Part 3 out of 6
expected in an American, for Barney Custer had been a pupil of the
redoubtable Colonel Monstery, who was, as Barney was wont to say,
"one of the thanwhomest of fencing masters."
Quickly Maenck fell back to give place to Stein, but not before the
American's point had found him twice to leave him streaming blood
from two deep flesh wounds.
Neither of those who fought in the service of the king saw the
trembling, weak-kneed figure, which had stood behind them, turn and
scurry through the gateway, leaving the men who battled for him to
The trooper whom Barney had felled had regained consciousness and as
he came to his feet rubbing his swollen jaw he saw a disheveled,
half-dressed figure running toward him from the sanatorium grounds.
The fellow was no fool, and knowing the purpose of the expedition as
he did he was quick to jump to the conclusion that this fleeing
personification of abject terror was Leopold of Lutha; and so it was
that as the king emerged from the gateway in search of freedom he
ran straight into the widespread arms of the trooper.
Maenck and Coblich had seen the king's break for liberty, and the
latter maneuvered to get himself between Butzow and the open gate
that he might follow after the fleeing monarch.
At the same instant Maenck, seeing that Stein was being worsted by
the American, rushed in upon the latter, and thus relieved, the
rat-faced doctor was enabled to swing a heavy cut at Barney which
struck him a glancing blow upon the head, sending him stunned and
bleeding to the sward.
Coblich and the governor of Blentz hastened toward the gate, pausing
for an instant to overwhelm Butzow. In the fierce scrimmage that
followed the lieutenant was overthrown, though not before his sword
had passed through the heart of the rat-faced one. Deserting their
fallen comrade the two dashed through the gate, where to their
immense relief they found Leopold safe in the hands of the trooper.
An instant later the precious trio, with Leopold upon the horse of
the late Dr. Stein, were galloping swiftly into the darkness of the
wood that lies at the outskirts of Tafelberg.
When Barney regained consciousness he found himself upon a cot
within the sanatorium. Close beside him lay Butzow, and above them
stood an interne and several nurses. No sooner had the American
regained his scattered wits than he leaped to the floor. The interne
and the nurses tried to force him back upon the cot, thinking that
he was in the throes of a delirium, and it required his best efforts
to convince them that he was quite rational.
During the melee Butzow regained consciousness; his wound being as
superficial as that of the American, the two men were soon donning
their clothing, and, half-dressed, rushing toward the outer gate.
The interne had told them that when he had reached the scene of the
conflict in company with the gardener he had found them and another
lying upon the sward.
Their companion, he said, was quite dead.
"That must have been Stein," said Butzow. "And the others had
escaped with the king!"
"The king?" cried the interne.
"Yes, the king, man--Leopold of Lutha. Did you not know that he who
has lain here for three weeks was the king?" replied Butzow.
The interne accompanied them to the gate and beyond, but everywhere
was silence. The king was gone.
ON THE BATTLEFIELD
All that night and the following day Barney Custer and his aide rode
in search of the missing king.
They came to Blentz, and there Butzow rode boldly into the great
court, admitted by virtue of the fact that the guard upon the gate
knew him only as an officer of the royal guard whom they believed
still loyal to Peter of Blentz.
The lieutenant learned that the king was not there, nor had he been
since his escape. He also learned that Peter was abroad in the
lowland recruiting followers to aid him forcibly to regain the crown
The lieutenant did not wait to hear more, but, hurrying from the
castle, rode to Barney where the latter had remained in hiding in
the wood below the moat--the same wood through which he had stumbled
a few weeks previously after his escape from the stagnant waters of
"The king is not here," said Butzow to him, as soon as the former
reached his side. "Peter is recruiting an army to aid him in seizing
the palace at Lustadt, and king or no king, we must ride for the
capital in time to check that move. Thank God," he added, "that we
shall have a king to place upon the throne of Lutha at noon tomorrow
in spite of all that Peter can do."
"What do you mean?" asked Barney. "Have you any clue to the
whereabouts of Leopold?"
"I saw the man at Tafelberg whom you say is king," replied Butzow.
"I saw him tremble and whimper in the face of danger. I saw him run
when he might have seized something, even a stone, and fought at the
sides of the men who were come to rescue him. And I saw you there
"The truth and the falsity of this whole strange business is beyond
me, but this I know: if you are not the king today I pray God that
the other may not find his way to Lustadt before noon tomorrow, for
by then a brave man will sit upon the throne of Lutha, your
Barney laid his hand upon the shoulder of the other.
"It cannot be, my friend," he said. "There is more than a throne at
stake for me, but to win them both I could not do the thing you
suggest. If Leopold of Lutha lives he must be crowned tomorrow."
"And if he does not live?" asked Butzow.
Barney Custer shrugged his shoulders.
It was dusk when the two entered the palace grounds in Lustadt. The
sight of Barney threw the servants and functionaries of the royal
household into wild excitement and confusion. Men ran hither and
thither bearing the glad tidings that the king had returned.
Old von der Tann was announced within ten minutes after Barney
reached his apartments. He urged upon the American the necessity for
greater caution in the future.
"Your majesty's life is never safe while Peter of Blentz is abroad
in Lutha," cried he.
"It was to save your king from Peter that we rode from Lustadt last
night," replied Barney, but the old prince did not catch the double
meaning of the words.
While they talked a young officer of cavalry begged an audience. He
had important news for the king, he said. From him Barney learned
that Peter of Blentz had succeeded in recruiting a fair-sized army
in the lowlands. Two regiments of government infantry and a squadron
of cavalry had united forces with him, for there were those who
still accepted him as regent, believing his contention that the true
king was dead, and that he whose coronation was to be attempted was
but the puppet of old Von der Tann.
The morning of November 5 broke clear and cold. The old town of
Lustadt was awakened with a start at daybreak by the booming of
cannon. Mounted messengers galloped hither and thither through the
steep, winding streets. Troops, foot and horse, moved at the double
from the barracks along the King's Road to the fortifications which
guard the entrance to the city at the foot of Margaretha Street.
Upon the heights above the town Barney Custer and the old Prince von
der Tann stood surrounded by officers and aides watching the advance
of a skirmish line up the slopes toward Lustadt. Behind, the thin
line columns of troops were marching under cover of two batteries of
field artillery that Peter of Blentz had placed upon a wooden knoll
to the southeast of the city.
The guns upon the single fort that, overlooking the broad valley,
guarded the entire southern exposure of the city were answering the
fire of Prince Peter's artillery, while several machine guns had
been placed to sweep the slope up which the skirmish line was
The trees that masked the enemy's pieces extended upward along the
ridge and the eastern edge of the city. Barney saw that a force of
men might easily reach a commanding position from that direction and
enter Lustadt almost in rear of the fortifications. Below him a
squadron of the Royal Horse were just emerging from their stables,
taking their way toward the plain to join in a concerted movement
against the troops that were advancing toward the fort.
He turned to an aide de camp standing just behind him.
"Intercept that squadron and direct the major to move due east along
the King's Road to the grove," he commanded. "We will join him
And as the officer spurred down the steep and narrow street the
American, followed by Von der Tann and his staff, wheeled and
Ten minutes later the party entered the wood at the edge of town,
where the squadron soon joined them. Von der Tann was mystified at
the purpose of this change in the position of the general staff,
since from the wood they could see nothing of the battle waging upon
the slope. During his brief intercourse with the man he thought king
he had quite forgotten that there had been any question as to the
young man's sanity, for he had given no indication of possessing
aught but a well-balanced mind. Now, however, he commenced to have
misgivings, if not of his sanity, then as to his judgment at least.
"I fear, your majesty," he ventured, "that we are putting ourselves
too much out of touch with the main body of the army. We can neither
see nor accomplish anything from this position."
"We were too far away to accomplish much upon the top of that
mountain," replied Barney, "but we're going to commence doing things
now. You will please to ride back along the King's Road and take
direct command of the troops mobilized near the fort.
"Direct the artillery to redouble their fire upon the enemy's
battery for five minutes, and then to cease firing into the wood
entirely. At the same instant you may order a cautious advance
against the troops advancing up the slope.
"When you see us emerge upon the west side of the grove where the
enemy's guns are now, you may order a charge, and we will take them
simultaneously upon their right flank with a cavalry charge."
"But, your majesty," exclaimed Von der Tann dubiously, "where will
you be in the mean time?"
"We shall be with the major's squadron, and when you see us emerging
from the grove, you will know that we have taken Peter's guns and
that everything is over except the shouting."
"You are not going to accompany the charge!" cried the old prince.
"We are going to lead it," and the pseudo-king of Lutha wheeled his
mount as though to indicate that the time for talking was past.
With a signal to the major commanding the squadron of Royal Horse,
he moved eastward into the wood. Prince Ludwig hesitated a moment as
though to question further the wisdom of the move, but finally with
a shake of his head he trotted off in the direction of the fort.
Five minutes later the enemy were delighted to note that the fire
upon their concealed battery had suddenly ceased.
Then Peter saw a force of foot-soldiers deploy from the city and
advance slowly in line of skirmishers down the slope to meet his own
Immediately he did what Barney had expected that he would--turned
the fire of his artillery toward the southwest, directly away from
the point from which the American and the crack squadron were
So it came that the cavalrymen crept through the woods upon the rear
of the guns, unseen; the noise of their advance was drowned by the
detonation of the cannon.
