By MELVILLE DAVISSON POST
From Saturday Evening Post
I was before one of those difficult positions unavoidable to a man of letters. My visitor must have some answer. He had come back for the manuscript of his memoir and for my opinion. It was the twilight of an early Washington winter. The lights in the great library, softened with delicate shades, had been turned on. Outside, Sheridan Circle was almost a thing of beauty in its vague outline; even the squat ridiculous bronze horse had a certain dignity in the blue shadow.
If one had been speculating on the man, from his physical aspect one would have taken Walker for an engineer of some sort, rather than the head of the United States Secret Service. His lean face and his angular manner gave that impression. Even now, motionless in the big chair beyond the table, he seemed—how shall I say it?—mechanical.
And that was the very defect in his memoir. He had cut the great cases into a dry recital. There was no longer in them any pressure of a human impulse. The glow of inspired detail had been dissected out. Everything startling and wonderful had been devitalized.
The memoir was a report.
The bulky typewritten manuscript lay on the table beside the electric lamp, and I stood about uncertain how to tell him.
“Walker,” I said, “did nothing wonderful ever happen to you in the adventure of these cases?”
“What precisely do you mean?” he replied.
The practical nature of the man tempted me to extravagance.
“Well,” I said, “for example, were you never kissed in a lonely street by a mysterious woman and the flash of your dark lantern reveal a face of startling beauty?”
“No,” he said, as though he were answering a sensible question, “that never happened to me.”
“Then,” I continued, “perhaps you have found a prince of the church, pale as alabaster, sitting in his red robe, who put together the indicatory evidence of the crime that baffled you with such uncanny acumen that you stood aghast at his perspicacity?”
“No,” he said; and then his face lighted. “But I’ll tell you what I did find. I found a drunken hobo at Atlantic City who was the best detective I ever saw.”
I sat down and tapped the manuscript with my fingers.
“It’s not here,” I said. “Why did you leave it out?”
He took a big gold watch out of his pocket and turned it about in his hand. The case was covered with an inscription.
“Well,” he said, “the boys in the department think a good deal of me. I shouldn’t like them to know how a dirty tramp faked me at Atlantic City. I don’t mind telling you, but I couldn’t print it in a memoir.”
He went directly ahead with the story and I was careful not to interrupt him:
“I was sitting in a rolling chair out there on the Boardwalk before the Traymore. I was nearly all in, and I had taken a run to Atlantic for a day or two of the sea air. The fact is the whole department was down and out. You may remember what we were up against; it finally got into the newspapers.