The Port of Missing Men
The news I bring is heavy in my tongue.
The second day thereafter Shirley Claiborne went into a jeweler's on the
Grand Quai to purchase a trinket that had caught her eye, while she waited for
Dick, who had gone off in their carriage to the post-office to send some
telegrams. It was a small shop, and the time early afternoon, when few people
were about. A man who had preceded her was looking at watches, and seemed deeply
absorbed in this occupation. She heard his inquiries as to quality and price,
and knew that it was Armitage's voice before she recognized his tall figure. She
made her purchase quickly, and was about to leave the shop, when he turned
toward her and she bowed.
"Good afternoon, Miss Claiborne. These are very tempting bazaars, aren't
they? If the abominable tariff laws of America did not give us pause—"
He bent above her, hat in hand, smiling. He had concluded the purchase of a
watch, which the shopkeeper was now wrapping in a box.
"I have just purchased a little remembrance for my ranch foreman out in
Montana, and before I can place it in his hands it must be examined and
appraised and all the pleasure of the gift destroyed by the custom officers in
New York. I hope you are a good smuggler, Miss Claiborne."
"I'd like to be. Women are supposed to have a knack at the business; but my
father is so patriotic that he makes me declare everything."
"Patriotism will carry one far; but I object both to being taxed and to the
alternative of corrupting the gentlemen who lie in wait at the receipt of
"Of course the answer is that Americans should buy at home," replied Shirley.
She received her change, and Armitage placed his small package in his pocket.
"My brother expected to meet me here; he ran off with our carriage," Shirley
"These last errands are always trying—there are innumerable things one would
like to come back for from mid-ocean, tariff or no tariff."
"There's the wireless," said Shirley. "In time we shall be able to commit our
afterthoughts to it. But lost views can hardly be managed that way. After I get
home I shall think of scores of things I should like to see again—that
photographs don't give."
"Oh—the way the Pope looks when he gives his blessing at St. Peter's; and
the feeling you have when you stand by Napoleon's tomb—the awfulness of what he
did and was—and being here in Switzerland, where I always feel somehow the
pressure of all the past of Europe about me. Now,"—and she laughed lightly,—"I
have made a most serious confession."
"It is a new idea—that of surveying the ages from these mountains. They must
be very wise after all these years, and they have certainly seen men and nations
do many evil and wretched things. But the history of the world is all one long
romance—a tremendous story."
"That is what makes me sorry to go home," said Shirley meditatively. "We are
so new—still in the making, and absurdly raw. When we have a war, it is just
politics, with scandals about what the soldiers have to eat, and that sort of
thing; and there's a fuss about pensions, and the heroic side of it is lost."
"But it is easy to overestimate the weight of history and tradition. The
glory of dead Caesar doesn't do the peasant any good. When you see Italian
laborers at work in America digging ditches or laying railroad ties, or find
Norwegian farmers driving their plows into the new hard soil of the Dakotas, you
don't think of their past as much as of their future—the future of the whole
Armitage had been the subject of so much jesting between Dick and herself
that it seemed strange to be talking to him. His face brightened pleasantly when
he spoke; his eyes were grayer than she had mockingly described them for her
brother's benefit the day before. His manner was gravely courteous, and she did
not at all believe that he had followed her about.
Her ideals of men were colored by the American prejudice in favor of those
who aim high and venture much. In her childhood she had read Malory and
Froissart with a boy's delight. She possessed, too, that poetic sense of the
charm of "the spirit of place" that is the natural accompaniment of the
imaginative temperament. The cry of bugles sometimes brought tears to her eyes;
her breath came quickly when she sat—as she often did—in the Fort Myer drill
hall at Washington and watched the alert cavalrymen dashing toward the
spectators' gallery in the mimic charge. The work that brave men do she admired
above anything else in the world. As a child in Washington she had looked
wonderingly upon the statues of heroes and the frequent military pageants of the
capital; and she had wept at the solemn pomp of military funerals. Once on a
battleship she had thrilled at the salutes of a mighty fleet in the Hudson below
the tomb of Grant; and soon thereafter had felt awe possess her as she gazed
upon the white marble effigy of Lee in the chapel at Lexington; for the
contemplation of heroes was dear to her, and she was proud to believe that her
father, a veteran of the Civil War, and her soldier brother were a tie between
herself and the old heroic times.
Armitage was aware that a jeweler's shop was hardly the place for extended
conversation with a young woman whom he scarcely knew, but he lingered in the
joy of hearing this American girl's voice, and what she said interested him
immensely. He had seen her first in Paris a few months before at an exhibition
of battle paintings. He had come upon her standing quite alone before High
Tide at Gettysburg, the picture of the year; and he had noted the quick
mounting of color to her cheeks as the splendid movement of the painting—its
ardor and fire—took hold of her. He saw her again in Florence; and it was from
there that he had deliberately followed the Claibornes.
His own plans were now quite unsettled by his interview with Von Stroebel. He
fully expected Chauvenet in Geneva; the man had apparently been on cordial terms
with the Claibornes; and as he had seemed to be master of his own time, it was
wholly possible that he would appear before the Claibornes left Geneva. It was
now the second day after Von Stroebel's departure, and Armitage began to feel
He stood with Shirley quite near the shop door, watching for Captain
Claiborne to come back with the carriage.
"But America—isn't America the most marvelous product of romance in the
world,—its discovery,—the successive conflicts that led up to the realization
of democracy? Consider the worthless idlers of the Middle Ages going about
banging one another's armor with battle-axes. Let us have peace, said the tired
"He could afford to say it; he was the victor," said Shirley.
"Ah! there is Captain Claiborne. I am indebted to you, Miss Claiborne, for
many pleasant suggestions."
The carriage was at the door, and Dick Claiborne came up to them at once and
bowed to Armitage.
