The Tracer of Lost Persons

Robert W. Chambers


During his first year of wedded bliss, Gatewood cut the club. When Kerns wanted to see him he had to call like other people or, like other people, accept young Mrs. Gatewood's invitations.
"Why," said Gatewood scornfully, "should I, thirty-four years of age and safely married, go to a club? Why should I, at my age, idle with a lot of idlers and listen to stuffy stories from stuffier individuals? Do you think that stale tobacco smoke, and the idiotically reiterated click of billiard balls, and the vacant stare of the fashionably brainless, and the meaningless exchange of banalities with the intellectually aimless have any attractions for me?"
Mrs. Gatewood raised her pretty eyes in silence; Kerns returned her amused gaze rather blankly.
"Clubs!" sniffed Gatewood. "What are clubs but pretexts for wasting time? What mental, what spiritual stimulus can a man expect to find in a club? Why, Kerns, when I look back a year and think what I was, and when I look at you and think what you still are—"
"John," said Mrs. Gatewood softly.
"Oh, he knows it!" insisted her husband, "don't you, Tommy? You know the sort of life you're leading, don't you? You know what a miserable, aimless, selfish, unambitious, pitiable existence an unmarried man leads who lives at his club; don't you?"
"Certainly," said Kerns, blinking into the smiling gaze of Mrs. Gatewood.
"Then why don't you marry?"
But Kerns had risen and was making his adieus with cheerful decision; and Mrs. Gatewood was laughing as she gave him her slender hand.
"Now I know a girl—" began Gatewood; but his wife was still speaking to Kerns, so he circled around them, politely suppressing the excitement of a sudden idea struggling for utterance.
Mrs. Gatewood was saying: "I do wish John would go to his clubs occasionally. Because a man is married is no reason for his losing touch with his clubs—"
"I know a girl," broke in Gatewood excitedly, laying his arm on Kerns's to detain him; but Kerns slid sideways through the door with a smile so noncommittal that Mrs. Gatewood laughed again and, linking her arm in her husband's, faced partly toward him. This maneuver, and the slightest pressure of her shoulder, obliged her husband to begin a turning movement, so that Kerns might reasonably make his escape in the middle of Gatewood's sentence; which he did with nimble and circumspect agility.
"I—I know a—" began Gatewood desperately, twisting his head over his shoulder, only to hear the deadened patter of his friend's feet over the velvet stair carpet and the subdued clang of the front door.
"Isn't it extraordinary?" he said to his wife. "I've been trying to tell Tommy, every time he comes here, about a girl I know—just the very girl he ought to marry; and something prevents him from listening every time."
The attractive young matron beside him turned her face so that her eyes were directly in line with his.
"Did you ever know any people named Manners?" she asked.
"No. Why?"
"You never knew a girl named Marjorie Manners, did you, John?"
"No. What about her?"
"You never heard Mr. Kerns speak of her, did you, dear?"
"No, never. Tommy doesn't talk about girls."
"You never heard him speak of a Mrs. Stanley?"
"Never. Who are these two women?"
"One and the same, dear. Marjorie Manners married an Englishman named Stanley six years ago. Do you happen to recollect that Mr. Kerns took his vacation in England six years ago?"
"Yes. What of it?"
"He crossed to Southampton with Marjorie and her mother. He didn't know she was going over to be married, and she didn't tell him. She wrote to me about it, though. I was in school at Farmington; she left school to marry—a mere child of eighteen, undeveloped for her age, thin, almost scrawny, with pipe-stem arms and neck, red hair, a very sweet, full-lipped mouth, and gray eyes that were too big for her face."
"Well," said Gatewood with a short laugh, "what about it? You don't think Kerns fell in love with an insect of that genus, do you?"
"Yes, I do," smiled Mrs. Gatewood.
"Nonsense. Besides, what of it? She's married, you say."
"Her husband died of enteric at Ladysmith. She wrote me. She has never remarried. Think of it, John—in all these years she has never remarried!"
"Oh!" said Gatewood pityingly; "do you really suppose that Tommy Kerns has been nursing a blighted affection all these years without ever giving me an inkling? Besides, men don't do that; men don't curl up and blight. Besides, men don't take any stock in big-eyed, flat-chested, red-headed pipe stems. Why do you think that Kerns ever cared for her?"
"I know he did."
"How do you know it?"
"From Marjorie's letters."
"The conceited kid! Well, of all insufferable nerve! A man like Kerns—a man—one of the finest, noblest characters—spiritually, intellectually, physically—a practically faultless specimen of manhood! And a red-headed, spindle-legged—Oh, my! Oh, fizz! Dearest, men don't worship a cage of bones with an eighteen-year-old soul in it—like a nervous canary pecking out at the world!"
"She created a furor in England," observed his wife, smiling.
"Oh, I dare say she might over there. Besides, she's doubtless fattened up since then. But if you suppose for one moment that Tommy could even remember a girl like that—"
Mrs. Gatewood smiled again—the wise, sweet smile of a young matron in whom her husband's closest friend had confided. And after a moment or two the wise smile became more thoughtful and less assured; for that very day the Tracer of Lost Persons had called on her to inquire about a Mrs. Stanley—a new client of his who had recently bought a town house in East Eighty-third Street and a country house on Long Island; and who had applied to him to find her fugitive butler and a pint or two of family jewels. And, after her talk with the Tracer of Lost Persons, Mrs. Gatewood knew that her favorite among all her husband's friends, Mr. Kerns, would never of his own volition go near that same Marjorie Manners who had flirted with him to the very perilous verge before she told him why she was going to England—and who, now a widow, had returned with her five-year-old daughter to dwell once more in the city of her ancestors.
Kerns had said very simply: "She has spoiled women for me—all except you, Mrs. Gatewood. And if Jack hadn't married you—"
"I understand, Mr. Kerns. I'm awfully sorry."
"Don't feel sorry; only, if you can, call Jack off. He's been perfectly possessed to marry me to somebody ever since he married you. And if I told him why I don't care to consider the matter he wouldn't believe me—he'd spend his life in trying to bring me around. Besides, I couldn't ever tell him about—Marjorie Manners. Anyhow, nothing on earth could ever induce me to look at her again. . . . You say she is now a widow?"
"Yes, Mr. Kerns, and very beautiful."
"Never again," muttered Kerns. "Never! She was homely enough when I asked her to marry me. I don't want to see her; I don't want to know what she looks like. I'm glad she has changed so I wouldn't recognize her, for that means the end of it all—the final elimination of the girl I remember on the ship. . . . It was probably a sort of diseased infatuation, wasn't it, Mrs. Gatewood? Think of it! A few days on shipboard and—and I asked her to marry me! . . . I don't blame her, after all, for letting me dangle. It was an excellent opportunity for her to study a rare species of idiot. She was justified and I am satisfied. Only, do call Jack off with a hint or two."
"I shall try," said young Mrs. Gatewood thoughtfully—very thoughtfully, for already every atom and fiber of her femininity was aroused in behalf of these two estranged young people whom Providence certainly had not meant to put asunder.


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