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He was thirty-three, agreeable to look at, equipped with as much culture and intelligence as is tolerated east of Fifth Avenue and west of Madison. He had a couple of elaborate rooms at the Lenox Club, a larger income than seemed to be good for him, and no profession. It follows that he was a pessimist before breakfast. Besides, it's a bad thing for a man at thirty-three to come to the conclusion that he has seen all the most attractive girls in the world and that they have been vastly overrated. So, when a club servant with gilt buttons on his coat tails knocked at the door, the invitation to enter was not very cordial. He of the buttons knocked again to take the edge off before he entered; then opened the door and unburdened himself as follows: "Mr. Gatewood, sir, Mr. Kerns's compliments, and wishes to know if 'e may 'ave 'is coffee served at your tyble, sir." Gatewood, before the mirror, gave a vicious twist to his tie, inserted a pearl scarf pin, and regarded the effect with gloomy approval. "Say to Mr. Kerns that I am-flattered," he replied morosely; "and tell Henry I want him." "'Enry, sir? Yes, sir." The servant left; one of the sleek club valets came in, softly sidling. "Henry!" "Sir?" "I'll wear a white waistcoat, if you don't object." The valet laid out half a dozen. "Which one do you usually wear when I'm away, Henry? Which is your favorite?" "Sir?" "Pick it out and don't look injured, and don't roll up your eyes. I merely desire to borrow it for one day." "Very good, sir." "And, Henry, hereafter always help yourself to my best cigars. Those I smoke may injure you. I've attempted to conceal the keys, but you will, of course, eventually discover them under that loose tile on the hearth." "Yes, sir; thanky', sir," returned the valet gravely. "And-Henry!" "Sir?" with martyred dignity. "When you are tired of searching for my olivine and opal pin, just find it, for a change. I'd like to wear that pin for a day or two if it would not inconvenience you." "Very good, sir; I will 'unt it hup, sir." Gatewood put on his coat, took hat and gloves from the unabashed valet, and sauntered down to the sunny breakfast room, where he found Kerns inspecting a morning paper and leisurely consuming grapefruit with a cocktail on the side...
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HE WAS THIRTY-THREE, AGREEABLE to look at, equipped with as much culture and intelligence as is tolerated east of Fifth Avenue and west of Madison. He had a couple of elaborate rooms at the Lenox Club, a larger income than seemed to be good for him, and no profession. It follows that he was a pessimist before breakfast. Besides, it’s a bad thing for a man at thirty-three to come to the conclusion that he has seen all the most attractive girls in the world and that they have been vastly overrated. So, when a club servant with gilt buttons on his coat tails knocked at the door, the invitation to enter was not very cordial. He of the buttons knocked again to take the edge off before he entered; then opened the door and unburdened himself as follows:
“Mr. Gatewood, sir, Mr. Kerns’s compliments, and wishes to know if ‘e may ‘ave ‘is coffee served at your tyble, sir.”
Gatewood, before the mirror, gave a vicious twist to his tie, inserted a pearl scarf pin, and regarded the effect with gloomy approval.
“Say to Mr. Kerns that I am—flattered,” he replied morosely; “and tell Henry I want him.”
“‘Enry, sir? Yes, sir.”
The servant left; one of the sleek club valets came in, softly sidling.
“I’ll wear a white waistcoat, if you don’t object.”
The valet laid out half a dozen.
“Which one do you usually wear when I’m away, Henry? Which is your favorite?”
“Pick it out and don’t look injured, and don’t roll up your eyes. I merely desire to borrow it for one day.”
“Very good, sir.”
“And, Henry, hereafter always help yourself to my best cigars. Those I smoke may injure you. I’ve attempted to conceal the keys, but you will, of course, eventually discover them under that loose tile on the hearth.”
“Yes, sir; thanky’, sir,” returned the valet gravely.
“Sir?” with martyred dignity.
“When you are tired of searching for my olivine and opal pin, just find it, for a change. I’d like to wear that pin for a day or two if it would not inconvenience you.”
“Very good, sir; I will ‘unt it hup, sir.”
