The Tracer of Lost Persons

Robert W. Chambers


No, there could be no longer any doubt in her mind as she went into her bedroom, closed the door, and, unhooking the telephone receiver, called up the great specialist in rare diseases, Dr. Austin Atwood, M.S., F.B.A., M.F.H.
"Dr. Atwood," she said with scarcely concealed emotion, "this is Dr. Rosalind Hollis."
"How-de-do?" squeaked the aged specialist amiably.
"Oh, I am well enough, thank you, doctor—except in spirits. Dr. Atwood, you were right! He has got it, and I am perfectly wretched!"
"Who has got what?" retorted the voice of Atwood.
"The unfortunate young gentleman we saw to-day in the Park."
"What park?"
"Why, Central Park, doctor."
"Central Park! I haven't been in Central Park for ten years, my child."
"Why, Dr. Atwood!—A—is this Dr. Austin Atwood with whom I am talking?"
"Not the least doubt! And you are that pretty Dr. Hollis—Rosalind Hollis, who consulted me in those charity cases, are you not?"
"I certainly am. And I wanted to say to you that I have the unfortunate patient now under closest observation here in my own apartment. I have given him the room next to the office. And, doctor, you were perfectly right. He shows every symptom of the disease—he is even inclined to sentimentalism; he begins to blush and fidget and look at me—a—in that unmistakable manner—not that he isn't well-bred and charming—indeed he is most attractive, and it grieves me dreadfully to see that he already is beginning to believe himself in love with the first person of the opposite sex he encounters—I mean that he—that I cannot mistake his attitude toward me—which is perfectly correct, only one cannot avoid seeing the curious infatuation—"
"What the dickens is all this?" roared the great specialist, and Dr. Hollis jumped.
"I was only confirming your diagnosis, doctor," she explained meekly.
"What diagnosis?"
"Yours, doctor. I have confirmed it, I fear. And the certainty has made me perfectly miserable, because his is such a valuable life to the world, and he himself is such a splendid, wholesome, noble specimen of youth and courage, that I cannot bear to believe him incurably afflicted."
"Good Heavens!" shouted the doctor, "what has he got and who is he?"
"He is Victor Carden, the celebrated artist, and he has Lamour's Disease!" she gasped.
There was a dead silence; then: "Keep him there until I come! Chloroform him if he attempts to escape!"
And the great specialist rang off excitedly.
So Rosalind Hollis went back to the lamp-lit office where, in a luxurious armchair, Carden was sitting, contentedly poring over the ninth volume of Lamour's great treatise and smoking his second cigar.
"Dr. Atwood is coming here," she said in a discouraged voice, as he rose with alacrity to place her chair.
"Oh! What for?"
"T-to see you, Mr. Carden."
"Who? Me? Great Scott! I don't want to be slapped and pinched and polled by a man! I didn't expect that, you know. I'm willing enough to have you observe me in the interest of humanity—"
"But, Mr. Carden, he is only called in for consultation. I—I have a dreadful sort of desperate hope that perhaps I may have made a mistake; that possibly I am in error."
"No doubt you are," he said cheerfully. "Let me read a few more pages, Dr. Hollis, and then I think I shall be all ready to dispute my symptoms, one by one, and convince you what really is the trouble with me. And, by the way, did Dr. Atwood seem a trifle astonished when you told him about me?"
"A trifle—yes," she said uncertainly. "He is a very, very old man; he forgets. But he is coming."
"Oh! And didn't he appear to recollect seeing me in the Park?"
"N-not clearly. He is very old, you know. But he is coming here."
"Exactly—as a friend of mine puts it," smiled Carden. "May I be permitted to use your telephone a moment?"
"By all means, Mr. Carden. You will find it there in my bedroom."
So he entered her pretty bedroom and, closing the door tightly, called up the Tracer of Lost Persons.
"Is that you, Mr. Keen? This is Mr. Carden. I'm head over heels in love. I simply must win her, and I'm going to try. If I don't—if she will not listen to me—I'll certainly go to smash. And what I want you to do is to prevent Atwood from butting in. Do you understand? . . . Yes, Dr. Austin Atwood. Keep him away somehow. . . . Yes, I'm here, at Dr. Hollis's apartments, under anxious observation. . . . She is the only woman in the world! I'm mad about her—and getting madder every moment! She is the most perfectly splendid specimen of womanhood—what? Oh, yes; I rang you up to ask you whether it was you in the Park to-day?—that old gentleman—What! Yes, in Central Park. Yes, this afternoon! No, he didn't resemble you; and Dr. Hollis took him for Dr. Atwood. . . . What are you laughing about? . . . I can hear you laughing. . . . Was it you? . . . What do I think? Why, I don't know exactly what to think, but I suppose it must have been you. Was it? . . . Oh, I see. You don't wish me to know. Certainly, you are quite right. Your clients have no business behind the scenes. I only asked out of curiosity. . . . All right. Good-by."
