Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Steven desJardins and Distributed Proofreaders.
[Illustration: "'Then in charity say that word!'"]
THE TRACER OF LOST PERSONS
BY R. W. CHAMBERS
TO MR. AND MRS. WILLIAM A. HALL
_For the harmony of the world, like that of a harp, is made up of
THE TRACER OF LOST PERSONS
He was thirty-three, agreeable to look at, equipped with as much culture
and intelligence as is tolerated east of Fifth Avenue and west of
Madison. He had a couple of elaborate rooms at the Lenox Club, a larger
income than seemed to be good for him, and no profession. It follows
that he was a pessimist before breakfast. Besides, it's a bad thing for
a man at thirty-three to come to the conclusion that he has seen all the
most attractive girls in the world and that they have been vastly
overrated. So, when a club servant with gilt buttons on his coat tails
knocked at the door, the invitation to enter was not very cordial. He of
the buttons knocked again to take the edge off before he entered; then
opened the door and unburdened himself as follows:
"Mr. Gatewood, sir, Mr. Kerns's compliments, and wishes to know if 'e
may 'ave 'is coffee served at your tyble, sir."
Gatewood, before the mirror, gave a vicious twist to his tie, inserted a
pearl scarf pin, and regarded the effect with gloomy approval.
"Say to Mr. Kerns that I am--flattered," he replied morosely; "and tell
Henry I want him."
"'Enry, sir? Yes, sir."
The servant left; one of the sleek club valets came in, softly sidling.
"I'll wear a white waistcoat, if you don't object."
The valet laid out half a dozen.
"Which one do you usually wear when I'm away, Henry? Which is _your_
"Pick it out and don't look injured, and _don't_ roll up your eyes. I
merely desire to borrow it for one day."
"Very good, sir."
"And, Henry, hereafter always help yourself to my _best_ cigars. Those I
smoke may injure you. I've attempted to conceal the keys, but you will,
of course, eventually discover them under that loose tile on the
"Yes, sir; thanky', sir," returned the valet gravely.
"Sir?" with martyred dignity.
"When you are tired of searching for my olivine and opal pin, just find
it, for a change. I'd like to wear that pin for a day or two if it would
not inconvenience you."
"Very good, sir; I will 'unt it hup, sir."
Gatewood put on his coat, took hat and gloves from the unabashed valet,
and sauntered down to the sunny breakfast room, where he found Kerns
inspecting a morning paper and leisurely consuming grapefruit with a
cocktail on the side.
"Hullo," observed Kerns briefly.
"I'm not on the telephone," snapped Gatewood.
"I beg your pardon; how are you, dear friend?"
"_I_ don't know how I am," retorted Gatewood irritably; "how the devil
should a man know how he is?"
"Everything going to the bowwows, _as_ usual, dear friend?"
"_As_ usual. Oh, read your paper, Tommy! You know well enough I'm not
one of those tail-wagging imbeciles who wakes up in the morning singing
like a half-witted lark. Why should I, with this taste in my mouth, and
the laundress using vitriol, and Henry sneering at my cigars?" He yawned
and cast his eyes toward the ceiling. "Besides, there's too much gilt
all over this club! There's too much everywhere. Half the world is
stucco, the rest rococo. Where's that Martini I bid for?"
Kerns, undisturbed, applied himself to cocoa and toasted muffins.
Grapefruit and an amber-tinted accessory were brought for the other and
sampled without mirth. However, a little later Gatewood said: "Well, are
you going to read your paper all day?"
"What you need," said Kerns, laying the paper aside, "is a job--any old
kind would do, dear friend."
"I don't want to make any more money."
"I don't want you to. I mean a job where you'd lose a lot and be scared
into thanking Heaven for carfare. _You're_ a nice object for the
"Bridge. I will be amiable enough by noon time."
"Yes, you're endurable by noon time, as a rule. When you're forty you
may be tolerated after five o'clock; when you're fifty your wife and
children might even venture to emerge from the cellar after dinner--"
"I said wife," replied Kerns, as he calmly watched his man.
He had managed it well, so far, and he was wise enough not to overdo it.
An interval of silence was what the situation required.
"I wish I _had_ a wife," muttered Gatewood after a long pause.
"Oh, haven't you said that every day for five years? Wife! Look at the
willing assortment of dreams playing Sally Waters around town. Isn't
this borough a bower of beauty--a flowery thicket where the prettiest
kind in all the world grow under glass or outdoors? And what do you do?
You used to pretend to prowl about inspecting the yearly crop of posies,
growling, cynical, dissatisfied; but you've even given that up. Now you
only point your nose skyward and squall for a mate, and yowl mournfully
that you never have seen your ideal. _I_ know _you_."
"I never have seen my ideal," retorted Gatewood sulkily, "but I know she
exists--somewhere between heaven and Hoboken."
"You're sure, are you?"
"Oh, _I'm_ sure. And, rich or poor, good or bad, she was fashioned for
me alone. That's a theory of mine; _you_ needn't accept it; in fact,
it's none of your business, Tommy."
"All the same," insisted Kerns, "did you ever consider that if your
ideal does exist somewhere, it is morally up to you to find her?"
"Haven't I inspected every debutante for ten years? You don't expect me
to advertise for an ideal, do you--object, matrimony?"
Kerns regarded him intently. "Now, I'm going to make a vivid suggestion,
Jack. In fact, that's why I subjected myself to the ordeal of
breakfasting with you. It's none of my business, as you so kindly put
it, but--_shall_ I suggest something?"
"Go ahead," replied Gatewood, tranquilly lighting a cigarette. "I know
what you'll say."
"No, you don't. Firstly, you are having such a good time in this world
that you don't really enjoy yourself--isn't that so?"
"I--well I--well, let it go at that."
"Secondly, with all your crimes and felonies, you have one decent trait
left: you really would like to fall in love. And I suspect you'd even
"There are grounds," said Gatewood guardedly, "for your suspicions. _Et
"Good. Then there's a way! I know--"
"Oh, don't tell me you 'know a girl,' or anything like that!" began
Gatewood sullenly. "I've heard that before, and I won't meet her."
"I don't want you to; I don't know anybody. All I desire to say is this:
I do know a way. The other day I noticed a sign on Fifth Avenue:
KEEN & CO.
TRACERS OF LOST PERSONS
It was a most extraordinary sign; and having a little unemployed
imagination I began to speculate on how Keen & Co. might operate, and I
wondered a little, too, that, the conditions of life in this city could
enable a firm to make a living by devoting itself exclusively to the
business of hunting up missing people."
Kerns paused, partly to light a cigarette, partly for diplomatic
"What has all this to do with me?" inquired Gatewood curiously; and
diplomacy scored one.
"Why not try Keen & Co.?"
"Try them? Why? I haven't lost anybody, have I?"
"You haven't, precisely _lost anybody_, but the fact remains that you
can't _find somebody_," returned Kerns coolly. "Why not employ Keen &
Co. to look for her?"
"Look for whom, in Heaven's name?"
"Look for--for my ideal! Kerns, you're crazy. How the mischief can
anybody hunt for somebody who doesn't exist?"
"You _say_ that she _does_ exist."
"But I can't prove it, man."
"You don't have to; it's up to Keen & Co. to prove it. That's why you
"What wild nonsense you talk! Keen & Co. might, perhaps, be able to
trace the concrete, but how are they going to trace and find the
"She isn't abstract; she is a lovely, healthy, and youthful concrete
object--if, as you say, she _does_ exist."
"How can I _prove_ she exists?"
"You don't have to; they do that."
"Look here," said Gatewood almost angrily, "do you suppose that if I
were ass enough to go to these people and tell them that I wanted to
find my ideal--"
"_Don't_ tell them _that_!"
"There is no necessity for going into such trivial details. All you
need say is: 'I am very anxious to find a young lady'--and then describe
her as minutely as you please. Then, when they locate a girl of that
description they'll notify you; you will go, judge for yourself whether
she is the one woman on earth--and, if disappointed, you need only shake
your head and murmur: 'Not _the_ same!' And it's for them to find
"I won't do it!" said Gatewood hotly.
"Why not? At least, it would be amusing. You haven't many mental
resources, and it might occupy you for a week or two."
"You have a pleasant way of putting things this morning, haven't you?"
