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carelessly.

"Tell me, Mr. Keen," she asked tremulously, "am I to spy upon Mr.
Gatewood? And report to you? . . . For I simply cannot bear to do it - "

"Child, you need report nothing unless you desire to. And when there is
something to report, it will be about the woman I am searching for.
_Don't_ you understand? I have already located her. You will find her
in the Park. And when you are _sure_ she is the right one - and if you
care to report it to me - I shall be ready to listen . . . I am always
ready to listen to you."

"But - I warn you, Mr. Keen, that I have perfect faith in the honor of
Mr. Gatewood. I _know_ that I could have nothing unworthy to report."

"I am sure of it," said the Tracer of Lost Persons, studying her with
eyes that were not quite clear. "Now, I think you had better order that
habit . . . Your mother sat her saddle perfectly . . . We rode very
often - my lost playmate and I."

He turned, hands clasped behind his back, absently pacing the room,
backward, forward, there in the spring sunshine. Nor did he notice her
lingering, nor mark her as she stole from the room, brown eyes saddened
and thoughtful, wondering, too, that there should be in the world so
much room for sorrow.

[Illustration: "'I am sure of it,' said the Tracer of Lost Persons."]


CHAPTER V


Gatewood, burdened with restlessness and gnawed by curiosity, consumed a
week in prowling about the edifice where Keen & Co. carried on an
interesting profession.

His first visit resulted merely in a brief interview with Mr. Keen, who
smilingly reported progress and suavely bowed him out. He looked about
for Miss Southerland as he was leaving, but did not see her.

On his second visit he mustered the adequate courage to ask for her, and
experienced a curiously sickly sensation when informed that Miss
Southerland was no longer employed in the bureau of statistics, having
been promoted to an outside position of great responsibility. His third
visit proved anything but satisfactory. He sidled and side-stepped for
ten minutes before he dared ask Mr. Keen _where_ Miss Southerland had
gone. And when the Tracer replied that, considering the business he had
undertaken for Mr. Gatewood, he really could not see why Mr. Gatewood
should interest himself concerning the whereabouts of Miss Southerland,
the young man had nothing to say, and escaped as soon as possible,
enraged at himself, at Mr. Keen, and vaguely holding the entire world
guilty of conspiracy.

He had no definite idea of what he wanted, except that his desire to see
Miss Southerland again seemed out of all proportion to any reasonable
motive for seeing her. Occasional fits of disgust with himself for what
he had done were varied with moody hours of speculation. Suppose Mr.
Keen did find his ideal? What of it? He no longer wanted to see her. He
had no use for her. The savor of the enterprise had gone stale in his
mouth; he was by turns worried, restless, melancholy, sulky, uneasy. A
vast emptiness pervaded his life. He smoked more and more and ate less
and less. He even disliked to see others eat, particularly Kerns.

And one exquisite May morning he came down to breakfast and found the
unspeakable Kerns immersed in grapefruit, calm, well balanced, and
bland.

"How-de-dee, dear friend?" said that gentleman affably. "Any news from
Cupid this beautiful May morning?"

"No; and I don't want any," returned Gatewood, sorting his mail with a
scowl and waving away his fruit.

"Tut, tut! Lovers must be patient. Dearie will be found some day - "

"Some day," snarled Gatewood, "I shall destroy you, Tommy."

"Naughty! Naughty!" reflected Kerns, pensively assaulting the breakfast
food. "Lovey must _not_ worry; Dovey shall be found, and all will be joy
and gingerbread. . . . If you throw that orange I'll run screaming to
the governors. Aren't you ashamed - just because you're in a love
tantrum!"

"One more word and you get it!"

"May I sing as I trifle with this frugal fare, dear friend? My heart is
_so_ happy that I should love to warble a few wild notes - "

He paused to watch his badgered victim dispose of a Martini.

"I wonder," he mused, "if you'd like me to tell you what a cocktail
before breakfast does to the lining of your stomach? Would you?"

"No. I suppose it's what the laundress does to my linen. What do I
care?"

"_Don't_ be a short sport, Jack."

"Well, I don't care for the game you put me up against. Do you know what
has happened?"

"I really don't, dear friend. The Tracer of Lost Persons has not found
her - _has_ he?"

"He says he has," retorted Gatewood sullenly, pulling a crumpled
telegram from his pocket and casting it upon the table. "I don't want to
see her; I'm not interested. I never saw but one girl in my life who
interested me in the slightest; and she's employed to help in this
ridiculous search."