The first that the artillerymen knew of the enemy in their rear was
a shout of warning from one of the powder-men at a caisson, who had
caught a glimpse of the grim line advancing through the trees at his
Instantly an effort was made to wheel several of the pieces about
and train them upon the advancing horsemen; but even had there been
time, a shout that rose from several of Peter's artillerymen as the
Royal Horse broke into full view would doubtless have prevented the
maneuver, for at sight of the tall, bearded, young man who galloped
in front of the now charging cavalrymen there rose a shout of "The
king! The king!"
With the force of an avalanche the Royal Horse rode through those
two batteries of field artillery; and in the thick of the fight that
followed rode the American, a smile upon his face, for in his ears
rang the wild shouts of his troopers: "For the king! For the king!"
In the moment that the enemy made their first determined stand a
bullet brought down the great bay upon which Barney rode. A dozen of
Peter's men rushed forward to seize the man stumbling to his feet.
As many more of the Royal Horse closed around him, and there, for
five minutes, was waged as fierce a battle for possession of a king
as was ever fought.
But already many of the artillerymen had deserted the guns that had
not yet been attacked, for the magic name of king had turned their
blood to water. Fifty or more raised a white flag and surrendered
without striking a blow, and when, at last, Barney and his little
bodyguard fought their way through those who surrounded them they
found the balance of the field already won.
Upon the slope below the city the loyal troops were advancing upon
the enemy. Old Prince Ludwig paced back and forth behind them,
apparently oblivious to the rain of bullets about him. Every moment
he turned his eyes toward the wooded ridge from which there now
belched an almost continuous fusillade of shells upon the advancing
Quite suddenly the cannonading ceased and the old man halted in his
tracks, his gaze riveted upon the wood. For several minutes he saw
no sign of what was transpiring behind that screen of sere and
yellow autumn leaves, and then a man came running out, and after him
another and another.
The prince raised his field glasses to his eyes. He almost cried
aloud in his relief--the uniforms of the fugitives were those of
artillerymen, and only cavalry had accompanied the king. A moment
later there appeared in the center of his lenses a tall figure with
a full beard. He rode, swinging his saber above his head, and behind
him at full gallop came a squadron of the Royal Horse.
Old von der Tann could restrain himself no longer.
"The king! The king!" he cried to those about him, pointing in the
direction of the wood.
The officers gathered there and the soldiery before him heard and
took up the cry, and then from the old man's lips came the command,
"Charge!" and a thousand men tore down the slopes of Lustadt upon
the forces of Peter of Blentz, while from the east the king charged
their right flank at the head of the Royal Horse.
Peter of Blentz saw that the day was lost, for the troops upon the
right were crumpling before the false king while he and his
cavalrymen were yet a half mile distant. Before the retreat could
become a rout the prince regent ordered his forces to fall back
slowly upon a suburb that lies in the valley below the city.
Once safely there he raised a white flag, asking a conference with
"Your majesty," said the old man, "what answer shall we send the
traitor who even now ignores the presence of his king?"
"Treat with him," replied the American. "He may be honest enough in
his belief that I am an impostor."
Von der Tann shrugged his shoulders, but did as Barney bid, and for
half an hour the young man waited with Butzow while Von der Tann and
Peter met halfway between the forces for their conference.
A dozen members of the most powerful of the older nobility
accompanied Ludwig. When they returned their faces were a picture of
puzzled bewilderment. With them were several officers, soldiers and
civilians from Peter's contingency.
"What said he?" asked Barney.
"He said, your majesty," replied Von der Tann, "that he is confident
you are not the king, and that these men he has sent with me knew
the king well at Blentz. As proof that you are not the king he has
offered the evidence of your own denials--made not only to his
officers and soldiers, but to the man who is now your loyal
lieutenant, Butzow, and to the Princess Emma von der Tann, my
"He insists that he is fighting for the welfare of Lutha, while we
are traitors, attempting to seat an impostor upon the throne of the
dead Leopold. I will admit that we are at a loss, your majesty, to
know where lies the truth and where the falsity in this matter.
"We seek only to serve our country and our king but there are those
among us who, to be entirely frank, are not yet convinced that you
are Leopold. The result of the conference may not, then, meet with
the hearty approval of your majesty."
"What was the result?" asked Barney.
"It was decided that all hostilities cease, and that Prince Peter be
given an opportunity to establish the validity of his claim that
your majesty is an impostor. If he is able to do so to the entire
satisfaction of a majority of the old nobility, we have agreed to
support him in a return to his regency."
For a moment there was deep silence. Many of the nobles stood with
averted faces and eyes upon the ground.
The American, a half-smile upon his face, turned toward the men of
Peter who had come to denounce him. He knew what their verdict would
be. He knew that if he were to save the throne for Leopold he must
hold it at any cost until Leopold should be found.
Troopers were scouring the country about Lustadt as far as Blentz in
search of Maenck and Coblich. Could they locate these two and arrest
them "with all found in their company," as his order read, he felt
sure that he would be able to deliver the missing king to his
subjects in time for the coronation at noon.
Barney looked straight into the eyes of old Von der Tann.
"You have given us the opinion of others, Prince Ludwig," he said.
"Now you may tell us your own views of the matter."
"I shall have to abide by the decision of the majority," replied the
old man. "But I have seen your majesty under fire, and if you are
not the king, for Lutha's sake you ought to be."
"He is not Leopold," said one of the officers who had accompanied
the prince from Peter's camp. "I was governor of Blentz for three
years and as familiar with the king's face as with that of my own
"No," cried several of the others, "this man is not the king."
Several of the nobles drew away from Barney. Others looked at him
Butzow stepped close to his side, and it was noticeable that the
troopers, and even the officers, of the Royal Horse which Barney had
led in the charge upon the two batteries in the wood, pressed a
little closer to the American. This fact did not escape Butzow's
"If you are content to take the word of the servants of a traitor
and a would-be regicide," he cried, "I am not. There has been no
proof advanced that this man is not the king. In so far as I am
concerned he is the king, nor ever do I expect to serve another more
worthy of the title.
"If Peter of Blentz has real proof--not the testimony of his own
faction--that Leopold of Lutha is dead, let him bring it forward
before noon today, for at noon we shall crown a king in the
cathedral at Lustadt, and I for one pray to God that it may be he
who has led us in battle today."
A shout of applause rose from the Royal Horse, and from the
foot-soldiers who had seen the king charge across the plain,
scattering the enemy before him.
Barney, appreciating the advantage in the sudden turn affairs had
taken following Butzow's words, swung to his saddle.
"Until Peter of Blentz brings to Lustadt one with a better claim to
the throne," he said, "we shall continue to rule Lutha, nor shall
other than Leopold be crowned her king. We approve of the amnesty
you have granted, Prince Ludwig, and Peter of Blentz is free to
enter Lustadt, as he will, so long as he does not plot against the
"Major," he added, turning to the commander of the squadron at his
back, "we are returning to the palace. Your squadron will escort us,
remaining on guard there about the grounds. Prince Ludwig, you will
see that machine guns are placed about the palace and commanding the
approaches to the cathedral."
With a nod to the cavalry major he wheeled his horse and trotted up
the slope toward Lustadt.
With a grim smile Prince Ludwig von der Tann mounted his horse and
rode toward the fort. At his side were several of the nobles of
Lutha. They looked at him in astonishment.
"You are doing his bidding, although you do not know that he is the
true king?" asked one of them.
"Were he an impostor," replied the old man, "he would have insisted
by word of mouth that he is king. But not once has he said that he
is Leopold. Instead, he has proved his kingship by his acts."
A TIMELY INTERVENTION
Nine o'clock found Barney Custer pacing up and down his apartments
in the palace. No clue as to the whereabouts of Coblich, Maenck or
the king had been discovered. One by one his troopers had returned
to Butzow empty-handed, and as much at a loss as to the hiding-place
of their quarry as when they had set out upon their search.
Peter of Blentz and his retainers had entered the city and already
had commenced to gather at the cathedral.
Peter, at the residence of Coblich, had succeeded in gathering about
him many of the older nobility whom he pledged to support him in
case he could prove to them that the man who occupied the royal
palace was not Leopold of Lutha.
They agreed to support him in his regency if he produced proof that
the true Leopold was dead, and Peter of Blentz waited with growing
anxiety the coming of Coblich with word that he had the king in
custody. Peter was staking all on a single daring move which he had
decided to make in his game of intrigue.
As Barney paced within the palace, waiting for word that Leopold had
been found, Peter of Blentz was filled with equal apprehension as
he, too, waited for the same tidings. At last he heard the pound of
hoofs upon the pavement without and a moment later Coblich, his
clothing streaked with dirt, blood caked upon his face from a wound
across the forehead, rushed in to the presence of the prince regent.
Peter drew him hurriedly into a small study on the first floor.
"Well?" he whispered, as the two faced each other.
"We have him," replied Coblich. But we had the devil's own time
getting him. Stein was killed and Maenck and I both wounded, and all
morning we have spent the time hiding from troopers who seemed to be
searching for us. Only fifteen minutes since did we reach the
hiding-place that you instructed us to use. But we have him, your
highness, and he is in such a state of cowardly terror that he is
ready to agree to anything, if you will but spare his life and set
him free across the border."
"It is too late for that now, Coblich," replied Peter. "There is but
one way that Leopold of Lutha can serve me now, and that is--dead.
