Part 5 out of 6
"Gracious!" she exclaimed, "you are progressing rapidly," and
slipped a solitaire from her finger to his hand.
"Thanks," said Barney. "I need the practice; but wait and you'll
see that a diamond may be infinitely more valuable than even the
broker claims," and he was gone again into the shadows of the
garage. Here upon the window pane he scratched a rough deep circle,
close to the catch. A quick blow sent the glass clattering to the
floor within. For a minute Barney stood listening for any sign that
the noise had attracted attention, but hearing nothing he ran his
hand through the hole that he had made and unlatched the frame. A
moment later he had crawled within.
Before him, in the darkness, stood a roadster. He ran his hand over
the pedals and levers, breathing a sigh of relief as his touch
revealed the familiar control of a standard make. Then he went to
the double doors. They opened easily and silently.
Once outside he hastened to the side of the waiting girl.
"It's a machine," he whispered. "We must both be in it when it
leaves the garage--it's the through express for Lustadt and makes no
stops for passengers or freight."
He led her back to the garage and helped her into the seat beside
him. As silently as possible he ran the machine into the driveway. A
hundred yards to the left, half hidden by intervening trees and
shrubbery, rose the dark bulk of a house. A subdued light shone
through the drawn blinds of several windows--the only sign of life
about the premises until the car had cleared the garage and was
moving slowly down the driveway. Then a door opened in the house
letting out a flood of light in which the figure of a man was
silhouetted. A voice broke the silence.
"Who are you? What are you doing there? Come back!"
The man in the doorway called excitedly, "Friedrich! Come! Come
quickly! Someone is stealing the automobile," and the speaker came
running toward the driveway at top speed. Behind him came Friedrich.
Both were shouting, waving their arms and threatening. Their
combined din might have aroused the dead.
Barney sought speed--silence now was useless. He turned to the left
into the street away from the center of the town. In this direction
had gone the automobile with Maenck, but by taking the first
righthand turn Barney hoped to elude the captain. In a moment
Friedrich and the other were hopelessly distanced. It was with a
sigh of relief that the American turned the car into the dark
shadows beneath the overarching trees of the first cross street.
He was running without lights along an unknown way; and beside him
was the most precious burden that Barney Custer might ever expect to
carry. Under these circumstances his speed was greatly reduced from
what he would have wished, but at that he was forced to accept grave
risks. The road might end abruptly at the brink of a ravine--it
might swerve perilously close to a stone quarry--or plunge headlong
into a pond or river. Barney shuddered at the possibilities; but
nothing of the sort happened. The street ran straight out of the
town into a country road, rather heavy with sand. In the open the
possibilities of speed were increased, for the night, though
moonless, was clear, and the road visible for some distance ahead.
The fugitives were congratulating themselves upon the excellent
chance they now had to reach Lustadt. There was only Maenck and his
companion ahead of them in the other car, and as there were several
roads by which one might reach the main highway the chances were
fair that Prince Peter's aide would miss them completely.
Already escape seemed assured when the pounding of horses' hoofs
upon the roadway behind them arose to blast their new found hope.
Barney increased the speed of the car. It leaped ahead in response
to his foot; but the road was heavy, and the sides of the ruts
gripping the tires retarded the speed. For a mile they held the lead
of the galloping horsemen. The shouts of their pursuers fell clearly
upon their ears, and the Princess Emma, turning in her seat, could
easily see the four who followed. At last the car began to draw
away--the distance between it and the riders grew gradually greater.
"I believe we are going to make it," whispered the girl, her voice
tense with excitement. "If you could only go a little faster, Mr.
Custer, I'm sure that we will."
"She's reached her limit in this sand," replied the man, "and
there's a grade just ahead--we may find better going beyond, but
they're bound to gain on us before we reach the top."
The girl strained her eyes into the night before them. On the right
of the road stood an ancient ruin--grim and forbidding. As her eyes
rested upon it she gave a little exclamation of relief.
"I know where we are now," she cried. "The hill ahead is sandy, and
there is a quarter of a mile of sand beyond, but then we strike the
Lustadt highway, and if we can reach it ahead of them their horses
will have to go ninety miles an hour to catch us--provided this car
possesses any such speed possibilities."
"If it can go forty we are safe enough," replied Barney; "but we'll
give it a chance to go as fast as it can--the farther we are from
the vicinity of Blentz the safer I shall feel for the welfare of
A shot rang behind them, and a bullet whistled high above their
heads. The princess seized the carbine that rested on the seat
"Shall I?" she asked, turning its muzzle back over the lowered top.
"Better not," answered the man. "They are only trying to frighten
us into surrendering--that shot was much too high to have been aimed
at us--they are shooting over our heads purposely. If they
deliberately attempt to pot us later, then go for them, but to do it
now would only draw their fire upon us. I doubt if they wish to harm
your highness, but they certainly would fire to hit in
The girl lowered the firearm. "I am becoming perfectly
bloodthirsty," she said, "but it makes me furious to be hunted like
a wild animal in my native land, and by the command of my king, at
that. And to think that you who placed him upon his throne, you who
have risked your life many times for him, will find no protection at
his hands should you be captured is maddening. Ach, Gott, if I were
"I thank God that you are not, your highness," returned Barney
Gently she laid her hand upon his where it gripped the steering
"No," she said, "I was wrong--I do not need to be a man while there
still be such men as you, my friend; but I would that I were not the
unhappy woman whom Fate had bound to an ingrate king--to a miserable
They had reached the grade at last, and the motor was straining to
the Herculean task imposed upon it.
Grinding and grating in second speed the car toiled upward through
the clinging sand. The pace was snail-like. Behind, the horsemen
were gaining rapidly. The labored breathing of their mounts was
audible even above the noise of the motor, so close were they. The
top of the ascent lay but a few yards ahead, and the pursuers were
but a few yards behind.
"Halt!" came from behind, and then a shot. The ping of the bullet
and the scream of the ricochet warned the man and the girl that
those behind them were becoming desperate--the bullet had struck one
of the rear fenders. Without again asking assent the princess turned
and, kneeling upon the cushion of the seat, fired at the nearest
horseman. The horse stumbled and plunged to his knees. Another, just
behind, ran upon him, and the two rolled over together with their
riders. Two more shots were fired by the remaining horsemen and
answered by the girl in the automobile, and then the car topped the
hill, shot into high, and with renewed speed forged into the last
quarter-mile of heavy going toward the good road ahead; but now the
grade was slightly downward and all the advantage was upon the side
of the fugitives.
However, their margin would be but scant when they reached the
highway, for behind them the remaining troopers were spurring their
jaded horses to a final spurt of speed. At last the white ribbon of
the main road became visible. To the right they saw the headlights
of a machine. It was Maenck probably, doubtless attracted their way
by the shooting.
But the machine was a mile away and could not possibly reach the
intersection of the two roads before they had turned to the left
toward Lustadt. Then the incident would resolve itself into a simple
test of speed between the two cars--and the ability and nerve of the
drivers. Barney hadn't the slightest doubt now as to the outcome.
His borrowed car was a good one, in good condition. And in the
matter of driving he rather prided himself that he needn't take his
hat off to anyone when it came to ability and nerve.
They were only about fifty feet from the highway. The girl touched
his hand again. "We're safe," she cried, her voice vibrant with
excitement, "we're safe at last." From beneath the bonnet, as though
in answer to her statement, came a sickly, sucking sputter. The
momentum of the car diminished. The throbbing of the engine ceased.
They sat in silence as the machine coasted toward the highway and
came to a dead stop, with its front wheels upon the road to safety.
The girl turned toward Barney with an exclamation of surprise and
"The jig's up," he groaned; "we're out of gasoline!"
The capture of Princess Emma von der Tann and Barney Custer was a
relatively simple matter. Open fields spread in all directions about
the crossroads at which their car had come to its humiliating stop.
There was no cover. To have sought escape by flight, thus in the
open, would have been to expose the princess to the fire of the
troopers. Barney could not do this. He preferred to surrender and
trust to chance to open the way to escape later.
When Captain Ernst Maenck drove up he found the prisoners disarmed,
standing beside the now-useless car. He alighted from his own
machine and with a low bow saluted the princess, an ironical smile
upon his thin lips. Then he turned his attention toward her
"Who are you?" he demanded gruffly. In the darkness he failed to
recognize the American whom he thought dead in Austria.
"A servant of the house of Von der Tann," replied Barney.
"You deserve shooting," growled the officer, "but we'll leave that
to Prince Peter and the king. When I tell them the trouble you have
caused us--well, God help you."
The journey to Blentz was a short one. They had been much nearer
that grim fortress than either had guessed. At the outskirts of the
town they were challenged by Austrian sentries, through which Maenck
passed with ease after the sentinel had summoned an officer. From
this man Maenck received the password that would carry them through
the line of outposts between the town and the castle--"Slankamen."
Barney, who overheard the word, made a mental note of it.
At last they reached the dreary castle of Peter of Blentz. In the
courtyard Austrian soldiers mingled with the men of the bodyguard of
the king of Lutha. Within, the king's officers fraternized with the
officers of the emperor. Maenck led his prisoners to the great hall
which was filled with officers and officials of both Austria and
The king was not there. Maenck learned that he had retired to his
apartments a few minutes earlier in company with Prince Peter of
Blentz and Von Coblich. He sent a servant to announce his return
with the Princess von der Tann and a man who had attempted to
prevent her being brought to Blentz.
Barney had, as far as possible, kept his face averted from Maenck
since they had entered the lighted castle. He hoped to escape
recognition, for he knew that if his identity were guessed it might
go hard with the princess. As for himself, it might go even harder,
but of that he gave scarcely a thought--the safety of the princess
After a few minutes of waiting the servant returned with the king's
command to fetch the prisoners to his apartments. The face of the
Princess Emma was haggard. For the first time Barney saw signs of
fear upon her countenance. With leaden steps they accompanied their
guard up the winding stairway to the tower rooms that had been
furnished for the king. They were the same in which Emma von der
Tann had been imprisoned two years before.
