In the Big City a man will disappear with the suddenness and completeness of the flame of a candle that is blown out. All the agencies of inquisitionthe hounds of the trail, the sleuths of the citys labyrinths, the closet detectives of theory and inductionwill be invoked to the search. Most often the mans face will be seen no more. Sometimes he will reappear in Sheboygan or in the wilds of Terre Haute, calling himself one of the synonyms of Smith, and without memory of events up to a certain time, including his grocers bill. Sometimes it will be found, after dragging the rivers, and polling the restaurants to see if he may be waiting for a well-done sirloin, that he has moved next door.
This snuffing out of a human being like the erasure of a chalk man from a blackboard, is one of the most impressive themes in dramaturgy.
The case of Mary Snyder, in point, should not be without interest.
A man of middle age, of the name of Meeks, came from the West to New York to find his sister, Mrs. Mary Snyder, a widow, aged fifty-two, who had been living for a year in a tenement house in a crowded neighbourhood.
At her address he was told that Mary Snyder had moved away longer than a month before. No one could tell him her new address.
On coming out Mr. Meeks addressed a policeman who was standing on the corner, and explained his dilemma.
My sister is very poor, he said, and I am anxious to find her. I have recently made quite a lot of money in a lead mine, and I want her to share my prosperity. There is no use in advertising her, because she cannot read.
The policeman pulled his moustache and looked so thoughtful and mighty that Meeks could almost feel the joyful tears of his sister Mary dropping upon his bright blue tie.
You go down in the Canal Street neighbourhood, said the policeman, and get a job drivin the biggest dray you can find. Theres old women always gettin knocked over by drays down there. You might see er among em. If you dont want to do that you better go round to head-quarters and get em to put a fly cop on to the dame.
At police head-quarters Meeks received ready assistance. A general alarm was sent out, and copies of a photograph of Mary Snyder that her brother had were distributed among the stations. In Mulberry Street the chief assigned Detective Mullins to the case.
The detective took Meeks aside and said:
This is not a very difficult case to unravel. Shave off your whiskers, fill your pockets with good cigars, and meet me in the café of the Waldorf at three oclock this afternoon.
Meeks obeyed. He found Mullins there. They had a bottle of wine, while the detective asked questions concerning the missing woman.
Now, said Mullins, New York is a big city, but weve got the detective business systematized. There are two ways we can go about finding your sister. We will try one of em first. You say shes fifty-two?
A little past, said Meeks.
The detective conducted the Westerner to a branch advertising office of one of the largest dailies. There he wrote the following ad and submitted it to Meeks.
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