Part 2 out of 6
window through which Maenck knew the king had found ingress.
Yes! It had come.
"Look to the window," commanded Maenck. "He may have gone as he
Two of the soldiers crossed the room toward the casement. From above
Joseph was lowering the rope; but it was too late. The men would be
at the window before he could clamber out of their reach.
"Hoist away!" he whispered to Joseph. "Quick now, my man, and make
your escape with the Princess von der Tann. It is the king's
Already the soldiers were at the window. At the sound of his voice
they tore aside the draperies; at the same instant the pseudo-king
turned and leaped out into the blackness of the night.
There were exclamations of surprise and rage from the soldiers--a
woman's scream. Then from far below came a dull splash as the body
of Bernard Custer struck the surface of the moat.
Maenck, leaning from the window, heard the scream and the splash,
and jumped to the conclusion that both the king and the princess had
attempted to make their escape in this harebrained way. Immediately
all the resources at his command were put to the task of searching
the moat and the adjacent woods.
He was sure that one or both of the prisoners would be stunned by
impact with the surface of the water, and then drowned before they
regained consciousness, but he did not know Bernard Custer, nor the
facility and almost uncanny ease with which that young man could
negotiate a high dive into shallow water.
Nor did he know that upon the floor above him one Joseph was
hastening along a dark corridor toward a secret panel in another
apartment, and that with him was the Princess Emma bound for liberty
and safety far from the frowning walls of Blentz.
As Barney's head emerged above the surface of the moat he shook it
vigorously to free his eyes from water, and then struck out for the
Long before his pursuers had reached the courtyard and alarmed the
watch at the barbican, the American had crawled out upon dry land
and hastened across the broad clearing to the patch of stunted trees
that grew lower down upon the steep hillside before the castle.
He shrank from the thought of leaving Blentz without knowing
positively that Joseph had made good the escape of himself and the
princess, but he finally argued that even if they had been retaken,
he could serve her best by hastening to her father and fetching the
only succor that might prevail against the strength of Blentz--armed
men in sufficient force to storm the ancient fortress.
He had scarcely entered the wood when he heard the sound of the
searchers at the moat, and saw the rays of their lanterns flitting
hither and thither as they moved back and forth along the bank.
Then the young man turned his face from the castle and set forth
across the unfamiliar country in the direction of the Old Forest and
the castle Von der Tann.
The memory of the warm lips that had so recently been pressed to his
urged him on in the service of the wondrous girl who had come so
suddenly into his life, bringing to him the realization of a love
that he knew must alter, for happiness or for sorrow, all the
balance of his existence, even unto death.
He dreaded the day of reckoning when, at last, she must learn that
he was no king. He did not have the temerity to hope that her
courage would be equal to the great sacrifice which the
acknowledgment of her love for one not of noble blood must entail;
but he could not believe that she would cease to love him when she
learned the truth.
So the future looked black and cheerless to Barney Custer as he
trudged along the rocky, moonlit way. The only bright spot was the
realization that for a while at least he might be serving the one
woman in all the world.
All the balance of the long night the young man traversed valley and
mountain, holding due south in the direction he supposed the Old
Forest to lie. He passed many a little farm tucked away in the
hollow of a hillside, and quaint hamlets, and now and then the ruins
of an ancient feudal stronghold, but no great forest of black oaks
loomed before him to apprise him of the nearness of his goal, nor
did he dare to ask the correct route at any of the homes he passed.
His fatal likeness to the description of the mad king of Lutha
warned him from intercourse with the men of Lutha until he might
know which were friends and which enemies of the hapless monarch.
Dawn found him still upon his way, but with the determination fully
crystallized to hail the first man he met and ask the way to Tann.
He still avoided the main traveled roads, but from time to time he
paralleled them close enough that he might have ample opportunity to
hail the first passerby.
The road was becoming more and more mountainous and difficult.
There were fewer homes and no hamlets, and now he began to despair
entirely of meeting any who could give him direction unless he
turned and retraced his steps to the nearest farm.
Directly before him the narrow trail he had been following for the
past few miles wound sharply about the shoulder of a protruding
cliff. He would see what lay beyond the turn--perhaps he would find
the Old Forest there, after all.
But instead he found something very different, though in its way
quite as interesting, for as he rounded the rugged bluff he came
face to face with two evil-looking fellows astride stocky,
At sight of him they drew in their mounts and eyed him suspiciously.
Nor was there great cause for wonderment in that, for the American
presented aught but a respectable appearance. His khaki motoring
suit, soaked from immersion in the moat, had but partially dried
upon him. Mud from the banks of the stagnant pool caked his legs to
the knees, almost hiding his once tan puttees. More mud streaked his
jacket front and stained its sleeves to the elbows. He was
bare-headed, for his cap had remained in the moat at Blentz, and his
disheveled hair was tousled upon his head, while his full beard had
dried into a weird and tangled fringe about his face. At his side
still hung the sword that Joseph had buckled there, and it was this
that caused the two men the greatest suspicion of this strange
They continued to eye Barney in silence, every now and then casting
apprehensive glances beyond him, as though expecting others of his
kind to appear in the trail at his back. And that is precisely what
they did fear, for the sword at Barney's side had convinced them
that he must be an officer of the army, and they looked to see his
command following in his wake.
The young man saluted them pleasantly, asking the direction to the
Old Forest. They thought it strange that a soldier of Lutha should
not know his own way about his native land, and so judged that his
question was but a blind to deceive them.
"Why do you not ask your own men the way?" parried one of the
"I have no men, I am alone," replied Barney. "I am a stranger in
Lutha and have lost my way."
He who had spoken before pointed to the sword at Barney's side.
"Strangers traveling in Lutha do not wear swords," he said. "You are
an officer. Why should you desire to conceal the fact from two
honest farmers? We have done nothing. Let us go our way."
Barney looked his astonishment at this reply.
"Most certainly, go your way, my friends," he said laughing. "I
would not delay you if I could; but before you go please be good
enough to tell me how to reach the Old Forest and the ancient castle
of the Prince von der Tann."
For a moment the two men whispered together, then the spokesman
turned to Barney.
"We will lead you upon the right road. Come," and the two turned
their horses, one of them starting slowly back up the trail while
the other remained waiting for Barney to pass him.
The American, suspecting nothing, voiced his thanks, and set out
after him who had gone before. As he passed the fellow who waited
the latter moved in behind him, so that Barney walked between the
two. Occasionally the rider at his back turned in his saddle to scan
the trail behind, as though still fearful that Barney had been lying
to them and that he would discover a company of soldiers charging
down upon them.
The trail became more and more difficult as they advanced, until
Barney wondered how the little horses clung to the steep
mountainside, where he himself had difficulty in walking without
using his hand to keep from falling.
Twice the American attempted to break through the taciturnity of his
guides, but his advances were met with nothing more than sultry
grunts or silence, and presently a suspicion began to obtrude itself
among his thoughts that possibly these "honest farmers" were
something more sinister than they represented themselves to be.
A malign and threatening atmosphere seemed to surround them. Even
the cat-like movement of their silent mounts breathed a sinister
secrecy, and now, for the first time, Barney noticed the short, ugly
looking carbines that were slung in boots at their saddle-horns.
Then, promoted to further investigation, he dropped back beside the
man who had been riding behind him, and as he did so he saw beneath
the fellow's cloak the butts of two villainous-looking pistols.
As Barney dropped back beside him the man turned his mount across
the narrow trail, and reining him in motioned Barney ahead.
"I have changed my mind," said the American, "about going to the Old
He had determined that he might as well have the thing out now as
later, and discover at once how he stood with these two, and whether
or not his suspicions of them were well grounded.
The man ahead had halted at the sound of Barney's voice, and swung
about in the saddle.
"What's the trouble?" he asked.
"He don't want to go to the Old Forest," explained his companion,
and for the first time Barney saw one of them grin. It was not at
all a pleasant grin, nor reassuring.
"He don't, eh?" growled the other. "Well, he ain't goin', is he?
Who ever said he was?"
And then he, too, laughed.
"I'm going back the way I came," said Barney, starting around the
horse that blocked his way.
"No, you ain't," said the horseman. "You're goin' with us."
And Barney found himself gazing down the muzzle of one of the wicked
For a moment he stood in silence, debating mentally the wisdom of
attempting to rush the fellow, and then, with a shake of his head,
he turned back up the trail between his captors.
"Yes," he said, "on second thought I have decided to go with you.
Your logic is most convincing."
A KING'S RANSOM
For another mile the two brigands conducted their captor along the
mountainside, then they turned into a narrow ravine near the summit
of the hills--a deep, rocky, wooded ravine into whose black shadows
it seemed the sun might never penetrate.
A winding path led crookedly among the pines that grew thickly in
this sheltered hollow, until presently, after half an hour of rough
going, they came upon a small natural clearing, rock-bound and
As they filed from the wood Barney saw a score of villainous fellows
clustered about a camp fire where they seemed engaged in cooking
their noonday meal. Bits of meat were roasting upon iron skewers,
and a great iron pot boiled vigorously at one side of the blaze.
At the sound of their approach the men sprang to their feet in
alarm, and as many weapons as there were men leaped to view; but
when they saw Barney's companions they returned their pistols to
their holsters, and at sight of Barney they pressed forward to
inspect the prisoner.
"Who have we here?" shouted a big blond giant, who affected
extremely gaudy colors in his selection of wearing apparel, and
whose pistols and knife had their grips heavily ornamented with
pearl and silver.
