Part 4 out of 6
Barney had turned toward her as she struck the match, obtaining an
excellent view of her features. They were clear-cut and regular. Her
eyes were large and very dark. Dark also was her hair, which was
piled in great heaps upon her finely shaped head. Altogether the
face was one not easily to be forgotten. Barney could scarce have
told whether the girl was beautiful or not, but that she was
striking there could be no doubt.
He preceded her up the stairway to a door at the top. At her
direction he turned the knob and entered a small room in which was a
cot, an ancient dresser and a single chair.
"You will remain here," she said, "until Stefan returns. Stefan will
know what to do with you." Then she left him, taking the light with
her, and Barney heard a key turn in the lock of the door after she
had closed it. Presently her footfalls died out as she descended to
the lower floors.
"Anyhow," thought the American, "this is better than the Austrians.
I don't know what Stefan will do with me, but I have a rather vivid
idea of what the Austrians would have done to me if they'd caught me
sneaking through the alleys of Burgova at midnight."
Throwing himself on the cot Barney was soon asleep, for though his
predicament was one that, under ordinary circumstances might have
made sleep impossible, yet he had so long been without the boon of
slumber that tired nature would no longer be denied.
When he awoke it was broad daylight. The sun was pouring in through
a skylight in the ceiling of his tiny chamber. Aside from this there
were no windows in the room. The sound of voices came to him with an
uncanny distinctness that made it seem that the speakers must be in
this very chamber, but a glance about the blank walls convinced him
that he was alone.
Presently he espied a small opening in the wall at the head of his
cot. He rose and examined it. The voices appeared to be coming from
it. In fact, they were. The opening was at the top of a narrow shaft
that seemed to lead to the basement of the structure--apparently
once the shaft of a dumb-waiter or a chute for refuse or soiled
Barney put his ear close to it. The voices that came from below
were those of a man and a woman. He heard every word distinctly.
"We must search the house, fraulein," came in the deep voice of a
"Whom do you seek?" inquired a woman's voice. Barney recognized it
as the voice of his captor.
"A Serbian spy, Stefan Drontoff," replied the man. "Do you know
There was a considerable pause on the girl's part before she
answered, and then her reply was in such a low voice that Barney
could barely hear it.
"I do not know him," she said. "There are several men who lodge
here. What may this Stefan Drontoff look like?"
"I have never seen him," replied the officer; "but by arresting all
the men in the house we must get this Stefan also, if he is here."
"Oh!" cried the girl, a new note in her voice, "I guess I know now
whom you mean. There is one man here I have heard them call Stefan,
though for the moment I had forgotten it. He is in the small
attic-room at the head of the stairs. Here is a key that will fit
the lock. Yes, I am sure that he is Stefan. You will find him there,
and it should be easy to take him, for I know that he is unarmed. He
told me so last night when he came in."
"The devil!" muttered Barney Custer; but whether he referred to his
predicament or to the girl it would be impossible to tell. Already
the sound of heavy boots on the stairs announced the coming of
men--several of them. Barney heard the rattle of accouterments--the
clank of a scabbard--the scraping of gun butts against the walls.
The Austrians were coming!
He looked about. There was no way of escape except the door and the
skylight, and the door was impossible.
Quickly he tilted the cot against the door, wedging its legs against
a crack in the floor--that would stop them for a minute or two. Then
he wheeled the dresser beneath the skylight and, placing the chair
on top of it, scrambled to the seat of the latter. His head was at
the height of the skylight. To force the skylight from its frame
required but a moment. A key entered the lock of the door from the
opposite side and turned. He knew that someone without was pushing.
Then he heard an oath and heavy battering upon the panels. A moment
later he had drawn himself through the skylight and stood upon the
roof of the building. Before him stretched a series of uneven roofs
to the end of the street. Barney did not hesitate. He started on a
rapid trot toward the adjoining roof. From that he clambered to a
higher one beyond.
On he went, now leaping narrow courts, now dropping to low sheds and
again clambering to the heights of the higher buildings, until he
had come almost to the end of the row. Suddenly, behind him he heard
a hoarse shout, followed by the report of a rifle. With a whir, a
bullet flew a few inches above his head. He had gained the last
roof--a large, level roof--and at the shot he turned to see how near
to him were his pursuers.
Scarce had he taken his eyes from the path ahead than his foot fell
upon a glass skylight, and with a loud crash he plunged through amid
a shower of broken glass.
His fall was a short one. Directly beneath the skylight was a bed,
and on the bed a fat Austrian infantry captain. Barney lit upon the
pit of the captain's stomach. With a howl of pain the officer
catapulted Barney to the floor. There were three other beds in the
room, and in each bed one or two other officers. Before the American
could regain his feet they were all sitting on him--all except the
infantry captain. He lay shrieking and cursing in a painful attempt
to regain his breath, every atom of which Barney had knocked out of
The officers sitting on Barney alternately beat him and questioned
him, interspersing their interrogations with lurid profanity.
"If you will get off of me," at last shouted the American, "I shall
be glad to explain--and apologize."
They let him up, scowling ferociously. He had promised to explain,
but now that he was confronted by the immediate necessity of an
explanation that would prove at all satisfactory as to how he
happened to be wandering around the rooftops of Burgova, he
discovered that his powers of invention were entirely inadequate.
The need for explaining, however, was suddenly removed. A shadow
fell upon them from above, and as they glanced up Barney saw the
figure of an officer surrounded by several soldiers looking down
"Ah, you have him!" cried the newcomer in evident satisfaction.
"It is well. Hold him until we descend."
A moment later he and his escort had dropped through the broken
skylight to the floor beside them.
"Who is the mad man?" cried the captain who had broken Barney's
fall. "The assassin! He tried to murder me."
"I cannot doubt it," replied the officer who had just descended,
"for the fellow is no other than Stefan Drontoff, the famous Serbian
"Himmel!" ejaculated the officers in chorus. "You have done a good
days' work, lieutenant."
"The firing squad will do a better work in a few minutes," replied
the lieutenant, with a grim pointedness that took Barney's breath
BEFORE THE FIRING SQUAD
They marched Barney before the staff where he urged his American
nationality, pointing to his credentials and passes in support of
The general before whom he had been brought shrugged his shoulders.
"They are all Americans as soon as they are caught," he said; "but
why did you not claim to be Prince Peter of Blentz? You have his
passes as well. How can you expect us to believe your story when you
have in your possession passes for different men?
"We have every respect for our friends the Americans. I would even
stretch a point rather than chance harming an American; but you will
admit that the evidence is all against you. You were found in the
very building where Drontoff was known to stay while in Burgova. The
young woman whose mother keeps the place directed our officer to
your room, and you tried to escape, which I do not think that an
innocent American would have done.
"However, as I have said, I will go to almost any length rather than
chance a mistake in the case of one who from his appearance might
pass more readily for an American than a Serbian. I have sent for
Prince Peter of Blentz. If you can satisfactorily explain to him how
you chance to be in possession of military passes bearing his name I
shall be very glad to give you the benefit of every other doubt."
Peter of Blentz. Send for Peter of Blentz! Barney wondered just
what kind of a sensation it was to stand facing a firing squad. He
hoped that his knees wouldn't tremble--they felt a trifle weak even
now. There was a chance that the man might not recall his face, but
a very slight chance. It had been his remarkable likeness to Leopold
of Lutha that had resulted in the snatching of a crown from Prince
Likely indeed that he would ever forget his, Barney's, face, though
he had seen it but once without the red beard that had so added to
Barney's likeness to the king. But Maenck would be along, of course,
and Maenck would have no doubts--he had seen Barney too recently in
Beatrice to fail to recognize him now.
Several men were entering the room where Barney stood before the
general and his staff. A glance revealed to the prisoner that Peter
of Blentz had come, and with him Von Coblich and Maenck. At the same
instant Peter's eyes met Barney's, and the former, white and
wide-eyed came almost to a dead halt, grasping hurriedly at the arm
of Maenck who walked beside him.
"My God!" was all that Barney heard him say, but he spoke a name
that the American did not hear. Maenck also looked his surprise, but
his expression was suddenly changed to one of malevolent cunning and
gratification. He turned toward Prince Peter with a few
low-whispered words. A look of relief crossed the face of the Blentz
"You appear to know the gentleman," said the general who had been
conducting Barney's examination. "He has been arrested as a Serbian
spy, and military passes in your name were found upon his person
together with the papers of an American newspaper correspondent,
which he claims to be. He is charged with being Stefan Drontoff,
whom we long have been anxious to apprehend. Do you chance to know
anything about him, Prince Peter?"
"Yes," replied Peter of Blentz, "I know him well by sight. He
entered my room last night and stole the military passes from my
coat--we all saw him and pursued him, but he got away in the dark.
There can be no doubt but that he is the Serbian spy."
"He insists that he is Bernard Custer, an American," urged the
general, who, it seemed to Barney, was anxious to make no mistake,
and to give the prisoner every reasonable chance--a state of mind
that rather surprised him in a European military chieftain, all of
whom appeared to share the popular obsession regarding the
prevalence of spies.
"Pardon me, general," interrupted Maenck. "I am well acquainted
with Mr. Custer, who spent some time in Lutha a couple of years ago.
This man is not he."
"That is sufficient, gentlemen, I thank you," said the general. He
did not again look at the prisoner, but turned to a lieutenant who
stood near-by. "You may remove the prisoner," he directed. "He will
be destroyed with the others--here is the order," and he handed the
subaltern a printed form upon which many names were filled in and at
the bottom of which the general had just signed his own. It had
evidently been waiting the outcome of the examination of Stefan
Surrounded by soldiers, Barney Custer walked from the presence of
the military court. It was to him as though he moved in a strange
world of dreams. He saw the look of satisfaction upon the face of
Peter of Blentz as he passed him, and the open sneer of Maenck. As
yet he did not fully realize what it all meant--that he was marching
to his death! For the last time he was looking upon the faces of his
fellow men; for the last time he had seen the sun rise, never again
to see it set.
He was to be "destroyed." He had heard that expression used many
times in connection with useless horses, or vicious dogs.
Mechanically he drew a cigarette from his pocket and lighted it.