Were his corpse to be carried into the cathedral of Lustadt before
noon today, and were those who fetched it to swear that the king was
killed by the impostor after being dragged from the hospital at
Tafelberg where you and Maenck had located him, and from which you
were attempting to rescue him, I believe that the people would tear
our enemies to pieces. What say you, Coblich?"
The other stared at Peter of Blentz for several seconds while the
atrocity of his chief's plan filtered through his brain.
"My God!" he exclaimed at last. "You mean that you wish me to
murder Leopold with my own hands?"
"You put it too crudely, my dear Coblich," replied the other.
"I cannot do it," muttered Coblich. "I have never killed a man in
my life. I am getting old. No, I could never do it. I should not
"If it is not done, Coblich, and Leopold comes into his own," said
Peter slowly, "you will be caught and hanged higher than Haman. And
if you do not do it, and the imposter is crowned today, then you
will be either hanged officially or knifed unofficially, and without
any choice in the matter whatsoever. Nothing, Coblich, but the dead
body of the true Leopold can save your neck. You have your choice,
therefore, of letting him live to prove your treason, or letting him
die and becoming chancellor of Lutha."
Slowly Coblich turned toward the door. "You are right," he said,
"but may God have mercy on my soul. I never thought that I should
have to do it with my own hands."
So saying he left the room and a moment later Peter of Blentz smiled
as he heard the pounding of a horse's hoofs upon the pavement
Then the Regent entered the room he had recently quitted and spoke
to the nobles of Lutha who were gathered there.
"Coblich has found the body of the murdered king," he said. "I have
directed him to bring it to the cathedral. He came upon the impostor
and his confederate, Lieutenant Butzow, as they were bearing the
corpse from the hospital at Tafelberg where the king has lain
unknown since the rumor was spread by Von der Tann that he had been
killed by bandits.
"He was not killed until last evening, my lords, and you shall see
today the fresh wounds upon him. When the time comes that we can
present this grisly evidence of the guilt of the impostor and those
who uphold him, I shall expect you all to stand at my side, as you
With one accord the noblemen pledged anew their allegiance to Peter
of Blentz if he could produce one-quarter of the evidence he claimed
"All that we wish to know positively is," said one, "that the man
who bears the title of king today is really Leopold of Lutha, or
that he is not. If not then he stands convicted of treason, and we
shall know how to conduct ourselves."
Together the party rode to the cathedral, the majority of the older
nobility now openly espousing the cause of the Regent.
At the palace Barney was about distracted. Butzow was urging him to
take the crown whether he was Leopold or not, for the young
lieutenant saw no hope for Lutha, if either the scoundrelly Regent
or the cowardly man whom Barney had assured him was the true king
should come into power.
It was eleven o'clock. In another hour Barney knew that he must
have found some new solution of his dilemma, for there seemed little
probability that the king would be located in the brief interval
that remained before the coronation. He wondered what they did to
people who stole thrones. For a time he figured his chances of
reaching the border ahead of the enraged populace. All had depended
upon the finding of the king, and he had been so sure that it could
be accomplished in time, for Coblich and Maenck had had but a few
hours in which to conceal the monarch before the search was well
Armed with the king's warrants, his troopers had ridden through the
country, searching houses, and questioning all whom they met.
Patrols had guarded every road that the fugitives might take either
to Lustadt, Blentz, or the border; but no king had been found and no
trace of his abductors.
Prince von der Tann, Barney was convinced, was on the point of
deserting him, and going over to the other side. It was true that
the old man had carried out his instructions relative to the placing
of the machine guns; but they might be used as well against him,
where they stood, as for him.
From his window he could see the broad avenue which passes before
the royal palace of Lutha. It was crowded with throngs moving toward
the cathedral. Presently there came a knock upon the closed door of
At his "Enter" a functionary announced: "His Royal Highness Ludwig,
Prince von der Tann!"
The old man was much perturbed at the rumors he had heard relative
to the assassination of the true Leopold. Soldier-like, he blurted
out his suspicions and his ultimatum.
"None but the royal blood of Rubinroth may reign in Lutha while
there be a Rubinroth left to reign and old Von der Tann lives," he
cried in conclusion.
At the name "Rubinroth" Barney started. It was his mother's name.
Suddenly the truth flashed upon him. He understood now the reticence
of both his father and mother relative to her early life.
"Prince Ludwig," said the young man earnestly, "I have only the good
of Lutha in my heart. For three weeks I have labored and risked
death a hundred times to place the legitimate heir to the crown of
Lutha upon his throne. I--"
He hesitated, not knowing just how to commence the confession he was
determined to make, though he was positive that it would place Peter
of Blentz upon the throne, since the old prince had promised to
support the Regent could it be proved that Barney was an impostor.
"I," he started again, and then there came an interruption at the
"A messenger, your majesty," announced the doorman, "who says that
he must have audience at once upon a matter of life and death to the
"We will see him in the ante-chamber," replied Barney, moving toward
the door. "Await us here, Prince Ludwig."
A moment later he re-entered the apartment. There was an expression
of renewed hope upon his face.
"As we were about to remark, my dear prince," he said, "I swear that
the royal blood of the Rubinroths flows in my veins, and as God is
my judge, none other than the true Leopold of Lutha shall be crowned
today. And now we must prepare for the coronation. If there be
trouble in the cathedral, Prince Ludwig, we look to your sword in
protection of the king."
"When I am with you, sire," said Von der Tann, "I know that you are
king. When I saw how you led the troops in battle, I prayed that
there could be no mistake. God give that I am right. But God help
you if you are playing with old Ludwig von der Tann."
When the old man had left the apartment Barney summoned an aide and
sent for Butzow. Then he hurried to the bath that adjoined the
apartment, and when the lieutenant of horse was announced Barney
called through a soapy lather for his confederate to enter.
"What are you doing, sire?" cried Butzow in amazement.
"Cut out the 'sire,' old man," shouted Barney Custer of Beatrice.
"this is the fifth of November and I am shaving off this alfalfa.
The king is found!"
"What?" cried Butzow, and upon his face there was little to indicate
the rejoicing that a loyal subject of Leopold of Lutha should have
felt at that announcement.
"There is a man in the next room," went on Barney, "who can lead us
to the spot where Coblich and Maenck guard the king. Get him in
Butzow hastened to comply with the American's instructions, and a
moment later returned to the apartment with the old shopkeeper of
As Barney shaved he issued directions to the two. Within the room
to the east, he said, there were the king's coronation robes, and in
a smaller dressingroom beyond they would find a long gray cloak.
They were to wrap all these in a bundle which the old shopkeeper was
"And, Butzow," added Barney, "look to my revolvers and your own, and
lay my sword out as well. The chances are that we shall have to use
them before we are ten minutes older."
In an incredibly short space of time the young man emerged from the
bath, his luxuriant beard gone forever, he hoped. Butzow looked at
him with a smile.
"I must say that the beard did not add greatly to your majesty's
good looks," he said.
"Never mind the bouquets, old man," cried Barney, cramming his arms
into the sleeves of his khaki jacket and buckling sword and revolver
about him, as he hurried toward a small door that opened upon the
opposite side of the apartment to that through which his visitors
had been conducted.
Together the three hastened through a narrow, little-used corridor
and down a flight of well-worn stone steps to a door that let upon
the rear court of the palace.
There were grooms and servants there, and soldiers too, who saluted
Butzow, according the old shopkeeper and the smooth-faced young
stranger only cursory glances. It was evident that without his beard
it was not likely that Barney would be again mistaken for the king.
At the stables Butzow requisitioned three horses, and soon the trio
was galloping through a little-frequented street toward the
northern, hilly environs of Lustadt. They rode in silence until they
came to an old stone building, whose boarded windows and general
appearance of dilapidation proclaimed its long tenantless condition.
Rank weeds, now rustling dry and yellow in the November wind, choked
what once might have been a luxuriant garden. A stone wall, which
had at one time entirely surrounded the grounds, had been almost
completely removed from the front to serve as foundation stone for a
smaller edifice farther down the mountainside.
The horsemen avoided this break in the wall, coming up instead upon
the rear side where their approach was wholly screened from the
building by the wall upon that exposure.
Close in they dismounted, and leaving the animals in charge of the
shopkeeper of Tafelberg, Barney and Butzow hastened toward a small
postern-gate which swung, groaning, upon a single rusted hinge. Each
felt that there was no time for caution or stratagem. Instead all
depended upon the very boldness and rashness of their attack, and so
as they came through into the courtyard the two dashed headlong for
Chance accomplished for them what no amount of careful execution
might have done, and they came within the ruin unnoticed by the four
who occupied the old, darkened library.
Possibly the fact that one of the men had himself just entered and
was excitedly talking to the others may have drowned the noisy
approach of the two. However that may be, it is a fact that Barney
and the cavalry officer came to the very door of the library
There they halted, listening. Coblich was speaking.
"The Regent commands it, Maenck," he was saying. "It is the only
thing that can save our necks. He said that you had better be the
one to do it, since it was your carelessness that permitted the
fellow to escape from Blentz."
Huddled in a far corner of the room was an abject figure trembling
in terror. At the words of Coblich it staggered to its feet. It was
"Have pity--have pity!" he cried. "Do not kill me, and I will go
away where none will ever know that I live. You can tell Peter that
I am dead. Tell him anything, only spare my life. Oh, why did I ever
listen to the cursed fool who tempted me to think of regaining the
crown that has brought me only misery and suffering--the crown that
has now placed the sentence of death upon me."
