The Port of Missing Men
The Port Of Missing Men
Fast they come, fast they come;
See how they gather!
Wide waves the eagle plume,
Blended with heather.
Cast your plaids, draw your blades,
Forward each man set!
Pibroch of Donuil Dhu
Knell for the onset!
—Sir Walter Scott
Claiborne climbed upon a rock to get his bearings, and as he gazed off
through the wood a bullet sang close to his head and he saw a man slipping away
through the underbrush a hundred yards ahead of him. He threw up his rifle and
fired after the retreating figure, jerked the lever spitefully and waited. In a
few minutes Oscar rode alertly out of the wood at his left.
"It was better for us a dead horse than a dead man—yes?" was the little
sergeant's comment. "We shall come back for the saddle and bridle."
"Humph! Where do you think those men are?"
"Behind some rocks near the edge of the gap. It is a poor position."
"I'm not sure of that. They'll escape across the old bridge."
"Nein. A sparrow would shake it down. Three men at once—they would
not need our bullets!"
Far away to the right two reports in quick succession gave news of Armitage.
"It's the signal that he's got between them and the gate. Swing around to the
left and I will go straight to the big clearing, and meet you."
"You will have my horse—yes?" Oscar began to dismount.
"No; I do well enough this way. Forward!—the word is to keep them between us
and the gap until we can sit on them."
The mist was fast disappearing and swirling away under a sharp wind, and the
sunlight broke warmly upon the drenched world. Claiborne started through the wet
undergrowth at a dog trot. Armitage, he judged, was about half a mile away, and
to make their line complete Oscar should traverse an equal distance. The soldier
blood in Claiborne warmed at the prospect of a definite contest. He grinned as
it occurred to him that he had won the distinction of having a horse shot under
him in an open road fight, almost within sight of the dome of the Capitol.
The brush grew thinner and the trees fewer, and he dropped down and crawled
presently to the shelter of a boulder, from which he could look out upon the
open and fairly level field known as the Port of Missing Men. There as a boy he
had dreamed of battles as he pondered the legend of the Lost Legion. At the far
edge of the field was a fringe of stunted cedars, like an abatis, partly
concealing the old barricade where, in the golden days of their youth, he had
played with Shirley at storming the fort; and Shirley, in these fierce assaults,
had usually tumbled over upon the imaginary enemy ahead of him!
As he looked about he saw Armitage, his horse at a walk, ride slowly out of
the wood at his right. Claiborne jumped up and waved his hat and a rifle-ball
flicked his coat collar as lightly as though an unseen hand had tried to brush a
bit of dust from it. As he turned toward the marksman behind the cedars three
shots, fired in a volley, hummed about him. Then it was very still, with the
Sabbath stillness of early morning in the hills, and he heard faintly the
mechanical click and snap of the rifles of Chauvenet's party as they expelled
their exploded cartridges and refilled their magazines.
"They're really not so bad—bad luck to them!" he muttered. "I'll be ripe for
the little brown men after I get through with this;" and Claiborne laughed a
little and watched Armitage's slow advance out into the open.
The trio behind the barricade had not yet seen the man they had crossed the
sea to kill, as the line of his approach closely paralleled the long irregular
wall with its fringe of cedars; but they knew from Claiborne's signal that he
was there. The men had picketed their horses back of the little fort, and
Claiborne commended their good generalship and wondered what sort of beings they
were to risk so much upon so wild an adventure.
Armitage rode out farther into the opening, and Claiborne, with his eyes on
the barricade, saw a man lean forward through the cedars in an effort to take
aim at the horseman. Claiborne drew up his own rifle and blazed away. Bits of
stone spurted into the air below the target's elbow, and the man dropped back
out of sight without firing.
"I've never been the same since that fever," growled Claiborne, and snapped
out the shell spitefully, and watched for another chance.
Being directly in front of the barricade, he was in a position to cover
Armitage's advance, and Oscar, meanwhile, had taken his cue from Armitage and
ridden slowly into the field from the left. The men behind the cedars fired now
from within the enclosure at both men without exposing themselves; but their
shots flew wild, and the two horsemen rode up to Claiborne, who had emptied his
rifle into the cedars and was reloading.