There was no bravado in the act. On the contrary it was done almost
unconsciously. The soldiers marched him through the streets of
Burgova. The men were entirely impassive--even so early in the war
they had become accustomed to this grim duty. The young officer who
commanded them was more nervous than the prisoner--it was his first
detail with a firing squad. He looked wonderingly at Barney,
expecting momentarily to see the man collapse, or at least show some
sign of terror at his close impending fate; but the American walked
silently toward his death, puffing leisurely at his cigarette.
At last, after what seemed a long time, his guard turned in at a
large gateway in a brick wall surrounding a factory. As they entered
Barney saw twenty or thirty men in civilian dress, guarded by a
dozen infantrymen. They were standing before the wall of a low brick
building. Barney noticed that there were no windows in the wall. It
suddenly occurred to him that there was something peculiarly grim
and sinister in the appearance of the dead, blank surface of
weather-stained brick. For the first time since he had faced the
military court he awakened to a full realization of what it all
meant to him--he was going to be lined up against that ominous brick
wall with these other men--they were going to shoot them.
A momentary madness seized him. He looked about upon the other
prisoners and guards. A sudden break for liberty might give him
temporary respite. He could seize a rifle from the nearest soldier,
and at least have the satisfaction of selling his life dearly. As he
looked he saw more soldiers entering the factory yard.
A sudden apathy overwhelmed him. What was the use? He could not
escape. Why should he wish to kill these soldiers? It was not they
who were responsible for his plight--they were but obeying orders.
The close presence of death made life seem very desirable. These
men, too, desired life. Why should he take it from them uselessly.
At best he might kill one or two, but in the end he would be killed
as surely as though he took his place before the brick wall with the
He noticed now that these others evinced no inclination to contest
their fates. Why should he, then? Doubtless many of them were as
innocent as he, and all loved life as well. He saw that several were
weeping silently. Others stood with bowed heads gazing at the
hard-packed earth of the factory yard. Ah, what visions were their
eyes beholding for the last time! What memories of happy firesides!
What dear, loved faces were limned upon that sordid clay!
His reveries were interrupted by the hoarse voice of a sergeant,
breaking rudely in upon the silence and the dumb terror. The fellow
was herding the prisoners into position. When he was done Barney
found himself in the front rank of the little, hopeless band.
Opposite them, at a few paces, stood the firing squad, their gun
butts resting upon the ground.
The young lieutenant stood at one side. He issued some instructions
in a low tone, then he raised his voice.
"Ready!" he commanded. Fascinated by the horror of it, Barney
watched the rifles raised smartly to the soldiers' hips--the
movement was as precise as though the men were upon parade. Every
bolt clicked in unison with its fellows.
"Aim!" the pieces leaped to the hollows of the men's shoulders.
The leveled barrels were upon a line with the breasts of the
condemned. A man at Barney's right moaned. Another sobbed.
"Fire!" There was the hideous roar of the volley. Barney Custer
crumpled forward to the ground, and three bodies fell upon his. A
moment later there was a second volley--all had not fallen at the
first. Then the soldiers came among the bodies, searching for signs
of life; but evidently the two volleys had done their work. The
sergeant formed his men in line. The lieutenant marched them away.
Only silence remained on guard above the pitiful dead in the factory
The day wore on and still the stiffening corpses lay where they had
fallen. Twilight came and then darkness. A head appeared above the
top of the wall that had enclosed the grounds. Eyes peered through
the night and keen ears listened for any sign of life within. At
last, evidently satisfied that the place was deserted, a man crawled
over the summit of the wall and dropped to the ground within. Here
again he paused, peering and listening.
What strange business had he here among the dead that demanded such
caution in its pursuit? Presently he advanced toward the pile of
corpses. Quickly he tore open coats and searched pockets. He ran his
fingers along the fingers of the dead. Two rings had rewarded his
search and he was busy with a third that encircled the finger of a
body that lay beneath three others. It would not come off. He pulled
and tugged, and then he drew a knife from his pocket.
But he did not sever the digit. Instead he shrank back with a
muffled scream of terror. The corpse that he would have mutilated
had staggered suddenly to its feet, flinging the dead bodies to one
side as it rose.
"You fiend!" broke from the lips of the dead man, and the ghoul
turned and fled, gibbering in his fright.
The tramp of soldiers in the street beyond ceased suddenly at the
sound from within the factory yard. It was a detail of the guard
marching to the relief of sentries. A moment later the gates swung
open and a score of soldiers entered. They saw a figure dodging
toward the wall a dozen paces from them, but they did not see the
other that ran swiftly around the corner of the factory.
This other was Barney Custer of Beatrice. When the command to fire
had been given to the squad of riflemen, a single bullet had creased
the top of his head, stunning him. All day he had lain there
unconscious. It had been the tugging of the ghoul at his ring that
had roused him to life at last.
Behind him, as he scurried around the end of the factory building,
he heard the scattering fire of half a dozen rifles, followed by a
scream--the fleeing hyena had been hit. Barney crouched in the
shadow of a pile of junk. He heard the voices of soldiers as they
gathered about the wounded man, questioning him, and a moment later
the imperious tones of an officer issuing instructions to his men to
search the yard. That he must be discovered seemed a certainty to
the American. He crouched further back in the shadows close to the
wall, stepping with the utmost caution.
Presently to his chagrin his foot touched the metal cover of a
manhole; there was a resultant rattling that smote upon Barney's
ears and nerves with all the hideous clatter of a boiler shop. He
halted, petrified, for an instant. He was no coward, but after being
so near death, life had never looked more inviting, and he knew that
to be discovered meant certain extinction this time.
The soldiers were circling the building. Already he could hear them
nearing his position. In another moment they would round the corner
of the building and be upon him. For an instant he contemplated a
bold rush for the fence. In fact, he had gathered himself for the
leaping start and the quick sprint across the open under the noses
of the soldiers who still remained beside the dying ghoul, when his
mind suddenly reverted to the manhole beneath his feet. Here lay a
hiding place, at least until the soldiers had departed.
Barney stooped and raised the heavy lid, sliding it to one side.
How deep was the black chasm beneath he could not even guess.
Doubtless it led into a coal bunker, or it might open over a pit of
great depth. There was no way to discover other than to plumb the
abyss with his body. Above was death--below, a chance of safety.
The soldiers were quite close when Barney lowered himself through
the manhole. Clinging with his fingers to the upper edge his feet
still swung in space. How far beneath was the bottom? He heard the
scraping of the heavy shoes of the searchers close above him, and
then he closed his eyes, released the grasp of his fingers, and
A RACE TO LUTHA
Barney's fall was not more than four or five feet. He found himself
upon a slippery floor of masonry over which two or three inches of
water ran sluggishly. Above him he heard the soldiers pass the open
manhole. It was evident that in the darkness they had missed it.
For a few minutes the fugitive remained motionless, then, hearing no
sounds from above he started to grope about his retreat. Upon two
sides were blank, circular walls, upon the other two circular
openings about four feet in diameter. It was through these openings
that the tiny stream of water trickled.
Barney came to the conclusion that he had dropped into a sewer. To
get out the way he had entered appeared impossible. He could not
leap upward from the slimy, concave bottom the distance he had
dropped. To follow the sewer upward would lead him nowhere nearer
escape. There remained no hope but to follow the trickling stream
downward toward the river, into which his judgment told him the
entire sewer system of the city must lead.
Stooping, he entered the ill-smelling circular conduit, groping his
way slowly along. As he went the water deepened. It was half way to
his knees when he plunged unexpectedly into another tube running at
right angles to the first. The bottom of this tube was lower than
that of the one which emptied into it, so that Barney now found
himself in a swiftly running stream of filth that reached above his
knees. Downward he followed this flood--faster now for the fear of
the deadly gases which might overpower him before he could reach the
The water deepened gradually as he went on. At last he reached a
point where, with his head scraping against the roof of the sewer,
his chin was just above the surface of the stream. A few more steps
would be all that he could take in this direction without drowning.
Could he retrace his way against the swift current? He did not know.
He was weakened from the effects of his wound, from lack of food and
from the exertions of the past hour. Well, he would go on as far as
he could. The river lay ahead of him somewhere. Behind was only the
He took another step. His foot found no support. He surged
backward in an attempt to regain his footing, but the power of the
flood was too much for him. He was swept forward to plunge into
water that surged above his head as he sank. An instant later he had
regained the surface and as his head emerged he opened his eyes.
He looked up into a starlit heaven! He had reached the mouth of the
sewer and was in the river. For a moment he lay still, floating upon
his back to rest. Above him he heard the tread of a sentry along the
river front, and the sound of men's voices.
The sweet, fresh air, the star-shot void above, acted as a powerful
tonic to his shattered hopes and overwrought nerves. He lay inhaling
great lungsful of pure, invigorating air. He listened to the voices
of the Austrian soldiery above him. All the buoyancy of his inherent
Americanism returned to him.
"This is no place for a minister's son," he murmured, and turning
over struck out for the opposite shore. The river was not wide, and
Barney was soon nearing the bank along which he could see occasional
camp fires. Here, too, were Austrians. He dropped down-stream below
these, and at last approached the shore where a wood grew close to
the water's edge. The bank here was steep, and the American had some
difficulty in finding a place where he could clamber up the
precipitous wall of rock. But finally he was successful, finding
himself in a little clump of bushes on the river's brim. Here he lay
resting and listening--always listening. It seemed to Barney that
his ears ached with the constant strain of unflagging duty that his
very existence demanded of them.
Hearing nothing, he crawled at last from his hiding place with the
purpose of making his way toward the south and to the frontier as
rapidly as possible. He could hope only to travel by night, and he
guessed that this night must be nearly spent. Stooping, he moved
cautiously away from the river. Through the shadows of the wood he
made his way for perhaps a hundred yards when he was suddenly
confronted by a figure that stepped from behind the bole of a tree.
"Halt! Who goes there?" came the challenge.
Barney's heart stood still. With all his care he had run straight
into the arms of an Austrian sentry. To run would be to be shot. To
advance would mean capture, and that too would mean death.