"Why not let him go?" suggested the trooper, who up to this time had
not spoken. "If we don't kill him, we can't be hanged for his
"Don't be too sure of that," exclaimed Maenck. "If he goes away and
never returns, what proof can we offer that we did not kill him,
should we be charged with the crime? And if we let him go, and later
he returns and gains his throne, he will see that we are hanged
anyway for treason.
"The safest thing to do is to put him where he at least cannot come
back to threaten us, and having done so upon the orders of Peter,
let the king's blood be upon Peter's head. I, at least, shall obey
my master, and let you two bear witness that I did the thing with my
own hand." So saying he drew his sword and crossed toward the king.
But Captain Ernst Maenck never reached his sovereign.
As the terrified shriek of the sorry monarch rang through the
interior of the desolate ruin another sound mingled with it,
half-drowning the piercing wail of terror.
It was the sharp crack of a revolver, and even as it spoke Maenck
lunged awkwardly forward, stumbled, and collapsed at Leopold's feet.
With a moan the king shrank back from the grisly thing that touched
his boot, and then two men were in the center of the room, and
things were happening with a rapidity that was bewildering.
About all that he could afterward recall with any distinctness was
the terrified face of Coblich, as he rushed past him toward a door
in the opposite side of the room, and the horrid leer upon the face
of the dead trooper, who foolishly, had made a move to draw his
Within the cathedral at Lustadt excitement was at fever heat. It
lacked but two minutes of noon, and as yet no king had come to claim
the crown. Rumors were running riot through the close-packed
One man had heard the king's chamberlain report to Prince von der
Tann that the master of ceremonies had found the king's apartments
vacant when he had gone to urge the monarch to hasten his
preparations for the coronation.
Another had seen Butzow and two strangers galloping north through
the city. A third told of a little old man who had come to the king
with an urgent message.
Peter of Blentz and Prince Ludwig were talking in whispers at the
foot of the chancel steps. Peter ascended the steps and facing the
assemblage raised a silencing hand.
"He who claimed to be Leopold of Lutha," he said, "was but a mad
adventurer. He would have seized the throne of the Rubinroths had
his nerve not failed him at the last moment. He has fled. The true
king is dead. Now I, Prince Regent of Lutha, declare the throne
vacant, and announce myself king!"
There were a few scattered cheers and some hissing. A score of the
nobles rose as though to protest, but before any could take a step
the attention of all was directed toward the sorry figure of a
white-faced man who scurried up the broad center aisle.
It was Coblich.
He ran to Peter's side, and though he attempted to speak in a
whisper, so out of breath, and so filled with hysterical terror was
he that his words came out in gasps that were audible to many of
those who stood near by.
"Maenck is dead," he cried. "The impostor has stolen the king."
Peter of Blentz went white as his lieutenant. Von der Tann heard
and demanded an explanation.
"You said that Leopold was dead," he said accusingly.
Peter regained his self-control quickly.
"Coblich is excited," he explained. "He means that the impostor has
stolen the body of the king that Coblich and Maenck had discovered
and were bring to Lustadt."
Von der Tann looked troubled.
He knew not what to make of the series of wild tales that had come
to his ears within the past hour. He had hoped that the young man
whom he had last seen in the king's apartments was the true Leopold.
He would have been glad to have served such a one, but there had
been many inexplicable occurrences which tended to cast a doubt upon
the man's claims--and yet, had he ever claimed to be the king? It
suddenly occurred to the old prince that he had not. On the contrary
he had repeatedly stated to Prince Ludwig's daughter and to
Lieutenant Butzow that he was not Leopold.
It seemed that they had all been so anxious to believe him king that
they had forced the false position upon him, and now if he had
indeed committed the atrocity that Coblich charged against him, who
could wonder? With less provocation men had before attempted to
seize thrones by more dastardly means.
Peter of Blentz was speaking.
"Let the coronation proceed," he cried, "that Lutha may have a true
king to frustrate the plans of the impostor and the traitors who had
He cast a meaning glance at Prince von der Tann.
There were many cries for Peter of Blentz. "Let's have done with
treason, and place upon the throne of Lutha one whom we know to be
both a Luthanian and sane. Down with the mad king! Down with the
Peter turned to ascend the chancel steps.
Von der Tann still hesitated. Below him upon one side of the aisle
were massed his own retainers. Opposite them were the men of the
Regent, and dividing the two the parallel ranks of Horse Guards
stretched from the chancel down the broad aisle to the great doors.
These were strongly for the impostor, if impostor he was, who had
led them to victory over the men of the Blentz faction.
Von der Tann knew that they would fight to the last ditch for their
hero should he come to claim the crown. Yet how would they fight--to
which side would they cleave, were he to attempt to frustrate the
design of the Regent to seize the throne of Lutha?
Already Peter of Blentz had approached the bishop, who, eager to
propitiate whoever seemed most likely to become king, gave the
signal for the procession that was to mark the solemn bearing of the
crown of Lutha up the aisle to the chancel.
Outside the cathedral there was the sudden blare of trumpets. The
great doors swung violently open, and the entire throng were upon
their feet in an instant as a trooper of the Royal Horse shouted:
"The king! The king! Make way for Leopold of Lutha!"
THE GRATITUDE OF A KING
At the cry silence fell upon the throng. Every head was turned
toward the great doors through which the head of a procession was
just visible. It was a grim looking procession--the head of it, at
There were four khaki-clad trumpeters from the Royal Horse Guards,
the gay and resplendent uniforms which they should have donned today
conspicuous for their absence. From their brazen bugles sounded
another loud fanfare, and then they separated, two upon each side of
the aisle, and between them marched three men.
One was tall, with gray eyes and had a reddish-brown beard. He was
fully clothed in the coronation robes of Leopold. Upon his either
hand walked the others--Lieutenant Butzow and a gray-eyed,
smooth-faced, square-jawed stranger.
Behind them marched the balance of the Royal Horse Guards that were
not already on duty within the cathedral. As the eyes of the
multitude fell upon the man in the coronation robes there were cries
of: "The king! Impostor!" and "Von der Tann's puppet!"
"Denounce him!" whispered one of Peter's henchmen in his master's
The Regent moved closer to the aisle, that he might meet the
impostor at the foot of the chancel steps. The procession was moving
steadily up the aisle.
Among the clan of Von der Tann a young girl with wide eyes was
bending forward that she might have a better look at the face of the
king. As he came opposite her her eyes filled with horror, and then
she saw the eyes of the smooth-faced stranger at the king's side.
They were brave, laughing eyes, and as they looked straight into her
own the truth flashed upon her, and the girl gave a gasp of dismay
as she realized that the king of Lutha and the king of her heart
were not one and the same.
At last the head of the procession was almost at the foot of the
chancel steps. There were murmurs of: "It is not the king," and "Who
is this new impostor?"
Leopold's eyes were searching the faces of the close-packed nobility
about the chancel. At last they fell upon the face of Peter. The
young man halted not two paces from the Regent. The man went white
as the king's eyes bored straight into his miserable soul.
"Peter of Blentz," cried the young man, "as God is your judge, tell
the truth today. Who am I?"
The legs of the Prince Regent trembled. He sank upon his knees,
raising his hands in supplication toward the other. "Have pity on
me, your majesty, have pity!" he cried.
"Who am I, man?" insisted the king.
"You are Leopold Rubinroth, sire, by the grace of God, king of
Lutha," cried the frightened man. "Have mercy on an old man, your
"Wait! Am I mad? Was I ever mad?"
"As God is my judge, sire, no!" replied Peter of Blentz.
Leopold turned to Butzow.
"Remove the traitor from our presence," he commanded, and at a word
from the lieutenant a dozen guardsmen seized the trembling man and
hustled him from the cathedral amid hisses and execrations.
Following the coronation the king was closeted in his private
audience chamber in the palace with Prince Ludwig.
"I cannot understand what has happened, even now, your majesty," the
old man was saying. "That you are the true Leopold is all that I am
positive of, for the discomfiture of Prince Peter evidenced that
fact all too plainly. But who the impostor was who ruled Lutha in
your name for two days, disappearing as miraculously as he came, I
"But for another miracle which preserved you for us in the nick of
time he might now be wearing the crown of Lutha in your stead.
Having Peter of Blentz safely in custody our next immediate task
should be to hunt down the impostor and bring him to justice also;
though"--and the old prince sighed--"he was indeed a brave man, and
a noble figure of a king as he led your troops to battle."
The king had been smiling as Von der Tann first spoke of the
"impostor," but at the old man's praise of the other's bravery a
slight flush tinged his cheek, and the shadow of a scowl crossed his
"Wait," he said, "we shall not have to look far for your
'impostor,'" and summoning an aide he dispatched him for "Lieutenant
Butzow and Mr. Custer."
A moment later the two entered the audience chamber. Barney found
that Leopold the king, surrounded by comforts and safety, was a very
different person from Leopold the fugitive. The weak face now wore
an expression of arrogance, though the king spoke most graciously to
"Here, Von der Tann," said Leopold, "is your 'impostor.' But for him
I should doubtless be dead by now, or once again a prisoner at
Barney and Butzow found it necessary to repeat their stories several
times before the old man could fully grasp all that had transpired
beneath his very nose without his being aware of scarce a single
detail of it.
When he was finally convinced that they were telling the truth, he
extended his hand to the American.