Gatewood put on his coat, took hat and gloves from the unabashed valet, and sauntered down to the sunny breakfast room, where he found Kerns inspecting a morning paper and leisurely consuming grapefruit with a cocktail on the side.
“Hullo,” observed Kerns briefly.
“I’m not on the telephone,” snapped Gatewood.
“I beg your pardon; how are you, dear friend?”
“I don’t know how I am,” retorted Gatewood irritably; “how the devil should a man know how he is?”
“Everything going to the bowwows, as usual, dear friend?”
“As usual. Oh, read your paper, Tommy! You know well enough I’m not one of those tail-wagging imbeciles who wakes up in the morning singing like a half-witted lark. Why should I, with this taste in my mouth, and the laundress using vitriol, and Henry sneering at my cigars?” He yawned and cast his eyes toward the ceiling. “Besides, there’s too much gilt all over this club! There’s too much everywhere. Half the world is stucco, the rest rococo. Where’s that Martini I bid for?”
Kerns, undisturbed, applied himself to cocoa and toasted muffins. Grapefruit and an amber-tinted accessory were brought for the other and sampled without mirth. However, a little later Gatewood said: “Well, are you going to read your paper all day?”
“What you need,” said Kerns, laying the paper aside, “is a job—any old kind would do, dear friend.”
“I don’t want to make any more money.”
“I don’t want you to. I mean a job where you’d lose a lot and be scared into thanking Heaven for carfare. You’re a nice object for the breakfast table!”
“Bridge. I will be amiable enough by noon time.”
“Yes, you’re endurable by noon time, as a rule. When you’re forty you may be tolerated after five o’clock; when you’re fifty your wife and children might even venture to emerge from the cellar after dinner—”
“I said wife,” replied Kerns, as he calmly watched his man.
He had managed it well, so far, and he was wise enough not to overdo it. An interval of silence was what the situation required.
“I wish I had a wife,” muttered Gatewood after a long pause.
“Oh, haven’t you said that every day for five years? Wife! Look at the willing assortment of dreams playing Sally Waters around town. Isn’t this borough a bower of beauty—a flowery thicket where the prettiest kind in all the world grow under glass or outdoors? And what do you do? You used to pretend to prowl about inspecting the yearly crop of posies, growling, cynical, dissatisfied; but you’ve even given that up. Now you only point your nose skyward and squall for a mate, and yowl mournfully that you never have seen your ideal. I know you.”
“I never have seen my ideal,” retorted Gatewood sulkily, “but I know she exists—somewhere between heaven and Hoboken.”
“You’re sure, are you?”
“Oh, I’m sure. And, rich or poor, good or bad, she was fashioned for me alone. That’s a theory of mine; you needn’t accept it; in fact, it’s none of your business, Tommy.”
“All the same,” insisted Kerns, “did you ever consider that if your ideal does exist somewhere, it is morally up to you to find her?”
“Haven’t I inspected every débutante for ten years? You don’t expect me to advertise for an ideal, do you—object, matrimony?”
Kerns regarded him intently. “Now, I’m going to make a vivid suggestion, Jack. In fact, that’s why I subjected myself to the ordeal of breakfasting with you. It’s none of my business, as you so kindly put it, but—shall I suggest something?”
“Go ahead,” replied Gatewood, tranquilly lighting a cigarette. “I know what you’ll say.”
“No, you don’t. Firstly, you are having such a good time in this world that you don’t really enjoy yourself—isn’t that so?”
“I—well I—well, let it go at that.”
“Secondly, with all your crimes and felonies, you have one decent trait left: you really would like to fall in love. And I suspect you’d even marry.”
“There are grounds,” said Gatewood guardedly, “for your suspicions. Et après?“
“Good. Then there’s a way! I know—”
“Oh, don’t tell me you ‘know a girl,’ or anything like that!” began Gatewood sullenly. “I’ve heard that before, and I won’t meet her.”
“I don’t want you to; I don’t know anybody. All I desire to say is this: I do know a way. The other day I noticed a sign on Fifth Avenue:
KEEN & CO.
TRACERS OF LOST PERSONS
It was a most extraordinary sign; and having a little unemployed imagination I began to speculate on how Keen & Co. might operate, and I wondered a little, too, that, the conditions of life in this city could enable a firm to make a living by devoting itself exclusively to the business of hunting up missing people.”