"A stranger in Lutha he calls himself," replied one of Barney's
captors. "But from the sword I take it he is one of old Peter's
"Well, he's found the wolves at any rate," replied the giant, with a
wide grin at his witticism. "And if Yellow Franz is the particular
wolf you're after, my friend, why here I am," he concluded,
addressing the American with a leer.
"I'm after no one," replied Barney. "I tell you I'm a stranger, and
I lost my way in your infernal mountains. All I wish is to be set
upon the right road to Tann, and if you will do that for me you
shall be well paid for your trouble."
The giant, Yellow Franz, had come quite close to Barney and was
inspecting him with an expression of considerable interest.
Presently he drew a soiled and much-folded paper from his breast.
Upon one side was a printed notice, and at the corners bits were
torn away as though the paper had once been tacked upon wood, and
then torn down without removing the tacks.
At sight of it Barney's heart sank. The look of the thing was all
too familiar. Before the yellow one had commenced to read aloud from
it Barney had repeated to himself the words he knew were coming.
"'Gray eyes,'" read the brigand, "'brown hair, and a full,
reddish-brown beard.' Herman and Friedrich, my dear children, you
have stumbled upon the richest haul in all Lutha. Down upon your
marrow-bones, you swine, and rub your low-born noses in the dirt
before your king."
The others looked their surprise.
"The king?" one cried.
"Behold!" cried Yellow Franz. "Leopold of Lutha!"
He waved a ham-like hand toward Barney.
Among the rough men was a young smooth-faced boy, and now with wide
eyes he pressed forward to get a nearer view of the wonderful person
of a king.
"Take a good look at him, Rudolph," cried Yellow Franz. "It is the
first and will probably be the last time you will ever see a king.
Kings seldom visit the court of their fellow monarch, Yellow Franz
of the Black Mountains.
"Come, my children, remove his majesty's sword, lest he fall and
stick himself upon it, and then prepare the royal chamber, seeing to
it that it be made so comfortable that Leopold will remain with us a
long time. Rudolph, fetch food and water for his majesty, and see to
it that the silver plates and the golden goblets are well scoured
and polished up."
They conducted Barney to a miserable lean-to shack at one side of
the clearing, and for a while the motley crew loitered about
bandying coarse jests at the expense of the "king." The boy,
Rudolph, brought food and water, he alone of them all evincing the
slightest respect or awe for the royalty of their unwilling guest.
After a time the men tired of the sport of king-baiting, for Barney
showed neither rancor nor outraged majesty at their keenest thrusts,
instead, often joining in the laugh with them at his own expense.
They thought it odd that the king should hold his dignity in so low
esteem, but that he was king they never doubted, attributing his
denials to a disposition to deceive them, and rob them of the
"king's ransom" they had already commenced to consider as their own.
Shortly after Barney arrived at the rendezvous he saw a messenger
dispatched by Yellow Franz, and from the repeated gestures toward
himself that had accompanied the giant's instructions to his
emissary, Barney was positive that the man's errand had to do with
After the men had left his prison, leaving the boy standing
awkwardly in wide-eyed contemplation of his august charge, the
American ventured to open a conversation with his youthful keeper.
"Aren't you rather young to be starting in the bandit business,
Rudolph?" asked Barney, who had taken a fancy to the youth.
"I do not want to be a bandit, your majesty," whispered the lad;
"but my father owes Yellow Franz a great sum of money, and as he
could not pay the debt Yellow Franz stole me from my home and says
that he will keep me until my father pays him, and that if he does
not pay he will make a bandit of me, and that then some day I shall
be caught and hanged until I am dead."
"Can't you escape?" asked the young man. "It would seem to me that
there would be many opportunities for you to get away undetected."
"There are, but I dare not. Yellow Franz says that if I run away he
will be sure to come across me some day again and that then he will
"He is just talking, my boy," he said. "He thinks that by
frightening you he will be able to keep you from running away."
"Your majesty does not know him," whispered the youth, shuddering.
"He is the wickedest man in all the world. Nothing would please him
more than killing me, and he would have done it long since but for
two things. One is that I have made myself useful about his camp,
doing chores and the like, and the other is that were he to kill me
he knows that my father would never pay him."
"How much does your father owe him?"
"Five hundred marks, your majesty," replied Rudolph. "Two hundred of
this amount is the original debt, and the balance Yellow Franz has
added since he captured me, so that it is really ransom money. But
my father is a poor man, so that it will take a long time before he
can accumulate so large a sum.
"You would really like to go home again, Rudolph?"
"Oh, very much, your majesty, if I only dared." Barney was silent
for some time, thinking. Possibly he could effect his own escape
with the connivance of Rudolph, and at the same time free the boy.
The paltry ransom he could pay out of his own pocket and send to
Yellow Franz later, so that the youth need not fear the brigand's
revenge. It was worth thinking about, at any rate.
"How long do you imagine they will keep me, Rudolph?" he asked after
"Yellow Franz has already sent Herman to Lustadt with a message for
Prince Peter, telling him that you are being held for ransom, and
demanding the payment of a huge sum for your release. Day after
tomorrow or the next day he should return with Prince Peter's reply.
"If it is favorable, arrangements will be made to turn you over to
Prince Peter's agents, who will have to come to some distant meeting
place with the money. A week, perhaps, it will take, maybe longer."
It was the second day before Herman returned from Lustadt. He rode
in just at dark, his pony lathered from hard going.
Barney and the boy saw him coming, and the youth ran forward with
the others to learn the news that he had brought; but Yellow Franz
and his messenger withdrew to a hut which the brigand chief reserved
for his own use, nor would he permit any beside the messenger to
accompany him to hear the report.
For half an hour Barney sat alone waiting for word from Yellow Franz
that arrangements had been consummated for his release, and then out
of the darkness came Rudolph, wide-eyed and trembling.
"Oh, my king?" he whispered. "What shall we do? Peter has refused
to ransom you alive, but he has offered a great sum for unquestioned
proof of your death. Already he has caused a proclamation to be
issued stating that you have been killed by bandits after escaping
from Blentz, and ordering a period of national mourning. In three
weeks he is to be crowned king of Lutha."
"When do they intend terminating my existence?" queried Barney.
There was a smile upon his lips, for even now he could scarce
believe that in the twentieth century there could be any such
medieval plotting against a king's life, and yet, on second thought,
had he not ample proof of the lengths to which Peter of Blentz was
willing to go to obtain the crown of Lutha!
"I do not know, your majesty," replied Rudolph, "when they will do
it; but soon, doubtless, since the sooner it is done the sooner they
can collect their pay."
Further conversation was interrupted by the sound of footsteps
without, and an instant later Yellow Franz entered the squalid
apartment and the dim circle of light which flickered feebly from
the smoky lantern that hung suspended from the rafters.
He stopped just within the doorway and stood eyeing the American
with an ugly grin upon his vicious face. Then his eyes fell upon the
"Get out of here, you!" he growled. "I've got private business with
this king. And see that you don't come nosing round either, or I'll
slit that soft throat for you."
Rudolph slipped past the burly ruffian, barely dodging a brutal blow
aimed at him by the giant, and escaped into the darkness without.
"And now for you, my fine fellow," said the brigand, turning toward
Barney. "Peter says you ain't worth nothing to him--alive, but that
your dead body will fetch us a hundred thousand marks."
"Rather cheap for a king, isn't it?" was Barney's only comment.
"That's what Herman tells him," replied Yellow Franz. "But he's a
close one, Peter is, and so it was that or nothing."
"When are you going to pull off this little--er--ah--royal demise?"
"If you mean when am I going to kill you," replied the bandit, "why,
there ain't no particular rush about it. I'm a tender-hearted chap,
I am. I never should have been in this business at all, but here I
be, and as there ain't nobody that can do a better job of the kind
than me, or do it so painlessly, why I just got to do it myself, and
that's all there is to it. But, as I says, there ain't no great
rush. If you want to pray, why, go ahead and pray. I'll wait for
"I don't remember," said Barney, "when I have met so generous a
party as you, my friend. Your self-sacrificing magnanimity quite
overpowers me. It reminds me of another unloved Robin Hood whom I
once met. It was in front of Burket's coal-yard on Ella Street, back
in dear old Beatrice, at some unchristian hour of the night.
"After he had relieved me of a dollar and forty cents he remarked:
'I gotta good mind to kick yer slats in fer not havin' more of de
cush on yeh; but I'm feelin' so good about de last guy I stuck up
I'll let youse off dis time.'"
"I do not know what you are talking about," replied Yellow Franz;
"but if you want to pray you'd better hurry up about it."
He drew his pistol from its holster on the belt at his hips.
Now Barney Custer had no mind to give up the ghost without a
struggle; but just how he was to overcome the great beast who
confronted him with menacing pistol was, to say the least, not
precisely plain. He wished the man would come a little nearer where
he might have some chance to close with him before the fellow could
fire. To gain time the American assumed a prayerful attitude, but
kept one eye on the bandit.
Presently Yellow Franz showed indications of impatience. He fingered
the trigger of his weapon, and then slowly raised it on a line with
"Hadn't you better come closer?" asked the young man. "You might
miss at that distance, or just wound me."
Yellow Franz grinned.
"I don't miss," he said, and then: "You're certainly a game one. If
it wasn't for the hundred thousand marks, I'd be hanged if I'd kill
"The chances are that you will be if you do," said Barney, "so
wouldn't you rather take one hundred and fifty thousand marks and
let me make my escape?"
Yellow Franz looked at the speaker a moment through narrowed lids.