For the barest fraction of an instant he hesitated, and then his
quick American wits came to his aid. Feigning intoxication he
answered the challenge in dubious Austrian that he hoped his maudlin
tongue would excuse.
"Friend," he answered thickly. "Friend with a drink--have one?"
And he staggered drunkenly forward, banking all upon the credulity
and thirst of the soldier who confronted him with fixed bayonet.
That the sentry was both credulous and thirsty was evidenced by the
fact that he let Barney come within reach of his gun. Instantly the
drunken Austrian was transformed into a very sober and active engine
of destruction. Seizing the barrel of the piece Barney jerked it to
one side and toward him, and at the same instant he leaped for the
throat of the sentry.
So quickly was this accomplished that the Austrian had time only for
a single cry, and that was choked in his windpipe by the steel
fingers of the American. Together both men fell heavily to the
ground, Barney retaining his hold upon the other's throat.
Striking and clutching at one another they fought in silence for a
couple of minutes, then the soldier's struggles began to weaken. He
squirmed and gasped for breath. His mouth opened and his tongue
protruded. His eyes started from their sockets. Barney closed his
fingers more tightly upon the bearded throat. He rained heavy blows
upon the upturned face. The beating fists of his adversary waved
wildly now--the blows that reached Barney were pitifully weak.
Presently they ceased. The man struggled violently for an instant,
twitched spasmodically and lay still.
Barney clung to him for several minutes longer, until there was not
the slightest indication of remaining life. The perpetration of the
deed sickened him; but he knew that his act was warranted, for it
had been either his life or the other's. He dragged the body back to
the bushes in which he had been hiding. There he stripped off the
Austrian uniform, put his own clothes upon the corpse and rolled it
into the river.
Dressed as an Austrian private, Barney Custer shouldered the dead
soldier's gun and walked boldly through the wood to the south.
Momentarily he expected to run upon other soldiers, but though he
kept straight on his way for hours he encountered none. The thin
line of sentries along the river had been posted only to double the
preventive measures that had been taken to keep Serbian spies either
from entering or leaving the city.
Toward dawn, at the darkest period of the night, Barney saw lights
ahead of him. Apparently he was approaching a village. He went more
cautiously now, but all his care did not prevent him from running
for the second time that night almost into the arms of a sentry.
This time, however, Barney saw the soldier before he himself was
discovered. It was upon the edge of the town, in an orchard, that
the sentinel was posted. Barney, approaching through the trees,
darting from one to another, was within a few paces of the man
before he saw him.
The American remained quietly in the shadow of a tree waiting for an
opportunity to escape, but before it came he heard the approach of a
small body of troops. They were coming from the village directly
toward the orchard. They passed the sentry and marched within a
dozen feet of the tree behind which Barney was hiding.
As they came opposite him he slipped around the tree to the opposite
side. The sentry had resumed his pacing, and was now out of sight
momentarily among the trees further on. He could not see the
American, but there were others who could. They came in the shape of
a non-commissioned officer and a detachment of the guard to relieve
the sentry. Barney almost bumped into them as he rounded the tree.
There was no escape--the non-commissioned officer was within two
feet of him when Barney discovered him. "What are you doing here?"
shouted the sergeant with an oath. "Your post is there," and he
pointed toward the position where Barney had seen the sentry.
At first Barney could scarce believe his ears. In the darkness the
sergeant had mistaken him for the sentinel! Could he carry it out?
And if so might it not lead him into worse predicament? No, Barney
decided, nothing could be worse. To be caught masquerading in the
uniform of an Austrian soldier within the Austrian lines was to
plumb the uttermost depth of guilt--nothing that he might do now
could make his position worse.
He faced the sergeant, snapping his piece to present, hoping that
this was the proper thing to do. Then he stumbled through a brief
excuse. The officer in command of the troops that had just passed
had demanded the way of him, and he had but stepped a few paces from
his post to point out the road to his superior.
The sergeant grunted and ordered him to fall in. Another man took
his place on duty. They were far from the enemy and discipline was
lax, so the thing was accomplished which under other circumstances
would have been well night impossible. A moment later Barney found
himself marching back toward the village, to all intents and
purposes an Austrian private.
Before a low, windowless shed that had been converted into barracks
for the guard, the detail was dismissed. The men broke ranks and
sought their blankets within the shed, tired from their lonely vigil
upon sentry duty.
Barney loitered until the last. All the others had entered. He
dared not, for he knew that any moment the sentry upon the post from
which he had been taken would appear upon the scene, after
discovering another of his comrades. He was certain to inquire of
the sergeant. They would be puzzled, of course, and, being soldiers,
they would be suspicious. There would be an investigation, which
would start in the barracks of the guard. That neighborhood would at
once become a most unhealthy spot for Barney Custer, of Beatrice,
When the last of the soldiers had entered the shed Barney glanced
quickly about. No one appeared to notice him. He walked directly
past the doorway to the end of the building. Around this he found a
yard, deeply shadowed. He entered it, crossed it, and passed out
into an alley beyond. At the first cross-street his way was blocked
by the sight of another sentry--the world seemed composed entirely
of Austrian sentries. Barney wondered if the entire Austrian army
was kept perpetually upon sentry duty; he had scarce been able to
turn without bumping into one.
He turned back into the alley and at last found a crooked passageway
between buildings that he hoped might lead him to a spot where there
was no sentry, and from which he could find his way out of the
village toward the south. The passage, after devious windings, led
into a large, open court, but when Barney attempted to leave the
court upon the opposite side he found the ubiquitous sentries upon
Evidently there would be no escape while the Austrians remained in
the town. There was nothing to do, therefore, but hide until the
happy moment of their departure arrived. He returned to the
courtyard, and after a short search discovered a shed in one corner
that had evidently been used to stable a horse, for there was straw
at one end of it and a stall in the other. Barney sat down upon the
straw to wait developments. Tired nature would be denied no longer.
His eyes closed, his head drooped upon his breast. In three minutes
from the time he entered the shed he was stretched full length upon
the straw, fast asleep.
The chugging of a motor awakened him. It was broad daylight. Many
sounds came from the courtyard without. It did not take Barney long
to gather his scattered wits--in an instant he was wide awake. He
glanced about. He was the only occupant of the shed. Rising, he
approached a small window that looked out upon the court. All was
life and movement. A dozen military cars either stood about or moved
in and out of the wide gates at the opposite end of the enclosure.
Officers and soldiers moved briskly through a doorway that led into
a large building that flanked the court upon one side. While Barney
slept the headquarters of an Austrian army corps had moved in and
taken possession of the building, the back of which abutted upon the
court where lay his modest little shed.
Barney took it all in at a single glance, but his eyes hung long and
greedily upon the great, high-powered machines that chugged or
purred about him.
Gad! If he could but be behind the wheel of such a car for an hour!
The frontier could not be over fifty miles to the south, of that he
was quite positive; and what would fifty miles be to one of those
Barney sighed as a great, gray-painted car whizzed into the
courtyard and pulled up before the doorway. Two officers jumped out
and ran up the steps. The driver, a young man in a uniform not
unlike that which Barney wore, drew the car around to the end of the
courtyard close beside Barney's shed. Here he left it and entered
the building into which his passengers had gone. By reaching through
the window Barney could have touched the fender of the machine. A
few seconds' start in that and it would take more than an Austrian
army corps to stop him this side of the border. Thus mused Barney,
knowing already that the mad scheme that had been born within his
brain would be put to action before he was many minutes older.
There were many soldiers on guard about the courtyard. The greatest
danger lay in arousing the suspicions of one of these should he
chance to see Barney emerge from the shed and enter the car.
"The proper thing," thought Barney, "is to come from the building
into which everyone seems to pass, and the only way to be seen
coming out of it is to get into it; but how the devil am I to get
The longer he thought the more convinced he became that utter
recklessness and boldness would be his only salvation. Briskly he
walked from the shed out into the courtyard beneath the eyes of the
sentries, the officers, the soldiers, and the military drivers. He
moved straight among them toward the doorway of the headquarters as
though bent upon important business--which, indeed, he was. At least
it was quite the most important business to Barney Custer that that
young gentleman could recall having ventured upon for some time.
No one paid the slightest attention to him. He had left his gun in
the shed for he noticed that only the men on guard carried them.
Without an instant's hesitation he ran briskly up the short flight
of steps and entered the headquarters building. Inside was another
sentry who barred his way questioningly. Evidently one must state
one's business to this person before going farther. Barney, without
any loss of time or composure, stepped up to the guard.
"Has General Kampf passed in this morning?" he asked blithely.
Barney had never heard of any "General Kampf," nor had the sentry,
since there was no such person in the Austrian army. But he did
know, however, that there were altogether too many generals for any
one soldier to know the names of them all.
"I do not know the general by sight," replied the sentry.
Here was a pretty mess, indeed. Doubtless the sergeant would know a
great deal more than would be good for Barney Custer. The young man
looked toward the door through which he had just entered. His sole
object in coming into the spider's parlor had been to make it
possible for him to come out again in full view of all the guards
and officers and military chauffeurs, that their suspicions might
not be aroused when he put his contemplated coup to the test.
He glanced toward the door. Machines were whizzing in and out of
the courtyard. Officers on foot were passing and repassing. The
sentry in the hallway was on the point of calling his sergeant.
"Ah!" cried Barney. "There is the general now," and without waiting
to cast even a parting glance at the guard he stepped quickly
through the doorway and ran down the steps into the courtyard.
Looking neither to right nor to left, and with a convincing air of
self-confidence and important business, he walked directly to the
big, gray machine that stood beside the little shed at the end of
To crank it and leap to the driver's seat required but a moment.
The big car moved smoothly forward. A turn of the steering wheel
brought it around headed toward the wide gates. Barney shifted to
second speed, stepped on the accelerator and the cut-out
simultaneously, and with a noise like the rattle of a machine gun,
shot out of the courtyard.
None who saw his departure could have guessed from the manner of it
that the young man at the wheel of the gray car was stealing the
machine or that his life depended upon escape without detection. It
was the very boldness of his act that crowned it with success.
Once in the street Barney turned toward the south. Cars were
passing up and down in both directions, usually at high speed. Their
numbers protected the fugitive. Momentarily he expected to be
halted; but he passed out of the village without mishap and reached
a country road which, except for a lane down its center along which
automobiles were moving, was blocked with troops marching southward.