"I don't want to be pleasant: I want to jar you. Don't I care enough
about you to breakfast with you? Then I've a right to be pleasantly
unpleasant. I can't bear to watch your mental and spiritual
dissolution--a man like you, with all your latent ability and capacity
for being nobody in particular--which is the sort of man this nation
needs. Do you want to turn into a club-window gazer like Van Bronk? Do
you want to become another Courtlandt Allerton and go rocking down the
avenue--a grimacing, tailor-made sepulcher?--the pompous obsequies of a
dead intellect?--a funeral on two wavering legs, carrying the corpse of
all that should be deathless in a man? Why, Jack, I'd rather see you in
bankruptcy--I'd rather see you trying to lead a double life in a single
flat on seven dollars and a half a week--I'd almost rather see you every
day at breakfast than have it come to that!
"Wake up and get jocund with life! Why, you could have all good citizens
stung to death if you chose. It isn't that I want you to make money; but
I want you to worry over somebody besides yourself--not in Wall
Street--a pool and its money are soon parted. But in your own home,
where a beautiful wife and seven angel children have you dippy and close
to the ropes; where the housekeeper gets a rake off, and the cook is
red-headed and comes from Sligo, and the butler's cousin will bear
watching, and the chauffeur is a Frenchman, and the coachman's uncle is
a Harlem vet, and every scullion in the establishment lies, drinks,
steals, and supports twenty satiated relatives at your expense. That
would mean the making of you; for, after all, Jack, you are no
genius--you're a plain, non-partisan, uninspired, clean-built, wholesome
citizen, thank God!--the sort whose unimaginative mission is to pitch in
with eighty-odd millions of us and, like the busy coral creatures,
multiply with all your might, and make this little old Republic the
greatest, biggest, finest article that an overworked world has ever yet
put up! . . . Now you can call for help if you choose."
Gatewood's breath returned slowly. In an intimacy of many years he had
never suspected that sort of thing from Kerns. That is why, no doubt,
the opinions expressed by Kerns stirred him to an astonishment too
innocent to harbor anger or chagrin.
And when Kerns stood up with an unembarrassed laugh, saying, "I'm going
to the office; see you this evening?" Gatewood replied rather vacantly:
"Oh, yes; I'm dining here. Good-by, Tommy."
Kerns glanced at his watch, lingering. "Was there anything you wished to
ask me, Jack?" he inquired guilelessly.
"Ask you? No, I don't think so."
"Oh; I had an idea you might care to know where Keen & Co. were to be
"_That_," said Gatewood firmly, "is foolish."
"I'll write the address for you, anyway," rejoined Kerns, scribbling it
and handing the card to his friend.
Then he went down the stairs, several at a time, eased in conscience,
satisfied that he had done his duty by a friend he cared enough for to
"Of course," he ruminated as he crawled into a hansom and lay back
buried in meditation--"of course there may be nothing in this Keen & Co.
business. But it will stir him up and set him thinking; and the longer
Keen & Co. take to hunt up an imaginary lady that doesn't exist, the
more anxious and impatient poor old Jack Gatewood will become, until
he'll catch the fever and go cantering about with that one fixed idea in
his head. And," added Kerns softly, "no New Yorker in his right mind can
go galloping through these five boroughs very long before he's roped,
tied, and marked by the 'only girl in the world'--the _only_ girl--if
you don't care to turn around and look at another million girls
precisely like her. O Lord!--precisely like her!"
Here was a nice exhorter to incite others to matrimony.
Meanwhile, Gatewood was walking along Fifth Avenue, more or less soothed
by the May sunshine. First, he went to his hatters, looked at straw
hats, didn't like them, protested, and bought one, wishing he had
strength of mind enough to wear it home. But he hadn't. Then he entered
the huge white marble palace of his jeweler, left his watch to be
regulated, caught a glimpse of a girl whose hair and neck resembled the
hair and neck of his ideal, sidled around until he discovered that she
was chewing gum, and backed off, with a bitter smile, into the avenue
Every day for years he had had glimpses of girls whose hair, hands,
figures, eyes, hats, carriage, resembled the features required by his
ideal; there always was something wrong somewhere. And, as he strolled
moodily, a curious feeling of despair seized him--something that, even
in his most sentimental moments, even amid the most unexpected
disappointment, he had never before experienced.
"I do want to love _somebody_!" he found himself saying half aloud; "I
want to marry; I--" He turned to look after three pretty children with
their maids--"I want several like those--several!--seven--ten--I don't
care how many! I want a house to worry me, just as Tommy described it; I
want to see the same girl across the breakfast table--or she can sip her
cocoa in bed if she desires--" A slow, modest blush stole over his
features; it was one of the nicest things he ever did. Glancing up, he
beheld across the way a white sign, ornamented with strenuous crimson
KEEN & CO.
TRACERS OF LOST PERSONS
The moment he discovered it, he realized he had been covertly hunting
for it; he also realized that he was going to climb the stairs. He
hadn't quite decided what he meant to do after that; nor was his mind
clear on the matter when he found himself opening a door of opaque glass
on which was printed in red:
KEEN & CO.
He was neither embarrassed nor nervous when he found himself in a big
carpeted anteroom where a negro attendant bowed him to a seat and took
his card; and he looked calmly around to see what was to be seen.
Several people occupied easy chairs in various parts of the room--an old
woman very neatly dressed, clutching in her withered hand a photograph
which she studied and studied with tear-dimmed eyes; a young man wearing
last year's most fashionable styles in everything except his features:
and soap could have aided him there; two policemen, helmets resting on
their knees; and, last of all, a rather thin child of twelve, staring
open-mouthed at everybody, a bundle of soiled clothing under one arm.
Through an open door he saw a dozen young women garbed in black, with
white cuffs and collars, all rattling away steadily at typewriters.
Every now and then, from some hidden office, a bell rang decisively, and
one of the girls would rise from her machine and pass noiselessly out of
sight to obey the summons. From time to time, too, the darky servant
with marvelous manners would usher somebody through the room where the
typewriters were rattling, into the unseen office. First the old woman
went--shakily, clutching her photograph; then the thin child with the
bundle, staring at everything; then the two fat policemen, in portentous
single file, helmets in their white-gloved hands, oiled hair glistening.
Gatewood's turn was approaching; he waited without any definite
emotion, watching newcomers enter to take the places of those who had
been summoned. He hadn't the slightest idea of what he was to say; nor
did it worry him. A curious sense of impending good fortune left him
pleasantly tranquil; he picked up, from the silver tray on the table at
his elbow, one of the firm's business cards, and scanned it with
KEEN & CO.
TRACERS OF LOST PERSONS
_Keen & Co. are prepared to locate the whereabouts of anybody on
earth. No charges will be made unless the person searched for is
_Blanks on application._
WESTREL KEEN, _Manager_.
"Mistuh Keen will see you, suh," came a persuasive voice at his elbow;
and he rose and followed the softly moving colored servant out of the
room, through a labyrinth of demure young women at their typewriters,
then sharply to the right and into a big, handsomely furnished office,
where a sleepy-looking elderly gentleman rose from an armchair and
bowed. There could not be the slightest doubt that he _was_ a
gentleman; every movement, every sound he uttered, settled the fact.
"Mr. Gatewood?"--with a quiet certainty which had its charm. "This is
very good of you."
Gatewood sat down and looked at his host. Then he said: "I'm searching
for somebody, Mr. Keen, whom you are not likely to find."
"I doubt it," said Keen pleasantly.
Gatewood smiled. "If," he said, "you will undertake to find the person
_I_ cannot find, I must ask you to accept a retainer."
"We don't require retainers," replied Keen. "Unless we find the person
sought for, we make no charges, Mr. Gatewood."
"I must ask you to do so in my case. It is not fair that you should
undertake it on other terms. I desire to make a special arrangement with
you. Do you mind?"
"What arrangement had you contemplated?" inquired Keen, amused.
"Only this: charge me in advance exactly what you would charge if
successful. And, on the other hand, do not ask me for detailed
information--I mean, do not insist on any information that I decline to
give. Do you mind taking up such an extraordinary and unbusinesslike
proposition, Mr. Keen?"
The Tracer of Lost Persons looked up sharply:
"About how much information _do_ you decline to give, Mr. Gatewood?"
"About enough to incriminate and degrade," replied the young man,
The elderly gentleman sat silent, apparently buried in meditation. Once
or twice his pleasant steel-gray eyes wandered over Gatewood as an
expert, a connoisseur, glances at a picture and assimilates its history,
its value, its artistic merit, its every detail in one practiced glance.
"I think we may take up this matter for you, Mr. Gatewood," he said,
smiling his singularly agreeable smile.
"But--but you would first desire to know something about me--would you
Keen looked at him: "You will not mistake me--you will consider it
entirely inoffensive--if I say that I know something about you, Mr.