"There is great news: Count Ferdinand von Stroebel was murdered in his
railway carriage between here and Vienna; they found him dead at Innsbruck this
"Is it possible! Are you quite sure he was murdered?"
It was Armitage who asked the question. He spoke in a tone quite
matter-of-fact and colorless, so that Shirley looked at him in surprise; but she
saw that he was very grave; and then instantly some sudden feeling flashed in
"There is no doubt of it. It was an atrocious crime; the count was an old man
and feeble when we saw him the other day. He wasn't fair game for an assassin,"
"No; he deserved a better fate," remarked Armitage.
"He was a grand old man," said Shirley, as they left the shop and walked
toward the carriage. "Father admired him greatly; and he was very kind to us in
Vienna. It is terrible to think of his being murdered."
"Yes; he was a wise and useful man," observed Armitage, still grave. "He was
one of the great men of his time."
His tone was not that of one who discusses casually a bit of news of the
hour, and Captain Claiborne paused a moment at the carriage door, curious as to
what Armitage might say further.
"And now we shall see—" began the young American.
"We shall see Johann Wilhelm die of old age within a few years at most; and
then Charles Louis, his son, will be the Emperor-king in his place; and if he
should go hence without heirs, his cousin Francis would rule in the house of his
fathers; and Francis is corrupt and worthless, and quite necessary to the plans
of destiny for the divine order of kings."
John Armitage stood beside the carriage quite erect, his hat and stick and
gloves in his right hand, his left thrust lightly into the side pocket of his
"A queer devil," observed Claiborne, as they drove away. "A solemn customer,
and not cheerful enough to make a good drummer. By what singular chance did he
find you in that shop?"
"I found him, dearest brother, if I must make the humiliating
"I shouldn't have believed it! I hardly thought you would carry it so far."
"And while he may be a salesman of imitation cut-glass, he has expensive
"Lord help us, he hasn't been buying you a watch?"
"No; he was lavishing himself on a watch for the foreman of his ranch in
"Humph! you're chaffing."
"Not in the least. He paid—I couldn't help being a witness to the
transaction—he actually paid five hundred francs for a watch to give to the
foreman of his ranch—his ranch, mind you, in Montana, U.S.A. He spoke of
it incidentally, as though he were always buying watches for cowboys. Now where
does that leave us?"
"I'm afraid it rather does for my theory. I'll look him up when I get home.
Montana isn't a good hiding-place any more. But it was odd the way he acted
about old Stroebel's death. You don't suppose he knew him, do you?"
"It's possible. Poor Count von Stroebel! Many hearts are lighter, now that
he's done for."
"Yes; and there will be something doing in Austria, now that he's out of the
Four days passed, in which they devoted themselves to their young brother.
The papers were filled with accounts of Count von Stroebel's death and
speculations as to its effect on the future of Austria and the peace of Europe.
The Claibornes saw nothing of Armitage. Dick asked for him in the hotel, and
found that he had gone, but would return in a few days.
It was on the morning of the fourth day that Armitage appeared suddenly at
the hotel as Dick and his sister waited for a carriage to carry them to their
train. He had just returned, and they met by the narrowest margin. He walked
with them to the door of the Monte Rosa.
"We are running for the King Edward, and hope for a day in London
before we sail. Perhaps we shall see you one of these days in America," said
Claiborne, with some malice, it must be confessed, for his sister's benefit.
"That is possible; I am very fond of Washington," responded Armitage
"Of course you will look us up," persisted Dick. "I shall be at Fort Myer for
a while—and it will always be a pleasure—"
Claiborne turned for a last word with the porter about their baggage, and
Armitage stood talking to Shirley, who had already entered the carriage.
"Oh, is there any news of Count von Stroebel's assassin?" she asked, noting
the newspaper that Armitage held in his hand.
"Nothing. It's a very mysterious and puzzling affair."
"It's horrible to think such a thing possible—he was a wonderful old man.
But very likely they will find the murderer."
Then, seeing her brother beating his hands together impatiently behind
Armitage's back—a back whose ample shoulders were splendidly silhouetted in the
carriage door—Shirley smiled in her joy of the situation, and would have
prolonged it for her brother's benefit even to the point of missing the train,
if the matter had been left wholly in her hands. It amused her to keep the
conversation pitched in the most impersonal key.
"The secret police will scour Europe in pursuit of the assassin," she
"Yes," replied Armitage gravely.
He thought her brown traveling gown, with hat and gloves to match,
exceedingly becoming, and he liked the full, deep tones of her voice, and the
changing light of her eyes; and a certain dimple in her left cheek—he had
assured himself that it had no counterpart on the right—made the fate of
principalities and powers seem, at the moment, an idle thing.
"The truth will be known before we sail, no doubt," said Shirley. "The
assassin may be here in Geneva by this time."
"That is quite likely," said John Armitage, with unbroken gravity. "In fact,
I rather expect him here, or I should be leaving to-day myself."
He bowed and made way for the vexed and chafing Claiborne, who gave his hand
to Armitage hastily and jumped into the carriage.
"Your imitation cut-glass drummer has nearly caused us to miss our train.
Thank the Lord, we've seen the last of that fellow."
Shirley said nothing, but gazed out of the window with a wondering look in
her eyes. And on the way to Liverpool she thought often of Armitage's last
words. "I rather expect him here, or I should be leaving to-day myself," he had
She was not sure whether, if it had not been for those words, she would have
thought of him again at all. She remembered him as he stood framed in the
carriage door—his gravity, his fine ease, the impression he gave of great
physical strength, and of resources of character and courage.
And so Shirley Claiborne left Geneva, not knowing the curious web that fate
had woven for her, nor how those last words spoken by Armitage at the carriage
door were to link her to strange adventures at the very threshold of her