Kerns, meanwhile, had smoothed out the telegram and was intently
perusing it:

"_John Gatewood, Lenox Club, Fifth Avenue:_

"Person probably discovered. Call here as soon as possible.

W. KEEN."

"_What_ do you make of that?" demanded Gatewood hoarsely.

"Make of it? Why, it's true enough, I fancy. Go and see, and if it's
she, be hers!"

"I won't! I don't want to see any ideal! I don't want to marry. Why do
you try to make me marry somebody?"

"Because it's good for you, dear friend. Otherwise you'll go to the
doggy-dogs. You don't realize how much worry you are to me."

"Confound it! Why don't _you_ marry? Why didn't I ask you that when you
put me up to all this foolishness? What right have you to - "

"Tut, friend! _I_ know there's no woman alive fit to wed me and spend
her life in stealing kisses from me. _I_ have no ideal. _You_ have an
ideal."

"I haven't!"

"Oh, yes, dear friend, there's a stub in your check book to prove it.
You simply bet $5,000 that your ideal existed. You've won. Go and be her
joy and sunshine."

"I'll put an end to this whole business," said Gatewood wrathfully, "and
I'll do it now!"

"Bet you that you're engaged within the week!" said Kerns with a placid
smile.

The other swung around savagely: "What will you bet, Tommy? You may have
what odds you please. I'll make you sit up for this."

"I'll bet you," answered Kerns, deliberately, "an entire silver dinner
service against a saddle horse for the bride."

"That's a fool bet!" snapped Gatewood. "What do you mean?"

"Oh, if you don't care to - "

"What do I want of a silver service? But, all right; I'll bet you
anything."

"_She'll_ want it," replied Kerns significantly, booking the bet. "I may
as well canter out to Tiffany's this morning, I fancy. . . . Where are
you going, Jack?"

"To see Keen and confess what an ass I've been!" returned Gatewood
sullenly, striding across the breakfast room to take his hat and gloves
from the rack. And out he went, mad all over.

On his way up the avenue he attempted to formulate the humiliating
confession which already he shrank from. But it had to be done. He
simply could not stand the prospect of being notified month after month
that a lady would be on view somewhere. It was like going for a fitting;
it was horrible. Besides, what use was it? Within a week or two an
enormous and utterly inexplicable emptiness had yawned before him,
revealing life as a hollow delusion. He no longer cared.

Immersed in bitter reflection, he climbed the familiar stairway and sent
his card to Mr. Keen, and in due time he was ushered into the presence
of the Tracer of Lost Persons.

"Mr. Keen," he began, with a headlong desire to get it over and be done
with it, "I may as well tell you how impossible it is for you, or
anybody, to find that person I described - "

Mr. Keen raised an expostulatory hand, smiling indulgence.

"It is more than possible, Mr. Gatewood, more than probable; it is
almost an accomplished fact. In other words, I think I may venture to
congratulate you and say that she _is_ found."

"Now, _how_ can she be found, when there isn't - "

"Mr. Gatewood, the magician will always wave his magic wand for you and
show you his miracles for the price of admission. But for that price he
does not show you how he works his miracles," said Keen, laughing.

"But I ought to tell you," persisted Gatewood, "that it is utterly
impossible you should find the person I wished to discover, because
she - "

"I can only prove that you are wrong," smiled Keen, rising from his easy
chair.

"Mr. Keen," said the young man earnestly, "I have been more or less of a
chump at times. One of those times was when I came here on this errand.
All I desire, now, is to let the matter rest as it is. I am satisfied,
and you have lost nothing. Nor have you found anything or anybody. You
think you have, but you haven't. I do not wish you to continue the
search, or to send me any further reports. I want to forget the whole
miserable matter - to be free - to feel myself freed from any obligations
to that irritating person I asked you to find."

The Tracer regarded him very gravely.

"Is that your wish, Mr. Gatewood? I can scarcely credit it."

"It is. I've been a fool; I simply want to stop being one if anybody
will permit it."

"And you decline to attempt to identify the very beautiful person we
have discovered to be the individual for whom you asked us to search?"

"I do. She may be beautiful; but I know well enough she can't compare
with - some one."