On either side of the doorway stood a soldier of the king's
bodyguard. As Captain Maenck approached they saluted. A servant
opened the door and they passed into the room. Before them were
Peter of Blentz and Von Coblich standing beside a table at which
Leopold of Lutha was sitting. The eyes of the three men were upon
the doorway as the little party entered. The king's face was flushed
with wine. He rose as his eyes rested upon the face of the princess.
"Greetings, your highness," he cried with an attempt at cordiality.
The girl looked straight into his eyes, coldly, and then bent her
knee in formal curtsy. The king was about to speak again when his
eyes wandered to the face of the American. Instantly his own went
white and then scarlet. The eyes of Peter of Blentz followed those
of the king, widening in astonishment as they rested upon the
features of Barney Custer.
"You told me he was dead," shouted the king. "What is the meaning
of this, Captain Maenck?"
Maenck looked at his male prisoner and staggered back as though
struck between the eyes.
"Mein Gott," he exclaimed, "the impostor!"
"You told me he was dead," repeated the king accusingly.
"As God is my judge, your majesty," cried Peter of Blentz, "this man
was shot by an Austrian firing squad in Burgova over a week ago."
"Sire," exclaimed Maenck, "this is the first sight I have had of the
prisoners except in the darkness of the night; until this instant I
had not the remotest suspicion of his identity. He told me that he
was a servant of the house of Von der Tann."
"I told you the truth, then," interjected Barney.
"Silence, you ingrate!" cried the king.
"Ingrate?" repeated Barney. "You have the effrontery to call me an
ingrate? You miserable puppy."
A silence, menacing in its intensity, fell upon the little
assemblage. The king trembled. His rage choked him. The others
looked as though they scarce could believe the testimony of their
own ears. All there, with the possible exception of the king, knew
that he deserved even more degrading appellations; but they were
Europeans, and to Europeans a king is a king--that they can never
forget. It had been the inherent suggestion of kingship that had
bent the knee of the Princess Emma before the man she despised.
But to the American a king was only what he made himself. In this
instance he was not even a man in the estimation of Barney Custer.
Maenck took a step toward the prisoner--a menacing step, for his
hand had gone to his sword. Barney met him with a level look from
between narrowed lids. Maenck hesitated, for he was a great coward.
Peter of Blentz spoke:
"Sire," he said, "the fellow knows that he is already as good as
dead, and so in his bravado he dares affront you. He has been
convicted of spying by the Austrians. He is still a spy. It is
unnecessary to repeat the formality of a trial."
Leopold at last found his voice, though it trembled and broke as he
"Carry out the sentence of the Austrian court in the morning," he
said. "A volley now might arouse the garrison in the town and be
Maenck ordered Barney escorted from the apartment, then he turned
toward the king.
"And the other prisoner, sire?" he inquired.
"There is no other prisoner," he said. "Her highness, the Princess
von der Tann, is a guest of Prince Peter. She will be escorted to
her apartment at once."
"Her highness, the Princess von der Tann, is not a guest of Prince
Peter." The girl's voice was low and cold. "If Mr. Custer is a
prisoner, her highness, too, is a prisoner. If he is to be shot, she
demands a like fate. To die by the side of a MAN would be infinitely
preferable to living by the side of your majesty."
Once again Leopold of Lutha reddened. For a moment he paced the
room angrily to hide his emotion. Then he turned once to Maenck.
"Escort the prisoner to the north tower," he commanded, "and this
insolent girl to the chambers next to ours. Tomorrow we shall talk
with her again."
Outside the room Barney turned for a last look at the princess as he
was being led in one direction and she in another. A smile of
encouragement was on his lips and cold hopelessness in his heart.
She answered the smile and her lips formed a silent "good-bye." They
formed something else, too--three words which he was sure he could
not have mistaken, and then they parted, he for the death chamber
and she for what fate she could but guess.
As his guard halted before a door at the far end of a long corridor
Barney Custer sensed a sudden familiarity in his surroundings. He
was conscious of that sensation which is common to all of us--of
having lived through a scene at some former time, to each minutest
As the door opened and he was pushed into the room he realized that
there was excellent foundation for the impression--he immediately
recognized the apartment as the same in which he had once before
been imprisoned. At that time he had been mistaken for the mad king
who had escaped from the clutches of Peter of Blentz. The same king
was now visiting as a guest the fortress in which he had spent ten
bitter years as a prisoner.
"Say your prayers, my friend," admonished Maenck, as he was about to
leave him alone, "for at dawn you die--and this time the firing
squad will make a better job of it."
Barney did not answer him, and the captain departed, locking the
door after him and leaving two men on guard in the corridor. Alone,
Barney looked about the room. It was in no wise changed since his
former visit to it. He recalled the incidents of the hour of his
imprisonment here, thought of old Joseph who had aided his escape,
looked at the paneled fireplace, whose secret, it was evident, not
even the master of Blentz was familiar with--and grinned.
"'For at dawn you die!'" he repeated to himself, still smiling
broadly. Then he crossed quickly to the fireplace, running his
fingers along the edge of one of the large tiled panels that hid the
entrance to the well-like shaft that rose from the cellars beneath
to the towers above and which opened through similar concealed exits
upon each floor. If the floor above should be untenanted he might be
able to reach it as he and Joseph had done two years ago when they
opened the secret panel in the fireplace and climbed a hidden ladder
to the room overhead; and then by vacant corridors reached the far
end of the castle above the suite in which the princess had been
confined and near which Barney had every reason to believe she was
Carefully Barney's fingers traversed the edges of the panel. No
hidden latch rewarded his search. Again and again he examined the
perfectly fitted joints until he was convinced either that there was
no latch there or that it was hid beyond possibility of discovery.
With each succeeding minute the American's heart and hopes sank
lower and lower. Two years had elapsed since he had seen the secret
portal swing to the touch of Joseph's fingers. One may forget much
in two years; but that he was at work upon the right panel Barney
was positive. However, it would do no harm to examine its mate which
resembled it in minutest detail.
Almost indifferently Barney turned his attention to the other panel.
He ran his fingers over it, his eyes following them. What was that?
A finger-print? Upon the left side half way up a tiny smudge was
visible. Barney examined it more carefully. A round, white figure of
the conventional design that was burned into the tile bore the
Otherwise it differed apparently in no way from the numerous other
round, white figures that were repeated many times in the scheme of
decoration. Barney placed his thumb exactly over the mark that
another thumb had left there and pushed. The figure sank into the
panel beneath the pressure. Barney pushed harder, breathless with
suspense. The panel swung in at his effort. The American could have
whooped with delight.
A moment more and he stood upon the opposite side of the secret door
in utter darkness, for he had quickly closed it after him. To strike
a match was but the matter of a moment. The wavering light revealed
the top of the ladder that led downward and the foot of another
leading aloft. He struck still more matches in search of the rope.
It was not there, but his quest revealed the fact that the well at
this point was much larger than he had imagined--it broadened into a
The light of many matches finally led him to the discovery of a
passageway directly behind the fireplace. It was narrow, and after
spanning the chimney descended by a few rough steps to a slightly
lower level. It led toward the opposite end of the castle. Could it
be possible that it connected directly with the apartments in the
farther tower--in the tower where the king was and the Princess
Emma? Barney could scarce hope for any such good luck, but at least
it was worth investigating--it must lead somewhere.
He followed it warily, feeling his way with hands and feet and
occasionally striking a match. It was evident that the corridor lay
in the thick wall of the castle, midway between the bottoms of the
windows of the second floor and the tops of those upon the
first--this would account for the slightly lower level of the
passage from the floor of the second story.
Barney had traversed some distance in the darkness along the
forgotten corridor when the sound of voices came to him from beyond
the wall at his right. He stopped, motionless, pressing his ear
against the side wall. As he did so he became aware of the fact that
at this point the wall was of wood--a large panel of hardwood. Now
he could hear even the words of the speaker upon the opposite side.
"Fetch her here, captain, and I will talk with her alone." The voice
was the king's. "And, captain, you might remove the guard from
before the door temporarily. I shall not require them, nor do I wish
them to overhear my conversation with the princess."
Barney could hear the officer acknowledge the commands of the king,
and then he heard a door close. The man had gone to fetch the
princess. The American struck a match and examined the panel before
him. It reached to the top of the passageway and was some three feet
At one side were three hinges, and at the other an ancient spring
lock. For an instant Barney stood in indecision. What should he do?
His entry into the apartments of the king would result in alarming
the entire fortress. Were he sure the king was alone it might be
accomplished. Should he enter now or wait until the Princess Emma
had been brought to the king?
With the question came the answer--a bold and daring scheme. His
fingers sought the lock. Very gently, he unlatched it and pushed
outward upon the panel. Suddenly the great doorway gave beneath his
touch. It opened a crack letting a flood of light into his dark cell
that almost blinded him.
For a moment he could see nothing, and then out of the glaring blur
grew the figure of a man sitting at a table--with his back toward
It was the king, and he was alone. Noiselessly Barney Custer
entered the apartment, closing the panel after him. At his back now
was the great oil painting of the Blentz princess that had hid the
secret entrance to the room. He crossed the thick rugs until he
stood behind the king. Then he clapped one hand over the mouth of
the monarch of Lutha and threw the other arm about his neck.
"Make the slightest outcry and I shall kill you," he whispered in
the ear of the terrified man.
Across the room Barney saw a revolver lying upon a small table. He
raised the king to his feet and, turning his back toward the weapon
dragged him across the apartment until the table was within easy
reach. Then he snatched up the revolver and swung the king around
into a chair facing him, the muzzle of the gun pressed against his
"Silence," he whispered.
The king, white and trembling, gasped as his eyes fell upon the face
of the American.
"You?" His voice was barely audible.
