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by Douglas Newton
IT WAS SOMEWHERE in February that the disappearances of young women became so regular that it attracted public attention.
The first girl to vanish—anyhow so far as the newspapers noticed—was a Rosalind Hough. She was the gymnasium mistress of one of the most exclusive girls’ schools in the country. She had left her school in the ordinary way one evening to return to her lodgings and had not been seen since.
Her disappearance might not have attracted attention had it not been quickly followed by that of Ethna Prin, the daughter of an old North Country family; Mary St. Just, a girl who had won fame in the hunting counties by her daring horsemanship, and Debora Clarges, the eldest child of a landowner in the West.
All these girls vanished within the same fortnight and without reason. They were all extremely young—the eldest was not twenty-three—all were happy, wholesome girls without cares, and in no instance was there a man in the case or any hint of other entanglements. All had left home in the most natural way and were thenceforth lost to all knowledge.
As their homes were scattered over the country the cases were not connected. The newspapers were mainly concerned in the mystery of their going.
Nobody had met them as they vanished, or seen them taking tickets at railway stations or that sort of thing. They had simply walked out of their ordinary surroundings into the blue, leaving no trace.
When Virginia Gaunt and Olive Cardew were missed a few days later the thing began to grow into a first-class sensation.
Both these girls were by way of being celebrities. Virginia Gaunt was the daughter of a well-known general. She had also made a name for herself as a swimmer. In fact, she was considered one of the best all-round girl athletes in the country.
Olive Cardew had won fame as the model of our greatest living sculptor. She was held to be the nearest living approach to perfect classical beauty, and was called, and often photographed as “The Modern Venus de Milo.”
The cases of both these young women were the same as the others. There was no reason at all for their disappearance; indeed, in their cases the facts were against it. Virginia Gaunt was not only happily engaged, but her marriage was only a couple of weeks away. She had, indeed, been on her way to be fitted for her wedding-dress when she vanished.
Olive Cardew’s condition was as happy. There was no love affair, while her fame had just brought her a very fine engagement in Revue. Moreover she had arranged to sit for her sculptor’s next masterpiece during the next month.
The reputation of these girls, the entire lack of motive to account for their going, as well as the mysterious completeness of each disappearance stirred up the papers. They began to have a great deal to say about “The Six Lost Beauties,” while the wildest explanations of the strange business were offered. Some talked of it as though it were a sort of epidemic; there were even those who hinted that it might be some new cinema stunt.
The public took fire. Women are always “selling news,” and though a paper here and there told us that a number of well-set-up young men had also gone, missing in the same queer way, it was the disappearance of so many handsome, finely-bred girls that fanned excitement to sensational heights.
Even so mild and retiring a scientist as I was intrigued by the matter. But then I had something of an expert’s reason. My particular branch of science—which is concerned with eugenics and race culture—made these girls very interesting to me. Also, I fancy I was the first to sense a curious connecting link behind the matter.
When I saw the photographs of the six lost girls printed in a strip across the centre pages of the Daily Lens, I was at once struck by a similarity about them that seemed to me to be too close to be mere chance.
They were all extremely good-looking, yet all had an almost identical quality in their beauty. All were tall, long-limbed, strong and lovely of body, deep-breasted. There was nothing of the fragile and dainty type about them. Like Olive Cardew their beauty was classical.
But not of the classic—that is of the Greek or Southern kind. There was a Northern splendour in their handsomeness.
They had fine, steady, serene faces, the bones a trifle stronger than, say, the bones of Grecian women, while their eyes and brows had a certain high, frank look that held my mind particularly.
It was the very air of a girl student who had only lately been attending my lectures on “Racial Strengths and Strains” at the London University. This Miss Holm, a quiet and retiring girl, had attracted my attention even in a packed lecture hall, by her very individual good looks. She was an almost perfect example of the old Northman handsomeness, a really lovely creature—and all these missing girls were of the same superb type.
Indeed, studying their pictures, I had a feeling that they had been deliberately hand-picked for all those wholesome qualities that make the finest womanhood of the Northern races.
Another thing that linked them together was that they were all athletes. The editor of the paper had noted that point and had chosen photographs that emphasized it. They were all pictured as mistresses of sport—in their swimming, gymnastic, hunting and other costumes. Even Olive Cardew was shown using the Indian clubs by which she kept her wonderful body fit.
Looking at their sane and healthy young faces, too, it was hard to believe that any sort of breakdown could have led them to run away. The public thought so, too, and thus there was raised the first cry that some outside villainy was at work.
Before that idea could take hold, Debora Clarges and Mary St. Just wrote to their homes. The letters were secretive inasmuch as neither gave any sort of address, but both girls said they were happy and well, and that there was no need for anxiety or fuss. Both promised explanations later.
I read both letters, which were reproduced in facsimile in the newspapers. I was struck by the similarity of the wording of both letters as well as by their strange, stilted phrasing. And that was odd. The handwriting of both girls, like their photos, showed marked individuality.
