THE PORT OF MISSING MEN
Author of The House of a Thousand Candles, The Main Chance, Zelda Dameron, etc.
Then Sir Pellinore put off his armour; then a little afore midnight they heard the trotting of an horse. Be ye still, said King Pellinore, for we shall hear of some adventure.—Malory.
To the Memory of Herman Kountze
THE SHINING ROAD
Come, sweetheart, let us ride away beyond the city's bound, And seek what pleasant lands across the distant hills are found. There is a golden light that shines beyond the verge of dawn, And there are happy highways leading on and always on; So, sweetheart, let us mount and ride, with never a backward glance, To find the pleasant shelter of the Valley of Romance.
Before us, down the golden road, floats dust from charging steeds, Where two adventurous companies clash loud in mighty deeds; And from the tower that stands alert like some tall, beckoning pine, E'en now, my heart, I see afar the lights of welcome shine! So loose the rein and cheer the steed and let us race away To seek the lands that lie beyond the Borders of To-day.
Draw rein and rest a moment here in this cool vale of peace; The race half-run, the goal half-won, half won the sure release! To right and left are flowery fields, and brooks go singing down To mock the sober folk who still are prisoned in the town. Now to the trail again, dear heart; my arm and blade are true, And on some plain ere night descend I'll break a lance for you!
O sweetheart, it is good to find the pathway shining clear! The road is broad, the hope is sure, and you are near and dear! So loose the rein and cheer the steed and let us race away To seek the lands that lie beyond the borders of To-day. Oh, we shall hear at last, my heart, a cheering welcome cried As o'er a clattering drawbridge through the Gate of Dreams we ride!
CHAPTER I "Events, Events" II The Claibornes, of Washington III Dark Tidings IV John Armitage a Prisoner V A Lost Cigarette Case VI Toward the Western Stars VII On the Dark Deck VIII "The King Is Dead; Long Live the King" IX "This Is America, Mr. Armitage" X John Armitage Is Shadowed XI The Toss of a Napkin XII A Camp in the Mountains XIII The Lady of the Pergola XIV An Enforced Interview XV Shirley Learns a Secret XVI Narrow Margins XVII A Gentleman in Hiding XVIII An Exchange of Messages XIX Captain Claiborne on Duty XX The First Ride Together XXI The Comedy of a Sheepfold XXII The Prisoner at the Bungalow XXIII The Verge of Morning XXIV The Attack in the Road XXV The Port of Missing Men XXVI "Who Are You, John Armitage?" XXVII Decent Burial XXVIII John Armitage
Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back Wherein he puts alms for oblivion. —Troilus and Cressida.
"The knowledge that you're alive gives me no pleasure," growled the grim old Austrian premier.
"Thank you!" laughed John Armitage, to whom he had spoken. "You have lost none of your old amiability; but for a renowned diplomat, you are remarkably frank. When I called on you in Paris, a year ago, I was able to render you—I believe you admitted it—a slight service."
Count Ferdinand von Stroebel bowed slightly, but did not take his eyes from the young man who sat opposite him in his rooms at the Hotel Monte Rosa in Geneva. On the table between them stood an open despatch box, and about it lay a number of packets of papers which the old gentleman, with characteristic caution, had removed to his own side of the table before admitting his caller. He was a burly old man, with massive shoulders and a great head thickly covered with iron-gray hair.
He trusted no one, and this accounted for his presence in Geneva in March, of the year 1903, whither he had gone to receive the report of the secret agents whom he had lately despatched to Paris on an errand of peculiar delicacy. The agents had failed in their mission, and Von Stroebel was not tolerant of failure. Perhaps if he had known that within a week the tapers would burn about his bier in Saint Stephen's Cathedral, at Vienna, while his life and public services would be estimated in varying degrees of admiration or execration by the newspapers of Europe, he might not have dealt so harshly with his hard-worked spies.
It was not often that the light in the old man's eyes was as gentle as now. He had sent his secret agents away and was to return to Vienna on the following day. The young man whom he now entertained in his apartments received his whole attention. He picked up the card which lay on the table and scrutinized it critically, while his eyes lighted with sudden humor.
The card was a gentleman's carte de visite, and bore the name John Armitage.
"I believe this is the same alias you were using when I saw you in Paris. Where did you get it?" demanded the minister.
"I rather liked the sound of it, so I had the cards made," replied the young man. "Besides, it's English, and I pass readily for an Englishman. I have quite got used to it."
"Which is not particularly creditable; but it's probably just as well so."
He drew closer to the table, and his keen old eyes snapped with the intentness of his thought. The hands he clasped on the table were those of age, and it was pathetically evident that he folded them to hide their slight palsy.
"I hope you are quite well," said Armitage kindly.
"I am not. I am anything but well. I am an old man, and I have had no rest for twenty years."
"It is the penalty of greatness. It is Austria's good fortune that you have devoted yourself to the affairs of government. I have read—only to-day, in the Contemporary Review—an admirable tribute to your sagacity in handling the Servian affair. Your work was masterly. I followed it from the beginning with deepest interest."
The old gentleman bowed half-unconsciously, for his thoughts were far away, as the vague stare in his small, shrewd eyes indicated.
"But you are here for rest—one comes to Geneva at this season for nothing else."
"What brings you here?" asked the old man with sudden energy. "If the papers you gave me in Paris are forgeries and you are waiting—"
"Yes; assuming that, what should I be waiting for?"
"If you are waiting for events—for events! If you expect something to happen!"
Armitage laughed at the old gentleman's earnest manner, asked if he might smoke, and lighted a cigarette.
"Waiting doesn't suit me. I thought you understood that. I was not born for the waiting list. You see, I have strong hands—and my wits are—let us say—average!"
Von Stroebel clasped his own hands together more firmly and bent toward Armitage searchingly.
"Is it true"—he turned again and glanced about—"is it positively true that the Archduke Karl is dead?"
"Yes; quite true. There is absolutely no doubt of it," said Armitage, meeting the old man's eyes steadily.
"The report that he is still living somewhere in North America is persistent. We hear it frequently in Vienna; I have heard it since you told me that story and gave me those papers in Paris last year."
"I am aware of that," replied John Armitage; "but I told you the truth. He died in a Canadian lumber camp. We were in the north hunting—you may recall that he was fond of that sort of thing."
"Yes, I remember; there was nothing else he did so well," growled Von Stroebel.
"And the packet I gave you—"
The old man nodded.
"—that packet contained the Archduke Karl's sworn arraignment of his wife. It is of great importance, indeed, to Francis, his worthless son, or supposed son, who may present himself for coronation one of these days!"
"Not with Karl appearing in all parts of the world, never quite dead, never quite alive—and his son Frederick Augustus lurking with him in the shadows. Who knows whether they are dead?"
"I am the only person on earth in a position to make that clear," said John Armitage.