"About _me_? How can you? Of course, there is the social register and
the club lists and all that--"
"And many, many sources of information which are necessary in such a
business as this, Mr. Gatewood. It is a necessity for us to be almost
as well informed as our clients' own lawyers. I could pay you no
sincerer compliment than to undertake your case. I am half inclined to
do so even _without_ a retainer. Mind, I haven't yet said that I _will_
"I prefer to regulate any possible indebtedness in advance," said
"As you wish," replied the older man, smiling. "In that case, suppose
you draw your check" (he handed Gatewood a fountain pen as the young man
fished a check-book from his pocket)--"your check for--well, say for
$5,000, to the order of Keen & Co."
Gatewood met his eye without wincing; he was in for it now; and he was
always perfectly game. He had brought it upon himself; it was his own
proposition. Not that he would have for a moment considered the sum as
high--or any sum exorbitant--if there had been a chance of success; one
cannot compare and weigh such matters. But how could there be any chance
As he slowly smoothed out the check and stub, pen poised, Keen was
saying: "Of course, we should succeed sooner or later--if we took up
your case. We might succeed to-morrow--to-day. That would mean a large
profit for us. But we might not succeed to-day, or next month, or even
next year. That would leave us little or no profit; and, as it is our
custom to go on until we do succeed, no matter how long it may require,
you see, Mr. Gatewood, I should be taking all sorts of chances. It might
even cost us double your retainer before we found her--"
"Her? How did--_why_ do you say '_her_'?"
"Am I wrong?" asked Keen, smiling.
"No--you are right."
The Tracer of Lost Persons sank into abstraction again. Gatewood waited,
hoping that his case might be declined, yet ready to face any music
started at his own request.
"She is young," mused Keen aloud, "very beautiful and accomplished. _Is_
she wealthy?" He looked up mildly.
Gatewood said: "I don't know--the truth is I don't care--" And stopped.
"O-ho!" mused Keen slowly. "I--think--I understand. Am I wrong, Mr.
Gatewood, in surmising that this young lady whom you seek is, in your
eyes, very--I may say ideally gifted?"
"She is my ideal," replied the young man, coloring.
"_Ex_actly. And--her general allure?"
"_Ex_actly; but to be a trifle more precise--if you could give me a
sketch, an idea, a mere outline delicately tinted, now. _Is_ she more
blond than brunette?"
"Yes--but her eyes are brown. I--I insist on that."
"Why should you not? _You_ know her; I don't," said Keen, laughing. "I
merely wished to form a mental picture. . . . You say her hair is--is--"
"It's full of sunny color; that's all I can say."
"_Ex_actly--I see. A rare and lovely combination with brown eyes and
creamy skin, Mr. Gatewood. I fancy she might be, perhaps, an inch or two
under your height?"
"Just about that. Her hands should be--_are_ beautiful--"
"_Ex_actly. The ensemble is most vividly portrayed, Mr. Gatewood;
and--you have intimated that her lack of fortune--er--we might almost
say her pecuniary distress--is more than compensated for by her
accomplishments, character, and very unusual beauty. . . . _Did_ I so
understand you, Mr. Gatewood?"
"That's what I meant, anyhow," he said, flushing up.
"You _did_ mean it?"
"I did: I do."
"Then we take your case, Mr. Gatewood. . . . No haste about the check,
my dear sir--pray consider us at your service."
But Gatewood doggedly filled in the check and handed it to the Tracer of
"I wish you happiness," said the older man in a low voice. "The lady you
describe exists; it is for us to discover her."
"Thank you," stammered Gatewood, astounded.
Keen touched an electric button; a moment later a young girl entered the
"Miss Southerland, Mr. Gatewood. Will you be kind enough to take Mr.
Gatewood's dictation in Room 19?"
For a second Gatewood stared--as though in the young girl before him the
ghost of his ideal had risen to confront him--only for a second; then he
bowed, matching her perfect acknowledgment of his presence by a bearing
and courtesy which must have been inbred to be so faultless.
And he followed her to Room 19.
What had Keen meant by saying, "The lady you describe exists!" Did this
remarkable elderly gentleman suspect that it was to be a hunt for an
ideal? Had he deliberately entered into such a bargain? Impossible!
His disturbed thoughts reverted to the terms of the bargain, the entire
enterprise, the figures on his check. His own amazing imbecility
appalled him. What idiocy! What sudden madness had seized him to
entangle himself in such unheard-of negotiations! True, he had played
bridge until dawn the night before, but, on awaking, he had discovered
no perceptible hold-over. It must have been sheer weakness of intellect
that permitted him to be dominated by the suggestions of Kerns. And now
the game was on: the jack declared, cards dealt, and his ante was up.
Had he openers?
Room 19, duly labeled with its number on the opaque glass door,
contained a desk, a table and typewriter, several comfortable chairs,
and a window opening on Fifth Avenue, through which the eastern sun
poured a stream of glory, washing curtain, walls, and ceiling with
And all this time, preoccupied with new impressions and his own growing
chagrin, he watched the girl who conducted him with all the unconscious
assurance and grace of a young chatelaine passing through her own domain
under escort of a distinguished guest.
When they had entered Room 19, she half turned, but he forestalled her
and closed the door, and she passed before him with a perceptible
inclination of her finely modeled head, seating herself at the desk by
the open window. He took an armchair at her elbow and removed his
gloves, looking at her expectantly.
"This is a list of particular and general questions for you to answer,
Mr. Gatewood," she said, handing him a long slip of printed matter. "The
replies to such questions as you are able or willing to answer you may
dictate to me." The beauty of her modulated voice was scarcely a
surprise--no woman who moved and carried herself as did this tall young
girl in black and white could reasonably be expected to speak with less
distinction--yet the charm of her voice, from the moment her lips
unclosed, so engrossed him that the purport of her speech escaped him.
"Would you mind saying it once more?" he asked.
She did so; he attempted to concentrate his attention, and succeeded
sufficiently to look as though some vestige of intellect remained in
him. He saw her pick up a pad and pencil; the contour and grace of two
deliciously fashioned hands arrested his mental process once more.
"I _beg_ your pardon," he said hastily; "what were you saying, Miss
"Nothing, Mr. Gatewood. I did not speak." And he realized, hazily, that
she had not spoken--that it was the subtle eloquence of her youth and
loveliness that had appealed like a sudden voice--a sound faintly
exquisite echoing his own thought of her.
Troubled, he looked at the slip of paper in his hand; it was headed:
SPECIAL DESCRIPTION BLANK
And he read it as carefully as he was able to--the curious little clamor
of his pulses, the dazed sense of elation, almost of expectation,
distracting his attention all the time.
"I wish you would read it to me," he said; "that would give me time to
think up answers."
"If you wish," she assented pleasantly, swinging around toward him in
her desk chair. Then she crossed one knee over the other to support the
pad, and, bending above it, lifted her brown eyes. She could have done
nothing in the world more distracting at that moment.
"What is the sex of the person you desire to find, Mr. Gatewood?"
"Her sex? I--well, I fancy it is feminine."
She wrote after "Sex" the words "She is probably feminine"; looked at
him absently, glanced at what she had written, flushed a little, rubbed
out the "she is probably," wondering why a moment's mental wandering
should have committed her to absurdity.
"Married?" she asked with emphasis.
"No," he replied, startled; then, vexed, "I beg your pardon--you mean to
ask if _she_ is married!"
"Oh, I didn't mean _you_, Mr. Gatewood; it's the next question, you
see"--she held out the blank toward him. "Is the person you are looking
"Oh, no; she isn't married, either--at least--trust--not--because if she
_is_ I don't want to find her!" he ended, entangled in an explanation
which threatened to involve him deeper than he desired. And, looking up,
he saw the beautiful brown eyes regarding him steadily. They reverted to
the paper at once, and the white fingers sent the pencil flying.
"He trusts that she is unmarried, but if she _is_ (underlined) married
he doesn't want to find her," she wrote.
"That," she explained, "goes under the head of 'General Remarks' at the
bottom of the page"--she held it out, pointing with her pencil. He
nodded, staring at her slender hand.
"Age?" she continued, setting the pad firmly on her rounded, yielding
knee and looking up at him.
"Age? Well, I--as a matter of fact, I could only venture a surmise. You
know," he said earnestly, "how difficult it is to guess ages, don't you,
"How old do you _think_ she is? Could you not hazard a guess--judging,
say, from her appearance?"
"I have no data--no experience to guide me." He was becoming involved
again. "Would you, for practice, permit me first to guess your age, Miss
"Why--yes--if you think that might help you to guess hers."
