The Port of Missing Men
John Armitage A Prisoner
All things are bright in the track of the sun,
All things are fair I see;
And the light in a golden tide
has run Down out of the sky to me.
And the world turns round and round and round,
And my thought sinks into the sea;
The sea of peace and of joy profound
Whose tide is mystery.
The man whom John Armitage expected arrived at the Hotel Monte Rosa a few
hours after the Claibornes' departure.
While he waited, Mr. Armitage employed his time to advantage. He carefully
scrutinized his wardrobe, and after a process of elimination and substitution he
packed his raiment in two trunks and was ready to leave the inn at ten minutes'
notice. Between trains, when not engaged in watching the incoming travelers, he
smoked a pipe over various packets of papers and letters, and these he burned
with considerable care. All the French and German newspaper accounts of the
murder of Count von Stroebel he read carefully; and even more particularly he
studied the condition of affairs in Vienna consequent upon the great statesman's
death. Secret agents from Vienna and detectives from Paris had visited Geneva in
their study of this astounding crime, and had made much fuss and asked many
questions; but Mr. John Armitage paid no heed to them. He had held the last
conversation of length that any one had enjoyed with Count Ferdinand von
Stroebel, but the fact of this interview was known to no one, unless to one or
two hotel servants, and these held a very high opinion of Mr. Armitage's
character, based on his generosity in the matter of gold coin; and there could,
of course, be no possible relationship between so shocking a tragedy and a
chance acquaintance between two travelers. Mr. Armitage knew nothing that he
cared to impart to detectives, and a great deal that he had no intention of
imparting to any one. He accumulated a remarkable assortment of time-tables and
advertisements of transatlantic sailings against sudden need, and even engaged
passage on three steamers sailing from English and French ports within the week.
He expected that the person for whom he waited would go direct to the Hotel
Monte Rosa for the reason that Shirley Claiborne had been there; and Armitage
was not mistaken. When this person learned that the Claibornes had left, he
would doubtless hurry after them. This is the conclusion that was reached by Mr.
Armitage, who, at times, was singularly happy in his speculations as to the
mental processes of other people. Sometimes, however, he made mistakes, as will
The gentleman for whom John Armitage had been waiting arrived alone, and was
received as a distinguished guest by the landlord.
Monsieur Chauvenet inquired for his friends the Claibornes, and was clearly
annoyed to find that they had gone; and no sooner had this intelligence been
conveyed to him than he, too, studied time-tables and consulted steamer
advertisements. Mr. John Armitage in various discreet ways was observant of
Monsieur Chauvenet's activities, and bookings at steamship offices interested
him so greatly that he reserved passage on two additional steamers and ordered
the straps buckled about his trunks, for it had occurred to him that he might
find it necessary to leave Geneva in a hurry.
It was not likely that Monsieur Chauvenet, being now under his eyes, would
escape him; and John Armitage, making a leisurely dinner, learned from his
waiter that Monsieur Chauvenet, being worn from his travels, was dining alone in
At about eight o'clock, as Armitage turned the pages of Figaro in the
smoking-room, Chauvenet appeared at the door, scrutinized the group within, and
passed on. Armitage had carried his coat, hat and stick into the smoking-room,
to be ready for possible emergencies; and when Chauvenet stepped out into the
street he followed.
It was unusually cold for the season, and a fine drizzle filled the air.
Chauvenet struck off at once away from the lake, turned into the Boulevard
Helvétique, thence into the Boulevard Froissart with its colony of
pensions. He walked rapidly until he reached a house that was
distinguished from its immediate neighbors only by its unlighted upper windows.
He pulled the bell in the wall, and the door was at once opened and instantly
Armitage, following at twenty yards on the opposite side of the street,
paused abruptly at the sudden ending of his chase. It was not an hour for
loitering, for the Genevan gendarmerie have rather good eyes, but
Armitage had by no means satisfied his curiosity as to the nature of Chauvenet's
errand. He walked on to make sure he was unobserved, crossed the street, and
again passed the dark, silent house which Chauvenet had entered. He noted the
place carefully; it gave no outward appearance of being occupied. He assumed,
from the general plan of the neighboring buildings, that there was a courtyard
at the rear of the darkened house, accessible through a narrow passageway at the
side. As he studied the situation he kept moving to avoid observation, and
presently, at a moment when he was quite alone in the street, walked rapidly to
the house Chauvenet had entered.
