The Port of Missing Men
The First Ride Together
My mistress bent that brow of hers;
Those deep dark eyes where pride demurs
When pity would be softening through,
Fixed me a breathing-while or two
With life or death in the balance: right!
The blood replenished me again;
My last thought was at least not vain:
I and my mistress, side by side
Shall be together, breathe and ride,
So, one day more am I deified.
Who knows but the world may end to-night?
"We shall be leaving soon," said Armitage, half to himself and partly to
Oscar. "It is not safe to wait much longer."
He tossed a copy of the Neue Freie Presse on the table. Oscar had been
down to the Springs to explore, and brought back news, gained from the stablemen
at the hotel, that Chauvenet had left the hotel, presumably for Washington. It
was now Wednesday in the third week in April.
"Oscar, you were a clever boy and knew more than you were told. You have
asked me no questions. There may be an ugly row before I get out of these hills.
I should not think hard of you if you preferred to leave."
"I enlisted for the campaign—yes?—I shall wait until I am discharged." And
the little man buttoned his coat.
"Thank you, Oscar. In a few days more we shall probably be through with this
business. There's another man coming to get into the game—he reached Washington
yesterday, and we shall doubtless hear of him shortly. Very likely they are both
in the hills tonight. And, Oscar, listen carefully to what I say."
The soldier drew nearer to Armitage, who sat swinging his legs on the table
in the bungalow.
"If I should die unshriven during the next week, here's a key that opens a
safety-vault box at the Bronx Loan and Trust Company, in New York. In case I am
disabled, go at once with the key to Baron von Marhof, Ambassador of
Austria-Hungary, and tell him—tell him—"
He had paused for a moment as though pondering his words with care; then he
laughed and went on.
"—tell him, Oscar, that there's a message in that safety box from a
gentleman who might have been King."
Oscar stared at Armitage blankly.
"That is the truth, Sergeant. The message once in the good Baron's hands will
undoubtedly give him a severe shock. You will do well to go to bed. I shall take
a walk before I turn in."
"You should not go out alone—"
"Don't trouble about me; I shan't go far. I think we are safe until two
gentlemen have met in Washington, discussed their affairs, and come down into
the mountains again. The large brute we caught the other night is undoubtedly on
watch near by; but he is harmless. Only a few days more and we shall perform a
real service in the world, Sergeant,—I feel it in my bones."
He took his hat from a bench by the door and went out upon the veranda. The
moon had already slipped down behind the mountains, but the stars trooped
brightly across the heavens. He drank deep breaths of the cool air of the
mountain night, and felt the dark wooing him with its calm and peace. He
returned for his cloak and walked into the wood. He followed the road to the
gate, and then turned toward the Port of Missing Men. He had formed quite
definite plans of what he should do in certain emergencies, and he felt a new
strength in his confidence that he should succeed in the business that had
brought him into the hills.
At the abandoned bridge he threw himself down and gazed off through a narrow
cut that afforded a glimpse of the Springs, where the electric lights gleamed as
one lamp. Shirley Claiborne was there in the valley and he smiled with the
thought of her; for soon—perhaps in a few hours—he would be free to go to her,
his work done; and no mystery or dangerous task would henceforth lie between
He saw march before him across the night great hosts of armed men, singing
hymns of war; and again he looked upon cities besieged; still again upon armies
in long alignment waiting for the word that would bring the final shock of
battle. The faint roar of water far below added an under-note of reality to his
dream; and still he saw, as upon a tapestry held in his hand, the struggles of
kingdoms, the rise and fall of empires. Upon the wide seas smoke floated from
the guns of giant ships that strove mightily in battle. He was thrilled by
drum-beats and the cry of trumpets. Then his mood changed and the mountains and
calm stars spoke an heroic language that was of newer and nobler things; and he
shook his head impatiently and gathered his cloak about him and rose.
"God said, 'I am tired of kings,'" he muttered. "But I shall keep my pledge;
I shall do Austria a service," he said; and then laughed a little to himself.
