The Tracer of Lost Persons

Robert W. Chambers


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 pilot.
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 guarded knave."
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 Syne."
"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


      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 leave expired.
"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 excuse for asking an immediate interview; and if it's not a good enough excuse I must cancel this appointment, that is all."
The darky stood, irresolute, inclined to argue, but something in the steel-gray eyes of the man set him in involuntary motion, and he went away once more with the young man's message. Harren turned and walked back to his seat. The old woman with the faded shawl was explaining volubly to a handsomely gowned woman beside her that she was looking for her boy, Danny; that her name was Mrs. Regan, and that she washed for the aristocracy of Hunter's Point at a liberal price per dozen, using no deleterious substances in the suds as Heaven was her witness.
The German truck driver, moved by this confidence, was stirred to begin an endless account of his domestic misfortunes, and old Mrs. Regan, becoming impatient, had already begun to interrupt with an account of Regan's recent hoisting on the wings of a premature petard, when the dark servant reappeared.
"Mistuh Keen will receive you, suh," he whispered, leading the way into a large room where dozens of attractive young girls sat very busily engaged at typewriting machines. Door after door they passed, all numbered on the ground-glass panes, then swung to the right, where the darky bowed him into a big, handsomely furnished room flooded with the morning sun. A tall, gray man, faultlessly dressed in a gray frock suit and wearing white spats, turned from the breezy, open window to inspect him; the lean, well groomed, rather lank type of gentleman suggesting a retired colonel of cavalry; unmistakably well bred from the ends of his drooping gray mustache to the last button on his immaculate spats.
"Captain Harren?" he said pleasantly.
"Mr. Keen?"
They bowed. Young Harren drew from his pocket a card. It was the business card of Keen & Co., and, glancing up at Mr. Keen, he read it aloud, carefully:
Keen & Co. are prepared to locate the whereabouts of anybody on earth. No charges will be made unless the person searched for is found.
Blanks on Application.
Harren raised his clear, gray eyes. "I assume this statement to be correct, Mr. Keen?"
"You may safely assume so," said Mr. Keen, smiling.
"Does this statement include all that you are prepared to undertake?"
The Tracer of Lost Persons inspected him coolly. "What more is there, Captain Harren? I undertake to find lost people. I even undertake to find the undiscovered ideals of young people who have failed to meet them. What further field would you suggest?" Harren glanced at the card which he held in his gloved hand; then, very slowly, he re-read, "the whereabouts of anybody on earth," accenting the last two words deliberately as he encountered Keen's piercing gaze again.
"Well?" asked Mr. Keen laughingly, "is not that sufficient? Our clients could scarcely expect us to invade heaven in our search for the vanished."
"There are other regions," said Harren.
"Exactly. Sit down, sir. There is a row of bookcases for your amusement. Please help yourself while I clear decks for action."
Harren stood fingering the card, his gray eyes lost in retrospection; then he sauntered over to the bookcases, scanning the titles. The Searcher for Lost Persons studied him for a moment or two, turned, and began to pace the room. After a moment or two he touched a bell. A sweet-faced young girl entered; she was gowned in black and wore a white collar, and cuffs turned back over her hands.
"Take this memorandum," he said. The girl picked up a pencil and pad, and Mr. Keen, still pacing the room, dictated in a quiet voice as he walked to and fro:
"Mrs. Regan's Danny is doing six months in Butte, Montana. Break it to her as mercifully as possible. He is a bad one. We make no charge. The truck driver, Becker, can find his wife at her mother's house, Leonia, New Jersey. Tell him to be less pig-headed or she'll go for good some day. Ten dollars. Mrs. M., No. 36001, can find her missing butler in service at 79 Vine Street, Hartford, Connecticut. She may notify the police whenever she wishes. His portrait is No. 170529, Rogues' Gallery. Five hundred dollars. Miss K. (No. 3679) may send her letter, care of Cisneros & Co., Rio, where the person she is seeking has gone into the coffee business. If she decides that she really does love him, he'll come back fast enough. Two hundred and fifty dollars. Mr. W. (No. 3620) must go to the morgue for further information. His repentance is too late; but he can see that there is a decent burial. The charge: one thousand dollars to the Florence Mission. You may add that we possess his full record."
The Tracer paused and waited for the stenographer to finish. When she looked up: "Who else is waiting?" he asked.
The girl read over the initials and numbers.
"Tell that policeman that Kid Conroy sails on the Carania to-morrow. Fifty dollars. There is nothing definite in the other cases. Report progress and send out a general alarm for the cashier inquired for by No. 3608. You will find details in vol. xxxix under B."
"Is that all, Mr. Keen?"
"Yes. I'm going to be very busy with"—turning slowly toward Harren—"with Captain Harren, of the Philippine Scouts, until to-morrow—a very complicated case, Miss Borrow, involving cipher codes and photography—"


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