The Port of Missing Men
If so be, you can discover a mode of life
more desirable than the being a king,
for those who shall be kings;
then the true Ideal of the State
will become a possibility;
but not otherwise.
—Marius the Epicurean
June roses overflowed the veranda rail of Baron von Marhof's cottage at Storm
Springs. The Ambassador and his friend and counsel, Judge Hilton Claiborne, sat
in a cool corner with a wicker table between them. The representative of
Austria-Hungary shook his glass with an impatience that tinkled the ice
"He's as obstinate as a mule!"
Judge Claiborne laughed at the Baron's vehemence.
"He comes by it honestly. I can imagine his father doing the same thing under
"What! This rot about democracy! This light tossing away of an honest title,
a respectable fortune! My dear sir, there is such a thing as carrying democracy
"I suppose there is; but he's of age; he's a grown man. I don't see what
you're going to do about it."
"Neither do I! But think what he's putting aside. The boy's clever—he has
courage and brains, as we know; he could have position—the home government is
under immense obligations to him. A word from me to Vienna and his services to
the crown would be acknowledged in the most generous fashion. And with his
father's memory and reputation behind him—"
"But the idea of reward doesn't appeal to him. We canvassed that last night."
"There's one thing I haven't dared to ask him: to take his own name—to
become Frederick Augustus von Stroebel, even if he doesn't want his father's
money or the title. Quite likely he will refuse that, too."
"It is possible. Most things seem possible with Armitage."
"It's simply providential that he hasn't become a citizen of your republic.
That would have been the last straw!"
They rose as Armitage called to them from a French window near by.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen! When two diplomats get their heads together on a
summer afternoon, the universe is in danger."
He came toward them hatless, but trailing a stick that had been the prop of
his later convalescence. His blue serge coat, a negligée shirt and duck trousers
had been drawn a few days before from the trunks brought by Oscar from the
bungalow. He was clean-shaven for the first time since his illness, and the two
men looked at him with a new interest. His deepened temples and lean cheeks and
hands told their story; but his step was regaining its old assurance, and his
eyes were clear and bright. He thrust the little stick under his arm and stood
erect, gazing at the near gardens and then at the hills. The wind tumbled his
brown newly-trimmed hair, and caught the loose ends of his scarf and whipped
"Sit down. We were just talking of you. You are getting so much stronger
every day that we can't be sure of you long," said the Baron.
"You have spoiled me,—I am not at all anxious to venture back into the
world. These Virginia gardens are a dream world, where nothing is really quite
"Something must be done about your father's estate soon. It is yours, waiting
The Baron bent toward the young man anxiously.
Armitage shook his head slowly, and clasped the stick with both hands and
held it across his knees.
"No,—no! Please let us not talk of that any more. I could not feel
comfortable about it. I have kept my pledge to do something for his
country—something that we may hope pleases him if he knows."
The three were silent for a moment. A breeze, sweet with pine-scent of the
hills, swept the valley, taking tribute of the gardens as it passed. The Baron
was afraid to venture his last request.
"But the name—the honored name of the greatest statesman Austria has
known—a name that will endure with the greatest names of Europe—surely you can
at least accept that."
The Ambassador's tone was as gravely importunate as though he were begging
the cession of a city from a harsh conqueror. Armitage rose and walked the
length of the veranda. He had not seen Shirley since that morning when the earth
had slipped from under his feet at the bungalow. The Claibornes had been back
and forth often between Washington and Storm Springs. The Judge had just been
appointed a member of the Brazilian boundary commission which was to meet
shortly in Berlin, and Mrs. Claiborne and Shirley were to go with him. In the
Claiborne garden, beyond and below, he saw a flash of white here and there among
the dark green hedges. He paused, leaned against a pillar, and waited until
Shirley crossed one of the walks and passed slowly on, intent upon the rose
trees; and he saw—or thought he saw—the sun searching out the gold in her
brown hair. She was hatless. Her white gown emphasized the straight line of her
figure. She paused to ponder some new arrangement of a line of hydrangeas, and
he caught a glimpse of her against a pillar of crimson ramblers. Then he went
back to the Baron.
"How much of our row in the hills got into the newspapers?" he asked, sitting
"Nothing,—absolutely nothing. The presence of the Sophia Margaret off
the capes caused inquiries to be made at the embassy, and several correspondents
came down here to interview me. Then the revenue officers made some raids in the
hills opportunely and created a local diversion. You were hurt while cleaning
your gun,—please do not forget that!—and you are a friend of my family,—a
very eccentric character, who has chosen to live in the wilderness."
The Judge and Armitage laughed at these explanations, though there was a
little constraint upon them all. The Baron's question was still unanswered.
