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The Mad King by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Part 6 out of 6

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tumbled pell-mell.

Maenck was giving his commands to the firing squad with fiendish
deliberation and delay. He seemed to enjoy dragging out the agony
that the condemned man suffered. But it was this very cruelty that
caused Maenck's undoing and saved the life of Leopold of Lutha. Just
before he gave the word to fire Maenck paused and laughed aloud at
the pitiable figure trembling and whining against the stone wall
before him, and during that pause a commotion arose at the tower
doorway behind the firing squad.

Maenck turned to discover the cause of the interruption, and as he
turned he saw the figure of the king leaping toward him with leveled
revolver. At the king's back a company of troopers of the Royal
Horse Guard was pouring into the courtyard.

Maenck snatched his own revolver from his hip and fired point-blank
at the "king." The firing squad had turned at the sound of assault
from the rear. Some of them discharged their pieces at the advancing
troopers. Butzow gave a command and seventeen carbines poured their
deadly hail into the ranks of the Blentz retainers. At Maenck's shot
the "king" staggered and fell to the pavement.

Maenck leaped across his prostrate form, yelling to his men "Shoot
the American." Then he was lost to Barney's sight in the
hand-to-hand scrimmage that was taking place. The American tried to
regain his feet, but the shock of the wound in his breast had
apparently paralyzed him for the moment. A Blentz soldier was
running toward the prisoner standing open-mouthed against the wall.
The fellow's rifle was raised to his hip--his intention was only too

Barney drew himself painfully and slowly to one elbow. The man was
rapidly nearing the true Leopold. In another moment he would shoot.
The American raised his revolver and, taking careful aim, fired. The
soldier shrieked, covered his face with his hands, spun around once,
and dropped at the king's feet.

The troopers under Butzow were forcing the men of Blentz toward the
far end of the courtyard. Two of the Blentz faction were standing a
little apart, backing slowly away and at the same time deliberately
firing at the king. Barney seemed the only one who noticed them.
Once again he raised his revolver and fired. One of the men sat down
suddenly, looked vacantly about him, and then rolled over upon his
side. The other fired once more at the king and the same instant
Barney fired at the soldier. Soldier and king--would-be assassin and
his victim--fell simultaneously. Barney grimaced. The wound in his
breast was painful. He had done his best to save the king. It was no
fault of his that he had failed. It was a long way to Beatrice. He
wondered if Emma von der Tann would be on the station platform,
awaiting him--then he swooned.

Butzow and his seventeen had it all their own way in the courtyard
and castle of Blentz. After the first resistance the soldiery of
Peter fled to the guardroom. Butzow followed them, and there they
laid down their arms. Then the lieutenant returned to the courtyard
to look for the king and Barney Custer. He found them both, and both
were wounded. He had them carried to the royal apartments in the
north tower. When Barney regained consciousness he found the
scowling portrait of the Blentz princess frowning down upon him. He
lay upon a great bed where the soldiers, thinking him king, had
placed him. Opposite him, against the farther wall, the real king
lay upon a cot. Butzow was working over him.

"Not so bad, after all, Barney," the lieutenant was saying. "Only a
flesh wound in the calf of the leg."

The king made no reply. He was afraid to declare his identity.
First he must learn the intentions of the impostor. He only closed
his eyes wearily. Presently he asked a question.

"Is he badly wounded?" and he indicated the figure upon the great

Butzow turned and crossed to where the American lay. He saw that the
latter's eyes were open and that he was conscious.

"How does your majesty feel?" he asked. There was more respect in
his tone than ever before. One of the Blentz soldiers had told him
how the "king," after being wounded by Maenck, had raised himself
upon his elbow and saved the prisoner's life by shooting three of
his assailants.

"I thought I was done for," answered Barney Custer, "but I rather
guess the bullet struck only a glancing blow. It couldn't have
entered my lungs, for I neither cough nor spit blood. To tell you
the truth, I feel surprisingly fit. How's the prisoner?"

