An old police officer recently acquainted the writer with a remarkable case which came under his notice some years ago, the sequel of which has never before been made public. One day, he said, a man pretty well on in years came into the police head-quarters, and asked to have the officers take down a description of his wife and children, who had disappeared from their home. The man told his story in such a simple, unaffected way that he made a deep impression upon those who heard it. He lived in a small town in Connecticut, and had been married five or six years to a woman considerably younger than himself, and by whom be had had two children. On returning from his daily business, a few nights before, he found his home deserted: wife and children had evidently gone out, dressed in their best clothes, leaving no word of explanation. It struck him as being very strange; but, although disturbed, he was not seriously alarmed, as he concluded they must have gone to a friend's house. He got his own tea, and then smoked his pipe, expecting momentarily to hear them at the door. It was late in the evening before his anxiety drove him out to look for them among the neighbors. The next day be learned that they had been seen in the railway station at the next village, and that they had taken the cars going East. That was all he knew about it. He and his wife, he said, had got on pretty well together. He was perhaps too old to be much society for her, but she never complained. Since she had gone off, he remembered that she bad been rather melancholy and moping for some time past. He thought that she had "sort of dwelt on things, bein' so much alone;" that she had become "crazy-like," and had started off with the idea of going to see some people in New Hampshire whom she had known before she was married. But the New Hampshire folks had not seen her or heard of her; and some of the neighbors said "more like she'd gone off with a younger man." "But you see," said the deserted husband, "that ain't likely, as she would n't have taken the children if she was that wicked."
The police gave a good deal of attention to the case, as it was a peculiar one and they had a feeling of sympathy for the man who had suffered such a terrible loss. The wife and children were traced to a town a short distance from Portland, Maine. There a woman and two little children, answering to the description given by the police, were seen by the local station-master to leave a through train and walk off in the direction of the village. It was just at dusk, and snowing heavily at the time. The road led along the banks of a river. Passing out of the station-master's sight into the storm they were seen no more. The inquirers of the police never got beyond that. Those who had been at work upon the case settled down to the belief that the woman had left home during a fit of temporary insanity; that the storm she encountered on leaving the cars increased the confusion of her mind; and that she had either thrown her children and herself into the river, or had wandered out of the road and fallen in with them.
One evening, after this conclusion had been reached, an officer who had worked on the case was asked by a young woman who was visiting at his house to tell her an interesting police case. He told her the story of the deserted husband. The young woman afterwards married, and went to live in a Western city. Some years passed, when, on meeting the officer again, she reminded him of the story he had told her, and asked if anything had been heard of the wife and children. He said the case remained as profound a mystery as ever.
"Now," she said, "I will go on with the story where you ended. The woman got off the train at B—— for the purpose pose of misleading those who might search for her. She had through tickets to Portland; and after going some distance towards the village, as testified by the station-master, she retraced her steps. Eluding observation at the railway station, she got on a way train that came along presently, and proceeded to Portland. There she was met by a man, who took her to the Grand Trunk Railway; and the next train bore them to a city in the far West, where they found a home which had been carefully prepared for them. She appeared as the wife of the man who accompanied her and who had recently established the home to which, as he had told the neighbors, he was going to bring his wife and two children from the East. The children were too young to know what it all meant, and were soon taught to believe that they had always known their new father. In Western communities they are not so curious about one's antecedents as they are in New England, and the new family was accepted as a valuable acquisition to the neighborhood. How did I learn all that? Well, soon after I settled in —— I formed a very pleasant acquaintance with the lady who lived next door,—a quiet, attractive woman, who seemed to be uncommonly happy in her married life. One day, when her husband was absent, she was taken very ill. I was sent for; and while under the fear of death she told me her story. When she was a school-girl she became engaged to the man she now lived with. He went away to seek his fortune, and not long after she heard he had married. Then, in her despair, she married a man old enough to be her father. After she had been married some three years she heard that her early love had been true to her. She wrote imploring him to forgive her. A correspondence had followed, and by and by she was wrought up to the point of leaving her husband. All the details of the elopement had been arranged by letter, and when she joined her lover in Portland she saw him for the first time after a separation of ten years."
A great many cases of mysterious disappearance are never reported to the police, or made public in any way except through accident. The friends or relatives are afraid of having their private affairs paraded before the public if they give any information; and they either wait in tearful silence for the absent one to return or make some sign, or they grope cautiously in the dark, as it were, by sending out peculiarly worded advertisements through the public press. In some cases the person who disappears from among those who know him has no relatives or friends who feel any responsibility for him, or any desire to know whether he has fallen into the dock or gone to the "diggings."
Hundreds of girls go every year from the British provinces, and from Maine and New Hampshire, to the large manufacturing towns, to work in the mills; or to the cities, to serve as domestics or to "tend store." In most cases they have neither friends nor relatives in the places where they go to work; no one to warn them of the character of their associates, or to hold them in check if they are inclined to go astray. The first consideration of the girl who leads an immoral life is to keep the knowledge of that life from her parents, and from any one who would be likely to inform those among whom she grew up. To keep her shame from those who knew her in better days is, in many instances, the all-controlling purpose, for which she is ready to face death, or, what must be to some quite as terrible, a life of dishonor among strangers in a strange city. Girls disappear suddenly and mysteriously from the sight of those to whom their relatives and birthplace are known; and if they hold any communication with their parents—as they often do, for the purpose of sending money where the parents are poor—they resort to many curious fictions to account for their seeming prosperity.