"Then you should give me the documents."
"No; I prefer to keep them. I assure you that I have sworn proof of the death of the Archduke Karl, and of his son Frederick Augustus. Those papers are in a box in the Bronx Loan and Trust Company, in New York City."
"I should have them; I must have them!" thundered the old man.
"In due season; but not just now. In fact, I have regretted parting with that document I gave you in Paris. It is safer in America than in Vienna. If you please, I should like to have it again, sir."
The palsy in the old man's hands had increased, and he strove to control his agitation; but fear had never been reckoned among his weaknesses, and he turned stormily upon Armitage.
"That packet is lost, I tell you!" he blurted, as though it were something that he had frequently explained before. "It was stolen from under my very nose only a month ago! That's what I'm here for—my agents are after the thief, and I came to Geneva to meet them, to find out why they have not caught him. Do you imagine that I travel for pleasure at my age, Mr. John Armitage?"
Count von Stroebel's bluster was merely a cloak to hide his confusion—a cloak, it may be said, to which he did not often resort; but in this case he watched Armitage warily. He clearly expected some outburst of indignation from the young man, and he was unfeignedly relieved when Armitage, after opening and closing his eyes quickly, reached for a fresh cigarette and lighted it with the deft ease of habit.
"The packet has been stolen," he observed calmly; "whom do you suspect of taking it?"
The old man leaned upon the table heavily.
"That amiable Francis—"
"The suggestion is not dismaying. Francis would not know an opportunity if it offered."
"But his mother—she is the devil!" blurted the old man.
"Pray drop that," said Armitage in a tone that caused the old man to look at him with a new scrutiny. "I want the paper back for the very reason that it contains that awful indictment of her. I have been uncomfortable ever since I gave it to you; and I came to ask you for it that I might keep it safe in my own hands. But the document is lost,—am I to understand that Francis has it?"
"Not yet! But Rambaud has it, and Rambaud and Francis are as thick as thieves."
"I don't know Rambaud. The name is unfamiliar."
"He has a dozen names—one for every capital. He even operates in Washington, I have heard. He's a blackmailer, who aims high—a broker in secrets, a scandal-peddler. He's a bad lot, I tell you. I've had my best men after him, and they've just been here to report another failure. If you have nothing better to do—" began the old man.
"Yes; that packet must be recovered," answered Armitage. "If your agents have failed at the job it may be worth my while to look for it."
His quiet acceptance of the situation irritated the minister.
"You entertain me, John Armitage! You speak of that packet as though it were a pound of tea. Francis and his friends, Winkelried and Rambaud, are not chasers of fireflies, I would have you know. If the Archduke and his son are dead, then a few more deaths and Francis would rule the Empire."
John Armitage and Count von Stroebel stared at each other in silence.
"Events! Events!" muttered the old man presently, and he rested one of his hands upon the despatch box, as though it were a symbol of authority and power.
"Events!" the young man murmured.
"Events!" repeated Count von Stroebel without humor. "A couple of deaths and there you see him, on the ground and quite ready. Karl was a genius, therefore he could not be king. He threw away about five hundred years of work that had been done for him by other people—and he cajoled you into sharing his exile. You threw away your life for him! Bah! But you seem sane enough!"
The prime minister concluded with his rough burr; and Armitage laughed outright.
"Why the devil don't you go to Vienna and set yourself up like a gentleman?" demanded the premier.
"Like a gentleman?" repeated Armitage. "It is too late. I should die in Vienna in a week. Moreover, I am dead, and it is well, when one has attained that beatific advantage, to stay dead."
"Francis is a troublesome blackguard," declared the old man. "I wish to God he would form the dying habit, so that I might have a few years in peace; but he is forever turning up in some mischief. And what can you do about it? Can we kick him out of the army without a scandal? Don't you suppose he could go to Budapest tomorrow and make things interesting for us if he pleased? He's as full of treason as he can stick, I tell you."
Armitage nodded and smiled.
"I dare say," he said in English; and when the old statesman glared at him he said in German: "No doubt you are speaking the truth."
"Of course I speak the truth; but this is a matter for action, and not for discussion. That packet was stolen by intention, and not by chance, John Armitage!"
There was a slight immaterial sound in the hall, and the old prime minister slipped from German to French without changing countenance as he continued:
"We have enough troubles in Austria without encouraging treason. If Rambaud and his chief, Winkelried, could make a king of Francis, the brokerage—the commission—would be something handsome; and Winkelried and Rambaud are clever men."
"I know of Winkelried. The continental press has given much space to him of late; but Rambaud is a new name."
"He is a skilled hand. He is the most daring scoundrel in Europe."
Count von Stroebel poured a glass of brandy from a silver flask and sipped it slowly.
"I will show you the gentleman's pleasant countenance," said the minister, and he threw open a leather portfolio and drew from it a small photograph which he extended to Armitage, who glanced at it carelessly and then with sudden interest.
"Rambaud!" he exclaimed.
"That's his name in Vienna. In Paris he is something else. I will furnish you a list of his noms de guerre."
"Thank you. I should like all the information you care to give me; but it may amuse you to know that I have seen the gentleman before."
"That is possible," remarked the old man, who never evinced surprise in any circumstances.
"I expect to see him here within a few days."
Count von Stroebel held up his empty glass and studied it attentively, while he waited for Armitage to explain why he expected to see Rambaud in Geneva.
"He is interested in a certain young woman. She reached here yesterday; and Rambaud, alias Chauvenet, is quite likely to arrive within a day or so."
"Jules Chauvenet is the correct name. I must inform my men," said the minister.
"You wish to arrest him?"
"You ought to know me better than that, Mr. John Armitage! Of course I shall not arrest him! But I must get that packet. I can't have it peddled all over Europe, and I can't advertise my business by having him arrested here. If I could catch him once in Vienna I should know what to do with him! He and Winkelried got hold of our plans in that Bulgarian affair last year and checkmated me. He carries his wares to the best buyers—Berlin and St. Petersburg. So there's a woman, is there? I've found that there usually is!"
"There's a very charming young American girl, to be more exact."
The old man growled and eyed Armitage sharply, while Armitage studied the photograph.
"I hope you are not meditating a preposterous marriage. Go back where you belong, make a proper marriage and wait—"
"Events!" and John Armitage laughed. "I tell you, sir, that waiting is not my forte. That's what I like about America; they're up and at it over there; the man who waits is lost."
"They're a lot of swine!" rumbled Von Stroebel's heavy bass.
"I still owe allegiance to the Schomburg crown, so don't imagine you are hitting me. But the swine are industrious and energetic. Who knows but that John Armitage might become famous among them—in politics, in finance! But for the deplorable accident of foreign birth he might become president of the United States. As it is, there are thousands of other offices worth getting—why not?"