"Where would you find any one willing to pay that amount for a crazy
king?" he asked.
"I have told you that I am not the king," said Barney. "I am an
American with a father who would gladly pay that amount on my safe
delivery to any American consul."
Yellow Franz shook his head and tapped his brow significantly.
"Even if you was what you are dreaming, it wouldn't pay me," he
"I'll make it two hundred thousand," said Barney.
"No--it's a waste of time talking about it. It's worth more than
money to me to know that I'll always have this thing on Peter, and
that when he's king he won't dare bother me for fear I'll publish
the details of this little deal. Come, you must be through praying
by this time. I can't wait around here all night." Again Yellow
Franz raised his pistol toward Barney's heart.
Before the brigand could pull the trigger, or Barney hurl himself
upon his would-be assassin, there was a flash and a loud report from
the open window of the shack.
With a groan Yellow Franz crumpled to the dirt floor, and
simultaneously Barney was upon him and had wrested the pistol from
his hand; but the precaution was unnecessary for Yellow Franz would
never again press finger to trigger. He was dead even before Barney
reached his side.
In possession of the weapon, the American turned toward the window
from which had come the rescuing shot, and as he did so he saw the
boy, Rudolph, clambering over the sill, white-faced and trembling.
In his hand was a smoking carbine, and on his brow great beads of
"God forgive me!" murmured the youth. "I have killed a man."
"You have killed a dangerous wild beast, Rudolph," said Barney, "and
both God and your fellow man will thank and reward you."
"I am glad that I killed him, though," went on the boy, "for he
would have killed you, my king, had I not done so. Gladly would I go
to the gallows to save my king."
"You are a brave lad, Rudolph," said Barney, "and if ever I get out
of the pretty pickle I'm in you'll be well rewarded for your loyalty
to Leopold of Lutha. After all," thought the young man, "being a
kind has its redeeming features, for if the boy had not thought me
his monarch he would never have risked the vengeance of the
bloodthirsty brigands in this attempt to save me."
"Hasten, your majesty," whispered the boy, tugging at the sleeve of
Barney's jacket. "There is no time to be lost. We must be far away
from here when the others discover that Yellow Franz has been
Barney stooped above the dead man, and removing his belt and
cartridges transferred them to his own person. Then blowing out the
lantern the two slipped out into the darkness of the night.
About the camp fire of the brigands the entire pack was congregated.
They were talking together in low voices, ever and anon glancing
expectantly toward the shack to which their chief had gone to
dispatch the king. It is not every day that a king is murdered, and
even these hardened cut-throats felt the spell of awe at the thought
of what they believed the sharp report they had heard from the shack
Keeping well to the far side of the clearing, Rudolph led Barney
around the group of men and safely into the wood below them. From
this point the boy followed the trail which Barney and his captors
had traversed two days previously, until he came to a diverging
ravine that led steeply up through the mountains upon their right
In the distance behind them they suddenly heard, faintly, the
shouting of men.
"They have discovered Yellow Franz," whispered the boy, shuddering.
"Then they'll be after us directly," said Barney.
"Yes, your majesty," replied Rudolph, "but in the darkness they will
not see that we have turned up this ravine, and so they will ride on
down the other. I have chosen this way because their horses cannot
follow us here, and thus we shall be under no great disadvantage. It
may be, however, that we shall have to hide in the mountains for a
while, since there will be no place of safety for us between here
and Lustadt until after the edge of their anger is dulled."
And such proved to be the case, for try as they would they found it
impossible to reach Lustadt without detection by the brigands who
patrolled every highway and byway from their rugged mountains to the
capital of Lutha.
For nearly three weeks Barney and the boy hid in caves or dense
underbrush by day, and by night sought some avenue which would lead
them past the vigilant sentries that patrolled the ways to freedom.
Often they were wet by rains, nor were they ever in the warm
sunlight for a sufficient length of time to become thoroughly dry
and comfortable. Of food they had little, and of the poorest
They dared not light a fire for warmth or cooking, and their light
was so miserable that, but for the boy's pitiful terror at the
thought of being recaptured by the bandits, Barney would long since
have made a break for Lustadt, depending upon their arms and
ammunition to carry them safely through were they discovered by
Rudolph had contracted a severe cold the first night, and now, it
having settled upon his lungs, he had developed a persistent and
aggravating cough that caused Barney not a little apprehension.
When, after nearly three weeks of suffering and privation, it became
clear that the boy's lungs were affected, the American decided to
take matters into his own hands and attempt to reach Lustadt and a
good doctor; but before he had an opportunity to put his plan into
execution the entire matter was removed from his jurisdiction.
It happened like this: After a particularly fatiguing and
uncomfortable night spent in attempting to elude the sentinels who
blocked their way from the mountains, daylight found them near a
little spring, and here they decided to rest for an hour before
resuming their way.
The little pool lay not far from a clump of heavy bushes which would
offer them excellent shelter, as it was Barney's intention to go
into hiding as soon as they had quenched their thirst at the spring.
Rudolph was coughing pitifully, his slender frame wracked by the
convulsion of each new attack. Barney had placed an arm about the
boy to support him, for the paroxysms always left him very weak.
The young man's heart went out to the poor boy, and pangs of regret
filled his mind as he realized that the child's pathetic condition
was the direct result of his self-sacrificing attempt to save his
king. Barney felt much like a murderer and a thief, and dreaded the
time when the boy should be brought to a realization of his mistake.
He had come to feel a warm affection for the loyal little lad, who
had suffered so uncomplainingly and whose every thought had been for
the safety and comfort of his king.
Today, thought Barney, I'll take this child through to Lustadt even
if every ragged brigand in Lutha lies between us and the capital;
but even as he spoke a sudden crashing of underbrush behind caused
him to wheel about, and there, not twenty paces from them, stood two
of Yellow Franz's cutthroats.
At sight of Barney and the lad they gave voice to a shout of
triumph, and raising their carbines fired point-blank at the two
But Barney had been equally as quick with his own weapon, and at the
moment that they fired he grasped Rudolph and dragged him backward
to a great boulder behind which their bodies might be protected from
the fire of their enemies.
Both the bullets of the bandits' first volley had been directed at
Barney, for it was upon his head that the great price rested. They
had missed him by a narrow margin, due, perhaps, to the fact that
the mounts of the brigands had been prancing in alarm at the
unexpected sight of the two strangers at the very moment that their
riders attempted to take aim and fire.
But now they had ridden back into the brush and dismounted, and
after hiding their ponies they came creeping out upon their bellies
upon opposite sides of Barney's shelter.
The American saw that it would be an easy thing for them to pick him
off if he remained where he was, and so with a word to Rudolph he
sprang up and the boy with him. Each delivered a quick shot at the
bandit nearest him, and then together they broke for the bushes in
which the brigand's mounts were hidden.
Two shots answered theirs. Rudolph, who was ahead of Barney,
stumbled and threw up his hands. He would have fallen had not the
American thrown a strong arm about him.
"I'm shot, your majesty," murmured the boy, his head dropping
against Barney's breast.
With the lad grasped close to him, the young man turned at the edge
of the brush to meet the charge of the two ruffians. The wounding of
the youth had delayed them just enough to preclude their making this
temporary refuge in safety.
As Barney turned both the men fired simultaneously, and both missed.
The American raised his revolver, and with the flash of it the
foremost brigand came to a sudden stop. An expression of
bewilderment crossed his features. He extended his arms straight
before him, the revolver slipped from his grasp, and then like a
dying top he pivoted once drunkenly and collapsed upon the turf.
At the instant of his fall his companion and the American fired
point-blank at one another.
Barney felt a burning sensation in his shoulder, but it was
forgotten for the moment in the relief that came to him as he saw
the second rascal sprawl headlong upon his face. Then he turned his
attention to the limp little figure that hung across his left arm.
Gently Barney laid the boy upon the sward, and fetching water from
the pool bathed his face and forced a few drops between the white
lips. The cooling draft revived the wounded child, but brought on a
paroxysm of coughing. When this had subsided Rudolph raised his eyes
to those of the man bending above him.
"Thank God, your majesty is unharmed," he whispered. "Now I can die
The white lids drooped lower, and with a tired sigh the boy lay
quiet. Tears came to the young man's eyes as he let the limp body
gently to the ground.
"Brave little heart," he murmured, "you gave up your life in the
service of your king as truly as though you had not been all
mistaken in the object of your veneration, and if it lies within the
power of Barney Custer you shall not have died in vain."
THE REAL LEOPOLD
Two hours later a horseman pushed his way between tumbled and
tangled briers along the bottom of a deep ravine.
He was hatless, and his stained and ragged khaki betokened much
exposure to the elements and hard and continued usage. At his
saddle-bow a carbine swung in its boot, and upon either hip was
strapped a long revolver. Ammunition in plenty filled the cross
belts that he had looped about his shoulders.
Grim and warlike as were his trappings, no less grim was the set of
his strong jaw or the glint of his gray eyes, nor did the patch of
brown stain that had soaked through the left shoulder of his jacket
tend to lessen the martial atmosphere which surrounded him.
Fortunate it was for the brigands of the late Yellow Franz that none
of them chanced in the path of Barney Custer that day.
