There was a silence. Her nerves seemed to trouble her, for she began to pace to and fro in front of the passageway where he sat comfortably on his chair, arms folded, one knee dropped over the other.
The light being behind her he could not as yet distinguish her features very clearly. Her figure was youthful, slender, yet beautifully rounded; her head charming in contour. He watched her restlessly walking on the floor, small hand clutching the pistol resting on her hip.
The ruddy burnished glimmer on the edges of her hair he supposed, at first, was caused by the strong light behind her.
"This is atrocious!" she murmured, halting to confront him. "How dared you sever every electric connection in my house?"
As she spoke she stepped backward a pace or two, resting herself for a moment against the footboard of the bed—full in the gaslight. And he saw her face.
For a moment he studied her; an immense wave of incredulity swept over him—of wild unbelief, slowly changing to the astonishment of dawning conviction. Astounded, silent, he stared at her from his shadowy corner; and after a while his pulses began to throb and throb and hammer, and the clamoring confusion of his senses seemed to deafen him.
She rested a moment or two against the footboard of the bed, her big gray eyes fixed on his vague and shadowy form.
"This won't do," she said.
"No," he said, "it won't do."
He spoke very quietly, very gently. She detected the alteration in his voice and started slightly, as though the distant echo of a familiar voice had sounded.
"What did you say?" she asked, coming nearer, pistol glittering in advance.
"I said 'It won't do.' I don't know what I meant by it. If I meant anything I was wrong. It will do. The situation is perfectly agreeable to me."
"Insolence will not help you," she said sharply. And under the sharpness he detected the slightest quaver of a new alarm.
"I am going to free myself," he said coolly.
"If you move I shall certainly shoot!" she retorted.
"I am going to move—but only my lips. I have only to move my lips to free myself."
"I should scarcely advise you to trust to your eloquence. I have been duly warned, you see."
"Who warned you?" he asked curiously. And, as she disdained to reply: "Never mind. We can clear that up later. Now let me ask you something."
"You are scarcely in a position to ask questions," she said.
"May I not speak to you?"
"Is it necessary?"
He thought a moment. "No, not necessary. Nothing is in this life, you know. I thought differently once. Once—when I was younger—six years younger—I thought happiness was necessary. I found that a man might live without it."
She stood gazing at him through the shadows, pistol on hip.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"I mean that happiness is not necessary to life. Life goes on all the same. My life has continued for six years without that happiness which some believe to be essential."
After a silence she said: "I can tell by the way you speak that you are well born. I—I dread to do what I simply must do."
He, too, sat silent a long time—long enough for an utterly perverse and whimsical humor to take complete possession of him.
"Won't you let me go—this time?" he pleaded.
"You had better let me go while you can," he said, "because, perhaps, you may find it difficult to get rid of me later."
Affronted, she shrank back from the doorway and stood in the center of her room, angry, disdainful, beautiful, under the ruddy glory of her lustrous hair.
His perverse mood changed, too; he leaned forward, studying her minutely—the splendid gray eyes, the delicate mouth and nose, the full, sweet lips, the witchery of wrist and hand, and the flowing, rounded outline of limb and body under the pretty gown. Could this be she? This lovely, mature woman, wearing scarcely a trace of the young girl he had never forgotten—scarcely a trace save in the beauty of her eyes and hair—save in the full, red mouth, sweet and sensitive even in its sudden sullenness?
"Once," he said, and his voice sounded to him like voices heard in dreams—"once, years and years ago, there was a steamer, and a man and a young girl on board. Do you mind my telling you about it?"
She stood leaning against the footboard of the bed, not even deigning to raise her eyes in reply. So he made the slightest stir in his chair; and then she looked up quickly enough, pistol poised.
"The steamer," said Kerns slowly, "was coming into Southampton—six years ago. On deck these two people stood—a man of twenty-eight, a girl of eighteen—six years ago. The name of the steamer was the Carnatic. Did you ever hear of that ship?"
She was looking at him attentively. He waited for her reply; she made none; and he went on.
"The man had asked the girl something—I don't know what—I don't know why her gray eyes filled with tears. Perhaps it was because she could not do what the man asked her to do. It may have been to love him; it may have been that he was asking her to marry him and that she couldn't. Perhaps that is why there were tears in her eyes—because she may have been sorry to cause him the pain of refusal—sorry, perhaps, perhaps a little guilty. Because she must have seen that he was falling in love with her, and she—she let him—knowing all the time that she was to marry another man. Did you ever hear of that man before?"
She had straightened up, quivering, wide eyed, lips parted. He rose and walked slowly into her room, confronting her under the full glare of light.
Her pistol fell clattering to the floor. It did not explode because it was not loaded.
"Now," he said unsteadily, "will you give me my freedom? I have waited for it—not minutes—but years—six years. I ask it now—the freedom I enjoyed before I ever saw you. Can you give it back to me? Can you restore to me a capacity for happiness? Can you give me a heart to love with—love some woman, as other men love? Is it very much I ask of you—to give me a chance in life—the chance I had before I ever saw you?"
Her big gray eyes seemed fascinated; he looked deep into them, smiling; and she turned white.
"Will you give me what I ask?" he said, still smiling.
She strove to speak; she could not, but her eyes never faltered. Suddenly the color flooded her neck and cheeks to the hair, and the quick tears glimmered.
"I—I did not understand; I was too young to be cruel," she faltered. "How could I know what I was doing? Or what—what you did?"
"I? To you?"
"Y-yes. Did you think that I escaped heart free? Do you realize what my punishment was—to—to marry—and remember! If I was too young, too inexperienced to know what I was doing, I was not too young to suffer for it!"
"You mean—" He strove to control his voice, but the sweet, fearless gray eyes met his; the old flame leaped in his veins. He reached out to steady himself and his hand touched hers—that soft, white hand that had held him all these years in the hollow of its palm.
"Did you ever love me?" he demanded.
Her eyes, wet with tears, met his straight as the starry gaze of a child.
"Yes," she said.
His hand tightened over hers; she swayed a moment, quivering from head to foot; then drawing a quick, sobbing breath, closed her eyes, imprisoned in his arms; and, after a long while, aroused, she looked up at him, her divine eyes unclosing dreamily.
"Somebody is hammering at the front door," he breathed. "Listen!"
"I hear. I believe it must be the Tracer of Lost Persons."
"Only a Mr. Keen."
"O Lord!" said Kerns faintly, and covered his face with her fragrant hands.
Very tenderly, very gravely, she drew her hands away, and, laying them on his shoulders, looked up at him.
"You—you know what there is in your suit case," she faltered; "are you a burglar, dear?"
"Ask the Tracer of Lost Persons," said Kerns gently, "what sort of a criminal I am!"
They stood together for one blissful moment listening to the loud knocking below, then, hand in hand, they descended the dark stairway to admit the Tracer of Lost Persons.
On the thirteenth day of March, 1906, Kerns received the following cable from an old friend:
"Is there anybody in New York who can find two criminals for me? I don't want to call in the police.
To which Kerns replied promptly:
"Wire Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, N.Y."
And a day or two later, being on his honeymoon, he forgot all about his old friend Jack Burke.
On the fifteenth day of March, 1906, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, received the following cablegram from Alexandria, Egypt:
"Keen, Tracer, New York:—Locate Joram Smiles, forty, stout, lame, red hair, ragged red mustache, cast in left eye, pallid skin; carries one crutch; supposed to have arrived in America per S. S. Scythian Queen, with man known as Emanuel Gandon, swarthy, short, fat, light bluish eyes, Eurasian type.
"I will call on you at your office as soon as my steamer, Empress of Babylon, arrives. If you discover my men, keep them under surveillance, but on no account call in police. Spare no expense. Dundas, Gray & Co. are my bankers and reference.
"JOHN TEMPLETON BURKE."
On Monday, April 2d, a few minutes after eight o'clock in the morning, the card of Mr. John Templeton Burke was brought to Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, and a moment later a well-built, wiry, sun-scorched young man was ushered into Mr. Keen's private office by a stenographer prepared to take minutes of the interview.
The first thing that the Tracer of Lost Persons noted in his visitor was his mouth; the next his eyes. Both were unmistakably good—the eyes which his Creator had given him looked people squarely in the face at every word; the mouth, which a man's own character fashions agreeably or mars, was pleasant, but firm when the trace of the smile lurking in the corners died out.
There were dozens of other external characteristics which Mr. Keen always looked for in his clients; and now the rapid exchange of preliminary glances appeared to satisfy both men, for they advanced toward each other and exchanged a formal hand clasp.