"They are all together again, are they?" asked Armitage, pausing a few yards
from Claiborne's rock, his eyes upon the barricade.
"The gentleman with the curly hair—I drove him in. He is a damned poor
Oscar tightened his belt and waited for orders, while Armitage and Claiborne
conferred in quick pointed sentences.
"Shall we risk a rush or starve them out? I'd like to try hunger on them,"
"They'll all sneak off over the bridge to-night if we pen them up. If they
all go at once they'll break it down, and we'll lose our quarry. But you want to
"I certainly do!" Armitage replied, and turned to laugh at Oscar, who had
fired at the barricade from the back of his horse, which was resenting the
indignity by trying to throw his rider.
The enemy now concentrated a sharp fire upon Armitage, whose horse snorted
and pawed the ground as the balls cut the air and earth.
"For God's sake, get off that horse, Armitage!" bawled Claiborne, rising
upon, the rock. "There's no use in wasting yourself that way."
"My arm aches and I've got to do something. Let's try storming them just for
fun. It's a cavalry stunt, Claiborne, and you can play being the artillery
that's supporting our advance. Fall away there, Oscar, about forty yards, and
we'll race for it to the wall and over. That barricade isn't as stiff as it
looks from this side—know all about it. There are great chunks out of it that
can't be seen from this side."
"Thank me for that, Armitage. I tumbled down a good many yards of it when I
played up here as a kid. Get off that horse, I tell you! You've got a hole in
you now! Get down!"
"You make me tired, Claiborne. This beautiful row will all be over in a few
minutes. I never intended to waste much time on those fellows when I got them
where I wanted them."
His left arm hung quite limp at his side and his face was very white. He had
dropped his rifle in the road at the moment the ball struck his shoulder, but he
still carried his revolver. He nodded to Oscar, and they both galloped forward
over the open ground, making straight for the cedar covert.
Claiborne was instantly up and away between the two riders. Their bold
advance evidently surprised the trio beyond the barricade, who shouted hurried
commands to one another as they distributed themselves along the wall and
awaited the onslaught. Then they grew still and lay low out of sight as the
silent riders approached. The hoofs of the onrushing horses rang now and then on
the harsh outcropping rock, and here and there struck fire. Armitage sat erect
and steady in his saddle, his horse speeding on in great bounds toward the
barricade. His lips moved in a curious stiff fashion, as though he were ill,
"For Austria! For Austria! He bade me do something for the Empire!"
Beyond the cedars the trio held their fire, watching with fascinated eyes the
two riders, every instant drawing closer, and the runner who followed them.
"They can't jump this—they'll veer off before they get here," shouted
Chauvenet to his comrades. "Wait till they check their horses for the turn."
"We are fools. They have got us trapped;" and Durand's hands shook as he
restlessly fingered a revolver. The big Servian crouched on his knees near by,
his finger on the trigger of his rifle. All three were hatless and unkempt. The
wound in Zmai's scalp had broken out afresh, and he had twisted a colored
handkerchief about it to stay the bleeding. A hundred yards away the waterfall
splashed down the defile and its faint murmur reached them. A wild dove rose
ahead of Armitage and flew straight before him over the barricade. The silence
grew tense as the horses galloped nearer; the men behind the cedar-lined wall
heard only the hollow thump of hoofs and Claiborne's voice calling to Armitage
and Oscar, to warn them of his whereabouts.
But the eyes of the three conspirators were fixed on Armitage; it was his
life they sought; the others did not greatly matter. And so John Armitage rode
across the little plain where the Lost Legion had camped for a year at the end
of a great war; and as he rode on the defenders of the boulder barricade saw his
white face and noted the useless arm hanging and swaying, and felt, in spite of
themselves, the strength of his tall erect figure.
Chauvenet, watching the silent rider, said aloud, speaking in German, so that
"It is in the blood; he is like a king."
But they could not hear the words that John Armitage kept saying over and
over again as he crossed the field:
"He bade me do something for Austria—for Austria!"