Through this soldier-walled lane Barney drove for half an hour.
From a great distance, toward the southeast, he could hear the boom
of cannon and the bursting of shells. Presently the road forked. The
troops were moving along the road on the left toward the distant
battle line. Not a man or machine was turning into the right fork,
the road toward the south that Barney wished to take.
Could he successfully pass through the marching soldiers at his
right? Among all those officers there surely would be one who would
question the purpose and destination of this private soldier who
drove alone in the direction of the nearby frontier.
The moment had come when he must stake everything on his ability to
gain the open road beyond the plodding mass of troops. Diminishing
the speed of the car Barney turned it in toward the marching men at
the same time sounding his horn loudly. An infantry captain,
marching beside his company, was directly in front of the car. He
looked up at the American. Barney saluted and pointed toward the
The captain turned and shouted a command to his men. Those who had
not passed in front of the car halted. Barney shot through the
little lane they had opened, which immediately closed up behind him.
He was through! He was upon the open road! Ahead, as far as he could
see, there was no sign of any living creature to bar his way, and
the frontier could not be more than twenty-five miles away.
THE TRAITOR KING
In his castle at Lustadt, Leopold of Lutha paced nervously back and
forth between his great desk and the window that overlooked the
royal gardens. Upon the opposite side of the desk stood an old
man--a tall, straight, old man with the bearing of a soldier and the
head of a lion. His keen, gray eyes were upon the king, and sorrow
was written upon his face. He was Ludwig von der Tann, chancellor of
the kingdom of Lutha.
At last the king stopped his pacing and faced the old man, though he
could not meet those eagle eyes squarely, try as he would. It was
his inability to do so, possibly, that added to his anger. Weak
himself, he feared this strong man and envied him his strength,
which, in a weak nature, is but a step from hatred. There evidently
had been a long pause in their conversation, yet the king's next
words took up the thread of their argument where it had broken.
"You speak as though I had no right to do it," he snapped. "One
might think that you were the king from the manner with which you
upbraid and reproach me. I tell you, Prince von der Tann, that I
shall stand it no longer."
The king approached the desk and pounded heavily upon its polished
surface with his fist. The physical act of violence imparted to him
a certain substitute for the moral courage which he lacked.
"I will tell you, sir, that I am king. It was not necessary that I
consult you or any other man before pardoning Prince Peter and his
associates. I have investigated the matter thoroughly and I am
convinced that they have been taught a sufficient lesson and that
hereafter they will be my most loyal subjects."
He hesitated. "Their presence here," he added, "may prove an
antidote to the ambitions of others who lately have taken it upon
themselves to rule Lutha for me."
There was no mistaking the king's meaning, but Prince Ludwig did not
show by any change of expression that the shot had struck him in a
vulnerable spot; nor, upon the other hand, did he ignore the
insinuation. There was only sorrow in his voice when he replied.
"Sire," he said, "for some time I have been aware of the activity of
those who would like to see Peter of Blentz returned to favor with
your majesty. I have warned you, only to see that my motives were
always misconstrued. There is a greater power at work, your majesty,
than any of us--greater than Lutha itself. One that will stop at
nothing in order to gain its ends. It cares naught for Peter of
Blentz, naught for me, naught for you. It cares only for Lutha. For
strategic purposes it must have Lutha. It will trample you under
foot to gain its end, and then it will cast Peter of Blentz aside.
You have insinuated, sire, that I am ambitious. I am. I am ambitious
to maintain the integrity and freedom of Lutha.
"For three hundred years the Von der Tanns have labored and fought
for the welfare of Lutha. It was a Von der Tann that put the first
Rubinroth king upon the throne of Lutha. To the last they were loyal
to the former dynasty while that dynasty was loyal to Lutha. Only
when the king attempted to sell the freedom of his people to a
powerful neighbor did the Von der Tanns rise against him.
"Sire! the Von der Tanns have always been loyal to the house of
Rubinroth. And but a single thing rises superior within their
breasts to that loyalty, and that is their loyalty to Lutha." He
paused for an instant before concluding. "And I, sire, am a Von der
There could be no mistaking the old man's meaning. So long as
Leopold was loyal to his people and their interests Ludwig von der
Tann would be loyal to Leopold. The king was cowed. He was very much
afraid of this grim old warrior. He chafed beneath his censure.
"You are always scolding me," he cried irritably. "I am getting
tired of it. And now you threaten me. Do you call that loyalty? Do
you call it loyalty to refuse to compel your daughter to keep her
plighted troth? If you wish to prove your loyalty command the
Princess Emma to fulfil the promise you made my father--command her
to wed me at once."
Von der Tann looked the king straight in the eyes.
"I cannot do that," he said. "She has told me that she will kill
herself rather than wed with your majesty. She is all I have left,
sire. What good would be accomplished by robbing me of her if you
could not gain her by the act? Win her confidence and love, sire. It
may be done. Thus only may happiness result to you and to her."
"You see," exclaimed the king, "what your loyalty amounts to! I
believe that you are saving her for the impostor--I have heard as
much hinted at before this. Nor do I doubt that she would gladly
connive with the fellow if she thought there was a chance of his
seizing the throne."
Von der Tann paled. For the first time righteous indignation and
anger got the better of him. He took a step toward the king.
"Stop!" he commanded. "No man, not even my king, may speak such
words to a Von der Tann."
In an antechamber just outside the room a man sat near the door that
led into the apartment where the king and his chancellor quarreled.
He had been straining his ears to catch the conversation which he
could hear rising and falling in the adjoining chamber, but till now
he had been unsuccessful. Then came Prince Ludwig's last words
booming loudly through the paneled door, and the man smiled. He was
Count Zellerndorf, the Austrian minister to Lutha.
The king's outraged majesty goaded him to an angry retort.
"You forget yourself, Prince von der Tann," he cried. "Leave our
presence. When we again desire to be insulted we shall send for
As the chancellor passed into the antechamber Count Zellerndorf rose
and greeted him warmly, almost effusively. Von der Tann returned his
salutations with courtesy but with no answering warmth. Then he
passed on out of the palace.
"The old fox must have heard," he mused as he mounted his horse and
turned his face toward Tann and the Old Forest.
When Count Zellerndorf of Austria entered the presence of Leopold of
Lutha he found that young ruler much disturbed. He had resumed his
restless pacing between desk and window, and as the Austrian entered
he scarce paused to receive his salutation. Count Zellerndorf was a
frequent visitor at the palace. There were few formalities between
this astute diplomat and the young king; those had passed gradually
away as their acquaintance and friendship ripened.
"Prince Ludwig appeared angry when he passed through the
antechamber," ventured Zellerndorf. "Evidently your majesty found
cause to rebuke him."
The king nodded and looked narrowly at the Austrian. "The Prince von
der Tann insinuated that Austria's only wish in connection with
Lutha is to seize her," he said.
Zellerndorf raised his hands in well-simulated horror.
"Your majesty!" he exclaimed. "It cannot be that the prince has
gone to such lengths to turn you against your best friend, my
emperor. If he has I can only attribute it to his own ambitions. I
have hesitated to speak to you of this matter, your majesty, but now
that the honor of my own ruler is questioned I must defend him.
"Bear with me then, should what I have to say wound you. I well
know the confidence which the house of Von der Tann has enjoyed for
centuries in Lutha; but I must brave your wrath in the interest of
right. I must tell you that it is common gossip in Vienna that Von
der Tann aspires to the throne of Lutha either for himself or for
his daughter through the American impostor who once sat upon your
throne for a few days. And let me tell you more.
"The American will never again menace you--he was arrested in
Burgova as a spy and executed. He is dead; but not so are Von der
Tann's ambitions. When he learns that he no longer may rely upon the
strain of the Rubinroth blood that flowed in the veins of the
American from his royal mother, the runaway Princess Victoria, there
will remain to him only the other alternative of seizing the throne
for himself. He is a very ambitious man, your majesty. Already he
has caused it to become current gossip that he is the real power
behind the throne of Lutha--that your majesty is but a figure-head,
the puppet of Von der Tann."
Zellerndorf paused. He saw the flush of shame and anger that
suffused the king's face, and then he shot the bolt that he had come
to fire, but which he had not dared to hope would find its target so
denuded of defense.
"Your majesty," he whispered, coming quite close to the king, "all
Lutha is inclined to believe that you fear Prince von der Tann. Only
a few of us know the truth to be the contrary. For the sake of your
prestige you must take some step to counteract this belief and stamp
it out for good and all. I have planned a way--hear it.
"Von der Tann's hatred of Peter of Blentz is well known. No man in
Lutha believes that he would permit you to have any intercourse with
Peter. I have brought from Blentz an invitation to your majesty to
honor the Blentz prince with your presence as a guest for the
ensuing week. Accept it, your majesty.
"Nothing could more conclusively prove to the most skeptical that
you are still the king, and that Von der Tann, nor any other, may
not dare to dictate to you. It will be the most splendid stroke of
statesmanship that you could achieve at the present moment."
For an instant the king stood in thought. He still feared Peter of
Blentz as the devil is reputed to fear holy water, though for
converse reasons. Yet he was very angry with Von der Tann. It would
indeed be an excellent way to teach the presumptuous chancellor his
Leopold almost smiled as he thought of the chagrin with which Prince
Ludwig would receive the news that he had gone to Blentz as the
guest of Peter. It was the last impetus that was required by his
weak, vindictive nature to press it to a decision.
"Very well," he said, "I will go tomorrow."
It was late the following day that Prince von der Tann received in
his castle in the Old Forest word that an Austrian army had crossed
the Luthanian frontier--the neutrality of Lutha had been violated.
The old chancellor set out immediately for Lustadt. At the palace he
sought an interview with the king only to learn that Leopold had
departed earlier in the day to visit Peter of Blentz.
There was but one thing to do and that was to follow the king to
Blentz. Some action must be taken immediately--it would never do to
let this breach of treaty pass unnoticed.
