The Tracer of Lost Persons

Robert W. Chambers


Gatewood, in the telephone booth, waited impatiently for Mr. Keen; and after a few moments the Tracer of Lost Persons' agreeable voice sounded in the receiver.
"It's about Mr. Kerns," began Gatewood; "I want to see him happy, and the idiot won't be. Now, Mr. Keen, you know what happiness you and he brought to me! You know what sort of an idle, selfish, aimless, meaningless life you saved me from? I want you to do the same for Mr. Kerns. I want to ask you to take up his case at once. Besides, I've a bet on it. Could you attend to it at once?"
"To-night?" asked the Tracer, laughing.
"Why—ah—well, of course, that would be impossible. I suppose—"
"My profession is to overcome the impossible, Mr. Gatewood. Where is Mr. Kerns?"
"Here, in this club, defying me and drinking cocktails. He won't get married, and I want you to make him do it."
"Where is he spending the evening?" asked the Tracer, laughing again.
"Why, he's been stopping at the Danforth Lees' in Eighty-third Street until the workmen at the club here finish putting new paper on his walls. The Lees are out of town. He left his suit case at their house and he's going up to get it and catch the 12.10 train for Boston."
"He goes from the Lenox Club to the residence of Mr. W. Danforth Lee, East Eighty-third Street, to get a suit case," repeated the Tracer. "Is that correct?"
"What is in the suit case?"
"Samples of that new marble he's quarrying in Georgia."
"Is it an old suit case? Has it Mr. Kerns's initials on it?"
"Hold the wire; I'll find out."
And Gatewood left the telephone and walked into the great lounging room, where Kerns sat twirling his stick and smiling to himself.
"All over, dear friend?" inquired Kerns, starting to rise. "I've ordered a corking dinner."
"Wait!" returned Gatewood ominously. "What sort of a suit case is that one you're going after?"
"What sort? Oh, just an ordinary—"
"Is it old or new?"
"Brand new. Why?"
"Is your name on it?"
"No; why? Would that thicken the plot, dear friend? Or is the Tracer foiled, ha! ha!"
Gatewood turned on his heel, went back to the telephone, and, carefully shutting the door of the booth, took up the receiver.
"It's a new suit case, Mr. Keen," he said; "no initials on it—just an ordinary case."
"Mr. Lee's residence is 38 East Eighty-third Street, between Madison and Fifth, I believe."
"Yes," replied Gatewood.
"And the family are out of town?"
"Is there a caretaker there?"
"No; Mr. Kerns camped there. When he leaves to-night he will send the key to the Burglar Alarm Company."
"Very well. Please hold the wire for a while."
For ten full minutes Gatewood sat gleefully cuddling the receiver against his ear. His faith in Mr. Keen was naturally boundless; he believed that whatever the Tracer attempted could not result in failure. He desired nothing in the world so ardently as to see Kerns safely married. His own happiness may have been the motive power which had set him in action in behalf of his friend—that and a certain indefinable desire to practice a species of heavenly revenge, of grateful retaliation upon the prime mover and collaborateur, if not the sole author, of his own wedded bliss. Kerns had made him happy.
"And I'm hanged if I don't pay him off and make him happy, too!" muttered Gatewood. "Does he think I'm going to sit still and see him go tearing and gyrating about town with no responsibility, no moral check to his evolutions, no wholesome home duties to limit his acrobatics, no wife to clip his wings? It's time he had somebody to report to; time he assumed moral burdens and spiritual responsibilities. A man is just as happy when he is certain where he is going to sleep. A man can find just as much enjoyment in life when he feels it his duty to account for his movements. I don't care whether Kerns is comparatively happy or not—there's nothing either sacred or holy in that kind of happiness, and I'm not going to endure the sort of life he likes any longer!"
Immersed in moral reflections, inspired by affectionate obligations to violently inflict happiness upon Kerns, the minutes passed very agreeably until the amused voice of the Tracer of Lost Persons sounded again in the receiver.
"Mr. Gatewood?"
"Yes, I am here, Mr. Keen."
"Do you really think it best for Mr. Kerns to fall in love?"
"I do, certainly!" replied Gatewood with emphasis.
"Because," continued the Tracer of Lost Persons, "I see little chance for him to do otherwise if I take up this case. Fate itself, in the shape of a young lady, is already on the way here in a railroad train."
"Good! Good!" exclaimed Gatewood. "Don't let him escape, Mr. Keen! I beg of you to take up his case! I urge you most seriously to do so. Mr. Kerns is now exactly what I was a year ago—an utterly useless member of the community—a typical bachelor who lives at his clubs, shirking the duties of a decent citizen."
"Exactly," said the Tracer. "Do you insist that I take this case? That I attempt to trace and find for Mr. Kerns a sort of happiness he himself has never found?"
"I implore you to do so, Mr. Keen."
"Exactly. If I do—if I carry it out as it has been arranged—or rather as the case seems to have already arranged itself, for it is rather a simple matter, I fancy—I do not exactly see how Mr. Kerns can avoid experiencing a—ahem—a tender sentiment for the very charming young lady whom I—and chance—have designed for him as a partner through life."
"Excellent! Splendid!" shouted Gatewood through the telephone. "Can I do anything to aid you in this?"
"Yes," replied the Tracer, laughing. "If you can keep him amused for an hour or two before he goes after his suit case it might make it easier for me. This young lady is due to arrive in New York at eight o'clock—a client of mine—coming to consult me. Her presence plays an important part in Mr. Kerns's future. I wish you to detain Mr. Kerns until she is ready to receive him. But of this he must know nothing. Good-by, Mr. Gatewood, and would you be kind enough to present my compliments to Mrs. Gatewood?"
"Indeed I will! We never can forget what you have done for us. Good-by."
"Good-by, Mr. Gatewood. Try to keep Mr. Kerns amused for two or three hours. Of course, if you can't do this, there are other methods I may employ—a dozen other plans already partly outlined in my mind; but the present plan, which accident and coincidence make so easy, is likely to work itself out to your entire satisfaction within a few hours. We are already weaving a web around Mr. Kerns; we already have taken exclusive charge of his future movements after he leaves the Lenox Club. I do not believe he can escape us, or his charming destiny. Good night!"
Gatewood, enchanted, hung up the receiver. Song broke softly from his lips as he started in search of Kerns; his step was springy, buoyant—sort of subdued and modest prance.
"Now," he said to himself, "Tommy must take out his papers. The time is ended when he can issue letters of marque to himself, hoist sail, square away, and go cruising all over this metropolis at his own sweet will."


.. .. ..
.. Copyright @ 2003 miskatonic university press / yankee classic pictures, inc. all rights reserved. ..