way, the freight holds were opened and articles of commerce began to shoot from the vessel to the pier. It was not such a simple matter to keep track of merchandise. It had not been stamped, in advance, with letters corresponding with the owners’ names. Nor was it spread out over a great part of the pier. Instead, the stevedores hustled it away on their trucks and stacked it in great piles, along the centre of the pier. Each piece of baggage was stamped with the consignee’s name, to be sure, but it was not always easy to find these marks, until Mr. Easterly directed the stevedores to put the boxes on their trucks, with the addresses up. Even then smaller packages were sometimes piled two or three deep on the little hand trucks. Mr. Easterly, however, was skilled at the sort of work he was now doing, and he readily kept tab on each piece of freight. Although Willie could not decipher the labels so readily as his companion, he was nevertheless of use in the search. He was examining the packages rather than the addresses. Specifically, he was looking for wheat. He knew it would be in bags and he was looking for sacks about like those he was accustomed to see American farmers deliver at the mills, with two bushels of wheat in them.

For a long time the only bags that came out of the hold were bags of Turkish coffee. Great, bulging sacks were they, far larger than the accustomed wheat sacks Willie was thinking of. And there was a considerable shipment of them. With these bags was hoisted another, not unlike them in appearance; and it is likely that it might have gotten by both the watchers undetected had not Willie observed that the stevedores had difficulty in handling it. The bags of coffee they had tossed about readily enough. But this huge bag required the united efforts of two men to get it safely to the pier. This little difference did not escape the observing eyes of Willie.

“I wonder what makes that bag so much heavier than the others,” he said to Mr. Easterly. “It isn’t any larger.”

“We’ll have a look at it,” said the customs agent.

They did. It was consigned to Marrash Roukas. Mr. Easterly directed the stevedores to set the sack to one side.

Willie was now almost as excited as some of the foreigners he had seen jabbering away at the customs inspectors. But he tried hard to control himself. The only thing that enabled him to keep himself quiet was the thought that there might be more freight on the boat for Roukas. It was really a wonder that they had noted this bag. They might easily miss something else. So Willie took himself in hand and settled down once more to a vigilant watch.

His effort was rewarded, for a little later, as a small box was being wheeled past him, he spied, at the same moment that Mr. Easterly caught it, the name Roukas on the box.

“Put that box with that sack,” directed the customs agent.

A few moments later the noon whistles blew. The stevedores quit work.

“I have to be back at the office at one o’clock, sure,” said Willie. There was an appealing look in his eyes.

Mr. Easterly laughed. He had taken a fancy to the lad. “I see you are a diplomat,” he said. “You know how to say one thing when you mean another.”

“If that’s being a diplomat,” Willie confessed, “then I am a diplomat. I see I might as well be out-and-out with you. Would it be possible to see what’s in those packages before I have to go?”

“You know what Shakespeare says,” quoted Mr. Easterly. “‘All things come to him who waits.’ You have been waiting long enough. We’ll just have a look at these things. It won’t take more than a minute.”

A hatchet was obtained and the lid ripped off the box. Inside were two dozen cans of pistachio-nuts. Eagerly Willie lifted out a can.

“What shall we empty it into?” he asked.

“Just wait a moment,” said Mr. Easterly. “We may not have to empty it. We’ll first see if the cans feel alike.”

With trembling fingers Willie lifted can after can out of the box. Suddenly he held one aloft. “That isn’t nearly as heavy as the others,” he cried.

“Open it,” said the customs agent.

Willie pried open the lid and peeped into the can. Then he gave a cry, and reaching into the can, drew out a roll of beautiful hand-made lace. Two other cans proved to be light in weight, and to contain lace. When the smuggled material had all been drawn forth and unrolled, it was found that there were yards and yards of it.

“I congratulate you,” said the agent, smiling.

“Let’s examine that bag,” was Willie’s reply.

The agent chuckled. “You’re keen as a hound on a hot scent,” he said.

A great empty box was brought, at Mr. Easterly’s command, that would hold the contents of the bag. Another box was placed beside it, and the bag lifted to this box. Then the customs agent carefully ripped an opening in the mouth of the bag. In a solid stream the contents poured from the bag into the waiting box.

“Wheat!” cried Willie, so excited that he could hardly stand still.

“Wheat it is,” said Mr. Easterly. “We shall soon see whether you have uncovered something more or whether you merely had a pipe dream.”

Steadily the wheat poured out of the small opening in the bag. For some moments the flow continued uninterrupted. Then it suddenly stopped. The two watchers glanced at each other.

“What stopped it?” asked Willie.

“We’ll soon find out,” said Mr. Easterly.

With his knife he enlarged the opening. Again the wheat poured forth, but in a second the flow became a trickle. Then something white began to project through the opening.

“It looks as though we had found something,” remarked Mr. Easterly.

He thrust his hand into the bag and drew forth a great roll of something white. Carefully he undid the wrappings, then opened what was inside.

“Lace handkerchiefs!” cried Willie.

The agent ran his fingers through the roll with practiced skill. “Fifty dozens of them,” he said after a moment. “Again I congratulate you, Willie.”

“What are you going to do about Marrash Roukas?” demanded Willie, his acute mind leaping ahead.

“We’ll have a little talk with him,” said the agent, with a smile, “and maybe Uncle Sam will get in a little cash as a result. But before we let him know we are on to his game, it might be well to take a look at his place. Come on. We’ll slip down to the Armenian quarter and look him up.”

After giving directions about the packages they had opened, they hustled off to the Armenian district. “Did you notice where his place was, when you were looking about here?” inquired Mr. Easterly.

“It’s queer,” said Willie. “I can’t seem to remember seeing that name at all.”

“We’ll look him up in a directory or a telephone book. He’ll be in one or the other, for he’s been in New York for some years, according to the records you looked up.”

They stepped into a drug store and Mr. Easterly consulted a telephone book. “He doesn’t have a ’phone,” he said. Then he turned to the directory. There was no one listed in the directory under the name Marrash Roukas.

“Humph!” mused the Special Agent. “This is getting interesting. I don’t see how the census takers ever missed a merchant like that. We’ll have to go to original sources. Come on.”

They went down one street and up another, examining every name on every shop in the district. When they were done, they knew no more about Marrash Roukas than they knew when they started. Apparently there was no such person in the Armenian quarter or in New York City.


It was only by a lively sprint that Willie got back to his office within the time limit set by Mr. King. In fact, it was two minutes past one before Willie was really in his own office and at his post. How different that old gate looked now! As it swung open, it was almost like a welcoming hand extended in greeting.

Willie was just bursting to tell the news, but he had no opportunity to do so until Mr. King came in from his luncheon.

“Well, what luck, Hawkshaw?” said Mr. King.

“The best of luck,” said Willie, and he told his boss about the discoveries Mr. Easterly and he had made.

“Good work, Willie,” said the Special Agent. “You have really done something worth while. Your discovery will break up this sort of thing for a time.”

“I don’t know whether it will or not,” said Willie, suddenly rueful, “for there isn’t any such fellow as Marrash Roukas. At least we can’t find any trace of him.”

“How’s that?”

Willie told Mr. King of their vain search. He replied, “Well, you’ve stumbled on an unusually interesting case.”

“It will be more interesting if we find Roukas,” said Willie. “But I don’t know how we are ever going to do that.”

Mr. King did not seem disturbed. “We’ll let him find himself,” he said.

“What do you mean?”

“Let’s wait until Easterly disposes of the case,” said the Treasury Agent. “Then we’ll know all about it.” And that was all the comfort Willie could get from his superior.

But Willie didn’t have to wait nearly as long to learn the conclusion of the story as he had feared he would. Before the office closed that evening, Mr. Easterly came swinging up the corridor.

“Got him,” he said to Willie. “He’s in the Tombs prison now.”

“Gee!” gasped Willie. “How did you find him so soon?”

“I let him find himself,” said Mr. Easterly. “I went back to the pier and waited for him to call for his goods. I reckoned he would come early, while everything was in confusion on the pier, because he wouldn’t attract half so much attention then. That’s just what he did. He drove up with an old junk wagon and asked for freight for Marrash Roukas. Of course we grabbed him.”

“Of course,” said Willie, with chagrin. “I never thought of that.”

“You will be interested to know,” went on the customs agent, “that there really isn’t any such fellow as Marrash Roukas, after all.”

“There isn’t? Then how did you catch him? I don’t exactly understand.”

The agent laughed. “Marrash Roukas is an assumed name,” he said. “The fellow is really a poor peddler named Selim Sora.”

Willie’s face grew long. “Then we haven’t got anything on Habib Mahaleb, after all,” he cried.

“On the contrary, we have a whole lot on him. At first brother Sora was as ignorant as a bronze statue. Couldn’t speak English, you know. But I soon got him to talking. Then he said it was all a mistake. He had gotten the names mixed when he asked for the goods. I showed him different. Next he tried to bribe me. But finally, when I told him it would mean a long term in prison unless he came through with the truth, he opened up and gave the whole game away. He’s just a tool for Mahaleb. The goods are ordered and paid for by Mahaleb and shipped to Roukas. Sora gets them at the pier and delivers them to Mahaleb. They thought we’d never see through the game. By George! They had reason to think so. Why, this thing has been going on for months. I’m going to tell Mr. King so and tell him that it is entirely due to you that we broke it up.”

Willie’s eyes were shining bright. He hardly trusted himself to reply, but managed to say, “I’m mighty glad it wasn’t a pipe dream.” Then Mr. Easterly went on into Mr. King’s office, and Willie turned to his work.

He was very happy over the outcome of the affair. If it were not for that awful suspicion of dishonesty that hung over his head, Willie would have been the happiest lad in New York. But he could never forget that he was under a cloud. He must go on with the tedious task of clearing away that cloud.

All the afternoon he worked diligently at his desk. When five o’clock came, he put away his things and stepped to Mr. King’s door. “I’m going to work at my wireless until the building closes, Mr. King,” he said.

His superior nodded and Willie went into his wireless room. He was very particular nowadays to let his boss know where he was. If only he could find some one who knew where he was during that fatal three-quarters of an hour, when the papers were stolen. He must hunt and hunt until he did find some one.

He sat down at his wireless, adjusted his headpiece, threw over his switch and listened in, preparatory to sending out the first call he had selected to make that afternoon. Day after day during the two weeks or more that had elapsed since the papers were taken, he had been calling up amateur after amateur, asking the same question: “Have you any recollection of ever hearing the call CBWC sent out by CBM?” Always came the answer, “No.”

Now he was about to go on with his seemingly hopeless quest. But just as he put his finger to his key, to flash out the first of the signal calls, he was startled by hearing his own signal.