So he leaned back in his armchair and considered her a very long
time--having a respectable excuse to do so. Twenty times he forgot he
was looking at her for any purpose except that of disinterested delight,
and twenty times he remembered with a guilty wince that it was a matter
"Perhaps I had better tell you," she suggested, her color rising a
little under his scrutiny.
"Is it eighteen? Just _her_ age!"
"Twenty-one, Mr. Gatewood--and you _said_ you didn't know her age."
"I have just remembered that I _thought_ it might be eighteen; but I
dare say I was shy three years in her case, too. You may put it down at
For the slightest fraction of a second the brown eyes rested on his, the
pencil hovered in hesitation. Then the eyes fell, and the moving fingers
"Did you write 'twenty-one'?" he inquired carelessly.
"I did not, Mr. Gatewood."
"What did you write?"
"I wrote: 'He doesn't appear to know much about her age.'"
"But I _do_ know--"
"You said--" They looked at one another earnestly.
"The next question," she continued with composure, "is: 'Date and place
of birth?' Can you answer any part of _that_ question?"
"I trust I may be able to--some day. . . . What _are_ you writing?"
"I'm writing: 'He trusts he may be able to, some day.' Wasn't that what
"Yes, I did say that. I--I'm not perfectly sure what I meant by it."
She passed to the next question:
"About five feet six," he said, fascinated gaze on her.
"More gold than brown--full of--er--gleams--" She looked up quickly; his
eyes reverted to the window rather suddenly. He had been looking at her
"Complexion?" she continued after a shade of hesitation.
"It's a sort of delicious mixture--bisque, tinted with a pinkish
bloom--ivory and rose--" He was explaining volubly, when she began to
shake her head, timing each shake to his words.
"Really, Mr. Gatewood, I think you are hopelessly vague on that
point--unless you desire to convey the impression that she is speckled."
"Speckled!" he repeated, horrified. "Why, I am describing a woman who is
my ideal of beauty--"
But she had already gone to the next question:
"P-p-perfect p-p-pearls!" he stammered. The laughing red mouth closed
like a flower at dusk, veiling the sparkle of her teeth.
Was he trying to be impertinent? Was he deliberately describing her? He
did not look like that sort of man; yet _why_ was he watching her so
closely, so curiously at every question? Why did he look at her teeth
when she laughed?
"Eyes?" Her own dared him to continue what, coincidence or not, was
plainly a description of herself.
"B-b-b--" He grew suddenly timorous, hesitating, pretending to a
perplexity which was really a healthy scare. For she was frowning.
"Curious I can't think of the color of her eyes," he said; "is--isn't
She coldly inspected her pad and made a correction; but all she did was
to rub out a comma and put another in its place. Meanwhile, Gatewood,
chin in his hand, sat buried in profound thought. "_Were_ they blue?" he
murmured to himself aloud, "or _were_ they brown? Blue begins with a _b_
and brown begins with a _b_. I'm convinced that her eyes began with a
_b_. They were not, therefore, gray or green, because," he added in a
burst of confidence, "it is utterly impossible to spell gray or green
with a _b_!"
Miss Southerland looked slightly astonished.
"All you can recollect, then, is that the color of her eyes began with
the letter _b_?"
"That is absolutely all I can remember; but I _think_ they
"If they _were_ brown they must be brown now," she observed, looking out
of the window.
"That's true! Isn't it curious I never thought of that? What are you
"Brown," she said, so briefly that it sounded something like a snub.
"Mouth?" inquired the girl, turning a new leaf on her pad.
"Perfect. Write it: there is no other term fit to describe its color,
shape, its sensitive beauty, its--_What_ did you write just then?"
"I wrote, 'Mouth, ordinary.'"
"I don't want you to! I want--"
"Really, Mr. Gatewood, a rhapsody on a girl's mouth is proper in poetry,
but scarcely germane to the record of a purely business transaction.
Please answer the next question tersely, if you don't mind: 'Figure?'"
"Oh, I _do_ mind! I can't! Any poem is much too brief to describe her
"Shall we say 'Perfect'?" asked the girl, raising her brown eyes in a
glimmering transition from vexation to amusement. For, after all, it
could be _only_ a coincidence that this young man should be describing
features peculiar to herself.
"Couldn't you write, 'Venus-of-Milo-like'?" he inquired. "That is
"I could--if it's true. But if you mean it for praise--I--don't think
any modern woman would be flattered."
"I always supposed that she of Milo had an ideal figure," he said,
She wrote, "A good figure." Then, propping her rounded chin on one
lovely white hand, she glanced at the next question:
"White, beautiful, rose-tipped, slender yet softly and firmly rounded--"
"How _can_ they be soft and firm, too, Mr. Gatewood?" she protested;
then, surprising his guilty eyes fixed on her hands, hastily dropped
them and sat up straight, level-browed, cold as marble. _Was_ he
deliberately being rude to her?
As a matter of fact, he was not. Too poor in imagination to invent, on
the spur of the moment, charms and qualities suited to his ideal, he
had, at first unconsciously, taken as a model the girl before him; quite
unconsciously and innocently at first--then furtively, and with a
dawning perception of the almost flawless beauty he was secretly
plagiarizing. Aware, now, that something had annoyed her; aware, too, at
the same moment that there appeared to be nothing lacking in her to
satisfy his imagination of the ideal, he began to turn redder than he
had ever turned in all his life.
Several minutes of sixty seconds each ensued before he ventured to stir
a finger. And it was only when she bent again very gravely over her pad
that he cautiously eased a cramped muscle or two, and drew a breath--a
long, noiseless, deep and timid respiration. He realized the enormity of
what he had been doing--how close he had come to giving unpardonable
offense by drawing a perfect portrait of her as the person he desired to
find through the good offices of Keen & Co.
But there was no such person--unless she had a double: for what more
could a man desire than the ideal traits he had been able to describe
only by using her as his inspiration.
When he ventured to look at her, one glance was enough to convince him
that she, too, had noticed the parallel--had been forced to recognize
her own features in the portrait he had constructed of an ideal. And she
had caught him in absent-minded contemplation of the hands he had been
describing. He knew that his face was the face of a guilty man.
"What is the next question?" he stammered, eager to answer it in a
manner calculated to allay her suspicions.
"The next question?" She glanced at the list, then with a voice of
velvet which belied the eyes, clear as frosty brown pools in November:
"The next question requires a description of her feet."
"Feet! Oh---they--they're rather large--why, her feet are enormous, I
She looked at him as though stunned; suddenly a flood of pink spread,
wave on wave, from the white nape of her neck to her hair; she bent low
over her pad and wrote something, remaining in that attitude until her
"Somehow or other I've done it again!" he thought, horrified. "The best
thing I can do is to end it and go home."
In his distress he began to hedge, saying: "Of course, she is rather
tall and her feet are in some sort of proportion--in fact, they are
perfectly symmetrical feet--"
Never in his life had he encountered a pair of such angrily beautiful
eyes. Speech stopped with a dry gulp.
"We now come to 'General Remarks,'" she said in a voice made absolutely
steady and emotionless. "Have you any remarks of that description to
offer, Mr. Gatewood?"
"I'm willing to make remarks," he said, "if I only knew what you wished
me to say."
She mused, eyes on the sunny window, then looked up. "Where did you last
"Near Fifth Avenue."
"And what street?"
He named the street.
"Rather," he said timidly.
She ruffled the edges of her pad, wrote something and erased it, bit her
scarlet upper lip, and frowned.
"Out of doors, of course?"
"No; indoors," he admitted furtively.
She looked up with a movement almost nervous.
"Do you dare--I mean, care--to be more concise?"
"I would rather not," he replied in a voice from which he hoped he had
expelled the tremors of alarm.
"As you please, Mr. Gatewood. And would you care to answer any of these
other questions: Who and what are or were her parents? Give all
particulars concerning all her relatives. Is she employed or not? What
are her social, financial, and general circumstances? Her character,
personal traits, aims, interests, desires? Has she any vices? Any
virtues? Talents? Ambitions? Caprices? Fads? Are you in love with her?
"Yes," he said, "I am."
"Is she in love with you?"
"No; she hates me--I'm afraid."
"Is she in love with anybody?"
"That is a very difficult--"
The girl wrote: "He doesn't know," with a satisfaction apparently
"Is she a relative of yours, Mr. Gatewood?" very sweetly.
"No, Miss Southerland," very positively.
"You--you desire to marry her--you say?"
"I do. But I didn't say it."
She was silent; then:
"What is her name?" in a low voice which started several agreeable
thrills chasing one another over him.
"I--I decline to answer," he stammered.
"On what grounds, Mr. Gatewood?"