Gentlemen in search of adventures do well to avoid the continental wall. Mr.
Armitage brushed the glass from the top with his hat. It jingled softly within
under cover of the rain-drip. The plaster had crumbled from the bricks in spots,
giving a foot its opportunity, and Mr. Armitage drew himself to the top and
dropped within. The front door and windows stared at him blankly, and he
committed his fortunes to the bricked passageway. The rain was now coming down
in earnest, and at the rear of the house water had begun to drip noisily into an
iron spout. The electric lights from neighboring streets made a kind of twilight
even in the darkened court, and Armitage threaded his way among a network of
clothes-lines to the rear wall and viewed the premises. He knew his Geneva from
many previous visits; the quarter was undeniably respectable; and there is, to
be sure, no reason why the blinds of a house should not be carefully drawn at
nightfall at the pleasure of the occupants. The whole lower floor seemed utterly
deserted; only at one point on the third floor was there any sign of light, and
this the merest hint.
The increasing fall of rain did not encourage loitering in the wet courtyard,
where the downspout now rattled dolorously, and Armitage crossed the court and
further assured himself that the lower floor was dark and silent. Balconies were
bracketed against the wall at the second and third stories, and the slight iron
ladder leading thither terminated a foot above his head. John Armitage was fully
aware that his position, if discovered, was, to say the least, untenable; but he
was secure from observation by police, and he assumed that the occupants of the
house were probably too deeply engrossed with their affairs to waste much time
on what might happen without. Armitage sprang up and caught the lowest round of
the ladder, and in a moment his tall figure was a dark blur against the wall as
he crept warily upward. The rear rooms of the second story were as dark and
quiet as those below. Armitage continued to the third story, where a door, as
well as several windows, gave upon the balcony; and he found that it was from a
broken corner of the door shade that a sharp blade of light cut the dark. All
continued quiet below; he heard the traffic of the neighboring thoroughfares
quite distinctly; and from a kitchen near by came the rough clatter of
dishwashing to the accompaniment of a quarrel in German between the maids. For
the moment he felt secure, and bent down close to the door and listened.
Two men were talking, and evidently the matter under discussion was of
importance, for they spoke with a kind of dogged deliberation, and the long
pauses in the dialogue lent color to the belief that some weighty matter was in
debate. The beat of the rain on the balcony and its steady rattle in the spout
intervened to dull the sound of voices, but presently one of the speakers, with
an impatient exclamation, rose, opened the small glass-paned door a few inches,
peered out, and returned to his seat with an exclamation of relief. Armitage had
dropped down the ladder half a dozen rounds as he heard the latch snap in the
door. He waited an instant to make sure he had not been seen, then crept back to
the balcony and found that the slight opening in the door made it possible for
him to see as well as hear.
"It's stifling in this hole," said Chauvenet, drawing deeply upon his
cigarette and blowing a cloud of smoke. "If you will pardon the informality, I
will lay aside my coat."
He carefully hung the garment upon the back of his chair to hold its shape,
then resumed his seat. His companion watched him meanwhile with a certain
"You take excellent care of your clothes, my dear Jules. I never have been
able to fold a coat without ruining it."
The rain was soaking Armitage thoroughly, but its persistent beat covered any
slight noises made by his own movements, and he was now intent upon the little
room and its occupants. He observed the care with which the man kept close to
his coat, and he pondered the matter as he hung upon the balcony. If Chauvenet
was on his way to America it was possible that he would carry with him the
important paper whose loss had caused so much anxiety to the Austrian minister;
if so, where was it during his stay in Geneva?
"The old man's death is only the first step. We require a succession of
"We require three, to be explicit, not more or less. We should be fortunate
if the remaining two could be accomplished as easily as Stroebel's."
"He was a beast. He is well dead."
"That depends on the way you look at it. They seem really to be mourning the
old beggar at Vienna. It is the way of a people. They like to be ruled by a
savage hand. The people, as you have heard me say before, are fools."
The last speaker was a young man whom Armitage had never seen before; he was
a decided blond, with close-trimmed straw-colored beard and slightly-curling
hair. Opposite him, and facing the door, sat Chauvenet. On the table between
them were decanters and liqueur glasses.
