Chapter I. One Fleeting Vision
 

It all happened in less than two minutes, and yet in that brief space of time his entire outlook upon life was changed. He saw her across the street standing upon the edge of the sidewalk facing the throng of teams and motors that were surging by. She had evidently attempted to cross, but had hurriedly retreated owing to the tremendous crush of traffic. The gleam of the large electric light nearby brought into clear relief a face of more than ordinary charm and beauty. But that which appealed so strongly to the young man was the mingled expression of surprise, fear and defiance depicted upon her countenance. It strangely affected him, and he was on the point of springing forward to offer his assistance when she suddenly disappeared, swallowed up in the great tide of humanity.

For a few minutes the young man stood perfectly still, gazing intently upon the spot where the girl had been standing, hoping to see her reappear. He could not account for the feeling that had swept upon him at the sight of that face. It was but one of the thousands he daily beheld, yet it alone stirred him to his inmost depths. A few minutes before he had been walking along the street without any definite aim in life, listless and almost cynical. But now a desire possessed him to be up and doing, to follow after the fair vision which had so unexpectedly appeared. Who could she be, and where was she going? Should he ever see her again, and if he did would he have the slightest chance of meeting and talking with her?

These thoughts occupied his mind as he continued on his way. He walked erect now, with shoulders thrown back, and with a more buoyant step than he had taken in many a day. His blood tingled and his eyes glowed with a new-found light. He felt much of the old thrill that had animated him at the beginning of the Great War, and had sent him overseas to take his part in the titanic struggle. An overmastering urge had then swept upon him, compelling him to abandon all on behalf of the mighty cause. It was his nature, and the leopard could no more change its spots than could Tom Reynolds overcome the influence of a gripping desire. Ever since childhood thought and action had always been welded in the strong clear heat of an overwhelming purpose. It had caused him considerable trouble, but at the same time it had carried him through many a difficult undertaking that had daunted other men. It was only the afterwards that affected him, the depression, when the objective had been attained. So for months after the war ended his life had seemed of no avail, and he found it impossible to settle comfortably back into the grooves of civilian life in a bustling, thriving city. Everything seemed tame and insignificant after what he had experienced overseas. Time instead of lessening had only increased this feeling, until Reynolds believed that he could no longer endure the prosaic life of the city. Such was the state of his mind when he beheld the face across the street, which in some mysterious manner gave him a sudden impulse and a new outlook upon the world. After a short quick walk, he turned into a side street and stopped at length before a building from which extended a large electric sign, bearing the words Telegram and Evening News. He entered, and at once made his way through several rooms until he reached the editorial office at the back of the building. The door was open, and seated at the desk was an elderly man, busily writing. He looked up as Reynolds appeared, and a smile illumined his face.

"You are back early, Tom. Found something special?"

"Yes," Reynolds replied as he sat down upon the only vacant chair the office contained. "But nothing for publication."

The editor pushed back his papers, swung himself around in his chair and faced the visitor.

"What is it, Tom?" he asked. "You look more animated than I have seen you for many a day. What has come over you? What is the special something you have found?"

"Myself."

"Yourself!"

"That's just it. I'm through with this job."

The editor eyed the young man curiously yet sympathetically. He was to him as a son, and he had done everything in his power to help him since his return from the war. But he was well aware that Reynolds was not happy, and that newspaper work was proving most uncongenial.

"Where are you going, Tom, and what are you going to do?" he presently asked.

"I have not the slightest idea, sir. But I must get away from this hum-drum existence. It is killing me by inches. I need adventure, life in the open, where a man can breathe freely and do as he likes."

"Haven't you done about as you like, Tom, since you came home? I promised your father on his death-bed that I would look after you, and I have tried to do so in every possible way. I sincerely hoped that your present work would suit you better than in an office. You are free to roam where you will, and whatever adventure has taken place in this city during the past six months you were in the midst of it, and wrote excellent reports, too."

"I know that, sir, and I feel deeply indebted to you for what you have done. But what does it all amount to? What interest do I take in trouble along the docks, a fight between a couple of toughs in some dark alley, or a fashionable wedding in one of the big churches? Bah! I am sick of them all, and the sooner I get away the better."

Reynolds produced a cigarette, lighted it and threw the match upon the floor. From the corner of his eye he watched the editor as he toyed thoughtfully with his pen. This man was nearer to him than anyone else in the world, and he was afraid that he had annoyed him by his plain outspoken words.

"And you say you have nothing in view?" the editor at length enquired.

"Nothing. Can you suggest anything? Something that will tax all my energy of mind and body. That is what I want. I hope you do not misunderstand me, sir. I do not wish to seem ungrateful for what you have done."

"I do understand you, Tom, and were I in your position, and of your age, I might feel the same. But what about your painting? Have you lost all interest in that? When you were in France you often wrote what impressions you were getting, and how much you intended to do when you came home."

"I have done very little at that, and the sketches I made are still uncompleted. Some day I may do something, but not now."

"You certainly have lost all interest, Tom, in the things that once gave you so much pleasure."

"It is only too true, although I have honestly tried to return to the old ways. But I must have a fling at something else to get this restless feeling out of my system. What do you suggest! Perhaps it is only a thrashing I need. That does children good sometimes."

The editor smiled as he pulled out a drawer in his desk, and brought forth a fair-sized scrapbook. He slowly turned the pages and stopped at length where a large newspaper clipping had been carefully pasted.