"Only a flesh wound in the calf of his left leg, sire," replied

"I am glad," was Barney's only comment. He didn't want to be king
of Lutha; but he had foreseen that with the death of the king his
imposture might be forced upon him for life.

After Butzow and one of the troopers had washed and dressed the
wounds of both men Barney asked them to leave the room.

"I wish to sleep," he said. "If I require you I will ring."

Saluting, the two backed from the apartment. Just as they were
passing through the doorway the American called out to Butzow.

"You have Peter of Blentz and Maenck in custody?" he asked.

"I regret having to report to your majesty," replied the officer,
"that both must have escaped. A thorough search of the entire castle
has failed to reveal them."

Barney scowled. He had hoped to place these two conspirators once
and for all where they would never again threaten the peace of the
throne of Lutha--in hell. For a moment he lay in thought. Then he
addressed the officer again.

"Leave your force here," he said, "to guard us. Ride, yourself, to
Lustadt and inform Prince von der Tann that it is the king's desire
that every effort be made to capture these two men. Have them
brought to Lustadt immediately they are apprehended. Bring them dead
or alive."

Again Butzow saluted and prepared to leave the room.

"Wait," said Barney. "Convey our greetings to the Princess von der
Tann, and inform her that my wound is of small importance, as is
also that of the--Mr. Custer. You may go, lieutenant."

When they were alone Barney turned toward the king. The other lay
upon his side glaring at the American. When he caught the latter's
eyes upon him he spoke.

"What do you intend doing with me?" he said. "Are you going to keep
your word and return my identity?"

"I have promised," replied Barney, "and what I promise I always

"Then exchange clothing with me at once," cried the king, half
rising from his cot.

"Not so fast, my friend," rejoined the American. "There are a few
trifling details to be arranged before we resume our proper

"Do you realize that you should be hanged for what you have done?"
snarled the king. "You assaulted me, stole my clothing, left me here
to be shot by Peter, and sat upon my throne in Lustadt while I lay a
prisoner condemned to death."

"And do you realize," replied Barney, "that by so doing I saved your
foolish little throne for you; that I drove the invaders from your
dominions; that I have unmasked your enemies, and that I have once
again proven to you that the Prince von der Tann is your best friend
and most loyal supporter?"

"You laid your plebeian hands upon me," cried the king, raising his
voice. "You humiliated me, and you shall suffer for it."

Barney Custer eyed the king for a long moment before he spoke again.
It was difficult to believe that the man was so devoid of gratitude,
and so blind as not to see that even the rough treatment that he had
received at the American's hands was as nothing by comparison with
the service that the American had done him. Apparently Leopold had
already forgotten that three times Barney Custer had saved his life
in the courtyard below. From the man's demeanor, now that his life
was no longer at stake, Barney caught an inkling of what his
attitude might be when once again he was returned to the despotic
power of his kingship.

"It is futile to reason with you," he said. "There is only one way
to handle such as you. At present I hold the power to coerce you,
and I shall continue to hold that power until I am safely out of
your two-by-four kingdom. If you do as I say you shall have your
throne back again. If you refuse, why by Heaven you shall never have
it. I'll stay king of Lutha myself."

"What are your terms?" asked the king.

"That Prince Peter of Blentz, Captain Ernst Maenck, and old Von
Coblich be tried, convicted, and hanged for high treason," replied
the American.

"That is easy," said the king. "I should do so anyway immediately I
resumed my throne. Now get up and give me my clothes. Take this cot
and I will take the bed. None will know of the exchange."

"Again you are too fast," answered Barney. "There is another


"You must promise upon your royal honor that Ludwig, Prince von der
Tann, remain chancellor of Lutha during your life or his."

"Very well," assented the king. "I promise," and again he half rose
from his cot.

"Hold on a minute," admonished the American; "there is yet one more
condition of which I have not made mention."

"What, another?" exclaimed Leopold testily. "How much do you want
for returning to me what you have stolen?"

