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- The Ear in the Wall - 2/51 -
out of account the class of disappearances for their own convenience--embezzlers, blackmailers, and so forth--there is still a large number of recorded cases where the subjects have dropped out of sight without apparent cause or reason and have left behind them untarnished reputations and solvent back accounts. Of these, a small percentage are found to have met with violence; others have been victims of suicidal mania, and sooner or later a clue has come to light which has established the fact. The dead are often easier to find than the living.
Of the remaining small proportion, there are on record, however, a number of carefully authenticated cases where the subject has been the victim of a sudden and complete loss of memory.
This dislocation of memory is a variety of aphasia known as amnesia, and when the memory is recurrently lost and restored, we have alternating personality. The Society for Psychical Research and many eminent psychologists, among them the late William James, Dr. Weir Mitchell, Dr. Hodgson of Boston, and Dr. A. E. Osborn of San Francisco, have reported many cases of alternating personality.
Studious efforts are being made to understand and to explain the strange type of mental phenomena exhibited in these cases, but as yet no one has given a clear and comprehensive explanation of them. Such cases are by no means always connected with disappearances, and exhaustive studies have been made of types of alternating personality that have from first to last been carefully watched by scientists of the first rank.
The variety known as the ambulatory type, where the patient suddenly loses all knowledge of his own identity and of the past and takes himself off, leaving no trace or clue, is the variety which the present case of Miss Blackwell seems to suggest.
There followed a number of most interesting cases and an elaborate argument by the writer to show that Betty Blackwell was a victim of this psychological aberration, that she was, in other words, "a vanisher."
I laid down the paper with a questioning look at Kennedy.
"As a scientist," he replied deliberately, "the theory, of course, does appeal to me, especially in the ingenious way in which that writer applied it. However, as a detective"--he shook his head slowly--"I must deal with facts--not speculations. It leaves much to be explained, to say the least,"
Just then the door buzzer sounded and Carton himself sprang to answer it.
"That's Mrs. Blackwell now--her mother. I told her that I was going to take the case to you, Kennedy, and took the liberty of asking her to come up here to meet you. Good-afternoon, Mrs. Blackwell. Let me introduce Professor Kennedy and Mr. Jameson, of whom I spoke to you."
She bowed and murmured a tremulous greeting. Kennedy placed a chair for her and she thanked him.
Mrs. Blackwell was a slender little woman in black, well past middle age. Her face and dress spoke of years of economy, even of privation, but her manner was plainly that of a woman of gentle breeding and former luxury. She was precisely of the type of decayed gentlewoman that one meets often in the city, especially at some of the middle-class boarding-houses.
Deeply as the disappearance of her daughter had affected her, Mrs. Blackwell was facing it bravely. That was her nature. One could imagine that only when Betty was actually found would this plucky little woman collapse. Instinctively, one felt that she claimed his assistance in the unequal fight she was waging against the complexities of modern life for which she had been so ill prepared.
"I do hope you will be able to find my daughter," she began, controlling her voice with an effort. "Mr. Carton has been so kind, more than kind, I am sure, in getting your aid. The police seem to be able to do nothing. They make out reports, put me off, tell me they are making progress--but they don't find Betty."
There was a tragic pathos in the way she said it.
"Betty was such a good girl, too," she went on, her emotions rising. "Oh, I was so proud of her when she got her position down in Wall Street, with the broker, Mr. Langhorne."
"Tell Mr. Kennedy just what you told me of her disappearance," put in Carton.
Again Mrs. Blackwell controlled her feelings. "I don't know much about it," she faltered, "but last Saturday, when she left the office early, she said she was going to do some shopping on Fifth Avenue. I know she went there, did shop a bit, then walked on the Avenue several blocks. But after that there is no trace of her."
"You have heard nothing, have no idea where she might have gone-- even for a time?" queried Kennedy.
He asked it with a keen look at the face of Mrs. Blackwell. I recalled one case where a girl had disappeared in which Kennedy had always asserted that if the family had been perfectly frank at the start much more might have been accomplished in unravelling the mystery.
There was evident sincerity in Mrs. Blackwell as she replied quickly, "Absolutely none. Another girl from the office was with her part of the time, then left her to take the subway. We don't live far uptown. It wouldn't have taken Betty long to get home, even if she had walked, after that, through a crowded street, too."
"Of course, she may have met a friend, may have gone somewhere with the friend," put in Kennedy, as if trying out the remark to see what effect it might have.
"Where could she go?" asked Mrs. Blackwell in naive surprise, looking at him with a counterpart of the eyes we had seen in the picture. "I hope you don't think that Betty---"
The little widow was on the verge of tears again at the mere hint that her daughter might have had friends that were not all, perhaps, that they should be.
Carton came to the rescue. "Miss Blackwell," he interposed, "was a very attractive girl, very. She had hosts of admirers, as every attractive girl must have. Most of them, all of them, as far as Mrs. Blackwell knows and I have been able to find out, were young men at the office where she worked, or friends of that sort--not the ordinary clerk, but of the rising, younger, self-made generation. Still, they don't seem to have interested her particularly as far as I have been able to discover. She merely liked them. There is absolutely nothing known to point to the fact that she was any different from thousands of girls in that respect. She was vivacious, full of fun and life, a girl any fellow would have been more than proud to take to a dance. She was ambitious, I suppose, but nothing more."
"Betty was not a bad girl," asserted Mrs. Blackwell vehemently. "She was a good girl. I don't believe there was much, in fact anything important, on which she did not make me her confidante. Yes, she was ambitious. So am I. I have always hoped that Betty would bring our family--her younger sister--back to the station where we were before the panic wiped out our fortune and killed my husband. That is all."
"Yes," added Carton, "nothing at all is known that would make one think that she was what young men call a 'good fellow' with them."
Kennedy looked up, but said nothing. I thought I could read the unspoken word on his lips, as he glanced from Carton to Mrs. Blackwell, "known."
She had risen and was facing us.
"Is there no one in all this great city," appealed the distracted little woman with outstretched arms, "who can find my daughter? Is it possible that a girl can disappear in broad daylight in the streets and never be heard of again? Oh, won't you find her? Tell me she is safe--that she is still the little girl I---"
Her voice failed and she was crying softly in her lace handkerchief. It was touching and I saw that Kennedy was deeply moved, although at once to his practical mind the thought must have occurred that nothing was to be gained by further questions of Mrs. Blackwell.
"Believe me, Mrs. Blackwell," he said in a low tone, taking her hand, "I will do all that is in my power to find her."
"Thank you," murmured the mother, overcome.
A moment later, however, she had recovered her composure to some degree and rose to go. There was a flattering look of relief on her face which in itself must have been ample reward to Craig, a retainer worth more to him in a case like this than money.
"I'm going back to my office," remarked Carton. "If I learn anything, I shall let you know."
The District Attorney went out with Mrs. Blackwell. Busy as he was, he had time to turn aside to help this bereaved woman, and I admired him for it.
"Do you think it is one of those cases like some that Carton has uncovered on the East Side and among girls newly arrived in the city?" I asked Craig when the door was shut.
"Can't say," he returned, in an abstracted study.
"It's awful if it is," I pursued. "And if it is, I suppose all that will result from it will be a momentary thrill of the newspaper-readers, and then they will fall back on the old saying that after all it is only a result of human nature that such things happen--they always have happened and always will--that old line of talk."
"That sort of thing is NOT a result of human nature," returned Kennedy earnestly. "It's a System. I mean to say that if it should turn out to be connected with the vice investigations of Carton,
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