Two or three times he had been able to call to his fellows back home, during the noon hour. Doubtless he could have talked with them every night, if he had had access to his wireless then. But this was the very first time that he had heard anybody call him. It gave him a strange feeling. Quickly he flashed out his answer.

“KWC—KWC—KWC de CBM—I—I—I.” (Ward liner, Morro Castle, Willie Brown answering. Go ahead.)

“This is Reynolds,” came the message. “Been trying all the morning to get you.”

“Where are you?” flashed back Willie.

“Off the Jersey coast, about opposite the Hook.”

“When will you dock?”

“This afternoon. Come see me this evening.”

“Thanks,” flashed back Willie. “I will. Where is the Lycoming?”

“She ought to be in by morning. She’s a few hours behind us.”

“I’ll be over to see you this evening. I must get to work now. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye,” came the answer, and Willie resumed his thankless task.

But his heart was lighter. He would have a friend to talk to that evening. The word friend had become very precious to Willie.

Persistently he continued his search through the ether, until the evening whistles warned him that he would have to get out of the building promptly, if he did not want to be locked in. He put on his cap, walked rapidly down the corridor, and got a bite to eat at a near-by quick lunch counter. Then he went for a little walk in Battery Park. At half-past seven he started for the Ward line piers. The Morro Castle was docked, and all was quiet aboard her. Willie gained admission to the pier and sought out Mr. Reynolds in the wireless cabin.

“Hello!” cried the wireless man, jumping up and grasping Willie’s hand warmly. “How goes it? How are you getting on in the customs service?”

A cloud came over Willie’s face. “I oughtn’t to bother you with my troubles,” he said, “but it has been pretty hard to stand up under them, for I hadn’t a friend in the city to talk it over with.”

“Trouble?” said Reynolds, sympathetically. “What’s gone wrong?”

“Some valuable papers disappeared, and they think I took them.”

The wireless man opened his eyes wide. “The dickens!” he said. “Tell me about it. Why do they think you took the papers?”

“It’s this way. You know I rigged up my wireless in the office to send orders for the Chief. But I am not supposed to use the outfit for myself except in my own time; that is, during the noon hour or after office hours. It was while I was in the wireless room during the noon hour that the papers disappeared.”

“That’s plain enough,” said Mr. Reynolds. “Why don’t you explain it to them?”

“I have, but the trouble is that I am the only person known to have been in the office during that time, and I have no way to prove I spent it in the wireless room. There isn’t a soul who saw me come in or go out.”

“The dickens! That is a fix. Isn’t there any way that you could prove you were there?”

“There’s just one way, and that seems hopeless. If I could find just one person who heard my wireless signals during that period, I could clear myself. But I can’t find anybody who did.”

“I don’t understand. What about the party you were talking to? Can’t he prove that you were at your instrument?”

“There’s the rub. I wasn’t talking to anybody. I was merely calling and I couldn’t get any answer. I was trying to get CBWC—the wireless club at home I told you about.”

The wireless man sprang to his feet, and stepped to his desk. “What day was that?” he asked.

“The very day you and Roy sailed away.”

“Then your troubles are over. I heard you calling, and here is a record of the fact.” And he opened his wireless log-book and showed to Willie an entry. “Tuesday, 1 o’clock P. M. CBM has been calling CBWC for three-quarters of an hour.”


For a moment Willie was fairly speechless with astonishment. It was too good to be true. The thing he had been unable to accomplish through many hours of patient effort, had been accomplished seemingly by pure luck. At last his innocence was established.

“I can’t understand it,” cried Willie, as soon as he recovered from his astonishment. “I never dreamed you would hear me, because you use a wave-length longer than mine and would be listening for messages in your own wave-length.”

“Ordinarily I should have been. But Roy tried hard to get you by wireless before he left. He wanted to send a friendly good-bye message. He couldn’t get you, so he asked me to see if I could get you and deliver the message. I tried several times, with no luck. Then I made a last effort when I was about two hours out. It was a singular coincidence. Just as I got my instruments regulated for your wave-length, you began to call CBWC yourself. Of course, I listened in, expecting every minute that you would be done calling. Once in a while I shifted to my own wave-length for a moment and then back to yours. Nobody called me, and I heard every call you made. When you stopped calling, I tried to get you, but couldn’t.”

“That was because I left my instrument the instant I stopped calling and went to my desk. I don’t quite see why you entered my call in your log, though.”

“Well, we usually jot down everything out of the usual, and also many things not out of the usual. I thought you’d like to see your call in my log when I got back, so I wrote down that entry as a friendly act.”

“It was indeed a friendly act,” said Willie fervently. “You have done me the greatest service any one could do. You have made it possible for me to clear my reputation. Will you help me do that?”

“Most assuredly. It will give me the greatest of pleasure. What do you want me to do?”

“Mr. King ought to know about that entry in your log.”

“He ought to see the log itself. Leave it to me. I’ll show him the entry, and I can explain things to him better than perhaps you could yourself.”

“If you will, I can never adequately express my gratitude,” said Willie.

“Never mind about that. It will be a pleasure to me to do it.”

So it came about that the next day saw Mr. Reynolds closeted with Mr. King. The log-book was exhibited and explained.

“You heard every call he made?” inquired Mr. King.

“I am certain of it.”

“And you are sure he was calling between the hours of 12:15 and 1:00 P. M.?”

“Absolutely certain.”

“But he wasn’t calling every minute of that time. Wasn’t there time for him to run to my desk, open and close a drawer, and run back between calls?”

“Certainly. But it doesn’t stand to reason that if a fellow went to a wireless instrument and tried hard to call his friends, that he would run away from his instrument at the very time they might be answering. It isn’t sense.”

“Not under ordinary circumstances. But suppose a lad in his situation had plotted this theft and wanted to provide grounds for an alibi. Mightn’t he do that very thing to throw us off the track? This lad is a mighty clever boy. I’ve found that out. He’s smart as a steel trap.”

“Your proposition is all right except for one thing. To provide an alibi, he’d have to make sure some one heard him. He’s too sharp to slip up that way. If he had gotten a reply to his call, your supposition would be within the ground of reason. But under the circumstances, it is not. No court or jury in America would ever convict the lad under the circumstances.”

“I see you are entirely right,” said Mr. King, “and I am more delighted than I can tell you to have this proof of his innocence. For I accept it as proof, though we must still maintain that there is a theoretical possibility of his doing just what I suggested. He’s proving to be a corking good boy. And as I have watched him, I never really believed in my heart that he was a thief. But you know in my business we have to watch any one to whom the finger of suspicion points. It would amaze you to know how many perfectly respectable and even eminent citizens leave their consciences behind when they try to get ashore here with dutiable goods. It makes us sort of suspicious of everybody.”

Mr. Reynolds shook hands with the Chief and took his departure, but not until he had assured Willie that the latter was entirely cleared from suspicion. Naturally Willie was jubilant, yet his joy was somewhat tempered by the thought that although Mr. King no longer had any suspicion as to dishonesty on his part, it had not yet actually been proved that he was innocent. And Willie knew that he would never be really satisfied until the real thief was uncovered and his own honesty was actually proved.

Could Willie have known what took place that very day, while he was out for luncheon, he would have felt more hopeful of complete exoneration. For hardly had Willie left his post that noon, before a tall, shabbily attired cleaner slipped into the Chief’s office. Mr. King looked at the man twice before he knew him. Then he said, “Hello, Frank! What brings you here all dolled up so?”

The cleaner shut the door and laughed. “Never mind the rags, Mr. King,” he said. “Just look at this.”

From his pocket he drew forth an object wrapped in tissue paper. He took off the wrapper and laid the object on the Treasury Agent’s desk.

“What is it, Sheridan?” asked Mr. King. “Wax?”

“Correct. Take a good look at it.”

Mr. King picked up the wax and looked at it. Then he sat bolt upright in his chair. “Looks like the impression of a key in it,” he suggested.

“Let me have the key to your desk drawer,” said the Secret Service man. “I mean the drawer from which those papers were taken.”

Mr. King pulled out his keys and removed one from the ring. He handed it to Sheridan. The latter laid it on the wax beside the impression already there, and pressed hard on it. When he lifted the key two distinct impressions stood side by side in the wax. And the impressions were duplicates.

“I felt certain of it,” said the Secret Service man.

“Where did you get that wax?” demanded the Treasury Agent.

“Found it—in this building.” And that was every word about the matter the Secret Service man would say. “I’ll tell you the sequel the minute I find it.” And the big member of the cleaning force picked up a spittoon, as though that was what he had come for, and hurried down the corridor with it.

A few days later he returned. He did not bring back the cuspidor, however, but in its place came a tall, lanky, swaggering lad, with an evil leer on his face. When Willie saw the lad entering the anteroom he leaped to his feet, apprehensive of trouble. The visitor was his predecessor. The “smart” look had gone from his face, however. In its place was a sullen, defiant, ugly expression that fairly startled Willie. And when the former office boy glared at Willie, with a world of hatred shining in his eyes, Willie was certain he was in for trouble. His heart beat quick and he glanced about to see what he could defend himself with. His alarm was needless, however, for close behind young Smith came a large individual who plainly belonged to the cleaning force. Willie had to look at the man several times before he realized that he was looking at the big Secret Service man. The disguise was complete. A sigh of relief escaped from Willie’s lips when he realized who the big fellow was. But he had no idea what could bring young Smith and Sheridan into the Special Agent’s office together.

Nor did he at once find out, for the Secret Service man and his companion passed into the inner office, after the briefest announcement of their arrival, and the door was closed.

Once inside the door, Sheridan drew from his pocket a thin, flat, narrow strip of metal. One end of it was plain. Little tooth-like projections had been filed along one edge at the other end. On the Special Agent’s desk Sheridan laid the piece of wax he had exhibited during his earlier visit. Beside the wax he placed the thin metal strip. Without a word the Special Agent picked up wax and metal and applied the one to the other. The end of the metal that had been filed into a key fitted exactly into the impressions of the desk key in the wax.

“So that’s the story, is it?” said Mr. King, looking up. “A wax impression of my key and a false key filed from the pattern. It is needless to ask who did it. What I want to know is how you found it.”

“That wasn’t an easy job,” said Sheridan. “There wasn’t much to go on, but the little we had proved to be sufficient.”

“Sit down, and let me have the whole story,” said Mr. King, his keen face alight with interest.

The Secret Service man motioned to Tom Smith to be seated and then drew a chair forward for himself.