He looked her full in the eyes; suddenly he bent forward and gazed at
the printed paper from which she had been apparently reading.
"Why, all those questions you are scaring me with are not there!" he
exclaimed indignantly. "You are making them up?"
"I--I know, but"--she was flushing furiously--"but they are on the other
forms--some of them. Can't you see you are answering 'Form K'? That is a
"But why do you ask me questions that are _not_ on Form K?"
"Because it is my duty to do all I can to secure evidence which may lead
to the discovery of the person you desire to find. I--I assure you, Mr,
Gatewood, this duty is not--not always agreeable--and some people make
it harder still."
Gatewood looked out of the window. Various emotions---among them shame,
mortification, chagrin--pervaded him, and chased each other along his
nervous system, coloring his neck and ears a fiery red for the
enlightenment of any observer.
"I--I did not mean to offend you," said the girl in a low voice--such a
gently regretful voice that Gatewood swung around in his chair.
"There is nothing I would not be glad to tell you about the woman I have
fallen in love with," he said. "She is overwhelmingly lovely; and--when
I dare--I will tell you her name and where I first saw her--and where I
saw her last--if you desire. Shall I?"
"It would be advisable. When will you do this?"
"When I dare."
"You--you don't dare--now?"
"No . . . not now."
She absently wrote on her pad: "He doesn't dare tell me now." Then, with
head still bent, she lifted her mischief-making, trouble-breeding brown
eyes to his once more.
"I am to come here, of course, to consult you?" he asked dizzily.
"Mr. Keen will receive you--"
"He may be busy."
"He may be," she repeated dreamily.
"So--I'll ask for you."
"We _could_ write you, Mr. Gatewood."
He said hastily: "It's no trouble for me to come; I walk every
"But there would be no use, I think, in your coming very soon. All
I--all Mr. Keen could do for a while would be to report progress--"
"That is all I dare look for: progress--for the present."
During the time that he remained--which was not very long--neither of
them spoke until he arose to take his departure.
"Good-by, Miss Southerland. I hope you may find the person I have been
"Good-by, Mr. Gatewood. . . . I hope we shall; . . . but
And, as a matter of fact, she did not know; she was rather excited over
nothing, apparently; and also somewhat preoccupied with several rather
disturbing emotions the species of which she was interested in
determining. But to label and catalogue each of these emotions
separately required privacy and leisure to think--and she also wished to
look very earnestly at the reflection of her own face in the mirror of
her own chamber. For it is a trifle exciting--though but an innocent
coincidence--to be compared, feature by feature, to a young man's ideal.
As far as that went, she excelled it, too; and, as she stood by the
desk, alone, gathering up her notes, she suddenly bent over and lifted
the hem of her gown a trifle--sufficient to reassure herself that the
dainty pair of shoes she wore, would have baffled the efforts of any
Venus ever sculptured. And she was perfectly right.
"Of course," she thought to herself, "his ideal runaway hasn't enormous
feet. He, too, must have been struck with the similarity between me and
his ideal, and when he realized that I also noticed it, he was
frightened by my frown into saying that her feet were enormous. How
silly! . . . For I didn't _mean_ to frighten him. . . . He frightened
me--once or twice--I mean he irritated me--no, interested me, is what I
_do_ mean. . . . Heigho! I wonder why she ran away? I wonder why he
can't find her? . . . It's--it's silly to run away from a man like that.
. . . Heigho! . . . She doesn't deserve to be found. There is nothing to
be afraid of--nothing to alarm anybody in a man like that."
So she gathered up her notes and walked slowly out and across to the
private office of the Tracer of Lost Persons.
"Come in," said the Tracer when she knocked. He was using the telephone;
she seated herself rather listlessly beside the window, where spring
sunshine lay in gilded patches on the rug and spring breezes stirred
the curtains. She was a little tired, but there seemed to be no good
reason why. Yet, with the soft wind blowing on her cheek, the languor
grew; she rested her face on one closed hand, shutting her eyes.
When they opened again it was to meet the fixed gaze of Mr. Keen.
"Oh--I beg your pardon!"
"There is no need of it, child. Be seated. Never mind that report just
now." He paced the length of the room once or twice, hands clasped
behind him; then, halting to confront her:
"What sort of a man is this young Gatewood?"
"What _sort_, Mr. Keen? Why--I think he is the--the sort--that--"
"I see that you don't think much of him," said Keen, laughing.
"Oh, indeed I did not mean that at all; I mean that he appeared to
"Rather a cad?"
"Why, _no_!" she said, flushing up. "He is absolutely well-bred, Mr.
"You received no unpleasant impression of him?"
"On the contrary!" she said rather warmly--for it hurt her sense of
justice that Keen should so misjudge even a stranger in whom she had no
"You think he looks like an honest man?"
"Honest?" She was rosy with annoyance. "Have you any idea that he is
"Not the slightest," she said with emphasis.
"Suppose a man should set us hunting for a person who does not exist--on
our terms, which are no payment unless successful? Would that be
honest?" asked Keen gravely.
"Did--did _he_ do that?"
"I knew he _couldn't_ do such a thing!"
"No, he--er--couldn't, because I wouldn't allow it--not that he tried
to!" added Keen hastily as the indignant brown eyes sparkled ominously.
"Really, Miss Southerland, he must be all you say he is, for he has a
stanch champion to vouch for him."
"All I _say_ he is? I haven't said anything about him!"
Mr. Keen nodded. "_Ex_actly. Let us drop him for a moment. . . . Are you
perfectly well, Miss Southerland?"
"I'm glad of it. You are a trifle pale; you seem to be a little
languid. . . . When do you take your vacation?"
"You suggested May, I believe," she said wistfully.
The Tracer leaned back in his chair, joining the tips of his fingers
"Miss Southerland," he said, "you have been with us a year. I thought it
might interest you to know that I am exceedingly pleased with you."
She colored charmingly.
"But," he added, "I'm terribly afraid we're going to lose you."
"Why?" she asked, startled.
"However," he continued, ignoring her half-frightened question with a
smile, "I am going to promote you--for faithful and efficient service."
"With an agreeable increase of salary, and new duties which will take
you into the open air. . . . You ride?"
"I--I used to before----"
"_Ex_actly; before you were obliged to earn your living. Please have
yourself measured for habit and boots this afternoon. I shall arrange
for horse, saddle, and groom. You will spend most of your time riding
in the Park--for the present."
"But--Mr. Keen--am I to be one of your agents--a sort of detective?"
Keen regarded her absently, then crossed one leg over the other.
"Read me your notes," he said with a smile.
She read them, folded them, and he took them from her, thoughtfully
"Did you know that your mother and I were children together?" he asked.
"No!" She stared. "Is _that_ why you sent for me that day at the school
"That is why . . . When I learned that my playmate--your mother--was
dead, is it not reasonable to suppose that I should wish her daughter to
have a chance?"
Miss Southerland looked at him steadily.
"She was like you--when she married . . . I never married . . . Do you
wonder that I sent for you, child?"
Nothing but the clock ticking there in the sunny room, and an old man
staring into two dimmed brown eyes, and the little breezes at the open
window whispering of summers past.
"This young man, Gatewood," said the Tracer, clearing his voice of its
hoarseness--"this young man ought to be all right, if I did not
misjudge his father--years ago, child, years ago. And he _is_ all
right--" He half turned toward a big letter-file; "his record is clean,
so far. The trouble with him is idleness. He ought to marry."
"Isn't he trying to?" she asked.
"It looks like it. Miss Southerland, we _must_ find this woman!"
"Yes, but I don't see how you are going to--on such slight
"Information! Child, I have all I want--all I could desire." He laughed,
passing his hands over his gray hair. "We are going to find the girl he
is in love with before the week ends!"
"Do you really think so?" she exclaimed.
"Yes. But you must do a great deal in this case."
"And--and what am I to do?"
"Ride in the Park, child! And if you see Mr. Gatewood, don't you dare
take your eyes off him for one moment. Watch him; observe everything he
does. If he should recognize you and speak to you, be as amiable to him
as though it were not by my orders."
"Then--then I _am_ to be a detective!" she faltered.
The Tracer did not appear to hear her. He took up the notes, turned to
the telephone, and began to send out a general alarm, reading the
description of the person whom Gatewood had described. The vast,
intricate and delicate machinery under his control was being set in
motion all over the Union.
"Not that I expect to find her outside the borough of Manhattan," he
said, smiling, as he hung up the receiver and turned to her; "but it's
as well to know how many types of that species exist in this Republic,
and who they are--in case any other young man comes here raving of brown
eyes and 'gleams' in the hair."
