The Port of Missing Men
The Comedy Of A Sheepfold
A glance, a word—and joy or pain
Befalls; what was no more shall be.
How slight the links are in the chain
That binds us to our destiny!
Oscar's eye, roaming the landscape as he left Shirley Claiborne and started
for the bungalow, swept the upland Claiborne acres and rested upon a moving
shadow. He drew rein under a clump of wild cherry-trees at the roadside and
waited. Several hundred yards away lay the Claiborne sheepfold, with a broad
pasture rising beyond. A shadow is not a thing to be ignored by a man trained in
the niceties of scouting. Oscar, satisfying himself that substance lay behind
the shadow, dismounted and tied his horse. Then he bent low over the stone wall
"It is the big fellow—yes? He is a stealer of sheep, as I might have known."
Zmai was only a dim figure against the dark meadow, which he was slowly
crossing from the side farthest from the Claiborne house. He stopped several
times as though uncertain of his whereabouts, and then clambered over a stone
wall that formed one side of the sheepfold, passed it and strode on toward Oscar
and the road.
"It is mischief that brings him from the hills—yes?" Oscar reflected,
glancing up and down the highway. Faintly—very softly through the night he
heard the orchestra at the hotel, playing for the dance. The little soldier
unbuttoned his coat, drew the revolver from his belt, and thrust it into his
coat pocket. Zmai was drawing nearer, advancing rapidly, now that he had gained
his bearings. At the wall Oscar rose suddenly and greeted him in
"Good evening, my friend; it's a fine evening for a walk."
Zmai drew back and growled.
"Let me pass," he said in his difficult German.
"It is a long wall; there should be no difficulty in passing. This country is
much freer than Servia—yes?" and Oscar's tone was pleasantly conversational.
Zmai put his hand on the wall and prepared to vault.
"A moment only, comrade. You seem to be in a hurry; it must be a business
that brings you from the mountains—yes?"
"I have no time for you," snarled the Servian. "Be gone!" and he shook
himself impatiently and again put his hand on the wall.
"One should not be in too much haste, comrade;" and Oscar thrust Zmai back
with his finger-tips.
The man yielded and ran a few steps out of the clump of trees and sought to
escape there. It was clear to Oscar that Zmai was not anxious to penetrate
closer to the Claiborne house, whose garden extended quite near. He met Zmai
promptly and again thrust him back.
"It is a message—yes?" asked Oscar.
"It is my affair," blurted the big fellow. "I mean no harm to you."
"It was you that tried the knife on my body. It is much quieter than
shooting. You have the knife—yes?"
The little soldier whipped out his revolver.
"In which pocket is the business carried? A letter undoubtedly. They do not
trust swine to carry words—Ah!"
Oscar dropped below the wall as Zmai struck at him; when he looked up a
moment later the Servian was running back over the meadow toward the sheepfold.
Oscar, angry at the ease with which the Servian had evaded him, leaped the wall
and set off after the big fellow. He was quite sure that the man bore a written
message, and equally sure that it must be of importance to his employer. He
clutched his revolver tight, brought up his elbows for greater ease in running,
and sped after Zmai, now a blur on the starlighted sheep pasture.
The slope was gradual and a pretty feature of the landscape by day; but it
afforded a toilsome path for runners. Zmai already realized that he had
blundered in not forcing the wall; he was running uphill, with a group of sheds,
another wall, and a still steeper and rougher field beyond. His bulk told
against him; and behind him he heard the quick thump of Oscar's feet on the
turf. The starlight grew dimmer through tracts of white scud; the surface of the
pasture was rougher to the feet than it appeared to the eye. A hound in the
Claiborne stable-yard bayed suddenly and the sound echoed from the surrounding
houses and drifted off toward the sheepfold. Then a noble music rose from the
Captain Claiborne, waiting for his sister on the veranda, looked toward the
Zmai approached the sheep-sheds rapidly, with still a hundred yards to
traverse beyond them before he should reach the pasture wall. His rage at thus
being driven by a small man for whom he had great contempt did not help his wind
or stimulate the flight of his heavy legs, and he saw now that he would lessen
the narrowing margin between himself and his pursuer if he swerved to the right
to clear the sheds. He suddenly slackened his pace, and with a vicious tug
settled his wool hat more firmly upon his small skull. He went now at a dog trot
and Oscar was closing upon him rapidly; then, quite near the sheds, Zmai wheeled
about and charged his pursuer headlong. At the moment he turned, Oscar's
revolver bit keenly into the night. Captain Claiborne, looking toward the slope,
saw the flash before the hounds at the stables answered the report.