"He is brave, but he is a great fool. When he turns his horse we will fire on
him," said Zmai.
Their eyes were upon Armitage; and in their intentness they failed to note
the increasing pace of Oscar's horse, which was spurting slowly ahead. When they
saw that he would first make the sweep which they assumed to be the contemplated
strategy of the charging party, they leveled their arms at him, believing that
he must soon check his horse. But on he rode, bending forward a little, his
rifle held across the saddle in front of him.
"Take him first," cried Chauvenet. "Then be ready for Armitage!"
Oscar was now turning his horse, but toward them and across Armitage's path,
with the deliberate purpose of taking the first fire. Before him rose the cedars
that concealed the line of wall; and he saw the blue barrels of the waiting
rifles. With a great spurt of speed he cut in ahead of Armitage swiftly and
neatly; then on, without a break or a pause—not heeding Armitage's cries—on
and still on, till twenty, then ten feet lay between him and the wall, at a
place where the cedar barrier was thinnest. Then, as his horse crouched and
rose, three rifles cracked as one. With a great crash the horse struck the wall
and tumbled, rearing and plunging, through the tough cedar boughs. An instant
later, near the same spot, Armitage, with better luck clearing the wall, was
borne on through the confused line. When he flung himself down and ran back
Claiborne had not yet appeared.
Oscar had crashed through at a point held by Durand, who was struck down by
the horse's forefeet. He lay howling with pain, with the hind quarters of the
prostrate beast across his legs. Armitage, running back toward the wall, kicked
the revolver from his hand and left him. Zmai had started to run as Oscar gained
the wall and Chauvenet's curses did not halt the Servian when he found Oscar at
Chauvenet stood impassively by the wall, his revolver raised and covering
Armitage, who walked slowly and doggedly toward him. The pallor in Armitage's
face gave him an unearthly look; he appeared to be trying to force himself to a
pace of which his wavering limbs were incapable. At the moment that Claiborne
sprang upon the wall behind Chauvenet Armitage swerved and stumbled, then swayed
from side to side like a drunken man. His left arm swung limp at his side, and
his revolver remained undrawn in his belt. His gray felt hat was twitched to one
side of his head, adding a grotesque touch to the impression of drunkenness, and
he was talking aloud:
"Shoot me, Mr. Chauvenet. Go on and shoot me! I am John Armitage, and I live
in Montana, where real people are. Go on and shoot! Winkelried's in jail and the
jig's up and the Empire and the silly King are safe. Go on and shoot, I tell
He had stumbled on until he was within a dozen steps of Chauvenet, who lifted
his revolver until it covered Armitage's head.
"Drop that gun—drop it damned quick!" and Dick Claiborne swung the butt of
his rifle high and brought it down with a crash on Chauvenet's head; then
Armitage paused and glanced about and laughed.
It was Claiborne who freed Durand from the dead horse, which had received the
shots fired at Oscar the moment he rose at the wall. The fight was quite knocked
out of the conspirator, and he swore under his breath, cursing the unconscious
Chauvenet and the missing Zmai and the ill fortune of the fight.
"It's all over but the shouting—what's next?" demanded Claiborne.
"Tie him up—and tie the other one up," said Armitage, staring about queerly.
"Where the devil is Oscar?"
"He's after the big fellow. You're badly fussed, old man. We've got to get
out of this and fix you up."
"I'm all right. I've got a hole in my shoulder that feels as big and hot as a
blast furnace. But we've got them nailed, and it's all right, old man!"
Durand continued to curse things visible and invisible as he rubbed his leg,
while Claiborne watched him impatiently.
"If you start to run I'll certainly kill you, Monsieur."
"We have met, my dear sir, under unfortunate circumstances. You should not
take it too much to heart about the potato sack. It was the fault of my dear
colleagues. Ah, Armitage, you look rather ill, but I trust you will harbor no
Armitage did not look at him; his eyes were upon the prostrate figure of
Chauvenet, who seemed to be regaining his wits. He moaned and opened his eyes.