Miss Southerland, to her own intense consternation, blushed.
"I think you had better order that habit at once," said the Tracer
"Tell me, Mr. Keen," she asked tremulously, "am I to spy upon Mr.
Gatewood? And report to you? . . . For I simply cannot bear to do it--"
"Child, you need report nothing unless you desire to. And when there is
something to report, it will be about the woman I am searching for.
_Don't_ you understand? I have already located her. You will find her
in the Park. And when you are _sure_ she is the right one--and if you
care to report it to me--I shall be ready to listen . . . I am always
ready to listen to you."
"But--I warn you, Mr. Keen, that I have perfect faith in the honor of
Mr. Gatewood. I _know_ that I could have nothing unworthy to report."
"I am sure of it," said the Tracer of Lost Persons, studying her with
eyes that were not quite clear. "Now, I think you had better order that
habit . . . Your mother sat her saddle perfectly . . . We rode very
often--my lost playmate and I."
He turned, hands clasped behind his back, absently pacing the room,
backward, forward, there in the spring sunshine. Nor did he notice her
lingering, nor mark her as she stole from the room, brown eyes saddened
and thoughtful, wondering, too, that there should be in the world so
much room for sorrow.
[Illustration: "'I am sure of it,' said the Tracer of Lost Persons."]
Gatewood, burdened with restlessness and gnawed by curiosity, consumed a
week in prowling about the edifice where Keen & Co. carried on an
His first visit resulted merely in a brief interview with Mr. Keen, who
smilingly reported progress and suavely bowed him out. He looked about
for Miss Southerland as he was leaving, but did not see her.
On his second visit he mustered the adequate courage to ask for her, and
experienced a curiously sickly sensation when informed that Miss
Southerland was no longer employed in the bureau of statistics, having
been promoted to an outside position of great responsibility. His third
visit proved anything but satisfactory. He sidled and side-stepped for
ten minutes before he dared ask Mr. Keen _where_ Miss Southerland had
gone. And when the Tracer replied that, considering the business he had
undertaken for Mr. Gatewood, he really could not see why Mr. Gatewood
should interest himself concerning the whereabouts of Miss Southerland,
the young man had nothing to say, and escaped as soon as possible,
enraged at himself, at Mr. Keen, and vaguely holding the entire world
guilty of conspiracy.
He had no definite idea of what he wanted, except that his desire to see
Miss Southerland again seemed out of all proportion to any reasonable
motive for seeing her. Occasional fits of disgust with himself for what
he had done were varied with moody hours of speculation. Suppose Mr.
Keen did find his ideal? What of it? He no longer wanted to see her. He
had no use for her. The savor of the enterprise had gone stale in his
mouth; he was by turns worried, restless, melancholy, sulky, uneasy. A
vast emptiness pervaded his life. He smoked more and more and ate less
and less. He even disliked to see others eat, particularly Kerns.
And one exquisite May morning he came down to breakfast and found the
unspeakable Kerns immersed in grapefruit, calm, well balanced, and
"How-de-dee, dear friend?" said that gentleman affably. "Any news from
Cupid this beautiful May morning?"
"No; and I don't want any," returned Gatewood, sorting his mail with a
scowl and waving away his fruit.
"Tut, tut! Lovers must be patient. Dearie will be found some day--"
"Some day," snarled Gatewood, "I shall destroy you, Tommy."
"Naughty! Naughty!" reflected Kerns, pensively assaulting the breakfast
food. "Lovey must _not_ worry; Dovey shall be found, and all will be joy
and gingerbread. . . . If you throw that orange I'll run screaming to
the governors. Aren't you ashamed--just because you're in a love
"One more word and you get it!"
"May I sing as I trifle with this frugal fare, dear friend? My heart is
_so_ happy that I should love to warble a few wild notes--"
He paused to watch his badgered victim dispose of a Martini.
"I wonder," he mused, "if you'd like me to tell you what a cocktail
before breakfast does to the lining of your stomach? Would you?"
"No. I suppose it's what the laundress does to my linen. What do I
"_Don't_ be a short sport, Jack."
"Well, I don't care for the game you put me up against. Do you know what
"I really don't, dear friend. The Tracer of Lost Persons has not found
"He says he has," retorted Gatewood sullenly, pulling a crumpled
telegram from his pocket and casting it upon the table. "I don't want to
see her; I'm not interested. I never saw but one girl in my life who
interested me in the slightest; and she's employed to help in this
Kerns, meanwhile, had smoothed out the telegram and was intently
"_John Gatewood, Lenox Club, Fifth Avenue:_
"Person probably discovered. Call here as soon as possible.
"_What_ do you make of that?" demanded Gatewood hoarsely.
"Make of it? Why, it's true enough, I fancy. Go and see, and if it's
she, be hers!"
"I won't! I don't want to see any ideal! I don't want to marry. Why do
you try to make me marry somebody?"
"Because it's good for you, dear friend. Otherwise you'll go to the
doggy-dogs. You don't realize how much worry you are to me."
"Confound it! Why don't _you_ marry? Why didn't I ask you that when you
put me up to all this foolishness? What right have you to--"
"Tut, friend! _I_ know there's no woman alive fit to wed me and spend
her life in stealing kisses from me. _I_ have no ideal. _You_ have an
"Oh, yes, dear friend, there's a stub in your check book to prove it.
You simply bet $5,000 that your ideal existed. You've won. Go and be her
joy and sunshine."
"I'll put an end to this whole business," said Gatewood wrathfully, "and
I'll do it now!"
"Bet you that you're engaged within the week!" said Kerns with a placid
The other swung around savagely: "What will you bet, Tommy? You may have
what odds you please. I'll make you sit up for this."
"I'll bet you," answered Kerns, deliberately, "an entire silver dinner
service against a saddle horse for the bride."
"That's a fool bet!" snapped Gatewood. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, if you don't care to--"
"What do I want of a silver service? But, all right; I'll bet you
"_She'll_ want it," replied Kerns significantly, booking the bet. "I may
as well canter out to Tiffany's this morning, I fancy. . . . Where are
you going, Jack?"
"To see Keen and confess what an ass I've been!" returned Gatewood
sullenly, striding across the breakfast room to take his hat and gloves
from the rack. And out he went, mad all over.
On his way up the avenue he attempted to formulate the humiliating
confession which already he shrank from. But it had to be done. He
simply could not stand the prospect of being notified month after month
that a lady would be on view somewhere. It was like going for a fitting;
it was horrible. Besides, what use was it? Within a week or two an
enormous and utterly inexplicable emptiness had yawned before him,
revealing life as a hollow delusion. He no longer cared.
Immersed in bitter reflection, he climbed the familiar stairway and sent
his card to Mr. Keen, and in due time he was ushered into the presence
of the Tracer of Lost Persons.
"Mr. Keen," he began, with a headlong desire to get it over and be done
with it, "I may as well tell you how impossible it is for you, or
anybody, to find that person I described--"
Mr. Keen raised an expostulatory hand, smiling indulgence.
"It is more than possible, Mr. Gatewood, more than probable; it is
almost an accomplished fact. In other words, I think I may venture to
congratulate you and say that she _is_ found."
"Now, _how_ can she be found, when there isn't--"
"Mr. Gatewood, the magician will always wave his magic wand for you and
show you his miracles for the price of admission. But for that price he
does not show you how he works his miracles," said Keen, laughing.
"But I ought to tell you," persisted Gatewood, "that it is utterly
impossible you should find the person I wished to discover, because
"I can only prove that you are wrong," smiled Keen, rising from his easy
"Mr. Keen," said the young man earnestly, "I have been more or less of a
chump at times. One of those times was when I came here on this errand.
All I desire, now, is to let the matter rest as it is. I am satisfied,
and you have lost nothing. Nor have you found anything or anybody. You
think you have, but you haven't. I do not wish you to continue the
search, or to send me any further reports. I want to forget the whole
miserable matter--to be free--to feel myself freed from any obligations
to that irritating person I asked you to find."
The Tracer regarded him very gravely.
"Is that your wish, Mr. Gatewood? I can scarcely credit it."
"It is. I've been a fool; I simply want to stop being one if anybody
will permit it."
"And you decline to attempt to identify the very beautiful person we
have discovered to be the individual for whom you asked us to search?"
"I do. She may be beautiful; but I know well enough she can't compare
"I am sorry," said Keen thoughtfully. "We take so much pride in these
matters. When one of my agents discovered where this person was, I was
rather--happy; for I have taken a peculiar personal interest in your
"Mr. Keen," said Gatewood, "if you could understand how ashamed and
mortified I am at my own conduct--"
Keen gazed pensively out of the window. "I also am sorry; Miss
Southerland was to have received a handsome bonus for her discovery--"
"_Ex_actly; without quite so many _S's_," said Keen, smiling.