At the shot Zmai cried aloud in his curiously small voice and clapped his
hands to his head.
"Stop; I want the letter!" shouted Oscar in German. The man turned slowly, as
though dazed, and, with a hand still clutching his head, half-stumbled and
half-ran toward the sheds, with Oscar at his heels.
Claiborne called to the negro stable-men to quiet the dogs, snatched a
lantern, and ran away through the pergola to the end of the garden and thence
into the pasture beyond. Meanwhile Oscar, thinking Zmai badly hurt, did not fire
again, but flung himself upon the fellow's broad shoulders and down they crashed
against the door of the nearest pen. Zmai swerved and shook himself free while
he fiercely cursed his foe. Oscar's hands slipped on the fellow's hot blood that
ran from a long crease in the side of his head.
As they fell the pen door snapped free, and out into the starry pasture
thronged the frightened sheep.
"The letter—give me the letter!" commanded Oscar, his face close to the
Servian's. He did not know how badly the man was injured, but he was anxious to
complete his business and be off. Still the sheep came huddling through the
broken door, across the prostrate men, and scampered away into the open. Captain
Claiborne, running toward the fold with his lantern and not looking for
obstacles, stumbled over their bewildered advance guard and plunged headlong
into the gray fleeces. Meanwhile into the pockets of his prostrate foe went
Oscar's hands with no result. Then he remembered the man's gesture in pulling
the hat close upon his ears, and off came the hat and with it a blood-stained
envelope. The last sheep in the pen trooped out and galloped toward its
Oscar, making off with the letter, plunged into the rear guard of the sheep,
fell, stumbled to his feet, and confronted Captain Claiborne as that gentleman,
in soiled evening dress, fumbled for his lantern and swore in language
unbecoming an officer and a gentleman.
"Damn the sheep!" roared Claiborne.
"It is sheep—yes?" and Oscar started to bolt.
The authority of the tone rang familiarly in Oscar's ears. He had, after
considerable tribulation, learned to stop short when an officer spoke to him,
and the gentleman of the sheepfold stood straight in the starlight and spoke
like an officer.
"What in the devil are you doing here, and who fired that shot?"
Oscar saluted and summoned his best English.
"It was an accident, sir."
"Why are you running and why did you fire? Understand you are a trespasser
here, and I am going to turn you over to the constable."
"There was a sheep-stealer—yes? He is yonder by the pens—and we had some
little fighting; but he is not dead—no?"
At that moment Claiborne's eyes caught sight of a burly figure rising and
threshing about by the broken pen door.
"That is the sheep-stealer," said Oscar. "We shall catch him—yes?"
Zmai peered toward them uncertainly for a moment; then turned abruptly and
ran toward the road. Oscar started to cut off his retreat, but Claiborne caught
the sergeant by the shoulder and flung him back.
"One of you at a time! They can turn the hounds on the other rascal. What's
that you have there? Give it to me—quick!"
"It's a piece of wool—"
But Claiborne snatched the paper from Oscar's hand, and commanded the man to
march ahead of him to the house. So over the meadow and through the pergola they
went, across the veranda and into the library. The power of army discipline was
upon Oscar; if Claiborne had not been an officer he would have run for it in the
garden. As it was, he was taxing his wits to find some way out of his
predicament. He had not the slightest idea as to what the paper might be. He had
risked his life to secure it, and now the crumpled, blood-stained paper had been
taken away from him by a person whom it could not interest in any way whatever.
