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From time to time a man smiled in the bleak, desolate office of the Providence "Ledger," just a little ghost of a smile, such as might be warranted when, looking back upon an arduous labor, one knows his effort has not been in vain.
NONDESCRIPT man in nondescript clothes, tall, gaunt, and so inconspicuous that he might pass you unnoticed a dozen times in a day walked rapidly along the avenue and turned in at the British embassy.
"I want to see the ambassador," he said to a clerk; adding, "at once, please. Just give him this."
In a few minutes the ambassador's secretary came forward. He said:
"You have no appointment?" "No; but I shall have as soon as you take that letter in."
"I'm sorry, but-"and then something in the visitor's face caused him to change his mind, and he disappeared into an inner office.
When the ambassador had torn off the envelop and spread out the folded sheet, he read:
Dear Sir James:
This will introduce John Wilson of Providence, R. I. I don't know what he wants; but you'd better give it to him. He 'll get it, anyway.
Signed to this was the name of a local politician which made the interview an immediate certainty, yet at the same time cast a shade of suspicion on Mr. Wilson's character. The ambassador re-read the letter several times, puzzling over the last two sentences, and then, as if abandoning the problem, turned to his secretary. "What sort of a man is he?"
"Really, I could n't say, sir-that is, not accurately. I thought at first he was some sort of a farmer, but-" "Is he young or old or what?" "Oh, about middle age, sir, I should think."
"Very well; bring him in, please." As Wilson came through the doorway, the ambassador's immediate thought was, "A preacher, not a farmer."
The one outstanding, disarming characteristic of the man's face was pure guilelessness, and it might have belonged to some kind of unimportant preacher or countryman, or to almost any one other than its real owner.
Wilson took the chair that was offered, and went straight to his business.
"You know about that?" he asked, and he handed the ambassador a newspaper clipping carrying the following head-lines:
DEUTSCHLAND ARRIVES AT NEW LONDON
GERMAN MERCHANT-SUBMARINE MAKES SECOND VOYAGE TO AMERICA
CAPTAIN PAUL KOENIG IN CHARGE
Then came half a column of talk and surmise, which added nothing to the meager news of the heading. Sir James read the clipping carefully.
"Yes, I had some such news this morning," he said, returning it.
"Three weeks ago," continued Wilson, "some one started shipping nickel and rubber into New London-tons and tons of it-and stored it on a pier controlled by a German syndicate. It's my business to know those things, and it made me suspicious. Yesterday the Deutschland tied up at that pier."
Sir James nodded.
"Do you realize what that stuff means to Germany?" asked the caller.
"I do, indeed."
"You've got a pretty fair notion, too, I reckon, that England would like to stop that sub from getting back."
"Yes, I rather think we should." "I rather think you would, too. Now look here, sir, I'm not going to waste my time or yours. I'm going to smash. that boat, and I want help. Will England help?".
Sir James might have smiled at the extreme bluntness of the offer had it not been for his caller's very evident seriousness.
"My dear man, of course we'll help if there is any way of doing the thing; but we can't and won't violate American neutrality. You must understand that. I may tell you further that our people have already gone into the whole matter very thoroughly, and there is absolutely nothing which can be done at this end."
"Oh, is n't there? Now listen a minute, and remember that the less you know about certain things the better." Whereupon Wilson outlined a plan in which he so skilfully avoided reference to England, America, Germany, and the Deutschland that Sir James could not but appreciate his astuteness. When he had finished, the ambassador remained silent for several minutes, then asked:
"And what about Mr. Wilson? What -ah-honorarium, if I may term it so, will he look for if we should feel disposed to fall in with his suggestions?"
"Not a damned cent!" flared the answer. "Now get me, sir, and don't make any mistake. England has n't got enough money to hire me. This is my job, and if I should do it alone, you wouldn't get a smell of it. I'm giving England first chance, that 's all. What I get out of it won't come out of Eng
land's pocket and is n't any of England's business. So understand that."
The ambassador did not understand in the least, but the visitor was so manifestly and unmistakably in earnest that there was nothing further to be said.