“Although circumstances pointed strongly to young Brown,” he said, “they were far from being conclusive. If we had had proof that Willie was about your office here at the time we know he was in the building during the particular luncheon hour when the papers were taken, we should have had a pretty tight case against him. With him in this room or at his desk, it would be impossible for another person to get to your desk without his knowledge. Hence it would follow that he must be the thief. But if he was in his wireless room, as he claims he was, and has since proved he was, there was nothing to prevent another person from slipping in here unseen, and opening your desk. So we had those two lines of investigation to pursue. My predecessor proceeded on the theory that Willie was likely the culprit and acted accordingly. And he had some reason to do so, too. For years you have kept valuable papers in your desk, untouched. New employees have come and old ones gone, yet nothing was ever taken. But now comes this new boy, and almost at the first opportunity for him to steal, the papers disappear. The desk was unlocked by a false key, of course; and we know that a little time previously Willie had the keys in his pocket when he left the building. He could easily have had a false key made. It really was a strong case.”

“It certainly was,” said Mr. King. “I didn’t want to believe the lad was guilty, but I almost had to.”

“Well,” went on the Secret Service man, “my predecessor worked along that theory and got nowhere. His open questioning, of course, told everybody who he was, and then his usefulness was gone. So the Chief put me on the job.”

“I see,” said Mr. King. “Even I did not know you were on it until you came in with that wax.”

“Exactly. That’s the only way you can succeed in this business. You mustn’t let your identity be known. So I kept under cover. I knew that if Willie’s statement about being in the wireless room was true,—and personally I had faith in it—then some one else slipped in here while the office was apparently unoccupied, got your papers, and slipped out unobserved. That’s evident. It is also evident that whoever did it at some time most likely had your key, in order to have a false one made. Who could have had your key? If one office boy had it, another might, eh?”

The Treasury Agent nodded assent.

“So that pointed to young Smith here. If he had a key, he was likely crafty enough not to use it while he was still office boy, because suspicion would almost certainly fall on him. But when he had been shifted to another department, then he could use it, and if he got away unseen, suspicion would point to his successor.”

“Plain as daylight,” said Mr. King.

“I found that there was one other reason that might figure. Smith here has been bullying Willie. He has threatened to beat him the first time he caught him outside alone. So he evidently had hard feelings toward him. That suggested the possibility of theft for the purpose of getting Willie into trouble. I don’t believe he did it for that reason, but there was the possibility, you see.” Sheridan paused to light a cigar.

“I do see,” said Mr. King.

“Again, who would be better able to slip in here unobserved than some one who knew intimately the habits of everybody in the office? He knew how to approach the office so as to avoid observation, and how to get in and out by back ways, if any existed. There was every reason to believe that if Willie Brown didn’t take the papers, Tom Smith did. So I went after Tom Smith.”

“How did you get him?”

“Well, I cleaned spittoons and mopped floors and washed woodwork, and nobody paid any more attention to me than they do to any other scrub men. As a cleaner I could be in the offices after the clerical forces went home. Then I searched. It took me a long time to find that wax. But finally I found it tucked away in a crack far up on the under side of Smith’s desk. Only the most thorough search would have revealed it. When I found the wax I was confident I was on the right trail. When you gave me a duplicate impression in the wax, I knew I was right. The thing that remained was to find the key.”

“How did you ever do it?”

Sheridan chuckled. “I reasoned that, as long as he believed himself unsuspected, Smith would carry the key in his pocket. He might want to put the papers back in the desk or to make another raid. So I had to figure out a way to get that key. One day I was in the court, where trucks drive in, washing things down with a hose. Smith happened to skip out through the court on an errand. I saw him coming and made sure that he got a thorough drenching, particularly from the waist down. Of course I was awfully sorry for the accident and did all I could to make amends. I got some dry clothes quick and helped the lad skin out of his wet ones. You bet I went through his pockets fast. I had that key before the wet trousers were fairly off of him. That was all I needed. It fitted the wax impression exactly. But I let him go for a day or two. I watched him like a hawk. Twice I saw him examining the places where I wet him and where he took off his wet clothes. I knew he was hunting for his key. Finally he came to me and asked me if, in cleaning up, I had found a key. He said he had dropped his latch-key, and he described it.”

Sheridan paused and looked at Smith, who sat with his head down, looking at the floor.

“I said, ‘Yes. I found the key. Is this it?’ And I showed him that skeleton key. He said it was. I asked him if he was sure.

“‘I certainly am,’ he replied.

“‘Well,’ I said, ‘that’s exactly what I want to know, because that key fits Mr. King’s desk and was used to open his desk the day his papers were stolen.’ You should have seen him when I told him that, Mr. King. He wilted like a lily in a hot room. Then he began to bluster, and try to bluff it out; but I told him it was no use to lie about it and that we had him dead to rights. So in the end he confessed everything. He still has the papers, and I told him that if he would return the papers we would try to get him off as easy as possible.”

Mr. King wheeled in his chair and faced his former office boy. “So that’s the kind of boy you are, eh?” he said. “It’s too bad Mr. Sheridan made such a promise to you. You are more than a thief. I fully believe that you would have allowed my new office boy to go to prison when you were the guilty one yourself. I suppose I am bound by Mr. Sheridan’s promise. But let me tell you that if you do not come across with those papers at once, and if you do not do everything in your power to make amends to Willie, I won’t consider that I am bound by it. I’ll do my best to see that you get the maximum instead of the minimum punishment.”

Then Mr. King turned to Sheridan. “Take him out of here as quick as you can get him out,” he said. “I’m getting madder every minute.”

Sheridan hustled his sullen prisoner out of the office. No sooner had they crossed the threshold than the buzzer rang violently. Willie fairly flew to his Chief’s desk. For a moment Mr. King was silent. Then he held out his hand.

“Willie,” he said, “shake hands. The boy that just left this office is the thief that stole my papers. Your honesty is absolutely proved. I want to congratulate you. You have borne yourself splendidly during this ordeal. You will reap your reward, for you now have my absolute confidence.”


Relieved of the last shadow of suspicion, and with the confidence of his superior made plainer every day, Willie applied himself with increased energy to his tasks. Again it was fortunate for Willie that there were no other boys in the office. His feeling during the first few days after the arrest of Tom Smith was one of exultation, of almost irrepressible joy. He wanted to shout and whistle and express his feelings in noise and physical action. But there was no one to share his feelings with him. The office force consisted wholly of grown men, mostly of staid and sober habits. Of necessity, Willie had to repress his spirits in some way. The only outlet appeared to be in work. So Willie worked harder than ever.

Perhaps it was fortunate for him that the office force was so crowded with work. There were innumerable tasks that rightfully belonged to the office boy. Willie had to run errands, carry papers, make trips to the Appraisers’ Stores, send wireless messages for his Chief, meet visitors at the gate, and do many other things, in the course of his regular work. But Willie was quick in his movements, and still quicker in thought. He was continually studying how to save time, and as a result he saved time. So, despite all the regular tasks that fell to his lot, he was able to do some that could by no possibility have been considered part of an office boy’s work.

At high school he had studied bookkeeping and some kinds of clerical work, and now he found this training of the greatest use. He volunteered to do such clerical work as he had time to do. At first, the hard pressed clerks permitted him to do a few unimportant tasks. Then, finding that he did these correctly and with perfect comprehension of the work, they trusted him with more important jobs. Before many weeks had gone by, Willie had added to his own tasks considerable clerical work.

To be sure, the amount of such work he could do was not huge, yet the assistance he gave relieved the clerks greatly. For all this extra work Willie received not a cent. But he was richly paid, none the less. He won the friendship and good-will of every man in the office, his employer began to prize him highly, and Willie himself gained immensely in knowledge of the work of the department. He was laying by a store of knowledge that would some day be of the greatest use to him. In short, he was doing just what a little tree does when it makes roots, or what masons do before the carpenters start to erect a building. He was making a foundation, and making a good one.

Willie never lost sight of his main object, however. He was aiming at no clerical job, though he gladly did clerical work. Often this work gave him an insight into the work he wanted to do, as had been the case when Mr. King explained to him about the ad valorem tax on luxuries, or when Sheridan explained to him about the duties on wool and the methods of handling wool. All such knowledge helped Willie to comprehend the problems before him and to fathom the actions of people.

Indeed, Willie was learning more about human nature every day. The theft of Mr. King’s papers and the arrest of Tom Smith had jolted Willie into a keen consciousness of some phases of life about which he had previously thought little. Now he realized, not only that many people are dishonest, but that they are desperately wicked, and that to cover up their evil deeds they will not hesitate even to commit murder. Day by day he heard more about the desperate chances men took along the Canadian and Mexican borders to smuggle in opium and rum; for the customs forces maintained armed guards, with powerful armored cars, along those borders. And many a running fight in the dark resulted, with more than one man injured or killed. And closer at home he knew that the rum runners who were bringing liquor surreptitiously into New York were equally dangerous and desperate.

More and more frequently Willie was called upon to take small seizures to the seizure room. This was not dangerous, yet Willie had to keep his mind on his business, for if he lost or was robbed of any of these articles, he would again fall under suspicion of being a thief himself. One experience of that sort was enough for Willie. So he learned to keep his mind absolutely on what he was doing. Thus he became very useful to the special agents when they had to convey valuables, like seized jewels, and Willie was detailed to go with them. For this happened more and more frequently.

As time passed, too, Mr. King began to use Willie for little jobs of shadowing. Often it was possible for Willie to trail a person, where a grown man could hardly have escaped observation and discovery. And every experience of this sort made Willie more observant, more comprehending, more resourceful, and so better fitted to make the most of the opportunities that sooner or later would come to him.

Although Willie still had few friends in New York, he was far from being lonely. Long ago he had arranged with his friends in Central City for wireless communications. Almost every day between half-past twelve and one o’clock he had a brief chat with some member of the Wireless Patrol. Willie regretted that he could not have his wireless at his boarding-place, so he could use it at night. Yet he knew that was really an idle wish, for he did not himself possess a battery sufficiently powerful to carry messages to Central City, nor had he yet funds enough to buy such a battery. So the present arrangement was a good one. He could talk to his friends at noon, while they were home from school and he was free. And his outfit was of great use to Mr. King. More and more the Special Agent made use of it, and Willie sent despatches for him almost daily.

Week succeeded week. When Roy or Mr. Reynolds was in port, Willie had companionship during the evenings. More than once Mr. King took Willie to his own home. He had a nephew of about Willie’s age, with whom he made him acquainted, and gradually Willie’s circle of acquaintanceship widened. Moreover, he found where the nearest branch of the public library was. Here he could obtain almost any ordinary book that had been published. When the librarian found how keen he was to read and study, she willingly got from other branches or from the main library the books Willie wanted but could not find on her own shelves. So time passed faster than Willie ever dreamed could be possible.

One day Mr. King rang the buzzer. As Willie stepped into the Chief’s office he saw that the Special Agent sat at his desk with a deep frown on his face. Before him lay a cablegram that Willie had brought to him some days previously.