For nearly two hours the man had ridden downward out of the high
hills in search of a dwelling at which he might ask the way to Tann;
but as yet he had passed but a single house, and that a long
untenanted ruin. He was wondering what had become of all the
inhabitants of Lutha when his horse came to a sudden halt before an
obstacle which entirely blocked the narrow trail at the bottom of
As the horseman's eyes fell upon the thing they went wide in
astonishment, for it was no less than the charred remnants of the
once beautiful gray roadster that had brought him into this
twentieth century land of medieval adventure and intrigue. Barney
saw that the machine had been lifted from where it had fallen across
the horse of the Princess von der Tann, for the animal's decaying
carcass now lay entirely clear of it; but why this should have been
done, or by whom, the young man could not imagine.
A glance aloft showed him the road far above him, from which he, the
horse and the roadster had catapulted; and with the sight of it
there flashed to his mind the fair face of the young girl in whose
service the thing had happened. Barney wondered if Joseph had been
successful in returning her to Tann, and he wondered, too, if she
mourned for the man she had thought king--if she would be very angry
should she ever learn the truth.
Then there came to the American's mind the figure of the shopkeeper
of Tafelberg, and the fellow's evident loyalty to the mad king he
had never seen. Here was one who might aid him, thought Barney. He
would have the will, at least and with the thought the young man
turned his pony's head diagonally up the steep ravine side.
It was a tough and dangerous struggle to the road above, but at last
by dint of strenuous efforts on the part of the sturdy little beast
the two finally scrambled over the edge of the road and stood once
more upon level footing.
After breathing his mount for a few minutes Barney swung himself
into the saddle again and set off toward Tafelberg. He met no one
upon the road, nor within the outskirts of the village, and so he
came to the door of the shop he sought without attracting attention.
Swinging to the ground he tied the pony to one of the supporting
columns of the porch-roof and a moment later had stepped within the
From a back room the shopkeeper presently emerged, and when he saw
who it was that stood before him his eyes went wide in
"In the name of all the saints, your majesty," cried the old fellow,
"what has happened? How comes it that you are out of the hospital,
and travel-stained as though from a long, hard ride? I cannot
understand it, sire."
"Hospital?" queried the young man. "What do you mean, my good
fellow? I have been in no hospital."
"You were there only last evening when I inquired after you of the
doctor," insisted the shopkeeper, "nor did any there yet suspect
your true identity."
"Last evening I was hiding far up in the mountains from Yellow
Franz's band of cutthroats," replied Barney. "Tell me what manner of
riddle you are propounding."
Then a sudden light of understanding flashed through Barney's mind.
"Man!" he exclaimed. "Tell me--you have found the true king? He is
at a hospital in Tafelberg?"
"Yes, your majesty, I have found the true king, and it is so that he
was at the Tafelberg sanatorium last evening. It was beside the
remnants of your wrecked automobile that two of the men of Tafelberg
"One leg was pinioned beneath the machine which was on fire when
they discovered you. They brought you to my shop, which is the first
on the road into town, and not guessing your true identity they took
my word for it that you were an old acquaintance of mine and without
more ado turned you over to my care."
Barney scratched his head in puzzled bewilderment. He began to
doubt if he were in truth himself, or, after all, Leopold of Lutha.
As no one but himself could, by the wildest stretch of imagination,
have been in such a position, he was almost forced to the conclusion
that all that had passed since the instant that his car shot over
the edge of the road into the ravine had been but the hallucinations
of a fever-excited brain, and that for the past three weeks he had
been lying in a hospital cot instead of experiencing the strange and
inexplicable adventures that he had believed to have befallen him.
But yet the more he thought of it the more ridiculous such a
conclusion appeared, for it did not in the least explain the pony
tethered without, which he plainly could see from where he stood
within the shop, nor did it satisfactorily account for the blotch of
blood upon his shoulder from a wound so fresh that the stain still
was damp; nor for the sword which Joseph had buckled about his waist
within Blentz's forbidding walls; nor for the arms and ammunition he
had taken from the dead brigands--all of which he had before him as
tangible evidence of the rationality of the past few weeks.
"My friend," said Barney at last, "I cannot wonder that you have
mistaken me for the king, since all those I have met within Lutha
have leaped to the same error, though not one among them made the
slightest pretense of ever having seen his majesty. A ridiculous
beard started the trouble, and later a series of happenings, no one
of which was particularly remarkable in itself, aggravated it, until
but a moment since I myself was almost upon the point of believing
that I am the king.
"But, my dear Herr Kramer, I am not the king; and when you have
accompanied me to the hospital and seen that your patient still is
there, you may be willing to admit that there is some justification
for doubt as to my royalty."
The old man shook his head.
"I am not so sure of that," he said, "for he who lies at the
hospital, providing you are not he, or he you, maintains as sturdily
as do you that he is not Leopold. If one of you, whichever be
king--providing that you are not one and the same, and that I be not
the only maniac in the sad muddle--if one of you would but trust my
loyalty and love for the true king and admit your identity, then I
might be of some real service to that one of you who is really
Leopold. Herr Gott! My words are as mixed as my poor brain."
"If you will listen to me, Herr Kramer," said Barney, "and believe
what I tell you, I shall be able to unscramble your ideas in so far
as they pertain to me and my identity. As to the man you say was
found beneath my car, and who now lies in the sanatorium of
Tafelberg, I cannot say until I have seen and talked with him. He
may be the king and he may not; but if he insists that he is not, I
shall be the last to wish a kingship upon him. I know from sad
experience the hardships and burdens that the thing entails."
Then Barney narrated carefully and in detail the principal events of
his life, from his birth in Beatrice to his coming to Lutha upon
pleasure. He showed Herr Kramer his watch with his monogram upon it,
his seal ring, and inside the pocket of his coat the label of his
tailor, with his own name written beneath it and the date that the
garment had been ordered.
When he had completed his narrative the old man shook his head.
"I cannot understand it," he said; "and yet I am almost forced to
believe that you are not the king."
"Direct me to the sanatorium," suggested Barney, "and if it be
within the range of possibility I shall learn whether the man who
lies there is Leopold or another, and if he be the king I shall
serve him as loyally as you would have served me. Together we may
assist him to gain the safety of Tann and the protection of old
"If you are not the king," said Kramer suspiciously, "why should you
be so interested in aiding Leopold? You may even be an enemy. How
can I know?"
"You cannot know, my good friend," replied Barney. "But had I been
an enemy, how much more easily might I have encompassed my designs,
whatever they might have been, had I encouraged you to believe that
I was king. The fact that I did not, must assure you that I have no
ulterior designs against Leopold."
This line of reasoning proved quite convincing to the old
shopkeeper, and at last he consented to lead Barney to the
sanatorium. Together they traversed the quiet village streets to the
outskirts of the town, where in large, park-like grounds the
well-known sanatorium of Tafelberg is situated in quiet
surroundings. It is an institution for the treatment of nervous
diseases to which patients are brought from all parts of Europe, and
is doubtless Lutha's principal claim upon the attention of the outer
As the two crossed the gardens which lay between the gate and the
main entrance and mounted the broad steps leading to the veranda an
old servant opened the door, and recognizing Herr Kramer, nodded
pleasantly to him.
"Your patient seems much brighter this morning, Herr Kramer," he
said, "and has been asking to be allowed to sit up."
"He is still here, then?" questioned the shopkeeper with a sigh that
might have indicated either relief or resignation.
"Why, certainly. You did not expect that he had entirely recovered
overnight, did you?"
"No," replied Herr Kramer, "not exactly. In fact, I did not know
what I should expect."
As the two passed him on their way to the room in which the patient
lay, the servant eyed Herr Kramer in surprise, as though wondering
what had occurred to his mentality since he had seen him the
previous day. He paid no attention to Barney other than to bow to
him as he passed, but there was another who did--an attendant
standing in the hallway through which the two men walked toward the
private room where one of them expected to find the real mad king of
He was a dark-visaged fellow, sallow and small-eyed; and as his
glance rested upon the features of the American a puzzled expression
crossed his face. He let his gaze follow the two as they moved on up
the corridor until they turned in at the door of the room they
sought, then he followed them, entering an apartment next to that in
which Herr Kramer's patient lay.
As Barney and the shopkeeper entered the small, whitewashed room,
the former saw upon the narrow iron cot the figure of a man of about
his own height. The face that turned toward them as they entered was
covered by a full, reddish-brown beard, and the eyes that looked up
at them in troubled surprise were gray. Beyond these Barney could
see no likenesses to himself; yet they were sufficient, he realized,
to have deceived any who might have compared one solely to the
printed description of the other.
At the doorway Kramer halted, motioning Barney within.
"It will be better if you talk with him alone," he said. "I am sure
that before both of us he will admit nothing."
Barney nodded, and the shopkeeper of Tafelberg withdrew and closed
the door behind him. The American approached the bedside with a
cheery "Good morning."
The man returned the salutation with a slight inclination of his
head. There was a questioning look in his eyes; but dominating that
was a pitiful, hunted expression that touched the American's heart.
The man's left hand lay upon the coverlet. Barney glanced at the
third finger. About it was a plain gold band. There was no royal
ring of the kings of Lutha in evidence, yet that was no indication
that the man was not Leopold; for were he the king and desirous of
concealing his identity, his first act would be to remove every
symbol of his kingship.
Barney took the hand in his.
"They tell me that you are well on the road to recovery," he said.
"I am very glad that it is so."
"Who are you?" asked the man.
"I am Bernard Custer, an American. You were found beneath my car at
the bottom of a ravine. I feel that I owe you full reparation for
the injuries you received, though it is beyond me how you happened
to be found under the machine. Unless I am truly mad, I was the only
occupant of the roadster when it plunged over the embankment."