An appointment was then made for the following morning, and as the man passed out, Sir James rang for the secretary.
"Henry," he said, and his voice was very serious, "telephone at once to Kelly of the Intelligence Department and ask him as a personal favor to get a report on John Wilson of Providence, and bring it here to-morrow at nine, please. Is Lieutenant Everett still in town? Well, find him, wherever he is, and have him here at the same hour. And keep all to-morrow forenoon clear for me."
THE burly Kelly entered the office at nine sharp.
"Say," he said as he greeted Sir James, "how many John Wilsons do you think there are in Providence, anyway?"
"Really, I never thought of that," apologized the ambassador. "When I talked to the man, I somehow felt there could be just the one."
"Well, there's eight of 'em, but I kind er got a hunch which one you 're after. He's here in town, ain't he?" Sir James nodded.
"Thought I seen him. Ain't that your friend?" Kelly drew a photograph from his pocket.
"Why, of course. Where in the world did you get that at such short notice?" "Borried it off the Rogue's Gallery." The life seemed to go out of the ambassador's face.
"Then he 's-some kind of criminal?" "Well, kind of, yes; that is, he's a newspaper man-Providence "Ledger" -and he just naturally lands in jail wherever he goes. I've pinched him twice myself personally so far this year. He's one of the best friends I got, too. He-"
"You know him personally, then?" “Oh, sure. And he looks like you could use his mouth for a butter icebox, don't he?"
"Is he reputable?" asked Sir James as he puzzled over the reference to the ice-box.
"Oh, sure. Say, you ought to know him better 'n us fellers. Remember the time Lord What 's-his-name came to New York and would n't stand for an interview? And some guy chlorofor ed his valet and bust into their suit in the middle of the night and stuck a gun into the old bird's ribs and made him talk for an hour? Sure you do. Well, that 's our friend. And only last month right here in Washington he—" "You need n't go further," said Sir James. "If he 's the man who interviewed Lord Howse, that 's all I need to know. It took me eighteen monthsoh, well, it does n't matter. me, what has he against England?" "Nothin' that I know of." "Is he pro-British, then?" "No, he ain't for nor against." "Well, is he—ah-somewhat pro-German?"
"Him? Say, you mean you don't know? Why, did n't you folks print some kind of report on the Lusitania business? Sure you did. Got a copy
When the report was brought, Sir James turned instinctively to the passenger-list-the W's-and slowly ran through the names.
"Watson - Wesson Westervelt Ah!" he exclaimed, for there at his finger-tips he read, Wilson, Mrs. John, Providence, R. I. "So that 's what he meant-"
"Go on," said Kelly, grimly. The ambassador saw:
Wilson, Master John, Jr., Providence, R. I.
Wilson, Miss Ethel H., Providence, R. I.
Wilson, Master Harry S., Providence, R. I.
"That's all," said Kelly-"the whole damn' family. Enough, ain't it?"
Sir James thumbed over the pages of the report in search of another list. Kelly interrupted him.
"You need n't bother lookin'," he said gruffly. "They ain't any-any Wilson -in that other list."
FOLLOWING the program which had
been determined upon, Lieutenant Everett discarded his naval uniform and proceeded to New York, where he went at once to an address in West Thirtieth Street. He entered the building a somewhat dapper-looking young man, and emerged three days later an unshaven, unwashed, unkempt, greasyoveralled mechanic of third or even fourth class. On leaving Washington he had been followed by one of Bernstorff's agents,-purely on principle, for they suspected nothing, and the house in New York had since been under a constant surveillance. But so thorough was the transformation that when he passed out the lieutenant did not draw more than a casual glance from the watching agent.
Walking slowly to the Grand Central, he purchased a ticket to a point a few miles west of New London, and found Wilson waiting with an automobile at the station when he left the train. Less than an hour's run brought them to the outskirts of New London, and a few minutes later the car entered a stable attached to a most disreputablelooking hotel. Wilson led the way to a large room at the very top of the building. Two of the three cot-beds which it contained were somewhat disordered, and though the whole place was rank with tobacco smoke and untidy, it did not seem unclean. On the wall was a telephone.