"Have you any news for me?" asked Burke.
"I have," said the Tracer. "There are cigars on the table beside you—matches in that silver case. No, I never smoke; but I like the aroma—and I like to watch men smoke. Do you know, Mr. Burke, that no two men smoke in the same fashion? There is as much character in the manner of holding a cigar as there is difference in the technic of artists."
Burke nodded, amused, but, catching sight of the busy stenographer, his bronzed features became serious, and he looked at Mr. Keen inquiringly.
"It is my custom," said the Tracer. "Do you object to my stenographer?"
Burke looked at the slim young girl in her black gown and white collar and cuffs. Then, very simply, he asked her pardon for objecting to her presence, but said that he could not discuss his case if she remained. So she rose, with a humorous glance at Mr. Keen; and the two men stood up until she had vanished, then reseated themselves vis-a-vis. Mr. Keen calmly dropped his elbow on the concealed button which prepared a hidden phonograph for the reception of every word that passed between them.
"What news have you for me, Mr. Keen?" asked the younger man with that same directness which the Tracer had already been prepared for, and which only corroborated the frankness of eyes and voice.
"My news is brief," he said. "I have both your men under observation."
"Already?" exclaimed Burke, plainly unprepared. "Do you actually mean that I can see these men whenever I desire to do so? Are these scoundrels in this town—within pistol shot?"
His youthful face hardened as he snapped out his last word, like the crack of a whip.
"I don't know how far your pistol carries," said Mr. Keen. "Do you wish to swear out a warrant?"
"No, I do not. I merely wish their addresses. You have not used the police in this matter, have you, Mr. Keen?"
"No. Your cable was explicit," said the Tracer. "Had you permitted me to use the police it would have been much less expensive for you."
"I can't help that," said the young man. "Besides, in a matter of this sort, a man cannot decently consider expense."
"A matter of what sort?" asked the Tracer blandly.
"Of this sort."
"Oh! Yet even now I do not understand. You must remember, Mr. Burke, that you have not told me anything concerning the reasons for your quest of these two men, Joram Smiles and Emanuel Gandon. Besides, this is the first time you have mentioned pistol range."
Burke, smoking steadily, looked at the Tracer through the blue fog of his cigar.
"No," he said, "I have not told you anything about them."
Mr. Keen waited a moment; then, smiling quietly to himself, he wrote down the present addresses of Joram Smiles and Emanuel Gandon, and, tearing off the leaf, handed it to the younger man, saying: "I omit the pistol range, Mr. Burke."
"I am very grateful to you," said Burke. "The efficiency of your system is too famous for me to venture to praise it. All I can say is 'Thank you'; all I can do in gratitude is to write my check—if you will be kind enough to suggest the figures."
"Are you sure that my services are ended?"
"Thank you, quite sure."
So the Tracer of Lost Persons named the figures, and his client produced a check book and filled in a check for the amount. This was presented and received with pleasant formality. Burke rose, prepared to take his leave, but the Tracer was apparently busy with the combination lock of a safe, and the young man lingered a moment to make his adieus.
As he stood waiting for the Tracer to turn around he studied the writing on the sheet of paper which he held toward the light:
Joram Smiles, no profession, 613 West 24th Street. Emanuel Gandon, no profession, same address. Very dangerous men.
It occurred to him that these three lines of pencil-writing had cost him a thousand dollars—and at the same instant he flushed with shame at the idea of measuring the money value of anything in such a quest as this.
And yet—and yet he had already spent a great deal of money in his brief quest, and—was he any nearer the goal—even with the penciled addresses of these two men in his possession? Even with these men almost within pistol shot!
Pondering there, immersed in frowning retrospection, the room, the Tracer, the city seemed to fade from his view. He saw the red sand blowing in the desert; he heard the sickly squealing of camels at the El Teb Wells; he saw the sun strike fire from the rippling waters of Sais; he saw the plain, and the ruins high above it; and the odor of the Long Bazaar smote him like a blow, and he heard the far call to prayer from the minarets of Sa-el-Hagar, once Sais, the mysterious—Sais of the million lanterns, Sais of that splendid festival where the Great Triad's worship swayed dynasty after dynasty, and where, through the hot centuries, Isis, veiled, impassive, looked out upon the hundredth king of kings, Meris, the Builder of Gardens, dragged dead at the chariot of Upper and Lower Egypt.
Slowly the visions faded; into his remote eyes crept the consciousness of the twentieth century again; he heard the river whistles blowing, and the far dissonance of the streets—that iron undertone vibrating through the metropolis of the West from river to river and from the Palisades to the sea.
His gaze wandered about the room, from telephone desk to bookcase, from the table to the huge steel safe, door ajar, swung outward like the polished breech of a twelve-inch gun.
Then his vacant eyes met the eyes of the Tracer of Lost Persons, almost helplessly. And for the first time the full significance of this quest he had undertaken came over him like despair—this strange, hopeless, fantastic quest, blindly, savagely pursued from the sand wastes of Sais to the wastes of this vast arid city of iron and masonry, ringing to the sky with the menacing clamor of its five monstrous boroughs.
Curiously weary of a sudden, he sat down, resting his head on one hand. The Tracer watched him, bent partly over his desk. From moment to moment he tore minute pieces from the blotter, or drew imaginary circles and arabesques on his pad with an inkless pen.
"Perhaps I could help you, after all—if you'd let me try," he said quietly.
"Dou you mean—me?" asked Burke, without raising his head.
"If you like—yes, you—or any man in trouble—in perplexity—in the uncertain deductions which arise from an attempt at self-analysis."
"It is true; I am trying to analyze myself. I believe that I don't know how. All has been mere impulse—so far. No, I don't know how to analyze it all."
"I do," said the Tracer.
Burke raised his level, unbelieving eyes.
"You are in love," said the Tracer.
After a long time Burke looked up again. "Do you think so?"
"Yes. Can I help you?" asked the Tracer pleasantly.
The young man sat silent, frowning into space; then:
"I tell you plainly enough that I have come here to argue with two men at the end of a pistol; and—you tell me I'm in love. By what logic—"
"It is written in your face, Mr. Burke—in your eyes, in every feature, every muscle's contraction, every modulation of your voice. My tables, containing six hundred classified superficial phenomena peculiar to all human emotions, have been compiled and scientifically arranged according to Bertillon's system. It is an absolutely accurate key to every phase of human emotion, from hate, through all its amazingly paradoxical phenomena, to love, with all its genera under the suborder—all its species, subspecies, and varieties."
He leaned back, surveying the young man with kindly amusement.
"You talk of pistol range, but you are thinking of something more fatal than bullets, Mr. Burke. You are thinking of love—of the first, great, absorbing, unreasoning passion that has ever shaken you, blinded you, seized you and dragged you out of the ordered path of life, to push you violently into the strange and unexplored! That is what stares out on the world through those haunted eyes of yours, when the smile dies out and you are off your guard; that is what is hardening those flat, clean bands of muscle in jaw and cheek; that is what those hints of shadow mean beneath the eye, that new and delicate pinch to the nostril, that refining, almost to sharpness, of the nose, that sensitive edging to the lips, and the lean delicacy of the chin."
He bent slightly forward in his chair.
"There is all that there, Mr. Burke, and something else—the glimmering dawn of desperation."
"Yes," said the other, "that is there. I am desperate."
"Exactly. Also you wear two revolvers in a light, leather harness strapped up under your armpits," said the Tracer, laughing. "Take them off, Mr. Burke. There is nothing to be gained in shooting up Mr. Smiles or converting Mr. Gandon into nitrates."
"If it is a matter where one man can help another," the Tracer added simply, "it would give me pleasure to place my resources at your command—without recompense—"
"Mr. Keen!" said Burke, astonished.
"You are very amiable; I had not wished—had not expected anything except professional interest from you."
"Why not? I like you, Mr. Burke."
The utter disarming candor of this quiet, elderly gentleman silenced the younger man with a suddenness born of emotions long crushed, long relentlessly mastered, and which now, in revolt, shook him fiercely in every fiber. All at once he felt very young, very helpless in the world—that same world through which, until within a few weeks, he had roved so confidently, so arrogantly, challenging man and the gods themselves in the pride of his strength and youth.
But now, halting, bewildered, lost amid the strange maze of byways whither impulse had lured and abandoned him, he looked out into a world of wilderness and unfamiliar stars and shadow shapes undreamed of, and he knew not which way to turn—not even how to return along the ways his impetuous feet had trodden in this strange and hopeless quest of his.