The Serbian minister who had sent word to the chancellor of the
invasion by the Austrian troops was closeted with him for an hour
after his arrival at the palace. It was clear to both these men that
the hand of Zellerndorf was plainly in evidence in both the
important moves that had occurred in Lutha within the past
twenty-four hours--the luring of the king to Blentz and the entrance
of Austrian soldiery into Lutha.
Following his interview with the Serbian minister Von der Tann rode
toward Blentz with only his staff in attendance. It was long past
midnight when the lights of the town appeared directly ahead of the
little party. They rode at a trot along the road which passes
through the village to wind upward again toward the ancient feudal
castle that looks down from its hilltop upon the town.
At the edge of the village Von der Tann was thunderstruck by a
challenge from a sentry posted in the road, nor was his dismay
lessened when he discovered that the man was an Austrian.
"What is the meaning of this?" he cried angrily. "What are Austrian
soldiers doing barring the roads of Lutha to the chancellor of
The sentry called an officer. The latter was extremely suave. He
regretted the incident, but his orders were most positive--no one
could be permitted to pass through the lines without an order from
the general commanding. He would go at once to the general and see
if he could procure the necessary order. Would the prince be so good
as to await his return? Von der Tann turned on the young officer,
his face purpling with rage.
"I will pass nowhere within the boundaries of Lutha," he said, "upon
the order of an Austrian. You may tell your general that my only
regret is that I have not with me tonight the necessary force to
pass through his lines to my king--another time I shall not be so
handicapped," and Ludwig, Prince von der Tann, wheeled his mount and
spurred away in the direction of Lustadt, at his heels an extremely
angry and revengeful staff.
A TRAP IS SPRUNG
Long before Prince von der Tann reached Lustadt he had come to the
conclusion that Leopold was in virtue a prisoner in Blentz. To prove
his conclusion he directed one of his staff to return to Blentz and
attempt to have audience with the king.
"Risk anything," he instructed the officer to whom he had entrusted
the mission. "Submit, if necessary, to the humiliation of seeking an
Austrian pass through the lines to the castle. See the king at any
cost and deliver this message to him and to him alone and secretly.
Tell him my fears, and that if I do not have word from him within
twenty-four hours I shall assume that he is indeed a prisoner.
"I shall then direct the mobilization of the army and take such
steps as seem fit to rescue him and drive the invaders from the soil
of Lutha. If you do not return I shall understand that you are held
prisoner by the Austrians and that my worst fears have been
But Prince Ludwig was one who believed in being forehanded and so it
happened that the orders for the mobilization of the army of Lutha
were issued within fifteen minutes of his return to Lustadt. It
would do no harm, thought the old man, with a grim smile, to get
things well under way a day ahead of time. This accomplished, he
summoned the Serbian minister, with what purpose and to what effect
became historically evident several days later. When, after
twenty-four hours' absence, his aide had not returned from Blentz,
the chancellor had no regrets for his forehandedness.
In the castle of Peter of Blentz the king of Lutha was being
entertained royally. He was told nothing of the attempt of his
chancellor to see him, nor did he know that a messenger from Prince
von der Tann was being held a prisoner in the camp of the Austrians
in the village. He was surrounded by the creatures of Prince Peter
and by Peter's staunch allies, the Austrian minister and the
Austrian officers attached to the expeditionary force occupying the
town. They told him that they had positive information that the
Serbians already had crossed the frontier into Lutha, and that the
presence of the Austrian troops was purely for the protection of
It was not until the morning following the rebuff of Prince von der
Tann that Peter of Blentz, Count Zellerndorf and Maenck heard of the
occurrence. They were chagrined by the accident, for they were not
ready to deliver their final stroke. The young officer of the guard
had, of course, but followed his instructions--who would have
thought that old Von der Tann would come to Blentz! That he
suspected their motives seemed apparent, and now that his rebuff at
the gates had aroused his ire and, doubtless, crystallized his
suspicions, they might find in him a very ugly obstacle to the
fruition of their plans.
With Von der Tann actively opposed to them, the value of having the
king upon their side would be greatly minimized. The people and the
army had every confidence in the old chancellor. Even if he opposed
the king there was reason to believe that they might still side with
"What is to be done?" asked Zellerndorf. "Is there no way either to
win or force Von der Tann to acquiescence?"
"I think we can accomplish it," said Prince Peter, after a moment of
thought. "Let us see Leopold. His mind has been prepared to receive
almost gratefully any insinuations against the loyalty of Von der
Tann. With proper evidence the king may easily be persuaded to order
the chancellor's arrest--possibly his execution as well."
So they saw the king, only to meet a stubborn refusal upon the part
of Leopold to accede to their suggestions. He still was madly in
love with Von der Tann's daughter, and he knew that a blow delivered
at her father would only tend to increase her bitterness toward him.
The conspirators were nonplussed.
They had looked for a comparatively easy road to the consummation of
their desires. What in the world could be the cause of the king's
stubborn desire to protect the man they knew he feared, hated, and
mistrusted with all the energy of his suspicious nature? It was the
king himself who answered their unspoken question.
"I cannot believe in the disloyalty of Prince Ludwig," he said, "nor
could I, even if I desired it, take such drastic steps as you
suggest. Some day the Princess Emma, his daughter, will be my
Count Zellerndorf was the first to grasp the possibilities that lay
in the suggestion the king's words carried.
"Your majesty," he cried, "there is a way to unite all factions in
Lutha. It would be better to insure the loyalty of Von der Tann
through bonds of kinship than to antagonize him. Marry the Princess
Emma at once.
"Wait, your majesty," he added, as Leopold raised an objecting hand.
"I am well informed as to the strange obstinacy of the princess, but
for the welfare of the state--yes, for the sake of your very throne,
sire--you should exert your royal prerogatives and command the
Princess Emma to carry out the terms of your betrothal."
"What do you mean, Zellerndorf?" asked the king.
"I mean, sire, that we should bring the princess here and compel her
to marry you."
Leopold shook his head. "You do not know her," he said. "You do not
know the Von der Tann nature--one cannot force a Von der Tann."
"Pardon, sire," urged Zellerndorf, "but I think it can be
accomplished. If the Princess Emma knew that your majesty believed
her father to be a traitor--that the order for his arrest and
execution but awaited your signature--I doubt not that she would
gladly become queen of Lutha, with her father's life and liberty as
a wedding gift."
For several minutes no one spoke after Count Zellerndorf had ceased.
Leopold sat looking at the toe of his boot. Peter of Blentz, Maenck,
and the Austrian watched him intently. The possibilities of the plan
were sinking deep into the minds of all four. At last the king rose.
He was mumbling to himself as though unconscious of the presence of
"She is a stubborn jade," he mumbled. "It would be an excellent
lesson for her. She needs to be taught that I am her king," and then
as though his conscience required a sop, "I shall be very good to
her. Afterward she will be happy." He turned toward Zellerndorf.
"You think it can be done?"
"Most assuredly, your majesty. We shall take immediate steps to
fetch the Princess Emma to Blentz," and the Austrian rose and backed
from the apartment lest the king change his mind. Prince Peter and
Maenck followed him.
Princess Emma von der Tann sat in her boudoir in her father's castle
in the Old Forest. Except for servants, she was alone in the
fortress, for Prince von der Tann was in Lustadt. Her mind was
occupied with memories of the young American who had entered her
life under such strange circumstances two years before--memories
that had been awakened by the return of Lieutenant Otto Butzow to
Lutha. He had come directly to her father and had been attached to
the prince's personal staff.
From him she had heard a great deal about Barney Custer, and the old
interest, never a moment forgotten during these two years, was
reawakened to all its former intensity.
Butzow had accompanied Prince Ludwig to Lustadt, but Princess Emma
would not go with them. For two years she had not entered the
capital, and much of that period had been spent in Paris. Only
within the past fortnight had she returned to Lutha.
In the middle of the morning her reveries were interrupted by the
entrance of a servant bearing a message. She had to read it twice
before she could realize its purport; though it was plainly
worded--the shock of it had stunned her. It was dated at Lustadt and
signed by one of the palace functionaries:
Prince von der Tann has suffered a slight stroke. Do not be
alarmed, but come at once. The two troopers who bear this message
will act as your escort.
It required but a few minutes for the girl to change to her riding
clothes, and when she ran down into the court she found her horse
awaiting her in the hands of her groom, while close by two mounted
troopers raised their hands to their helmets in salute.
A moment later the three clattered over the drawbridge and along the
road that leads toward Lustadt. The escort rode a short distance
behind the girl, and they were hard put to it to hold the mad pace
which she set them.
A few miles from Tann the road forks. One branch leads toward the
capital and the other winds over the hills in the direction of
Blentz. The fork occurs within the boundaries of the Old Forest.
Great trees overhang the winding road, casting a twilight shade even
at high noon. It is a lonely spot, far from any habitation.
As the Princess Emma approached the fork she reined in her mount,
for across the road to Lustadt a dozen horsemen barred her way. At
first she thought nothing of it, turning her horse's head to the
righthand side of the road to pass the party, all of whom were in
uniform; but as she did so one of the men reined directly in her
path. The act was obviously intentional.
The girl looked quickly up into the man's face, and her own went
white. He who stopped her way was Captain Ernst Maenck. She had not
seen the man for two years, but she had good cause to remember him
as the governor of the castle of Blentz and the man who had
attempted to take advantage of her helplessness when she had been a
prisoner in Prince Peter's fortress. Now she looked straight into
the fellow's eyes.
"Let me pass, please," she said coldly.
"I am sorry," replied Maenck with an evil smile; "but the king's
orders are that you accompany me to Blentz--the king is there."
For answer the girl drove her spur into her mount's side. The animal
leaped forward, striking Maenck's horse on the shoulder and half
turning him aside, but the man clutched at the girl's bridle-rein,
and, seizing it, brought her to a stop.
"You may as well come voluntarily, for come you must," he said. "It
will be easier for you."
"I shall not come voluntarily," she replied. "If you take me to
Blentz you will have to take me by force, and if my king is not
sufficiently a gentleman to demand an accounting of you, I am at
least more fortunate in the possession of a father who will."
"Your father will scarce wish to question the acts of his king,"
said Maenck--"his king and the husband of his daughter."
"What do you mean?" she cried.