"It is very simple," replied the man upon the cot. "I chanced to be
at the bottom of the ravine at the time and the car fell upon me."
"What were you doing at the bottom of the ravine?" asked Barney
quite suddenly, after the manner of one who administers a third
The man started and flushed with suspicion.
"That is my own affair," he said.
He tried to disengage his hand from Barney's, and as he did so the
American felt something within the fingers of the other. For an
instant his own fingers tightened upon those that lay within them,
so that as the others were withdrawn his index finger pressed close
upon the thing that had aroused his curiosity.
It was a large setting turned inward upon the third finger of the
left hand. The gold band that Barney had seen was but the opposite
side of the same ring.
A quick look of comprehension came to Barney's eyes. The man upon
the cot evidently noted it and rightly interpreted its cause, for,
having freed his hand, he now slipped it quickly beneath the
"I have passed through a series of rather remarkable adventures
since I came to Lutha," said Barney apparently quite irrelevantly,
after the two had remained silent for a moment. "Shortly after my
car fell upon you I was mistaken for the fugitive King Leopold by
the young lady whose horse fell into the ravine with my car. She is
a most loyal supporter of the king, being none other than the
Princess Emma von der Tann. From her I learned to espouse the cause
Step by step Barney took the man through the adventures that had
befallen him during the past three weeks, closing with the story of
the death of the boy, Rudolph.
"Above his dead body I swore to serve Leopold of Lutha as loyally as
the poor, mistaken child had served me, your majesty," and Barney
looked straight into the eyes of him who lay upon the little iron
For a moment the man held his eyes upon those of the American, but
finally, under the latter's steady gaze, they dropped and wandered.
"Why do you address me as 'your majesty'?" he asked irritably.
"With my forefinger I felt the ruby and the four wings of the
setting of the royal ring of the kings of Lutha upon the third
finger of your left hand," replied Barney.
The king started up upon his elbow, his eyes wild with apprehension.
"It is not so," he cried. "It is a lie! I am not the king."
"Hush!" admonished Barney. "You have nothing to fear from me.
There are good friends and loyal subjects in plenty to serve and
protect your majesty, and place you upon the throne that has been
stolen from you. I have sworn to serve you. The old shopkeeper, Herr
Kramer, who brought me here, is an honest, loyal old soul. He would
die for you, your majesty. Trust us. Let us help you. Tomorrow,
Kramer tells me, Peter of Blentz is to have himself crowned as king
in the cathedral at Lustadt.
"Will you sit supinely by and see another rob you of your kingdom,
and then continue to rob and throttle your subjects as he has been
doing for the past ten years? No, you will not. Even if you do not
want the crown, you were born to the duties and obligations it
entails, and for the sake of your people you must assume them now."
"How am I to know that you are not another of the creatures of that
fiend of Blentz?" cried the king. "How am I to know that you will
not drag me back to the terrors of that awful castle, and to the
poisonous potions of the new physician Peter has employed to
assassinate me? I can trust none.
"Go away and leave me. I do not want to be king. I wish only to go
away as far from Lutha as I can get and pass the balance of my life
in peace and security. Peter may have the crown. He is welcome to
it, for all of me. All I ask is my life and my liberty."
Barney saw that while the king was evidently of sound mind, his was
not one of those iron characters and courageous hearts that would
willingly fight to the death for his own rights and the rights and
happiness of his people. Perhaps the long years of bitter
disappointment and misery, the tedious hours of imprisonment, and
the constant haunting fears for his life had reduced him to this
Whatever the cause, Barney Custer was determined to overcome the
man's aversion to assuming the duties which were rightly his, for in
his memory were the words of Emma von der Tann, in which she had
made plain to him the fate that would doubtless befall her father
and his house were Peter of Blentz to become king of Lutha. Then,
too, there was the life of the little peasant boy. Was that to be
given up uselessly for a king with so mean a spirit that he would
not take a scepter when it was forced upon him?
And the people of Lutha? Were they to be further and continually
robbed and downtrodden beneath the heel of Peter's scoundrelly
officials because their true king chose to evade the
responsibilities that were his by birth?
For half an hour Barney pleaded and argued with the king, until he
infused in the weak character of the young man a part of his own
tireless enthusiasm and courage. Leopold commenced to take heart and
see things in a brighter and more engaging light. Finally he became
quite excited about the prospects, and at last Barney obtained a
willing promise from him that he would consent to being placed upon
his throne and would go to Lustadt at any time that Barney should
come for him with a force from the retainers of Prince Ludwig von
"Let us hope," cried the king, "that the luck of the reigning house
of Lutha has been at last restored. Not since my aunt, the Princess
Victoria, ran away with a foreigner has good fortune shone upon my
house. It was when my father was still a young man--before he had
yet come to the throne--and though his reign was marked with great
peace and prosperity for the people of Lutha, his own private
fortunes were most unhappy.
"My mother died at my birth, and the last days of my father's life
were filled with suffering from the cancer that was slowly killing
him. Let us pray, Herr Custer, that you have brought new life to the
fortunes of my house."
"Amen, your majesty," said Barney. "And now I'll be off for
Tann--there must not be a moment lost if we are to bring you to
Lustadt in time for the coronation. Herr Kramer will watch over you,
but as none here guesses your true identity you are safer here than
anywhere else in Lutha. Good-bye, your majesty. Be of good heart.
We'll have you on the road to Lustadt and the throne tomorrow
After Barney Custer had closed the door of the king's chamber behind
him and hurried down the corridor, the door of the room next the
king's opened quietly and a dark-visaged fellow, sallow and
small-eyed, emerged. Upon his lips was a smile of cunning
satisfaction, as he hastened to the office of the medical director
and obtained a leave of absence for twenty-four hours.
THE CORONATION DAY
Toward dusk of the day upon which the mad king of Lutha had been
found, a dust-covered horseman reined in before the great gate of
the castle of Prince Ludwig von der Tann. The unsettled political
conditions which overhung the little kingdom of Lutha were evident
in the return to medievalism which the raised portcullis and the
armed guard upon the barbican of the ancient feudal fortress
revealed. Not for a hundred years before had these things been done
other than as a part of the ceremonials of a fete day, or in honor
of visiting royalty.
At the challenge from the gate Barney replied that he bore a message
for the prince. Slowly the portcullis sank into position across the
moat and an officer advanced to meet the rider.
"The prince has ridden to Lustadt with a large retinue," he said,
"to attend the coronation of Peter of Blentz tomorrow."
"Prince Ludwig von der Tann has gone to attend the coronation of
Peter!" cried Barney in amazement. "Has the Princess Emma returned
from her captivity in the castle of Blentz?"
"She is with her father now, having returned nearly three weeks
ago," replied the officer, "and Peter has disclaimed responsibility
for the outrage, promising that those responsible shall be punished.
He has convinced Prince Ludwig that Leopold is dead, and for the
sake of Lutha--to save her from civil strife--my prince has patched
a truce with Peter; though unless I mistake the character of the
latter and the temper of the former it will be short-lived.
"To demonstrate to the people," continued the officer, "that Prince
Ludwig and Peter are good friends, the great Von der Tann will
attend the coronation, but that he takes little stock in the
sincerity of the Prince of Blentz would be apparent could the latter
have a peep beneath the cloaks and look into the loyal hearts of the
men of Tann who rode down to Lustadt today."
Barney did not wait to hear more. He was glad that in the gathering
dusk the officer had not seen his face plainly enough to mistake him
for the king. With a parting, "Then I must ride to Lustadt with my
message for the prince," he wheeled his tired mount and trotted down
the steep trail from Tann toward the highway which leads to the
All night Barney rode. Three times he wandered from the way and was
forced to stop at farmhouses to inquire the proper direction; but
darkness hid his features from the sleepy eyes of those who answered
his summons, and daylight found him still forging ahead in the
direction of the capital of Lutha.
The American was sunk in unhappy meditation as his weary little
mount plodded slowly along the dusty road. For hours the man had not
been able to urge the beast out of a walk. The loss of time
consequent upon his having followed wrong roads during the night and
the exhaustion of the pony which retarded his speed to what seemed
little better than a snail's pace seemed to assure the failure of
his mission, for at best he could not reach Lustadt before noon.
There was no possibility of bringing Leopold to his capital in time
for the coronation, and but a bare possibility that Prince Ludwig
would accept the word of an entire stranger that Leopold lived, for
the acknowledgment of such a condition by the old prince could
result in nothing less than an immediate resort to arms by the two
factions. It was certain that Peter would be infinitely more anxious
to proceed with his coronation should it be rumored that Leopold
lived, and equally certain that Prince Ludwig would interpose every
obstacle, even to armed resistance, to prevent the consummation of
Yet there seemed to Barney no other alternative than to place before
the king's one powerful friend the information that he had. It would
then rest with Ludwig to do what he thought advisable.
An hour from Lustadt the road wound through a dense forest, whose
pleasant shade was a grateful relief to both horse and rider from
the hot sun beneath which they had been journeying the greater part
of the morning. Barney was still lost in thought, his eyes bent
forward, when at a sudden turning of the road he came face to face
with a troop of horse that were entering the main highway at this
point from an unfrequented byroad.
At sight of them the American instinctively wheeled his mount in an
effort to escape, but at a command from an officer a half dozen
troopers spurred after him, their fresh horses soon overtaking his
For a moment Barney contemplated resistance, for these were troopers
of the Royal Horse, the body which was now Peter's most effective
personal tool; but even as his hand slipped to the butt of one of
the revolvers at his hip, the young man saw the foolish futility of
such a course, and with a shrug and a smile he drew rein and turned
to face the advancing soldiers.