"How can you help me?" he said bluntly, while the quivering undertone rang in spite of him. "Yes, I am in love; but how can any living man help me?"
"Are you in love with the dead?" asked the Tracer gravely. "For that only is hopeless. Are you in love with one who is not living?"
"You love one whom you know to be dead?"
"How do you know that she is dead?"
"That is not the question. I knew that when I fell in love with her. It is not that which appals me; I ask nothing more than to live my life out loving the dead. I—I ask very little."
He passed his unsteady hand across his dry lips, across his eyes and forehead, then laid his clinched fist on the table.
"Some men remain constant to a memory; some to a picture—sane, wholesome, normal men. Some men, with a fixed ideal, never encounter its facsimile, and so never love. There is nothing strange, after all, in this; nothing abnormal, nothing unwholesome. Gruenwald loved the marble head and shoulders of the lovely Amazon in the Munich Museum; he died unmarried, leaving the charities and good deeds of a blameless life to justify him. Sir Henry Guest, the great surgeon who worked among the poor without recompense, loved Gainsborough's 'Lady Wilton.' The portrait hangs above his tomb in St. Clement's Hundreds. D'Epernay loved Mlle. Jeanne Vacaresco, who died before he was born. And I—I love in my own fashion."
His low voice rang with the repressed undertone of excitement; he opened and closed his clinched hand as though controlling the lever of his emotions.
"What can you do for a man who loves the shadow of Life?" he asked.
"If you love the shadow because the substance has passed away—if you love the soul because the dust has returned to the earth as it was—"
"It has not!" said the younger man.
The Tracer said very gravely: "It is written that whenever 'the Silver Cord' is loosed, 'then shall the dust return unto the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return unto Him who gave it.'"
"The spirit—yes; that has taken its splendid flight—"
His voice choked up, died out; he strove to speak again, but could not. The Tracer let him alone, and bent again over his desk, drawing imaginary circles on the stained blotter, while moment after moment passed under the tension of that fiercest of all struggles, when a man sits throttling his own soul into silence.
And, after a long time, Burke lifted a haggard face from the cradle of his crossed arms and shook his shoulders, drawing a deep, steady breath.
"Listen to me!" he said in an altered voice.
And the Tracer of Lost Persons nodded.
"When I left the Point I was assigned to the colored cavalry. They are good men; we went up Kettle Hill together. Then came the Philippine troubles, then that Chinese affair. Then I did staff duty, and could not stand the inactivity and resigned. They had no use for me in Manchuria; I tired of waiting, and went to Venezuela. The prospects for service there were absurd; I heard of the Moorish troubles and went to Morocco. Others of my sort swarmed there; matters dragged and dragged, and the Kaiser never meant business, anyway.
"Being independent, and my means permitting me, I got some shooting in the back country. This all degenerated into the merest nomadic wandering—nothing but sand, camels, ruins, tents, white walls, and blue skies. And at last I came to the town of Sa-el-Hagar."
His voice died out; his restless, haunted eyes became fixed.
"Sa-el-Hagar, once ancient Sais," repeated the Tracer quietly; and the young man looked at him.
"You know that?"
"Yes," said the Tracer.
For a while Burke remained silent, preoccupied, then, resting his chin on his hand and speaking in a curiously monotonous voice, as though repeating to himself by rote, he went on:
"The town is on the heights—have you a pencil? Thank you. Here is the town of Sa-el-Hagar, here are the ruins, here is the wall, and somewhere hereabouts should be the buried temple of Neith, which nobody has found." He shifted his pencil. "Here is the lake of Sais; here, standing all alone on the plain, are those great monolithic pillars stretching away into perspective—four hundred of them in all—a hundred and nine still upright. There were one hundred and ten when I arrived at El Teb Wells."
He looked across at the Tracer, repeating: "One hundred and ten—when I arrived. One fell the first night—a distant pillar far away on the horizon. Four thousand years had it stood there. And it fell—the first night of my arrival. I heard it; the nights are cold at El Teb Wells, and I was lying awake, all a-shiver, counting the stars to make me sleep. And very, very far away in the desert I heard and felt the shock of its fall—the fall of forty centuries under the Egyptian stars."
His eyes grew dreamy; a slight glow had stained his face.
"Did you ever halt suddenly in the Northern forests, listening, as though a distant voice had hailed you? Then you understand why that far, dull sound from the dark horizon brought me to my feet, bewildered, listening, as though my own name had been spoken.
"I heard the wind in the tents and the stir of camels; I heard the reeds whispering on Sais Lake and the yap-yap of a shivering jackal; and always, always, the hushed echo in my ears of my own name called across the star-lit waste.
"At dawn I had forgotten. An Arab told me that a pillar had fallen; it was all the same to me, to him, to the others, too. The sun came out hot. I like heat. My men sprawled in the tents; some watered, some went up to the town to gossip in the bazaar. I mounted and cast bridle on neck—you see how much I cared where I went! In two hours we had completed a circle—like a ruddy hawk above El Teb. And my horse halted beside the fallen pillar."
As he spoke his language had become very simple, very direct, almost without accent, and he spoke slowly, picking his way with that lack of inflection, of emotion characteristic of a child reading a new reader.
"The column had fallen from its base, eastward, and with its base it had upheaved another buried base, laying bare a sort of cellar and a flight of stone steps descending into darkness.
"Into this excavation the sand was still running in tiny rivulets. Listening, I could hear it pattering far, far down into the shadows.
"Sitting there in the saddle, the thing explained itself as I looked. The fallen pillar had been built upon older ruins; all Egypt is that way, ruin founded on the ruin of ruins—like human hopes.
"The stone steps, descending into the shadow of remote ages, invited me. I dismounted, walked to the edge of the excavation, and, kneeling, peered downward. And I saw a wall and the lotus-carved rim of a vast stone-framed pool; and as I looked I heard the tinkle of water. For the pillar, falling, had unbottled the ancient spring, and now the stone-framed lagoon was slowly filling after its drought of centuries.
"There was light enough to see by, but, not knowing how far I might penetrate, I returned to my horse, pocketed matches and candles from the saddlebags, and, returning, started straight down the steps of stone.
"Fountain, wall, lagoon, steps, terraces half buried—all showed what the place had been: a water garden of ancient Egypt—probably royal—because, although I am not able to decipher hieroglyphics, I have heard somewhere that these picture inscriptions, when inclosed in a cartouch like this"—he drew rapidly—
indicate that the subject of the inscription was once a king.
"And on every wall, every column, I saw the insignia of ancient royalty, and I saw strange hawk-headed figures bearing symbols engraved on stone—beasts, birds, fishes, unknown signs and symbols; and everywhere the lotus carved in stone—the bud, the blossom half-inclosed, the perfect flower."
His dreamy eyes met the gaze of the Tracer, unseeing; he rested his sunburned face between both palms, speaking in the same vague monotone:
"Everywhere dust, ashes, decay, the death of life, the utter annihilation of the living—save only the sparkle of reborn waters slowly covering the baked bed of the stone-edged pool—strange, luminous water, lacking the vital sky tint, enameled with a film of dust, yet, for all that, quickening with imprisoned brilliancy like an opal.
"The slow filling of the pool fascinated me; I stood I know not how long watching the thin film of water spreading away into the dimness beyond. At last I turned and passed curiously along the wall where, at its base, mounds of dust marked what may have been trees. Into these I probed with my riding crop, but discovered nothing except the depths of the dust.
"When I had penetrated the ghost of this ancient garden for a thousand yards the light from the opening was no longer of any service. I lighted a candle; and its yellow rays fell upon a square portal into which led another flight of steps. And I went down.
"There were eighteen steps descending into a square stone room. Strange gleams and glimmers from wall and ceiling flashed dimly in my eyes under the wavering flame of the candle. Then the flame grew still—still as death—and Death lay at my feet—there on the stone floor—a man, square shouldered, hairless, the cobwebs of his tunic mantling him, lying face downward, arms outflung.
"After a moment I stooped and touched him, and the entire prostrate figure dissolved into dust where it lay, leaving at my feet a shadow shape in thin silhouette against the pavement—merely a gray layer of finest dust shaped like a man, a tracery of impalpable powder on the stones.
"Upward and around me I passed the burning candle; vast figures in blue and red and gold grew out of the darkness; the painted walls sparkled; the shadows that had slept through all those centuries trembled and shrank away into distant corners.
"And then—and then I saw the gold edges of her sandals sparkle in the darkness, and the clasped girdle of virgin gold around her slender waist glimmered like purest flame!"