"Did _she_ discover that--that person?" exclaimed the young man,
"She thinks she has. I am not sure she is correct; but I am absolutely
certain that Miss Southerland could eventually discover the person you
were in search of. It seems a little hard on her--just on the eve of
success--to lose. But that can't be helped now."
Gatewood, more excited and uncomfortable than he had ever been in all
his life, watched Keen intently.
"Too bad, too bad," muttered the Tracer to himself. "The child needs the
encouragement. It meant a thousand dollars to her--" He shrugged his
shoulders, looked up, and, as though rather surprised to see Gatewood
still there, smiled an impersonal smile and offered his hand in adieu.
"Could I--I see Miss Southerland?" he asked.
"I am afraid not. She is at this moment following my instructions
to--but that cannot interest you now--"
"Yes, it does!--if you don't mind. Where is she? I--I'll take a look at
the person she discovered; I will, really."
"Why, it's only this: I suspected that you might identify a person whom
I had reason to believe was to be found every morning riding in the
Park. So Miss Southerland has been riding there every day. Yesterday she
came here, greatly excited--"
Keen gazed dreamily at the sunny window. "She thought she had found
your--er--the person. So I said you would meet her on the bridle path,
near--but that's of no interest now--"
"Near where?" demanded Gatewood, suppressing inexplicable excitement.
And as Keen said nothing: "I'll go; I want to go, I really do!
Can't--can't a fellow change his mind? Oh, I know you think I'm a
lunatic, and there's plenty of reason, too!"
Keen studied him calmly. "Yes, plenty of reason, plenty of reason, Mr.
Gatewood. But do you suppose you are the only one? I know another who
was perfectly sane two weeks ago."
The young man waited impatiently; the Tracer paced the room, gray head
bent, delicate, wrinkled hands clasped loosely behind his bent back.
"You have horses at the Whip and Spur Club," he said abruptly. "Suppose
you ride out and see how close Miss Southerland has come to solving our
Gatewood seized the offered hand and wrung it with a fervor out of all
reason; and it is curious that the Tracer of Lost Persons did not appear
to be astonished.
"You're rather impetuous--like your father," he said slowly. "I knew
him; so I've ventured to trust his son--even when I heard how aimlessly
he was living his life. Mr. Gatewood! May I ask you something--as an old
friend of your father?"
The young man nodded, subdued, perplexed, scarcely understanding.
"It's only this: If you _do_ find the woman you could love--in the
Park--to-day--come back to me some day and let me tell you all those
foolish, trite, tiresome things that I should have told a son of mine. I
am so old that you will not take offense--you will not mind listening to
me, or forgetting the dull, prosy things I say about the curse of
idleness, and the habits of cynical thinking, and the perils of
vacant-minded indulgence. You will forgive me--and you will forget me.
That will be as it should be. Good-by."
Gatewood, sobered, surprised, descended the stairs and hailed a hansom.
All the way to the Whip and Spur Club he sat buried in a reverie from
which, at intervals, he started, aroused by the heavy, expectant beating
of his own pulses. But what did he expect, in Heaven's name? Not the
discovery of a woman who had never existed. Yet his excitement and
impatience grew as he watched the saddling of his horse; and when at
length he rode out into the sunshine and cantered through the Park
entrance, his sense of impending events and his expectancy amounted to a
fever which colored his face attractively.
He saw her almost immediately. Her horse was walking slowly in the
dappled shadows of the new foliage; she, listless in her saddle,
sometimes watching the throngs of riders passing, at moments turning to
gaze into the woodland vistas where, over the thickets of flowering
shrubbery, orioles and robins sped flashing on tinted wings from shadow
to sun, from sun to shadow. But she looked up as he drew bridle and
wheeled his mount beside her; and, "Oh!" she said, flushing in
"I have missed you terribly," he said quietly.
It was dreamy weather, even for late spring: the scent of lilacs and
mock-orange hung heavy as incense along the woods. Their voices
unconsciously found the key to harmonize with it all.
She said: "Well, I think I have succeeded. In a few moments she will be
passing. I do not know her name; she rides a big roan. She is very
beautiful, Mr. Gatewood."
He said: "I am perfectly certain we shall find her. I doubted it until
now. But now I know."
"Oh-h, but I _may_ be wrong," she protested.
"No; you cannot be."
She looked up at him.
"You can have no idea how happy you make me," he said unsteadily.
"But--I--but I may be all wrong--dreadfully wrong!"
"Y-es; you may be, but I shall not be. For do you know that I have
already seen her in the Park?"
"When?" she demanded incredulously, then turned in the saddle,
repeating: "Where? Did she pass? How perfectly stupid of me! And _was_
she the--the right one?"
"She _is_ the right one. . . . Don't turn: I have seen her. Ride on: I
want to say something--if I can."
"No, no," she insisted. "I must know whether I was right--"
"You _are_ right--but you don't know it yet. . . . Oh, very well, then;
we'll turn if you insist." And he wheeled his mount as she did, riding
at her bridle again.
"How can you take it so coolly--so indifferently?" she said. "Where has
that woman--where has she gone? . . . Never mind; she must turn and pass
us sooner or later, for she lives uptown. _What_ are you laughing at,
Mr. Gatewood?"--in annoyed surprise.
"I am laughing at myself. Oh, I'm so many kinds of a fool--you can't
think how many, and it's no use!"
She stared, astonished; he shook his head.
"No, you don't understand yet. But you will. Listen to me: this very
beautiful lady you have discovered is nothing to me!"
"Nothing--to you!" she faltered. Two pink spots of indignation burned in
her cheeks. "How--how dare you say that!--after all that has been
done--all that you have said. You said you loved her; you _did_ say
"I don't love her now."
"But you did!" Tears of pure vexation started; she faced him, eye to
eye, thoroughly incensed.
"What sort of man are you?" she said under her breath. "Your friend Mr.
Kerns is wrong. You are not worth saving from yourself."
"Kerns!" he repeated, angry and amazed. "What the deuce has Kerns to do
with this affair?"
She stared, then, realizing her indiscretion, bit her lip, and spurred
forward. But he put his horse to a gallop, and they pounded along in
silence. In a little while she drew bridle and looked around coldly,
grave with displeasure.
"Mr. Kerns came to us before you did. He said you would probably come,
and he begged us to strain every effort in your behalf, because, he
said, your happiness absolutely depended upon our finding for you the
woman you were seeking. . . . And I tried--very hard--and now she's
found. You admit that--and _now_ you say--"
"I say that one of these balmy summer days I'll assassinate Tommy
Kerns!" broke in Gatewood. "What on earth possessed that prince of
butters-in to go to Mr. Keen?"
"To save you from yourself!" retorted the girl in a low, exasperated
voice. "He did not say what threatened you; he is a good friend for a
man to have. But we soon found out what you were--a man well born, well
bred, full of brilliant possibility, who was slowly becoming an idle,
cynical, self-centered egoist--a man who, lacking the lash of need or
the spur of ambition, was degenerating through the sheer uselessness and
inanity of his life. And, oh, the pity of it! For Mr. Keen and I have
taken a--a curiously personal interest in you--in your case. I say, the
pity of it!"
Astounded, dumb under her stinging words, he rode beside her through the
brilliant sunshine, wheeled mechanically as she turned her horse, and
rode north again.
"And now--_now_!" she said passionately, "you turn on the woman you
loved! Oh, you are not worth it!"
"You are quite right," he said, turning very white under her scorn.
"Almost all you have said is true enough, I fancy. I amount to nothing;
I am idle, cynical, selfish. The emptiness of such a life requires a
stimulant; even a fool abhors a vacuum. So I drink--not so very much
yet--but more than I realize. And it is close enough to a habit to worry
me. . . . Yes, almost all you say is true; Kerns knows it; I know
it--now that you have told me. You see, he couldn't tell me, because I
should not have believed him. But I believe you--all you say, except one
thing. And that is only a glimmer of decency left in me--not that I make
any merit of it. No, it is merely instinctive. For I have _not_ turned
on the woman I loved."
Her face was pale as her level eyes met him:
"You said she was nothing to you. . . . Look there! Do you see her? Do
Her voice broke nervously as he swung around to stare at a rider bearing
down at a gallop--a woman on a big roan, tearing along through the
spring sunshine, passing them with wind-flushed cheeks and dark,
incurious eyes, while her powerful horse carried her on, away through
the quivering light and shadow of the woodland vista.