"I tell you not to be a fool. You are young and—fairly clever—"
Armitage laughed at the reluctance of the count's praise.
"Thank you, with all my heart!"
"Go back where you belong and you will have no regrets. Something may happen—who can tell? Events—events—if a man will watch and wait and study events—"
"Bless me! They organize clubs in every American village for the study of events," laughed Armitage; then he changed his tone. "To be sure, the Bourbons have studied events these many years—a pretty spectacle, too."
"Carrion! Carrion!" almost screamed the old man, half-rising in his seat. "Don't mention those scavengers to me! Bah! The very thought of them makes me sick. But"—he gulped down more of the brandy—"where and how do you live?"
"Where? I own a cattle ranch in Montana and since the Archduke's death I have lived there. He carried about fifty thousand pounds to America with him. He took care that I should get what was left when he died—and, I am almost afraid to tell you that I have actually augmented my inheritance! Just before I left I bought a place in Virginia to be near Washington when I got tired of the ranch."
"Washington!" snorted the count. "In due course it will be the storm center of the world."
"You read the wrong American newspapers," laughed Armitage.
They were silent for a moment, in which each was busy with his own thoughts; then the count remarked, in as amiable a tone as he ever used:
"Your French is first rate. Do you speak English as well?"
"As readily as German, I think. You may recall that I had an English tutor, and maybe I did not tell you in that interview at Paris that I had spent a year at Harvard University."
"What the devil did you do that for?" growled Von Stroebel.
"From curiosity, or ambition, as you like. I was in Cambridge at the law school for a year before the Archduke died. That was three years ago. I am twenty-eight, as you may remember. I am detaining you; I have no wish to rake over the past; but I am sorry—I am very sorry we can't meet on some common ground."
"I ask you to abandon this democratic nonsense and come back and make a man of yourself. You might go far—very far; but this democracy has hold of you like a disease."
"What you ask is impossible. It is just as impossible now as it was when we discussed it in Paris last year. To sit down in Vienna and learn how to keep that leaning tower of an Empire from tumbling down like a stack of bricks—it does not appeal to me. You have spent a laborious life in defending a silly medieval tradition of government. You are using all the apparatus of the modern world to perpetuate an ideal that is as old and dead as the Rameses dynasty. Every time you use the telegraph to send orders in an emperor's name you commit an anachronism."
The count frowned and growled.
"Don't talk to me like that. It is not amusing."
"No; it is not funny. To see men like you fetching and carrying for dull kings, who would drop through the gallows or go to planting turnips without your brains—it does not appeal to my sense of humor or to my imagination."
"You put it coarsely," remarked the old man grimly. "I shall perhaps have a statue when I am gone."
"Quite likely; and mobs will rendezvous in its shadow to march upon the royal palaces. If I were coming back to Europe I should go in for something more interesting than furnishing brains for sickly kings."
"I dare say! Very likely you would persuade them to proclaim democracy and brotherhood everywhere."
"On the other hand, I should become king myself."
"Don't be a fool, Mr. John Armitage. Much as you have grieved me, I should hate to see you in a madhouse."
"My faculties, poor as they are, were never clearer. I repeat that if I were going to furnish the brains for an empire I should ride in the state carriage myself, and not be merely the driver on the box, who keeps the middle of the road and looks out for sharp corners. Here is a plan ready to my hand. Let me find that lost document, appear in Vienna and announce myself Frederick Augustus, the son of the Archduke Karl! I knew both men intimately. You may remember that Frederick and I were born in the same month. I, too, am Frederick Augustus! We passed commonly in America as brothers. Many of the personal effects of Karl and Augustus are in my keeping—by the Archduke's own wish. You have spent your life studying human nature, and you know as well as I do that half the world would believe my story if I said I was the Emperor's nephew. In the uneasy and unstable condition of your absurd empire I should be hailed as a diversion, and then—events, events!"
Count von Stroebel listened with narrowing eyes, and his lips moved in an effort to find words with which to break in upon this impious declaration. When Armitage ceased speaking the old man sank back and glared at him.
"Karl did his work well. You are quite mad. You will do well to go back to America before the police discover you."
Armitage rose and his manner changed abruptly.
"I do not mean to trouble or annoy you. Please pardon me! Let us be friends, if we can be nothing more."
"It is too late. The chasm is too deep."
The old minister sighed deeply. His fingers touched the despatch box as though by habit. It represented power, majesty and the iron game of government. The young man watched him eagerly.
The heavy, tremulous hands of Count von Stroebel passed back and forth over the box caressingly. Suddenly he bent forward and spoke with a new and gentler tone and manner.
"I have given my life, my whole life, as you have said, to one service—to uphold one idea. You have spoken of that work with contempt. History, I believe, will reckon it justly."
"Your place is secure—no one can gainsay that," broke in Armitage.
"If you would do something for me—for me—do something for Austria, do something for my country and yours! You have wits; I dare say you have courage. I don't care what that service may be; I don't care where or how you perform it. I am not so near gone as you may think. I know well enough that they are waiting for me to die; but I am in no hurry to afford my enemies that pleasure. But stop this babble of yours about democracy. Do something for Austria—for the Empire that I have held here under my hand these difficult years—then take your name again—and you will find that kings can be as just and wise as mobs."
"For the Empire—something for the Empire?" murmured the young man, wondering.
Count Ferdinand von Stroebel rose.
"You will accept the commission—I am quite sure you will accept. I leave on an early train, and I shall not see you again." As he took Armitage's hand he scrutinized him once more with particular care; there was a lingering caress in his touch as he detained the young man for an instant; then he sighed heavily.
"Good night; good-by!" he said abruptly, and waved his caller toward the door.
THE CLAIBORNES, OF WASHINGTON
—the Englishman who is not an Englishman and therefore doubly incomprehensible.—The Naulahka.
The girl with the white-plumed hat started and flushed slightly, and her brother glanced over his shoulder toward the restaurant door to see what had attracted her attention.
"'Tis he, the unknown, Dick."
"I must say I like his persistence!" exclaimed the young fellow, turning again to the table. "In America I should call him out and punch his head, but over here—"
"Over here you have better manners," replied the girl, laughing. "But why trouble yourself? He doesn't even look at us. We are of no importance to him whatever. We probably speak a different language."
"But he travels by the same trains; he stops at the same inns; he sits near us at the theater—he even affects the same pictures in the same galleries! It's growing a trifle monotonous; it's really insufferable. I think I shall have to try my stick on him."
"You flatter yourself, Richard," mocked the girl. "He's fully your height and a trifle broader across the shoulders. The lines about his mouth are almost—yes, I should say, quite as firm as yours, though he is a younger man. His eyes are nice blue ones, and they are very steady. His hair is"—she paused to reflect and tilted her head slightly, her eyes wandering for an instant to the subject of her comment—"light brown, I should call it. And he is beardless, as all self-respecting men should be. I'm sure that he is an exemplary person—kind to his sisters and aunts, very willing to sacrifice himself for others and light the candles on his nephews' and nieces' Christmas trees."