"I am sorry," said Keen thoughtfully. "We take so much pride in these
matters. When one of my agents discovered where this person was, I was
rather - happy; for I have taken a peculiar personal interest in your
case. However - "

"Mr. Keen," said Gatewood, "if you could understand how ashamed and
mortified I am at my own conduct - "

Keen gazed pensively out of the window. "I also am sorry; Miss
Southerland was to have received a handsome bonus for her discovery - "

"Miss S-S-S-S-outherland!"

"_Ex_actly; without quite so many _S's_," said Keen, smiling.

"Did _she_ discover that - that person?" exclaimed the young man,
startled.

"She thinks she has. I am not sure she is correct; but I am absolutely
certain that Miss Southerland could eventually discover the person you
were in search of. It seems a little hard on her - just on the eve of
success - to lose. But that can't be helped now."

Gatewood, more excited and uncomfortable than he had ever been in all
his life, watched Keen intently.

"Too bad, too bad," muttered the Tracer to himself. "The child needs the
encouragement. It meant a thousand dollars to her - " He shrugged his
shoulders, looked up, and, as though rather surprised to see Gatewood
still there, smiled an impersonal smile and offered his hand in adieu.
Gatewood winced.

"Could I - I see Miss Southerland?" he asked.

"I am afraid not. She is at this moment following my instructions
to - but that cannot interest you now - "

"Yes, it does! - if you don't mind. Where is she? I - I'll take a look at
the person she discovered; I will, really."

"Why, it's only this: I suspected that you might identify a person whom
I had reason to believe was to be found every morning riding in the
Park. So Miss Southerland has been riding there every day. Yesterday she
came here, greatly excited - "

"Yes - yes - go on!"

Keen gazed dreamily at the sunny window. "She thought she had found
your - er - the person. So I said you would meet her on the bridle path,
near - but that's of no interest now - "

"Near where?" demanded Gatewood, suppressing inexplicable excitement.
And as Keen said nothing: "I'll go; I want to go, I really do!
Can't - can't a fellow change his mind? Oh, I know you think I'm a
lunatic, and there's plenty of reason, too!"

Keen studied him calmly. "Yes, plenty of reason, plenty of reason, Mr.
Gatewood. But do you suppose you are the only one? I know another who
was perfectly sane two weeks ago."

The young man waited impatiently; the Tracer paced the room, gray head
bent, delicate, wrinkled hands clasped loosely behind his bent back.

"You have horses at the Whip and Spur Club," he said abruptly. "Suppose
you ride out and see how close Miss Southerland has come to solving our
problem."

Gatewood seized the offered hand and wrung it with a fervor out of all
reason; and it is curious that the Tracer of Lost Persons did not appear
to be astonished.

"You're rather impetuous - like your father," he said slowly. "I knew
him; so I've ventured to trust his son - even when I heard how aimlessly
he was living his life. Mr. Gatewood! May I ask you something - as an old
friend of your father?"

The young man nodded, subdued, perplexed, scarcely understanding.

"It's only this: If you _do_ find the woman you could love - in the
Park - to-day - come back to me some day and let me tell you all those
foolish, trite, tiresome things that I should have told a son of mine. I
am so old that you will not take offense - you will not mind listening to
me, or forgetting the dull, prosy things I say about the curse of
idleness, and the habits of cynical thinking, and the perils of
vacant-minded indulgence. You will forgive me - and you will forget me.
That will be as it should be. Good-by."

Gatewood, sobered, surprised, descended the stairs and hailed a hansom.


CHAPTER VI


All the way to the Whip and Spur Club he sat buried in a reverie from
which, at intervals, he started, aroused by the heavy, expectant beating
of his own pulses. But what did he expect, in Heaven's name? Not the
discovery of a woman who had never existed. Yet his excitement and
impatience grew as he watched the saddling of his horse; and when at
length he rode out into the sunshine and cantered through the Park
entrance, his sense of impending events and his expectancy amounted to a
fever which colored his face attractively.

He saw her almost immediately. Her horse was walking slowly in the
dappled shadows of the new foliage; she, listless in her saddle,
sometimes watching the throngs of riders passing, at moments turning to
gaze into the woodland vistas where, over the thickets of flowering
shrubbery, orioles and robins sped flashing on tinted wings from shadow
to sun, from sun to shadow. But she looked up as he drew bridle and
wheeled his mount beside her; and, "Oh!" she said, flushing in
recognition.