Burke, leaning far across the table, interlocked hands tightening, stared and stared into space. A smile edged his mouth; his voice grew wonderfully gentle:
"Why, she was scarcely eighteen—this child—there so motionless, so lifelike, with the sandals edging her little upturned feet, and the small hands of her folded between the breasts. It was as though she had just stretched herself out there—scarcely sound asleep as yet, and her thick, silky hair—cut as they cut children's hair in these days, you know—cradled her head and cheeks.
"So marvelous the mimicry of life, so absolute the deception of breathing sleep, that I scarce dared move, fearing to awaken her.
"When I did move I forgot the dusty shape of the dead at my feet, and left, full across his neck, the imprint of a spurred riding boot. It gave me my first shudder; I turned, feeling beneath my foot the soft, yielding powder, and stood aghast. Then—it is absurd!—but I felt as a man feels who has trodden inadvertently upon another's foot—and in an impulse of reparation I stooped hastily and attempted to smooth out the mortal dust which bore the imprint of my heel. But the fine powder flaked my glove, and, looking about for something to compose the ashes with, I picked up a papyrus scroll. Perhaps he himself had written on it; nobody can ever know, and I used it as a sort of hoe to scrape him together and smooth him out on the stones."
The young man drew a yellowish roll of paper-like substance from his pocket and laid it on the table.
"This is the same papyrus," he said. "I had forgotten that I carried it away with me until I found it in my shooting coat while packing to sail for New York."
The Tracer of Lost Persons reached over and picked up the scroll. It was flexible still, but brittle; he opened it with great care, considered the strange figures upon it for a while, then turned almost sharply on his visitor.
"Go on," he said.
And Burke went on:
"The candle was burning low; I lighted two more, placing them at her head and feet on the edges of the stone couch. Then, lighting a third candle, I stood beside the couch and looked down at the dead girl under her veil-like robe, set with golden stars."
He passed his hand wearily over his hair and forehead.
"I do not know what the accepted meaning of beauty may be if it was not there under my eyes. Flawless as palest amber ivory and rose, the smooth-flowing contours melted into exquisite symmetry; lashes like darkest velvet rested on the pure curve of the cheeks; the closed lids, the mouth still faintly stained with color, the delicate nose, the full, childish lips, sensitive, sweet, resting softly upon each other—if these were not all parts of but one lovely miracle, then there is no beauty save in a dream of Paradise. . . .
"A gold band of linked scarabs bound her short, thick hair straight across the forehead; thin scales of gold fell from a necklace, clothing her breasts in brilliant discolored metal, through which ivory-tinted skin showed. A belt of pure, soft gold clasped her body at the waist; gold-edged sandals clung to her little feet.
"At first, when the stunned surprise had subsided, I thought that I was looking upon some miracle of ancient embalming, hitherto unknown. Yet, in the smooth skin there was no slit to prove it, no opening in any vein or artery, no mutilation of this sculptured masterpiece of the Most High, no cerements, no bandages, no gilded carven case with painted face to stare open eyed through the wailing cycles.
"This was the image of sleep—of life unconscious—not of death. Yet is was death—death that had come upon her centuries and centuries ago; for the gold had turned iridescent and magnificently discolored; the sandal straps fell into dust as I bent above them, leaving the sandals clinging to her feet only by the wired silver core of the thongs. And, as I touched it fearfully, the veil-like garment covering her, vanished into thin air, its metal stars twinkling in a shower around her on the stone floor."
The Tracer, motionless, intent, scarcely breathed; the younger man moved restlessly in his chair, the dazed light in his eyes clearing to sullen consciousness.
"What more is there to tell?" he said. "And to what purpose? All this is time wasted. I have my work cut out for me. What more is there to tell?"
"What you have left untold," said the Tracer, with the slightest ring of authority in his quiet voice.
And, as though he had added "Obey!" the younger man sank back in his chair, his hands contracting nervously.
"I went back to El Teb," he said; "I walked like a dreaming man. My sleep was haunted by her beauty; night after night, when at last I fell asleep, instantly I saw her face, and her dark eyes opening into mine in childish bewilderment; day after day I rode out to the fallen pillar and descended to that dark chamber where she lay alone. Then there came a time when I could not endure the thought of her lying there alone. I had never dared to touch her. Horror of what might happen had held me aloof lest she crumble at my touch to that awful powder which I had trodden on.
"I did not know what to do; my Arabs had begun to whisper among themselves, suspicious of my absences, impatient to break camp, perhaps, and roam on once more. Perhaps they believed I had discovered treasure somewhere; I am not sure. At any rate, dread of their following me, determination to take my dead away with me, drove me into action; and that day when I reached her silent chamber I lighted my candle, and, leaning above her for one last look, I touched her shoulder with my finger tip.
"It was a strange sensation. Prepared for a dreadful dissolution, utterly unprepared for cool, yielding flesh, I almost dropped where I stood. For her body was neither cold nor warm, neither dust-dry nor moist; neither the skin of the living nor the dead. It was firm, almost stiff, yet not absolutely without a certain hint of flexibility.
"The appalling wonder of it consumed me; fear, incredulity, terror, apathy succeeded each other; then slowly a fierce shrinking happiness swept me in every fiber.
"This marvelous death, this triumph of beauty over death, was mine. Never again should she lie here alone through the solitudes of night and day; never again should the dignity of Death lack the tribute demanded of Life. Here was the appointed watcher—I, who had found her alone in the wastes of the world—all alone on the outermost edges of the world—a child, dead and unguarded. And standing there beside her I knew that I should never love again."
He straightened up, stretching out his arm: "I did not intend to carry her away to what is known as Christian burial. How could I consign her to darkness again, with all its dreadful mockery of marble, all its awful emblems?
"This lovely stranger was to be my guest forever. The living should be near her while she slept so sweetly her slumber through the centuries; she should have warmth, and soft hangings and sunlight and flowers; and her unconscious ears should be filled with the pleasant stir of living things. . . . I have a house in the country, a very old house among meadows and young woodlands. And I—I had dreamed of giving this child a home—"
His voice broke; he buried his head in his hands a moment; but when he lifted it again his features were hard as steel.
"There was already talk in the bazaar about me. I was probably followed, but I did not know it. Then one of my men disappeared. For a week I hesitated to trust my Arabs; but there was no other way. I told them there was a mummy which I desired to carry to some port and smuggle out of the country without consulting the Government. I knew perfectly well that the Government would never forego its claim to such a relic of Egyptian antiquity. I offered my men too much, perhaps. I don't know. They hesitated for a week, trying by every artifice to see the treasure, but I never let them out of my sight.
"Then one day two white men came into camp; and with them came a government escort to arrest me for looting an Egyptian tomb. The white men were Joram Smiles and that Eurasian, Emanuel Gandon, who was partly white, I suppose. I didn't comprehend what they were up to at first. They escorted me forty miles to confront the official at Shen-Bak. When, after a stormy week, I was permitted to return to Sais, my Arabs and the white men were gone. And the stone chamber under the water garden wall was empty as the hand I hold out to you!"
He opened his palm and rose, his narrowing eyes clear and dangerous.
"At the bazaar I learned enough to know what had been done. I traced the white men to the coast. They sailed on the Scythian Queen, taking with them all that I care for on earth or in heaven! And you ask me why I measure their distance from me by a bullet's flight!"
The Tracer also rose, pale and grave.
"Wait!" he said. "There are other things to be done before you prepare to face a jury for double murder."
"It is for them to choose," said Burke. "They shall have the choice of returning to me my dead, or of going to hell full of lead."
"Exactly, my dear sir. That part is not difficult," said the Tracer quietly. "There will be no occasion for violence, I assure you. Kindly leave such details to me. I know what is to be done. You are outwardly very calm, Mr. Burke—even dangerously placid; but though you maintain an admirable command over yourself superficially, you are laboring under terrible excitement. Therefore it is my duty to say to you at once that there is no cause for your excitement, no cause for your apprehension as to results. I feel exceedingly confident that you will, in due time, regain possession of all that you care for most—quietly, quietly, my dear sir! You are not yet ready to meet these men, nor am I ready to go with you. I beg you to continue your habit of self-command for a little while. There is no haste—that is to say, there is every reason to make haste slowly. And the quickest method is to seat yourself. Thank you. And I shall sit here beside you and spread out this papyrus scroll for your inspection."
Burke stared at the Tracer, then at the scroll.
"What has that inscription to do with the matter in hand?" he demanded impatiently.