She rested her cheek against her lightly-clasped hands and sighed deeply to provoke a continuation of her brother's growling disdain.
The young gentleman to whom she had referred had seated himself at a table not far distant, given an order with some particularity, and settled himself to the reading of a newspaper which he had drawn from the pocket of his blue serge coat. He was at once absorbed, and the presence of the Claibornes gave him apparently not the slightest concern.
"He has a sense of humor," the girl resumed. "I saw him yesterday—"
"You're always seeing him: you ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"Don't interrupt me, please. As I was saying, I saw him laughing over the Fliegende Blaetter."
"But that's no sign he has a sense of humor. It rather proves that he hasn't. I'm disappointed in you, Shirley. To think that my own sister should be able to tell the color of a wandering blackguard's eyes!"
He struck a match viciously, and his sister laughed.
"I might add to his portrait. That blue and white scarf is tied beautifully; and his profile would be splendid in a medallion. I believe from his nose he may be English, after all," she added with a dreamy air assumed to add to her brother's impatience.
"Which doesn't help the matter materially, that I can see!" exclaimed the young man. "With a full beard he'd probably look like a Sicilian bandit. If I thought he was really pursuing you in this darkly mysterious way I should certainly give him a piece of my American mind. You might suppose that a girl would be safe traveling with her brother."
"It isn't your fault, Dick," laughed the girl. "You know our parents dear were with us when we first began to notice him—that was in Rome. And now that we are alone he continues to follow our trail just the same. It's really diverting; and if you were a good brother you'd find out all about him, and we might even do stunts together—the three of us, with you as the watchful chaperon. You forget how I have worked for you, Dick. I took great chances in forcing an acquaintance with those frosty English people at Florence just because you were crazy about the scrawny blonde who wore the frightful hats. I wash my hands of you hereafter. Your taste in girls is horrible."
"Your mind has been affected by reading these fake-kingdom romances, where a ridiculous prince gives up home and mother and his country to marry the usual beautiful American girl who travels about having silly adventures. I belong to the Know-nothing Party—America for Americans and only white men on guard!"
"Yes, Richard! Your sentiments are worthy, but they'd have more weight if I hadn't seen you staring your eyes out every time we came within a mile of a penny princess. I haven't forgotten your disgraceful conduct in collecting photographs of that homely daughter of a certain English duke. We'll call the incident closed, little brother."
"Our friend Chauvenet, even," continued Captain Claiborne, "is less persistent—less gloomily present on the horizon. We haven't seen him for a week or two. But he expects to visit Washington this spring. His waistcoats are magnificent. The governor shies every time the fellow unbuttons his coat."
"Mr. Chauvenet is an accomplished man of the world," declared Shirley with an insincere sparkle in her eyes.
"He lives by his wits—and lives well."
Claiborne dismissed Chauvenet and turned again toward the strange young man, who was still deep in his newspaper.
"He's reading the Neue Freie Presse," remarked Dick, "by which token I argue that he's some sort of a Dutchman. He's probably a traveling agent for a Vienna glass-factory, or a drummer for a cheap wine-house, or the agent for a Munich brewery. That would account for his travels. We simply fall in with his commercial itinerary."
"You seem to imply, brother, that my charms are not in themselves sufficient. But a commercial traveler hardly commands that fine repose, that distinction—that air of having been places and seen things and known people—"
"Tush! I have seen American book agents who had all that—even the air of having been places! Your instincts ought to serve you better, Shirley. It's well that we go on to-morrow. I shall warn mother and the governor that you need watching."
Shirley Claiborne's eyes rested again upon the calm reader of the Neue Freie Presse. The waiter was now placing certain dishes upon the table without, apparently, interesting the young gentleman in the least. Then the unknown dropped his newspaper, and buttered a roll reflectively. His gaze swept the room for the first time, passing over the heads of Miss Claiborne and her brother unseeingly—with, perhaps, too studied an air of indifference.
"He has known real sorrow," persisted Shirley, her elbows on the table, her fingers interlocked, her chin resting idly upon them. "He's traveling in an effort to forget a blighting grief," the girl continued with mock sympathy.
"Then let us leave him in peace! We can't decently linger in the presence of his sacred sorrow."
Captain Richard Claiborne and his sister Shirley had stopped at Geneva to spend a week with a younger brother, who was in school there, and were to join their father and mother at Liverpool and sail for home at once. The Claibornes were permanent residents of Washington, where Hilton Claiborne, a former ambassador to two of the greatest European courts, was counsel for several of the embassies and a recognized authority in international law. He had been to Rome to report to the Italian government the result of his efforts to collect damages from the United States for the slaughter of Italian laborers in a railroad strike, and had proceeded thence to England on other professional business.
Dick Claiborne had been ill, and was abroad on leave in an effort to shake off the lingering effects of typhoid fever contracted in the Philippines. He was under orders to report for duty at Fort Myer on the first of April, and it was now late March. He and his sister had spent the morning at their brother's school and were enjoying a late dejeuner at the Monte Rosa. There existed between them a pleasant comradeship that was in no wise affected by divergent tastes and temperaments. Dick had just attained his captaincy, and was the youngest man of his rank in the service. He did not know an orchid from a hollyhock, but no man in the army was a better judge of a cavalry horse, and if a Wagner recital bored him to death his spirit rose, nevertheless, to the bugle, and he drilled his troop until he could play with it and snap it about him like a whip.
Shirley Claiborne had been out of college a year, and afforded a pleasant refutation of the dull theory that advanced education destroys a girl's charm, or buoyancy, or whatever it is that is so greatly admired in young womanhood. She gave forth the impression of vitality and strength. She was beautifully fair, with a high color that accentuated her youthfulness. Her brown hair, caught up from her brow in the fashion of the early years of the century, flashed gold in sunlight.
Much of Shirley's girlhood had been spent in the Virginia hills, where Judge Claiborne had long maintained a refuge from the heat of Washington. From childhood she had read the calendar of spring as it is written upon the landscape itself. Her fingers found by instinct the first arbutus; she knew where white violets shone first upon the rough breast of the hillsides; and particular patches of rhododendron had for her the intimate interest of private gardens.