"Take off your clothes--every stitch of them--and if any one asks
for admittance, deny them. Quick, now," as the king hesitated. "My
life is forfeited unless I can escape. If I am apprehended I shall
see that you pay for my recapture with your life--if any one enters
this room without my sanction they will enter it to find a dead king
upon the floor; do you understand?"
The king made no reply other than to commence divesting himself of
his clothing. Barney followed his example, but not before he had
crossed to the door that opened into the main corridor and shot the
bolt upon the inside. When both men had removed their clothing
Barney pointed to the little pile of soiled peasant garb that he had
"Put those on," he commanded.
The king hesitated, drawing back in disgust. Barney paused,
half-way into the royal union suit, and leveled the revolver at
Leopold. The king picked up one of the garments gingerly between the
tips of his thumb and finger.
"Hurry!" admonished the American, drawing the silk half-hose of the
ruler of Lutha over his foot. "If you don't hurry," he added,
"someone may interrupt us, and you know what the result would be--to
Scowling, Leopold donned the rough garments. Barney, fully clothed
in the uniform the king had been wearing, stepped across the
apartment to where the king's sword and helmet lay upon the side
table that had also borne the revolver. He placed the helmet upon
his head and buckled the sword-belt about his waist, then he faced
the king, behind whom was a cheval glass. In it Barney saw his
image. The king was looking at the American, his eyes wide and his
jaw dropped. Barney did not wonder at his consternation. He himself
was dumbfounded by the likeness which he bore to the king. It was
positively uncanny. He approached Leopold.
"Remove your rings," he said, holding out his hand. The king did as
he was bid, and Barney slipped the two baubles upon his fingers. One
of them was the royal ring of the kings of Lutha.
The American now blindfolded the king and led him toward the panel
which had given him ingress to the room. Through it the two men
passed, Barney closing the panel after them. Then he conducted the
king back along the dark passageway to the room which the American
had but recently quitted. At the back of the panel which led into
his former prison Barney halted and listened. No sound came from
beyond the partition. Gently Barney opened the secret door a
trifle--just enough to permit him a quick survey of the interior of
the apartment. It was empty. A smile crossed his face as he thought
of the difficulty Leopold might encounter the following morning in
convincing his jailers that he was not the American.
Then he recalled his reflection in the cheval glass and frowned.
Could Leopold convince them? He doubted it--and what then? The
American was sentenced to be shot at dawn. They would shoot the king
instead. Then there would be none to whom to return the kingship.
What would he do with it? The temptation was great. Again a throne
lay within his grasp--a throne and the woman he loved. None might
ever know unless he chose to tell--his resemblance to Leopold was
too perfect. It defied detection.
With an exclamation of impatience he wheeled about and dragged the
frightened monarch back to the room from which he had stolen him. As
he entered he heard a knock at the door.
"Do not disturb me now," he called. "Come again in half an hour."
"But it is Her Highness, Princess Emma, sire," came a voice from
beyond the door. "You summoned her."
"She may return to her apartments," replied Barney.
All the time he kept his revolver leveled at the king, from his eyes
he had removed the blind after they had entered the apartment. He
crossed to the table where the king had been sitting when he
surprised him, motioning the ragged ruler to follow and be seated.
"Take that pen," he said, "and write a full pardon for Mr. Bernard
Custer, and an order requiring that he be furnished with money and
set at liberty at dawn."
The king did as he was bid. For a moment the American stood looking
at him before he spoke again.
"You do not deserve what I am going to do for you," he said. "And
Lutha deserves a better king than the one my act will give her; but
I am neither a thief nor a murderer, and so I must forbear leaving
you to your just deserts and return your throne to you. I shall do
so after I have insured my own safety and done what I can for
Lutha--what you are too little a man and king to do yourself.
"So soon as they liberate you in the morning, make the best of your
way to Brosnov, on the Serbian frontier. Await me there. When I can,
I shall come. Again we may exchange clothing and you can return to
Lustadt. I shall cross over into Siberia out of your reach, for I
know you too well to believe that any sense of honor or gratitude
would prevent you signing my death-warrant at the first opportunity.
Once again Barney led the blindfolded king through the dark corridor
to the room in the opposite tower--to the prison of the American. At
the open panel he shoved him into the apartment. Then he drew the
door quietly to, leaving the king upon the inside, and retraced his
steps to the royal apartments. Crossing to the center table, he
touched an electric button. A moment later an officer knocked at the
door, which, in the meantime, Barney had unbolted.
"Enter!" said the American. He stood with his back toward the door
until he heard it close behind the officer. When he turned he was
apparently examining his revolver. If the officer suspected his
identity, it was just as well to be prepared. Slowly he raised his
eyes to the newcomer, who stood stiffly at salute. The officer
looked him full in the face.
"I answered your majesty's summons," said the man.
"Oh, yes!" returned the American. "You may fetch the Princess
The officer saluted once more and backed out of the apartment.
Barney walked to the table and sat down. A tin box of cigarettes lay
beside the lamp. Barney lighted one of them. The king had good taste
in the selection of tobacco, he thought. Well, a man must need have
some redeeming characteristics.
Outside, in the corridor, he heard voices, and again the knock at
the door. He bade them enter. As the door opened Emma von der Tann,
her head thrown back and a flush of anger on her face, entered the
room. Behind her was the officer who had been despatched to bring
her. Barney nodded to the latter.
"You may go," he said. He drew a chair from the table and asked the
princess to be seated. She ignored his request.
"What do you wish of me?" she asked. She was looking straight into
his eyes. The officer had withdrawn and closed the door after him.
They were alone, with nothing to fear; yet she did not recognize
"You are the king," she continued in cold, level tones, "but if you
are also a gentleman, you will at once order me returned to my
father at Lustadt, and with me the man to whom you owe so much. I do
not expect it of you, but I wish to give you the chance.
"I shall not go without him. I am betrothed to you; but until
tonight I should rather have died than wed you. Now I am ready to
compromise. If you will set Mr. Custer at liberty in Serbia and
return me unharmed to my father, I will fulfill my part of our
Barney Custer looked straight into the girl's face for a long
moment. A half smile played upon his lips at the thought of her
surprise when she learned the truth, when suddenly it dawned upon
him that she and he were both much safer if no one, not even her
loyal self, guessed that he was other than the king. It is not
difficult to live a part, but often it is difficult to act one. Some
little word or look, were she to know that he was Barney Custer,
might betray them; no, it was better to leave her in ignorance,
though his conscience pricked him for the disloyalty that his act
It seemed a poor return for her courage and loyalty to him that her
statement to the man she thought king had revealed. He marveled that
a Von der Tann could have spoken those words--a Von der Tann who but
the day before had refused to save her father's life at the loss of
the family honor. It seemed incredible to the American that he had
won such love from such a woman. Again came the mighty temptation to
keep the crown and the girl both; but with a straightening of his
broad shoulders he threw it from him.
She was promised to the king, and while he masqueraded in the king's
clothes, he at least would act the part that a king should. He drew
a folded paper from his inside pocket and handed it to the girl.
"Here is the American's pardon," he said, "drawn up and signed by
the king's own hand."
She opened it and, glancing through it hurriedly, looked up at the
man before her with a questioning expression in her eyes.
"You came, then," she said, "to a realization of the enormity of
The man shrugged.
"He will never die at my command," he said.
"I thank your majesty," she said simply. "As a Von der Tann, I have
tried to believe that a Rubinroth could not be guilty of such
baseness. And now, tell me what your answer is to my proposition."
"We shall return to Lustadt tonight," he replied. "I fear the
purpose of Prince Peter. In fact, it may be difficult--even
impossible--for us to leave Blentz; but we can at least make the
"Can we not take Mr. Custer with us?" she asked. "Prince Peter may
disregard your majesty's commands and, after you are gone, have him
shot. Do not forget that he kept the crown from Peter of Blentz--it
is certain that Prince Peter will never forget it."
"I give you my word, your highness, that I know positively that if I
leave Blentz tonight Prince Peter will not have Mr. Custer shot in
the morning, and it will so greatly jeopardize his own plans if we
attempt to release the prisoner that in all probability we ourselves
will be unable to escape."
She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment.
"You give me your word that he will be safe?" she asked.
"My royal word," he replied.
"Very well, let us leave at once."
Barney touched the bell once more, and presently an officer of the
Blentz faction answered the summons. As the man closed the door and
approached, saluting, Barney stepped close to him.
"We are leaving for Tann tonight," he said, "at once. You will
conduct us from the castle and procure horses for us. All the time I
shall walk at your elbow, and in my hand I shall carry this," and he
displayed the king's revolver. "At the first indication of defection
upon your part I shall kill you. Do you perfectly understand me?"
"But, your majesty," exclaimed the officer, "why is it necessary
that you leave thus surreptitiously? May not the king go and come in
his own kingdom as he desires? Let me announce your wishes to Prince
Peter that he may furnish you with a proper escort. Doubtless he
will wish to accompany you himself, sire."
"You will do precisely what I say without further comment," snapped
Barney. "Now get a--" He had been about to say: "Now get a move on
you," when it occurred to him that this was not precisely the sort
of language that kings were supposed to use to their inferiors. So
he changed it. "Now get a couple of horses for her highness and
myself, as well as your own, for you will accompany us to Tann."
The officer looked at the weapon in the king's hand. He measured
the distance between himself and the king. He well knew the reputed
cowardice of Leopold. Could he make the leap and strike up the
king's hand before the timorous monarch found even the courage of
the cornered rat to fire at him? Then his eyes sought the face of
the king, searching for the signs of nervous terror that would make
his conquest an easy one; but what he saw in the eyes that bored
straight into his brought his own to the floor at the king's feet.