As he did so the officer rode up, and at sight of Barney's face gave
an exclamation of astonishment. The officer was Butzow.
"Well met, your majesty," he cried saluting. "We are riding to the
coronation. We shall be just in time."
"To see Peter of Blentz rob Leopold of a crown," said the American
in a disgusted tone.
"To see Leopold of Lutha come into his own, your majesty. Long live
the king!" cried the officer.
Barney thought the man either poking fun at him because he was not
the king, or, thinking he was Leopold, taking a mean advantage of
his helplessness to bait him. Yet this last suspicion seemed unfair
to Butzow, who at Blentz had given ample evidence that he was a
gentleman, and of far different caliber from Maenck and the others
who served Peter.
If he could but convince the man that he was no king and thus gain
his liberty long enough to reach Prince Ludwig's ear, his mission
would have been served in so far as it lay in his power to serve it.
For some minutes Barney expended his best eloquence and logic upon
the cavalry officer in an effort to convince him that he was not
The king had given the American his great ring to safeguard for him
until it should be less dangerous for Leopold to wear it, and for
fear that at the last moment someone within the sanatorium might
recognize it and bear word to Peter of the king's whereabouts.
Barney had worn it turned in upon the third finger of his left hand,
and now he slipped it surreptitiously into his breeches pocket lest
Butzow should see it and by it be convinced that Barney was indeed
"Never mind who you are," cried Butzow, thinking to humor the king's
strange obsession. "You look enough like Leopold to be his twin, and
you must help us save Lutha from Peter of Blentz."
The American showed in his expression the surprise he felt at these
words from an officer of the prince regent.
"You wonder at my change of heart?" asked Butzow.
"How can I do otherwise?"
"I cannot blame you," said the officer. "Yet I think that when you
know the truth you will see that I have done only that which I
believed to be the duty of a patriotic officer and a true
They had rejoined the troop by this time, and the entire company was
once more headed toward Lustadt. Butzow had commanded one of the
troopers to exchange horses with Barney, bringing the jaded animal
into the city slowly, and now freshly mounted the American was
making better time toward his destination. His spirits rose, and as
they galloped along the highway, he listened with renewed interest
to the story which Lieutenant Butzow narrated in detail.
It seemed that Butzow had been absent from Lutha for a number of
years as military attache to the Luthanian legation at a foreign
court. He had known nothing of the true condition at home until his
return, when he saw such scoundrels as Coblich, Maenck, and Stein
high in the favor of the prince regent. For some time before the
events that had transpired after he had brought Barney and the
Princess Emma to Blentz he had commenced to have his doubts as to
the true patriotism of Peter of Blentz; and when he had learned
through the unguarded words of Schonau that there was a real
foundation for the rumor that the regent had plotted the
assassination of the king his suspicions had crystallized into
knowledge, and he had sworn to serve his king before all
others--were he sane or mad. From this loyalty he could not be
"And what do you intend doing now?" asked Barney.
"I intend placing you upon the throne of your ancestors, sire,"
replied Butzow; "nor will Peter of Blentz dare the wrath of the
people by attempting to interpose any obstacle. When he sees Leopold
of Lutha ride into the capital of his kingdom at the head of even so
small a force as ours he will know that the end of his own power is
at hand, for he is not such a fool that he does not perfectly
realize that he is the most cordially hated man in all Lutha, and
that only those attend upon him who hope to profit through his
success or who fear his evil nature."
"If Peter is crowned today," asked Barney, "will it prevent Leopold
regaining his throne?"
"It is difficult to say," replied Butzow; "but the chances are that
the throne would be lost to him forever. To regain it he would have
to plunge Lutha into a bitter civil war, for once Peter is
proclaimed king he will have the law upon his side, and with the
resources of the State behind him--the treasury and the army--he
will feel in no mood to relinquish the scepter without a struggle. I
doubt much that you will ever sit upon your throne, sire, unless you
do so within the very next hour."
For some time Barney rode in silence. He saw that only by a master
stroke could the crown be saved for the true king. Was it worth it?
The man was happier without a crown. Barney had come to believe that
no man lived who could be happy in possession of one. Then there
came before his mind's eye the delicate, patrician face of Emma von
Would Peter of Blentz be true to his new promises to the house of
Von der Tann? Barney doubted it. He recalled all that it might mean
of danger and suffering to the girl whose kisses he still felt upon
his lips as though it had been but now that hers had placed them
there. He recalled the limp little body of the boy, Rudolph, and the
Spartan loyalty with which the little fellow had given his life in
the service of the man he had thought king. The pitiful figure of
the fear-haunted man upon the iron cot at Tafelberg rose before him
and cried for vengeance.
To this man was the woman he loved betrothed! He knew that he might
never wed the Princess Emma. Even were she not promised to another,
the iron shackles of convention and age-old customs must forever
separate her from an untitled American. But if he couldn't have her
he still could serve her!
"For her sake," he muttered.
"Did your majesty speak?" asked Butzow.
"Yes, lieutenant. We urge greater haste, for if we are to be
crowned today we have no time to lose."
Butzow smiled a relieved smile. The king had at last regained his
Within the ancient cathedral at Lustadt a great and gorgeously
attired assemblage had congregated. All the nobles of Lutha were
gathered there with their wives, their children, and their
retainers. There were the newer nobility of the lowlands--many whose
patents dated but since the regency of Peter--and there were the
proud nobility of the highlands--the old nobility of which Prince
Ludwig von der Tann was the chief.
It was noticeable that though a truce had been made between Ludwig
and Peter, yet the former chancellor of the kingdom did not stand
upon the chancel with the other dignitaries of the State and court.
Few there were who knew that he had been invited to occupy a place
of honor there, and had replied that he would take no active part in
the making of any king in Lutha whose veins did not pulse to the
flow of the blood of the house in whose service he had grown gray.
Close packed were the retainers of the old prince so that their
great number was scarcely noticeable, though quite so was the fact
that they kept their cloaks on, presenting a somber appearance in
the midst of all the glitter of gold and gleam of jewels that
surrounded them--a grim, business-like appearance that cast a chill
upon Peter of Blentz as his eyes scanned the multitude of faces
He would have shown his indignation at this seeming affront had he
dared; but until the crown was safely upon his head and the royal
scepter in his hand Peter had no mind to do aught that might
jeopardize the attainment of the power he had sought for the past
The solemn ceremony was all but completed; the Bishop of Lustadt had
received the great golden crown from the purple cushion upon which
it had been borne at the head of the procession which accompanied
Peter up the broad center aisle of the cathedral. He had raised it
above the head of the prince regent, and was repeating the solemn
words which precede the placing of the golden circlet upon the man's
brow. In another moment Peter of Blentz would be proclaimed the king
By her father's side stood Emma von der Tann. Upon her haughty,
high-bred face there was no sign of the emotions which ran riot
within her fair bosom. In the act that she was witnessing she saw
the eventual ruin of her father's house. That Peter would long want
for an excuse to break and humble his ancient enemy she did not
believe; but this was not the only cause for the sorrow that
Her most poignant grief, like that of her father, was for the dead
king, Leopold; but to the sorrow of the loyal subject was added the
grief of the loving woman, bereft. Close to her heart she hugged the
memory of the brief hours spent with the man whom she had been
taught since childhood to look upon as her future husband, but for
whom the all-consuming fires of love had only been fanned to life
within her since that moment, now three weeks gone, that he had
crushed her to his breast to cover her lips with kisses for the
short moment ere he sacrificed his life to save her from a fate
worse than death.
Before her stood the Nemesis of her dead king. The last act of the
hideous crime against the man she had loved was nearing its close.
As the crown, poised over the head of Peter of Blentz, sank slowly
downward the girl felt that she could scarce restrain her desire to
shriek aloud a protest against the wicked act--the crowning of a
murderer king of her beloved Lutha.
A glance at the old man at her side showed her the stern, commanding
features of her sire molded in an expression of haughty dignity;
only the slight movement of the muscles of the strong jaw revealed
the tensity of the hidden emotions of the stern old warrior. He was
meeting disappointment and defeat as a Von der Tann should--brave to
The crown had all but touched the head of Peter of Blentz when a
sudden commotion at the back of the cathedral caused the bishop to
look up in ill-concealed annoyance. At the sight that met his eyes
his hands halted in mid-air.
The great audience turned as one toward the doors at the end of the
long central aisle. There, through the wide-swung portals, they saw
mounted men forcing their way into the cathedral. The great horses
shouldered aside the foot-soldiers that attempted to bar their way,
and twenty troopers of the Royal Horse thundered to the very foot of
the chancel steps.
At their head rode Lieutenant Butzow and a tall young man in soiled
and tattered khaki, whose gray eyes and full reddish-brown beard
brought an exclamation from Captain Maenck who commanded the guard
about Peter of Blentz.
"Mein Gott--the king!" cried Maenck, and at the words Peter went
In open-mouthed astonishment the spectators saw the hurrying
troopers and heard Butzow's "The king! The king! Make way for
Leopold, King of Lutha!"
And a girl saw, and as she saw her heart leaped to her mouth. Her
small hand gripped the sleeve of her father's coat. "The king,
father," she cried. "It is the king."