Undoubtedly there are deities fully consecrated to the important business of naming girls, so happily is that task accomplished. Gladys is a child of the spirit of mischief. Josephine wears a sweet gravity, and Mary, too, discourses of serious matters. Nora, in some incarnation, has seen fairies scampering over moor and hill and the remembrance of them teases her memory. Katherine is not so faithless as her ways might lead you to believe. Laura without dark eyes would be impossible, and her predestined Petrarch would never deliver his sonnets. Helen may be seen only against a background of Trojan wall. Gertrude must be tall and fair and ready with ballads in the winter twilight. Julia's reserve and discretion commend her to you; but she has a heart of laughter. Anne is to be found in the rose garden with clipping-shears and a basket. Hilda is a capable person; there is no ignoring her militant character; the battles of Saxon kings ring still in her blood. Marjorie has scribbled verses in secret, and Celia is the quietest auditor at the symphony. And you may have observed that there is no button on Elizabeth's foil; you do well not to clash wits with her. Do you say that these ascriptions are not square with your experience? Then verily there must have been a sad mixing of infant candidates for the font in your parish. Shirley, in such case, will mean nothing to you. It is a waste of time to tell you that the name may become audible without being uttered; you can not be made to understand that the r and l slip into each other as ripples glide over pebbles in a brook. And from the name to the girl—may you be forever denied a glimpse of Shirley Claiborne's pretty head, her brown hair and dream-haunted eyes, if you do not first murmur the name with honest liking.
As the Claibornes lingered at their table a short stout man espied them from the door and advanced beamingly.
"Ah, my dear Shirley, and Dick! Can it be possible! I only heard by the merest chance that you were here. But Switzerland is the real meeting-place of the world."
The young Americans greeted the new-comer cordially. A waiter placed a chair for him, and took his hat. Arthur Singleton was an American, though he had lived abroad so long as to have lost his identity with any particular city or state of his native land. He had been an attache of the American embassy at London for many years. Administrations changed and ambassadors came and went, but Singleton was never molested. It was said that he kept his position on the score of his wide acquaintance; he knew every one, and he was a great peddler of gossip, particularly about people in high station.
The children of Hilton Claiborne were not to be overlooked. He would impress himself upon them, as was his way; for he was sincerely social by instinct, and would go far to do a kindness for people he really liked.
"Ah me! You have arrived opportunely, Miss Claiborne. There's mystery in the air—the great Stroebel is here—under this very roof and in a dreadfully bad humor. He is a dangerous man—a very dangerous man, but failing fast. Poor Austria! Count Ferdinand von Stroebel can have no successor—he's only a sort of holdover from the nineteenth century, and with him and his Emperor out of the way—what? For my part I see only dark days ahead;" and he concluded with a little sigh that implied crumbling thrones and falling dynasties.
"We met him in Vienna," said Shirley Claiborne, "when father was there before the Ecuador Claims Commission. He struck me as being a delightful old grizzly bear."
"He will have his place in history; he is a statesman of the old blood and iron school; he is the peer of Bismarck, and some things he has done. He holds more secrets than any other man in Europe—and you may be quite sure that they will die with him. He will leave no memoirs to be poked over by his enemies—no post-mortem confidences from him!"
The reader of the Neue Freie Presse, preparing to leave his table, tore from the newspaper an article that seemed to have attracted him, placed it in his card-case, and walked toward the door. The eyes of Arthur Singleton lighted in recognition, and the attache, muttering an apology to the Claibornes, addressed the young gentleman cordially.
"Why, Armitage, of all men!" and he rose, still facing the Claibornes, with an air of embracing the young Americans in his greetings. He never liked to lose an auditor; and he would, in no circumstances, miss a chance to display the wide circumference of his acquaintance.
"Shirley—Miss Claiborne—allow me to present Mr. Armitage." The young army officer and Armitage then shook hands, and the three men stood for a moment, detained, it seemed, by the old attache, who had no engagement for the next hour or two and resented the idea of being left alone.
"One always meets Armitage!" declared Singleton. "He knows our America as well as we do—and very well indeed—for an Englishman."
Armitage bowed gravely.
"You make it necessary again for me to disavow any allegiance to the powers that rule Great Britain. I'm really a fair sort of American—I have sometimes told New York people all about—Colorado—Montana—New Mexico!"
His voice and manner were those of a gentleman. His color, as Shirley Claiborne now observed, was that of an outdoors man; she was familiar with it in soldiers and sailors, and knew that it testified to a vigorous and wholesome life.
"Of course you're not English!" exclaimed Singleton, annoyed as he remembered, or thought he did, that Armitage had on some other occasion made the same protest.
"I'm really getting sensitive about it," said Armitage, more to the Claibornes than to Singleton. "But must we all be from somewhere? Is it so melancholy a plight to be a man without a country?"
The mockery in his tone was belied by the good humor in his face; his eyes caught Shirley's passingly, and she smiled at him—it seemed a natural, a perfectly inevitable thing to do. She liked the kind tolerance with which he suffered the babble of Arthur Singleton, whom some one had called an international bore. The young man's dignity was only an expression of self-respect; his appreciation of the exact proprieties resulting from this casual introduction to herself and her brother was perfect. He was already withdrawing. A waiter had followed him with his discarded newspaper—and Armitage took it and idly dropped it on a chair.
"Have you heard the news, Armitage? The Austrian sphinx is here—in this very house!" whispered Singleton impressively.
"Yes; to be sure, Count von Stroebel is here, but he will probably not remain long. The Alps will soon be safe again. I am glad to have met you." He bowed to the Claibornes inclusively, nodded in response to Singleton's promise to look him up later, and left them.
When Shirley and her brother reached their common sitting-room Dick Claiborne laughingly held up the copy of the Neue Freie Presse which Armitage had cast aside at their table.
"Now we shall know!" he declared, unfolding the newspaper.
"Know what, Dick?"
"At least what our friend without a country is so interested in."
He opened the paper, from which half a column had been torn, noted the date, rang the bell, and ordered a copy of the same issue. When it was brought he opened it, found the place, laughed loudly, and passed the sheet over to his sister.
"Oh, Shirley, Shirley! This is almost too much!" he cried, watching her as her eyes swept the article. She turned away to escape his noise, and after a glance threw down the paper in disgust. The article dealt in detail with Austro-Hungarian finances, and fairly bristled with figures and sage conclusions based upon them.
"Isn't that the worst!" exclaimed Shirley, smiling ruefully.
"He's certainly a romantic figure ready to your hand. Probably a bank-clerk who makes European finance his recreation."
"He isn't an Englishman, at any rate. He repudiated the idea with scorn."
"Well, your Mr. Armitage didn't seem so awfully excited at meeting Singleton; but he seemed rather satisfied with your appearance, to put it mildly. I wonder if he had arranged with Singleton to pass by in that purely incidental way, just for the privilege of making your acquaintance!"
"Don't be foolish, Dick. It's unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. But if you should see Mr. Singleton again—"
"Yes—not if I see him first!" ejaculated Claiborne.
"Well, you might ask him who Mr. Armitage is. It would be amusing—and satisfying—to know."
Later in the day the old attache fell upon Claiborne in the smoking-room and stopped to discuss a report that a change was impending in the American State Department. Changes at Washington did not trouble Singleton, who was sure of his tenure. He said as much; and after some further talk, Claiborne remarked:
"Your friend Armitage seems a good sort."