"I leave you to judge," said the Tracer. A dull tint of excitement flushed his lean cheeks; he twisted his gray mustache and bent over the unrolled scroll which was now held flat by weights at the four corners.
"Can you understand any of these symbols, Mr. Burke?" he asked.
"Curious," mused the Tracer. "Do you know it was fortunate that you put this bit of papyrus in the pocket of your shooting coat—so fortunate that, in a way, it approaches the miraculous?"
"What do you mean? Is there anything in that scroll bearing on this matter?"
"And you can read it? Are you versed in such learning, Mr. Keen?"
"I am an Egyptologist—among other details," said the Tracer calmly.
The young man gazed at him, astonished. The Tracer of Lost Persons picked up a pencil, laid a sheet of paper on the table beside the papyrus, and slowly began to copy the first symbol:
"The ancient Egyptian word for the personal pronoun 'I' was anuk," said the Tracer placidly. "The phonetic for a was the hieroglyph
a reed; for n the water symbol
for u the symbols
Therefore this hieroglyphic inscription begins with the personal pronoun
or I. That is very easy, of course.
"Now, the most ancient of Egyptian inscriptions read vertically in columns; there are only two columns in this papyrus, so we'll try it vertically and pass downward to the next symbol, which is inclosed in a sort of frame or cartouch. That immediately signifies that royalty is mentioned; therefore, we have already translated as much as 'I, the king (or queen).' Do you see?"
"Yes," said Burke, staring.
"Very well. Now this symbol, number two,
spells out the word 'Meris,' in this way: M (pronounced me) is phonetically symbolized by the characters
(a mouth) and the comma
and the hieroglyph
i by two reeds
and two oblique strokes,
and s by
This gives us Meris, the name of that deposed and fugitive king of Egypt who, after a last raid on the summer palace of Mer-Shen, usurping ruler of Egypt, was followed and tracked to Sais, where, with an arrow through his back, he crawled to El Teb and finally died there of his wound. All this Egyptologists are perfectly familiar with in the translations of the boastful tablets and inscriptions erected near Sais by Mer-Shen, the three hundred and twelfth sovereign after Queen Nitocris."
He looked up at Burke, smiling. "Therefore," he said, "this papyrus scroll was written by Meris, ex-king, a speculative thousands of years before Christ. And it begins: 'I, Meris the King.'"
"How does all this bear upon what concerns me?" demanded Burke.
Something in the quiet significance of the Tracer's brief command sent a curious thrill through the younger man. He leaned stiffly forward, studying the scroll, every faculty concentrated on the symbol which the Tracer had now touched with the carefully sharpened point of his pencil:
"That," said Mr. Keen, "is the ancient Egyptian word for 'little,' 'Ket.' The next, below, written in two lines, is 'Samaris,' a proper name—the name of a woman. Under that, again, is the symbol for the number 18; the decimal sign,
and eight vertical strokes,
Under that, again, is a hieroglyph of another sort, an ideograph representing a girl with a harp; and, beneath that, the symbol which always represented a dancing girl
and also the royal symbol inclosed in a cartouch,
which means literally 'the Ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt.' Under that is the significant symbol
representing an arm and a hand holding a stick. This always means force—to take forcibly or to use violence. Therefore, so far, we have the following literal translation: 'I, Meris the King, little Samaris, eighteen, a harpist, dancing girl, the Ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt, to take by violence—'"
"What does that make?" broke in Burke impatiently.
"Wait! Wait until we have translated everything literally. And, Mr. Burke, it might make it easier for us both if you would remember that I have had the pleasure of deciphering many hundreds of papyri before you had ever heard that there were such things."
"I beg your pardon," said the young man in a low voice.
"I beg yours for my impatience," said the Tracer pleasantly. "This deciphering always did affect my nerves and shorten my temper. And, no doubt, it is quite as hard on you. Shall we go on, Mr. Burke?"
"If you please, Mr. Keen."
So the Tracer laid his pencil point on the next symbol
"That is the symbol for night," he said; "and that
is the water symbol again, as you know; and that
is the ideograph, meaning a ship. The five reversed crescents
record the number of days voyage; the sign
means a house, and is also the letter H in the Egyptian alphabet.
"Under it, again, we have a repetition of the first symbol meaning I, and a repetition of the second symbol, meaning 'Meris, the King.' Then, below that cartouch, comes a new symbol,
which is the feminine personal pronoun, sentus, meaning 'she'; and the first column is completed with the symbol for the ancient Egyptian verb, nehes, 'to awake,'
"And now we take the second column, which begins with the jackal ideograph expressing slyness or cleverness. Under it is the hieroglyph meaning 'to run away,' 'to escape.' And under that, Mr. Burke, is one of the rarest of all Egyptian symbols; a symbol seldom seen on stone or papyrus,
except in rare references to the mysteries of Isis. The meaning of it, so long in dispute, has finally been practically determined through a new discovery in the cuneiform inscriptions. It is the symbol of two hands holding two closed eyes; and it signifies power."
"You mean that those ancients understood hypnotism?" asked Burke, astonished.
"Evidently their priests did; evidently hypnotism was understood and employed in certain mysteries. And there is the symbol of it; and under it the hieroglyphs
meaning 'a day and a night,' with the symbol
as usual present to signify force or strength employed. Under that, again, is a human figure stretched upon a typical Egyptian couch. And now, Mr. Burke, note carefully three modifying signs: first, that it is a couch or bed on which the figure is stretched, not the funeral couch, not the embalming slab; second, there is no mummy mask covering the face, and no mummy case covering the body; third, that under the recumbent figure is pictured an open mouth, not a closed one.
"All these modify the ideograph, apparently representing death. But the sleep symbol is not present. Therefore it is a sound inference that all this simply confirms the symbol of hypnotism."
Burke, intensely absorbed, stared steadily at the scroll.
"Now," continued Mr. Keen, "we note the symbol of force again, always present; and, continuing horizontally, a cartouch quite empty except for the midday sun. That is simply translated; the midday sun illuminates nothing. Meris, deposed, is king only in name; and the sun no longer shines on him as 'Ruler of Upper and Lower Egypt.' Under that despairing symbol, 'King of Nothing,' we have
the phonetics which spell sha, the word for garden. And, just beyond this, horizontally, the modifying ideograph meaning 'a water garden';
a design of lotus and tree alternating on a terrace. Under that is the symbol for the word 'aneb,'
a 'wall.' Beyond that, horizontally, is the symbol for 'house.' It should be placed under the wall symbol, but the Egyptians were very apt to fill up spaces instead of continuing their vertical columns. Now, beneath, we find the imperative command
'arise!' And the Egyptian personal pronoun 'entuten,'
which means 'you' or 'thou.'
"Under that is the symbol
which means 'priest,' or, literally, 'priest man.' Then comes the imperative 'awake to life!'
After that, our first symbol again, meaning 'I,' followed horizontally by the symbol
signifying 'to go.'
"Then comes a very important drawing—you see?—the picture of a man with a jackal's head, not a dog's head. It is not accompanied by the phonetic in a cartouch, as it should be. Probably the writer was in desperate haste at the end. But, nevertheless, it is easy to translate that symbol of the man with a jackal's head. It is a picture of the Egyptian god, Anubis, who was supposed to linger at the side of the dying to conduct their souls. Anubis, the jackal-headed, is the courier, the personal escort of departing souls. And this is he.
"And now the screed ends with the cry 'Pray for me!'
the last symbol on this strange scroll—this missive written by a deposed, wounded, and dying king to an unnamed priest. Here is the literal translation in columns:
I cunning Meris the King escape little hypnotize Samaris King of Nothing eighteen place forcibly a harpist garden a dancing girl—Ruler of water garden Upper and Lower wall Egypt house took forcibly—night Arise. Do by water Thou five days Priest Man ship Awake house To life I I go Meris the King Anubis she Pray awake
"And this is what that letter, thousands of years old, means in this language of ours, hundreds of years young: 'I, Meris the King, seized little Samaris, a harpist and a dancing girl, eighteen years of age, belonging to the King of Upper and Lower Egypt, and carried her away at night on shipboard—a voyage of five days—to my house. I, Meris the King, lest she lie awake watching cunningly for a chance to escape, hypnotized her (or had her hypnotized) so that she lay like one dead or asleep, but breathing, and I, King no longer of Upper and Lower Egypt, took her and placed her in my house under the wall of the water garden. Arise! therefore, O thou priest; (go) and awaken her to life. I am dying (I go with Anubis!). Pray for me!'"
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.
"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 Sais, 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!"