“Willie,” said Mr. King, “we have reason to believe that a gang of smugglers has been getting diamonds into the country without paying the duty. We’ve watched them closely, but we have not been able to break up the smuggling. This cablegram says that one of their agents has sailed for America on the Majestic and that——”

“Is his name Simonski?” asked Willie.

The Special Agent turned and looked at Willie keenly. He was continually being surprised at Willie’s knowledge.

“It is,” he said, “but how did you know it?”

“I caught a wireless message the first night I was in New York,” said Willie, “and it said to watch for Simonski with diamonds. I remembered the name.”

“But you had no wireless outfit then—at least, it wasn’t set up.”

“I was listening in with my friend Roy Mercer in the wireless cabin of the Lycoming. He told me what the message likely meant.”

“Well, you’ve got a good memory. That’s sure. This fellow’s name is Simonski, and it’s the same Simonski that wireless was about. He makes several trips abroad a year, and we feel sure that he buys precious stones, but so far we have not been able to get him. We’ve searched him to the hide, too. We’ve had his baggage examined surreptitiously and our most expert searchers have not found anything dutiable. The regular uniformed customs inspectors know all about him. They have already been instructed to examine him closely. But I want to have him under observation by secret agents, too. All my agents are on special assignments and I don’t want to call any of them in. I was expecting to send Easterly up to meet this ship, but a very pressing case came up this morning and I had to send him away. There isn’t a soul I can send who has had any experience in this sort of work except yourself. Do you think you could help any?”

“Do you mean it?” cried Willie, his eyes shining. “Do you want me to act as a special agent and watch Simonski?”

“I can’t say I want you to,” laughed Mr. King. “I really want Easterly to. But it’s you or nobody. You’ve done some pretty good work since you came to New York, but you won’t be dealing with any rough wool smugglers this time. This fellow is a slick article. If he’s smuggling, as we believe he is, he’s the slickest article we have had to deal with in months. I expect it will not do the least bit of good to send you to the pier, yet it is you or nobody. Do you want to go?”

“Do I?” cried Willie. “Just give me the chance and see.”

“Very well, then, you meet the Majestic. Go down to Quarantine with the inspectors and board the boat. I’ll give you a letter to the proper authorities. You can be a cabin boy, and in that way may get a good chance to observe this fellow Simonski. Don’t pay any attention to anything else. This diamond smuggling has got to be broken up. I won’t be a bit disappointed if you don’t learn a thing. But if you should find out something, it will be a great achievement for you. I’ll write that note for you at once.”


Hardly had the great ship Majestic dropped anchor at Quarantine before a customs boat drew up alongside of her. A ladder was lowered, and up the ladder scrambled the boarding party. This consisted of several customs men and Willie. The instant Willie reached the deck, he scurried into the cabin. He did not want to be seen by any more people than he could help. He presented his letter to one of the ship’s officers. Immediately he was hustled into the stewards’ quarters and there he was outfitted like a cabin boy.

But Willie hardly needed to take such precautions to escape observation. The passengers were in a flutter of excitement. The usual preparations for debarking were afoot. Many persons were bustling about saying farewell to acquaintances. Everywhere there was great activity in the staterooms. Many persons were packing hand-bags. Some were rolling up steamer rugs and capes. Others were folding outer coats or pulling them on. Canes, umbrellas, shoes, veils, hats, and innumerable other objects of apparel were being collected, so that their owners could debark promptly. No one had time even to notice cabin boys.

Those who had not filled out the official papers on which they were to make their customs’ declarations were now working frantically to get these declarations completed. An exemption of $100 was allowed each traveler. He might bring in dutiable goods to that amount. Goods in excess of that sum had to pay the full duty. Always there was the temptation, when making out these declarations, to undervalue purchases.

Had these travelers known that awaiting them on the piers were expert appraisers of the Customs Department, who could tell almost to a cent what things had probably cost, their sense of honesty might have been mightily strengthened. But the temptation to avoid the payment of duty often proved too strong, and many articles were purposely undervalued in the customs declarations. As Mr. King had said, many persons of respectability and even of prominence forgot their consciences when they tried to come ashore with dutiable goods. So they misrepresented the value of their purchases.

Up to the time these declarations were signed, misstatements could be corrected and trouble avoided. But once a person had attached his signature to his declaration, any discrepancies thereafter discovered in his report might render him liable for smuggling. Up to the time he signed his declaration, a passenger trying to get dutiable goods in free was merely planning to commit an illegal act. Once he had signed, he had committed that illegal act. So the signing was the crucial point; and many and many an intending smuggler has betrayed himself by nervousness at this point. Indeed, many and many a person attempting to smuggle goods ashore has been caught simply because of his general nervousness. Had Easterly been here, that is what he would have been watching for—people who were ill at ease, and particularly would he have been watching Simonski.

Willie had been given the number of Simonski’s stateroom. He hardly believed he would find the man there, for it was not likely he had much baggage. Practically everybody not engaged in packing baggage was on deck, getting a welcome view of old New York again. Willie suspected Simonski would be there, too. His guess proved to be correct.

Willie went straight to Simonski’s stateroom, and after listening intently at his door for a moment, knocked on it. There was no response. Willie turned the door-knob and pushed. The door opened. A man’s coat lay on the bed. Close beside the bed was a leather hand-bag. In a corner stood an umbrella. Evidently the occupant had everything prepared for a quick debarkation. That didn’t prove anything, of course, for every home comer was eager to get ashore. Yet the quicker one could have his luggage examined, the better was his chance of covering up any little irregularities. With such a great crowd of passengers to handle, the inspectors would do their work hastily. Willie fairly itched to open the bag, but he knew it would be dangerous to touch anything. Simonski might return and catch him in the act. Then his usefulness would be ended. So he withdrew from the room and shut the door. He had not touched a thing. He did not believe Simonski could have any possible way to tell whether or not any one had entered his room. He wondered if the reason Simonski had left his door unlocked was to give an investigator a chance to go through his baggage. A clever rogue might well do such a thing.

Willie made his way forward, in search of Simonski. The ship was as busy as a beehive. Passengers were hastening back and forth along the corridors. Stewards and cabin boys were assisting with the final packing, and carrying luggage forward toward the gangway. Friends were calling to one another in loud tones or gathered in groups, chatting busily. Forward, both within the ship and on the decks, hundreds of passengers were massed.

Willie moved about through the throng, looking for Simonski. Mr. King had given him a very clear description of the man, and Willie had no difficulty in recognizing him when at last he found him. At least, he saw a man who answered the description exactly.

If Willie had hunted a week to find a word to describe the man, he could not have found one that better described Simonski than the Chief’s term, “slick.” It fitted the man in every particular. He had black, piercing eyes. His hair was carefully cut and slicked down as though it had been oiled and brushed tight to his scalp. He had had the cleanest of clean shaves. His hands were spotlessly white, and his nails were carefully manicured and highly polished. An enormous diamond sparkled on one finger. His clothes were loud. He wore a black and white checked suit, with a white edging about the vest, and a flaming purple tie, which was ornamented with another flashing diamond. A black, curved handled cane hung from the crook of his left arm.

But what instantly riveted Willie’s attention was the expression on the man’s face. The shining eyes gave an impression of almost uncanny penetration. The nose was of good size, and slightly hooked. Coupled with the mouth, which was as straight as a slit and as tight as a steel trap, it indicated unusual force of character. The mouth itself was as hard as the diamond that glittered beneath it. It was pitiless. Everything about the man’s make-up indicated a cold, hard, selfish, unscrupulous, and able nature. As Willie moved about in the throng, studying the man’s face, now from one point and now from another, he became more and more certain that the man was not only utterly unscrupulous, but also daring to a high degree and clever beyond belief.

With every moment the excitement on the boat increased. The detention at Quarantine had been brief, and the great ship was now close to her pier. Every one was making a final collection of wraps and hand baggage and saying good-bye to shipmates. Stewards and cabin boys were bustling about more busily than ever, with bags, suit cases and other hand luggage. As the ship drew close to the pier, Simonski pushed his way roughly toward the gangway. A cabin boy followed hard on his heels with his umbrella and bag. While they waited for the gangplank to be swung into place, Simonski drew forth a huge roll of bills, and peeling two of them from the outside of the roll, ostentatiously handed them to the lad with the bag. Evidently he had used his money to good effect in other quarters as well, for among the few trunks that had been hoisted to the deck, for quick delivery ashore, was a steamer trunk that Simonski now pointed out to the cabin boy. It bore a label marked with the letter S.

“You stick close to that trunk,” said Simonski. “I’ll get an inspector at once and bring him to the trunk. I want to get my stuff passed as quickly as possible. I don’t want to have to hunt for you and my bag when I’m ready to go. Understand?”

Simonski shoved his way closer to the gangway, and was one of the very first persons to set foot on the pier. He went directly to the line of inspectors waiting at their desks. His paper was taken by an inspector, who glanced at the paper and then at Simonski. Willie was close by. He saw by the inspector’s look that he knew he had before him the man they had been warned to watch. The inspector’s lips set hard. Willie fancied he saw an answering glitter in the eyes of Simonski. But the traveler was as cool as ice.

“Everything is correct on this declaration, is it?” asked the inspector.

“Absolutely,” replied Simonski.

“Then sign here,” said the inspector, indicating the place for the signature.

Simonski’s hand was as steady as Gibraltar as he slowly and carefully put his signature to the paper.

“We’ll have a look at your baggage,” said the inspector, leading the way to the S section, where Simonski’s trunk and the faithful cabin boy were waiting.

Simonski produced his keys and dropped to one knee, to open the trunk. The cabin boy reached out his hand, to relieve Simonski of his cane, but the latter laid it on the pier beside his foot. He unlocked the trunk, picked up his cane, and rose to his feet.

“Go to it,” he said. “The quicker the better. I’m in a hurry.”

The inspector opened the trunk wide. He placed the customs declaration where he could consult it, and began a systematic examination of the contents of the trunk. Not an article in the trunk went unexamined. As soon as he had examined an object, he piled it on its predecessors on the pier floor. The owner frowned.

“You might think I was trying to smuggle something in, the way you go through that trunk,” he said testily.

“Perhaps I do think so,” said the inspector.

“Well, satisfy yourself,” said Simonski, in a sarcastic tone.

The inspector made no reply, but continued his search. He questioned Simonski from time to time as to when and where he got this or that article. He continued the search until the trunk was entirely empty. Everything he had taken out of the trunk he had examined in the closest possible manner, feeling every inch of a garment, opening pockets, unfolding handkerchiefs, and leaving unsearched absolutely nothing that could contain even so small a thing as a diamond.