"To think that it may be for me to say!" And with this he walked quite to the
brink of the chasm and laid his hand upon the iron cable from which swung the
"I shall soon be free," he said with a deep sigh; and looked across the
Then the cable under his hand vibrated slightly; at first he thought it the
night wind stealing through the vale and swaying the bridge above the sheer
depth. But still he felt the tingle of the iron rope in his clasp, and his hold
tightened and he bent forward to listen. The whole bridge now audibly shook with
the pulsation of a step—a soft, furtive step, as of one cautiously groping a
way over the unsubstantial flooring. Then through the starlight he distinguished
a woman's figure, and drew back. A loose plank in the bridge floor rattled, and
as she passed it freed itself and he heard it strike the rocks faintly far
below; but the figure stole swiftly on, and he bent forward with a cry of
warning on his lips, and snatched away the light barricade that had been nailed
across the opening.
When he looked up, his words of rebuke, that had waited only for the woman's
security, died on his lips.
"Shirley!" he cried; and put forth both hands and lifted her to firm ground.
A little sigh of relief broke from her. The bridge still swayed from her
weight; and the cables hummed like the wires of a harp; near at hand the
waterfall tumbled down through the mystical starlight.
"I did not know that dreams really came true," he said, with an awe in his
voice that the passing fear had left behind.
She began abruptly, not heeding his words.
"You must go away—at once—I came to tell you that you can not stay here."
"But it is unfair to accept any warning from you! You are too generous, too
"It is not generosity or kindness, but this danger that follows you—it is an
evil thing and it must not find you here. It is impossible that such a thing can
be in America. But you must go—you must seek the law's aid—"
"How do you know I dare—"
"I don't know—that you dare!"
"I know that you have a great heart and that I love you," he said.
She turned quickly toward the bridge as though to retrace her steps.
"I can't be paid for a slight, a very slight service by fair words, Mr.
Armitage. If you knew why I came—"
"If I dared think or believe or hope—"
"You will dare nothing of the kind, Mr. Armitage!" she replied; "but I will
tell you, that I came out of ordinary Christian humanity. The idea of friends,
of even slight acquaintances, being assassinated in these Virginia hills does
not please me."
"How do you classify me, please—with friends or acquaintances?"
He laughed; then the gravity of what she was doing changed his tone.
"I am John Armitage. That is all you know, and yet you hazard your life to
warn me that I am in danger?"
"If you called yourself John Smith I should do exactly the same thing. It
makes not the slightest difference to me who or what you are."
"You are explicit!" he laughed. "I don't hesitate to tell you that I value
your life much higher than you do."
"That is quite unnecessary. It may amuse you to know that, as I am a person
of little curiosity, I am not the least concerned in the solution of—of—what
might be called the Armitage riddle."
"Oh; I'm a riddle, am I?"
"Not to me, I assure you! You are only the object of some one's enmity, and
there's something about murder that is—that isn't exactly nice! It's positively
She had begun seriously, but laughed at the absurdity of her last words.
"You are amazingly impersonal. You would save a man's life without caring in
the least what manner of man he may be."
"You put it rather flatly, but that's about the truth of the matter. Do you
know, I am almost afraid—"
"Not of me, I hope—"
"Certainly not. But it has occurred to me that you may have the conceit of
your own mystery, that you may take rather too much pleasure in mystifying
people as to your identity."
"That is unkind,—that is unkind," and he spoke without resentment, but
softly, with a falling cadence.
He suddenly threw down the hat he had held in his hand, and extended his arms
"You are not unkind or unjust. You have a right to know who I am and what I
am doing here. It seems an impertinence to thrust my affairs upon you; but if
you will listen I should like to tell you—it will take but a moment—why and
"Please do not! As I told you, I have no curiosity in the matter. I can't
allow you to tell me; I really don't want to know!"
"I am willing that every one should know—to-morrow—or the day after—not
She lifted her head, as though with the earnestness of some new thought.