"What we want to do," said Gatewood over the telephone, "is to give you a corking little dinner at the Santa Regina. There'll be Mr. and Mrs. Tommy Kerns, Captain and Mrs. Harren, Mr. and Mrs. Jack Burke, Mrs. Gatewood, and myself. We want you to set the date for it, Mr. Keen, and we also wish you to suggest one more deliriously happy couple whom you have dragged out of misery and flung head-first into terrestrial paradise."
"Do you young people really care to do this for me?" asked the Tracer, laughing.
"Of course we do. We're crazy about it. We want one more couple, and you to set the date."
There was the slightest pause; then the Tracer's voice, with the same undertone of amusement ringing through it:
"How would your cousin, Victor Carden, do?"
"He's all right, only he isn't married. We want two people whom you have joined together after hazard has put them asunder and done stunts with them."
"Very well; Victor Carden and his very lovely wife will be just the people."
"Is Victor married?" demanded Gatewood, astonished.
"No," said the Tracer demurely, "but he will be in time for that dinner." And he set the date for the end of the week in an amused voice, and rang off.
Then he glanced at the clock, touched an electric bell, and again unhooking the receiver of the telephone, called up the Sherwood Studios and asked for Mr. Carden.
"Is this Mr. Carden? Oh, good morning, Mr. Carden! This is Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons. Could you make it convenient to call—say in course of half an hour? Thank you. . . . What? . . . Well, speaking with that caution and reserve which we are obliged to employ in making any preliminary statements to our clients, I think I may safely say that you have every reason to feel moderately encouraged."
"You mean," said Carden's voice, "that you have actually solved the proposition?"
"It has been a difficult proposition, Mr. Carden; I will not deny that it has taxed our resources to the uttermost. Over a thousand people, first and last, have been employed on this case. It has been a slow and tedious affair, Mr. Carden—tedious for us all. We seldom have a case continue as long as this has; it is a year ago to-day since you placed the matter in our hands. . . . What? Well, without committing myself, I think that I may venture to express a carefully qualified opinion that the solution of the case is probably practically in the way of being almost accomplished! . . . Yes, I shall expect you in half an hour. Good-by!"
The Tracer of Lost Persons' eyes were twinkling as he hung up the receiver and turned in his revolving chair to meet the pretty young woman who had entered in response to his ring.
"The Carden case, if you please, Miss Smith," he said, smiling to himself.
The young woman also smiled; the Carden case had become a classic in the office. Nobody except Mr. Keen had believed that the case could ever be solved.
"Safe-deposit box 108923!" said Miss Smith softly, pressing a speaking tube to her red lips. In a few moments there came a hissing thud from the pneumatic tube; Miss Smith unlocked it and extracted a smooth, steel cylinder.
"The combination for that cylinder is A-4-44-11-X," observed the Tracer, consulting a cipher code, "which, translated," he added, "gives us the setting combination, One, D, R-R,-J-'24."
Miss Smith turned the movable disks at the end of the cylinder until the required combination appeared. Then she unscrewed the cylinder head and dumped out the documents in the famous Carden case.
"As Mr. Carden will be here in half an hour or so I think we had better run over the case briefly," nodded the Tracer, leaning back in his chair and composing himself to listen. "Begin with my preliminary memorandum, Miss Smith."
"Case 108923," began the girl. Then she read the date, Carden's full name, Victor Carden, a terse biography of the same gentleman, and added: "Case accepted. Contingent fee, $5,000."
"Quite so," said Mr. Keen; "now, run through the minutes of the first interview."
And Miss Smith unrolled a typewritten scroll and read:
"Victor Carden, Esquire, the well-known artist, called this evening at 6.30. Tall, well-bred, good appearance, very handsome; very much embarrassed. Questioned by Mr. Keen he turned pink, and looked timidly at the stenographer (Miss Colt). Asked if he might not see Mr. Keen alone, Miss Colt retired. Mr. Keen set the recording phonograph in motion by dropping his elbow on his desk."
A brief resume of the cylinder records followed:
"Mr. Carden asked Mr. Keen if he (Mr. Keen) knew who he (Mr. Carden) was. Mr. Keen replied that everybody knew Mr. Carden, the celebrated painter and illustrator who had created the popular type of beauty known as the 'Carden Girl.' Mr. Carden blushed and fidgeted. (Notes from. Mr. Keen's Observation Book, pp. 291-297.) Admitted that he was the creator of the 'Carden Girl.' Admitted he had drawn and painted that particular type of feminine beauty many times. Fidgeted some more. (Keen's O.B., pp. 298-299.) Volunteered the statement that this type of beauty, known as the 'Carden Girl,' was the cause of great unhappiness to himself. Questioned, turned pinker and fidgeted. (K.O.B., page 300.) Denied that his present trouble was caused by the model who had posed for the 'Carden Girl.' Explained that a number of assorted models had posed for that type of beauty. Further explained that none of them resembled the type; that the type was his own creation; that he used models merely for the anatomy, and that he always idealized form and features.
"Questioned again, admitted that the features of the 'Carden Girl' were his ideal of the highest and loveliest type of feminine beauty. Did not deny that he had fallen in love with his own creation. Turned red and tried to smoke. (K.O.B., page 303.) Admitted he had been fascinated himself with his own rendering of a type of beauty which he had never seen anywhere except as rendered by his own pencil on paper or on canvas. Fidgeted. (K.O.B., page 304.) Admitted that he could easily fall in love with a woman who resembled the 'Carden Girl.' Didn't believe she ever really existed. Confessed he had hoped for years to encounter her, but had begun to despair. Admitted that he had ventured to think that Mr. Keen might trace such a girl for him. Doubted Mr. Keen's success. Fidgeted (K.O.B., page 306), and asked Mr. Keen to take the case. Promised to send to Mr. Keen a painting in oil which embodied his loftiest ideal of the type known as the 'Carden Girl.' (Portrait received; lithographs made and distributed to our agents according to routine, from Canada to Mexico and from the Atlantic to the Pacific.)
"Mr. Keen terminated the interview with characteristic tact, accepting the case on the contingent fee of $5,000."
"Very well," said the Tracer, as Miss Smith rolled up the scroll and looked at him for further instructions. "Now, perhaps you had better run over the short summary of proceedings to date. I mean the digest which you will find attached to the completed records."
Miss Smith found the paper, unrolled it, and read:
"During the twelve months' investigation and search (in re Carden) seven hundred and nine young women were discovered who resembled very closely the type sought for. By process of elimination, owing to defects in figure, features, speech, breeding, etc., etc., this list was cut down to three. One of these occasionally chewed gum, but otherwise resembled the type. The second married before the investigation of her habits could be completed. The third is apparently a flawless replica of Mr. Carden's original in face, figure, breeding, education, moral and mental habits. (See Document 23, A.)"
"Read Document 23, A," nodded Mr. Keen.
And Miss Smith read:
ROSALIND HOLLIS, M.D.
Age . . . . . . . . . . . . 24
Height . . . . . . 5 feet 9 inches
Weight . . . . . . . . 160 pounds
Thick, bright, ruddy Hair . . . . . . golden, and inclined to curl.
Teeth . . . . . . . . . Perfect
Eyes . . . . . . . Dark violet-blue
Mouth . . . . . . . . . Perfect
Color . . . . Fair. An ivory-tinted blonde.
Figure . . . . . . . . . Perfect
Health . . . . . . . . . Perfect
Temper . . . . . . . . . Feminine
Austere, with a Habits . . . . resolutely suppressed capacity for romance.
Business . . . . . . . . . None
Profession . . . . . . . Physician
Mania . . . . . . . . A Mission
"NOTE.—Dr. Rosalind Hollis was presented to society in her eighteenth year. At the end of her second season she withdrew from society with the determination to devote her entire life to charity. Settlement work and the study of medicine have occupied her constantly. Recently admitted to practice, she spends her mornings in visiting the poor, whom she treats free of all charge; her afternoons and evenings are devoted to what she expects is to be her specialty: the study of the rare malady known as Lamour's Disease. (See note on second page.)
"It is understood that Dr. Hollis has abjured the society of all men other than her patients and such of her professional confreres as she is obliged to consult or work with. Her theory is that of the beehive: drones for mates, workers for work. She adds, very decidedly, that she belongs to the latter division, and means to remain there permanently.
"NOTE (Mr. Keen's O.B., pp. 916-18).—Her eccentricity is probably the result of a fine, wholesome, highly strung young girl taking life and herself too seriously. The remedy will be the Right Man."