"That before you are many hours older, your highness, you will be
queen of Lutha."
The Princess Emma turned toward her tardy escort that had just
arrived upon the scene.
"This person has stopped me," she said, "and will not permit me to
continue toward Lustadt. Make a way for me; you are armed!"
Maenck smiled. "Both of them are my men," he explained.
The girl saw it all now--the whole scheme to lure her to Blentz.
Even then, though, she could not believe the king had been one of
the conspirators of the plot.
Weak as he was he was still a Rubinroth, and it was difficult for a
Von der Tann to believe in the duplicity of a member of the house
they had served so loyally for centuries. With bowed head the
princess turned her horse into the road that led toward Blentz. Half
the troopers preceded her, the balance following behind.
Maenck wondered at the promptness of her surrender.
"To be a queen--ah! that was the great temptation," he thought but
he did not know what was passing in the girl's mind. She had seen
that escape for the moment was impossible, and so had decided to
bide her time until a more propitious chance should come. In silence
she rode among her captors. The thought of being brought to Blentz
alive was unbearable.
Somewhere along the road there would be an opportunity to escape.
Her horse was fleet; with a short start he could easily outdistance
these heavier cavalry animals and as a last resort she could--she
must--find some way to end her life, rather than to be dragged to
the altar beside Leopold of Lutha.
Since childhood Emma von der Tann had ridden these hilly roads. She
knew every lane and bypath for miles around. She knew the short
cuts, the gullies and ravines. She knew where one might, with a good
jumper, save a wide detour, and as she rode toward Blentz she passed
in review through her mind each of the many spots where a sudden
break for liberty might have the best chance to succeed.
And at last she hit upon the place where a quick turn would take her
from the main road into the roughest sort of going for one not
familiar with the trail. Maenck and his soldiers had already
partially relaxed their vigilance. The officer had come to the
conclusion that his prisoner was resigned to her fate and that,
after all, the fate of being forced to be queen did not appear so
dark to her.
They had wound up a wooded hill and were half way up to the summit.
The princess was riding close to the right-hand side of the road.
Quite suddenly, and before a hand could be raised to stay her, she
wheeled her mount between two trees, struck home her spur, and was
gone into the wood upon the steep hillside.
With an oath, Maenck cried to his men to be after her. He himself
spurred into the forest at the point where the girl had disappeared.
So sudden had been her break for liberty and so quickly had the
foliage swallowed her that there was something almost uncanny in it.
A hundred yards from the road the trees were further apart, and
through them the pursuers caught a glimpse of their quarry. The girl
was riding like mad along the rough, uneven hillside. Her mount,
surefooted as a chamois, seemed in his element. But two of the
horses of her pursuers were as swift, and under the cruel spurs of
their riders were closing up on their fugitive. The girl urged her
horse to greater speed, yet still the two behind closed in.
A hundred yards ahead lay a deep and narrow gully, hid by bushes
that grew rankly along its verge. Straight toward this the Princess
Emma von der Tann rode. Behind her came her pursuers--two quite
close and the others trailing farther in the rear. The girl reined
in a trifle, letting the troopers that were closest to her gain
until they were but a few strides behind, then she put spur to her
horse and drove him at topmost speed straight toward the gully. At
the bushes she spoke a low word in his backlaid ears, raised him
quickly with the bit, leaning forward as he rose in air. Like a bird
that animal took the bushes and the gully beyond, while close behind
him crashed the two luckless troopers.
Emma von der Tann cast a single backward glance over her shoulder,
as her horse regained his stride upon the opposite side of the
gully, to see her two foremost pursuers plunging headlong into it.
Then she shook free her reins and gave her mount his head along a
narrow trail that both had followed many times before.
Behind her, Maenck and the balance of his men came to a sudden stop
at the edge of the gully. Below them one of the troopers was
struggling to his feet. The other lay very still beneath his
motionless horse. With an angry oath Maenck directed one of his men
to remain and help the two who had plunged over the brink, then with
the others he rode along the gully searching for a crossing.
Before they found one their captive was a mile ahead of them, and,
barring accident, quite beyond recapture. She was making for a
highway that would lead her to Lustadt. Ordinarily she had been wont
to bear a little to the north-east at this point and strike back
into the road that she had just left; but today she feared to do so
lest she be cut off before she gained the north and south highroad
which the other road crossed a little farther on.
To her right was a small farm across which she had never ridden, for
she always had made it a point never to trespass upon fenced
grounds. On the opposite side of the farm was a wood, and somewhere
beyond that a small stream which the highroad crossed upon a little
bridge. It was all new country to her, but it must be ventured.
She took the fence at the edge of the clearing and then reined in a
moment to look behind her. A mile away she saw the head and
shoulders of a horseman above some low bushes--the pursuers had
found a way through the gully.
Turning once more to her flight the girl rode rapidly across the
fields toward the wood. Here she found a high wire fence so close to
thickly growing trees upon the opposite side that she dared not
attempt to jump it--there was no point at which she would not have
been raked from the saddle by overhanging boughs. Slipping to the
ground she attacked the barrier with her bare hands, attempting to
tear away the staples that held the wire in place. For several
minutes she surged and tugged upon the unyielding metal strand. An
occasional backward glance revealed to her horrified eyes the rapid
approach of her enemies. One of them was far in advance of the
others--in another moment he would be upon her.
With redoubled fury she turned again to the fence. A superhuman
effort brought away a staple. One wire was down and an instant later
two more. Standing with one foot upon the wires to keep them from
tangling about her horse's legs, she pulled her mount across into
the wood. The foremost horseman was close upon her as she finally
succeeded in urging the animal across the fallen wires.
The girl sprang to her horse's side just as the man reached the
fence. The wires, released from her weight, sprang up breast high
against his horse. He leaped from the saddle the instant that the
girl was swinging into her own. Then the fellow jumped the fence and
caught her bridle.
She struck at him with her whip, lashing him across the head and
face, but he clung tightly, dragged hither and thither by the
frightened horse, until at last he managed to reach the girl's arm
and drag her to the ground.
Almost at the same instant a man, unkempt and disheveled, sprang
from behind a tree and with a single blow stretched the trooper
unconscious upon the ground.
BARNEY TO THE RESCUE
As Barney Custer raced along the Austrian highroad toward the
frontier and Lutha, his spirits rose to a pitch of buoyancy to which
they had been strangers for the past several days. For the first
time in many hours it seemed possible to Barney to entertain
reasonable hopes of escape from the extremely dangerous predicament
into which he had gotten himself.
He was even humming a gay little tune as he drove into a tiny hamlet
through which the road wound. No sign of military appeared to fill
him with apprehension. He was very hungry and the odor of cooking
fell gratefully upon his nostrils. He drew up before the single inn,
and presently, washed and brushed, was sitting before the first meal
he had seen for two days. In the enjoyment of the food he almost
forgot the dangers he had passed through, or that other dangers
might be lying in wait for him at his elbow.
From the landlord he learned that the frontier lay but three miles
to the south of the hamlet. Three miles! Three miles to Lutha! What
if there was a price upon his head in that kingdom? It was HER home.
It had been his mother's birthplace. He loved it.
Further, he must enter there and reach the ear of old Prince von der
Tann. Once more he must save the king who had shown such scant
gratitude upon another occasion.
For Leopold, Barney Custer did not give the snap of his fingers; but
what Leopold, the king, stood for in the lives and sentiments of the
Luthanians--of the Von der Tanns--was very dear to the American
because it was dear to a trim, young girl and to a rugged, leonine,
old man, of both of whom Barney was inordinately fond. And possibly,
too, it was dear to him because of the royal blood his mother had
His meal disposed of to the last morsel, and paid for, Barney
entered the stolen car and resumed his journey toward Lutha. That he
could remain there he knew to be impossible, but in delivering his
news to Prince Ludwig he might have an opportunity to see the
Princess Emma once again--it would be worth risking his life for, of
that he was perfectly satisfied. And then he could go across into
Serbia with the new credentials that he had no doubt Prince von der
Tann would furnish him for the asking to replace those the Austrians
At the frontier Barney was halted by an Austrian customs officer;
but when the latter recognized the military car and the Austrian
uniform of the driver he waved him through without comment. Upon the
other side the American expected possible difficulty with the
Luthanian customs officer, but to his surprise he found the little
building deserted, and none to bar his way. At last he was in
Lutha--by noon on the following day he should be at Tann.
To reach the Old Forest by the best roads it was necessary to bear a
little to the southeast, passing through Tafelberg and striking the
north and south highway between that point and Lustadt, to which he
could hold until reaching the east and west road that runs through
both Tann and Blentz on its way across the kingdom.
The temptation to stop for a few minutes in Tafelberg for a visit
with his old friend Herr Kramer was strong, but fear that he might
be recognized by others, who would not guard his secret so well as
the shopkeeper of Tafelberg would, decided him to keep on his way.
So he flew through the familiar main street of the quaint old
village at a speed that was little, if any less, than fifty miles an
On he raced toward the south, his speed often necessarily diminished
upon the winding mountain roads, but for the most part clinging to a
reckless mileage that caused the few natives he encountered to flee
to the safety of the bordering fields, there to stand in
Halfway between Tafelberg and the crossroad into which he purposed
turning to the west toward Tann there is an S-curve where the bases
of two small hills meet. The road here is narrow and
treacherous--fifteen miles an hour is almost a reckless speed at
which to travel around the curves of the S. Beyond are open fields
upon either side of the road.
Barney took the turns carefully and had just emerged into the last
leg of the S when he saw, to his consternation, a half-dozen
Austrian infantrymen lolling beside the road. An officer stood near
them talking with a sergeant. To turn back in that narrow road was
impossible. He could only go ahead and trust to his uniform and the
military car to carry him safely through. Before he reached the
group of soldiers the fields upon either hand came into view. They
were dotted with tents, wagons, motor-vans and artillery. What did
it mean? What was this Austrian army doing in Lutha?
Already the officer had seen him. This was doubtless an outpost,
however clumsily placed it might be for strategic purposes. To pass
it was Barney's only hope. He had passed through one Austrian
army--why not another? He approached the outpost at a moderate rate
of speed--to tear toward it at the rate his heart desired would be
to awaken not suspicion only but positive conviction that his
purposes and motives were ulterior.
