The Tracer of Lost Persons

Robert W. Chambers


For a full minute the two men sat there without moving or speaking. Then the Tracer laid aside his pencil.
"To sum up," he said, opening the palm of his left hand and placing the forefinger of his right across it, "the excavation made by the falling pillar raised in triumph above the water garden of the deposed king, Meris, by his rival, was the subterranean house of Meris. The prostrate figure which crumbled to powder at your touch may have been the very priest to whom this letter or papyrus was written. Perhaps the bearer of the scroll was a traitor and stabbed the priest as he was reading the missive. Who can tell how that priest died? He either died or betrayed his trust, for he never aroused the little Samaris from her suspended animation. And the water garden fell into ruins and she slept; and the Ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt raised his columns, lotus crowned, above the ruins; and she slept on. Then—you came."
Burke stared like one stupefied.
"I do not know," said the Tracer gravely, "what balm there may be in a suspension of sensation, perhaps of vitality, to protect the human body from corruption after death. I do not know how soon suspended animation or the state of hypnotic coma, undisturbed, changes into death—whether it comes gradually, imperceptibly freeing the soul; whether the soul hides there, asleep, until suddenly the flame of vitality is extinguished. I do not know how long she lay there with life in her."
He leaned back and touched an electric bell, then, turning to Burke:
"Speaking of pistol range," he said, "unstrap those weapons and pass them over, if you please."
And the young man obeyed as in a trance.
"Thank you. There are four men coming into this room. You will keep your seat, if you please, Mr. Burke."
After a moment the door opened noiselessly. Two men handcuffed together entered the room; two men, hands in their pockets, sauntered carelessly behind the prisoners and leaned back against the closed door.
"That short, red-haired, lame man with the cast in his eye—do you recognize him?" asked the Tracer quietly.
Burke, grasping the arms of his chair, had started to rise, fury fairly blazing from his eyes; but, at the sound of the Tracer's calm, even voice, he sank back into his chair.
"That is Joram Smiles? You recognize him?" continued Mr. Keen.
Burke nodded.
"Exactly—alias Limpy, alias Red Jo, alias Big Stick Joram, alias Pinky; swindler, international confidence man, fence, burglar, gambler; convicted in 1887, and sent to Sing Sing for forgery; convicted in 1898, and sent to Auburn for swindling; arrested by my men on board the S. S. Scythian Queen, at the cabled request of John T. Burke, Esquire, and held to explain the nature of his luggage, which consisted of the contents of an Egyptian vault or underground ruin, declared at the customhouse as a mummy, and passed as such."
The quiet, monotonous voice of the Tracer halted, then, as he glanced at the second prisoner, grew harder:
"Emanuel Gandon, general international criminal, with over half a hundred aliases, arrested in company with Smiles and held until Mr. Burke's arrival."
Turning to Burke, the Tracer continued: "Fortunately, the Scythian Queen broke down off Brindisi. It gave us time to act on your cable; we found these men aboard when she was signaled off the Hook. I went out with the pilot myself, Mr. Burke."
Smiles shot a wicked look at Burke; Gandon scowled at the floor.
"Now," said the Tracer pleasantly, meeting the venomous glare of Smiles, "I'll get you that warrant you have been demanding to have exhibited to you. Here it is—charging you and your amiable friend Gandon with breaking into and robbing the Metropolitan Museum of ancient Egyptian gold ornaments, in March, 1903, and taking them to France, where they were sold to collectors. It seems that you found the business good enough to go prowling about Egypt on a hunt for something to sell here. A great mistake, my friends—a very great mistake, because, after the Museum has finished with you, the Egyptian Government desires to extradite you. And I rather suspect you'll have to go."
He nodded to the two quiet men leaning against the door.
"Come, Joram," said one of them pleasantly.
But Smiles turned furiously on the Tracer. "You lie, you old gray rat!" he cried. "That ain't no mummy; that's a plain dead girl! And there ain't no extrydition for body snatchin', so I guess them niggers at Cairo won't get us, after all!"
"Perhaps," said the Tracer, looking at Burke, who had risen, pale and astounded. "Sit down, Mr. Burke! There is no need to question these men; no need to demand what they robbed you of. For," he added slowly, "what they took from the garden grotto of Saïs, and from you, I have under my own protection."
The Tracer rose, locked the door through which the prisoners and their escorts had departed; then, turning gravely on Burke, he continued:
"That panel, there, is a door. There is a room beyond—a room facing to the south, bright with sunshine, flowers, soft rugs, and draperies of the East. She is there—like a child asleep!"
Burke reeled, steadying himself against the wall; the Tracer stared at space, speaking very slowly:
"Such death I have never before heard of. From the moment she came under my protection I have dared to doubt—many things. And an hour ago you brought me a papyrus scroll confirming my doubts. I doubt still—Heaven knows what! Who can say how long the flame of life may flicker within suspended animation? A week? A month? A year? Longer than that? Yes; the Hindoos have proved it. How long? The span of a normal life? Or longer? Can the life flame burn indefinitely when the functions are absolutely suspended—generation after generation, century after century?"
Burke, ghastly white, straightened up, quivering in every limb; the Tracer, as pale as he, laid his hand on the secret panel.
"If—if you dare say it—the phrase is this: 'O Ket Samaris, Nehes!'—'O Little Samaris, awake!'"
"I—dare. In Heaven's name, open that door!"
Then, averting his head, the Tracer of Lost Persons swung open the panel.
A flood of sunshine flashed on Burke's face; he entered; and the paneled door closed behind him without a sound.
Minute after minute passed; the Tracer stood as though turned to stone, gray head bent.
Then he heard Burke's voice ring out unsteadily:
"O Ket Samaris—Samaris! O Ket Samaris—Nehes!"
And again: "Samaris! Samaris! O beloved, awake!"
And once more: "Nehes! O Samaris!"
Silence, broken by a strange, sweet, drowsy plaint—like a child awakened at midnight by a dazzling light.
Then, through the stillness, a little laugh, and a softly tremulous voice:
"Ari un aha, O Entuk sen!"


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