"Exactly," nodded Mr. Keen, joining the tips of his thin fingers and partly closing his eyes. "Now, Miss Smith, the disease which Dr. Hollis intends to make her specialty—have you any notes on that?"
"Here they are," said Miss Smith; and she read: "Lamour's Disease; the rarest of all known diseases; first discovered and described by Ero S. Lamour, M.D., M.S., F.B.A., M.F.H., in 1861. Only a single case has ever been observed. This case is fully described in Dr. Lamour's superb and monumental work in sixteen volumes. Briefly, the disease appears without any known cause, and is ultimately supposed to result fatally. The first symptom is the appearance of a faintly bluish circle under the eyes, as though the patient was accustomed to using the eyes too steadily at times. Sometimes a slight degree of fever accompanies this manifestation; pulse and temperature vary. The patient is apparently in excellent health, but liable to loss of appetite, restlessness, and a sudden flushing of the face. These symptoms are followed by others unmistakable: the patient becomes silent at times; at times evinces a weakness for sentimental expressions; flushes easily; is easily depressed; will sit for hours looking at one person; and, if not checked, will exhibit impulsive symptoms of affection for the opposite sex. The strangest symptom of all, however, is the physical change in the patient, whose features and figure, under the trained eye of the observer, gradually from day to day assume the symmetry and charm of a beauty almost unearthly, sometimes accompanied by a spiritual pallor which is unmistakable in confirming the diagnosis, and which, Dr. Lamour believes, presages the inexorable approach of immortality.
"There is no known remedy for Lamour's Disease. The only case on record is the case of the young lady described by Dr. Lamour, who watched her for years with unexampled patience and enthusiasm; finally, in the interest of science, marrying his patient in order to devote his life to a study of her symptoms. Unfortunately, some of these disappeared early—within a week—but the curious manifestation of physical beauty remained, and continued to increase daily to a dazzling radiance, with no apparent injury to the patient. Dr. Lamour, unfortunately, died before his investigations, covering over forty years, could be completed; his widow survived him for a day or two only, leaving sixteen children.
"Here is a wide and unknown field for medical men to investigate. It is safe to say that the physician who first discovers the bacillus of Lamour's Disease and the proper remedy to combat it will reap as his reward a glory and renown imperishable. Lamour's Disease is a disease not yet understood—a disease whose termination is believed to be fatal—a strange disease which seems to render radiant and beautiful the features of the patient, brightening them with the forewarning of impending death and the splendid resurrection of immortality."
The Tracer of Lost Persons caressed his chin reflectively. "Exactly, Miss Smith. So this is the disease which Dr. Hollis has chosen for her specialty. And only one case on record. Exactly. Thank you."
Miss Smith replaced the papers in the steel cylinder, slipped it into the pneumatic tube, sent it whizzing below to the safe-deposit vaults, and, saluting Mr. Keen with a pleasant inclination of her head, went out of the room.
The Tracer turned in his chair, picked up the daily detective report, and scanned it until he came to the name Hollis. It appeared that the daily routine of Rosalind Hollis had not varied during the past three weeks. In the mornings she was good to the poor with bottles and pills; in the afternoons she tucked one of Lamour's famous sixteen volumes under her arm and walked to Central Park, where, with democratic simplicity, she sat on a secluded bench and pored over the symptoms of Lamour's Disease. About five she retired to her severely simple apartments in the big brownstone office building devoted to physicians, corner of Fifty-eighth Street and Madison Avenue. Here she took tea, read a little, dined all alone, and retired about nine. This was the guileless but determined existence of Rosalind Hollis, M.D., according to McConnell, the detective assigned to observe her.
The Tracer refolded the report of his chief of detectives and pigeonholed it just as the door opened and a tall, well-built, attractive young man entered.
Shyness was written all over him; he offered his hand to Mr. Keen with an embarrassed air and seated himself at that gentleman's invitation.
"I'm almost sorry I ever began this sort of thing," he blurted out, like a big schoolboy appalled at his own misdemeanors. "The truth is, Mr. Keen, that the prospect of actually seeing a 'Carden Girl' alive has scared me through and through. I've a notion that my business with that sort of a girl ends when I've drawn her picture."
"But surely," said the Tracer mildly, "you have some natural curiosity to see the living copy of your charming but inanimate originals, haven't you, Mr. Carden?"
"Yes—oh, certainly. I'd like to see one of them alive—say out of a window, or from a cab. I should not care to be too close to her."
"But merely seeing her does not commit you," interposed Mr. Keen, smiling. "She is far too busy, too much absorbed in her own affairs to take any notice of you. I understand that she has something of an aversion for men."
"Well, she excludes them as unnecessary to her existence."
"Why?" asked Carden.
"Because she has a mission in life," said Mr. Keen gravely.
Carden looked out of the window. It was pleasant weather—June in all its early loveliness—the fifth day of June. The sixth was his birthday.
"I've simply got to marry somebody before the day after to-morrow," he said aloud—"that is, if I want my legacy."
"What!" demanded the Tracer sharply.
Carden turned, pink and guilty. "I didn't tell you all the circumstances of my case," he said. "I suppose I ought to have done so."
"Exactly," said the Tracer severely. "Why is it necessary that you marry somebody before the day after to-morrow?"
"Well, it's my twenty-fifth birthday—"
"Somebody has left you money on condition that you marry before your twenty-fifth birthday? Is that it, Mr. Carden? An uncle? An imbecile grandfather? A sentimental aunt?"
"My Aunt Tabby Van Beekman."
"Where is she?"
"In Trinity churchyard. It's too late to expostulate with her, you see. Besides, it wouldn't have done any good when she was alive."
The Tracer knitted his brows, musing, the points of his slim fingers joined.
"She was very proud, very autocratic," said Carden. "I am the last of my race and my aunt was determined that the race should not die out with me. I don't want to marry and increase, but she's trying to make me. At all events, I am not going to marry any woman inferior to the type I have created with my pencil—what the public calls the 'Carden Girl.' And now you see that your discovery of this living type comes rather late. In two days I must be legally married if I want my Aunt Tabby's legacy; and to-day for the first time I hear of a girl who, you assure me, compares favorably to my copyrighted type, but who has a mission and an aversion to men. So you see, Mr. Keen, that the matter is perfectly hopeless."
"I don't see anything of the kind," said Mr. Keen firmly.
"What?—do you believe there is any chance—"
"Of your falling in love within the next hour or so? Yes, I do. I think there is every chance of it. I am sure of it. But that is not the difficulty. The problem is far more complicated."
"Exactly; how to marry that girl before day after to-morrow. That's the problem, Mr. Carden!—not whether you are capable of falling in love with her. I have seen her; I know you can't avoid falling in love with her. Nobody could. I myself am on the verge of it; and I am fifty: you can't avoid loving her."
"If that were so," said Carden gravely; "if I were really going to fall in love with her—I would not care a rap about my Aunt Tabby and her money—"
"You ought to care about it for this young girl's sake. That legacy is virtually hers, not yours. She has a right to it. No man can ever give enough to the woman he loves; no man has ever done so. What she gives and what he gives are never a fair exchange. If you can balance the account in any measure, it is your duty to do it. Mr. Carden, if she comes to love you she may think it very fine that you bring to her your love, yourself, your fame, your talents, your success, your position, your gratifying income. But I tell you it's not enough to balance the account. It is never enough—no, not all your devotion to her included! You can never balance the account on earth—all you can do is to try to balance it materially and spiritually. Therefore I say, endow her with all your earthly goods. Give all you can in every way to lighten as much as possible man's hopeless debt to all women who have ever loved."
"You talk about it as though I were already committed," said Carden, astonished.
"You are, morally. For a month I have, without her knowledge, it is true, invaded the privacy of a very lovely young girl—studied her minutely, possessed myself of her history, informed myself of her habits. What excuse had I for this unless I desired her happiness and yours? Nobody could offer me any inducement to engage in such a practice unless I believed that the means might justify a moral conclusion. And the moral conclusion of this investigation is your marriage to her."
"Certainly," said Carden uneasily, "but how are we going to accomplish it by to-morrow? How is it going to be accomplished at all?"
The Tracer of Lost Persons rose and began to pace the long rug, clasping his hands behind his back. Minute after minute sped; Carden stared alternately at Mr. Keen and at the blue sky through the open window.
"It is seldom," said Mr. Keen with evident annoyance, "that I personally take any spectacular part in the actual and concrete demonstrations necessary to a successful conclusion of a client's case. But I've got to do it this time."