"Oh, yes; a capital talker, and thoroughly well posted in affairs."
"Yes, he seemed interesting. Do you happen to know where he lives—when he's at home?"
"Lord bless you, boy, I don't know anything about Armitage!" spluttered Singleton, with the emphasis so thrown as to imply that of course in any other branch of human knowledge he would be found abundantly qualified to answer questions.
"But you introduced us to him—my sister and me. I assumed—"
"My dear Claiborne, I'm always introducing people! It's my business to introduce people. Armitage is all right. He's always around everywhere. I've dined with him in Paris, and I've rarely seen a man order a better dinner."
The news I bring is heavy in my tongue.—Shakespeare.
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 customs."
"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 explained.
"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 human race."
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 uneasy.
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 warrior."
"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 morning."
"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 his eyes.
"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," said Claiborne.
"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 coat.
"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 disclosure."
"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 tastes."
"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 Montana."
"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 way."
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 carelessly.
"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 observed.
"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 said.
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 American home.
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 appear.
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 his rooms.
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 Helvetique, 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 closed.
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 intentness.
"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 deaths."
"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 issues."
"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 army."
"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 role 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 archives."
"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 good fortune.
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.
A LOST CIGARETTE CASE
To other woods the trail leads on, To other worlds and new, Where they who keep the secret here Will keep the promise too.
—Henry A. Beers.
The man clenched Armitage about the body with his legs while he struck a match on a box he produced from his pocket. The suddenness with which he had been flung into the kitchen had knocked the breath out of Armitage, and the huge thighs of his captor pinned his arms tight. The match spurted fire and he looked into the face of the servant whom he had seen in the room above. His round head was covered with short, wire-like hair that grew low upon his narrow forehead. Armitage noted, too, the man's bull-like neck, small sharp eyes and bristling mustache. The fitful flash of the match disclosed the rough furniture of a kitchen; the brick flooring and his wet inverness lay cold at Armitage's back.
The fellow growled an execration in Servian; then with ponderous difficulty asked a question in German.
"Who are you and what do you want here?"
Armitage shook his head; and replied in English:
"I do not understand."
The man struck a series of matches that he might scrutinize his captive's face, then ran his hands over Armitage's pockets to make sure he had no arms. The big fellow was clearly puzzled to find that he had caught a gentleman in water-soaked evening clothes lurking in the area, and as the matter was beyond his wits it only remained for him to communicate with his master. This, however, was not so readily accomplished. He had reasons of his own for not calling out, and there were difficulties in the way of holding the prisoner and at the same time bringing down the men who had gone to the most distant room in the house for their own security.
Several minutes passed during which the burly Servian struck his matches and took account of his prisoner; and meanwhile Armitage lay perfectly still, his arms fast numbing from the rough clasp of the stalwart servant's legs. There was nothing to be gained by a struggle in this position, and he knew that the Servian would not risk losing him in the effort to summon the odd pair who were bent over their papers at the top of the house. The Servian was evidently a man of action.
"Get up," he commanded, still in rough German, and he rose in the dark and jerked Armitage after him. There was a moment of silence in which Armitage shook and stretched himself, and then the Servian struck another match and held it close to a revolver which he held pointed at Armitage's head.
"I will shoot," he said again in his halting German.
"Undoubtedly you will!" and something in the fellow's manner caused Armitage to laugh. He had been caught and he did not at once see any safe issue out of his predicament; but his plight had its preposterous side and the ease with which he had been taken at the very outset of his quest touched his humor. Then he sobered instantly and concentrated his wits upon the immediate situation.
The Servian backed away with a match upheld in one hand and the leveled revolver in the other, leaving Armitage in the middle of the kitchen.
"I am going to light a lamp and if you move I will kill you," admonished the fellow, and Armitage heard his feet scraping over the brick floor of the kitchen as he backed toward a table that stood against the wall near the outer door.
Armitage stood perfectly still. The neighborhood and the house itself were quiet; the two men in the third-story room were probably engrossed with the business at which Armitage had left them; and his immediate affair was with the Servian alone. The fellow continued to mumble his threats; but Armitage had resolved to play the part of an Englishman who understood no German, and he addressed the man sharply in English several times to signify that he did not understand.
The Servian half turned toward his prisoner, the revolver in his left hand, while with the fingers of his right he felt laboriously for a lamp that had been revealed by the fitful flashes of the matches. It is not an easy matter to light a lamp when you have only one hand to work with, particularly when you are obliged to keep an eye on a mysterious prisoner of whose character you are ignorant; and it was several minutes before the job was done.
"You will go to that corner;" and the Servian translated for his prisoner's benefit with a gesture of the revolver.
"Anything to please you, worthy fellow," replied Armitage, and he obeyed with amiable alacrity. The man's object was to get him as far from the inner door as possible while he called help from above, which was, of course, the wise thing from his point of view, as Armitage recognized.
Armitage stood with his back against a rack of pots; the table was at his left and beyond it the door opening upon the court; a barred window was at his right; opposite him was another door that communicated with the interior of the house and disclosed the lower steps of a rude stairway leading upward. The Servian now closed and locked the outer kitchen door with care.
Armitage had lost his hat in the area; his light walking-stick lay in the middle of the floor; his inverness coat hung wet and bedraggled about him; his shirt was crumpled and soiled. But his air of good humor and his tame acceptance of capture seemed to increase the Servian's caution, and he backed away toward the inner door with his revolver still pointed at Armitage's head.
He began calling lustily up the narrow stair-well in Servian, changing in a moment to German. He made a ludicrous figure, as he held his revolver at arm's length, craning his neck into the passage, and howling until he was red in the face. He paused to listen, then renewed his cries, while Armitage, with his back against the rack of pots, studied the room and made his plans.
"There is a thief here! I have caught a thief!" yelled the Servian, now exasperated by the silence above. Then, as he relaxed a moment and turned to make sure that his revolver still covered Armitage, there was a sudden sound of steps above and a voice bawled angrily down the stairway:
"Zmai, stop your noise and tell me what's the trouble."
It was the voice of Durand speaking in the Servian dialect; and Zmai opened his mouth to explain.
As the big fellow roared his reply Armitage snatched from the rack a heavy iron boiling-pot, swung it high by the bail with both hands and let it fly with all his might at the Servian's head, upturned in the earnestness of his bawling. On the instant the revolver roared loudly in the narrow kitchen and Armitage seized the brass lamp and flung it from him upon the hearth, where it fell with a great clatter without exploding.
It was instantly pitch dark. The Servian had gone down like a felled ox and Armitage at the threshold leaped over him into the hall past the rear stairs down which the men were stumbling, cursing volubly as they came.