"By George!" exclaimed Everett, “it looks like a thieves' den!"
"Just exactly what it is," said Wilson, "and we 're going to live in it for the next couple of weeks; so better make yourself at home."
Spread out on a table was one of the ingenious German-made "suitcase" wireless outfits that later were detected frequently in the baggage of certain foreign-born commercial travelers. The antenna stretched diagonally across the ceiling, and the ground wire was looped across the floor to a convenient waterpipe. Seated at the table was a boy of perhaps twenty.
As Wilson started to speak, the boy held up his hand for silence, and for perhaps ten minutes gave all his attention to the apparatus. When he threw off the head-gear, Wilson introduced
him to the lieutenant as "Roy Mathers, my right-hand man.'
"By golly!" said the boy, "I'm not the only unlicensed wireless doing business in this town! Just as I was starting up, some one broke in on me. I'll bet he 's not five blocks from here. He's using an odd wave-length, and just look at this and this!" He handed over several sheets of a ccde message.
"What is it?" asked Wilson as he puzzled over the wording.
"Search me," said Roy. "I don't know what it means, but it 's German all right. Just look at those words! They'll spend years making a code you can't steal, and then not have horse sense enough to leave out spellings that nobody but a German would ever use. I'll bet he has regular fixed working hours, too-nine to ten in the morning and three to four in the afternoon, or something like that. You give me just two days, and I'll have his number all right. Then if you want to send anything out, I can squeeze it through when he 's off duty."
IN his capacity of newspaper man, Wilson soon took himself to the Deutschland's pier, where he blatantly announced that he intended to photograph the sub from stem to stern and to obtain a biographical sketch of every man aboard her. The other men of the press, idling half-way down the pier at the dead-line established for them, were at first amused and then somewhat annoyed by his cumbersome, elephantine efforts, which to their way of thinking were certain of failure and sure to antagonize the German commander, whose favor they had been earnestly seeking.
Wilson stopped at nothing. If he had deliberately set out to enrage Koenig he could not have succeeded better. He followed the man about the streets, he questioned him and pestered him at every chance meeting, absolutely refusing to be refused, until Koenig came to loathe the sight of him. ters reached a climax on the third day, when a particularly audacious move on Wilson's part-he was caught, camera in hand, creeping cautiously toward the Deutschland along the roof of the pier
-resulted in his being thrown bodily into the street, with orders given by a red-faced, stuttering-mad Koenig that never again was he to be permitted beyond the pier entrance.
No matter how his actions may have impressed the other reporters, Wilson succeeded admirably in carrying out his real purpose: he established himself, fully and indubitably, in Koenig's mind and in the mind of every other German in the neighborhood, as a blundering, monkey-trick reporter who was defeating his own ends, and who, though he might be a pestilential nuisance, was not otherwise worthy of a single thought.
Meanwhile Everett was busy. son located in Coolley's Shipyard, in Providence, the sea-going tug Judith, and the lieutenant was quickly despatched to make an inspection. Finding the vessel suitable, she was purchased outright, since the alterations required were quite impossible under any charter proposition. Coolley, spurred by Wilson, and directed by Everett, rushed at the work of reconstruction; so that in a week's time the Judith was ready for sea. Among other things her forward and aft deckhouses were completely rebuilt, being made wider and longer, and her two stumpy masts were replaced by spars of reasonable height.
A cautious word to Washington brought about an interchange of cablegrams with the Admiralty in London, with the result that one night the British cruiser Amphion transferred her sphere of activity from outside Delaware Bay to the waters south of Montauk Point, and stood ready to cooperate with the lieutenant as soon as needed. During the periods when the German operator was by his schedule attending to other matters, Roy called her on the wireless with a prearranged signal until communication was satisfactorily established, and later a special code came to Everett for use when matters were expected to be of a more serious nature.
IF Koenig had any doubt as to Wilson's insanity, it vanished into thin air when the Judith, all kinds of meaningless