He went to a cupboard, picked out a gray wig and gray side whiskers and deliberately waved them at Carden.
"You see what these look like?" he demanded.
"Very well. It is now noon. Do you know the Park? Do you happen to recollect a shady turn in the path after you cross the bridge over the swan lake? Here; I'll draw it for you. Now, here is the lake; here's the esplanade and fountain, you see. Here's the path. You follow it—so!—around the lake, across the bridge, then following the lake to the right—so!—then up the wooded slope to the left—so! Now, here is a bench. I mark it Number One. She sits there with her book—there she is!"
"If she looks like that—" began Carden. And they both laughed with the slightest trace of excitement.
"Here is Bench Number Two!" resumed the Tracer. "Here you sit—and there you are!"
"Thanks," said Carden, laughing again.
"Now," continued the Tracer, "you must be there at one o'clock. She will be there at one-thirty, or earlier perhaps. A little later I will become benignly visible. Your part is merely a thinking part; you are to do nothing, say nothing, unless spoken to. And when you are spoken to you are to acquiesce in whatever anybody says to you, and you are to do whatever anybody requests you to do. And, above all, don't be surprised at anything that may happen. You'll be nervous enough; I expect that. You'll probably color up and flush and fidget; I expect that; I count on that. But don't lose your nerve entirely; and don't think of attempting to escape."
"Escape! From what? From whom?"
"Are you going to follow my instructions?" demanded the Tracer of Lost Persons.
"I—y-yes, of course."
"Very well, then, I am going to rub some of this under your eyes." And Mr. Keen produced a make-up box and, walking over to Carden, calmly darkened the skin under his eyes.
"I look as though I had been on a bat!" exclaimed Carden, surveying himself in a mirror. "Do you think any girl could find any attraction in such a countenance?"
"She will," observed the Tracer meaningly. "Now, Mr. Carden, one last word: The moment you find yourself in love with her, and the first moment you have the chance to do so decently, make love to her. She won't dismiss you; she will repulse you, of course, but she won't let you go. I know what I am saying; all I ask of you is to promise on your honor to carry out these instructions. Do you promise?"
"Then here is the map of the rendezvous which I have drawn. Be there promptly. Good morning."
At one o'clock that afternoon a young man earnestly consulting a map might have been seen pursuing his solitary way through Central Park. Fresh green foliage arched above him, flecking the path with fretted shadow and sunlight; the sweet odor of flowering shrubs saturated the air; the waters of the lake sparkled where swans swept to and fro, snowy wings spread like sails to the fitful June wind.
"This," he murmured, pausing at a shaded bend in the path, "must be Bench Number One. I am not to sit on that. This must be Bench Number Two. I am to sit on that. So here I am," he added nervously, seating himself and looking about him with the caution of a cat in a strange back yard.
There was nobody in sight. Reassured, he ventured to drop one knee over the other and lean upon his walking stick. For a few minutes he remained in this noncommittal attitude, alert at every sound, anxious, uncomfortable, dreading he knew not what. A big, fat, gray squirrel racing noisily across the fallen leaves gave him a shock. A number of birds came to look at him—or so it appeared to him, for in the inquisitive scrutiny of a robin he fancied he divined sardonic meaning, and in the blank yellow stare of a purple grackle, a sinister significance out of all proportion to the size of the bird.
"What an absurd position to be in!" he thought. And suddenly he was seized with a desire to flee.
He didn't because he had promised not to, but the desire persisted to the point of mania. Oh, how he could run if he only hadn't promised not to! His entire being tingled with the latent possibilities of a burst of terrific speed. He wanted to scuttle away like a scared rabbit. The pace of the kangaroo would be slow in comparison. What a record he could make if he hadn't promised not to.
He crossed his knees the other way and brooded. The gray squirrel climbed the bench and nosed his pockets for possible peanuts, then hopped off hopefully toward a distant nursemaid and two children.
Growing more alarmed every time he consulted his watch Carden attempted to stem his rising panic with logic and philosophy, repeating: "Steady! my son! Don't act like this! You're not obliged to marry her if you don't fall in love with her; and if you do, you won't mind marrying her. That is philosophy. That is logic. Oh, I wonder what will have happened to me by this time to-morrow! I wish it were this time to-morrow! I wish it were this time next month! Then it would be all over. Then it would be—"
His muttering speech froze on his lips. Rooted to his bench he sat staring at a distant figure approaching—the figure of a young girl in a summer gown.
Nearer, nearer she came, walking with a free-limbed, graceful step, head high, one arm clasping a book.
That was the way the girls he drew would have walked had they ever lived. Even in the midst of his fright his artist's eyes noted that: noted the perfect figure, too, and the witchery of its grace and contour, and the fascinating poise of her head, and the splendid color of her hair; noted mechanically the flowing lines of her gown, and the dainty modeling of arm and wrist and throat and ear.
Then, as she reached her bench and seated herself, she raised her eyes and looked at him. And for the first time in his life he realized that ideal beauty was but the pale phantom of the real and founded on something more than imagination and thought; on something of vaster import than fancy and taste and technical skill; that it was founded on Life itself—on breathing, living, palpitating, tremulous Life!—from which all true inspiration must come.
Over and over to himself he was repeating: "Of course, it is perfectly impossible that I can be in love already. Love doesn't happen between two ticks of a watch. I am merely amazed at that girl's beauty; that is all. I am merely astounded in the presence of perfection; that is all. There is nothing more serious the matter with me. It isn't necessary for me to continue to look at her; it isn't vital to my happiness if I never saw her again. . . . That is—of course, I should like to see her, because I never did see living beauty such as hers in any woman. Not even in my pictures. What superb eyes! What a fascinately delicate nose! What a nose! By Heaven, that nose is a nose! I'll draw noses that way in future. My pictures are all out of drawing; I must fit arms into their sockets the way hers fit! I must remember the modeling of her eyelids, too—and that chin! and those enchanting hands—"
She looked up leisurely from her book, surveyed him calmly, absent-eyed, then bent her head again to the reading.
"There is something the matter with me," he thought with a suppressed gulp. "I—if she looks at me again—with those iris-hued eyes of a young goddess—I—I think I'm done for. I believe I'm done for anyway. It seems rather mad to think it. But there is something the matter—"
She deliberately looked at him again.
"It's all wrong for them to let loose a girl like that on people," he thought to himself, "all wrong. Everybody is bound to go mad over her. I'm going now. I'm mad already. I know I am, which proves I'm no lunatic. It isn't her beauty; it's the way she wears it—every motion, every breath of her. I know exactly what her voice is like. Anybody who looks into her eyes can see what her soul is like. She isn't out of drawing anywhere—physically or spiritually. And when a man sees a girl like that, why—why there's only one thing that can happen to him as far as I can see. And it doesn't take a year either. Heavens! How awfully remote from me she seems to be."
She looked up again, calmly, but not at him. A kindly, gray-whiskered old gentleman came tottering and rocking into view, his rosy, wrinkled face beaming benediction on the world as he passed through it—on the sunshine dappling the undergrowth, on the furry squirrels sitting up on their hind legs to watch him pass, on the stray dickybird that hopped fearlessly in his path, at the young man sitting very rigid there on his bench, at the fair, sweet-faced girl who met his aged eyes with the gentlest of involuntary smiles. And Carden did not recognize him!
Who could help smiling confidently into that benign face, with its gray hair and gray whiskers? Goodness radiated from every wrinkle.
"Dr. Atwood!" exclaimed the girl softly as she rose to meet this marvelous imitation of Dr. Austin Atwood, the great specialist on children's diseases.
The old man beamed weakly at her, halted, still beaming, fumbled for his eyeglasses, adjusted them, and peered closely into her face.
"Bless my soul," he smiled, "our pretty Dr. Hollis!"
"I—I did not suppose you would remember me," she said, rosy with pleasure.
"Remember you? Surely, surely." He made her a quaint, old-fashioned bow, turned, and peeped across the walk at Carden. And Carden, looking straight into his face, did not know the old man, who turned to Dr. Hollis again with many mysterious nods of his doddering head.
"You're watching him, too, are you?" he chuckled, leaning toward her.
"Watching whom, Dr. Atwood?" she asked surprised.
"Hush, child! I thought you had noticed that unfortunate and afflicted young man opposite."
Dr. Hollis looked curiously at Carden, then at the old gentleman with gray whiskers.
"Please sit down, Dr. Atwood, and tell me," she murmured. "I have noticed nothing in particular about the young man on the bench there." And she moved to give him room; and the young man opposite stared at them both as though bereft of reason.