Armitage had assumed the existence of a front stairway, and now that he was launched upon an unexpected adventure, he was in a humor to prolong it for a moment, even at further risk. He crept along a dark passage to the front door, found and turned the key to provide himself with a ready exit, then, as he heard the men from above stumble over the prostrate Servian, he bounded up the front stairway, gained the second floor, then the third, and readily found by its light the room that he had observed earlier from the outside.
Below there was smothered confusion and the crackling of matches as Durand and Chauvenet sought to grasp the unexpected situation that confronted them. The big servant, Armitage knew, would hardly be able to clear matters for them at once, and he hurriedly turned over the packets of papers that lay on the table. They were claims of one kind and another against several South and Central American republics, chiefly for naval and military supplies, and he merely noted their general character. They were, on the face of it, certified accounts in the usual manner of business. On the back of each had been printed with a rubber stamp the words:
"Vienna, Paris, Washington. Chauvenet et Durand."
Armitage snatched up the coat which Chauvenet had so carefully placed on the back of his chair, ran his hands through the pockets, found them empty, then gathered the garment tightly in his hands, laughed a little to himself to feel papers sewn into the lining, and laughed again as he tore the lining loose and drew forth a flat linen envelope brilliant with three seals of red wax.
Steps sounded below; a man was running up the back stairs; and from the kitchen rose sounds of mighty groanings and cursings in the heavy gutturals of the Servian, as he regained his wits and sought to explain his plight.
Armitage picked up a chair, ran noiselessly to the head of the back stairs, and looked down upon Chauvenet, who was hurrying up with a flaming candle held high above his head, its light showing anxiety and fear upon his face. He was half-way up the last flight, and Armitage stood in the dark, watching him with a mixture of curiosity and something, too, of humor. Then he spoke—in French—in a tone that imitated the cool irony he had noted in Durand's tone:
"A few murders more or less! But Von Stroebel was hardly a fair mark, dearest Jules!"
With this he sent the chair clattering down the steps, where it struck Jules Chauvenet's legs with a force that carried him howling lustily backward to the second landing.
Armitage turned and sped down the front stairway, hearing renewed clamor from the rear and cries of rage and pain from the second story. In fumbling for the front door he found a hat, and, having lost his own, placed it upon his head, drew his inverness about his shoulders, and went quickly out. A moment later he slipped the catch in the wall door and stepped into the boulevard.
The stars were shining among the flying clouds overhead and he drew deep breaths of the freshened air into his lungs as he walked back to the Monte Rosa. Occasionally he laughed quietly to himself, for he still grasped tightly in his hand, safe under his coat, the envelope which Chauvenet had carried so carefully concealed; and several times Armitage muttered to himself:
"A few murders, more or less!"
At the hotel he changed his clothes, threw the things from his dressing-table into a bag, and announced his departure for Paris by the night express.
As he drove to the railway station he felt for his cigarette case, and discovered that it was missing. The loss evidently gave him great concern, for he searched and researched his pockets and opened his bags at the station to see if he had by any chance overlooked it, but it was not to be found.
His annoyance at the loss was balanced—could he have known it—by the interest with which, almost before the wall door had closed upon him, two gentlemen—one of them still in his shirt sleeves and with a purple lump over his forehead—bent over a gold cigarette case in the dark house on the Boulevard Froissart. It was a pretty trinket, and contained, when found on the kitchen floor, exactly four cigarettes of excellent Turkish tobacco. On one side of it was etched, in shadings of blue and white enamel, a helmet, surmounted by a falcon, poised for flight, and, beneath, the motto Fide non armis. The back bore in English script, written large, the letters F.A.
The men stared at each other wonderingly for an instant, then both leaped to their feet.
"It isn't possible!" gasped Durand.
"It is quite possible," replied Chauvenet. "The emblem is unmistakable. Good God, look!"
The sweat had broken out on Chauvenet's face and he leaped to the chair where his coat hung, and caught up the garment with shaking hands. The silk lining fluttered loose where Armitage had roughly torn out the envelope.
"Who is he? Who is he?" whispered Durand, very white of face.
"It may be—it must be some one deeply concerned."
Chauvenet paused, drawing his hand across his forehead slowly; then the color leaped back into his face, and he caught Durand's arm so tight that the man flinched.
"There has been a man following me about; I thought he was interested in the Claibornes. He's here—I saw him at the Monte Rosa to-night. God!"
He dropped his hand from Durand's arm and struck the table fiercely with his clenched hand.
"John Armitage—John Armitage! I heard his name in Florence."
His eyes were snapping with excitement, and amazement grew in his face.
"Who is John Armitage?" demanded Durand sharply; but Chauvenet stared at him in stupefaction for a tense moment, then muttered to himself:
"Is it possible? Is it possible?" and his voice was hoarse and his hand trembled as he picked up the cigarette case.
"My dear Jules, you act as though you had seen a ghost. Who the devil is Armitage?"
Chauvenet glanced about the room cautiously, then bent forward and whispered very low, close to Durand's ear:
"Suppose he were the son of the crazy Karl! Suppose he were Frederick Augustus!"
"Bah! It is impossible! What is your man Armitage like?" asked Durand irritably.
"He is the right age. He is a big fellow and has quite an air. He seems to be without occupation."
"Clearly so," remarked Durand ironically. "But he has evidently been watching us. Quite possibly the lamented Stroebel employed him. He may have seen Stroebel here—"
Chauvenet again struck the table smartly.
"Of course he would see Stroebel! Stroebel was the Archduke's friend; Stroebel and this fellow between them—"
"Stroebel is dead. The Archduke is dead; there can be no manner of doubt of that," said Durand; but doubt was in his tone and in his eyes.
"Nothing is certain; it would be like Karl to turn up again with a son to back his claims. They may both be living. This Armitage is not the ordinary pig of a secret agent. We must find him."
"And quickly. There must be—"
"—another death added to our little list before we are quite masters of the situation in Vienna."
They gave Zmai orders to remain on guard at the house and went hurriedly out together.
TOWARD THE WESTERN STARS
Her blue eyes sought the west afar, For lovers love the western star.
—Lay of the Last Minstrel.
Geneva is a good point from which to plan flight to any part of the world, for there at the top of Europe the whole continental railway system is easily within your grasp, and you may make your choice of sailing ports. It is, to be sure, rather out of your way to seek a ship at Liverpool unless you expect to gain some particular advantage in doing so. Mr. John Armitage hurried thither in the most breathless haste to catch the King Edward, whereas he might have taken the Touraine at Cherbourg and saved himself a mad scamper; but his satisfaction in finding himself aboard the King Edward was supreme. He was and is, it may be said, a man who salutes the passing days right amiably, no matter how somber their colors.
Shirley Claiborne and Captain Richard Claiborne, her brother, were on deck watching the shipping in the Mersey as the big steamer swung into the channel.