Kerns paused, partly to light a cigarette, partly for diplomatic reasons.
“What has all this to do with me?” inquired Gatewood curiously; and diplomacy scored one.
“Why not try Keen & Co.?”
“Try them? Why? I haven’t lost anybody, have I?”
“You haven’t, precisely lost anybody, but the fact remains that you can’t find somebody,” returned Kerns coolly. “Why not employ Keen & Co. to look for her?”
“Look for whom, in Heaven’s name?”
“Look for—for my ideal! Kerns, you’re crazy. How the mischief can anybody hunt for somebody who doesn’t exist?”
“You say that she does exist.”
“But I can’t prove it, man.”
“You don’t have to; it’s up to Keen & Co. to prove it. That’s why you employ them.”
“What wild nonsense you talk! Keen & Co. might, perhaps, be able to trace the concrete, but how are they going to trace and find the abstract?”
“She isn’t abstract; she is a lovely, healthy, and youthful concrete object—if, as you say, she does exist.”
“How can I prove she exists?”
“You don’t have to; they do that.”
“Look here,” said Gatewood almost angrily, “do you suppose that if I were ass enough to go to these people and tell them that I wanted to find my ideal—”
“Don’t tell them that!”
“There is no necessity for going into such trivial details. All you need say is: ‘I am very anxious to find a young lady’—and then describe her as minutely as you please. Then, when they locate a girl of that description they’ll notify you; you will go, judge for yourself whether she is the one woman on earth—and, if disappointed, you need only shake your head and murmur: ‘Not the same!’ And it’s for them to find another.”
“I won’t do it!” said Gatewood hotly.
“Why not? At least, it would be amusing. You haven’t many mental resources, and it might occupy you for a week or two.”
“You have a pleasant way of putting things this morning, haven’t you?”
“I don’t want to be pleasant: I want to jar you. Don’t I care enough about you to breakfast with you? Then I’ve a right to be pleasantly unpleasant. I can’t bear to watch your mental and spiritual dissolution—a man like you, with all your latent ability and capacity for being nobody in particular—which is the sort of man this nation needs. Do you want to turn into a club-window gazer like Van Bronk? Do you want to become another Courtlandt Allerton and go rocking down the avenue—a grimacing, tailor-made sepulcher?—the pompous obsequies of a dead intellect?—a funeral on two wavering legs, carrying the corpse of all that should be deathless in a man? Why, Jack, I’d rather see you in bankruptcy—I’d rather see you trying to lead a double life in a single flat on seven dollars and a half a week—I’d almost rather see you every day at breakfast than have it come to that!
“Wake up and get jocund with life! Why, you could have all good citizens stung to death if you chose. It isn’t that I want you to make money; but I want you to worry over somebody besides yourself—not in Wall Street—a pool and its money are soon parted. But in your own home, where a beautiful wife and seven angel children have you dippy and close to the ropes; where the housekeeper gets a rake off, and the cook is red-headed and comes from Sligo, and the butler’s cousin will bear watching, and the chauffeur is a Frenchman, and the coachman’s uncle is a Harlem vet, and every scullion in the establishment lies, drinks, steals, and supports twenty satiated relatives at your expense. That would mean the making of you; for, after all, Jack, you are no genius—you’re a plain, non-partisan, uninspired, clean-built, wholesome citizen, thank God!—the sort whose unimaginative mission is to pitch in with eighty-odd millions of us and, like the busy coral creatures, multiply with all your might, and make this little old Republic the greatest, biggest, finest article that an overworked world has ever yet put up! . . . Now you can call for help if you choose.”
Gatewood’s breath returned slowly. In an intimacy of many years he had never suspected that sort of thing from Kerns. That is why, no doubt, the opinions expressed by Kerns stirred him to an astonishment too innocent to harbor anger or chagrin.
And when Kerns stood up with an unembarrassed laugh, saying, “I’m going to the office; see you this evening?” Gatewood replied rather vacantly: “Oh, yes; I’m dining here. Good-by, Tommy.”
