“‘Now, Governor,’ he said, ’I’m leery about jokers—I gotta be. I don’t want any string to this money. If I get it I want to go and blow it in. I don’t want you to hand me the roll an’ then start any reformin’ stunt—a-holdin’ of it in trust an’ a probation officer a-pussy-footin’ me, or any funny business. I want the wad an’ a clear road to the bright lights with no word passed along to pinch me. Do I git it?’
“’It’s a trade!” I said.
“‘O.K.,’ he answered, and he took up the bucket. He began at the door and poured the water carefully on the hard tramped earth. When the bucket was empty he brought another and another. Finally about midway of the floor space he stopped.
“‘Here it is!’ he said.
“I was following beside him, but I saw nothing to justify his words.
“Why do you think the plates are buried here?’ I said.
“‘Look at the air bubbles comin’ up, Governor,’ he answered.”
Walker stopped, then he added:
“It’s a thing which I did not know until that moment, but it’s the truth. If hard-packed earth is dug up and repacked air gets into it, and if one pours water on the place air bubbles will come up.”
He did not go on, and I flung the big query of his story at him.
“And you found the plates there?”
“Yes,” he replied, “in the false bottom of an old steamer trunk.”
“And the hobo got the money?”
“Certainly,” he answered. “I put it into his hand, and let him go with it, as I promised.”
Again he was silent, and I turned toward him in astonishment.
“Then,” I said, “why did you begin this story by saying the hobo faked you? I don’t see the fake; he found the plates and he was entitled to the reward.”
Walker put his hand into his pocket, took out a leather case, selected a paper from among its contents and handed it to me. “I didn’t see the fake either,” he said, “until I got this letter.”
I unfolded the letter carefully. It was neatly written in a hand like copper plate and dated from Buenos Aires:
Dear Colonel Walker: When I discovered that you were planting an agent on every ship I had to abandon the plates and try for the reward. Thank you for the five thousand; it covered expenses. Very sincerely yours,
BY THOMAS GRANT SPRINGER
From Live Stories
Kan Wong, the sampan boatman, sat in the bow of his tiny craft, looking with dream-misted eyes upon the oily, yellow flood of the Yangtze River. Far across on the opposite shore, blurred by the mist that the alchemy of the setting sun transmuted from miasmic vapour to a veil of gold, rose the purple-shadowed, stone-tumbled ruins of Hang Gow, ruins that had been a proud, walled city in the days before the Tai-ping Rebellion.