"The day after may be too late. Whatever it is that you have done—"
"I have done nothing to be ashamed of,—I swear I have not!"
"Whatever it is,—and I don't care what it is,"—she said deliberately, "—it
is something quite serious, Mr. Armitage. My brother—"
She hesitated for a moment, then spoke rapidly.
"My brother has been detailed to help in the search for you. He is at Storm
"But he doesn't understand—"
"My brother is a soldier and it is not necessary for him to understand."
"And you have done this—you have come to warn me—"
"It does look pretty bad," she said, changing her tone and laughing a little.
"But my brother and I—we always had very different ideas about you, Mr.
Armitage. We hold briefs for different sides of the case."
"Oh, I'm a case, am I?" and he caught gladly at the suggestion of lightness
in her tone. "But I'd really like to know what he has to do with my affairs."
"Then you will have to ask him."
"To be sure. But the government can hardly have assigned Captain Claiborne to
special duty at Monsieur Chauvenet's request. I swear to you that I'm as much in
the dark as you are."
"I'm quite sure an officer of the line would not be taken from his duties and
sent into the country on any frivolous errand. But perhaps an Ambassador from a
great power made the request,—perhaps, for example, it was Baron von Marhof."
Armitage laughed aloud.
"I beg your pardon! I really beg your pardon! But is the Ambassador looking
"I don't know, Mr. Armitage. You forget that I'm only a traitor and not a
"You are the noblest woman in the world," he said boldly, and his heart
leaped in him and he spoke on with a fierce haste. "You have made sacrifices for
me that no woman ever made before for a man—for a man she did not know! And my
life—whatever it is worth, every hour and second of it, I lay down before you,
and it is yours to keep or throw away. I followed you half-way round the world
and I shall follow you again and as long as I live. And to-morrow—or the day
after—I shall justify these great kindnesses—this generous confidence; but
to-night I have a work to do!"
As they stood on the verge of the defile, by the bridge that swung out from
the cliff like a fairy structure, they heard far and faint the whistle and low
rumble of the night train south-bound from Washington; and to both of them the
sound urged the very real and practical world from which for a little time they
had stolen away.
"I must go back," said Shirley, and turned to the bridge and put her hand on
its slight iron frame; but he seized her wrists and held them tight.
"You have risked much for me, but you shall not risk your life again, in my
cause. You can not venture cross that bridge again."
She yielded without further parley and he dropped her wrists at once.
"Please say no more. You must not make me sorry I came. I must go,—I should
have gone back instantly."
"But not across that spider's web. You must go by the long road. I will give
you a horse and ride with you into the valley."
"It is much nearer by the bridge,—and I have my horse over there."
"We shall get the horse without trouble," he said, and she walked beside him
through the starlighted wood. As they crossed the open tract she said:
"This is the Port of Missing Men."
"Yes, here the lost legion made its last stand. There lie the graves of some
of them. It's a pretty story; I hope some day to know more of it from some such
authority as yourself."
"I used to ride here on my pony when I was a little girl, and dream about the
gray soldiers who would not surrender. It was as beautiful as an old ballad.
I'll wait here. Fetch the horse," she said, "and hurry, please."
"If there are explanations to make," he began, looking at her gravely.
"I am not a person who makes explanations, Mr. Armitage. You may meet me at
As he ran toward the house he met Oscar, who had become alarmed at his
absence and was setting forth in search of him.
"Come; saddle both the horses, Oscar," Armitage commanded.
They went together to the barn and quickly brought out the horses.
"You are not to come with me, Oscar."
"A captain does not go alone; it should be the sergeant who is sent—yes?"
"It is not an affair of war, Oscar, but quite another matter. There is a
saddled horse hitched to the other side of our abandoned bridge. Get it and ride
it to Judge Claiborne's stables; and ask and answer no questions."
A moment later he was riding toward the gate, the led-horse following.