Kerns glanced at his watch, lingering. “Was there anything you wished to ask me, Jack?” he inquired guilelessly.
“Ask you? No, I don’t think so.”
“Oh; I had an idea you might care to know where Keen & Co. were to be found.”
“That,” said Gatewood firmly, “is foolish.”
“I’ll write the address for you, anyway,” rejoined Kerns, scribbling it and handing the card to his friend.
Then he went down the stairs, several at a time, eased in conscience, satisfied that he had done his duty by a friend he cared enough for to breakfast with.
“Of course,” he ruminated as he crawled into a hansom and lay back buried in meditation—"of course there may be nothing in this Keen & Co. business. But it will stir him up and set him thinking; and the longer Keen & Co. take to hunt up an imaginary lady that doesn’t exist, the more anxious and impatient poor old Jack Gatewood will become, until he’ll catch the fever and go cantering about with that one fixed idea in his head. And,” added Kerns softly, “no New Yorker in his right mind can go galloping through these five boroughs very long before he’s roped, tied, and marked by the ‘only girl in the world’—the only girl—if you don’t care to turn around and look at another million girls precisely like her. O Lord!—precisely like her!”
Here was a nice exhorter to incite others to matrimony.
MEANWHILE, GATEWOOD WAS WALKING along Fifth Avenue, more or less soothed by the May sunshine. First, he went to his hatters, looked at straw hats, didn’t like them, protested, and bought one, wishing he had strength of mind enough to wear it home. But he hadn’t. Then he entered the huge white marble palace of his jeweler, left his watch to be regulated, caught a glimpse of a girl whose hair and neck resembled the hair and neck of his ideal, sidled around until he discovered that she was chewing gum, and backed off, with a bitter smile, into the avenue once more.
Every day for years he had had glimpses of girls whose hair, hands, figures, eyes, hats, carriage, resembled the features required by his ideal; there always was something wrong somewhere. And, as he strolled moodily, a curious feeling of despair seized him—something that, even in his most sentimental moments, even amid the most unexpected disappointment, he had never before experienced.
“I do want to love somebody!” he found himself saying half aloud; “I want to marry; I—” He turned to look after three pretty children with their maids—"I want several like those—several!—seven—ten—I don’t care how many! I want a house to worry me, just as Tommy described it; I want to see the same girl across the breakfast table—or she can sip her cocoa in bed if she desires—” A slow, modest blush stole over his features; it was one of the nicest things he ever did. Glancing up, he beheld across the way a white sign, ornamented with strenuous crimson lettering:
KEEN & CO.
TRACERS OF LOST PERSONS
The moment he discovered it, he realized he had been covertly hunting for it; he also realized that he was going to climb the stairs. He hadn’t quite decided what he meant to do after that; nor was his mind clear on the matter when he found himself opening a door of opaque glass on which was printed in red:
KEEN & CO.
He was neither embarrassed nor nervous when he found himself in a big carpeted anteroom where a negro attendant bowed him to a seat and took his card; and he looked calmly around to see what was to be seen.
Several people occupied easy chairs in various parts of the room—an old woman very neatly dressed, clutching in her withered hand a photograph which she studied and studied with tear-dimmed eyes; a young man wearing last year’s most fashionable styles in everything except his features: and soap could have aided him there; two policemen, helmets resting on their knees; and, last of all, a rather thin child of twelve, staring open-mouthed at everybody, a bundle of soiled clothing under one arm. Through an open door he saw a dozen young women garbed in black, with white cuffs and collars, all rattling away steadily at typewriters. Every now and then, from some hidden office, a bell rang decisively, and one of the girls would rise from her machine and pass noiselessly out of sight to obey the summons. From time to time, too, the darky servant with marvelous manners would usher somebody through the room where the typewriters were rattling, into the unseen office. First the old woman went—shakily, clutching her photograph; then the thin child with the bundle, staring at everything; then the two fat policemen, in portentous single file, helmets in their white-gloved hands, oiled hair glistening.