The officer stepped toward the road as though to halt him. Barney
pretended to be fussing with some refractory piece of controlling
mechanism beneath the cowl--apparently he did not see the officer.
He was just opposite him when the latter shouted to him. Barney
straightened up quickly and saluted, but did not stop.
"Halt!" cried the officer.
Barney pointed down the road in the direction in which he was
"Halt!" repeated the officer, running to the car.
Barney glanced ahead. Two hundred yards farther on was another
post--beyond that he saw no soldiers. He turned and shouted a volley
of intentionally unintelligible jargon at the officer, continuing to
point ahead of him.
He hoped to confuse the man for the few seconds necessary for him to
reach the last post. If the soldiers there saw that he had been
permitted to pass through the first they doubtless would not hinder
his further passage. That they were watching him Barney could see.
He had passed the officer now. There was no necessity for
dalliance. He pressed the accelerator down a trifle. The car moved
forward at increased speed. A final angry shout broke from the
officer behind him, followed by a quick command. Barney did not have
to wait long to learn the tenor of the order, for almost immediately
a shot sounded from behind and a bullet whirred above his head.
Another shot and another followed.
Barney was pressing the accelerator downward to the limit. The car
responded nobly--there was no sputtering, no choking. Just a rapid
rush of increasing momentum as the machine gained headway by leaps
The bullets were ripping the air all about him. Just ahead the
second outpost stood directly in the center of the road. There were
three soldiers and they were taking deliberate aim, as carefully as
though upon the rifle range. It seemed to Barney that they couldn't
miss him. He swerved the car suddenly from one side of the road to
the other. At the rate that it was going the move was fraught with
but little less danger than the supine facing of the leveled guns
The three rifles spoke almost simultaneously. The glass of the
windshield shattered in Barney's face. There was a hole in the
left-hand front fender that had not been there before.
"Rotten shooting," commented Barney Custer, of Beatrice.
The soldiers still stood in the center of the road firing at the
swaying car as, lurching from side to side, it bore down upon them.
Barney sounded the raucous military horn; but the soldiers seemed
unconscious of their danger--they still stood there pumping lead
toward the onrushing Juggernaut. At the last instant they attempted
to rush from its path; but they were too late.
At over sixty miles an hour the huge, gray monster bore down upon
them. One of them fell beneath the wheels--the two others were
thrown high in air as the bumper struck them. The body of the man
who had fallen beneath the wheels threw the car half way across the
road--only iron nerve and strong arms held it from the ditch upon
the opposite side.
Barney Custer had never been nearer death than at that moment--not
even when he faced the firing squad before the factory wall in
Burgova. He had done that without a tremor--he had heard the bullets
of the outpost whistling about his head a moment before, with a
smile upon his lips--he had faced the leveled rifles of the three he
had ridden down and he had not quailed. But now, his machine in the
center of the road again, he shook like a leaf, still in the grip of
the sickening nausea of that awful moment when the mighty, insensate
monster beneath him had reeled drunkenly in its mad flight, swerving
toward the ditch and destruction.
For a few minutes he held to his rapid pace before he looked around,
and then it was to see two cars climbing into the road from the
encampment in the field and heading toward him in pursuit. Barney
grinned. Once more he was master of his nerves. They'd have a merry
chase, he thought, and again he accelerated the speed of the car.
Once before he had had it up to seventy-five miles, and for a
moment, when he had had no opportunity to even glance at the
speedometer, much higher. Now he was to find the maximum limit of
the possibilities of the brave car he had come to look upon with
The road ahead was comparatively straight and level. Behind him
came the enemy. Barney watched the road rushing rapidly out of sight
beneath the gray fenders. He glanced occasionally at the
speedometer. Seventy-five miles an hour. Seventy-seven! "Going
some," murmured Barney as he saw the needle vibrate up to eighty.
Gradually he nursed her up and up to greater speed.
Eighty-five! The trees were racing by him in an indistinct blur of
green. The fences were thin, wavering lines--the road a white-gray
ribbon, ironed by the terrific speed to smooth unwrinkledness. He
could not take his eyes from the business of steering to glance
behind; but presently there broke faintly through the whir of the
wind beating against his ears the faint report of a gun. He was
being fired upon again. He pressed down still further upon the
accelerator. The car answered to the pressure. The needle rose
steadily until it reached ninety miles an hour--and topped it.
Then from somewhere in the radiator hose a hissing and a spurt of
steam. Barney was dumbfounded. He had filled the cooling system at
the inn where he had eaten. It had been working perfectly before and
since. What could have happened? There could be but a single
explanation. A bullet from the gun of one of the three men who had
attempted to stop him at the second outpost had penetrated the
radiator, and had slowly drained it.
Barney knew that the end was near, since the usefulness of the car
in furthering his escape was over. At the speed he was going it
would be but a short time before the superheated pistons expanding
in their cylinders would tear the motor to pieces. Barney felt that
he would be lucky if he himself were not killed when it happened.
He reduced his speed and glanced behind. His pursuers had not
gained upon him, but they still were coming. A bend in the road shut
them from his view. A little way ahead the road crossed over a river
upon a wooden bridge. On the opposite side and to the right of the
road was a wood. It seemed to offer the most likely possibilities of
concealment in the vicinity. If he could but throw his pursuers off
the trail for a while he might succeed in escaping through the wood,
eventually reaching Tann on foot. He had a rather hazy idea of the
exact direction of the town and castle, but that he could find them
eventually he was sure.
The sight of the river and the bridge he was nearing suggested a
plan, and the ominous grating of the overheated motor warned him
that whatever he was to do he must do at once. As he neared the
bridge he reduced the speed of the car to fifteen miles an hour, and
set the hand throttle to hold it there. Still gripping the steering
wheel with one hand, he climbed over the left-hand door to the
running board. As the front wheels of the car ran up onto the bridge
Barney gave the steering wheel a sudden turn to the right, and
The car veered toward the wooden handrail, there was a splintering
of stanchions, as, with a crash, the big machine plunged through
them headforemost into the river. Without waiting to give even a
glance at his handiwork Barney Custer ran across the bridge, leaped
the fence upon the right-hand side and plunged into the shelter of
Then he turned to look back up the road in the direction from which
his pursuers were coming. They were not in sight--they had not seen
his ruse. The water in the river was of sufficient depth to
completely cover the car--no sign of it appeared above the surface.
Barney turned into the wood smiling. His scheme had worked well.
The occupants of the two cars following him might not note the
broken handrail, or, if they did, might not connect it with Barney
in any way. In this event they would continue in the direction of
Lustadt, wondering what in the world had become of their quarry. Or,
if they guessed that his car had gone over into the river, they
would doubtless believe that its driver had gone with it. In either
event Barney would be given ample time to find his way to Tann.
He wished that he might find other clothes, since if he were dressed
otherwise there would be no reason to imagine that his pursuers
would recognize him should they come upon him. None of them could
possibly have gained a sufficiently good look at his features to
recognize them again.
The Austrian uniform, however, would convict him, or at least lay
him under suspicion, and in Barney's present case, suspicion was as
good as conviction were he to fall into the hands of the Austrians.
The garb had served its purpose well in aiding in his escape from
Austria, but now it was more of a menace than an asset.
For a week Barney Custer wandered through the woods and mountains of
Lutha. He did not dare approach or question any human being. Several
times he had seen Austrian cavalry that seemed to be scouring the
country for some purpose that the American could easily believe was
closely connected with himself. At least he did not feel disposed to
stop them, as they cantered past his hiding place, to inquire the
nature of their business.
Such farmhouses as he came upon he gave a wide berth except at
night, and then he only approached them stealthily for such
provender as he might filch. Before the week was up he had become an
expert chicken thief, being able to rob a roost as quietly as the
most finished carpetbagger on the sunny side of Mason and Dixon's
A careless housewife, leaving her lord and master's rough shirt and
trousers hanging upon the line overnight, had made possible for
Barney the coveted change in raiment. Now he was barged as a
Luthanian peasant. He was hatless, since the lady had failed to hang
out her mate's woolen cap, and Barney had not dared retain a single
vestige of the damning Austrian uniform.
What the peasant woman thought when she discovered the empty line
the following morning Barney could only guess, but he was morally
certain that her grief was more than tempered by the gold piece he
had wrapped in a bit of cloth torn from the soldier's coat he had
worn, which he pinned on the line where the shirt and pants had
It was somewhere near noon upon the seventh day that Barney skirting
a little stream, followed through the concealing shade of a forest
toward the west. In his peasant dress he now felt safer to approach
a farmhouse and inquire his way to Tann, for he had come a
sufficient distance from the spot where he had stolen his new
clothes to hope that they would not be recognized or that the news
of their theft had not preceded him.
As he walked he heard the sound of the feet of a horse galloping
over a dry field--muffled, rapid thud approaching closer upon his
right hand. Barney remained motionless. He was sure that the rider
would not enter the wood which, with its low-hanging boughs and
thick underbrush, was ill adapted to equestrianism.
Closer and closer came the sound until it ceased suddenly scarce a
hundred yards from where the American hid. He waited in silence to
discover what would happen next. Would the rider enter the wood on
foot? What was his purpose? Was it another Austrian who had by some
miracle discovered the whereabouts of the fugitive? Barney could
scarce believe it possible.
Presently he heard another horse approaching at the same mad gallop.
He heard the sound of rapid, almost frantic efforts of some nature
where the first horse had come to a stop. He heard a voice urging
the animal forward--pleading, threatening. A woman's voice. Barney's
excitement became intense in sympathy with the subdued excitement of
the woman whom he could not as yet see.
A moment later the second rider came to a stop at the same point at
which the first had reined in. A man's voice rose roughly. "Halt!"
it cried. "In the name of the king, halt!" The American could no
longer resist the temptation to see what was going on so close to
him "in the name of the king."
He advanced from behind his tree until he saw the two figures--a
man's and a woman's. Some bushes intervened--he could not get a
clear view of them, yet there was something about the figure of the
woman, whose back was toward him as she struggled to mount her
frightened horse, that caused him to leap rapidly toward her. He
rounded a tree a few paces from her just as the man--a trooper in
the uniform of the house of Blentz--caught her arm and dragged her
from the saddle. At the same instant Barney recognized the girl--it
was Princess Emma.