What new force animated Leopold of Lutha? Those were not the eyes
of a coward. No fear was reflected in their steely glitter. The
officer mumbled an apology, saluted, and turned toward the door. At
his elbow walked the impostor; a cavalry cape that had belonged to
the king now covered his shoulders and hid the weapon that pressed
its hard warning now and again into the short-ribs of the Blentz
officer. Just behind the American came the Princess Emma von der
The three passed through the deserted corridors of the sleeping
castle, taking a route at Barney's suggestion that led them to the
stable courtyard without necessitating traversing the main corridors
or the great hall or the guardroom, in all of which there still were
Austrian and Blentz soldiers, whose duties or pleasures had kept
them from their blankets.
At the stables a sleepy groom answered the summons of the officer,
whom Barney had warned not to divulge the identity of himself or the
princess. He left the princess in the shadows outside the building.
After what seemed an eternity to the American, three horses were led
into the courtyard, saddled, and bridled. The party mounted and
approached the gates. Here, Barney knew, might be encountered the
most serious obstacle in their path. He rode close to the side of
their unwilling conductor. Leaning forward in his saddle, he
whispered in the man's ear.
"Failure to pass us through the gates," he said, "will be the signal
for your death."
The man reined in his mount and turned toward the American.
"I doubt if they will pass even me without a written order from
Prince Peter," he said. "If they refuse, you must reveal your
identity. The guard is composed of Luthanians--I doubt if they will
dare refuse your majesty."
Then they rode on up to the gates. A soldier stepped from the
sentry box and challenged them.
"Lower the drawbridge," ordered the officer. "It is Captain
Krantzwort on a mission for the king."
The soldier approached, raising a lantern, which he had brought from
the sentry box, and inspected the captain's face. He seemed ill at
ease. In the light of the lantern, the American saw that he was
scarce more than a boy--doubtless a recruit. He saw the expression
of fear and awe with which he regarded the officer, and it occurred
to him that the effect of the king's presence upon him would be
absolutely overpowering. Still the soldier hesitated.
"My orders are very strict, sir," he said. "I am to let no one
leave without a written order from Prince Peter. If the sergeant or
the lieutenant were here they would know what to do; but they are
both at the castle--only two other soldiers are at the gates with
me. Wait, and I will send one of them for the lieutenant."
"No," interposed the American. "You will send for no one, my man.
Come closer--look at my face."
The soldier approached, holding his lantern above his head. As its
feeble rays fell upon the face and uniform of the man on horseback,
the sentry gave a little gasp of astonishment.
"Now, lower the drawbridge," said Barney Custer, "it is your king's
Quickly the fellow hastened to obey the order. The chains creaked
and the windlass groaned as the heavy planking sank to place across
As Barney passed the soldier he handed him the pardon Leopold had
written for the American.
"Give this to your lieutenant," he said, "and tell him to hand it to
Prince Peter before dawn tomorrow. Do not fail."
A moment later the three were riding down the winding road toward
Blentz. Barney had no further need of the officer who rode with
them. He would be glad to be rid of him, for he anticipated that the
fellow might find ample opportunity to betray them as they passed
through the Austrian lines, which they must do to reach Lustadt.
He had told the captain that they were going to Tann in order that,
should the man find opportunity to institute pursuit, he might be
thrown off the track. The Austrian sentries were no great distance
ahead when Barney ordered a halt.
"Dismount," he directed the captain, leaping to the ground himself
at the same time. "Put your hands behind your back."
The officer did as he was bid, and Barney bound his wrists securely
with a strap and buckle that he had removed from the cantle of his
saddle as he rode. Then he led him off the road among some weeds and
compelled him to lie down, after which he bound his ankles together
and stuffed a gag in his mouth, securing it in place with a bit of
stick and the chinstrap from the man's helmet. The threat of the
revolver kept Captain Krantzwort silent and obedient throughout the
"Good-bye, captain," whispered Barney, "and let me suggest that you
devote the time until your discovery and release in pondering the
value of winning your king's confidence in the future. Had you
chosen your associates more carefully in the past, this need not
Barney unsaddled the captain's horse and turned him loose, then he
remounted and, with the princess at his side, rode down toward
A NEW KING IN LUTHA
As the two riders approached the edge of the village of Blentz a
sentry barred their way. To his challenge the American replied that
they were "friends from the castle."
"Advance," directed the sentry, "and give the countersign."
Barney rode to the fellow's side, and leaning from the saddle
whispered in his ear the word "Slankamen."
Would it pass them out as it had passed Maenck in? Barney scarcely
breathed as he awaited the result of his experiment. The soldier
brought his rifle to present and directed them to pass. With a sigh
of relief that was almost audible the two rode into the village and
the Austrian lines.
Once within they met with no further obstacle until they reached the
last line of sentries upon the far side of the town. It was with
more confidence that Barney gave the countersign here, nor was he
surprised that the soldier passed them readily; and now they were
upon the highroad to Lustadt, with nothing more to bar their way.
For hours they rode on in silence. Barney wanted to talk with his
companion, but as king he found nothing to say to her. The girl's
mind was filled with morbid reflections of the past few hours and
dumb terror for the future. She would keep her promise to the king;
but after--life would not be worth the living; why should she live?
She glanced at the man beside her in the light of the coming dawn.
Ah, why was he so like her American in outward appearances only?
Their own mothers could scarce have distinguished them, and yet in
character no two men could have differed more widely. The man turned
"We are almost there," he said. "You must be very tired."
The words reflected a consideration that had never been a
characteristic of Leopold. The girl began to wonder if there might
not possibly be a vein of nobility in the man, after all, that she
had never discovered. Since she had entered his apartments at Blentz
he had been in every way a different man from the Leopold she had
known of old. The boldness of his escape from Blentz supposed a
courage that the king had never given the slightest indication of in
the past. Could it be that he was making a genuine effort to become
a man--to win her respect?
They were approaching Lustadt as the sun rose. A troop of horse was
just emerging from the north gate. As it neared them they saw that
the cavalrymen wore the uniforms of the Royal Horse Guard. At their
head rode a lieutenant. As his eyes fell upon the face of the
princess and her companion, he brought his troopers to a halt, and,
with incredulity plain upon his countenance, advanced to meet them,
his hand raised in salute to the king. It was Butzow.
Now Barney was sure that he would be recognized. For two years he
and the Luthanian officer had been inseparable. Surely Butzow would
penetrate his disguise. He returned his friend's salute, looked him
full in the eyes, and asked where he was riding.
"To Blentz, your majesty," replied Butzow, "to demand an audience.
I bear important word from Prince von der Tann. He has learned the
Austrians are moving an entire army corps into Lutha, together with
siege howitzers. Serbia has demanded that all Austrian troops be
withdrawn from Luthanian territory at once, and has offered to
assist your majesty in maintaining your neutrality by force, if
As Butzow spoke his eyes were often upon the Princess Emma, and it
was quite evident that he was much puzzled to account for her
presence with the king. She was supposed to be at Tann, and Butzow
knew well enough her estimate of Leopold to know that she would not
be in his company of her own volition. His expression as he
addressed the man he supposed to be his king was far from
deferential. Barney could scarce repress a smile.
"We will ride at once to the palace," he said. "At the gate you may
instruct one of your sergeants to telephone to will act as our
Butzow saluted and turned to his troopers, giving the necessary
commands that brought them about in the wake of the pseudo-king.
Once again Barney Custer, of Beatrice, rode into Lustadt as king of
Lutha. The few people upon the streets turned to look at him as he
passed, but there was little demonstration of love or enthusiasm.
Leopold had awakened no emotions of this sort in the hearts of his
subjects. Some there were who still remembered the gallant actions
of their ruler on the field of battle when his forces had defeated
those of the regent, upon that other occasion when this same
American had sat upon the throne of Lutha for two days and had led
the little army to victory; but since then the true king had been
with them daily in his true colors. Arrogance, haughtiness, and
petty tyranny had marked his reign. Taxes had gone even higher than
under the corrupt influence of the Blentz regime. The king's days
were spent in bed; his nights in dissipation. Old Ludwig von der
Tann seemed Lutha's only friend at court. Him the people loved and
It was the old chancellor who met them as they entered the
palace--the Princess Emma, Lieutenant Butzow, and the false king. As
the old man's eyes fell upon his daughter, he gave an exclamation of
surprise and of incredulity. He looked from her to the American.
"What is the meaning of this, your majesty?" he cried in a voice
hoarse with emotion. "What does her highness in your company?"
There was neither fear nor respect in Prince Ludwig's tone--only
anger. He was demanding an accounting from Leopold, the man; not
from Leopold, the king. Barney raised his hand.
"Wait," he said, "before you judge. The princess was brought to
Blentz by Prince Peter. She will tell you that I have aided her to
escape and that I have accorded her only such treatment as a woman
has a right to expect from a king."
The girl inclined her head.
"His majesty has been most kind," she said. "He has treated me with
every consideration and respect, and I am convinced that he was not
a willing party to my arrest and forcible detention at Blentz; or,"
she added, "if he was, he regretted his action later and has made
full reparation by bringing me to Lustadt."
Prince von der Tann found difficulty in hiding his surprise at this
evidence of chivalry in the cowardly king. But for his daughter's
testimony he could not have believed it possible that it lay within
the nature of Leopold of Lutha to have done what he had done within
the past few hours.
He bowed low before the man who wore the king's uniform. The
American extended his hand, and Von der Tann, taking it in his own,
raised it to his lips.
"And now," said Barney briskly, "let us go to my apartments and get
to work. Your highness"--and he turned toward the Princess
Emma--"must be greatly fatigued. Lieutenant Butzow, you will see
that a suite is prepared for her highness. Afterward you may call
upon Count Zellerndorf, whom I understand returned to Lustadt
yesterday, and notify him that I will receive him in an hour. Inform
the Serbian minister that I desire his presence at the palace
immediately. Lose no time, lieutenant, and be sure to impress upon
the Serbian minister that immediately means immediately."