"I knelt to you once, young man," he said, "and kissed your hand. I
should be filled with bitterness and rage toward you. On the
contrary, I find that I am proud to have served in the retinue of
such an impostor as you, for you upheld the prestige of the house of
Rubinroth upon the battlefield, and though you might have had a
crown, you refused it and brought the true king into his own."
Leopold sat tapping his foot upon the carpet. It was all very well
if he, the king, chose to praise the American, but there was no need
for old von der Tann to slop over so. The king did not like it. As a
matter of fact, he found himself becoming very jealous of the man
who had placed him upon his throne.
"There is only one thing that I can harbor against you," continued
Prince Ludwig, "and that is that in a single instance you deceived
me, for an hour before the coronation you told me that you were a
"I told you, prince," corrected Barney, "that the royal blood of
Rubinroth flowed in my veins, and so it does. I am the son of the
runaway Princess Victoria of Lutha."
Both Leopold and Ludwig looked their surprise, and to the king's
eyes came a sudden look of fear. With the royal blood in his veins,
what was there to prevent this popular hero from some day striving
for the throne he had once refused? Leopold knew that the minds of
men were wont to change most unaccountably.
"Butzow," he said suddenly to the lieutenant of horse, "how many do
you imagine know positively that he who has ruled Lutha for the past
two days and he who was crowned in the cathedral this noon are not
one and the same?"
"Only a few besides those who are in this room, your majesty,"
replied Butzow. "Peter and Coblich have known it from the first, and
then there is Kramer, the loyal old shopkeeper of Tafelberg, who
followed Coblich and Maenck all night and half a day as they dragged
the king to the hiding-place where we found him. Other than these
there may be those who guess the truth, but there are none who
For a moment the king sat in thought. Then he rose and commenced
packing back and forth the length of the apartment.
"Why should they ever know?" he said at last, halting before the
three men who had been standing watching him. "For the sake of Lutha
they should never know that another than the true king sat upon the
throne even for an hour."
He was thinking of the comparison that might be drawn between the
heroic figure of the American and his own colorless part in the
events which had led up to his coronation. In his heart of hearts he
felt that old Von der Tann rather regretted that the American had
not been the king, and he hated the old man accordingly, and was
commencing to hate the American as well.
Prince Ludwig stood looking at the carpet after the king had spoken.
His judgment told him that the king's suggestion was a wise one; but
he was sorry and ashamed that it had come from Leopold. Butzow's
lips almost showed the contempt that he felt for the ingratitude of
Barney Custer was the first to speak.
"I think his majesty is quite right," he said, "and tonight I can
leave the palace after dark and cross the border some time tomorrow
evening. The people need never know the truth."
Leopold looked relieved.
"We must reward you, Mr. Custer," he said. "Name that which it lies
within our power to grant you and it shall be yours."
Barney thought of the girl he loved; but he did not mention her
name, for he knew that she was not for him now.
"There is nothing, your majesty," he said.
"A money reward," Leopold started to suggest, and then Barney Custer
lost his temper.
A flush mounted to his face, his chin went up, and there came to his
lips bitter words of sarcasm. With an effort, however, he held his
tongue, and, turning his back upon the king, his broad shoulders
proclaiming the contempt he felt, he walked slowly out of the room.
Von der Tann and Butzow and Leopold of Lutha stood in silence as the
American passed out of sight beyond the portal.
The manner of his going had been an affront to the king, and the
young ruler had gone red with anger.
"Butzow," he cried, "bring the fellow back; he shall be taught a
lesson in the deference that is due kings."
Butzow hesitated. "He has risked his life a dozen times for your
majesty," said the lieutenant.
"Do not humiliate him, sire," advised Von der Tann. "He has earned
a greater reward at your hands than that."
The king resumed his pacing for a moment, coming to a halt once more
before the two.
"We shall take no notice of his insolence," he said, "and that shall
be our royal reward for his services. More than he deserves, we dare
say, at that."
As Barney hastened through the palace on his way to his new quarters
to obtain his arms and order his horse saddled, he came suddenly
upon a girlish figure gazing sadly from a window upon the drear
November world--her heart as sad as the day.
At the sound of his footstep she turned, and as her eyes met the
gray ones of the man she stood poised as though of half a mind to
fly. For a moment neither spoke.
"Can your highness forgive?" he asked.
For answer the girl buried her face in her hands and dropped upon
the cushioned window seat before her. The American came close and
knelt at her side.
"Don't," he begged as he saw her shoulders rise to the sudden
sobbing that racked her slender frame. "Don't!"
He thought that she wept from mortification that she had given her
kisses to another than the king.
"None knows," he continued, "what has passed between us. None but
you and I need ever know. I tried to make you understand that I was
not Leopold; but you would not believe. It is not my fault that I
loved you. It is not my fault that I shall always love you. Tell me
that you forgive me my part in the chain of strange circumstances
that deceived you into an acknowledgment of a love that you intended
for another. Forgive me, Emma!"
Down the corridor behind them a tall figure approached on silent,
noiseless feet. At sight of the two at the window seat it halted. It
was the king.
The girl looked up suddenly into the eyes of the American bending so
close above her.
"I can never forgive you," she cried, "for not being the king, for I
am betrothed to him--and I love you!"
Before she could prevent him, Barney Custer had taken her in his
arms, and though at first she made a pretense of attempting to
escape, at last she lay quite still. Her arms found their way about
the man's neck, and her lips returned the kisses that his were
showering upon her upturned mouth.
Presently her glance wandered above the shoulder of the American,
and of a sudden her eyes filled with terror, and, with a little gasp
of consternation, she struggled to free herself.
"Let me go!" she whispered. "Let me go--the king!"
Barney sprang to his feet and, turning, faced Leopold. The king had
gone quite white.
"Failing to rob me of my crown," he cried in a trembling voice, "you
now seek to rob me of my betrothed! Go to your father at once, and
as for you--you shall learn what it means for you thus to meddle in
the affairs of kings."
Barney saw the terrible position in which his love had placed the
Princess Emma. His only thought now was for her. Bowing low before
her he spoke so that the king might hear, yet as though his words
were for her ears alone.
"Your highness knows the truth, now," he said, "and that after all I
am not the king. I can only ask that you will forgive me the
deception. Now go to your father as the king commands."
Slowly the girl turned away. Her heart was torn between love for
this man, and her duty toward the other to whom she had been
betrothed in childhood. The hereditary instinct of obedience to her
sovereign was strong within her, and the bonds of custom and society
held her in their relentless shackles. With a sob she passed up the
corridor, curtsying to the king as she passed him.
When she had gone Leopold turned to the American. There was an evil
look in the little gray eyes of the monarch.
"You may go your way," he said coldly. "We shall give you
forty-eight hours to leave Lutha. Should you ever return your life
shall be the forfeit."
The American kept back the hot words that were ready upon the end of
his tongue. For her sake he must bow to fate. With a slight
inclination of his head toward Leopold he wheeled and resumed his
way toward his quarters.
Half an hour later as he was about to descend to the courtyard where
a trooper of the Royal Horse held his waiting mount, Butzow burst
suddenly into his room.
"For God's sake," cried the lieutenant, "get out of this. The king
has changed his mind, and there is an officer of the guard on his
way here now with a file of soldiers to place you under arrest.
Leopold swears that he will hang you for treason. Princess Emma has
spurned him, and he is wild with rage."
The dismal November twilight had given place to bleak night as two
men cantered from the palace courtyard and turned their horses'
heads northward toward Lutha's nearest boundary. All night they
rode, stopping at daylight before a distant farm to feed and water
their mounts and snatch a mouthful for themselves. Then onward once
again they pressed in their mad flight.
Now that day had come they caught occasional glimpses of a body of
horsemen far behind them, but the border was near, and their start
such that there was no danger of their being overtaken.
"For the thousandth time, Butzow," said one of the men, "will you
turn back before it is too late?"
But the other only shook his head obstinately, and so they came to
the great granite monument which marks the boundary between Lutha
and her powerful neighbor upon the north.
Barney held out his hand. "Good-bye, old man," he said. "If I've
learned the ingratitude of kings here in Lutha, I have found
something that more than compensates me--the friendship of a brave
man. Now hurry back and tell them that I escaped across the border
just as I was about to fall into your hands and they will think that
you have been pursuing me instead of aiding in my escape across the
But again Butzow shook his head.
"I have fought shoulder to shoulder with you, my friend," he said.
"I have called you king, and after that I could never serve the
coward who sits now upon the throne of Lutha. I have made up my mind
during this long ride from Lustadt, and I have come to the decision
that I should prefer to raise corn in Nebraska with you rather than
serve in the court of an ingrate."
"Well, you are an obstinate Dutchman, after all," replied the
American with a smile, placing his hand affectionately upon the
shoulder of his comrade.
There was a clatter of horses' hoofs upon the gravel of the road
The two men put spurs to their mounts, and Barney Custer galloped
across the northern boundary of Lutha just ahead of a troop of
Luthanian cavalry, as had his father thirty years before; but a
royal princess had accompanied the father--only a soldier
accompanied the son.
BARNEY RETURNS TO LUTHA
"What's the matter, Vic?" asked Barney Custer of his sister. "You
"I am peeved," replied the girl, smiling. "I am terribly peeved. I
don't want to play bridge this afternoon. I want to go motoring with
Lieutenant Butzow. This is his last day with us."
"Yes. I know it is, and I hate to think of it," replied Barney;
"but why in the world do you have to play bridge if you don't want
"I promised Margaret that I'd go. They're short one, and she's
coming after me in her car."