All the while Willie moved about in the crowd, that was now dense, but always with his eyes on Simonski and the inspector. Now the latter began an examination of the trunk itself. He felt every inch of its smooth surface. He hunted for places where the lining might have been ripped. He thumped the boards to see if they were solid. He even whipped out a little rule and measured the trunk inside and out to make sure it had no false bottom or sides. But the trunk appeared to be flawless. All the while Simonski stood beside the inspector, as cool as ice. When the search was over, the inspector motioned to him to repack his trunk. Simonski laid his cane on the pier, close beside the trunk, and put the things back in place. Then he locked the trunk, picked up his cane, and coolly hooked it over his arm again.

“Let’s see that bag,” demanded the inspector.

“Not satisfied yet?” said Simonski in apparent surprise. “All right. Hand it to him, boy.”

The cabin boy passed over the bag. The inspector searched it with the same thoroughness he had used in examining the trunk. Nothing came of the examination.

“Lot of good it did you, didn’t it?” remarked the traveler, with sarcasm.

Then, turning to the cabin boy, he said, “We’ll be moving now. Get a taxi for me.”

“Not so fast,” said the inspector. “I’m not done yet. We have reason to think you have something dutiable with you. If it isn’t in your baggage, it may be on your person. We’ll have to search you.”

“Very well. Help yourself. Here are my pockets.” And he held up his arms so the inspector could delve into his coat.

“We don’t examine suspects that way,” said the inspector. “You’ll have to come with me.”

Simonski, plainly annoyed, turned to give some directions to the cabin boy. The latter, wishing to earn an even larger fee if possible, reached for the cane. “I’ll keep it,” he said, “until you get back.”

Simonski apparently did not hear him, for he turned on his heel and walked away, with his cane still swinging jauntily on his arm.

Willie was in a quandary. He thought Simonski would be taken to an office on the pier and searched. He didn’t know whether he himself would be allowed in the place unless he told who he was. That he did not want to do. He said nothing but walked along almost abreast of the inspector. To his surprise, the latter went aboard the ship, preceded by Simonski. Willie followed hard on their heels. An officer was near the gangway.

“I want a room to search a suspect,” said the inspector.

“Use one of these staterooms,” said the officer, pointing along the deck. “They’re all empty now.”

The inspector and his prisoner passed into the ship. Willie followed. At the first stateroom the inspector threw open the door and Simonski entered. The inspector noticed Willie, who had followed close behind them.

“I wish you’d step in here a moment,” he said. “I might need help.”

Willie entered the stateroom and closed the door. “Lock it,” said the inspector. Willie turned the key.

“Now get your duds off,” said the inspector to Simonski.

The traveler put his cane in the bunk, sat down on the front edge of the bunk, and began to undress. With absolute thoroughness the inspector examined every stitch the man handed him. He pressed every inch of cloth between his finger and his thumb, but nothing larger than a grain of dust could be felt. The most careful search failed to reveal a single thing that seemed suspicious.

“Put your clothes on,” said the inspector. Then he stepped out in the corridor, followed by Willie. The latter hesitated a moment, then told the inspector who he was.

“I knew who you were,” said the inspector.

Willie gasped with surprise. “How did you know?” he asked.

“Mr. King telephoned up about you so you wouldn’t be ordered off the pier. When I saw a cabin boy hanging around while I was going through that bird’s stuff, I knew well enough who you were.”

“What are we going to do about Simonski?” inquired Willie.

“Nothing. Let him go. We haven’t a thing on which we can hold him. Just the same I believe he has smuggled some stuff through in some way.”

Willie went to a near-by stateroom and sat down. He felt certain the man he had been watching was a smuggler. Something seemed to tell him that despite the search the man had diamonds. Where could he possibly have them hidden?

Willie closed his eyes and thought. In his mind he reviewed every movement he had made since Willie first saw him. That wonderful, photographic quality of mind stood him in good stead. He could see Simonski’s every move. He thought of him as he had first seen him, immediately after he, Willie, had peeped at Simonski’s baggage in his stateroom. He could see the fellow plainly, moving about the ship, with his little cane swinging jauntily from his arm. He saw him unlocking his trunk, with the cane lying on the pier before him. He saw him once more, the cane at his feet, repacking the trunk. Again he visualized him, as he turned away to go to the ship to be searched, apparently too indignant to hear the cabin boy’s proffer to relieve him of his cane. Then he saw the search—the cane laid carefully in the back of the bunk, and the man pulling off his shoes, as he sat in front of it. It was queer how that cane seemed to stick out in every picture.

Suddenly Willie leaped to his feet. “The diamonds are in the cane,” he cried. “That’s why he was so careful of it. He didn’t care a rap about anything else. But he guarded that cane like grim death.”

He darted out of the stateroom. The inspector and Simonski were just disappearing down the corridor.

“Hold that man,” he cried. “Don’t let him get off the ship. I know where his diamonds are.”

Both men turned sharp about. “Hold on a moment,” said the inspector to Simonski.

“I am tired of this monkey business,” said Simonski. “You’ve searched me. There’s nothing dutiable on me. You have no right to keep me any longer.” And he turned and hurried toward the gangway. A sudden anger seemed to take possession of him.

“Stop him!” cried Willie. “The diamonds are in his cane.”

The inspector leaped to the side of Simonski. “Stop!” he said.

“Don’t you touch me,” rejoined Simonski. His eyes glittered like a snake’s.

The inspector grabbed him. Simonski tried to wrench loose. They clutched each other savagely. The little cane was caught between their swaying bodies. Suddenly it broke in half with a snap like a pistol. Then the pieces clattered to the floor. Willie rushed forward and picked them up. The cane was hollow. Something white showed within it. Willie thrust a match down into the hollow and worked the white thing out. It was cotton. Wrapped within it, in a long, thin roll, was diamond after diamond.


When Willie reported to his Chief, that individual dropped his work and leaned back in his chair. He was smiling with satisfaction.

“Well, Willie,” he said, “they telephoned down that they have at last landed that fellow Simonski, and that you had a great hand in it. Tell me what happened.”

Willie told the story in detail.

“He’s clever all right,” said the Special Agent. “We had almost come to the conclusion that he couldn’t be carrying the gems himself, but must be employing a carrier whom we would not suspect. You see, we have secretly examined his stuff on various occasions. We’ve had secret agents traveling on the boat with him. We’ve tested his cane and his umbrella. We’ve emptied his tube of tooth paste. We’ve even surreptitiously removed the heels of his shoes while he was asleep. We’ve cut open his soap. We’ve looked in every place we could think of. That’s probably why the inspector paid no attention to Simonski’s cane. His canes have been under scrutiny before. But they seemed to be all right.”

“So did this one,” said Willie. “If it had not been broken, we should probably never have found the diamonds. The inspector thinks it was made especially for this trip. It was no patent cane that you could open and put together again. You’d have had to chop this cane to get it apart. It had been bored out for a distance lengthwise, from the bottom up. But the diameter of the hole was small. The diamonds, with the thinnest of cotton wrappers, could just be stuffed into it. The end of the opening flared, like the sides of a long, slender cone. A piece of wood had been fashioned to fit this opening exactly, and the bottom of this plug was the ferule of the cane. The plug was glued in tight. It was as solid as veneering on fine furniture. I believe it could never have been pulled out. There wasn’t the slightest mark or crack to show that the cane was ever plugged. It appeared perfectly solid. And it was so slick and fresh that it must have been newly made.”

“Likely you are correct. He probably got a new cane on each trip. Doubtless it was done by expert workmen at considerable cost. He could afford to, according to what the inspectors telephoned me about the value of the diamonds seized. But I guess Simonski won’t be buying any more canes soon. He’ll get a prison sentence out of this. Sheridan told me you were sharp, but when I sent you to the Majestic I didn’t think that you would really accomplish anything.”

“It was mostly luck,” said Willie. “If the cane had not broken, I doubt if we should have found the diamonds. You never saw a nicer piece of work in your life than that cane.”

“Well, luck or no luck, we got Simonski, and that’s the thing we wanted. The department is immensely pleased.”

The department was no more pleased than Willie was. He was entirely in earnest when he said that the discovery of the diamonds was due to luck, for, had not Simonski momentarily lost his self-control and the cane been broken, it is doubtful if the gems would have been found. None the less, the seizure helped Willie greatly.

Among other things, it helped his bank account. Rather, it gave him one. For his pay was increased and he was now able to save a little each week. It also put him on an even better footing with Mr. King, though the Special Agent by this time had come to think very highly of Willie.

After the exciting days Willie had been passing through, life now seemed very tame. It was as though Willie, after a tempestuous voyage through rapids and rough seas, had suddenly sailed into a placid bit of backwater, where there was no current at all and not wind enough even to stir the surface. Day followed day and week followed week as quietly as time had gone by back in Central City. Like any active lad, Willie loved excitement, and he began almost to chafe under the monotony. For there was little to do besides routine work. Long ago Willie had become familiar with these routine tasks, and there was no longer even the interest of novelty attaching to them.

In one way Willie’s work altered slightly. More and more the chief had to use Willie for wireless communication. This was due to the increasing activities of rum runners. The “dry Navy” of the regular prohibition enforcement officers consisted of submarine chasers that had been built during the war. These were low, speedy craft, about one hundred and ten feet long, with a speed of twenty knots an hour. Every one of these boats was equipped with a complete sending and receiving apparatus of the most efficient type, with both spark and continuous wave transmitters and receivers, and operated by currents of 110 volts. Operators were on duty aboard the various units of the fleet at all hours, in order that there might be no delay in receiving orders, or in dashing off after a rum smuggling vessel.

But, although these vessels of the dry Navy were so completely equipped in this respect, they were sadly lacking in another. Their crews were civilian forces who were practically without authority on the water. Actually, it was always necessary for an officer of the customs department to sail with this fleet, since the customs forces have practically unlimited authority of hail, search, and seizure. Whenever the Special Agent had sound information as to probable violations of the prohibition law, this fleet was at his disposal. And as information came to him frequently, there was much need to communicate with the different vessels of the fleet.

In addition to these craft, there were several other boats that were used for chasing rum runners. These craft were part of the outfit of the Collector of the Port of New York. Among them was a boat, called the Surveyor, used especially to convey searching squads from point to point and to go down the Bay after rum runners. With all these craft at his command, the Special Agent had a considerable fleet of fast power boats.

For a time Uncle Sam searched rum laden boats far out on the high seas, and rum runners were rather cautious. But when other nations protested against such search beyond the three-mile limit, the practice was discontinued. At once whiskey smugglers grew active. Boats came from Bermuda, the Bahama Islands, Cuba, and other West Indian ports, laden with drink. As long as they remained more than three miles from shore, Uncle Sam could not touch them. So these ships dropped anchor just outside the danger zone and there disposed of their cargoes to rum runners in fast power boats. As this practice increased, the little fleet of law enforcement vessels grew busier and busier, and Willie was increasingly useful in communicating with them by wireless.