Gatewood’s turn was approaching; he waited without any definite emotion, watching newcomers enter to take the places of those who had been summoned. He hadn’t the slightest idea of what he was to say; nor did it worry him. A curious sense of impending good fortune left him pleasantly tranquil; he picked up, from the silver tray on the table at his elbow, one of the firm’s business cards, and scanned it with interest:
KEEN & CO.
TRACERS OF LOST PERSONS
Keen & Co. are prepared to locate the whereabouts of anybody on earth. No charges will be made unless the person searched for is found.
Blanks on application.
WESTREL KEEN, Manager.
“Mistuh Keen will see you, suh,” came a persuasive voice at his elbow; and he rose and followed the softly moving colored servant out of the room, through a labyrinth of demure young women at their typewriters, then sharply to the right and into a big, handsomely furnished office, where a sleepy-looking elderly gentleman rose from an armchair and bowed. There could not be the slightest doubt that he was a gentleman; every movement, every sound he uttered, settled the fact.
“Mr. Gatewood?"—with a quiet certainty which had its charm. “This is very good of you.”
Gatewood sat down and looked at his host. Then he said: “I’m searching for somebody, Mr. Keen, whom you are not likely to find.”
“I doubt it,” said Keen pleasantly.
Gatewood smiled. “If,” he said, “you will undertake to find the person I cannot find, I must ask you to accept a retainer.”
“We don’t require retainers,” replied Keen. “Unless we find the person sought for, we make no charges, Mr. Gatewood.”
“I must ask you to do so in my case. It is not fair that you should undertake it on other terms. I desire to make a special arrangement with you. Do you mind?”
“What arrangement had you contemplated?” inquired Keen, amused.
“Only this: charge me in advance exactly what you would charge if successful. And, on the other hand, do not ask me for detailed information—I mean, do not insist on any information that I decline to give. Do you mind taking up such an extraordinary and unbusinesslike proposition, Mr. Keen?”
The Tracer of Lost Persons looked up sharply:
“About how much information do you decline to give, Mr. Gatewood?”
“About enough to incriminate and degrade,” replied the young man, laughing.
The elderly gentleman sat silent, apparently buried in meditation. Once or twice his pleasant steel-gray eyes wandered over Gatewood as an expert, a connoisseur, glances at a picture and assimilates its history, its value, its artistic merit, its every detail in one practiced glance.
“I think we may take up this matter for you, Mr. Gatewood,” he said, smiling his singularly agreeable smile.
“But—but you would first desire to know something about me—would you not?”
Keen looked at him: “You will not mistake me—you will consider it entirely inoffensive—if I say that I know something about you, Mr. Gatewood?”
“About me? How can you? Of course, there is the social register and the club lists and all that—”
“And many, many sources of information which are necessary in such a business as this, Mr. Gatewood. It is a necessity for us to be almost as well informed as our clients’ own lawyers. I could pay you no sincerer compliment than to undertake your case. I am half inclined to do so even without a retainer. Mind, I haven’t yet said that I will take it.”
“I prefer to regulate any possible indebtedness in advance,” said Gatewood.
“As you wish,” replied the older man, smiling. “In that case, suppose you draw your check” (he handed Gatewood a fountain pen as the young man fished a check-book from his pocket)—"your check for—well, say for $5,000, to the order of Keen & Co.”
Gatewood met his eye without wincing; he was in for it now; and he was always perfectly game. He had brought it upon himself; it was his own proposition. Not that he would have for a moment considered the sum as high—or any sum exorbitant—if there had been a chance of success; one cannot compare and weigh such matters. But how could there be any chance for success?
As he slowly smoothed out the check and stub, pen poised, Keen was saying: “Of course, we should succeed sooner or later—if we took up your case. We might succeed to-morrow—to-day. That would mean a large profit for us. But we might not succeed to-day, or next month, or even next year. That would leave us little or no profit; and, as it is our custom to go on until we do succeed, no matter how long it may require, you see, Mr. Gatewood, I should be taking all sorts of chances. It might even cost us double your retainer before we found her—”
“Her? How did—why do you say ‘her‘?”
“Am I wrong?” asked Keen, smiling.
“No—you are right.”
The Tracer of Lost Persons sank into abstraction again. Gatewood waited, hoping that his case might be declined, yet ready to face any music started at his own request.