Butzow saluted and the Princess Emma curtsied, as the king turned
and, slipping his arm through that of Prince Ludwig, walked away in
the direction of the royal apartments. Once at the king's desk
Barney turned toward the chancellor. In his mind was the
determination to save Lutha if Lutha could be saved. He had been
forced to place the king in a position where he would be helpless,
though that he would have been equally as helpless upon his throne
the American did not doubt for an instant. However, the course of
events had placed within his hands the power to serve not only Lutha
but the house of Von der Tann as well. He would do in the king's
place what the king should have done if the king had been a man.
"Now, Prince Ludwig," he said, "tell me just what conditions we must
face. Remember that I have been at Blentz and that there the King of
Lutha is not apt to learn all that transpires in Lustadt."
"Sire," replied the chancellor, "we face a grave crisis. Not only
is there within Lutha the small force of Austrian troops that
surround Blentz, but now an entire army corps has crossed the
border. Unquestionably they are marching on Lustadt. The emperor is
going to take no chances. He sent the first force into Lutha to
compel Serbian intervention and draw Serbian troops from the
Austro-Serbian battle line. Serbia has withheld her forces at my
request, but she will not withhold them for long. We must make a
declaration at once. If we declare against Austria we are faced by
the menace of the Austrian troops already within our boundaries, but
we shall have Serbia to help us.
"A Serbian army corps is on the frontier at this moment awaiting
word from Lutha. If it is adverse to Austria that army corps will
cross the border and march to our assistance. If it is favorable to
Austria it will none the less cross into Lutha, but as enemies
instead of allies. Serbia has acted honorably toward Lutha. She has
not violated our neutrality. She has no desire to increase her
possessions in this direction.
"On the other hand, Austria has violated her treaty with us. She
has marched troops into our country and occupied the town of Blentz.
Constantly in the past she has incited internal discord. She is
openly championing the Blentz cause, which at last I trust your
majesty has discovered is inimical to your interests.
"If Austria is victorious in her war with Serbia, she will find some
pretext to hold Lutha whether Lutha takes her stand either for or
against her. And most certainly is this true if it occurs that
Austrian troops are still within the boundaries of Lutha when peace
is negotiated. Not only our honor but our very existence demands
that there be no Austrian troops in Lutha at the close of this war.
If we cannot force them across the border we can at least make such
an effort as will win us the respect of the world and a voice in the
"If we must bow to the surrender of our national integrity, let us
do so only after we have exhausted every resource of the country in
our country's defense. In the past your majesty has not appeared to
realize the menace of your most powerful neighbor. I beg of you,
sire, to trust me. Believe that I have only the interests of Lutha
at heart, and let us work together for the salvation of our country
and your majesty's throne."
Barney laid his hand upon the old man's shoulder. It seemed a shame
to carry the deception further, but the American well knew that only
so could he accomplish aught for Lutha or the Von der Tanns. Once
the old chancellor suspected the truth as to his identity he would
be the first to denounce him.
"I think that you and I can work together, Prince Ludwig," he said.
"I have sent for the Serbian and Austrian ministers. The former
should be here immediately."
Nor did they have long to wait before the tall Slav was announced.
Barney lost no time in getting down to business. He asked no
questions. What Von der Tann had told him, what he had seen with his
own eyes since he had entered Lutha, and what he had overheard in
the inn at Burgova was sufficient evidence that the fate of Lutha
hung upon the prompt and energetic decisions of the man who sat upon
Lutha's throne for the next few days.
Had Leopold been the present incumbent Lutha would have been lost,
for that he would play directly into the hands of Austria was not to
be questioned. Were Von der Tann to seize the reins of government a
state of revolution would exist that would divide the state into two
bitter factions, weaken its defense, and give Austria what she most
desired--a plausible pretext for intervention.
Lutha's only hope lay in united defense of her liberties under the
leadership of the one man whom all acknowledged king--Leopold. Very
well, Barney Custer, of Beatrice, would be Leopold for a few days,
since the real Leopold had proven himself incompetent to meet the
General Petko, the Serbian minister to Lutha, brought to the
audience the memory of a series of unpleasant encounters with the
king. Leopold had never exerted himself to hide his pro-Austrian
sentiments. Austria was a powerful country--Serbia, a relatively
weak neighbor. Leopold, being a royal snob, had courted the favor of
the emperor and turned up his nose at Serbia. The general was
prepared for a repetition of the veiled affronts that Leopold
delighted in according him; but this time he brought with him a
reply that for two years he had been living in the hope of some day
being able to deliver to the young monarch he so cordially despised.
It was an ultimatum from his government--an ultimatum couched in
terms from which all diplomatic suavity had been stripped. If Barney
Custer, of Beatrice, could have read it he would have smiled, for in
plain American it might have been described as announcing to Leopold
precisely "where he got off." But Barney did not have the
opportunity to read it, since that ultimatum was never delivered.
Barney took the wind all out of it by his first words. "Your
excellency may wonder why it is that we have summoned you at such an
early hour," he said.
General Petko inclined his head in deferential acknowledgment of the
truth of the inference.
"It is because we have learned from our chancellor," continued the
American, "that Serbia has mobilized an entire army corps upon the
Luthanian frontier. Am I correctly informed?"
General Petko squared his shoulders and bowed in assent. At the same
time he reached into his breast-pocket for the ultimatum.
"Good!" exclaimed Barney, and then he leaned close to the ear of the
Serbian. "How long will it take to move that army corps to Lustadt?"
General Petko gasped and returned the ultimatum to his pocket.
"Sire!" he cried, his face lighting with incredulity. "You mean--"
"I mean," said the American, "that if Serbia will loan Lutha an army
corps until the Austrians have evacuated Luthanian territory, Lutha
will loan Serbia an army corps until such time as peace is declared
between Serbia and Austria. Other than this neither government will
incur any obligations to the other.
"We may not need your help, but it will do us no harm to have them
well on the way toward Lustadt as quickly as possible. Count
Zellerndorf will be here in a few minutes. We shall, through him,
give Austria twenty-four hours to withdraw all her troops beyond our
frontiers. The army of Lutha is mobilized before Lustadt. It is not
a large army, but with the help of Serbia it should be able to drive
the Austrians from the country, provided they do not leave of their
General Petko smiled. So did the American and the chancellor. Each
knew that Austria would not withdraw her army from Lutha.
"With your majesty's permission I will withdraw," said the Serbian,
"and transmit Lutha's proposition to my government; but I may say
that your majesty need have no apprehension but that a Serbian army
corps will be crossing into Lutha before noon today."
"And now, Prince Ludwig," said the American after the Serbian had
bowed himself out of the apartment, "I suggest that you take
immediate steps to entrench a strong force north of Lustadt along
the road to Blentz."
Von der Tann smiled as he replied. "It is already done, sire," he
"But I passed in along the road this morning," said Barney, "and saw
nothing of such preparations."
"The trenches and the soldiers were there, nevertheless, sire,"
replied the old man, "only a little gap was left on either side of
the highway that those who came and went might not suspect our plans
and carry word of them to the Austrians. A few hours will complete
the link across the road."
"Good! Let it be completed at once. Here is Count Zellerndorf
now," as the minister was announced.
Von der Tann bowed himself out as the Austrian entered the king's
presence. For the first time in two years the chancellor felt that
the destiny of Lutha was safe in the hands of her king. What had
caused the metamorphosis in Leopold he could not guess. He did not
seem to be the same man that had whined and growled at their last
audience a week before.
The Austrian minister entered the king's presence with an expression
of ill-concealed surprise upon his face. Two days before he had left
Leopold safely ensconced at Blentz, where he was to have remained
indefinitely. He glanced hurriedly about the room in search of
Prince Peter or another of the conspirators who should have been
with the king. He saw no one. The king was speaking. The Austrian's
eyes went wider, not only at the words, but at the tone of voice.
"Count Zellerndorf," said the American, "you were doubtless aware of
the embarrassment under which the king of Lutha was compelled at
Blentz to witness the entry of a foreign army within his domain. But
we are not now at Blentz. We have summoned you that you may receive
from us, and transmit to your emperor, the expression of our
surprise and dismay at the unwarranted violation of Luthanian
"But, your majesty--" interrupted the Austrian.
"But nothing, your excellency," snapped the American. "The moment
for diplomacy is passed; the time for action has come. You will
oblige us by transmitting to your government at once a request that
every Austrian soldier now in Lutha be withdrawn by noon tomorrow."
Zellerndorf looked his astonishment.
"Are you mad, sire?" he cried. "It will mean war!"
"It is what Austria has been looking for," snapped the American,
"and what people look for they usually get, especially if they
chance to be looking for trouble. When can you expect a reply from
"By noon, your majesty," replied the Austrian, "but are you
irretrievably bound to your present policy? Remember the power of
Austria, sire. Think of your throne. Think--"
"We have thought of everything," interrupted Barney. "A throne means
less to us than you may imagine, count; but the honor of Lutha means
a great deal."
At five o'clock that afternoon the sidewalks bordering Margaretha
Street were crowded with promenaders. The little tables before the
cafes were filled. Nearly everyone spoke of the great war and of the
peril which menaced Lutha. Upon many a lip was open disgust at the
supine attitude of Leopold of Lutha in the face of an Austrian
invasion of his country. Discontent was open. It was ripening to
something worse for Leopold than an Austrian invasion.
Presently a sergeant of the Royal Horse Guards cantered down the
street from the palace. He stopped here and there, and, dismounting,
tacked placards in conspicuous places. At the notice, and in each
instance cheers and shouting followed the sergeant as he rode on to
the next stop.
Now, at each point men and women were gathered, eagerly awaiting an
explanation of the jubilation farther up the street. Those whom the
sergeant passed called to him for an explanation, and not receiving
it, followed in a quickly growing mob that filled Margaretha Street
from wall to wall. When he dismounted he had almost to fight his way
to the post or door upon which he was to tack the next placard. The
crowd surged about him in its anxiety to read what the placard bore,
and then, between the cheering and yelling, those in the front
passed back to the crowd the tidings that filled them with so great
"Leopold has declared war on Austria!" "The king calls for
volunteers!" "Long live the king!"