"So far I have asked for nothing for myself," replied Barney. "Now
I am coming to that part of the agreement. The Princess Emma von der
Tann is betrothed to you. She does not love you. She has honored me
with her affection, but she will not wed until she has been formally
released from her promise to wed Leopold of Lutha. The king must
sign such a release and also a sanction of her marriage to Barney
Custer, of Beatrice. Do you understand what I want?"

The king went livid. He came to his feet beside the cot. For the
moment, his wound was forgotten. He tottered toward the impostor.

"You scoundrel!" he screamed. "You scoundrel! You have stolen my
identity and my throne and now you wish to steal the woman who loves

"Don't get excited, Leo," warned the American, "and don't talk so
loud. The Princess doesn't love you, and you know it as well as I.
She will never marry you. If you want your dinky throne back you'll
have to do as I desire; that is, sign the release and the sanction.

"Now let's don't have any heroics about it. You have the
proposition. Now I am going to sleep. In the meantime you may think
it over. If the papers are not ready when it comes time for us to
leave, and from the way I feel now I rather think I shall be ready
to mount a horse by morning, I shall ride back to Lustadt as king of
Lutha, and I shall marry her highness into the bargain, and you may
go hang!

"How the devil you will earn a living with that king job taken away
from you I don't know. You're a long way from New York, and in the
present state of carnage in Europe I rather doubt that there are
many headwaiters jobs open this side of the American metropolis, and
I can't for the moment think of anything else at which you would
shine--with all due respect to some excellent headwaiters I have

For some time the king remained silent. He was thinking. He
realized that it lay in the power of the American to do precisely
what he had threatened to do. No one would doubt his identity. Even
Peter of Blentz had not recognized the real king despite Leopold's
repeated and hysterical claims.

Lieutenant Butzow, the American's best friend, had no more suspected
the exchange of identities. Von der Tann, too, must have been
deceived. Everyone had been deceived. There was no hope that the
people, who really saw so little of their king, would guess the
deception that was being played upon them. Leopold groaned. Barney
opened his eyes and turned toward him.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"I will sign the release and the sanction of her highness' marriage
to you," said the king.

"Good!" exclaimed the American. "You will then go at once to
Brosnov as originally planned. I will return to Lustadt and get her
highness, and we will immediately leave Lutha via Brosnov. There you
and I will effect a change of raiment, and you will ride back to
Lustadt with the small guard that accompanies her highness and me to
the frontier."

"Why do you not remain in Lustadt?" asked the king. "You could as
well be married there as elsewhere."

"Because I don't trust your majesty," replied the American. "It must
be done precisely as I say or not at all. Are you agreeable?"

The king assented with a grumpy nod.

"Then get up and write as I dictate," said Barney. Leopold of Lutha
did as he was bid. The result was two short, crisply worded
documents. At the bottom of each was the signature of Leopold of
Lutha. Barney took the two papers and carefully tucked them beneath
his pillow.

"Now let's sleep," he said. "It is getting late and we both need
the rest. In the morning we have long rides ahead of us. Good

The king did not respond. In a short time Barney was fast asleep.
The light still burned.



The Blentz princess frowned down upon the king and impostor
impartially from her great gilt frame. It must have been close to
midnight that the painting moved--just a fraction of an inch. Then
it remained motionless for a time. Again it moved. This time it
revealed a narrow crack at its edge. In the crack an eye shone.

One of the sleepers moved. He opened his eyes. Stealthily he
raised himself on his elbow and gazed at the other across the
apartment. He listened intently. The regular breathing of the
sleeper proclaimed the soundness of his slumber. Gingerly the man
placed one foot upon the floor. The eye glued to the crack at the
edge of the great, gilt frame of the Blentz princess remained
fastened upon him. He let his other foot slip to the floor beside
the first. Carefully he raised himself until he stood erect upon the
floor. Then, on tiptoe he started across the room.

The eye in the dark followed him. The man reached the side of the
sleeper. Bending over he listened intently to the other's breathing.
Satisfied that slumber was profound he stepped quickly to a wardrobe
in which a soldier had hung the clothing of both the king and the
American. He took down the uniform of the former, casting from time
to time apprehensive glances toward the sleeper. The latter did not
stir, and the other passed to the little dressing-room adjoining.