"Search him, Claiborne, to make sure. Then get him on his legs and pinion his
arms, and tie the gentlemen together. The bridle on that dead horse is quite the
"But, Messieurs," began Durand, who was striving to recover his
composure—"this is unnecessary. My friend and I are quite willing to give you
every assurance of our peaceable intentions."
"I don't question it," laughed Claiborne.
"But, my dear sir, in America, even in delightful America, the law will
protect the citizens of another country."
"It will, indeed," and Claiborne grinned, put his revolver into Armitage's
hand, and proceeded to cut the reins from the dead horse. "In America such
amiable scoundrels as you are given the freedom of cities, and little children
scatter flowers in their path. You ought to write for the funny papers,
"I trust your wounds are not serious, my dear Armitage—"
Armitage, sitting on a boulder, turned his eyes wearily upon Durand, whose
wrists Claiborne was knotting together with a strap. The officer spun the man
"You beast, if you address Mr. Armitage again I'll choke you!"
Chauvenet, sitting up and staring dully about, was greeted ironically by
"Prisoners, my dearest Jules; prisoners, do you understand? Will you please
arrange with dear Armitage to let us go home and be good?"
Claiborne emptied the contents of Durand's pockets upon the ground and tossed
a flask to Armitage.
"We will discuss matters at the bungalow. They always go to the nearest
farm-house to sign the treaty of peace. Let us do everything according to the
A moment later Oscar ran in from the direction of the gap, to find the work
done and the party ready to leave.
"Where is the Servian?" demanded Armitage.
The soldier saluted, glanced from Chauvenet to Durand, and from Claiborne to
"He will not come back," said the sergeant quietly.
"That is bad," remarked Armitage. "Take my horse and ride down to Storm
Springs and tell Baron von Marhof and Judge Claiborne that Captain Claiborne has
found John Armitage, and that he presents his compliments and wishes them to
come to Mr. Armitage's house at once. Tell them that Captain Claiborne sent you
and that he wants them to come back with you immediately."
"But Armitage—not Marhof—for God's sake, not Marhof." Chauvenet staggered
to his feet and his voice choked as he muttered his appeal. "Not Marhof!"
"We can fix this among ourselves—just wait a little, till we can talk over
our affairs. You have quite the wrong impression of us, I assure you,
Messieurs," protested Durand.
"That is your misfortune! Thanks for the brandy, Monsieur Durand. I feel
quite restored," said Armitage, rising; and the color swept into his face and he
spoke with quick decision.
"Oh, Claiborne, will you kindly give me the time?"
Claiborne laughed. It was a laugh of real relief at the change in Armitage's
"It's a quarter of seven. This little scrap didn't take as much time as you
thought it would."
Oscar had mounted Armitage's horse and Claiborne stopped him as he rode past
on his way to the road.
"After you deliver Mr. Armitage's message, get a doctor and tell him to be in
a hurry about getting here."
"No!" began Armitage. "Good Lord, no! We are not going to advertise this
mess. You will spoil it all. I don't propose to be arrested and put in jail, and
a doctor would blab it all. I tell you, no!"
"Oscar, go to the hotel at the Springs and ask for Doctor Bledsoe. He's an
army surgeon on leave. Tell him I want him to bring his tools and come to me at
the bungalow. Now go!"
The conspirators' horses were brought up and Claiborne put Armitage upon the
best of them.
"Don't treat me as though I were a sick priest! I tell you, I feel bully! If
the prisoners will kindly walk ahead of us, we'll graciously ride behind. Or we
might put them both on one horse! Forward!"
Chauvenet and Durand, as they marched ahead of their captors, divided the
time between execrating each other and trying to make terms with Armitage. The
thought of being haled before Baron von Marhof gave them great concern.
"Wait a few hours, Armitage—let us sit down and talk it all over. We're not
as black as your imagination paints us!"
"Save your breath! You've had your fun so far, and now I'm going to have
mine. You fellows are all right to sit in dark rooms and plot murder and
treason; but you're not made for work in the open. Forward!"
They were a worn company that drew up at the empty bungalow, where the lamp
and candles flickered eerily. On the table still lay the sword, the cloak, the
silver box, the insignia of noble orders.