Encouraged by the success of individual vessels in disposing of their cargoes of booze, whiskey ships began to come in greater numbers. One day the marine observers at Atlantic Highlands and Sandy Hook sighted a great fleet of vessels approaching. Two steamships and fourteen schooners dropped anchor near the Ambrose channel and a little east of the Ambrose lightship, just beyond the three-mile limit. The steamer was apparently a tanker. The sailing ships appeared to be fishing smacks that had been converted into rum runners. The flotilla was a rum fleet from the Bahama Islands.

At once a swarm of small power boats put off from shore to meet them. The prohibition forces were caught napping. In a few hours’ time thousands of cases of forbidden intoxicants could be carried ashore. There was not a prohibition boat about, to enforce the law.

The instant word came to Mr. King from the marine observers, he rang his buzzer for Willie. “Get into touch with our boats,” he directed, “and order them to prepare for instant action. Have the Surveyor come to the Battery landing for me. I’m going to take personal charge of this expedition. We’re going to stop this rum running. These smugglers are a desperate bunch. We’ll have to meet them on their own grounds. Desperate diseases require desperate remedies.”

Willie hastened to his wireless. Ship after ship answered his signals, replying that they were ready for an instant dash after the smugglers. But from the Surveyor he could get no answer at all. Again and again he flashed out her signal. Then he called another of the Collector’s boats, to see if he could learn what was wrong with the Surveyor. The answer came back that her operator had suddenly been taken ill and had gone to the hospital. The relief man was ashore. There was no one on the Surveyor to operate the wireless.

Willie reported this to his Chief. For a moment Mr. King considered the situation. “There’s only one thing we can do, Willie,” he said. “You’ll have to go along and operate the Surveyor’s wireless. I can’t direct a fleet without a wireless operator.”

Willie could scarcely restrain himself for joy. So far he had had no end of good luck in being allowed to take a hand in operations against smugglers, but this was the greatest good fortune yet. To have a part in actually running down smugglers on the seas was a piece of luck too good to be true. Willie could hardly believe his ears. He wanted to give a war whoop, but somehow he restrained himself, and answered quietly, “I’m ready now.” But his heart was beating wildly with excitement.

“Get your overcoat and cap and the heaviest wraps you can find,” said Mr. King. “It’s already late in the day. It will be dark long before we can get near that rum fleet. And you’ll freeze to death if you aren’t warmly clothed.”

In a second everything was astir in the office. All the secret agents in the building were ordered aboard the patrol fleet. Orders were issued to clerks and stenographers. Revolvers were inspected and loaded. Fresh ammunition was tucked into coat pockets. Caps, gloves, overcoats, and outer footwear were produced and pulled on. And in a very few minutes the little party was hurrying across Battery Park to board the Surveyor. Willie hustled along beside his friend Easterly. But the pace was too rapid to permit conversation. In fact, Willie fairly had to run to keep pace with his longer legged companions. The booze forces had stolen a march on the enforcers of the law and there was not a second to lose.

The Surveyor was already at the boat landing. A member of the crew stood on the wharf, looking for the party. The Special Agent leaped aboard, followed by his little company. The sailor cast off the line that held the Surveyor, the engine began to roar, and the little craft drew quickly away from the landing. Not many hundred yards offshore the sub chasers and the other craft of the little fleet were gathered. Already customs agents had boarded them and they were idling on the tide, like restive horses champing their bits, eager to be off. The Surveyor headed directly for this flotilla.

“I suppose those sub chasers are the fastest units of our fleet,” said Mr. King to the captain of the Surveyor.

“Much the fastest, sir,” said that officer.

“And the Collector’s boats are about of one speed, I suppose.”

“Just about. We can run together very nicely, sir.”

The Special Agent turned to Willie. “Tell those sub chasers to make all speed possible,” he said, “surround the rum fleet, and try to cut off any small boats they can. Tell them they can go the limit if it is necessary. Be sure they have rifles and ammunition.”

Willie entered the little cabin and sat down at the wireless instrument. He strapped on his headpiece, threw over his switch, and sent the fleet call flashing abroad. But before he followed with a single order, he called out to Mr. King:

“What about the cipher? I don’t know it, though I know you use one.”

“Never mind the cipher. Go on and give the orders in English. And make it plain that we have guns aboard and will use them if it is necessary. If these rum runners want to listen in, we’ll give them something worth listening to.”

Willie swung back to his instrument. He had had an instant response from each unit of the fleet. “All sub chasers,” he flashed out, “put to sea at top speed. Surround the rum fleet. Try to intercept any power boats still taking cargo or not yet within reach of shore. Use whatever force is necessary. Load your rifles and use them if need be. Take every possible chance to capture the runners.”

From the sub chasers came flashing acknowledgments of the order, while instantly a mighty roar of powerful motors went up and the sub chasers shot forward through the dark waters of the harbor like the long, lean, nautical greyhounds they were.

“Call the Collector’s boats,” said Mr. King, “and tell them to stay together. The sub chasers will scare all the rum runners away from the rum fleet, long before we could get near. Most of these fellows will make for the Jersey shore. We haven’t the remotest chance of intercepting them. Even the sub chasers couldn’t catch many of them. But some of them will try to make a get-away by heading directly for the harbor here. They’ll wait until the sub chasers are through the Narrows and then make a dash from beyond the three-mile limit. Our part of the job will be to intercept them. We’ll go through the Narrows and cruise back and forth across the harbor entrance. It will be a mighty clever boatman that can get by us unseen.”

Once more Willie threw over his switch and sent a call flashing through the air. “Keep pace with the Surveyor,” he called, when he had gotten responses from the other craft. “Proceed through the Narrows, and take up patrol stations across harbor entrance. Don’t let anything get by you. If necessary, shoot. If they fire back, shoot to kill.”


Already dusk was at hand. Though it was about the hour for the sun to set, no sign of that glowing orb was visible in the sky. Dark clouds obscured the heavens. Columns of smoke were pouring skyward from hundreds of tall stacks along the shores of the Bay. And this smoke, driven down again by the heavy atmosphere, added to the general murkiness. A uniform dull, dark, gray blanket of cloud hung low over the harbor.

Beneath, the waters of the Bay reflected this dull, dark gray. The steel-colored hulls of the sub chasers were hardly distinguishable, even at a few hundred yards, from the heaving gray waves. The air was raw with the dampness of an approaching storm. The wind soughed ominously. Somewhere out on the great ocean, a swirling storm was sweeping landward. Night was close at hand. When darkness came, it would be as the darkness of Egypt—dense, impenetrable, almost tangible. It was indeed a good night for rum runners.

But the darkness had no terrors for the little party in the Surveyor. Rather they welcomed it. The darkness would allow them to creep the closer to their victims. Once they were near at hand, the powerful little searchlight of the Surveyor would dispel the darkness. Fog alone could cloak its beams. They would hope that fog would not form. If it did, they could only trust to luck.

On went the little fleet. Already the sub chasers were lost to sight, though the roar of their motors was still audible. In close formation the boats of the Collector’s squadron pushed on down the Bay. On their right the flaming torch of Liberty flashed high above the murky waters. Far on the western horizon myriads of twinkling lights shone along the Jersey shore. Behind them rose the dream city of Manhattan. From a million windows, reaching from the ground seemingly into the clouds themselves, flashed countless electric lights. Nowhere else in all the world was there a sight like it. Willie almost forgot himself and the adventure on which he was bound, as he gazed at the glowing towers of New York. When he swept his eyes farther around the circle, he saw the lights along the Brooklyn shore, reaching far behind and stretching far ahead of the little fleet. The great Bay, miles in diameter, was like an ebony bowl rimmed with glittering lights.

Steadily the little fleet pushed forward, tossed by the waving waters. The air was rent by the shrieking whistles of many vessels. All about them ships were moving. Behind them ferryboats were shuttling back and forth from Jersey to the Manhattan shore. From Staten Island to the Battery, six miles as the crow flies, the huge municipal ferries were plowing the waves. Broad belts of light shone from their illumined decks, carpeting the waters with gold as the full moon might have done on a fair night. Coastwise steamers for New England ports were rounding the end of Manhattan, for their nightly run up the East River and the Sound. Tugs were bustling busily about, some with strings of barges atow, some side by side with huge lighters. In that broad arm of the Bay between Robbin’s Reef Light and the torch of Liberty were moored numbers of tramp steamers, each with its lights aloft. While toward Brooklyn and the Bush terminal, sailing ships rode at anchor, their lanterns swaying aloft as the boats rocked gently with the waves.

Fairylike, indeed, was the scene, as every moment drew the curtain of darkness lower, and brightened the gleam of glowing lights. Yet wickedness lurked beneath those lights, and crime all too often rode the waves of this magic harbor. No fairy business was this before them, and no one understood that fact better than Willie did. Not for nothing had he listened to Larsen and his fellow smugglers on the pier, or watched them in their South Street den. He knew them for exactly what they were—reckless, wayward, desperate members of society, who observed the law only when it suited them or because they had to. Indeed this was no fairy business he was engaged in, but a desperate hunt for desperate men.

On went the little fleet. Soon the chugging craft was abreast of Robbin’s Reef. Its warning gleam flashed bright across the waves. Beyond that light rose the towering shores of Staten Island, now made dim and indistinct by the dusk, the street lights climbing upward from the ferry along the sloping roads. Farther down the island shone the lights of Quarantine. Beyond was darkness—the great, abysmal darkness of the untamed sea. And somewhere out in that darkness rode men in motor-boats—desperate men they were seeking to catch.

Night was upon them before the little fleet had passed the forts that guard the Narrows. Where the sub chasers were they had no idea. Somewhere out in the dark void before them, the fleet of steel-gray power boats was rushing through the night, with lights doused, in search of their prey. Through the Narrows went the Surveyor at top speed, with her companion boats about her. On and on they pressed, alert for every sight and sound of incoming craft. But no boats passed them save one or two large steamers, the waves from which set the little patrol boats to dancing merrily.

When they had gone as far as the chief deemed wise, Willie flashed out an order. “Take patrol stations and keep moving.”

Across the narrow channel the little fleet spread out. Back and forth, each in its allotted portion of the river, the little craft moved slowly. A few hundred yards to the right they drove, then turned and patrolled for an equal distance to the left. Back and forth, back and forth, like sentries pacing their beats, the customs craft crept through the murky night. But so dense was the darkness that no one of them was visible to any of its companions. For not a light shone aboard the little fleet.