He blinked under Claiborne's sharp scrutiny as they faced each other in the
"You are the man who brought a horse back to our stable an hour ago."
"You have been a soldier."
"In the cavalry, sir. I have my discharge at home."
"Where do you live?"
"I work as teamster in the coal mines—yes?—they are by Lamar, sir."
Claiborne studied Oscar's erect figure carefully.
"Let me see your hands," he commanded; and Oscar extended his palms.
"You are lying; you do not work in the coal mines. Your clothes are not those
of a miner; and a discharged soldier doesn't go to digging coal. Stand where you
are, and it will be the worse for you if you try to bolt."
Claiborne turned to the table with the envelope. It was not sealed, and he
took out the plain sheet of notepaper on which was written:
CABLEGRAM WlNKELRIED, VIENNA. Not later than Friday. CHAUVENET.
Claiborne read and re-read these eight words; then he spoke bluntly to Oscar.
"Where did you get this?"
"From the hat of the sheep-stealer up yonder."
"Who is he and where did he get it?"
"I don't know, sir. He was of Servia, and they are an ugly race—yes?"
"What were you going to do with the paper?"
"If I could read it—yes; I might know; but if Austria is in the paper, then
it is mischief; and maybe it would be murder; who knows?"
Claiborne looked frowningly from the paper to Oscar's tranquil eyes.
"Dick!" called Shirley from the hall, and she appeared in the doorway,
drawing on her gloves; but paused at seeing Oscar.
"Shirley, I caught this man in the sheepfold. Did you ever see him before?"
"I think not, Dick."
"It was he that brought your horse home."
"To be sure it is! I hadn't recognized him. Thank you very much;" and she
smiled at Oscar.
Dick frowned fiercely and referred again to the paper.
"Where is Monsieur Chauvenet—have you any idea?"
"If he isn't at the hotel or in Washington, I'm sure I don't know. If we are
going to the dance—"
"Plague the dance! I heard a shot in the sheep pasture a bit ago and ran out
to find this fellow in a row with another man, who got away."
"I heard the shot and the dogs from my window. You seem to have been in a
fuss, too, from the looks of your clothes;" and Shirley sat down and smoothed
her gloves with provoking coolness.
Dick sent Oscar to the far end of the library with a gesture, and held up the
message for Shirley to read.
"Don't touch it!" he exclaimed; and when she nodded her head in sign that she
had read it, he said, speaking earnestly and rapidly:
"I suppose I have no right to hold this message; I must send the man to the
hotel telegraph office with it. But where is Chauvenet? What is his business in
the valley? And what is the link between Vienna and these hills?"
"Don't you know what you are doing here?" she asked, and he flushed.
"I know what, but not why!" he blurted irritably; "but that's enough!"
"You know that Baron von Marhof wants to find Mr. John Armitage; but you
don't know why."
"I have my orders and I'm going to find him, if it takes ten years."
Shirley nodded and clasped her fingers together. Her elbows resting on the
high arms of her chair caused her cloak to flow sweepingly away from her
shoulders. At the end of the room, with his back to the portieres, stood Oscar,
immovable. Claiborne reexamined the message, and extended it again to Shirley.
"There's no doubt of that being Chauvenet's writing, is there?"
"I think not, Dick. I have had notes from him now and then in that hand. He
has taken pains to write this with unusual distinctness."
The color brightened in her cheeks suddenly as she looked toward Oscar. The
curtains behind him swayed, but so did the curtain back of her. A May-time
languor had crept into the heart of April, and all the windows were open. The
blurred murmurs of insects stole into the house. Oscar, half-forgotten by his
captor, heard a sound in the window behind him and a hand touched him through
Claiborne crumpled the paper impatiently.