A few minutes later he reentered the apartment fully clothed and
wearing the accouterments of Leopold of Lutha. In his hand was a
drawn sword. Silently and swiftly he crossed to the side of the
sleeping man. The eye at the crack beside the gilded frame pressed
closer to the aperture. The sword was raised above the body of the
slumberer--its point hovered above his heart. The face of the man
who wielded it was hard with firm resolve.

His muscles tensed to drive home the blade, but something held his
hand. His face paled. His shoulders contracted with a little
shudder, and he turned toward the door of the apartment, almost
running across the floor in his anxiety to escape. The eye in the
dark maintained its unblinking vigilance.

With his hand upon the knob a sudden thought stayed the fugitive's
flight. He glanced quickly back at the sleeper--he had not moved.
Then the man who wore the uniform of the king of Lutha recrossed the
apartment to the bed, reached beneath one of the pillows and
withdrew two neatly folded official-looking documents. These he
placed in the breastpocket of his uniform. A moment later he was
walking down the spiral stairway to the main floor of the castle.

In the guardroom the troopers of the Royal Horse who were not on
guard were stretched in slumber. Only a corporal remained awake. As
the man entered the guardroom the corporal glanced up, and as his
eyes fell upon the newcomer, he sprang to his feet, saluting.

"Turn out the guard!" he cried. "Turn out the guard for his
majesty, the king!"

The sleeping soldiers, but half awake, scrambled to their feet,
their muscles reacting to the command that their brains but half
perceived. They snatched their guns from the racks and formed a line
behind the corporal. The king raised his fingers to the vizor of his
helmet in acknowledgment of their salute.

"Saddle up quietly, corporal," he said. "We shall ride to Lustadt

The non-commissioned officer saluted. "And an extra horse for Herr
Custer?" he said.

The king shook his head. "The man died of his wound about an hour
ago," he said. "While you are saddling up I shall arrange with some
of the Blentz servants for his burial--now hurry!"

The corporal marched his troopers from the guardroom toward the
stables. The man in the king's clothes touched a bell which was
obviously a servant call. He waited impatiently a reply to his
summons, tapping his finger-tips against the sword-scabbard that was
belted to his side. At last a sleepy-eyed man responded--a man who
had grown gray in the service of Peter of Blentz. At sight of the
king he opened his eyes in astonishment, pulled his foretop, and
bowed uneasily.

"Come closer," whispered the king. The man did so, and the king
spoke in his ear earnestly, but in scarce audible tones. The eyes of
the listener narrowed to mere slits--of avarice and cunning, cruelly
cold and calculating. The speaker searched through the pockets of
the king's clothes that covered him. At last he withdrew a roll of
bills. The amount must have been a large one, but he did not stop to
count it. He held the money under the eyes of the servant. The
fellow's claw-like fingers reached for the tempting wealth. He
nodded his head affirmatively.

"You may trust me, sire," he whispered.

The king slipped the money into the other's palm. "And as much
more," he said, "when I receive proof that my wishes have been

"Thank you, sire," said the servant.

The king looked steadily into the other's face before he spoke

"And if you fail me," he said, "may God have mercy on your soul."
Then he wheeled and left the guardroom, walking out into the
courtyard where the soldiers were busy saddling their mounts.

A few minutes later the party clattered over the drawbridge and down
the road toward Blentz and Lustadt. From a window of the apartments
of Peter of Blentz a man watched them depart. When they passed
across a strip of moonlit road, and he had counted them, he smiled
with relief.

A moment later he entered a panel beside the huge fireplace in the
west wall and disappeared. There he struck a match, found a candle
and lighted it. Walking a few steps he came to a figure sleeping
upon a pile of clothing. He stooped and shook the sleeper by the

"Wake up!" he cried in a subdued voice. "Wake up, Prince Peter; I
have good news for you."