Old Von der Tann, the light of a new hope firing his eyes, threw
aside his cloak and leaped to the chancel steps beside Butzow and
the others who were mounting them. Behind him a hundred cloaks
dropped from the shoulders of his fighting men, exposing not silks
and satins and fine velvet, but the coarse tan of khaki, and grim
cartridge belts well filled, and stern revolvers slung to well-worn
As Butzow and Barney stepped upon the chancel Peter of Blentz leaped
forward. "What mad treason is this?" he fairly screamed.
"The days of treason are now past, prince," replied Butzow
meaningly. "Here is not treason, but Leopold of Lutha come to claim
his crown which he inherited from his father."
"It is a plot," cried Peter, "to place an impostor upon the throne!
This man is not the king."
For a moment there was silence. The people had not taken sides as
yet. They awaited a leader. Old Von der Tann scrutinized the
"How may we know that you are Leopold?" he asked. "For ten years we
have not seen our king."
"The governor of Blentz has already acknowledged his identity,"
cried Butzow. "Maenck was the first to proclaim the presence of the
At that someone near the chancel cried: "Long live Leopold, king of
Lutha!" and at the words the whole assemblage raised their voices in
a tumultuous: "Long live the king!"
Peter of Blentz turned toward Maenck. "The guard!" he cried.
"Arrest those traitors, and restore order in the cathedral. Let the
Maenck took a step toward Barney and Butzow, when old Prince von der
Tann interposed his giant frame with grim resolve.
"Hold!" He spoke in a low, stern voice that brought the cowardly
Maenck to a sudden halt.
The men of Tann had pressed eagerly forward until they stood, with
bared swords, a solid rank of fighting men in grim semicircle behind
their chief. There were cries from different parts of the cathedral
of: "Crown Leopold, our true king! Down with Peter! Down with the
"Enough of this," cried Peter. "Clear the cathedral!"
He drew his own sword, and with half a hundred loyal retainers at
his back pressed forward to clear the chancel. There was a brief
fight, from which Barney, much to his disgust, was barred by the
mighty figure of the old prince and the stalwart sword-arm of
Butzow. He did get one crack at Maenck, and had the satisfaction of
seeing blood spurt from a flesh wound across the fellow's cheek.
"That for the Princess Emma," he called to the governor of Blentz,
and then men crowded between them and he did not see the captain
again during the battle.
When Peter saw that more than half of the palace guard were shouting
for Leopold, and fighting side by side with the men of Tann, he
realized the futility of further armed resistance at this time.
Slowly he withdrew, and at last the fighting ceased and some
semblance of order was restored within the cathedral.
Fearfully, the bishop emerged from hiding, his robes disheveled and
his miter askew. Butzow grasped him none too reverently by the arm
and dragged him before Barney. The crown of Lutha dangled in the
priest's palsied hands.
"Crown the king!" cried the lieutenant. "Crown Leopold, king of
A mad roar of acclaim greeted this demand, and again from all parts
of the cathedral rose the same wild cry. But in the lull that
followed there were some who demanded proof of the tattered young
man who stood before them and claimed that he was king.
"Let Prince Ludwig speak!" cried a dozen voices.
"Yes, Prince Ludwig! Prince Ludwig!" took up the throng.
Prince Ludwig von der Tann turned toward the bearded young man.
Silence fell upon the crowded cathedral. Peter of Blentz stood
awaiting the outcome, ready to demand the crown upon the first
indication of wavering belief in the man he knew was not Leopold.
"How may we know that you are really Leopold?" again asked Ludwig of
The American raised his left hand, upon the third finger of which
gleamed the great ruby of the royal ring of the kings of Lutha. Even
Peter of Blentz started back in surprise as his eyes fell upon the
Where had the man come upon it?
Prince von der Tann dropped to one knee before Mr. Bernard Custer of
Beatrice, Nebraska, U.S.A., and lifted that gentleman's hand to his
lips, and as the people of Lutha saw the act they went mad with joy.
Slowly Prince Ludwig rose and addressed the bishop. "Leopold, the
rightful heir to the throne of Lutha, is here. Let the coronation
The quiet of the sepulcher fell upon the assemblage as the holy man
raised the crown above the head of the king. Barney saw from the
corner of his eye the sea of faces upturned toward him. He saw the
relief and happiness upon the stern countenance of the old prince.
He hated to dash all their new found joy by the announcement that he
was not the king. He could not do that, for the moment he did Peter
would step forward and demand that his own coronation continue. How
was he to save the throne for Leopold?
Among the faces beneath him he suddenly descried that of a beautiful
young girl whose eyes, filled with the tears of a great happiness
and a greater love, were upturned to his. To reveal his true
identity would lose him this girl forever. None save Peter knew that
he was not the king. All save Peter would hail him gladly as Leopold
of Lutha. How easily he might win a throne and the woman he loved by
a moment of seeming passive compliance.
The temptation was great, and then he recalled the boy, lying dead
for his king in the desolate mountains, and the pathetic light in
the eyes of the sorrowful man at Tafelberg, and the great trust and
confidence in the heart of the woman who had shown that she loved
Slowly Barney Custer raised his palm toward the bishop in a gesture
"There are those who doubt that I am king," he said. "In these
circumstances there should be no coronation in Lutha until all
doubts are allayed and all may unite in accepting without question
the royal right of the true Leopold to the crown of his father. Let
the coronation wait, then, until another day, and all will be well."
"It must take place before noon of the fifth day of November, or not
until a year later," said Prince Ludwig. "In the meantime the Prince
Regent must continue to rule. For the sake of Lutha the coronation
must take place today, your majesty."
"What is the date?" asked Barney.
"The third, sire."
"Let the coronation wait until the fifth."
"But your majesty," interposed Von der Tann, "all may be lost in two
"It is the king's command," said Barney quietly.
"But Peter of Blentz will rule for these two days, and in that time
with the army at his command there is no telling what he may
accomplish," insisted the old man.
"Peter of Blentz shall not rule Lutha for two days, or two minutes,"
replied Barney. "We shall rule. Lieutenant Butzow, you may place
Prince Peter, Coblich, Maenck, and Stein under arrest. We charge
them with treason against their king, and conspiring to assassinate
their rightful monarch."
Butzow smiled as he turned with his troopers at his back to execute
this most welcome of commissions; but in a moment he was again at
"They have fled, your majesty," he said. "Shall I ride to Blentz
"Let them go," replied the American, and then, with his retinue
about him the new king of Lutha passed down the broad aisle of the
cathedral of Lustadt and took his way to the royal palace between
ranks of saluting soldiery backed by cheering thousands.
THE KING'S GUESTS
Once within the palace Barney sought the seclusion of a small room
off the audience chamber. Here he summoned Butzow.
"Lieutenant," said the American, "for the sake of a woman, a dead
child and an unhappy king I have become dictator of Lutha for
forty-eight hours; but at noon upon the fifth this farce must cease.
Then we must place the true Leopold upon the throne, or a new
dictator must replace me.
"In vain I have tried to convince you that I am not the king, and
today in the cathedral so great was the temptation to take advantage
of the odd train of circumstances that had placed a crown within my
reach that I all but surrendered to it--not for the crown of gold,
Butzow, but for an infinitely more sacred diadem which belongs to
him to whom by right of birth and lineage, belongs the crown of
Lutha. I do not ask you to understand--it is not necessary--but this
you must know and believe: that I am not Leopold, and that the true
Leopold lies in hiding in the sanatorium at Tafelberg, from which
you and I, Butzow, must fetch him to Lustadt before noon on the
"But, sire--" commenced Butzow, when Barney raised his hand.
"Enough of that, Butzow!" he cried almost irritably. "I am sick of
being 'sired' and 'majestied'--my name is Custer. Call me that when
others are not present. Believe what you will, but ride with me in
secrecy to Tafelberg tonight, and together we shall bring back
Leopold of Lutha. Then we may call Prince Ludwig into our
confidence, and none need ever know of the substitution.
"I doubt if many had a sufficiently close view of me today to
realize the trick that I have played upon them, and if they note a
difference they will attribute it to the change in apparel, for we
shall see to it that the king is fittingly garbed before we exhibit
him to his subjects, while hereafter I shall continue in khaki,
which becomes me better than ermine."
Butzow shook his head.
"King or dictator," he said, "it is all the same, and I must obey
whatever commands you see fit to give, and so I will ride to
Tafelberg tonight, though what we shall find there I cannot imagine,
unless there are two Leopolds of Lutha. But shall we also find
another royal ring upon the finger of this other king?"
Barney smiled. "You're a typical hard-headed Dutchman, Butzow," he
The lieutenant drew himself up haughtily. "I am not a Dutchman,
your majesty. I am a Luthanian."
Barney laughed. "Whatever else you may be, Butzow, you're a brick,"
he said, laying his hand upon the other's arm.
Butzow looked at him narrowly.
"From your speech," he said, "and the occasional Americanisms into
which you fall I might believe that you were other than the king but
for the ring."
"It is my commission from the king," replied Barney. "Leopold
placed it upon my finger in token of his royal authority to act in
his behalf. Tonight, then Butzow, you and I shall ride to Tafelberg.
Have three good horses. We must lead one for the king."
Butzow saluted and left the apartment. For an hour or two the
American was busy with tailors whom he had ordered sent to the
palace to measure him for the numerous garments of a royal wardrobe,
for he knew the king to be near enough his own size that he might
easily wear clothes that had been fitted to Barney; and it was part
of his plan to have everything in readiness for the substitution
which was to take place the morning of the coronation.