"You ceased to be of particular interest some time ago. While you were sick
the fraudulent Von Kissel was arrested in Australia, and I believe some of the
newspapers apologized to you handsomely."
"That was very generous of them;" and Armitage shifted his position slightly.
A white skirt had flashed again in the Claiborne garden and he was trying to
follow it. At the same time there were questions he wished to ask and have
answered. The Baroness von Marhof had already gone to Newport; the Baron
lingered merely out of good feeling toward Armitage—for it was as Armitage that
he was still known to the people of Storm Springs, to the doctor and nurses who
"The news from Vienna seems tranquil enough," remarked Armitage. He had not
yet answered the Baron's question, and the old gentleman grew restless at the
delay. "I read in the Neue Freie Presse a while ago that Charles Louis is
showing an unexpected capacity for affairs. It is reported, too, that an heir is
in prospect. The Winkelried conspiracy is only a bad dream and we may safely
turn to other affairs."
"Yes; but the margin by which we escaped is too narrow to contemplate."
"We have a saying that a miss is as good as a mile," remarked Judge
Claiborne. "We have never told Mr. Armitage that we found the papers in the
safety box at New York to be as he described them."
"They are dangerous. We have hesitated as to whether there was more risk in
destroying them than in preserving them," said the Baron.
Armitage shrugged his shoulders and laughed.
"They are out of my hands. I positively decline to accept their further
A messenger appeared with a telegram which the Baron opened and read.
"It's from the commander of the Sophia Margaret, who is just leaving
Rio Janeiro for Trieste, and reports his prisoners safe and in good health."
"It was a happy thought to have him continue his cruise to the Brazilian
coast before returning homeward. By the time he delivers those two scoundrels to
his government their fellow conspirators will have forgotten they ever lived.
But"—and Judge Claiborne shrugged his shoulders and smiled disingenuously—"as
a lawyer I deplore such methods. Think what a stir would be made in this country
if it were known that two men had been kidnapped in the sovereign state of
Virginia and taken out to sea under convoy of ships carrying our flag for
transfer to an Austrian battle-ship! That's what we get for being a free
republic that can not countenance the extradition of a foreign citizen for a
Armitage was not listening. Questions of international law and comity had no
interest for him whatever. The valley breeze, the glory of the blue Virginia
sky, the far-stretching lines of hills that caught and led the eye like sea
billows; the dark green of shrubbery, the slope of upland meadows, and that
elusive, vanishing gleam of white,—before such things as these the splendor of
empire and the might of armies were unworthy of man's desire.
The Baron's next words broke harshly upon his mood.
"The gratitude of kings is not a thing to be despised. You could go to Vienna
and begin where most men leave off! Strong hands are needed in Austria,—you
could make yourself the younger—the great Stroebel—"
The mention of his name brought back the Baron's still unanswered question.
He referred to it now, as he stood before them smiling.
"I have answered all your questions but one; I shall answer that a little
later,—if you will excuse me for just a few minutes I will go and get the
answer,—that is, gentlemen, I hope I shall be able to bring it back with me."
He turned and ran down the steps and strode away through the long shadows of
the garden. They heard the gate click after him as he passed into the Claiborne
grounds and then they glanced at each other with such a glance as may pass
between two members of a peace commission sitting on the same side of the table,
who will not admit to each other that the latest proposition of the enemy has
been in the nature of a surprise. They did not, however, suffer themselves to
watch Armitage, but diplomatically refilled their glasses.
Through the green walls went Armitage. He had not been out of the Baron's
grounds before since he was carried thence from the bungalow; and it was
pleasant to be free once more, and able to stir without a nurse at his heels;
and he swung along with his head and shoulders erect, walking with the confident
stride of a man who has no doubt whatever of his immediate aim.
At the pergola he paused to reconnoiter, finding on the bench certain
vestigia that interested him deeply,—a pink parasol, a contrivance of
straw, lace and pink roses that seemed to be a hat, and a June magazine. He
jumped upon the bench where once he had sat, an exile, a refugee, a person
discussed in disagreeable terms by the newspapers, and studied the landscape.
Then he went on up the gradual slope of the meadow, until he came to the pasture
wall. It was under the trees beneath which Oscar had waited for Zmai that he
"They told me you wouldn't dare venture out for a week," she said, advancing
toward him and giving him her hand.
"That was what they told me," he said, laughing; "but I escaped from my
"You will undoubtedly take cold,—without your hat!"
"Yes; I shall undoubtedly have pneumonia from exposure to the Virginia
sunshine. I take my chances."
"You may sit on the wall for three minutes; then you must go back. I can not
be responsible for the life of a wounded hero."
"Please!" He held up his hand. "That's what I came to talk to you about."
"About being a hero? You have taken an unfair advantage. I was going to send
for the latest designs in laurel wreaths to-morrow."