“She is young,” mused Keen aloud, “very beautiful and accomplished. Is she wealthy?” He looked up mildly.
Gatewood said: “I don’t know—the truth is I don’t care—” And stopped.
“O-ho!” mused Keen slowly. “I—think—I understand. Am I wrong, Mr. Gatewood, in surmising that this young lady whom you seek is, in your eyes, very—I may say ideally gifted?”
“She is my ideal,” replied the young man, coloring.
“Exactly. And—her general allure?”
“Exactly; but to be a trifle more precise—if you could give me a sketch, an idea, a mere outline delicately tinted, now. Is she more blond than brunette?”
“Yes—but her eyes are brown. I—I insist on that.”
“Why should you not? You know her; I don’t,” said Keen, laughing. “I merely wished to form a mental picture. . . . You say her hair is—is—”
“It’s full of sunny color; that’s all I can say.”
“Exactly—I see. A rare and lovely combination with brown eyes and creamy skin, Mr. Gatewood. I fancy she might be, perhaps, an inch or two under your height?”
“Just about that. Her hands should be—are beautiful—”
“Exactly. The ensemble is most vividly portrayed, Mr. Gatewood; and—you have intimated that her lack of fortune—er—we might almost say her pecuniary distress—is more than compensated for by her accomplishments, character, and very unusual beauty. . . . Did I so understand you, Mr. Gatewood?”
“That’s what I meant, anyhow,” he said, flushing up.
“You did mean it?”
“I did: I do.”
“Then we take your case, Mr. Gatewood. . . . No haste about the check, my dear sir—pray consider us at your service.”
But Gatewood doggedly filled in the check and handed it to the Tracer of Lost Persons.
“I wish you happiness,” said the older man in a low voice. “The lady you describe exists; it is for us to discover her.”
“Thank you,” stammered Gatewood, astounded.
Keen touched an electric button; a moment later a young girl entered the room.
“Miss Southerland, Mr. Gatewood. Will you be kind enough to take Mr. Gatewood’s dictation in Room 19?”
For a second Gatewood stared—as though in the young girl before him the ghost of his ideal had risen to confront him—only for a second; then he bowed, matching her perfect acknowledgment of his presence by a bearing and courtesy which must have been inbred to be so faultless.
And he followed her to Room 19.
What had Keen meant by saying, “The lady you describe exists!” Did this remarkable elderly gentleman suspect that it was to be a hunt for an ideal? Had he deliberately entered into such a bargain? Impossible!
His disturbed thoughts reverted to the terms of the bargain, the entire enterprise, the figures on his check. His own amazing imbecility appalled him. What idiocy! What sudden madness had seized him to entangle himself in such unheard-of negotiations! True, he had played bridge until dawn the night before, but, on awaking, he had discovered no perceptible hold-over. It must have been sheer weakness of intellect that permitted him to be dominated by the suggestions of Kerns. And now the game was on: the jack declared, cards dealt, and his ante was up. Had he openers?
Room 19, duly labeled with its number on the opaque glass door, contained a desk, a table and typewriter, several comfortable chairs, and a window opening on Fifth Avenue, through which the eastern sun poured a stream of glory, washing curtain, walls, and ceiling with palest gold.
And all this time, preoccupied with new impressions and his own growing chagrin, he watched the girl who conducted him with all the unconscious assurance and grace of a young chatelaine passing through her own domain under escort of a distinguished guest.
When they had entered Room 19, she half turned, but he forestalled her and closed the door, and she passed before him with a perceptible inclination of her finely modeled head, seating herself at the desk by the open window. He took an armchair at her elbow and removed his gloves, looking at her expectantly.
“THIS IS A LIST of particular and general questions for you to answer, Mr. Gatewood,” she said, handing him a long slip of printed matter. “The replies to such questions as you are able or willing to answer you may dictate to me.” The beauty of her modulated voice was scarcely a surprise—no woman who moved and carried herself as did this tall young girl in black and white could reasonably be expected to speak with less distinction—yet the charm of her voice, from the moment her lips unclosed, so engrossed him that the purport of her speech escaped him.
“Would you mind saying it once more?” he asked.