Then there were foreign dignitaries, and the heads of numerous
domestic and civic delegations to be given audience. Old Von der
Tann stood close behind Barney prompting him upon the royal duties
that had fallen so suddenly upon his shoulders, and none thought it
strange that he was unfamiliar with the craft of kingship, for was
it not common knowledge that he had been kept a close prisoner in
Blentz since boyhood, nor been given any coaching for the duties
Peter of Blentz never intended he should perform?
After it was all over Prince Ludwig's grim and leathery face relaxed
into a smile of satisfaction.
"None who witnessed the conduct of your first audience, sire," he
said, "could for a moment doubt your royal lineage--if ever a man
was born to kingship, your majesty, it be you."
Barney smiled, a bit ruefully, however, for in his mind's eye he saw
a future moment when the proud old Prince von der Tann would know
the truth of the imposture that had been played upon him, and the
young man foresaw that he would have a rather unpleasant half-hour.
At a little distance from them Barney saw Emma von der Tann
surrounded by a group of officials and palace officers. Since he had
come to Lustadt that day he had had no word with her, and now he
crossed toward her, amused as the throng parted to form an aisle for
him, the men saluting and the women curtsying low.
He took both of the girl's hands in his, and, drawing one through
his arm, took advantage of the prerogatives of kingship to lead her
away from the throng of courtiers.
"I thought that I should never be done with all the tiresome
business which seems to devolve upon kings," he said, laughing. "All
the while that I should have been bending my royal intellect to
matters of state, I was wondering just how a king might find a way
to see the woman he loves without interruptions from the horde that
dogs his footsteps."
"You seem to have found a way, Leopold," she whispered, pressing his
arm close to her. "Kings usually do."
"It is not because I am a king that I found a way, Emma," he
replied. "It is because I am an American."
She looked up at him with an expression of pleading in her eyes.
"Why do you persist?" she cried. "You have come into your own, and
there is no longer aught to fear from Peter or any other. To me at
least, it is most unkind still to deny your identity."
"I wonder," said Barney, "if your love could withstand the knowledge
that I am not the king."
"It is the MAN I love, Leopold," the girl replied.
"You think so now," he said, "but wait until the test comes, and
when it does, remember that I have always done my best to undeceive
you. I know that you are not for such as I, my princess, and when I
have returned your true king to you all that I shall ask is that you
be happy with him."
"I shall always be happy with my king," she whispered, and the look
that she gave him made Barney Custer curse the fate that had failed
to make him a king by birth.
An hour later darkness had fallen upon the little city of Lustadt,
and from a small gateway in the rear of the palace grounds two
horsemen rode out into the ill-paved street and turned their mounts'
heads toward the north. At the side of one trotted a led horse.
As they passed beneath the glare of an arc-light before a cafe at
the side of the public square, a diner sitting at a table upon the
walk spied the tall figure and the bearded face of him who rode a
few feet in advance of his companion. Leaping to his feet the man
waved his napkin above his head.
"Long live the king!" he cried. "God save Leopold of Lutha!"
And amid the din of cheering that followed, Barney Custer of
Beatrice and Lieutenant Butzow of the Royal Horse rode out into the
night upon the road to Tafelberg.
When Peter of Blentz had escaped from the cathedral he had hastily
mounted with a handful of his followers and hurried out of Lustadt
along the road toward his formidable fortress at Blentz. Half way
upon the journey he had met a dusty and travel-stained horseman
hastening toward the capital city that Peter and his lieutenants had
At sight of the prince regent the fellow reined in and saluted.
"May I have a word in private with your highness?" he asked. "I
have news of the greatest importance for your ears alone."
Peter drew to one side with the man.
"Well," he asked, "and what news have you for Peter of Blentz?"
The man leaned from his horse close to Peter's ear.
"The king is in Tafelberg, your highness," he said.
"The king is dead," snapped Peter. "There is an impostor in the
palace at Lustadt. But the real Leopold of Lutha was slain by Yellow
Franz's band of brigands weeks ago."
"I heard the man at Tafelberg tell another that he was the king,"
insisted the fellow. "Through the keyhole of his room I saw him take
a great ring from his finger--a ring with a mighty ruby set in its
center--and give it to the other. Both were bearded men with gray
eyes--either might have passed for the king by the description upon
the placards that have covered Lutha for the past month. At first he
denied his identity, but when the other had convinced him that he
sought only the king's welfare he at last admitted that he was
"Where is he now?" cried Peter.
"He is still in the sanatorium at Tafelberg. In room twenty-seven.
The other promised to return for him and take him to Lustadt, but
when I left Tafelberg he had not yet done so, and if you hasten you
may reach there before they take him away, and if there be any
reward for my loyalty to you, prince, my name is Ferrath."
"Ride with us and if you have told the truth, fellow, there shall be
a reward and if not--then there shall be deserts," and Peter of
Blentz wheeled his horse and with his company galloped on toward
As he rode he talked with his lieutenants Coblich, Maenck, and
Stein, and among them it was decided that it would be best that
Peter stop at Blentz for the night while the others rode on to
"Do not bring Leopold to Blentz," directed Peter, "for if it be he
who lies at Tafelberg and they find him gone it will be toward
Blentz that they will first look. Take him--"
The Regent leaned from his saddle so that his mouth was close to the
ear of Coblich, that none of the troopers might hear.
Coblich nodded his head.
"And, Coblich, the fewer that ride to Tafelberg tonight the surer
the success of the mission. Take Maenck, Stein and one other with
you. I shall keep this man with me, for it may prove but a plot to
lure me to Tafelberg."
Peter scowled at the now frightened hospital attendant.
"Tomorrow I shall be riding through the lowlands, Coblich, and so
you may not find means to communicate with me, but before noon of
the fifth have word at your town house in Lustadt for me of the
success of your venture."
They had reached the point now where the road to Tafelberg branches
from that to Blentz, and the four who were to fetch the king wheeled
their horses into the left-hand fork and cantered off upon their
The direct road between Lustadt and Tafelberg is but little more
than half the distance of that which Coblich and his companions had
to traverse because of the wide detour they had made by riding
almost to Blentz first, and so it was that when they cantered into
the little mountain town near midnight Barney Custer and Lieutenant
Butzow were but a mile or two behind them.
Had the latter had even the faintest of suspicions that the identity
of the hiding place of the king might come to the knowledge of Peter
of Blentz they could have reached Tafelberg ahead of Coblich and his
party, but all unsuspecting they rode slowly to conserve the energy
of their mounts for the return trip.
In silence the two men approached the grounds surrounding the
sanatorium. In the soft dirt of the road the hoofs of their mounts
made no sound, and the shadows of the trees that border the front of
the enclosure hid them from the view of the trooper who held four
riderless horses in a little patch of moonlight that broke through
the opening in the trees at the main gate of the institution.
Barney was the first to see the animals and the man.
"S-s-st," he hissed, reining in his horse.
Butzow drew alongside the American.
"What can it mean?" asked Barney. "That fellow is a trooper, but I
cannot make out his uniform."
"Wait here," said Butzow, and slipping from his horse he crept
closer to the man, hugging the dense shadows close to the trees.
Barney reined in nearer the low wall. From his saddle he could see
the grounds beyond through the branches of a tree. As he looked his
attention was suddenly riveted upon a sight that sent his heart into
Three men were dragging a struggling, half-naked figure down the
gravel walk from the sanatorium toward the gate. One kept a hand
clapped across the mouth of the prisoner, who struck and fought his
assailants with all the frenzy of despair.
Barney leaped from his saddle and ran headlong after Butzow. The
lieutenant had reached the gate but an instant ahead of him when the
trooper, turning suddenly at some slight sound of the officer's foot
upon the ground, detected the man creeping upon him. In an instant
the fellow had whipped out a revolver, and raising it fired
point-blank at Butzow's chest; but in the same instant a figure shot
out of the shadows beside him, and with the report of the revolver a
heavy fist caught the trooper on the side of the chin, crumpling him
to the ground as if he were dead.
The blow had been in time to deflect the muzzle of the firearm, and
the bullet whistled harmlessly past the lieutenant.
"Your majesty!" exclaimed Butzow excitedly. "Go back. He might have
Barney leaped to the other's side and grasping him by the shoulders
wheeled him about so that he faced the gate.
"There, Butzow," he cried, "there is your king, and from the looks
of it he never needed a loyal subject more than he does this moment.
Come!" Without waiting to see if the other followed him, Barney
Custer leaped through the gate full in the faces of the astonished
trio that was dragging Leopold of Lutha from his sanctuary.
At sight of the American the king gave a muffled cry of relief, and
then Barney was upon those who held him. A stinging uppercut lifted
Coblich clear of the ground to drop him, dazed and bewildered, at
the foot of the monarch he had outraged. Maenck drew a revolver only
to have it struck from his hand by the sword of Butzow, who had
followed closely upon the American's heels.
Barney, seizing the king by the arm, started on a run for the
gateway. In his wake came Butzow with a drawn sword beating back
Stein, who was armed with a cavalry saber, and Maenck who had now
drawn his own sword.
The American saw that the two were pressing Butzow much too closely
for safety and that Coblich had now recovered from the effects of
the blow and was in pursuit, drawing his saber as he ran. Barney
thrust the king behind him and turned to face the enemy, at Butzow's
The three men rushed upon the two who stood between them and their
prey. The moonlight was now full in the faces of Butzow and the
American. For the first time Maenck and the others saw who it was
that had interrupted them.
"The impostor!" cried the governor of Blentz. "The false king!"
Imbued with temporary courage by the knowledge that his side had the
advantage of superior numbers he launched himself full upon the
American. To his surprise he met a sword-arm that none might have