"I have missed you terribly," he said quietly.

It was dreamy weather, even for late spring: the scent of lilacs and
mock-orange hung heavy as incense along the woods. Their voices
unconsciously found the key to harmonize with it all.

She said: "Well, I think I have succeeded. In a few moments she will be
passing. I do not know her name; she rides a big roan. She is very
beautiful, Mr. Gatewood."

He said: "I am perfectly certain we shall find her. I doubted it until
now. But now I know."

"Oh-h, but I _may_ be wrong," she protested.

"No; you cannot be."

She looked up at him.

"You can have no idea how happy you make me," he said unsteadily.

"But - I - but I may be all wrong - dreadfully wrong!"

"Y-es; you may be, but I shall not be. For do you know that I have
already seen her in the Park?"

"When?" she demanded incredulously, then turned in the saddle,
repeating: "Where? Did she pass? How perfectly stupid of me! And _was_
she the - the right one?"

"She _is_ the right one. . . . Don't turn: I have seen her. Ride on: I
want to say something - if I can."

"No, no," she insisted. "I must know whether I was right - "

"You _are_ right - but you don't know it yet. . . . Oh, very well, then;
we'll turn if you insist." And he wheeled his mount as she did, riding
at her bridle again.

"How can you take it so coolly - so indifferently?" she said. "Where has
that woman - where has she gone? . . . Never mind; she must turn and pass
us sooner or later, for she lives uptown. _What_ are you laughing at,
Mr. Gatewood?" - in annoyed surprise.

"I am laughing at myself. Oh, I'm so many kinds of a fool - you can't
think how many, and it's no use!"

She stared, astonished; he shook his head.

"No, you don't understand yet. But you will. Listen to me: this very
beautiful lady you have discovered is nothing to me!"

"Nothing - to you!" she faltered. Two pink spots of indignation burned in
her cheeks. "How - how dare you say that! - after all that has been
done - all that you have said. You said you loved her; you _did_ say
so - to _me_!"

"I don't love her now."

"But you did!" Tears of pure vexation started; she faced him, eye to
eye, thoroughly incensed.

"What sort of man are you?" she said under her breath. "Your friend Mr.
Kerns is wrong. You are not worth saving from yourself."

"Kerns!" he repeated, angry and amazed. "What the deuce has Kerns to do
with this affair?"

She stared, then, realizing her indiscretion, bit her lip, and spurred
forward. But he put his horse to a gallop, and they pounded along in
silence. In a little while she drew bridle and looked around coldly,
grave with displeasure.

"Mr. Kerns came to us before you did. He said you would probably come,
and he begged us to strain every effort in your behalf, because, he
said, your happiness absolutely depended upon our finding for you the
woman you were seeking. . . . And I tried - very hard - and now she's
found. You admit that - and _now_ you say - "

"I say that one of these balmy summer days I'll assassinate Tommy
Kerns!" broke in Gatewood. "What on earth possessed that prince of
butters-in to go to Mr. Keen?"

"To save you from yourself!" retorted the girl in a low, exasperated
voice. "He did not say what threatened you; he is a good friend for a
man to have. But we soon found out what you were - a man well born, well
bred, full of brilliant possibility, who was slowly becoming an idle,
cynical, self-centered egoist - a man who, lacking the lash of need or
the spur of ambition, was degenerating through the sheer uselessness and
inanity of his life. And, oh, the pity of it! For Mr. Keen and I have
taken a - a curiously personal interest in you - in your case. I say, the
pity of it!"

Astounded, dumb under her stinging words, he rode beside her through the
brilliant sunshine, wheeled mechanically as she turned her horse, and
rode north again.

"And now - _now_!" she said passionately, "you turn on the woman you
loved! Oh, you are not worth it!"

"You are quite right," he said, turning very white under her scorn.
"Almost all you have said is true enough, I fancy. I amount to nothing;
I am idle, cynical, selfish. The emptiness of such a life requires a
stimulant; even a fool abhors a vacuum. So I drink - not so very much
yet - but more than I realize. And it is close enough to a habit to worry
me. . . . Yes, almost all you say is true; Kerns knows it; I know
it - now that you have told me. You see, he couldn't tell me, because I
should not have believed him. But I believe you - all you say, except one
thing. And that is only a glimmer of decency left in me - not that I make
any merit of it. No, it is merely instinctive. For I have _not_ turned
on the woman I loved."