He flung himself down, adjusting the stirrups and gave her a hand into the
saddle. They turned silently into the mountain road.
"The bridge would have been simpler and quicker," said Shirley; "as it is, I
shall be late to the ball."
"I am contrite enough; but you don't make explanations."
"No; I don't explain; and you are to come back as soon as we strike the
valley. I always send gentlemen back at that point," she laughed, and went ahead
of him into the narrow road. She guided the strange horse with the ease of long
practice, skilfully testing his paces, and when they came to a stretch of smooth
road sent him flying at a gallop over the trail. He had given her his own horse,
a hunter of famous strain, and she at once defined and maintained a distance
between them that made talk impossible.
Her short covert riding-coat, buttoned close, marked clearly in the starlight
her erect figure; light wisps of loosened hair broke free under her soft felt
hat, and when she turned her head the wind caught the brim and pressed it back
from her face, giving a new charm to her profile.
He called after her once or twice at the start, but she did not pause or
reply; and he could not know what mood possessed her; or that once in flight, in
the security the horse gave her, she was for the first time afraid of him. He
had declared his love for her, and had offered to break down the veil of mystery
that made him a strange and perplexing figure. His affairs, whatever their
nature, were now at a crisis, he had said; quite possibly she should never see
him again after this ride. As she waited at the gate she had known a moment of
contrition and doubt as to what she had done. It was not fair to her brother
thus to give away his secret to the enemy; but as the horse flew down the rough
road her blood leaped with the sense of adventure, and her pulse sang with the
joy of flight. Her thoughts were free, wild things; and she exulted in the great
starry vault and the cool heights over which she rode. Who was John Armitage?
She did not know or care, now that she had performed for him her last service.
Quite likely he would fade away on the morrow like a mountain shadow before the
sun; and the song in her heart to-night was not love or anything akin to it, but
only the joy of living.
Where the road grew difficult as it dipped sharply down into the valley she
suffered him perforce to ride beside her.
"You ride wonderfully," he said.
"The horse is a joy. He's a Pendragon—I know them in the dark. He must have
come from this valley somewhere. We own some of his cousins, I'm sure."
"You are quite right. He's a Virginia horse. You are incomparable—no other
woman alive could have kept that pace. It's a brave woman who isn't a slave to
her hair-pins—I don't believe you spilled one."
She drew rein at the cross-roads.
"We part here. How shall I return Bucephalus?"
"Let me go to your own gate, please!"
"Not at all!" she said with decision.
"Then Oscar will pick him up. If you don't see him, turn the horse loose. But
my thanks—for oh, so many things!" he pleaded.
"To-morrow—or the day after—or never!"
She laughed and put out her hand; and when he tried to detain her she spoke
to the horse and flashed away toward home. He listened, marking her flight until
the shadows of the valley stole sound and sight from him; then he turned back
into the hills.
Near her father's estate Shirley came upon a man who saluted in the manner of
It was Oscar, who had crossed the bridge and ridden down by the nearer road.
"It is my captain's horse—yes?" he said, as the slim, graceful animal
whinnied and pawed the ground. "I found a horse at the broken bridge and took it
to your stable—yes?"
A moment later Shirley walked rapidly through the garden to the veranda of
her father's house, where her brother Dick paced back and forth impatiently.
"Where have you been, Shirley?"
"But you went for a ride—the stable-men told me."
"I believe that is true, Captain."
"And your horse was brought home half an hour ago by a strange fellow who
saluted like a soldier when I spoke to him, but refused to understand my
"Well, they do say English isn't very well taught at West Point, Captain,"
she replied, pulling off her gloves. "You oughtn't to blame the polite stranger
for his courtesy."
"I believe you have been up to some mischief, Shirley. If you are seeing that
"Bah! What are you going to do now?"
"I'm going to the ball with you as soon as I can change my gown. I suppose
father and mother have gone."
"They have—for which you should be grateful!"
Captain Claiborne lighted a cigar and waited.