"Is _that_ the person?"
"Y-es," she faltered. "Was I wrong?"
"Quite wrong, Miss Southerland."
"But--but you said you had seen her here this morning!"
"Yes, I have."
"Did you speak to her before you met me?"
"No--not before I met you."
"Then you have not spoken to her. Is she still here in the Park?"
"Yes, she is still here."
The girl turned on him excitedly: "Do you mean to say that you will not
speak to her?"
"I had rather not--"
"And your happiness depends on your speaking?"
"Then it is cowardly not to speak."
"Oh, yes, it is cowardly. . . . If you wish me to speak to her I will.
"Yes . . . Show her to me."
"And you think that such a man as I am has a right to speak of love to
"I--we believe it will be your salvation. Mr. Kerns says you must marry
her to be happy. Mr. Keen told me yesterday that it only needed a word
from the right woman to put you on your mettle. . . . And--and that is
"Then in charity say that word!" he breathed, bending toward her. "Can't
you see? Can't you understand? Don't you know that from the moment I
looked into your eyes I loved you?"
"How--how dare you!" she stammered, crimsoning.
"God knows," he said wistfully. "I am a coward. I don't know how I
dared. Good-by. . . ."
He walked his horse a little way, then launched him into a gallop,
tearing on and on, sun, wind, trees swimming, whirling like a vision,
hearing nothing, feeling nothing, save the leaden pounding of his pulse
and the breathless, terrible tightening in his throat.
When he cleared his eyes and looked around he was quite alone, his horse
walking under the trees and breathing heavily.
At first he laughed, and the laugh was not pleasant. Then he said aloud:
"It is worth having lived for, after all!"--and was silent. And again:
"I could expect nothing; she was perfectly right to side-step a fool.
. . . And _such_ a fool!"
The distant gallop of a horse, dulled on the soft soil, but coming
nearer, could not arouse him from the bitter depths he had sunk in; not
even when the sound ceased beside him, and horse snorted recognition to
horse. It was only when a light touch rested on his arm that he looked
up heavily, caught his breath.
"Where is the other--woman?" she gasped.
"There never was any other."
"I said I loved my ideal. I did not know she existed--until I saw you."
"Then--then we were searching for--"
"A vision. But it was your face that haunted me. . . . And I am not
worth it, as you say. And I know it, . . . for you have opened my eyes."
He drew bridle, forcing a laugh. "I cut a sorry figure in your life; be
patient; I am going out of it now." And he swung his horse. At the same
moment she did the same, making a demi-tour and meeting him halfway,
"Do you--you mean to ride out of my life without a word?" she asked
"Good-by." He offered his hand, stirring his horse forward; she leaned
lightly over and laid both hands in his. Then, her face surging in
color, she lifted her beautiful dark eyes to his as the horses
approached, nearer, nearer, until, as they passed, flank brushing flank,
her eyes fell, then closed as she swayed toward him, and clung, her
young lips crushed to his.
There was nobody to witness it except the birds and squirrels--nobody
but a distant mounted policeman, who almost fainted away in his saddle.
Oh, it was awful, awful! Apparently she had been kissed speechless, for
she said nothing. The man fool did all the talking, incoherently enough,
but evidently satisfactory to her, judging from the way she looked at
him, and blushed and blushed, and touched her eyes with a bit of cambric
All the policeman heard as they passed him was; "I'm going to give you
this horse, and Kerns is to give us our silver; and what do you think,
But they had already passed out of earshot; and in a few moments the
shady, sun-flecked bridle path was deserted again save for the birds and
squirrels, and a single mounted policeman, rigid, wild eyed, twisting
his mustache and breathing hard.
The news of Gatewood's fate filled Kerns with a pleasure bordering upon
melancholy. It was his work; he had done it; it was good for Gatewood
too--time for him to stop his irresponsible cruise through life, lower
sail, heave to, set his signals, and turn over matters to this charming
And now they would come into port together and anchor somewhere east of
Fifth Avenue--which, Kerns reflected, was far more proper a place for
Gatewood than somewhere east of Suez, where young men so often sail.
And yet, and yet there was something melancholy in the pleasure he
experienced. Gatewood was practically lost to him. He knew what might be
expected from engaged men and newly married men. Gatewood's club life
was ended--for a while; and there was no other man with whom he cared to
embark for those brightly lighted harbors twinkling east of Suez across
the metropolitan wastes.
"It's very generous of me to get him married," he said frequently to
himself, rather sadly. "I did it pretty well, too. It only shows that
women have no particular monopoly in the realms of diplomacy and
finesse; in fact, if a man really chooses to put his mind to such
matters, he can make it no trumps and win out behind a bum ace and a
He was pleased with himself. He followed Gatewood about explaining how
good he had been to him. An enthusiasm for marrying off his friends
began to germinate within him; he tried it on Darrell, on Barnes, on
Yates, but was turned down and severely stung.
Then one day Harren of the Philippine Scouts turned up at the club, and
they held a determined reunion until daylight, and they told each other
all about it all and what upper-cuts life had handed out to them since
the troopship sailed.
And after the rosy glow had deepened to a more gorgeous hue in the room,
and the electric lights had turned into silver pinwheels; and after they
had told each other the story of their lives, and the last siphon fizzed
impotently when urged beyond its capacity, Kerns arose and extended his
hand, and Harren took it. And they executed a song resembling "Auld Lang
"Ole man," said Kerns reproachfully, "there's one thing you have been
deuced careful _not_ to mention, and that is about what happened to you
three years ago--"
"Steady!" said Harren; "there is nothing to tell, Tommy."
"Nothing. I never saw her again. I never shall."
Kerns looked long and unsteadily upon his friend; then very gravely
fumbled in his pocket and drew forth the business card of Westrel Keen,
Tracer of Lost Persons.
"That," he said, "will be about all." And he bestowed the card upon
Harren with magnificent condescension.
And about five o'clock the following afternoon Harren found the card
among various effects of his, scattered over his dresser.
It took him several days to make up his mind to pay any attention to the
card or the suggestion it contained. He scarcely considered it seriously
even when, passing along Fifth Avenue one sunny afternoon, he chanced to
glance up and see the sign
KEEN & CO.
TRACERS OF LOST PERSONS
staring him in the face.
He continued his stroll, but that evening, upon mere impulse, he sat
down and wrote a letter to Mr. Keen.
The next morning's mail brought a reply and an appointment for an
interview on Wednesday week. Harren tossed the letter aside, satisfied
to let the matter go, because his leave expired on Tuesday, and the
appointment was impossible.
On Sunday, however, the melancholy of the deserted club affected his
spirits. A curious desire to see this Tracer of Lost Persons seized him
with a persistence unaccountable. He slept poorly, haunted with visions.
On Monday he went to see Mr. Keen. It could do no harm; it was too late
to do either harm or good, for his leave expired the next day at noon.
The business of Keen & Co., Tracers of Lost Persons, had grown to
enormous proportions; appointments for a personal interview with Mr.
Keen were now made a week in advance, so when young Harren sent in his
card, the gayly liveried negro servant came back presently, threading
his way through the waiting throng with pomp and circumstance, and
returned the card to Harren with the date of appointment rewritten in
ink across the top. The day named was Wednesday. On Tuesday Harren's
"That won't do," said the young man brusquely; "I must see Mr. Keen
to-day. I wrote last week for an appointment."
The liveried darky was polite but obdurate.
"Dis here am de 'pintment, suh," he explained persuasively.
"But I want to see Mr. Keen at once," insisted Harren.
"Hit ain't no use, suh," said the darky respectfully; "dey's mi'ions an'
mi'ions ob gemmen jess a-settin' roun' an' waitin' foh Mistuh Keen. In
dis here perfeshion, suh, de fustest gemman dat has a 'pintment is de
fustest gemman dat kin see Mistuh Keen. You is a military gemman
yohse'f, Cap'm Harren, an' you is aware dat precedence am de rigger."
The bronzed young man smiled, glanced at the date of appointment written
on his card, which also bore his own name followed by the letters
U.S.A., then his amused gray eyes darkened and he glanced leisurely
around the room, where a dozen or more assorted people sat waiting their
turns to interview Mr. Keen: all sorts and conditions of people--smartly
gowned women, an anxious-browed business man or two, a fat German truck
driver, his greasy cap on his knees, a surly policeman, and an old
Irishwoman, wearing a shawl and an ancient straw bonnet. Harren's eyes
reverted to the darky.
"You will explain to Mr. Keen," he said, "that I am an army officer on
leave, and that I am obliged to start for Manila to-morrow. This is my