She sat down beside him on the wall. The sheep were a grayish blur against
the green. A little negro boy was shepherding them, and they scampered before
him toward the farther end of the pasture. The faint and vanishing tinkle of a
bell, and the boy's whistle, gave emphasis to the country-quiet of the late
afternoon. They spoke rapidly and impersonally of his adventures in the hills
and of his illness. When they looked at each other it was with swift laughing
glances. Her cheeks and hands were-already brown,—an honest brown won from May
and June in the open field,—not that blistered, peeling scarlet that marks the
insincere devotee of racket, driver and oar, who jumps into the game in August,
but the real brown conferred by the dear mother of us all upon the faithful who
go forth to meet her in April. Her hands interested him particularly. They were
long, slender and supple; and she had a pretty way of folding them upon her
knees that charmed him.
"I didn't know, Miss Claiborne, that I was going to lose my mind that morning
at the bungalow or I should have asked your brother to conduct you to the
conservatory while I fainted. From what they told me I must have been a little
light-headed for a day or two. If I had been in my right mind I shouldn't have
let Captain Dick mix up in my business and run the risk of getting killed in a
nasty little row. Dear old Dick! I made a mess of that whole business; I ought
to have telegraphed for the Storm Springs constable in the beginning, and told
him that if he wasn't careful the noble house of Schomburg would totter and
"Yes; and just imagine the effect on our constable of telling him that the
fate of an empire lay in his hands. It's hard enough to get a man arrested who
beats his horse. But you must go back to your keepers. You haven't your hat—"
"Neither have you; you shan't outdo me in recklessness. I inspected your hat
as I came through the pergola. I liked it immensely; I came near seizing it as
spoil of war,—the loot of the pergola!"
"There would be cause for another war; I have rarely liked any hat so much.
But the Baron will be after you in a moment. I can't be responsible for you."
"The Baron annoys me. He has given me a lot of worry. And that's what I have
come to ask you about."
"Then I should say that you oughtn't to quarrel with a dear old man like
Baron von Marhof. Besides, he's your uncle."
"No! No! I don't want him to be my uncle! I don't need any uncle!"
He glanced about with an anxiety that made her laugh.
"I understand perfectly! My father told me that the events of April in these
hills were not to be mentioned. But don't worry; the sheep won't tell—and I
He was silent for a moment as he thought out the words of what he wished to
say to her. The sun was dipping down into the hills; the mellow air was still;
the voice of a negro singing as he crossed a distant field stole sweetly upon
He touched her hand.
"Shirley!" and his fingers closed upon hers.
"I love you, Shirley! From those days when I saw you in Paris,—before the
great Gettysburg battle picture, I loved you. You had felt the cry of the Old
World, the story that is in its battle-fields, its beauty and romance, just as I
had felt the call of this new and more wonderful world. I understood—I knew
what was in your heart; I knew what those things meant to you;—but I had put
them aside; I had chosen another life for myself. And the poor life that you
saved, that is yours if you will take it. I have told your father and Baron von
Marhof that I would not take the fortune my father left me; I would not go back
there to be thanked or to get a ribbon to wear in my coat. But my name, the name
I bore as a boy and disgraced in my father's eyes,—his name that he made famous
throughout the world, the name I cast aside with my youth, the name I flung away
in anger,—they wish me to take that."
She withdrew her hand and rose and looked away toward the western hills.
"The greatest romance in the world is here, Shirley. I have dreamed it all
over,—in the Canadian woods, on the Montana ranch as I watched the herd at
night. My father spent his life keeping a king upon his throne; but I believe
there are higher things and finer things than steadying a shaking throne or
being a king. And the name that has meant nothing to me except dominion and
power,—it can serve no purpose for me to take it now. I learned much from the
poor Archduke; he taught me to hate the sham and shame of the life he had fled
from. My father was the last great defender of the divine right of kings; but I
believe in the divine right of men. And the dome of the Capitol in Washington
does not mean to me force or hatred or power, but faith and hope and man's right
to live and do and be whatever he can make himself. I will not go back or take
the old name unless,—unless you tell me I must, Shirley!"
There was an instant in which they both faced the westering sun. He looked
down suddenly and the deep feeling in his heart went to his lips.
"It was that way,—you were just like that when I saw you first, Shirley,
with the dreams in your eyes."
He caught her hand and kissed it,—bending very low indeed. Suddenly, as he
stood erect, her arms were about his neck and her cheek with its warmth and
color lay against his face.
"I do not know,"—and he scarcely heard the whispered words,—"I do not know
Frederick Augustus von Stroebel,—but I love—John Armitage," she said.
Then back across the meadow, through the rose-aisled ways of the quiet
garden, they went hand in hand together and answered the Baron's question.