The battle of Lustadt has passed into history. Outside of the
little kingdom of Lutha it received but passing notice by the world
at large, whose attention was riveted upon the great conflicts along
the banks of the Meuse, the Marne, and the Aisne. But in Lutha! Ah,
it will be told and retold, handed down from mouth to mouth and from
generation to generation to the end of time.
How the cavalry that the king sent north toward Blentz met the
advancing Austrian army. How, fighting, they fell back upon the
infantry which lay, a thin line that stretched east and west across
the north of Lustadt, in its first line of trenches. A pitifully
weak line it was, numerically, in comparison with the forces of the
invaders; but it stood its ground heroically, and from the heights
to the north of the city the fire from the forts helped to hold the
enemy in check for many hours.
And then the enemy succeeded in bringing up their heavy artillery to
the ridge that lies three miles north of the forts. Shells were
bursting in the trenches, the forts, and the city. To the south a
stream of terror-stricken refugees was pouring out of Lustadt along
the King's Road. Rich and poor, animated by a common impulse, filled
the narrow street that led to the city's southern gate. Carts drawn
by dogs, laden donkeys, French limousines, victorias,
wheelbarrows--every conceivable wheeled vehicle and beast of
burden--were jammed in a seemingly inextricable tangle in the mad
rush for safety.
Rumor passed back and forth through the fleeing thousands. Now came
word that Fort No. 2 had been silenced by the Austrian guns.
Immediately followed news that the Luthanian line was falling back
upon the city. Fear turned to panic. Men fought to outdistance their
A shell burst upon a roof-top in an adjoining square.
Women fainted and were trampled. Hoarse shouts of anger mingled
with screams of terror, and then into the midst of it from
Margaretha Street rode a man on horseback. Behind him were a score
of officers. A trumpeter raised his instrument to his lips, and
above the din of the fleeing multitude rose the sharp, triple call
that announces the coming of the king. The mob halted and turned.
Looking down upon them from his saddle was Leopold of Lutha. His
palm was raised for silence and there was a smile upon his lips.
Quite suddenly, and as by a miracle, fear left them. They made a
line for him and his staff to ride through. One of the officers
turned in his saddle to address a civilian friend in an automobile.
"His majesty is riding to the firing line," he said and he raised
his voice that many might hear. Quickly the word passed from mouth
to mouth, and as Barney Custer, of Beatrice, passed along Margaretha
Street he was followed by a mad din of cheering that drowned the
booming of the distant cannon and the bursting of the shells above
The balance of the day the pseudo-king rode back and forth along his
lines. Three of his staff were killed and two horses were shot from
beneath him, but from the moment that he appeared the Luthanian line
ceased to waver or fall back. The advanced trenches that they had
abandoned to the Austrians they took again at the point of the
bayonet. Charge after charge they repulsed, and all the time there
hovered above the enemy Lutha's sole aeroplane, watching, watching,
ever watching for the coming of the allies. Somewhere to the
northeast the Serbians were advancing toward Lustadt. Would they
come in time?
It was five o'clock in the morning of the second day, and though the
Luthanian line still held, Barney Custer knew that it could not hold
for long. The Austrian artillery fire, which had been rather wild
the preceding day, had now become of deadly accuracy. Each bursting
shell filled some part of the trenches with dead and wounded, and
though their places were taken by fresh men from the reserve, there
would soon be no reserve left to call upon.
At his left, in the rear, the American had massed the bulk of his
reserves, and at the foot of the heights north of the city and just
below the forts the major portion of the cavalry was drawn up in the
shelter of a little ravine. Barney's eyes were fixed upon the
In his hand was his watch. He would wait another fifteen minutes,
and if by then the signal had not come that the Serbians were
approaching, he would strike the blow that he had decided upon. From
time to time he glanced at his watch.
The fifteen minutes had almost elapsed when there fluttered from the
tiny monoplane a paper parachute. It dropped for several hundred
feet before it spread to the air pressure and floated more gently
toward the earth and a moment later there burst from its basket a
puff of white smoke. Two more parachutes followed the first and two
more puffs of smoke. Then the machine darted rapidly off toward the
Barney turned to Prince von der Tann with a smile. "They are none
too soon," he said.
The old prince bowed in acquiescence. He had been very happy for
two days. Lutha might be defeated now, but she could never be
subdued. She had a king at last--a real king. Gott! How he had
changed. It reminded Prince von der Tann of the day he had ridden
beside the imposter two years before in the battle with the forces
of Peter of Blentz. Many times he had caught himself scrutinizing
the face of the monarch, searching for some proof that after all he
was not Leopold.
"Direct the commanders of forts three and four to concentrate their
fire on the enemy's guns directly north of Fort No. 3," Barney
directed an aide. "Simultaneously let the cavalry and Colonel
Kazov's infantry make a determined assault on the Austrian
Then he turned his horse toward the left of his line, where, a
little to the rear, lay the fresh troops that he had been holding in
readiness against this very moment. As he galloped across the plain,
his staff at his heels, shrapnel burst about them. Von der Tann
spurred to his side.
"Sire," he cried, "it is unnecessary that you take such grave risks.
Your staff is ready and willing to perform such service that you may
be preserved to your people and your throne."
"I believe the men fight better when they think their king is
watching them," said the American simply.
"I know it, sire," replied Von der Tann, "but even so, Lutha could
ill afford to lose you now. I thank God, your majesty, that I have
lived to see this day--to see the last of the Rubinroths upholding
the glorious traditions of the Rubinroth blood."
Barney led the reserves slowly through the wood to the rear of the
extreme left of his line. The attack upon the Austrian right center
appeared to be meeting with much greater success than the American
dared to hope for. Already, through his glasses, he could see
indications that the enemy was concentrating a larger force at this
point to repulse the vicious assaults of the Luthanians. To do this
they must be drawing from their reserves back of other portions of
It was what Barney had desired. The three bombs from the aeroplane
had told him that the Serbians had been sighted three miles away.
Already they were engaging the Austrians. He could hear the rattle
of rifles and quick-firers and the roar of cannon far to the
northeast. And now he gave the word to the commander of the reserve.
At a rapid trot the men moved forward behind the extreme left end of
the Luthanian left wing. They were almost upon the Austrians before
they emerged from the shelter of the wood, and then with hoarse
shouts and leveled bayonets they charged the enemy's position. The
fight there was the bloodiest of the two long days. Back and forth
the tide of battle surged. In the thick of it rode the false king
encouraging his men to greater effort. Slowly at last they bore the
Austrians from their trenches. Back and back they bore them until
retreat became a rout. The Austrian right was crumpled back upon its
Here the enemy made a determined stand; but just before dark a great
shouting arose from the heights to their left, where the bulk of
their artillery was stationed. Both the Luthanian and Austrian
troops engaged in the plain saw Austrian infantry and artillery
running down the slopes in disorderly rout. Upon their heads came a
cheering line of soldiers firing as they ran, and above them waved
the battleflag of Serbia.
A mighty shout rose from the Luthanian ranks--an answering groan
from the throats of the Austrians. Hemmed in between the two lines
of allies, the Austrians were helpless. Their artillery was
captured, retreat cut off. There was but a single alternative to
massacre--the white flag.
A few regiments between Lustadt and Blentz, but nearer the latter
town, escaped back into Austria, the balance Barney arranged with
the Serbian minister to have taken back to Serbia as prisoners of
war. The Luthanian army corps that the American had promised the
Serbs was to be utilized along the Austrian frontier to prevent the
passage of Austrian troops into Serbia through Lutha.
The return to Lustadt after the battle was made through cheering
troops and along streets choked with joy-mad citizenry. The name of
the soldier-king was upon every tongue. Men went wild with
enthusiasm as the tall figure rode slowly through the crowd toward
Von der Tann, grim and martial, found his lids damp with the
moisture of a great happiness. Even now with all the proofs of
reality about him, it seemed impossible that this scene could be
aught but the ephemeral vapors of a dream--that Leopold of Lutha,
the coward, the craven, could have become in a single day the heroic
figure that had loomed so large upon the battlefield of Lustadt--the
simple, modest gentleman who received the plaudits of his subjects
with bowed head and humble mien.
As Barney Custer rode up Margaretha Street toward the royal palace
of the kings of Lutha, a dust-covered horseman in the uniform of an
officer of the Horse Guards entered Lustadt from the south. It was
the young aide of Prince von der Tann's staff, who had been sent to
Blentz nearly a week earlier with a message for the king, and who
had been captured and held by the Austrians.
During the battle before Lustadt all the Austrian troops had been
withdrawn from Blentz and hurried to the front. It was then that the
aide had been transferred to the castle, from which he had escaped
early that morning. To reach Lustadt he had been compelled to circle
the Austrian position, coming to Lustadt from the south.
Once within the city he rode straight to the palace, flung himself
from his jaded mount, and entered the left wing of the building--the
wing in which the private apartments of the chancellor were located.
Here he inquired for the Princess Emma, learning with evident relief
that she was there. A moment later, white with dust, his face
streamed with sweat, he was ushered into her presence.
"Your highness," he blurted, "the king's commands have been
disregarded--the American is to be shot tomorrow. I have just
escaped from Blentz. Peter is furious. He realizes that whether the
Austrians win or lose, his standing with the king is gone forever.
"In a fit of rage he has ordered that Mr. Custer be sacrificed to
his desire for revenge, in the hope that it will insure for him the
favor of the Austrians. Something must be done at once if he is to
For a moment the girl swayed as though about to fall. The young
officer stepped quickly to support her, but before he reached her
side she had regained complete mastery of herself. From the street
without there rose the blare of trumpets and the cheering of the
Through senses numb with the cold of anguish the meaning of the
tumult slowly filtered to her brain--the king had come. He was
returning from the battlefield, covered with honors and flushed with
glory--the man who was to be her husband; but there was no rejoicing
in the heart of the Princess Emma.