"I do not think you need a thrashing, Tom," he began. "But I believe I can suggest something better than that. Here is an entry I made in this book over fifteen years ago, and the story it contains appeals strongly to me now. I read it at least once a year, and it has been the cause of many a day-dream to me, and night-dream as well, for that matter. Did you ever hear of the mysterious disappearance of Henry Redmond, the wealthy merchant of this city? But I suppose not, as you were young at the time."

"No, I never heard of him," Reynolds acknowledged. "Was he killed?"

"Oh, no. He merely disappeared, and left no trace at all. That was, as I have just said, over fifteen years ago, and no word has been received from him since."

"What was the trouble? Financial difficulties?"

"Not at all. He simply disappeared. It was due to his wife's death, so I believe. They were greatly attached to each other, and when she suddenly died Redmond was a broken-hearted man. I knew him well and it was pathetic to watch him. He took no interest in his business, and sold out as soon as possible. Then he vanished, and that was the last we heard of him. He was an odd man in many ways, and although one of the shrewdest men in business I ever knew, he was fond of the simple life. He was a great reader, and at one time possessed a very fine library. This article which I wish you to read tells the story of his life, how he built up his business, and of his sudden disappearance."

"How do you know he wasn't killed?" Reynolds asked.

"Because of this," and the editor laid his forefinger upon a small separate clipping at the bottom of the larger one. A short time after Redmond disappeared, and when the excitement of all was intense, this was received and published. Although it bore no name, yet we well know that it was from Redmond, for it was just like something he would do. This is what he wrote:

"'I go from the busy haunts of men, far from the bustle and worry of business life. I may be found, but only he who is worthy will find me, and whoever finds me, will, I trust, not lose his reward. From the loopholes of retreat I shall watch the stress and fever of life, but shall not mingle in the fray.'"

"Queer words, those," Reynolds remarked, when the editor had finished reading. "What do you make of them?"

"I hardly know, although I have considered them very carefully. I believe they contain a hidden meaning, and that the finding will consist of more than the mere discovery of his person. It must refer to something else, some quality of heart or mind, that is, the real personality behind the mere outward form."

"A double quest, eh, for anyone who undertakes the venture?"

"It seems so, Tom, and that makes it all the more difficult. But what an undertaking! How I wish I were young again, and I should be off to-morrow. I was a fool not to make the try fifteen years ago. I would not now be chained to this desk, I feel certain of that."

"And as you cannot go yourself, you want----?" Reynolds paused and looked quizzically at the editor.

"I want you to go in my stead," was the emphatic reply. "You are young, strong, and anxious for adventure."

"For what purpose, sir? Why do you wish me to undertake this wild-goose chase? For such it seems to me."

"I wish you to go for three reasons. First, for your own good; as an outlet to your abundant energy, and to give you some object in life. Next, to satisfy a curiosity that has been consuming me for years. I am more than anxious to know what has become of Henry Redmond. And finally, for the sake of my paper. If you should prove successful, what a write-up it will make, for you will have a wonderful story to tell. Doesn't the thing appeal to you? Why, it makes my blood tingle at the thought of such an undertaking."

"It does stir me a bit," Reynolds acknowledged. "But where am I to go? Have you any idea where Redmond is? The world is big, remember, and without any clue, the chase would be absolute folly."

"I am well aware of all that. I have no idea where Redmond is, and that makes the venture all the more interesting. If I could tell you where he is, and you merely went and found him, bah! that would not be worth the trouble. But the uncertainty of it all is what appeals to me. The whole world is before you, and somewhere in the world I believe Henry Redmond is living. Your task is to find him. Can you do it?"

For a few minutes Reynolds did not speak. He was interested, but the undertaking seemed so utterly hopeless and ridiculous that he hesitated. If he had the slightest clue as to the man's whereabouts it would be different.

"How old a man was Redmond when he disappeared?" he at length asked.

"About fifty, I understand, although he appeared much older at times. He was a fine looking man, over six feet in height, and a large head, crowned with a wealth of hair streaked with gray, when last I saw him. His commanding appearance attracted attention wherever he went, and that should aid you somewhat in your search."

"Had he any family?" Reynolds questioned.

"One little girl only, for he married late in life. His friends thought that he would remain a permanent bachelor, and they were greatly surprised when he unexpectedly took to himself a wife much younger than himself, and very beautiful. They lived most happily together, and when his wife died Redmond was heartbroken."

"Perhaps her death affected his mind," Reynolds suggested.

"I have thought of that, and his sudden disappearance, as well as the peculiar letter I read to you, lends color to the idea."

"What became of the child?"

"No one knows. He evidently took her with him, and that is another reason why I believe no harm befell him as you suggested. The whole affair is involved in the deepest mystery."

"And did no one attempt to solve it?" Reynolds asked. "Was no effort made to find the missing man?"

"There was at the time, and the newspapers far and near made mention of his disappearance. It was the talk of the city for several weeks, and I understand that several men thought seriously of searching for him. But the interest gradually waned, and he was forgotten except by a few, of whom I am one."

Reynolds rose to his feet and picked up his hat.

"Suppose I think this over for a few days?" he suggested. "If I get the fever I shall let you know. In the meantime I shall plug away at my present job. I can't afford to be idle, for 'idleness is the holiday of fools,' as someone has said."

"That's fine, Tom," and the editor's face brightened with pleasure. "And, remember, you shall be supplied with all the money you need, so do not worry about that."

"Thank you, but I have a little of my own that will last me for a while. When I run through with it I may call upon you."

"Very well, do as you like, Tom. But think it over and let me know of your decision as soon as possible."