He came back to the lamp-lit office, which was more of a big, handsome, comfortable living room than a physician's quarters, and for a moment or two he stood on the threshold, looking around.
In the pleasant, subdued light of the lamp Rosalind Hollis looked up and around, smiling involuntarily to see him standing there; then, serious, silent, she dropped her eyes to the pages of the volume he had discarded—volume nine of Lamour's great works.
Even with the evidence before her, corroborated in these inexorably scientific pages which she sat so sadly turning, she found it almost impossible to believe that this big, broad-shouldered, attractive young man could be fatally stricken.
Twice her violet eyes stole toward him; twice the thick lashes veiled them, and the printed pages on her knee sprang into view, and the cold precision of the type confirmed her fears remorselessly:
"The trained scrutiny of the observer will detect in the victim of this disease a peculiar and indefinable charm—a strange symmetry which, on closer examination, reveals traces of physical beauty almost superhuman—"
Again her eyes were lifted to Carden; again she dropped her white lids. Her worst fears were confirmed.
Meanwhile he stood on the threshold looking at her, his pulses racing, his very soul staring through his eyes; and, within him, every sense clamoring out revolt at the deception, demanding confession and its penalty.
"I can't stand this!" he blurted out; and she looked up quickly, her face blanched with foreboding.
"Are you in pain?" she asked.
"No—not that sort of pain! I—won't you please believe that I am not ill? I'm imposing on you. I'm an impostor! There's nothing whatever the trouble with me except—something that I want to tell you—if you'll let me—"
"Why should you hesitate to confide in a physician, Mr. Carden?"
He came forward slowly. She laid her small hand on the empty chair which faced hers and he sank into it, clasping his restless hands under his chin.
"You are feeling depressed," she said gently. Depression was a significant symptom. Three chapters were devoted to it.
"I'm depressed, of course. I'm horribly depressed and ashamed of myself, because there is nothing on earth the matter with me, and I've let you think there is."
She smiled mournfully; this was another symptom of a morbid state. She turned, unconsciously, to page 379 to verify her observation.
"See here, Miss Hollis," he broke out, "haven't I any chance to convince you that I am not ill? I want to be honest without involving a—a friend of mine. I can't endure this deception. Won't you let me prove to you that these symptoms are—are only significant of something else?"
She looked straight at him, considering him in silence.
"Let us begin with those dark circles under my eyes," he said desperately. "I found some cold-cream in my room and—look! They are practically gone! At any rate, if there is a sort of shadow left it's because I use my eyes in my profession."
"Dr. Lamour says that the dark circles disappear, anyway," said the girl, unconvinced. "Cold-cream had nothing to do with it."
"But it did! Really it did. And as for the other symptoms, I—well, I can't help my pulses when y-you t-t-touch me."
"Please, Mr. Carden."
"I don't mean to be impertinent. I am trying my hardest to tell the truth. And my pulses do gallop when you test them; they're galloping now! This very moment!"
"Let me try them," she said coolly, laying her hand on his wrist.
"Didn't I say so!" he insisted grimly. "And I'm turning red, too. But those symptoms mean something else; they mean you!"
"Mr. Carden!"
"I can't help saying so—"
"I know it," she said soothingly; "these sentimental outbursts are part of the disease—"
"Good Heavens! Won't you try to believe me! There's nothing in the world the matter with me except that I am—am—p-p-perfectly f-f-fascinated—"
"You must struggle against it, Mr. Carden. That is only part of the—"
"It isn't! It isn't! It's you! It's your mere presence, your personality, your charm, your beauty, your loveliness, your—"
"Mr. Carden, I beg of you! I—it is part of my duty to observe symptoms, but—but you are making it very hard for me—very difficult—"
"I am only proving to you that it isn't Lamour's Disease which does stunts with my pulses, my temperature, my color. I'm not morbid except when I realize my deception. I'm not depressed except when I think how far you are from me—how far above me—how far out of reach of such a man as I am—how desperately I—I—"
"D-don't you think I had better administer a s-s-sedative, Mr. Carden?" she said, distressed.
"I don't care. I'll take anything you give me—as long as you give it to me. I'll swallow pint after pint of pills! I'll fletcherize 'em! I'll luxuriate in poison—anything—"
She was hastily running through the pages of the ninth volume to see whether the symptoms of sentimental excitement ever turned into frenzy.
"What can you learn from that book?" he insisted, leaning forward to see what she was reading. "Anyway, Dr. Lamour married his patient so early in the game that all the symptoms disappeared. And I believe the trouble with his patient was my trouble. She had every symptom of it until he married her! She was in love with him, that is absolutely all!"
Rosalind Hollis raised her beautiful, incredulous eyes.
"What do you mean, Mr. Carden?"