Back and forth, back and forth, went the watching vessels. Minutes followed minutes and became hours. The darkness increased to absolute blackness. Far off, the lights of Manhattan began to disappear, winking out one by one. Night settled down over the heaving waters. The soughing of the wind increased. From seaward came a dull moaning sound. The waves were getting up. The storm was coming on apace. Ships were seeking refuge from it, and more than one goodly vessel came plunging in from the sea. But the watching patrol boats gave them a wide berth and themselves went undetected. Always there was a possibility that some entering ship might flash a wireless warning back through the darkness.

Back and forth, back and forth, rode the little patrol craft. And ever Willie sat at his instrument, his earpiece strapped to his head, listening for any sound in the night that would help the little fleet locate its prey. Now he tuned into this wave-length, now to that. He heard a myriad voices in the air, but for a long time none that was of use to him. Through the heavy atmosphere electric signals were flashing as thick as raindrops in a tropic storm. Far out on the ocean he heard steamships talking to one another, their operators discussing the storm that was raging there. Commercial lines were shooting messages through the air as fast as fingers could operate electric keys. Newspaper despatches were boring through the clouds. Amateurs by the hundreds were filling the ether with electric currents. More and more, as Willie listened to the babel, he thought of rain—horizontal rain, a rain of electric sparks that flew level with the surface of the earth. Some day, he knew, electric messages would travel that way—straight and in one direction only.

But ever, as he worked back and forth through the different wave-lengths, he listened for messages of his own. Nor did he listen in vain. Presently the Surveyor’s call came crackling in his ears. Quickly he sent the answering signal flashing back through the darkness.

Then came the message. “Rum runners well outside of three-mile limit. Cannot touch them. Little runners practically all ashore before we got near. Probably had wireless warning. Believe some went seaward. Likely heading for Long Island. Many try to enter harbor. Running without lights. Keep close watch.”

The message was from one of the sub chasers. Willie repeated it to his Chief. “Just as I feared,” said the Chief. “They caught nothing. It is all the more important for us to get any boats that try to slip into the harbor. But if we don’t catch any runners, we can at least prevent any more from getting to the rum fleet.” And he gave Willie a message.

“Stand by and watch rum fleet as long as possible,” flashed out Willie. “Prevent transfer of any more booze to small boats. If sea grows too heavy, run for nearest harbor.”

The sub chaser acknowledged the order and switched off. Once more Willie began to comb the air for messages that might have some bearing on the situation. Some ships might be sending a message that would help the Chief.

Suddenly Willie’s pulse quickened. A signal that he knew as well as he knew his own was sounding through the air.


It was a call for his old friend, Roy. And the sender of the message was his new friend, Reynolds. The Morro Castle was nearing port. The Lycoming could not be far behind her. Intently Willie listened to see if Roy caught the call. A moment there was silence. Then, clear as a bell, came the well-known signaling of his chum.

“KWC—KWC—KWC de WNA—I—I—I.” (“Steamer Lycoming answering steamer Morro Castle. All right. Go ahead.”)

Morro Castle now off Sandy Hook,” said the answering message. “Whole fleet sailing craft near Ambrose channel with no lights. Great danger collision. Must be rum fleet. Morro Castle proceeding at half speed. Tell Captain Lansford.”

Sharp and clear came the Morro Castle’s signals. Equally clear, though not so loud, was Roy’s reply. Evidently he was a good many miles behind the Morro Castle. The moment Roy finished acknowledging the message, Willie cut loose with a sharp call.


Promptly came the response. “CBM—CBM—CBM de KWC. Surprised to hear you at this hour. Working overtime?”

“Yes, but not at the Custom-house,” flashed back Willie. “Am with the customs fleet. We’re looking for rum runners. Heard you tell Roy about the rum fleet off Ambrose lightship. They arrived this afternoon. If you see any power boats, let us know which way they’re headed. Am aboard the Surveyor. Her call is NQU.”

“Will ask the watch to keep sharp lookout. Will let you know if we see any. What’s new?”

“Nothing but the rum fleet,” flashed back Willie. “Wish you’d tell Roy you have been talking to me. Ask him to keep watch for rum runners. How far back of you is the Lycoming?”

“About six hours. Will call her. Good-bye.”

“Good-bye. I’ll be listening in.”

Willie laid down his head ’phone and sought his Chief, who was snuggled down in the cockpit, wrapped in a blanket. “Just been talking to the Morro Castle,” said Willie. “You know the operator. He came to see you about me. The Morro Castle’s just off the Hook now. He says there’s a whole fleet of sailing ships there running without lights. The Morro Castle’s proceeding at half speed. Mr. Reynolds was just warning Roy, on the Lycoming. I got him and asked him to look out for rum runners. He’ll let us know if he spots any.”

“Good for you, Willie. You always seem to do the right thing at the right time. Maybe your message may be of great help to us.”

“I hope so,” replied Willie, as he went back to the wireless.

But for a long time no more friendly voices came hurtling through the air. The night grew darker and rougher. The wind was rising. From the sea the sound of the waves came ever louder. Higher rolled the waters and the little Surveyor rocked ever more violently. But she was a seaworthy craft, and there was as yet not enough sea to drive her to shelter. Back and forth she went, across her beat, and back and forth went her companion ships through the murky night.

Minute followed minute. The patrol continued undisturbed. If possible, the night grew darker and blacker. Wisps of fog began to scud through the Narrows, driven landward by the bellowing wind. The distant lights ashore grew dim. The mist was blotting them out. What the Chief had feared was happening. A fog was rolling in from the sea. But as yet it was not dense. Rather it was shifting, evanescent. Now came a cloud of it, sweeping along before the wind. When it passed, it left a great gulf of darkness. Soon came more fog, to swallow up everything in its concealing embrace. Warm garments were no protection against it. Stout coats could not bar out the cold. The crews of the little fleet could only shiver and wrap themselves the tighter. They could not escape the damp, numbing chill.

With his coat collar pulled high up about his ears, and his hands buried in his pockets, Willie sat at his instrument, listening. His teeth were well-nigh achatter. He was shaking with cold. Little shivers ran up and down his back. Now he would have welcomed a chance to thrash about with his arms, to beat his limbs until the blood was surging through them again. But he could not. His duty was to stay by the wireless. So he sat, shivering, chilled almost to numbness, listening for the message which, it seemed, would never come.

Occasionally the fog lifted for a moment. At such times the watchers could see afar off toward the sea a glow of light. It was the Morro Castle, beating her way in at half speed. Then the fog curtain would drop again, and the night become like a cave for darkness.

Suddenly Willie was startled into activity. His call was sounding in his ear. Reynolds was trying to get him. Willie threw over his switch. “Steamer Morro Castle. Surveyor answering,” he flashed. “All right. Go ahead.”

“Four power boats just passed us making for the Narrows,” came the message. “Appear to be rum runners. We are two or three miles outside the Narrows.”

“Thanks,” answered Willie. “We’ll be on the watch. Good-bye.”

Then he snatched his ’phone piece from his ear and sought the Chief. “Morro Castle just telegraphed that four rum running power boats had passed her, heading for the Narrows. The Morro Castle is three or four miles out.”

The Chief sprang to his feet. “Call the other boats,” he said. “Tell them to watch sharp. Tell them to wait until the rum runners come close, then spot them with their flashlights and order them to stop. Use rifles, if necessary.”

Willie stepped to his instrument and flashed the fleet call. Instantly the other boats responded. But it was needless to pass on the order. The other operators had likewise caught the Morro Castle’s message to the Surveyor, and the patrol boats were on the alert.

Now they quickened their speed. Back and forth they went across the tumbling waters. Now the fog lifted for a moment, but nothing was visible save the dull, distant glow of the Morro Castle’s lights. Then the fog curtain fell again, blanketing everything. The wind blew in short, sharp blasts. The waves were beating on the shore and breaking with a never ceasing tumult of sound. Aboard the little fleet every ear was alert to catch the sound of motors, every eye was straining into the dark to single out some slightest gleam of light, some chance reflection that would betray the presence of the smugglers. Occasionally there was a lull in the wind. Once the roar of a motor was distinctly heard. It seemed to be close to the eastern shore. Then the sound was swallowed up in the tumult of the waves.

The Surveyor was stationed at the easternmost end of the patrol line. If the sound had been heard aright, the little boat must be directly in the path of the speeding power boats.

The Chief stepped to Willie’s side. “Never mind your wireless now,” he said. “Come here and listen. We need your trained ear outside. We thought we heard the beating of a motor.”

Willie threw down his head ’phone and stepped outside. At first he was deafened by the tumult of wind and water. His head ’phones had shut out much of the roar. In a few moments he became accustomed to the noise. He cupped his hand to his ear, held his breath and listened with all his might. But he could hear nothing save the tempest. Then the fog shut down again—a great, gray, blinding blanket of mist, that hid even the very waters alongside.

“Listen!” cautioned Willie.

He knew the carrying powers of fog. For a moment nothing was audible but the wind and wave. Then distinctly came the muffled roar of a motor. For a full five seconds it sounded. Then it was audible no longer.

“It sounds as though it were close to this shore,” said Willie to his Chief. He had almost to shout to make himself heard.

“Just what I thought,” said the Chief.

“You can’t be sure, though,” said Willie. “Fog plays strange tricks with sound.”

Wherever the rum runner was, it was evident that she was not far away. Certainly she was within half a mile. Probably she was nearer. Once more the fog lifted. Through the rift in the mist Willie made out some lights high in air. They were the lights of Quarantine.

“We’ve drifted clear into the Narrows,” he called in his Chief’s ear. “We’re at the very narrowest part of the river.”

“Good!” said the Chief. “Look!”

Far down the Narrows, and close to the western shore, there was a momentary gleam of light through the rift in the mist, as though a smoker were holding a match to his pipe in his cupped hands. Then the light was swallowed up in darkness.

“We were wrong about the sound of that motor,” said the Chief. “They must be slipping along the western shore. We must head them off. Call the other boats quick!” The Chief turned to the steersman.

“Hard about!” he called.

“Wait!” cried Willie. “That might be a light ashore. Or they might be trying to fool us. It isn’t likely they would come up the west bank. They’d surely meet boats anchored off Quarantine. And I’m certain the motor we heard was on this side of the river.”

“Never mind,” called the Chief to the steersman. “Keep her steady.”

“Hold your message, Willie. Let each boat keep her place in line and close in if a rum runner is discovered.”

Willie stepped to his instrument. But before he could clamp his head ’phones on, the roar of motors came loud and distinct. This time there could be no mistake. The sounds were on the east side of the river, and there was more than one motor exploding.

“They’re coming along this bank,” shouted Willie. “I hear several motors.”

“Call in the fleet,” shouted back the Chief. Willie flashed out the order. “Close in toward the east bank.”