"Where are you going to play--at the champion lady bridge player's
on Fourth Street?" asked Barney, grinning.
His sister answered with a nod and a smile. "Where you brought down
the wrath of the lady champion upon your head the other night when
you were letting your mind wander across to Lutha and the Old
Forest, instead of paying attention to the game," she added.
"Well, cheer up, Vic," cried her brother. "Bert'll probably set
fire to the car, the way he did to their first one, and then you
won't have to go."
"Oh, yes, I would; Margaret would send him after me in that
awful-looking, unwashed Ford runabout of his," answered the girl.
"And then you WOULD go," said Barney.
"You bet I would," laughed Victoria. "I'd go in a wheelbarrow with
But she didn't have to; and after she had driven off with her chum,
Barney and Butzow strolled down through the little city of Beatrice
to the corn mill in which the former was interested.
"I'm mighty sorry that you have to leave us, Butzow," said Barney's
partner. "It's bad enough to lose you, but I'm afraid it will mean
the loss of Barney, too. He's been hunting for some excuse to get
back to Lutha, and with you there and a war in sight I'm afraid
nothing can hold him."
"I don't know but that it may be just as well for my friends here
that I leave," said Butzow seriously. "I did not tell you, Barney,
all there is in this letter"--he tapped his breastpocket, where the
foreign-looking envelope reposed with its contents.
Custer looked at him inquiringly.
"Besides saying that war between Austria and Serbia seems
unavoidable and that Lutha doubtless will be drawn into it, my
informant warns me that Leopold had sent emissaries to America to
search for you, Barney, and myself. What his purpose may be my
friend does not know, but he warns us to be upon our guard. Von der
Tann wants me to return to Lutha. He has promised to protect me, and
with the country in danger there is nothing else for me to do. I
"I wish I could go with you," said Barney. "If it wasn't for this
dinged old mill I would; but Bert wants to go away this summer, and
as I have been away most of the time for the past two years, it's up
to me to stay."
As the three men talked the afternoon wore on. Heavy clouds
gathered in the sky; a storm was brewing. Outside, a man, skulking
behind a box car on the siding, watched the entrance through which
the three had gone. He watched the workmen, and as quitting time
came and he saw them leaving for their homes he moved more
restlessly, transferring the package which he held from one hand to
another many times, yet always gingerly.
At last all had left. The man started from behind the box car, only
to jump back as the watchman appeared around the end of one of the
buildings. He watched the guardian of the property make his rounds;
he saw him enter his office, and then he crept forward toward the
building, holding his queer package in his right hand.
In the office the watchman came upon the three friends. At sight of
him they looked at one another in surprise.
"Why, what time is it?" exclaimed Custer, and as he looked at his
watch he rose with a laugh. "Late to dinner again," he cried. "Come
on, we'll go out this other way." And with a cheery good night to
the watchman Barney and his friends hastened from the building.
Upon the opposite side the stranger approached the doorway to the
mill. The rain was falling in blinding sheets. Ominously the thunder
roared. Vivid flashes of lightning shot the heavens. The watchman,
coming suddenly from the doorway, his hat brim pulled low over his
eyes, passed within a couple of paces of the stranger without seeing
Five minutes later there was a blinding glare accompanied by a
deafening roar. It was as though nature had marshaled all her forces
in one mighty, devastating effort. At the same instant the walls of
the great mill burst asunder, a nebulous mass of burning gas shot
heavenward, and then the flames settled down to complete the
destruction of the ruin.
It was the following morning that Victoria and Barney Custer, with
Lieutenant Butzow and Custer's partner, stood contemplating the
"And to think," said Barney, "that yesterday this muss was the
largest corn mill west of anywhere. I guess we can both take
vacations now, Bert."
"Who would have thought that a single bolt of lightning could have
resulted in such havoc?" mused Victoria.
"Who would?" agreed Lieutenant Butzow, and then, with a sudden
narrowing of his eyes and a quick glance at Barney, "if it WAS
The American looked at the Luthanian. "You think--" he started.
"I don't dare think," replied Butzow, "because of the fear of what
this may mean to you and Miss Victoria if it was not lightning that
destroyed the mill. I shouldn't have spoken of it but that it may
urge you to greater caution, which I cannot but think is most
necessary since the warning I received from Lutha."
"Why should Leopold seek to harm me now?" asked Barney. "It has
been almost two years since you and I placed him upon his throne,
only to be rewarded with threats and hatred. In that time neither of
us has returned to Lutha nor in any way conspired against the king.
I cannot fathom his motives."
"There is the Princess Emma von der Tann," Butzow reminded him.
"She still repulses him. He may think that, with you removed
definitely and permanently, all will then be plain sailing for him
in that direction. Evidently he does not know the princess."
An hour later they were all bidding Butzow good-bye at the station.
Victoria Custer was genuinely grieved to see him go, for she liked
this soldierly young officer of the Royal Horse Guards immensely.
"You must come back to America soon," she urged.
He looked down at her from the steps of the moving train. There was
something in his expression that she had never seen there before.
"I want to come back soon," he answered, "to--to Beatrice," and he
flushed and smiled at his own stumbling tongue.
For about a week Barney Custer moped disconsolately, principally
about the ruins of the corn mill. He was in everyone's way and
"I was never intended for a captain of industry," he confided to his
partner for the hundredth time. "I wish some excuse would pop up to
which I might hang a reason for beating it to Europe. There's
something doing there. Nearly everybody has declared war upon
everybody else, and here I am stagnating in peace. I'd even welcome
His excuse was to come sooner than he imagined. That night, after
the other members of his family had retired, Barney sat smoking
within a screened porch off the living-room. His thoughts were upon
a trim little figure in riding togs, as he had first seen it nearly
two years before, clinging desperately to a runaway horse upon the
narrow mountain road above Tafelberg.
He lived that thrilling experience through again as he had many
times before. He even smiled as he recalled the series of events
that had resulted from his resemblance to the mad king of Lutha.
They had come to a culmination at the time when the king, whom
Barney had placed upon a throne at the risk of his own life,
discovered that his savior loved the girl to whom the king had been
betrothed since childhood and that the girl returned the American's
love even after she knew that he had but played the part of a king.
Barney's cigar, forgotten, had long since died out. Not even its
former fitful glow proclaimed his presence upon the porch, whose
black shadows completely enveloped him. Before him stretched a wide
acreage of lawn, tree dotted at the side of the house. Bushes hid
the stone wall that marked the boundary of the Custer grounds and
extended here and there out upon the sward among the trees. The
night was moonless but clear. A faint light pervaded the scene.
Barney sat staring straight ahead, but his gaze did not stop upon
the familiar objects of the foreground. Instead it spanned two
continents and an ocean to rest upon the little spot of woodland and
rugged mountain and lowland that is Lutha. It was with an effort
that the man suddenly focused his attention upon that which lay
directly before him. A shadow among the trees had moved!
Barney Custer sat perfectly still, but now he was suddenly alert and
watchful. Again the shadow moved where no shadow should be moving.
It crossed from the shade of one tree to another. Barney came
cautiously to his feet. Silently he entered the house, running
quickly to a side door that opened upon the grounds. As he drew it
back its hinges gave forth no sound. Barney looked toward the spot
where he had seen the shadow. Again he saw it scuttle hurriedly
beneath another tree nearer the house. This time there was no doubt.
It was a man!
Directly before the door where Barney stood was a pergola,
ivy-covered. Behind this he slid, and, running its length, came out
among the trees behind the night prowler. Now he saw him distinctly.
The fellow was bearded, and in his right hand he carried a package.
Instantly Barney recalled Butzow's comment upon the destruction of
the mill--"if it WAS lightning!"
Cold sweat broke from every pore of his body. His mother and father
were there in the house, and Vic--all sleeping peacefully. He ran
quickly toward the menacing figure, and as he did so he saw the
other halt behind a great tree and strike a match. In the glow of
the flame he saw it touch close to the package that the fellow held,
and then he was upon him.
There was a brief and terrific struggle. The stranger hurled the
package toward the house. Barney caught him by the throat, beating
him heavily in the face; and then, realizing what the package was,
he hurled the fellow from him, and sprang toward the hissing and
sputtering missile where it lay close to the foundation wall of the
house, though in the instant of his close contact with the man he
had recognized through the disguising beard the features of Captain
Ernst Maenck, the principal tool of Peter of Blentz.
Quick though Barney was to reach the bomb and extinguish the fuse,
Maenck had disappeared before he returned to search for him; and,
though he roused the gardener and chauffeur and took turns with them
in standing guard the balance of the night, the would-be assassin
did not return.
There was no question in Barney Custer's mind as to whom the bomb
was intended for. That Maenck had hurled it toward the house after
Barney had seized him was merely the result of accident and the
man's desire to get the death-dealing missile as far from himself as
possible before it exploded. That it would have wrecked the house in
the hope of reaching him, had he not fortunately interfered, was too
evident to the American to be questioned.
And so he decided before the night was spent to put himself as far
from his family as possible, lest some future attempt upon his life
might endanger theirs. Then, too, righteous anger and a desire for
revenge prompted his decision. He would run Maenck to earth and have
an accounting with him. It was evident that his life would not be
worth a farthing so long as the fellow was at liberty.