The other opened his eyes, stretched, and at last sat up.

"What is it, Maenck?" he asked querulously.

"Great news, my prince," replied the other.

"While you have been sleeping many things have transpired within the
walls of your castle. The king's troopers have departed; but that is
a small matter compared with the other. Here, behind the portrait of
your great-grandmother, I have listened and watched all night. I
opened the secret door a fraction of an inch--just enough to permit
me to look into the apartment where the king and the American lay
wounded. They had been talking as I opened the door, but after that
they ceased--the king falling asleep at once--the American feigning
slumber. For a long time I watched, but nothing happened until near
midnight. Then the American arose and donned the king's clothes.

"He approached Leopold with drawn sword, but when he would have
thrust it through the heart of the sleeping man his nerve failed
him. Then he stole some papers from the room and left. Just now he
has ridden out toward Lustadt with the men of the Royal Horse who
captured the castle yesterday."

Before Maenck was half-way through his narrative, Peter of Blentz
was wide awake and all attention. His eyes glowed with suddenly
aroused interest.

"Somewhere in this, prince," concluded Maenck, "there must lie the
seed of fortune for you and me."

Peter nodded. "Yes," he mused, "there must."

For a time both men were buried in thought. Suddenly Maenck snapped
his fingers. "I have it!" he cried. He bent toward Prince Peter's
ear and whispered his plan. When he was done the Blentz prince
grasped his hand.

"Just the thing, Maenck!" he cried. "Just the thing. Leopold will
never again listen to idle gossip directed against our loyalty. If I
know him--and who should know him better--he will heap honors upon
you, my Maenck; and as for me, he will at least forgive me and take
me back into his confidence. Lose no time now, my friend. We are
free now to go and come, since the king's soldiers have been

In the garden back of the castle an old man was busy digging a hole.
It was a long, narrow hole, and, when it was completed, nearly four
feet deep. It looked like a grave. When he had finished the old man
hobbled to a shed that leaned against the south wall. Here were
boards, tools, and a bench. It was the castle workshop. The old man
selected a number of rough pine boards. These he measured and sawed,
fitted and nailed, working all the balance of the night. By dawn, he
had a long, narrow box, just a trifle smaller than the hole he had
dug in the garden. The box resembled a crude coffin. When it was
quite finished, including a cover, he dragged it out into the garden
and set it upon two boards that spanned the hole, so that it rested
precisely over the excavation.

All these precautions methodically made, he returned to the castle.
In a little storeroom he searched for and found an ax. With his
thumb he felt of the edge--for an ax it was marvelously sharp. The
old fellow grinned and shook his head, as one who appreciates in
anticipation the consummation of a good joke. Then he crept
noiselessly through the castle's corridors and up the spiral
stairway in the north tower. In one hand was the sharp ax.

The moment Lieutenant Butzow had reached Lustadt he had gone
directly to Prince von der Tann; but the moment his message had been
delivered to the chancellor he sought out the chancellor's daughter,
to tell her all that had occurred at Blentz.

"I saw but little of Mr. Custer," he said. "He was very quiet. I
think all that he has been through has unnerved him. He was slightly
wounded in the left leg. The king was wounded in the breast. His
majesty conducted himself in a most valiant and generous manner.
Wounded, he lay upon his stomach in the courtyard of the castle and
defended Mr. Custer, who was, of course, unarmed. The king shot
three of Prince Peter's soldiers who were attempting to assassinate
Mr. Custer."

Emma von der Tann smiled. It was evident that Lieutenant Butzow had
not discovered the deception that had been practiced upon him in
common with all Lutha--she being the only exception. It seemed
incredible that this good friend of the American had not seen in the
heroism of the man who wore the king's clothes the attributes and
ear-marks of Barney Custer. She glowed with pride at the narration
of his heroism, though she suffered with him because of his wound.