"I hope," observed Dick, "that we have shaken off all your transatlantic suitors. That little Chauvenet died easier than I had expected. He never turned up after we left Florence, but I'm not wholly sure that we shan't find him at the dock in New York. And that mysterious Armitage, who spent so much railway fare following us about, and who almost bought you a watch in Geneva, really disappoints me. His persistence had actually compelled my admiration. For a glass-blower he was fairly decent, though, and better than a lot of these little toy men with imitation titles."
"Is that an American cruiser? I really believe it is the Tecumseh. What on earth were you talking about, Dick?"
Shirley fluttered her handkerchief in the direction of the American flag displayed by the cruiser, and Dick lifted his cap.
"I was bidding farewell to your foreign suitors, Shirley, and congratulating myself that as soon as pere et mere get their sea legs they will resume charge of you, and let me look up two or three very presentable specimens of your sex I saw come on board. Your affairs have annoyed me greatly and I shall be glad to be free of the responsibility."
"Thank you, Captain."
"And if there are any titled blackguards on board—"
"You will do dreadfully wicked things to them, won't you, little brother?"
"Humph! Thank God, I'm an American!"
"That's a worthy sentiment, Richard."
"I'd like to give out, as our newspapers say, a signed statement throwing a challenge to all Europe. I wish we'd get into a real war once so we could knock the conceit out of one of their so-called first-class powers. I'd like to lead a regiment right through the most sacred precincts of London; or take an early morning gallop through Berlin to wake up the Dutch. All this talk about hands across the sea and such rot makes me sick. The English are the most benighted and the most conceited and condescending race on earth; the Germans and Austrians are stale beer-vats, and the Italians and French are mere decadents and don't count."
"Yes, dearest," mocked Shirley. "Oh, my large brother, I have a confession to make. Please don't indulge in great oaths or stamp a hole in this sturdy deck, but there are flowers in my state-room—"
"Probably from the Liverpool consul—he's been pestering father to help him get a transfer to a less gloomy hole."
"Then I shall intercede myself with the President when I get home. They're orchids—from London—but—with Mr. Armitage's card. Wouldn't that excite you?"
"It makes me sick!" and Dick hung heavily on the rail and glared at a passing tug.
"They are beautiful orchids. I don't remember when orchids have happened to me before, Richard—in such quantities. Now, you really didn't disapprove of him so much, did you? This is probably good-by forever, but he wasn't so bad; and he may be an American, after all."
"A common adventurer! Such fellows are always turning up, like bad pennies, or a one-eyed dog. If I should see him again—"
"Yes, Richard, if you should meet again—"
"I'd ask him to be good enough to stop following us about, and if he persisted I should muss him up."
"Yes; I'm sure you would protect me from his importunities at any hazard," mocked Shirley, turning and leaning against the rail so that she looked along the deck beyond her brother's stalwart shoulders.
"Don't be silly," observed Dick, whose eyes were upon a trim yacht that was steaming slowly beneath them.
"I shan't, but please don't be violent! Do not murder the poor man, Dickie, dear,"—and she took hold of his arm entreatingly—"for there he is—as tall and mysterious as ever—and me found guilty with a few of his orchids pinned to my jacket!"
"This is good fortune, indeed," said Armitage a moment later when they had shaken hands. "I finished my errand at Geneva unexpectedly and here I am."
He smiled at the feebleness of his explanation, and joined in their passing comment on the life of the harbor. He was not so dull but that he felt Dick Claiborne's resentment of his presence on board. He knew perfectly well that his acquaintance with the Claibornes was too slight to be severely strained, particularly where a fellow of Dick Claiborne's high spirit was concerned. He talked with them a few minutes longer, then took himself off; and they saw little of him the rest of the day.
Armitage did not share their distinction of a seat at the captain's table, and Dick found him late at night in the smoking-saloon with pipe and book. Armitage nodded and asked him to sit down.
"You are a sailor as well as a soldier, Captain. You are fortunate; I always sit up the first night to make sure the enemy doesn't lay hold of me in my sleep."
He tossed his book aside, had brandy and soda brought and offered Claiborne a cigar.
"This is not the most fortunate season for crossing; I am sure to fall to-morrow. My father and mother hate the sea particularly and have retired for three days. My sister is the only one of us who is perfectly immune."
"Yes; I can well image Miss Claiborne in the good graces of the elements," replied Armitage; and they were silent for several minutes while a big Russian, who was talking politics in a distant corner with a very small and solemn German, boomed out his views on the Eastern question in a tremendous bass.
Dick Claiborne was a good deal amused at finding himself sitting beside Armitage,—enjoying, indeed, his fellow traveler's hospitality; but Armitage, he was forced to admit, bore all the marks of a gentleman. He had, to be sure, followed Shirley about, but even the young man's manner in this was hardly a matter at which he could cavil. And there was something altogether likable in Armitage; his very composure was attractive to Claiborne; and the bold lines of his figure were not wasted on the young officer. In the silence, while they smoked, he noted the perfect taste that marked Armitage's belongings, which to him meant more, perhaps, than the steadiness of the man's eyes or the fine lines of his face. Unconsciously Claiborne found himself watching Armitage's strong ringless hands, and he knew that such a hand, well kept though it appeared, had known hard work, and that the long supple fingers were such as might guide a tiller fearlessly or set a flag daringly upon a fire-swept parapet.
Armitage was thinking rapidly of something he had suddenly resolved to say to Captain Claiborne. He knew that the Claibornes were a family of distinction; the father was an American diplomat and lawyer of wide reputation; the family stood for the best of which America is capable, and they were homeward bound to the American capital where their social position and the father's fame made them conspicuous.
Armitage put down his cigar and bent toward Claiborne, speaking with quiet directness.
"Captain Claiborne, I was introduced to you at Geneva by Mr. Singleton. You may have observed me several times previously at Venice, Borne, Florence, Paris, Berlin. I certainly saw you! I shall not deny that I intentionally followed you, nor"—John Armitage smiled, then grew grave again—"can I make any adequate apology for doing so."
Claiborne looked at Armitage wonderingly. The man's attitude and tone were wholly serious and compelled respect. Claiborne nodded and threw away his cigar that he might give his whole attention to what Armitage might have to say.
"A man does not like to have his sister forming the acquaintances of persons who are not properly vouched for. Except for Singleton you know nothing of me; and Singleton knows very little of me, indeed."
Claiborne nodded. He felt the color creeping into his cheeks consciously as Armitage touched upon this matter.
"I speak to you as I do because it is your right to know who and what I am, for I am not on the King Edward by accident but by intention, and I am going to Washington because your sister lives there."
Claiborne smiled in spite of himself.
"But, my dear sir, this is most extraordinary! I don't know that I care to hear any more; by listening I seem to be encouraging you to follow us—it's altogether too unusual. It's almost preposterous!"