Before dawn he swore the gardener and chauffeur to silence, and at
breakfast announced his intention of leaving that day for New York
to seek a commission as correspondent with an old classmate, who
owned the New York Evening National. At the hotel Barney inquired of
the proprietor relative to a bearded stranger, but the man had had
no one of that description registered. Chance, however, gave him a
clue. His roadster was in a repair shop, and as he stopped in to get
it he overheard a conversation that told him all he wanted to know.
As he stood talking with the foreman a dust-covered automobile
pulled into the garage.
"Hello, Bill," called the foreman to the driver. "Where you been so
"Took a guy to Lincoln," replied the other. "He was in an awful
hurry. I bet we broke all the records for that stretch of road this
morning--I never knew the old boat had it in her."
"Who was it?" asked Barney.
"I dunno," replied the driver. "Talked like a furriner, and looked
the part. Bushy black beard. Said he was a German army officer, an'
had to beat it back on account of the war. Seemed to me like he was
mighty anxious to get back there an' be killed."
Barney waited to hear no more. He did not even go home to say
good-bye to his family. Instead he leaped into his gray roadster--a
later model of the one he had lost in Lutha--and the last that
Beatrice, Nebraska, saw of him was a whirling cloud of dust as he
raced north out of town toward Lincoln.
He was five minutes too late into the capital city to catch the
eastbound limited that Maenck must have taken; but he caught the
next through train for Chicago, and the second day thereafter found
him in New York. There he had little difficulty in obtaining the
desired credentials from his newspaper friend, especially since
Barney offered to pay all his own expenses and donate to the paper
anything he found time to write.
Passenger steamers were still sailing, though irregularly, and after
scanning the passenger-lists of three he found the name he sought.
"Captain Ernst Maenck, Lutha." So he had not been mistaken, after
all. It was Maenck he had apprehended on his father's grounds.
Evidently the man had little fear of being followed, for he had made
no effort to hide his identity in booking passage for Europe.
The steamer he had caught had sailed that very morning. Barney was
not so sorry, after all, for he had had time during his trip from
Beatrice to do considerable thinking, and had found it rather
difficult to determine just what to do should he have overtaken
Maenck in the United States. He couldn't kill the man in cold blood,
justly as he may have deserved the fate, and the thought of causing
his arrest and dragging his own name into the publicity of court
proceedings was little less distasteful to him.
Furthermore, the pursuit of Maenck now gave Barney a legitimate
excuse for returning to Lutha, or at least to the close neighborhood
of the little kingdom, where he might await the outcome of events
and be ready to give his services in the cause of the house of Von
der Tann should they be required.
By going directly to Italy and entering Austria from that country
Barney managed to arrive within the boundaries of the dual monarchy
with comparatively few delays. Nor did he encounter any considerable
bodies of troops until he reached the little town of Burgova, which
lies not far from the Serbian frontier. Beyond this point his
credentials would not carry him. The emperor's officers were polite,
but firm. No newspaper correspondents could be permitted nearer the
front than Burgova.
There was nothing to be done, therefore, but wait until some
propitious event gave him the opportunity to approach more closely
the Serbian boundary and Lutha. In the meantime he would communicate
with Butzow, who might be able to obtain passes for him to some
village nearer the Luthanian frontier, when it should be an easy
matter to cross through to Serbia. He was sure the Serbian
authorities would object less strenuously to his presence.
The inn at which he applied for accommodations was already overrun
by officers, but the proprietor, with scant apologies for a
civilian, offered him a little box of a room in the attic. The place
was scarce more than a closet, and for that Barney was in a way
thankful since the limited space could accommodate but a single cot,
thus insuring him the privacy that a larger chamber would have
He was very tired after his long and comfortless land journey, so
after an early dinner he went immediately to his room and to bed.
How long he slept he did not know, but some time during the night he
was awakened by the sound of voices apparently close to his ear.
For a moment he thought the speakers must be in his own room, so
distinctly did he overhear each word of their conversation; but
presently he discovered that they were upon the opposite side of a
thin partition in an adjoining room. But half awake, and with the
sole idea of getting back to sleep again as quickly as possible,
Barney paid only the slightest attention to the meaning of the words
that fell upon his ears, until, like a bomb, a sentence broke
through his sleepy faculties, banishing Morpheus upon the instant.
"It will take but little now to turn Leopold against Von der Tann."
The speaker evidently was an Austrian. "Already I have half
convinced him that the old man aspires to the throne. Leopold fears
the loyalty of his army, which is for Von der Tann body and soul. He
knows that Von der Tann is strongly anti-Austrian, and I have made
it plain to him that if he allows his kingdom to take sides with
Serbia he will have no kingdom when the war is over--it will be a
part of Austria.
"It was with greater difficulty, however, my dear Peter, that I
convinced him that you, Von Coblich, and Captain Maenck were his
most loyal friends. He fears you yet, but, nevertheless, he has
pardoned you all. Do not forget when you return to your dear Lutha
that you owe your repatriation to Count Zellerndorf of Austria."
"You may be assured that we shall never forget," replied another
voice that Barney recognized at once as belonging to Prince Peter of
Blentz, the one time regent of Lutha.
"It is not for myself," continued Count Zellerndorf, "that I crave
your gratitude, but for my emperor. You may do much to win his
undying gratitude, while for yourselves you may win to almost any
height with the friendship of Austria behind you. I am sure that
should any accident, which God forfend, deprive Lutha of her king,
none would make a more welcome successor in the eyes of Austria than
our good friend Peter."
Barney could almost see the smile of satisfaction upon the thin lips
of Peter of Blentz as this broad hint fell from the lips of the
Austrian diplomat--a hint that seemed to the American little short
of the death sentence of Leopold, King of Lutha.
"We owed you much before, count," said Peter. "But for you we
should have been hanged a year ago--without your aid we should never
have been able to escape from the fortress of Lustadt or cross the
border into Austria-Hungary. I am sorry that Maenck failed in his
mission, for had he not we would have had concrete evidence to
present to the king that we are indeed his loyal supporters. It
would have dispelled at once such fears and doubts as he may still
entertain of our fealty."
"Yes, I, too, am sorry," agreed Zellerndorf. "I can assure you that
the news we hoped Captain Maenck would bring from America would have
gone a long way toward restoring you to the confidence and good
graces of the king."
"I did my best," came another voice that caused Barney's eyes to go
wide in astonishment, for it was none other than the voice of Maenck
himself. "Twice I risked hanging to get him and only came away after
I had been recognized."
"It is too bad," sighed Zellerndorf; "though it may not be without
its advantages after all, for now we still have this second bugbear
to frighten Leopold with. So long, of course, as the American lives
there is always the chance that he may return and seek to gain the
throne. The fact that his mother was a Rubinroth princess might make
it easy for Von der Tann to place him upon the throne without much
opposition, and if he married the old man's daughter it is easy to
conceive that the prince might favor such a move. At any rate, it
should not be difficult to persuade Leopold of the possibility of
such a thing.
"Under the circumstances Leopold is almost convinced that his only
hope of salvation lies in cementing friendly relations with the most
powerful of Von der Tann's enemies, of which you three gentlemen
stand preeminently in the foreground, and of assuring to himself the
support of Austria. And now, gentlemen," he went on after a pause,
"good night. I have handed Prince Peter the necessary military
passes to carry you safely through our lines, and tomorrow you may
be in Blentz if you wish."
CONDEMNED TO DEATH
For some time Barney Custer lay there in the dark revolving in his
mind all that he had overheard through the partition--the thin
partition which alone lay between himself and three men who would be
only too glad to embrace the first opportunity to destroy him. But
his fears were not for himself so much as for the daughter of old
Von der Tann, and for all that might befall that princely house were
these three unhung rascals to gain Lutha and have their way with the
weak and cowardly king who reigned there.
If he could but reach Von der Tann's ear and through him the king
before the conspirators came to Lutha! But how might he accomplish
it? Count Zellerndorf's parting words to the three had shown that
military passes were necessary to enable one to reach Lutha.
His papers were practically worthless even inside the lines. That
they would carry him through the lines he had not the slightest
hope. There were two things to be accomplished if possible. One was
to cross the frontier into Lutha; and the other, which of course was
quite out of the question, was to prevent Peter of Blentz, Von
Coblich, and Maenck from doing so. But was that altogether
The idea that followed that question came so suddenly that it
brought Barney Custer out onto the floor in a bound, to don his
clothes and sneak into the hall outside his room with the stealth of
a professional second-story man.
To the right of his own door was the door to the apartment in which
the three conspirators slept. At least, Barney hoped they slept. He
bent close to the keyhole and listened. From within came no sound
other than the regular breathing of the inmates. It had been at
least half an hour since the American had heard the conversation
cease. A glance through the keyhole showed no light within the room.
Stealthily Barney turned the knob. Had they bolted the door? He felt
the tumbler move to the pressure--soundlessly. Then he pushed gently
inward. The door swung.
A moment later he stood in the room. Dimly he could see two beds--a
large one and a smaller. Peter of Blentz would be alone upon the
smaller bed, his henchmen sleeping together in the larger. Barney
crept toward the lone sleeper. At the bedside he fumbled in the dark
groping for the man's clothing--for the coat, in the breastpocket of
which he hoped to find the military pass that might carry him safely
out of Austria-Hungary and into Lutha. On the foot of the bed he
found some garments. Gingerly he felt them over, seeking the coat.
At last he found it. His fingers, steady even under the nervous
tension of this unaccustomed labor, discovered the inner pocket and
the folded paper. There were several of them; Barney took them all.