Her face was pale as her level eyes met him:

"You said she was nothing to you. . . . Look there! Do you see her? Do
you see?"

Her voice broke nervously as he swung around to stare at a rider bearing
down at a gallop - a woman on a big roan, tearing along through the
spring sunshine, passing them with wind-flushed cheeks and dark,
incurious eyes, while her powerful horse carried her on, away through
the quivering light and shadow of the woodland vista.

"Is _that_ the person?"

"Y-es," she faltered. "Was I wrong?"

"Quite wrong, Miss Southerland."

"But - but you said you had seen her here this morning!"

"Yes, I have."

"Did you speak to her before you met me?"

"No - not before I met you."

"Then you have not spoken to her. Is she still here in the Park?"

"Yes, she is still here."

The girl turned on him excitedly: "Do you mean to say that you will not
speak to her?"

"I had rather not - "

"And your happiness depends on your speaking?"

"Yes."

"Then it is cowardly not to speak."

"Oh, yes, it is cowardly. . . . If you wish me to speak to her I will.
Shall I?"

"Yes . . . Show her to me."

"And you think that such a man as I am has a right to speak of love to
her?"

"I - we believe it will be your salvation. Mr. Kerns says you must marry
her to be happy. Mr. Keen told me yesterday that it only needed a word
from the right woman to put you on your mettle. . . . And - and that is
my opinion."

"Then in charity say that word!" he breathed, bending toward her. "Can't
you see? Can't you understand? Don't you know that from the moment I
looked into your eyes I loved you?"

"How - how dare you!" she stammered, crimsoning.

"God knows," he said wistfully. "I am a coward. I don't know how I
dared. Good-by. . . ."

He walked his horse a little way, then launched him into a gallop,
tearing on and on, sun, wind, trees swimming, whirling like a vision,
hearing nothing, feeling nothing, save the leaden pounding of his pulse
and the breathless, terrible tightening in his throat.

When he cleared his eyes and looked around he was quite alone, his horse
walking under the trees and breathing heavily.

At first he laughed, and the laugh was not pleasant. Then he said aloud:
"It is worth having lived for, after all!" - and was silent. And again:
"I could expect nothing; she was perfectly right to side-step a fool.
. . . And _such_ a fool!"

The distant gallop of a horse, dulled on the soft soil, but coming
nearer, could not arouse him from the bitter depths he had sunk in; not
even when the sound ceased beside him, and horse snorted recognition to
horse. It was only when a light touch rested on his arm that he looked
up heavily, caught his breath.

"Where is the other - woman?" she gasped.

"There never was any other."

"You said - "

"I said I loved my ideal. I did not know she existed - until I saw you."

"Then - then we were searching for - "

"A vision. But it was your face that haunted me. . . . And I am not
worth it, as you say. And I know it, . . . for you have opened my eyes."

He drew bridle, forcing a laugh. "I cut a sorry figure in your life; be
patient; I am going out of it now." And he swung his horse. At the same
moment she did the same, making a demi-tour and meeting him halfway,
confronting him.

"Do you - you mean to ride out of my life without a word?" she asked
unsteadily.

"Good-by." He offered his hand, stirring his horse forward; she leaned
lightly over and laid both hands in his. Then, her face surging in
color, she lifted her beautiful dark eyes to his as the horses
approached, nearer, nearer, until, as they passed, flank brushing flank,
her eyes fell, then closed as she swayed toward him, and clung, her
young lips crushed to his.

There was nobody to witness it except the birds and squirrels - nobody
but a distant mounted policeman, who almost fainted away in his saddle.

Oh, it was awful, awful! Apparently she had been kissed speechless, for
she said nothing. The man fool did all the talking, incoherently enough,
but evidently satisfactory to her, judging from the way she looked at
him, and blushed and blushed, and touched her eyes with a bit of cambric
at intervals.

All the policeman heard as they passed him was; "I'm going to give you
this horse, and Kerns is to give us our silver; and what do you think,
my darling?"

"W-what?"

But they had already passed out of earshot; and in a few moments the
shady, sun-flecked bridle path was deserted again save for the birds and
squirrels, and a single mounted policeman, rigid, wild eyed, twisting
his mustache and breathing hard.


CHAPTER VII


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


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Online LibraryRobert W. ChambersThe Tracer of Lost Persons → online text (page 3 of 13)