The Tracer of Lost Persons

Robert W. Chambers


Gatewood, burdened with restlessness and gnawed by curiosity, consumed a week in prowling about the edifice where Keen & Co. carried on an interesting profession.
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 bland.
"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 tantrum!"
"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 care?"
"Don't be a short sport, Jack."
"Well, I don't care for the game you put me up against. Do you know what has happened?"
"I really don't, dear friend. The Tracer of Lost Persons has not found her—has he?"
"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 ridiculous search."
Kerns, meanwhile, had smoothed out the telegram and was intently perusing it:
"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 ideal."
"I haven't!"
"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 smile.
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 anything."
"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 she—"
"I can only prove that you are wrong," smiled Keen, rising from his easy chair.
"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 with—some one."
"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 case. However—"
"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—"
"Miss S-S-S-S-outherland!"
"Exactly; without quite so many S's," said Keen, smiling.
"Did she discover that—that person?" exclaimed the young man, startled.
"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. Gatewood winced.
"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—"
"Yes—yes—go on!"
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 problem."
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.


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