Instantly each boat replied. The Surveyor quickened her pace and headed farther inshore. With straining eyes her crew stared into the dark. The Chief swept the surface of the tossing waters with a powerful night glass. Suddenly a cry burst from his lips.

“I see them. They’re close ashore and coming like the wind. Crowd on all speed. We must cut them off. Man your searchlight.”

Plainer and plainer came the roar of the speeding rum runners. “Dead ahead,” called the Chief to the steersman. “If we’re fast enough we’ll cut them off. Turn on your searchlight, a little off the starboard bow.”

Suddenly a dazzling beam of light shot across the waves. A moment it swept back and forth across the foaming water. Then it came to rest. Three power boats in close formation were tearing through the surging seas.

“Where’s the fourth?” cried Willie.

“Port your helm,” ordered the Chief, “or they will get by us.”

With every ounce of power they possessed, the roaring rum runners were striving to pass the Surveyor. At full speed the little patrol boat was cutting for shore to head them off. Closer and closer to the shore line ventured the speeding smugglers.

“Gad!” cried the Chief. “In another minute we’ll run them ashore.”

The distance was greater than he judged. In another minute the foremost rum runner was passing the Surveyor’s bow like a race horse. Her companions were close to her flanks. Not a dozen yards separated the flying smugglers from the shore, but it was enough, for the tide was at flood. The Surveyor was still half a cable’s length away.

“They are going to make it,” shouted the Chief. “Get your guns.”

He grabbed up a megaphone. “Stop!” he roared. “Or we’ll fire.”

The response was a shot from the foremost rum runner.

“Down!” cried the Chief. “Shoot and shoot to hit.”

The crew sank to the deck and whipping out their weapons, opened fire. A shot must have gone true, for the leading rum runner faltered, swerved from her course, and was almost run down by a sister boat. The fleeing fleet was thrown into confusion.

“We’re going to get them,” shouted the Chief, firing as fast as he could aim.

For a moment the rum runners fell off in speed. The Surveyor gained on them fast. “Stop!” again shouted the Chief. “In the name of the law, stop!”

In reply a burly fellow stepped to the side of the foremost rum runner, raised a rifle, aimed carefully, and fired. There was a crash overhead and the Surveyor’s searchlight winked out. Again the rum runners’ motors roared and the fleet power boats drew away from the pursuing squadron. The Surveyor swung in pursuit. At the same moment another power boat was heard roaring up the channel, close to the western shore.

“A ruse!” cried the Chief. “They tried to fool us. Three of them came up the eastern shore while a fourth came along the other side and made a light to draw us across the river. If we had gone, I suppose she would have joined the three on this side. But they got through, though they didn’t fool us. Our watch was in vain.”

“Don’t say that,” replied Willie. “We’re going to get them yet.”

“How?” said the Chief. “In a night like this? They can run rings around us.”

“Listen!” said Willie. “Did you see that fellow who shot our light out?”

“Sure I saw him.”

“Do you know who he was?”

“Of course not.”

“Well, I do. He had on a red necktie. I caught a flash of it as he leveled his gun. I couldn’t see his face well for his cap was pulled down and he was too far away. But I saw the red at his neck. That’s ‘Red’ Anderson. I know where he hangs out and I’ll bet a dollar I know where he’s heading for.”

“Where?” said the Chief.

“The barge pier on the East River. That’s his hangout. It would be the easiest place in the world for him to land a cargo, for all those bargemen work together.”

The Chief turned to the man at the helm. “Full speed for the Battery,” he ordered. “We’ll land there and cut across to the barge pier. Then the fleet can sail up the East River and take these fellows in the rear while we approach from the land side. We’ll get them yet—providing Willie is right. Break out your lights. It’s too dangerous to run dark on a night like this.”

The lights of the Surveyor blazed forth. The Chief turned to Willie. “Call up the fleet,” he said, “and order them to the Battery landing at top speed.”

A moment later the little fleet was surging through the boisterous waters, their lights now agleam, in a final effort to take the smugglers. At the Battery landing the force divided. Half of the men leaped ashore. The others stayed aboard to man the little fleet. Signals were arranged.

“We’ll try to watch you from shore,” said the Chief, “and descend on that pier at the same moment that you reach the slip. Remember, they’re a desperate bunch. If there’s to be any shooting, you shoot first.”

Along the sea wall, and past the barge office and the ferry buildings, the land force ran at speed, glad of an opportunity to warm their chilled bodies. Then they began to pick their way along South Street. Wherever it was possible, they slipped out on a pier to keep in touch with the little fleet. The boats were shooting up the East River at top speed, close to the ends of the piers. Carefully they kept in touch with the boats until all were near the barge pier. Then the Special Agent gathered his little force for the charge.

“Get your guns ready,” he said, “though you needn’t draw them until we are out on the pier. There may be nothing there at all. We don’t want to attract attention and we don’t want to look foolish.”

Rapidly the little group strode up the street. At the barge pier they paused a second to look and listen. The pier was dark and apparently unoccupied. Yet from the river end came muffled noises and subdued voices.

“Come on,” whispered the Chief. “Something’s doing there. Get your guns ready.”

They stepped lightly out on the pier. At first they could see nothing. Then they made out great piles of freight heaped across the pier. Something was afoot behind these freight piles, but what it was they could not tell. The attackers crept nearer. They came close to the piles of freight and peered past them. Motor trucks were standing on the end of the pier. The freight had been piled so as to conceal the end of the pier; but room had been left for the trucks to slip through. Already one truck was piled high with cases of smuggled whiskey. Men were passing other cases up to the pier from motor-boats, and still others were loading the cases on the trucks.

A coarse laugh broke the stillness. With an oath a rough voice said, “You sure fixed that light, Red. Them shrimps thought they was goin’ to ketch us.” And the speaker gave a loud guffaw.

At that very instant the lights of the little fleet appeared off the pier. “Now,” said the Chief, leaping forward. “Come on.”

The customs guards leaped from concealment and swept round the freight piles.

“Hands up!” cried the Chief, “and no monkey business. We’ll drill the first man that tries to draw a gun.”

A cry went up. Savage oaths burst forth. The smugglers in the dock were trying to start their motors.

“None of that!” ordered the Chief. “Stop it or I’ll fire!”

The patrol fleet from the river turned and drove into the slip. The Chief hailed them. “Arrest every man in those boats,” he ordered. “Handcuff them at once. Shoot at the first attempt to resist.”

Taken thoroughly by surprise, the smugglers could offer no real resistance. “Come on,” said the Chief. “We’re going to the Old Slip station. March.”

He posted guards on each side of the captured smugglers and others behind them. Then he turned back toward the motor-boats. Already the crews had been handcuffed. They were helped to the pier and marched off after their companions.

“Get the rest of that stuff out of those boats and in these trucks,” ordered the Chief, “and watch it closely. I’ll have some department drivers down here as quick as I can get them, to take the stuff away. Be sure you stay with the loads until they are under lock and key.”


Taken completely by surprise, the rum runners dared offer no resistance. They were marched off to jail and their smuggled whiskey carted away and put under lock and key. Alarmed by such vigorous action, and by the watchfulness of the sub chasers, other rum runners remained safe on land. The whiskey fleet, discouraged at its lack of success, drew farther offshore and was scattered by the storm.

“They’ll try to get their stuff ashore somewhere,” said the Special Agent to Willie, as they were discussing the situation next morning, “and probably they’ll succeed. But at any rate, they have had a lesson. They will think twice before they try to bring any more booze into New York direct. It sure was a good night’s work.”

“It sure was,” echoed Willie, who could still feel the thrill of the chase.

Suddenly the Special Agent swung square around in his chair. “Willie,” he said, “tell me how you knew that was Red Anderson. You’ve been in this service only a few months, but you seem to know more that’s useful than half the old hands in it.”

Willie laughed to conceal his pleasure. “That was easy. I saw him once in a sailors’ hangout on South Street,” said Willie. “I was with Sheridan. He told me to take a good look at the fellow and never forget him, for he had a hand in half the crimes along the water-front.”

“You can say it was easy,” replied the Chief, “but that doesn’t make it so. Lots of us could see a face a dozen times and still not recognize it, especially on a stormy night.”

“Oh! It was the necktie,” laughed Willie. “You’d never forget a sailor with a red necktie.”

“Whether I would or not, makes no difference. The point is that we got those smugglers. We made a good showing instead of appearing ridiculous. We owe it to you. I shall not forget it.”

Willie was too much embarrassed to make any reply. He turned to his work, determined to do even more to merit his Chief’s good-will. He had been lucky, mighty lucky. He realized that very well. It was a sobering thought. But another thought gave him more satisfaction. He couldn’t have had his luck if he had not put his pride in his pocket and started at the bottom. He could at least take credit for having sense enough to do that. He knew well enough now that he wouldn’t stay at the bottom. Indeed, he had already climbed up one rung of the ladder.

He was to step up another much sooner than he dreamed possible. For a few days later his big friend Sheridan came swinging into the office, this time dressed in his best, and looking very handsome.

He smiled at Willie, but said nothing until he reached the inner office. Then he said, “I’ve come to borrow an office boy.”

Willie pricked up his ears.

“I’m sorry,” said the Special Agent, “but I have only one, and he’s too valuable to lend. Can I help you in any other way?”

“If I can’t borrow him,” said Sheridan, “I’ll have to buy him. We’ve simply got to have him. There’s a counterfeiting case afoot and we are in great need of an intelligent boy to help trail some men we’re watching. We can’t use a man for this particular job. We must have a boy. There’s nobody else we know that will answer so well as your office boy for the job.”

The big detective turned to Willie. “The Chief of the Secret Service,” he said, “has a job for you that you’ll like.”

Willie’s eyes glistened. “What is it?” he asked.

“You’ll be rated as a clerk,” said Sheridan, “but you’ll really be doing Secret Service. The position will lead, when you are a little older and more experienced, to a full appointment as a Secret Service agent.”

“Then I’ll take it,” said Willie, without a moment’s hesitation. “But, by George! I hate to leave Mr. King.”

“And Mr. King hates to have you go,” said the Special Agent. “But I won’t try to prevent it. I know your ambition. I know you’ll succeed. But I do wish you would stay in this department. It would lead to all the secret service you could want as a special treasury agent.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. King,” said Willie. “I hate to leave you. I like my work here immensely. But I started out to get into the Secret Service proper and this is my chance. I’ll have to take it.”

“And I,” groaned Mr. King, “will have to start in with a new office boy. Oh! Lord!”

When Willie was free that evening, he raced over to the Confederated Steamship piers and rushed aboard the Lycoming. He found Roy and Mr. Robbins chatting in the purser’s office.

“I came to get you both to go to dinner with me,” he said. “It’s my treat. I’m celebrating. I’ve got a new job. And it isn’t as an office boy.”