"I am going to America at once," said Chauvenet, holding his filled glass
toward a brass lamp of an old type that hung from the ceiling.
"It is probably just as well," said the other. "There's work to do there. We
must not forget our more legitimate business in the midst of these pleasant side
"The field is easy. After our delightful continental capitals, where, as you
know, one is never quite sure of one's self, it is pleasant to breathe the
democratic airs of Washington," remarked Chauvenet.
"Particularly so, my dear friend, when one is blessed with your delightful
social gifts. I envy you your capacity for making others happy."
There was a keen irony in the fellow's tongue and the edge of it evidently
touched Chauvenet, who scowled and bent forward with his fingers on the table.
"Enough of that, if you please."
"As you will, carino; but you will pardon me for offering my
condolences on the regrettable departure of la belle Americaine. If you
had not been so intent on matters of state you would undoubtedly have found her
here. As it is, you are now obliged to see her on her native soil. A month in
Washington may do much for you. She is beautiful and reasonably rich. Her
brother, the tall captain, is said to be the best horseman in the American
"Humph! He is an ass," ejaculated Chauvenet.
A servant now appeared bearing a fresh bottle of cordial. He was
distinguished by a small head upon a tall and powerful body, and bore little
resemblance to a house servant. While he brushed the cigar ashes from the table
the men continued their talk without heeding him.
Chauvenet and his friend had spoken from the first in French, but in
addressing some directions to the servant, the blond, who assumed the rÃ´le of
host, employed a Servian dialect.
"I think we were saying that the mortality list in certain directions will
have to be stimulated a trifle before we can do our young friend Francis any
good. You have business in America, carino. That paper we filched from
old Stroebel strengthens our hold on Francis; but there is still that question
as to Karl and Frederick Augustus. Our dear Francis is not satisfied. He wishes
to be quite sure that his dear father and brother are dead. We must reassure
him, dearest Jules."
"Don't be a fool, Durand. You never seem to understand that the United States
of America is a trifle larger than a barnyard. And I don't believe those fellows
are over there. They're probably lying in wait here somewhere, ready to take
advantage of any opportunity,—-that is, if they are alive. A man can hardly
fail to be impressed with the fact that so few lives stand between him and—"
"The heights—the heights!" And the young man, whom Chauvenet called Durand,
lifted his tiny glass airily.
"Yes; the heights," repeated Chauvenet a little dreamily.
"But that declaration—that document! You have never honored me with a
glimpse; but you have it put safely away, I dare say."
"There is no place—but one—that I dare risk. It is always within easy
reach, my dear friend."
"You will do well to destroy that document. It is better out of the way."
"Your deficiencies in the matter of wisdom are unfortunate. That paper
constitutes our chief asset, my dear associate. So long as we have it we are
able to keep dear Francis in order. Therefore we shall hold fast to it,
remembering that we risked much in removing it from the lamented Stroebel's
"Do you say 'risked much'? My valued neck, that is all!" said the other. "You
and Winkelried are without gratitude."
"You will do well," said Chauvenet, "to keep an eye open in Vienna for the
unknown. If you hear murmurs in Hungary one of these fine days—! Nothing has
happened for some time; therefore much may happen."
He glanced at his watch.
"I have work in Paris before sailing for New York. Shall we discuss the
matter of those Peruvian claims? That is business. These other affairs are more
in the nature of delightful diversions, my dear comrade."
They drew nearer the table and Durand produced a box of papers over which he
bent with serious attention. Armitage had heard practically all of their
dialogue, and, what was of equal interest, had been able to study the faces and
learn the tones of voice of the two conspirators. He was cramped from his
position on the narrow balcony and wet and chilled by the rain, which was now
slowly abating. He had learned much that he wished to know, and with an ease
that astonished him; and he was well content to withdraw with gratitude for his
His legs were numb and he clung close to the railing of the little ladder for
support as he crept toward the area. At the second story his foot slipped on the
wet iron, smooth from long use, and he stumbled down several steps before he
recovered himself. He listened a moment, heard nothing but the tinkle of the
rain in the spout, then continued his retreat.
As he stepped out upon the brick courtyard he was seized from behind by a
pair of strong arms that clasped him tight. In a moment he was thrown across the
threshold of a door into an unlighted room, where his captor promptly sat upon
him and proceeded to strike a light.