Instead, there was a dull ache and impotent rebellion at the
injustice of the thing--that Leopold should be reaping these great
rewards, while he who had made it possible for him to be a king at
all was to die on the morrow because of what he had done to place
the Rubinroth upon his throne.
"Perhaps Lieutenant Butzow might find a way," suggested the officer.
"He or your father; they are both fond of Mr. Custer."
"Yes," said the girl dully, "see Lieutenant Butzow--he would do the
The officer bowed and hastened from the apartment in search of
Butzow. The girl approached the window and stood there for a long
time, looking out at the surging multitude that pressed around the
palace gates, filling Margaretha Street with a solid mass of happy
They cheered the king, the chancellor, the army; but most often they
cheered the king. From a despised monarch Leopold had risen in a
single bound to the position of a national idol.
Repeatedly he was called to the balcony over the grand entrance that
the people might feast their eyes on him. The princess wondered how
long it was before she herself would be forced to offer her
congratulations and, perchance, suffer his caresses. She shivered
and cringed at the thought, and then there came a knock upon the
door, and in answer to her permission it opened, and the king stood
upon the threshold alone.
At a glance the man took in the pain and sorrow mirrored upon the
girl's face. He stepped quickly across the room toward her.
"What is it?" he asked. "What is the matter?"
For a moment he had forgotten the part that he had been
playing--forgot that the Princess Emma was ignorant of his identity.
He had come to her to share with her the happiness of the hour--the
glory of the victorious arms of Lutha. For a time he had almost
forgotten that he was not the king, and now he was forgetting that
he was not Barney Custer to the girl who stood before him with
misery and hopelessness writ so large upon her countenance.
For a brief instant the girl did not reply. She was weighing the
problematical value of an attempt to enlist the king in the cause of
the American. Leopold had shown a spark of magnanimity when he had
written a pardon for Mr. Custer; might he not rise again above his
petty jealousy and save the American's life? It was a forlorn hope
to the woman who knew the true Leopold so well; but it was a hope.
"What is the matter?" the king repeated.
"I have just received word that Prince Peter has ignored your
commands, sire," replied the girl, "and that Mr. Custer is to be
Barney's eyes went wide with incredulity. Here was a pretty pass,
indeed! The princess came close to him and seized his arm.
"You promised, sire," she said, "that he would not be harmed--you
gave your royal word. You can save him. You have an army at your
command. Do not forget that he once saved you."
The note of appeal in her voice and the sorrow in her eyes gave
Barney Custer a twinge of compunction. The necessity for longer
concealing his identity in so far as the salvation of Lutha was
concerned seemed past; but the American had intended to carry the
deception to the end.
He had given the matter much thought, but he could find no grounds
for belief that Emma von der Tann would be any happier in the
knowledge that her future husband had had nothing to do with the
victory of his army. If she was doomed to a life at his side, why
not permit her the grain of comfort that she might derive from the
memory of her husband's achievements upon the battlefield of
Lustadt? Why rob her of that little?
But now, face to face with her, and with the evidence of her
suffering so plain before him, Barney's intentions wavered. Like
most fighting men, he was tender in his dealings with women. And now
the last straw came in the form of a single tiny tear that trickled
down the girl's cheek. He seized the hand that lay upon his arm.
"Your highness," he said, "do not grieve for the American. He is not
worth it. He has deceived you. He is not at Blentz."
The girl drew her hand from his and straightened to her full height.
"What do you mean, sire?" she exclaimed. "Mr. Custer would not
deceive me even if he had an opportunity--which he has not had. But
if he is not at Blentz, where is he?"
Barney bowed his head and looked at the floor.
"He is here, your highness, asking your forgiveness," he said.
There was a puzzled expression upon the girl's face as she looked at
the man before her. She did not understand. Why should she? Barney
drew a diamond ring from his little finger and held it out to her.
"You gave it to me to cut a hole in the window of the garage where I
stole the automobile," he said. "I forgot to return it. Now do you
know who I am?"
Emma von der Tann's eyes showed her incredulity; then, act by act,
she recalled all that this man had said and done since they had
escaped from Blentz that had been so unlike the king she knew.
"When did you assume the king's identity?" she asked.
Barney told her all that had transpired in the king's apartments at
Blentz before she had been conducted to the king's presence.
"And Leopold is there now?" she asked.
"He is there," replied Barney, "and he is to be shot in the
"Gott!" exclaimed the girl. "What are we to do?"
"There is but one thing to do," replied the American, "and that is
for Butzow and me to ride to Blentz as fast as horses will carry us
and rescue the king."
"And then?" asked the girl, a shadow crossing her face.
"And then Barney Custer will have to beat it for the boundary," he
replied with a sorry smile.
She came quite close to him, laying her hands upon his shoulders.
"I cannot give you up now," she said simply. "I have tried to be
loyal to Leopold and the promise that my father made his king when I
was only a little girl; but since I thought that you were to be
shot, I have wished a thousand times that I had gone with you to
America two years ago. Take me with you now, Barney. We can send
Lieutenant Butzow to rescue the king, and before he has returned we
can be safe across the Serbian frontier."
The American shook his head.
"I got the king into this mess and I must get him out," he said.
"He may deserve to be shot, but it is up to me to prevent it, if I
can. And there is your father to consider. If Butzow rides to Blentz
and rescues the king, it may be difficult to get him back to Lustadt
without the truth of his identity and mine becoming known. With me
there, the change can be effected easily, and not even Butzow need
know what has happened.
"If the people should guess that it was not Leopold who won the
battle of Lustadt there might be the devil to pay, and your father
would go down along with the throne. No, I must stay until Leopold
is safe in Lustadt. But there is a hope for us. I may be able to
wrest from Leopold his sanction of our marriage. I shall not
hesitate to use threats to get it, and I rather imagine that he will
be in such a terror-stricken condition that he will assent to any
terms for his release from Blentz. If he gives me such a paper,
Emma, will you marry me?"
Perhaps there never had been a stranger proposal than this; but to
neither did it seem strange. For two years each had known the love
of the other. The girl's betrothal to the king had prevented an
avowal of their love while Barney posed in his own identity. Now
they merely accepted the conditions that had existed for two years
as though a matter of fact which had been often discussed between
"Of course I'll marry you," said the princess. "Why in the world
would I want you to take me to America otherwise?"
As Barney Custer took her in his arms he was happier than he had
ever before been in all his life, and so, too, was the Princess Emma
von der Tann.
LEOPOLD WAITS FOR DAWN
After the American had shoved him through the secret doorway into
the tower room of the castle of Blentz, Leopold had stood for
several minutes waiting for the next command from his captor.
Presently, hearing no sound other than that of his own breathing,
the king ventured to speak. He asked the American what he purposed
doing with him next.
There was no reply. For another minute the king listened intently;
then he raised his hands and removed the bandage from his eyes. He
looked about him. The room was vacant except for himself. He
recognized it as the one in which he had spent ten years of his life
as a prisoner. He shuddered. What had become of the American? He
approached the door and listened. Beyond the panels he could hear
the two soldiers on guard there conversing. He called to them.
"What do you want?" shouted one of the men through the closed door.
"I want Prince Peter!" yelled the king. "Send him at once!"
The soldiers laughed.
"He wants Prince Peter," they mocked. "Wouldn't you rather have us
send the king to you?" they asked.
"I am the king!" yelled Leopold. "I am the king! Open the door,
pigs, or it will go hard with you! I shall have you both shot in the
morning if you do not open the door and fetch Prince Peter."
"Ah!" exclaimed one of the soldiers. "Then there will be three of
us shot together."
Leopold went white. He had not connected the sentence of the
American with himself; but now, quite vividly, he realized what it
might mean to him if he failed before dawn to convince someone that
he was not the American. Peter would not be awake at so early an
hour, and if he had no better success with others than he was having
with these soldiers, it was possible that he might be led out and
shot before his identity was discovered. The thing was preposterous.
The king's knees became suddenly quite weak. They shook, and his
legs gave beneath his weight so that he had to lean against the back
of a chair to keep from falling.
Once more he turned to the soldiers. This time he pleaded with
them, begging them to carry word to Prince Peter that a terrible
mistake had been made, and that it was the king and not the American
who was confined in the death chamber. But the soldiers only laughed
at him, and finally threatened to come in and beat him if he again
interrupted their conversation.
It was a white and shaken prisoner that the officer of the guard
found when he entered the room at dawn. The man before him, his face
streaked with tears of terror and self-pity, fell upon his knees
before him, beseeching him to carry word to Peter of Blentz, that he
was the king. The officer drew away with a gesture of disgust.
"I might well believe from your actions that you are Leopold," he
said; "for, by Heaven, you do not act as I have always imagined the
American would act in the face of danger. He has a reputation for
bravery that would suffer could his admirers see him now."
"But I am not the American," pleaded the king. "I tell you that the
American came to my apartments last night, overpowered me, forced me
to change clothing with him, and then led me back here."
A sudden inspiration came to the king with the memory of all that
had transpired during that humiliating encounter with the American.
"I signed a pardon for him!" he cried. "He forced me to do so. If
you think I am the American, you cannot kill me now, for there is a
pardon signed by the king, and an order for the American's immediate
release. Where is it? Do not tell me that Prince Peter did not
"He received it," replied the officer, "and I am here to acquaint
you with the fact, but Prince Peter said nothing about your release.
All he told me was that you were not to be shot this morning," and
the man emphasized the last two words.
Leopold of Lutha spent two awful days a prisoner at Blentz, not
knowing at what moment Prince Peter might see fit to carry out the
verdict of the Austrian court martial. He could convince no one that
he was the king. Peter would not even grant him an audience. Upon
the evening of the third day, word came that the Austrians had been
defeated before Lustadt, and those that were not prisoners were
retreating through Blentz toward the Austrian frontier.