Before either the trooper or the princess were aware of his presence
he had leaped to the man's side and dealt him a blow that stretched
him at full length upon the ground--stunned.
AN ADVENTUROUS DAY
For an instant the two stood looking at one another. The girl's
eyes were wide with incredulity, with hope, with fear. She was the
first to break the silence.
"Who are you?" she breathed in a half whisper.
"I don't wonder that you ask," returned the man. "I must look like
a scarecrow. I'm Barney Custer. Don't you remember me now? Who did
you think I was?"
The girl took a step toward him. Her eyes lighted with relief.
"Captain Maenck told me that you were dead," she said, "that you had
been shot as a spy in Austria, and then there is that uncanny
resemblance to the king--since he has shaved his beard it is
infinitely more remarkable. I thought you might be he. He has been
at Blentz and I knew that it was quite possible that he had
discovered treachery upon the part of Prince Peter. In which case he
might have escaped in disguise. I really wasn't sure that you were
not he until you spoke."
Barney stooped and removed the bandoleer of cartridges from the
fallen trooper, as well as his revolver and carbine. Then he took
the girl's hand and together they turned into the wood. Behind them
came the sound of pursuit. They heard the loud words of Maenck as he
ordered his three remaining men into the wood on foot. As he
advanced, Barney looked to the magazine of his carbine and the
cylinder of his revolver.
"Why were they pursuing you?" he asked.
"They were taking me to Blentz to force me to wed Leopold," she
replied. "They told me that my father's life depended upon my
consenting; but I should not have done so. The honor of my house is
more precious than the life of any of its members. I escaped them a
few miles back, and they were following to overtake me."
A noise behind them caused Barney to turn. One of the troopers had
come into view. He carried his carbine in his hands and at sight of
the man with the fugitive girl he raised it to his shoulder; but as
the American turned toward him his eyes went wide and his jaw
Instantly Barney knew that the fellow had noted his resemblance to
the king. Barney's body was concealed from the view of the other by
a bush which grew between them, so the man saw only the face of the
American. The fellow turned and shouted to Maenck: "The king is with
"Nonsense," came the reply from farther back in the wood. "If there
is a man with her and he will not surrender, shoot him." At the
words Barney and the girl turned once more to their flight. From
behind came the command to halt--"Halt! or I fire." Just ahead
Barney saw the river.
They were sure to be taken there if he was unable to gain the time
necessary to make good a crossing. Upon the opposite side was a
continuation of the wood. Behind them the leading trooper was
crashing through the underbrush in renewed pursuit. He came in sight
of them again, just as they reached the river bank. Once more his
carbine was leveled. Barney pushed the girl to her knees behind a
bush. Then he wheeled and fired, so quickly that the man with the
already leveled gun had no time to anticipate his act.
With a cry the fellow threw his hands above his head, staggered
forward and plunged full length upon his face. Barney gathered the
princess in his arms and plunged into the shallow stream. The girl
held his carbine as he stumbled over the rocky bottom. The water
deepened rapidly--the opposite shore seemed a long way off and
behind there were three more enemies in hot pursuit.
Under ordinary circumstances Barney could have found it in his heart
to wish the little Luthanian river as broad as the Mississippi, for
only under such circumstances as these could he ever hope to hold
the Princess Emma in his arms. Two years before she had told him
that she loved him; but at the same time she had given him to
understand that their love was hopeless. She might refuse to wed the
king; but that she should ever wed another while the king lived was
impossible, unless Leopold saw fit to release her from her betrothal
to him and sanction her marriage to another. That he ever would do
this was to those who knew him not even remotely possible.
He loved Emma von der Tann and he hated Barney Custer--hated him
with a jealous hatred that was almost fanatic in its intensity. And
even that the Princess Emma von der Tann would wed him were she free
to wed was a question that was not at all clear in the mind of
Barney Custer. He knew something of the traditions of this noble
family--of the pride of caste, of the fetish of blood that
inexorably dictated the ordering of their lives.
The girl had just said that the honor of her house was more precious
than the life of any of its members. How much more precious would it
be to her than her own material happiness! Barney Custer sighed and
struggled through the swirling waters that were now above his hips.
If he pressed the lithe form closer to him than necessity demanded,
who may blame him?
The girl, whose face was toward the bank they had just quitted, gave
no evidence of displeasure if she noted the fierce pressure of his
muscles. Her eyes were riveted upon the wood behind. Presently a man
emerged. He called to them in a loud and threatening tone.
Barney redoubled his Herculean efforts to gain the opposite bank.
He was in midstream now and the water had risen to his waist. The
girl saw Maenck and the other trooper emerge from the underbrush
beside the first. Maenck was crazed with anger. He shook his fist
and screamed aloud his threatening commands to halt, and then, of a
sudden, gave an order to one of the men at his side. Immediately the
fellow raised his carbine and fired at the escaping couple.
The bullet struck the water behind them. At the sound of the report
the girl raised the gun she held and leveled it at the group behind
her. She pulled the trigger. There was a sharp report, and one of
the troopers fell. Then she fired again, quickly, and again and
again. She did not score another hit, but she had the satisfaction
of seeing Maenck and the last of his troopers dodge back to the
safety of protecting trees.
"The cowards!" muttered Barney as the enemy's shot announced his
sinister intention; "they might have hit your highness."
The girl did not reply until she had ceased firing.
"Captain Maenck is notoriously a coward," she said. "He is hiding
behind a tree now with one of his men--I hit the other."
"You hit one of them!" exclaimed Barney enthusiastically.
"Yes," said the girl. "I have shot a man. I often wondered what
the sensation must be to have done such a thing. I should feel
terribly, but I don't. They were firing at you, trying to shoot you
in the back while you were defenseless. I am not sorry--I cannot be;
but I only wish that it had been Captain Maenck."
In a short time Barney reached the bank and, helping the girl up,
climbed to her side. A couple of shots followed them as they left
the river, but did not fall dangerously near. Barney took the
carbine and replied, then both of them disappeared into the wood.
For the balance of the day they tramped on in the direction of
Lustadt, making but little progress owing to the fear of
apprehension. They did not dare utilize the high road, for they were
still too close to Blentz. Their only hope lay in reaching the
protection of Prince von der Tann before they should be recaptured
by the king's emissaries. At dusk they came to the outskirts of a
town. Here they hid until darkness settled, for Barney had
determined to enter the place after dark and hire horses.
The American marveled at the bravery and endurance of the girl. He
had always supposed that a princess was so carefully guarded from
fatigue and privation all her life that the least exertion would
prove her undoing; but no hardy peasant girl could have endured more
bravely the hardships and dangers through which the Princess Emma
had passed since the sun rose that morning.
At last darkness came, and with it they approached and entered the
village. They kept to unlighted side streets until they met a
villager, of whom they inquired their way to some private house
where they might obtain refreshments. The fellow scrutinized them
with evident suspicion.
"There is an inn yonder," he said, pointing toward the main street.
"You can obtain food there. Why should respectable folk want to go
elsewhere than to the public inn? And if you are afraid to go there
you must have very good reasons for not wanting to be seen, and--"
he stopped short as though assailed by an idea. "Wait," he cried,
excitedly, "I will go and see if I can find a place for you. Wait
right here," and off he ran toward the inn.
"I don't like the looks of that," said Barney, after the man had
left them. "He's gone to report us to someone. Come, we'd better get
out of here before he comes back."
The two turned up a side street away from the inn. They had gone
but a short distance when they heard the sound of voices and the
thud of horses' feet behind them. The horses were coming at a walk
and with them were several men on foot. Barney took the princess'
hand and drew her up a hedge bordered driveway that led into private
grounds. In the shadows of the hedge they waited for the party
behind them to pass. It might be no one searching for them, but it
was just as well to be on the safe side--they were still near
Blentz. Before the men reached their hiding place a motor car
followed and caught up with them, and as the party came opposite the
driveway Barney and the princess overheard a portion of their
"Some of you go back and search the street behind the inn--they may
not have come this way." The speaker was in the motor car. "We will
follow along this road for a bit and then turn into the Lustadt
highway. If you don't find them go back along the road toward Tann."
In her excitement the Princess Emma had not noticed that Barney
Custer still held her hand in his. Now he pressed it. "It is
Maenck's voice," he whispered. "Every road will be guarded."
For a moment he was silent, thinking. The searching party had
passed on. They could still hear the purring of the motor as
Maenck's car moved slowly up the street.
"This is a driveway," murmured Barney. "People who build driveways
into their grounds usually have something to drive. Whatever it is
it should be at the other end of the driveway. Let's see if it will
Still in the shadow of the hedge they moved cautiously toward the
upper end of the private road until presently they saw a building
looming in their path.
"A garage?" whispered Barney.
"Or a barn," suggested the princess.
"In either event it should contain something that can go," returned
the American. "Let us hope that it can go like--like--ah--the wind."
"And carry two," supplemented the princess.
"Wait here," said Barney. "If I get caught, run. Whatever happens
you mustn't be caught."
Princess Emma dropped back close to the hedge and Barney approached
the building, which proved to be a private garage. The doors were
locked, as also were the three windows. Barney passed entirely
around the structure halting at last upon the darkest side. Here was
a window. Barney tried to loosen the catch with the blade of his
pocket knife, but it wouldn't unfasten. His endeavors resulted only
in snapping short the blade of his knife. For a moment he stood
contemplating the baffling window. He dared not break the glass for
fear of arousing the inmates of the house which, though he could not
see it, might be close at hand.
Presently he recalled a scene he had witnessed on State Street in
Chicago several years before--a crowd standing before the window of
a jeweler's shop inspecting a neat little hole that a thief had cut
in the glass with a diamond and through which he had inserted his
hand and brought forth several hundred dollars worth of loot. But
Barney Custer wore no diamond--he would as soon have worn a
celluloid collar. But women wore diamonds. Doubtless the Princess
Emma had one. He ran quickly to her side.
"Have you a diamond ring?" he whispered.