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 once more.
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
"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 lettering:
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.
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.
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 interest:
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 found.
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.
Gatewood?"—with a quiet certainty which had its charm.
"This is very good of you."
sat down and looked at his host. Then he said: "I'm searching
for somebody, Mr. Keen, whom you are not likely to find."
it," said Keen pleasantly.
smiled. "If," he said, "you will undertake to find
the person I cannot find, I must ask you to accept a retainer."
don't require retainers," replied Keen. "Unless we find
the person sought for, we make no charges, Mr. Gatewood."
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?"
arrangement had you contemplated?" inquired Keen, amused.
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,
of Lost Persons looked up sharply:
how much information do you decline to give, Mr. Gatewood?"
enough to incriminate and degrade," replied the young man,
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
we may take up this matter for you, Mr. Gatewood," he said,
smiling his singularly agreeable smile.
you would first desire to know something about me—would you
at him: "You will not mistake me—you will consider it
entirely inoffensive—if I say that I know something about
you, Mr. Gatewood?"
me? How can you? Of course, there is the social register and the
club lists and all that—"
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 take it."
to regulate any possible indebtedness in advance," said Gatewood.
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 &
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 for success?
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—"
How did—why do you say 'her'?"
I wrong?" asked Keen, smiling.
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.
is young," mused Keen aloud, "very beautiful and accomplished.
Is she wealthy?" He looked up mildly.
said: "I don't know—the truth is I don't care—"
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?"
is my ideal," replied the young man, coloring.
And—her general allure?"
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
her eyes are brown. I—I insist on that."
should you not? You know her; I don't," said Keen, laughing.
"I merely wished to form a mental picture. . . . You say her
full of sunny color; that's all I can say."
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
about that. Her hands should be—are beautiful—"
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?"
what I meant, anyhow," he said, flushing up.
did mean it?"
we take your case, Mr. Gatewood. . . . No haste about the check,
my dear sir—pray consider us at your service."
doggedly filled in the check and handed it to the Tracer of Lost
you happiness," said the older man in a low voice. "The
lady you describe exists; it is for us to discover her."
you," stammered Gatewood, astounded.
an electric button; a moment later a young girl entered the room.
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.
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?
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
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.
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.