So far he made no noise. None of the sleepers had stirred. Now he
took a step toward the doorway and--kicked a shoe that lay in his
path. The slight noise in that quiet room sounded to Barney's ears
like the fall of a brick wall. Peter of Blentz stirred, turning in
his sleep. Behind him Barney heard one of the men in the other bed
move. He turned his head in that direction. Either Maenck or Coblich
was sitting up peering through the darkness.
"Is that you, Prince Peter?" The voice was Maenck's.
"What's the matter?" persisted Maenck.
"I'm going for a drink of water," replied the American, and stepped
toward the door.
Behind him Peter of Blentz sat up in bed.
"That you, Maenck?" he called.
Instantly Maenck was out of bed, for the first voice had come from
the vicinity of the doorway; both could not be Peter's.
"Quick!" he cried; "there's someone in our room."
Barney leaped for the doorway, and upon his heels came the three
conspirators. Maenck was closest to him--so close that Barney was
forced to turn at the top of the stairs. In the darkness he was just
conscious of the form of the man who was almost upon him. Then he
swung a vicious blow for the other's face--a blow that landed, for
there was a cry of pain and anger as Maenck stumbled back into the
arms of the two behind him. From below came the sound of footsteps
hurrying up the stairs to the accompaniment of a clanking saber.
Barney's retreat was cut off.
Turning, he dodged into his own room before the enemy could locate
him or even extricate themselves from the confusion of Maenck's
sudden collision with the other two. But what could Barney gain by
the slight delay that would be immediately followed by his
He didn't know. All that he was sure of was that there had been no
other place to go than this little room. As he entered the first
thing that his eyes fell upon was the small square window. Here at
least was some slight encouragement.
He ran toward it. The lower sash was raised. As the door behind
him opened to admit Peter of Blentz and his companions, Barney
slipped through into the night, hanging by his hands from the sill
without. What lay beneath or how far the drop he could not guess,
but that certain death menaced him from above he knew from the
conversation he had overheard earlier in the evening.
For an instant he hung suspended. He heard the men groping about
the room. Evidently they were in some fear of the unknown assailant
they sought, for they did not move about with undue rashness.
Presently one of them struck a light--Barney could see its flare
lighten the window casing for an instant.
"The room is empty," came a voice from above him.
"Look to the window!" cried Peter of Blentz, and then Barney Custer
let go his hold upon the sill and dropped into the blackness below.
His fall was a short one, for the window had been directly over a
low shed at the side of the inn. Upon the roof of this the American
landed, and from there he dropped to the courtyard without mishap.
Glancing up, he saw the heads of three men peering from the window
of the room he had just quitted.
"There he is!" cried one, and instantly the three turned back into
the room. As Barney fled from the courtyard he heard the rattle of
hasty footsteps upon the rickety stairway of the inn.
Choosing an alley rather than a street in which he might run upon
soldiers at any moment, he moved quickly yet cautiously away from
the inn. Behind him he could hear the voices of many men. They were
raised to a high pitch by excitement. It was clear to Barney that
there were many more than the original three--Prince Peter had, in
all probability, enlisted the aid of the military.
Could he but reach the frontier with his stolen passes he would be
comparatively safe, for the rugged mountains of Lutha offered many
places of concealment, and, too, there were few Luthanians who did
not hate Peter of Blentz most cordially--among the men of the
mountains at least. Once there he could defy a dozen Blentz princes
for the little time that would be required to carry him into Serbia
and comparative safety.
As he approached a cross street a couple of squares from the inn he
found it necessary to pass beneath a street lamp. For a moment he
paused in the shadows of the alley listening. Hearing nothing moving
in the street, Barney was about to make a swift spring for the
shadows upon the opposite side when it occurred to him that it might
be safer to make assurance doubly sure by having a look up and down
the street before emerging into the light.
It was just as well that he did, for as he thrust his head around
the corner of the building the first thing that his eyes fell upon
was the figure of an Austrian sentry, scarcely three paces from him.
The soldier was standing in a listening attitude, his head half
turned away from the American. The sounds coming from the direction
of the inn were apparently what had attracted his attention.
Behind him, Barney was sure he heard evidences of pursuit. Before
him was certain detection should he attempt to cross the street. On
either hand rose the walls of buildings. That he was trapped there
seemed little doubt.
He continued to stand motionless, watching the Austrian soldier.
Should the fellow turn toward him, he had but to withdraw his head
within the shadow of the building that hid his body. Possibly the
man might turn and take his beat in the opposite direction. In which
case Barney was sure he could dodge across the street, undetected.
Already the vague threat of pursuit from the direction of the inn
had developed into a certainty--he could hear men moving toward him
through the alley from the rear. Would the sentry never move!
Evidently not, until he heard the others coming through the alley.
Then he would turn, and the devil would be to pay for the American.
Barney was about hopeless. He had been in the war zone long enough
to know that it might prove a very disagreeable matter to be caught
sneaking through back alleys at night. There was a single chance--a
sort of forlorn hope--and that was to risk fate and make a dash
beneath the sentry's nose for the opposite alley mouth.
"Well, here goes," thought Barney. He had heard that many of the
Austrians were excellent shots. Visions of Beatrice, Nebraska,
swarmed his memory. They were pleasant visions, made doubly alluring
by the thought that the realities of them might never again be for
He turned once more toward the sounds of pursuit--the men upon his
track could not be over a square away--there was not an instant to
be lost. And then from above him, upon the opposite side of the
alley, came a low: "S-s-t!"
Barney looked up. Very dimly he could see the dark outline of a
window some dozen feet from the pavement, and framed within it the
lighter blotch that might have been a human face. Again came the
challenging: "S-s-t!" Yes, there was someone above, signaling to
"S-s-t!" replied Barney. He knew that he had been discovered, and
could think of no better plan for throwing the discoverer off his
guard than to reply.
Then a soft voice floated down to him--a woman's voice!
"Is that you?" The tongue was Serbian. Barney could understand it,
though he spoke it but indifferently.
"Yes," he replied truthfully.
"Thank Heaven!" came the voice from above. "I have been watching
you, and thought you one of the Austrian pigs. Quick! They are
coming--I can hear them;" and at the same instant Barney saw
something drop from the window to the ground. He crossed the alley
quickly, and could have shouted in relief for what he found
there--the end of a knotted rope dangling from above.
His pursuers were almost upon him when he seized the rude ladder to
clamber upward. At the window's ledge a firm, young hand reached out
and, seizing his own, almost dragged him through the window. He
turned to look back into the alley. He had been just in time; the
Austrian sentry, alarmed by the sound of approaching footsteps down
the alley, had stepped into view. He stood there now with leveled
rifle, a challenge upon his lips. From the advancing party came a
At the same instant the girl beside him in the Stygian blackness of
the room threw her arms about Barney's neck and drew his face down
"Oh, Stefan," she whispered, "what a narrow escape! It makes me
tremble to think of it. They would have shot you, my Stefan!"
The American put an arm about the girl's shoulders, and raised one
hand to her cheek--it might have been in caress, but it wasn't. It
was to smother the cry of alarm he anticipated would follow the
discovery that he was not "Stefan." He bent his lips close to her
"Do not make an outcry," he whispered in very poor Serbian. "I am
not Stefan; but I am a friend."
The exclamation of surprise or fright that he had expected was not
forthcoming. The girl lowered her arms from about his neck.
"Who are you?" she asked in a low whisper.
"I am an American war correspondent," replied Barney, "but if the
Austrians get hold of me now it will be mighty difficult to convince
them that I am not a spy." And then a sudden determination came to
him to trust his fate to this unknown girl, whose face, even, he had
never seen. "I am entirely at your mercy," he said. "There are
Austrian soldiers in the street below. You have but to call to them
to send me before the firing squad--or, you can let me remain here
until I can find an opportunity to get away in safety. I am trying
to reach Serbia."
"Why do you wish to reach Serbia?" asked the girl suspiciously.
"I have discovered too many enemies in Austria tonight to make it
safe for me to remain," he replied, "and, further, my original
intention was to report the war from the Serbian side."
The girl hesitated for a while, evidently in thought.
"They are moving on," suggested Barney. "If you are going to give
me up you'd better do it at once."
"I'm not going to give you up," replied the girl. "I'm going to
keep you prisoner until Stefan returns--he will know best what to do
with you. Now you must come with me and be locked up. Do not try to
escape--I have a revolver in my hand," and to give her prisoner
physical proof of the weapon he could not see she thrust the muzzle
against his side.
"I'll take your word for the gun," said Barney, "if you'll just turn
it in the other direction. Go ahead--I'll follow you."
"No, you won't," replied the girl. "You'll go first; but before
that you'll raise your hands above your head. I want to search you."
Barney did as he was bid and a moment later felt deft fingers
running over his clothing in search of concealed weapons. Satisfied
at last that he was unarmed, the girl directed him to precede her,
guiding his steps from behind with a hand upon his arm. Occasionally
he felt the muzzle of her revolver touch his body. It was a most
They crossed the room to a door which his captor directed him to
open, and after they had passed through and she had closed it behind
them the girl struck a match and lit a candle which stood upon a
little bracket on the partition wall. The dim light of the tallow
dip showed Barney that he was in a narrow hall from which several
doors opened into different rooms. At one end of the hall a stairway
led to the floor below, while at the opposite end another flight
disappeared into the darkness above.
"This way," said the girl, motioning toward the stairs that led