It was not yet noon when the detachment of the Royal Horse arrived
in Lustadt from Blentz. At their head rode one whom all upon the
streets of the capital greeted enthusiastically as king. The party
rode directly to the royal palace, and the king retired immediately
to his apartments. A half hour later an officer of the king's
household knocked upon the door of the Princess Emma von der Tann's
boudoir. In accord with her summons he entered, saluted
respectfully, and handed her a note.

It was written upon the personal stationary of Leopold of Lutha.
The girl read and reread it. For some time she could not seem to
grasp the enormity of the thing that had overwhelmed her--the daring
of the action that the message explained. The note was short and to
the point, and was signed only with initials.


The king died of his wounds just before midnight. I
shall keep the throne. There is no other way. None
knows and none must ever know the truth. Your father
alone may suspect; but if we are married at once our
alliance will cement him and his faction to us. Send
word by the bearer that you agree with the wisdom
of my plan, and that we may be wed at once--this
afternoon, in fact.

The people may wonder for a few days at the strange
haste, but my answer shall be that I am going to the
front with my troops. The son and many of the high
officials of the Kaiser have already established the
precedent, marrying hurriedly upon the eve of their
departure for the front.

With every assurance of my undying love, believe me,

B. C.

The girl walked slowly across the room to her writing table. The
officer stood in respectful silence awaiting the answer that the
king had told him to bring. The princess sat down before the carved
bit of furniture. Mechanically she drew a piece of note paper from a
drawer. Many times she dipped her pen in the ink before she could
determine what reply to send. Ages of ingrained royalistic
principles were shocked and shattered by the enormity of the thing
the man she loved had asked of her, and yet cold reason told her
that it was the only way.

Lutha would be lost should the truth be known--that the king was
dead, for there was no heir of closer blood connection with the
royal house than Prince Peter of Blentz, whose great-grandmother had
been a Rubinroth princess. Slowly, at last, she wrote as follows:


The king's will is law.


That was all. Placing the note in an envelope she sealed it and
handed it to the officer, who bowed and left the room.

A half hour later officers of the Royal Horse were riding through
the streets of Lustadt. Some announced to the people upon the
streets the coming marriage of the king and princess. Others rode to
the houses of the nobility with the king's command that they be
present at the ceremony in the old cathedral at four o'clock that

Never had there been such bustling about the royal palace or in the
palaces of the nobles of Lutha. The buzz and hum of excited
conversation filled the whole town. That the choice of the king met
the approval of his subjects was more than evident. Upon every lip
was praise and love of the Princess Emma von der Tann. The future of
Lutha seemed assured with a king who could fight joined in marriage
to a daughter of the warrior line of Von der Tann.

The princess was busy up to the last minute. She had not seen her
future husband since his return from Blentz, for he, too, had been
busy. Twice he had sent word to her, but on both occasions had
regretted that he could not come personally because of the pressure
of state matters and the preparations for the ceremony that was to
take place in the cathedral in so short a time.

At last the hour arrived. The cathedral was filled to overflowing.
After the custom of Lutha, the bride had walked alone up the broad
center aisle to the foot of the chancel. Guardsmen lining the way on
either hand stood rigidly at salute until she stopped at the end of
the soft, rose-strewn carpet and turned to await the coming of the

Presently the doors at the opposite end of the cathedral opened.
There was a fanfare of trumpets, and up the center aisle toward the
waiting girl walked the royal groom. It seemed ages to the princess
since she had seen her lover. Her eyes devoured him as he approached
her. She noticed that he limped, and wondered; but for a moment the
fact carried no special suggestion to her brain.

The people had risen as the king entered. Again, the pieces of the
guardsmen had snapped to present; but silence, intense and utter,
reigned over the vast assembly. The only movement was the measured
stride of the king as he advanced to claim his bride.

At the head of each line of guardsmen, nearest the chancel and upon
either side of the bridal party, the ranks were formed of
commissioned officers. Butzow was among them. He, too, out of the
corner of his eye watched the advancing figure. Suddenly he noted
the limp, and gave a little involuntary gasp. He looked at the
Princess Emma, and saw her eyes suddenly widen with consternation.