She did so; he attempted to concentrate his attention, and succeeded sufficiently to look as though some vestige of intellect remained in him. He saw her pick up a pad and pencil; the contour and grace of two deliciously fashioned hands arrested his mental process once more.
“I beg your pardon,” he said hastily; “what were you saying, Miss Southerland?”
“Nothing, Mr. Gatewood. I did not speak.” And he realized, hazily, that she had not spoken—that it was the subtle eloquence of her youth and loveliness that had appealed like a sudden voice—a sound faintly exquisite echoing his own thought of her.
Troubled, he looked at the slip of paper in his hand; it was headed:
SPECIAL DESCRIPTION BLANK
And he read it as carefully as he was able to—the curious little clamor of his pulses, the dazed sense of elation, almost of expectation, distracting his attention all the time.
“I wish you would read it to me,” he said; “that would give me time to think up answers.”
“If you wish,” she assented pleasantly, swinging around toward him in her desk chair. Then she crossed one knee over the other to support the pad, and, bending above it, lifted her brown eyes. She could have done nothing in the world more distracting at that moment.
“What is the sex of the person you desire to find, Mr. Gatewood?”
“Her sex? I—well, I fancy it is feminine.”
She wrote after “Sex” the words “She is probably feminine”; looked at him absently, glanced at what she had written, flushed a little, rubbed out the “she is probably,” wondering why a moment’s mental wandering should have committed her to absurdity.
“Married?” she asked with emphasis.
“No,” he replied, startled; then, vexed, “I beg your pardon—you mean to ask if she is married!”
“Oh, I didn’t mean you, Mr. Gatewood; it’s the next question, you see"—she held out the blank toward him. “Is the person you are looking for married?”
“Oh, no; she isn’t married, either—at least—trust—not—because if she is I don’t want to find her!” he ended, entangled in an explanation which threatened to involve him deeper than he desired. And, looking up, he saw the beautiful brown eyes regarding him steadily. They reverted to the paper at once, and the white fingers sent the pencil flying.
“He trusts that she is unmarried, but if she is (underlined) married he doesn’t want to find her,” she wrote.
“That,” she explained, “goes under the head of ‘General Remarks’ at the bottom of the page"—she held it out, pointing with her pencil. He nodded, staring at her slender hand.
“Age?” she continued, setting the pad firmly on her rounded, yielding knee and looking up at him.
“Age? Well, I—as a matter of fact, I could only venture a surmise. You know,” he said earnestly, “how difficult it is to guess ages, don’t you, Miss Southerland?”
“How old do you think she is? Could you not hazard a guess—judging, say, from her appearance?”
“I have no data—no experience to guide me.” He was becoming involved again. “Would you, for practice, permit me first to guess your age, Miss Southerland?”
“Why—yes—if you think that might help you to guess hers.”
So he leaned back in his armchair and considered her a very long time—having a respectable excuse to do so. Twenty times he forgot he was looking at her for any purpose except that of disinterested delight, and twenty times he remembered with a guilty wince that it was a matter of business.
“Perhaps I had better tell you,” she suggested, her color rising a little under his scrutiny.
“Is it eighteen? Just her age!”
“Twenty-one, Mr. Gatewood—and you said you didn’t know her age.”
“I have just remembered that I thought it might be eighteen; but I dare say I was shy three years in her case, too. You may put it down at twenty-one.”
For the slightest fraction of a second the brown eyes rested on his, the pencil hovered in hesitation. Then the eyes fell, and the moving fingers wrote.
“Did you write ‘twenty-one’?” he inquired carelessly.
“I did not, Mr. Gatewood.”
“What did you write?”
“I wrote: ‘He doesn’t appear to know much about her age.’”
“But I do know—”
“You said—” They looked at one another earnestly.
“The next question,” she continued with composure, “is: ‘Date and place of birth?’ Can you answer any part of that question?”
“I trust I may be able to—some day. . . . What are you writing?”
“I’m writing: ‘He trusts he may be able to, some day.’ Wasn’t that what you said?”
“Yes, I did say that. I—I’m not perfectly sure what I meant by it.”
She passed to the next question:
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