"I mean that, in my opinion, there's no such disease as Lamour's Disease. That young girl was in love with him. Then he married her at last, and—presto!—all the symptoms vanished—the pulse, the temperature, the fidgets, the blushes, the moods, the whole business!"
"W-what about the strangely curious manifestations of physical beauty—superhuman symmetry, Mr. Carden?"
"Do you notice them in me?" he gasped.
"A—yes—in a m-modified measure—"
"In me?"
"Certainly!" she said firmly; but the slow glow suffusing her cheeks was disconcerting her. Then his own face began to reflect the splendid color in hers; their eyes met, dismayed.
"There are sixteen volumes about this disease," she said. "There must be such a disease!"
"There is," he said. "I have it badly. But I never had it before I first saw you in the Park!"
"Mr. Carden—this is the wildest absurdity—"
"I know it. Wildness is a symptom. I'm mad as a hatter. I've got every separate symptom, and I wish it was infectious and contagious and catching and fatal!"
She made an effort to turn the pages to the chapter entitled "Manias and Illusions," but he laid his hand across the book and his clear eyes defied her.
"Mr. Carden—"
Her smooth hand trembled under his, then, suddenly nerveless, relaxed. With an effort she lifted her head; their eyes met, spellbound.
"You have every symptom," he said unsteadily—"every one! What have you to say?"
Her fascinated eyes held his.
"What have you to say?" he repeated under his breath—"you, with every symptom, and your heavenly radiant beauty to confirm them—that splendid youthful loveliness which blinds and stuns me as I look—as I speak—as I tell you that I love you. That is my malady; that is the beginning and the end of it; love!"
She sat speechless, immovable, as one under enchantment.
"All my life," he said, "I have spent in painting shadows. But the shadows were those dim celestial shapes cast by your presence in the world. You tell me that the world is better for my work; that I have offered my people beauty and a sort of truth, which they had never dreamed of until I revealed it? Yet what inspired me was the shadow only, for I had never seen the substance; I had never believed I should ever see the living source of the shadows which inspired me. And now I see; now I have seen with my own eyes. Now the confession of faith is no longer a blind creed, born of instinct. You live! You are you! What I believed from necessity I find proved in fact. The occult no longer can sway one who has seen. And you, who, without your knowledge or mine, have always been the one and only source of any good in me or in my work—why is it strange that I loved you at first sight?—that I worshiped you at first breath?—I, who, like him who raises his altar to 'the unknown god,' raised my altar to truth and beauty? And a miracle has answered me."
She rose, the beautiful dazed eyes meeting his, both hands clasping the ninth volume of Lamour's great monograph to her breast as though to protect it from him—from him who was threatening her, enthralling her, thrilling her with his magic voice, his enchanted youth, the masterful mystery of his eyes. What was he saying to her? What was this mounting intoxication sweeping her senses—this delicious menace threatening her very will? What did he want with her? What was he asking? What was he doing now—with both her hands in his, and her gaze deeply lost in his—and the ninth volume of Lamour on the floor between them, sprawling there, abandoned, waving its helpless, discredited leaves in air—discredited, abandoned, obsolete as her own specialty—her life's work! He had taken that, too—taken her life's work from her. And in return she was holding nothing!—nothing except a young man's hands—strong, muscular hands which, after all, were holding her own imprisoned. So she had nothing in exchange for the ninth volume of Lamour; and her life's work had been annihilated by a smile; and she was very much alone in the world—very isolated and very youthful.
After a while she emerged from the chaos of attempted reflection and listened to what he was saying. He spoke very quietly, very distinctly, not sparing himself, laying bare every deception without involving anybody except himself.
He told her the entire history of his case, excluding Mr. Keen in person; he told her about his aunt, about his birthday, about his determination to let the legacy go. Then in a very manly way he told her that he had never before loved a woman; and fell silent, her hands a dead weight in his.
She was surprised that she could experience no resentment. A curious inertia crept over her. She was tired of expectancy, tired of effort, weary of the burden of decision. Life and its problems overweighted her. Her eyes wandered to his broad young shoulders, then were raised to his face.
"What shall we do?" she asked innocently.
Unresisting, she suffered him to explain. His explanation was not elaborate; he only touched his lips to her hands and straightened up, a trifle pale.
After a moment they walked together to the door and he took his hat and gloves from the rack.
"Will you come to-morrow morning?" she asked.
"Come early. I am quite certain of how matters are with me. Everything has gone out of my life—everything I once cared for—all the familiar things. So come early, for I am quite alone without you."
"And I without you, Rosalind."
"That is only right," she said simply. "I shall cast no more shadows for you. . . . Are you going? . . . Oh, I know it is best that you should go, but—"
He halted. She laid both hands in his.
"We both have it," she faltered—"every symptom. And—you will come early, won't you?"



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