The public, which is much quicker on the uptake than most people allow, seized upon this point, too. People could not believe those letters. They declared they had a look of having been dictated by someone else. The idea that some person or persons unknown were responsible for the disappearances of the “Six Lost Beauties” grew into an outcry.
The air became full of talk about abductions and gangs and sinister motives. In fact, the topic became so universal that it even gave me a chance of introducing myself to Miss Holm by way of a mild joke.
Finding myself close to her after my lecture, I said:
“I hope you’re being careful, Miss Holm. They seem to be kidnapping your type.”
She turned on me rather sharply, but her eyes were steady and her smile was assured. Really she was a superb creature, not only beautiful but with a brain and a courage not easily thrown off their poise.
“Who are kidnapping what, Dr. Sondes?” she asked in a voice as charming and steady as herself.
“Don’t you waste time on newspapers and their ‘Six Lost Beauties,’ ” I smiled.
“Oh, that!” she shrugged. “So you think these wandering young women are my type—that is interesting.”
“But you are,” I said, and I’m afraid my remark had a double meaning. She was quite vitally interesting, as well as being the type. “You and they all show the same strain.”
“And what strain would that be?” she asked lightly but watching me closely.
“The North Europe strain, the old sea-rover strain.”
“Yes—you would see that at once,” she seemed to frown.
“Well, it is my particular province—racial characteristics and so forth,” I admitted. “You, for instance, obviously descend from Scandinavian forefathers.”
“Danish,” she nodded seriously, but her smile came again. “I never realized I’d be interesting as a scientific specimen.”
That nettled me a little—well, she was very beautiful.
“Oh, even university professors can be human,” I said.
“I know,” she said, and for some reason her smile vanished. Also she deliberately twisted the conversation away from the personal. “And your interest in these Lost Beauties, is that human or scientific?”
“Merely casual,” I admitted. “There is such a clamour about them that one can scarcely overlook them. Also it is interesting to speculate as to why they are wandering, as you say. Do you really think it is only that?”
“I’m afraid I haven’t thought much about them at all—my remark was like your interest in them—merely casual,” she laughed and began to move towards the door. “But I’ll remember your warning, Dr. Sondes, and be continually on my guard.”
A strange girl. Not only did her remarkable handsomeness stick in my mind, but she had a sense and intelligence so much above the ordinary run of my students that, confound it, I almost thought she was laughing up her pretty sleeve at me.
Rather a disturbing emotion, that, for a scientific medical man, even if he is still in the early and romantic thirties. And I fear that in the next few days I let my thoughts dwell rather more on Miss Holm than on the lost young women; until, in fact, the kidnapping of the Hon. Lydia Martel awakened the country to the first great shock of alarm—and, incidentally, brought me personally into the business.
It was an ugly affair.
The Hon. Lydia Martel was, again, a noted beauty and an out-of-door girl. Also she was the daughter of Lord Glemys, one of the oldest peerages in the country. She, too, vanished from her father’s country house, Ladies Dale, in Cumberland, but this time not without trace.
The death of two men marked her disappearance. One was a young gamekeeper of the estate, the other a stranger. The papers spoke of this man as a foreigner, probably a Scandinavian. He was six feet six inches tall and of superb physique.
His death had been caused by the discharge, at point-blank range, of both barrels of the gamekeeper’s gun. The wound was in the chest. The gamekeeper had been killed instantly, too, but how was not explained, though it appeared that the man was unwounded, which made the matter mysterious.
There was no doubt that the gamekeeper had died in defence of Lydia Martel and that the Scandinavian was one of those who had attacked her. The girl’s walking-stick was found close to the dead men, while her silken scarf had caught in the bushes and been dragged from her neck as her kidnappers carried her through a gap in a hedge.
But there were no other clues. Nobody could say who had attacked her, or how they had managed to carry her off the estate unseen. She and the criminals had again vanished without trace.
It was at once plain to everybody that there was something ugly behind the crime. Gamekeepers do not shoot to kill, even in defence of their mistresses. This one must have fired because his own life was threatened.
That told the world that these disappearances were the work of criminals so ruthless that they would not stop at murder to carry out their mysterious abductions. The thought sent a gasp of horror through the land.
Now, too, the public began to grasp the connection I had already seen between this series of outrages. When Lydia Martel’s photo was added to the gallery of the missing, it was seen that she was of the same type as the others. Also she was an athlete, a mountain climber.
Sure that there was some ghastly plot behind the business the public became panicky. They asked what kind of criminal was this, who selected for his victims the loveliest girls in the land? They asked who was the mastermind carrying out these outrages so brilliantly and yet so ruthlessly? They asked where these kidnappings were to end and who was safe from them?
They asked above all what the police were doing?
I asked all these questions myself as I read the rather frantic news-sheets in the cloistered calm of my great library-laboratory. I was even more than a little anxious because Miss Holm was so emphatically of the type attacked. But not for a moment did I realize that the answer, or part of it might lie with me. I was just one of the public, interested but quite outside the matter, until that hour when Raphael Phare of Scotland Yard said to me:
“Martin Sondes, who is Dr. Odin?”
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