"Shirley, you are against me! I believe you have seen Armitage here, and I
want you to tell me what you know of him. It is not like you to shield a scamp
of an adventurer—an unknown, questionable character. He has followed you to
this valley and will involve you in his affairs without the slightest
compunction, if he can. It's most infamous, outrageous, and when I find him I'm
going to thrash him within an inch of his life before I turn him over to
Shirley laughed for the first time in their interview, and rose and placed
her hands on her brother's shoulders.
"Do it, Dick! He's undoubtedly a wicked, a terribly wicked and dangerous
"I tell you I'll find him," he said tensely, putting up his hands to hers,
where they rested on his shoulders. She laughed and kissed him, and when her
hands fell to her side the message was in her gloved fingers.
"I'll help you, Dick," she said, buttoning her glove.
"That's like you, Shirley."
"If you want to find Mr. Armitage—"
"Of course I want to find him—" His voice rose to a roar.
"Then turn around; Mr. Armitage is just behind you!"
"Yes; I needed my man for other business," said Armitage, folding his arms,
"and as you were very much occupied I made free with the rear veranda and
changed places with him."
Claiborne walked slowly toward him, the anger glowing in his face.
"You are worse than I thought—eavesdropper, housebreaker!"
"Yes; I am both those things, Captain Claiborne. But I am also in a great
hurry. What do you want with me?"
"You are a rogue, an impostor—"
"We will grant that," said Armitage quietly. "Where is your warrant for my
"That will be forthcoming fast enough! I want you to understand that I have a
personal grievance against you."
"It must wait until day after to-morrow, Captain Claiborne. I will come to
you here or wherever you say on the day after to-morrow."
Armitage spoke with a deliberate sharp decision that was not the tone of a
rogue or a fugitive. As he spoke he advanced until he faced Claiborne in the
center of the room. Shirley still stood by the window, holding the soiled paper
in her hand. She had witnessed the change of men at the end of the room; it had
touched her humor; it had been a joke on her brother; but she felt that the
night had brought a crisis: she could not continue to shield a man of whom she
knew nothing save that he was the object of a curious enmity. Her idle prayer
that her own land's commonplace sordidness might be obscured by the glamour of
Old World romance came back to her; she had been in touch with an adventure that
was certainly proving fruitful of diversion. The coup de théÃ¢tre by
which Armitage had taken the place of his servant had amused her for a moment;
but she was vexed and angry now that he had dared come again to the house.
"You are under arrest, Mr. Armitage; I must detain you here," said Claiborne.
"In America—in free Virginia—without legal process?" asked Armitage,
"You are a housebreaker, that is enough. Shirley, please go!"
"You were not detached from the army to find a housebreaker. But I will make
your work easy for you—day after to-morrow I will present myself to you
wherever you say. But now—that cable message which my man found in your sheep
pasture is of importance. I must trouble you to read it to me."
"No!" shouted Claiborne.
Armitage drew a step nearer.
"You must take my word for it that matters of importance, of far-reaching
consequence, hang upon that message. I must know what it is."
"You certainly have magnificent cheek! I am going to take that paper to Baron
von Marhof at once."
"Do so!—but I must know first! Baron von Marhof and I are on the same
side in this business, but he doesn't understand it, and it is clear you don't.
Give me the message!"
He spoke commandingly, his voice thrilling with earnestness, and jerked out
his last words with angry impatience. At the same moment he and Claiborne
stepped toward each other, with their hands clenched at their sides.
"I don't like your tone, Mr. Armitage!"
"I don't like to use that tone, Captain Claiborne."
Shirley walked quickly to the table and put down the message. Then, going to
the door, she paused as though by an afterthought, and repeated quite slowly the
"Winkelried—Vienna—not later than Friday—Chauvenet."
"Shirley!" roared Claiborne.
John Armitage bowed to the already vacant doorway; then bounded into the hall
out upon the veranda and ran through the garden to the side gate, where Oscar
Half an hour later Captain Claiborne, after an interview with Baron von
Marhof, turned his horse toward the hills.