The news filtered to Leopold's prison room through the servant who
brought him his scant and rough fare. The king was utterly
disheartened before this word reached him. For the moment he seemed
to see a ray of hope, for, since the impostor had been victorious,
he would be in a position to force Peter of Blentz to give up the
There was the chance that the American, flushed with success and
power, might elect to hold the crown he had seized. Who would guess
the transfer that had been effected, or, guessing, would dare voice
his suspicions in the face of the power and popularity that Leopold
knew such a victory as the impostor had won must have given him in
the hearts and minds of the people of Lutha? Still, there was a bare
possibility that the American would be as good as his word, and
return the crown as he had promised. Though he hated to admit it,
the king had every reason to believe that the impostor was a man of
honor, whose bare word was as good as another's bond.
He was commencing, under this line of reasoning, to achieve a
certain hopeful content when the door to his prison opened and Peter
of Blentz, black and scowling, entered. At his elbow was Captain
"Leopold has defeated the Austrians," announced the former. "Until
you returned to Lutha he considered the Austrians his best friends.
I do not know how you could have reached or influenced him. It is to
learn how you accomplished it that I am here. The fact that he
signed your pardon indicates that his attitude toward you changed
suddenly--almost within an hour. There is something at the bottom of
it all, and that something I must know."
"I am Leopold!" cried the king. "Don't you recognize me, Prince
Peter? Look at me! Maenck must know me. It was I who wrote and
signed the American's pardon--at the point of the American's
revolver. He forced me to exchange clothing with him, and then he
brought me here to this room and left me."
The two men looked at the speaker and smiled.
"You bank too strongly, my friend," said Peter of Blentz, "upon your
resemblance to the king of Lutha. I will admit that it is strong,
but not so strong as to convince me of the truth of so improbable a
story. How in the world could the American have brought you through
the castle, from one end to the other, unseen? There was a guard
before the king's door and another before this. No, Herr Custer, you
will have to concoct a more plausible tale.
"No," and Peter of Blentz scowled savagely, as though to impress
upon his listener the importance of his next utterance, "there were
more than you and the king involved in his sudden departure from
Blentz and in his hasty change of policy toward Austria. To be quite
candid, it seems to me that it may be necessary to my future
welfare--vitally necessary, I may say--to know precisely how all
this occurred, and just what influence you have over Leopold of
Lutha. Who was it that acted as the go-between in the king's
negotiations with you, or rather, yours with the king? And what
argument did you bring to bear to force Leopold to the action he
"I have told you all that I know about the matter," whined the king.
"The American appeared suddenly in my apartment. When he brought me
here he first blindfolded me. I have no idea by what route we
traveled through the castle, and unless your guards outside this
door were bribed they can tell you more about how we got in here
than I can--provided we entered through that doorway," and the king
pointed to the door which had just opened to admit his two visitors.
"Oh, pshaw!" exclaimed Maenck. "There is but one door to this
room--if the king came in here at all, he came through that door."
"Enough!" cried Peter of Blentz. "I shall not be trifled with
longer. I shall give you until tomorrow morning to make a full
explanation of the truth and to form some plan whereby you may
utilize once more whatever influence you had over Leopold to the end
that he grant to myself and my associates his royal assurance that
our lives and property will be safe in Lutha."
"But I tell you it is impossible," wailed the king.
"I think not," sneered Prince Peter, "especially when I tell you
that if you do not accede to my wishes the order of the Austrian
military court that sentenced you to death at Burgova will be
carried out in the morning."
With his final words the two men turned and left the room. Behind
them, upon the floor, inarticulate with terror, knelt Leopold of
Lutha, his hands outstretched in supplication.
The long night wore its weary way to dawn at last. The sleepless
man, alternately tossing upon his bed and pacing the floor, looked
fearfully from time to time at the window through which the
lightening of the sky would proclaim the coming day and his last
hour on earth. His windows faced the west. At the foot of the hill
beneath the castle nestled the village of Blentz, once more
enveloped in peaceful silence since the Austrians were gone.
An unmistakable lessening of the darkness in the east had just
announced the proximity of day, when the king heard a clatter of
horses' hoofs upon the road before the castle. The sound ceased at
the gates and a loud voice broke out upon the stillness of the dying
night demanding entrance "in the name of the king."
New hope burst aflame in the breast of the condemned man. The
impostor had not forsaken him. Leopold ran to the window, leaning
far out. He heard the voices of the sentries in the barbican as they
conversed with the newcomers. Then silence came, broken only by the
rapid footsteps of a soldier hastening from the gate to the castle.
His hobnail shoes pounding upon the cobbles of the courtyard echoed
among the angles of the lofty walls. When he had entered the castle
the silence became oppressive. For five minutes there was no sound
other than the pawing of the horses outside the barbican and the
subdued conversation of their riders.
Presently the soldier emerged from the castle. With him was an
officer. The two went to the barbican. Again there was a parley
between the horsemen and the guard. Leopold could hear the officer
demanding terms. He would lower the drawbridge and admit them upon
One of these the king overheard--it concerned an assurance of full
pardon for Peter of Blentz and the garrison; and again Leopold heard
the officer addressing someone as "your majesty."
Ah, the impostor was there in person. Ach, Gott! How Leopold of
Lutha hated him, and yet, in the hands of this American lay not only
his throne but his very life as well.
Evidently the negotiations proved unsuccessful for after a time the
party wheeled their horses from the gate and rode back toward
Blentz. As the sound of the iron-shod hoofs diminished in the
distance, with them diminished the hopes of the king.
When they ceased entirely his hopes were at an end, to be supplanted
by renewed terror at the turning of the knob of his prison door as
it swung open to admit Maenck and a squad of soldiers.
"Come!" ordered the captain. "The king has refused to intercede in
your behalf. When he returns with his army he will find your body at
the foot of the west wall in the courtyard."
With an ear-piercing shriek that rang through the grim old castle,
Leopold of Lutha flung his arms above his head and lunged forward
upon his face. Roughly the soldiers seized the unconscious man and
dragged him from the room.
Along the corridor they hauled him and down the winding stairs
within the north tower to the narrow slit of a door that opened upon
the courtyard. To the foot of the west wall they brought him,
tossing him brutally to the stone flagging. Here one of the soldiers
brought a flagon of water and dashed it in the face of the king. The
cold douche returned Leopold to a consciousness of the nearness of
his impending fate.
He saw the little squad of soldiers before him. He saw the cold,
gray wall behind, and, above, the cold, gray sky of early dawn. The
dismal men leaning upon their shadowy guns seemed unearthly specters
in the weird light of the hour that is neither God's day nor devil's
night. With difficulty two of them dragged Leopold to his feet.
Then the dismal men formed in line before him at the opposite side
of the courtyard. Maenck stood to the left of them. He was giving
commands. They fell upon the doomed man's ears with all the cruelty
of physical blows. Tears coursed down his white cheeks. With
incoherent mumblings he begged for his life. Leopold, King of Lutha,
trembling in the face of death!
THE TWO KINGS
Twenty troopers had ridden with Lieutenant Butzow and the false king
from Lustadt to Blentz. During the long, hard ride there had been
little or no conversation between the American and his friend, for
Butzow was still unsuspicious of the true identity of the man who
posed as the ruler of Lutha. The lieutenant was all anxiety to reach
Blentz and rescue the American he thought imprisoned there and in
danger of being shot.
At the gate they were refused admittance unless the king would
accept conditions. Barney refused--there was another way to gain
entrance to Blentz that not even the master of Blentz knew. Butzow
urged him to accede to anything to save the life of the American. He
recalled all that the latter had done in the service of Lutha and
Leopold. Barney leaned close to the other's ear.
"If they have not already shot him," he whispered, "we shall save
the prisoner yet. Let them think that we give up and are returning
to Lustadt. Then follow me."
Slowly the little cavalcade rode down from the castle of Blentz
toward the village. Just out of sight of the grim pile where the
road wound down into a ravine Barney turned his horse's head up the
narrow defile. In single file Butzow and the troopers followed until
the rank undergrowth precluded farther advance. Here the American
directed that they dismount, and, leaving the horses in charge of
three troopers, set out once more with the balance of the company on
It was with difficulty that the men forced their way through the
bushes, but they had not gone far when their leader stopped before a
sheer wall of earth and stone, covered with densely growing
shrubbery. Here he groped in the dim light, feeling his way with his
hands before him, while at his heels came his followers. At last he
separated a wall of bushes and disappeared within the aperture his
hands had made. One by one his men followed, finding themselves in
inky darkness, but upon a smooth stone floor and with stone walls
close upon either hand. Those who lifted their hands above their
heads discovered an arched stone ceiling close above them.
Along this buried corridor the "king" led them, for though he had
never traversed it himself the Princess Emma had, and from her he
had received minute directions. Occasionally he struck a match, and
presently in the fitful glare of one of these he and those directly
behind him saw the foot of a ladder that disappeared in the Stygian
"Follow me up this, very quietly," he said to those behind him. "Up
to the third landing."
They did as he bid them. At the third landing Barney felt for the
latch he knew was there--he was on familiar ground now. Finding it
he pushed open the door it held in place, and through a tiny crack
surveyed the room beyond. It was vacant. The American threw the door
wide and stepped within. Directly behind him was Butzow, his eyes
wide in wonderment. After him filed the troopers until seventeen of
them stood behind their lieutenant and the "king."
Through the window overlooking the courtyard came a piteous wailing.
Barney ran to the casement and looked out. Butzow was at his side.
"Himmel!" ejaculated the Luthanian. "They are about to shoot him.
Quick, your majesty," and without waiting to see if he were followed
the lieutenant raced for the door of the apartment. Close behind him
came the American and the seventeen.
It took but a moment to reach the stairway down which the rescuers