Slowly at first, and then in a sudden tidal wave of memory, Butzow's
story of the fight in the courtyard at Blentz came back to her.

"I saw but little of Mr. Custer," he had said. "He was slightly
wounded in the left leg. The king was wounded in the breast." But
Lieutenant Butzow had not known the true identity of either.

The real Leopold it was who had been wounded in the left leg, and
the man who was approaching her up the broad cathedral aisle was
limping noticeably--and favoring his left leg. The man to whom she
was to be married was not Barney Custer--he was Leopold of Lutha!

A hundred mad schemes rioted through her brain. The wedding must
not go on! But how was she to avert it? The king was within a few
paces of her now. There was a smile upon his lips, and in that smile
she saw the final confirmation of her fears. When Leopold of Lutha
smiled his upper lip curved just a trifle into a shadow of a sneer.
It was a trivial characteristic that Barney Custer did not share in
common with the king.

Half mad with terror, the girl seized upon the only subterfuge which
seemed at all likely to succeed. It would, at least, give her a
slight reprieve--a little time in which to think, and possibly find
an avenue from her predicament.

She staggered forward a step, clapped her two hands above her heart,
and reeled as though to fall. Butzow, who had been watching her
narrowly, sprang forward and caught her in his arms, where she lay
limp with closed eyes as though in a dead faint. The king ran
forward. The people craned their necks. A sudden burst of
exclamations rose throughout the cathedral, and then Lieutenant
Butzow, shouldering his way past the chancel, carried the Princess
Emma to a little anteroom off the east transept. Behind him walked
the king, the bishop, and Prince Ludwig.



After a hurried breakfast Peter of Blentz and Captain Ernst Maenck
left the castle of Blentz. Prince Peter rode north toward the
frontier, Austria, and safety, Captain Maenck rode south toward
Lustadt. Neither knew that general orders had been issued to
soldiery and gendarmerie of Lutha to capture them dead or alive. So
Prince Peter rode carelessly; but Captain Maenck, because of the
nature of his business and the proximity of enemies about Lustadt,
proceeded with circumspection.

Prince Peter was arrested at Tafelberg, and, though he stormed and
raged and threatened, he was immediately packed off under heavy
guard back toward Lustadt.

Captain Ernst Maenck was more fortunate. He reached the capital of
Lutha in safety, though he had to hide on several occasions from
detachments of troops moving toward the north. Once within the city
he rode rapidly to the house of a friend. Here he learned that which
set him into a fine state of excitement and profanity. The king and
the Princess Emma von der Tann were to be wed that very afternoon!
It lacked but half an hour to four o'clock.

Maenck grabbed his cap and dashed from the house before his
astonished friend could ask a single question. He hurried straight
toward the cathedral. The king had just arrived, and entered when
Maenck came up, breathless. The guard at the doorway did not
recognize him. If they had they would have arrested him. Instead
they contented themselves with refusing him admission, and when he
insisted they threatened him with arrest.

To be arrested now would be to ruin his fine plan, so he turned and
walked away. At the first cross street he turned up the side of the
cathedral. The grounds were walled up on this side, and he sought in
vain for entrance. At the rear he discovered a limousine standing in
the alley where its chauffeur had left it after depositing his
passengers at the front door of the cathedral. The top of the
limousine was but a foot or two below the top of the wall.

Maenck clambered to the hood of the machine, and from there to the
top. A moment later he dropped to the earth inside the cathedral
grounds. Before him were many windows. Most of them were too high
for him to reach, and the others that he tried at first were
securely fastened. Passing around the end of the building, he at
last discovered one that was open--it led into the east transept.

Maenck crawled through. He was within the building that held the
man he sought. He found himself in a small room--evidently a
dressing-room. There were two doors leading from it. He approached
one and listened. He heard the tones of subdued conversation beyond.

Very cautiously he opened the door a crack. He could not believe
the good fortune that was revealed before him. On a couch lay the
Princess Emma von der Tann. Beside her her father. At the door was
Lieutenant Butzow. The bishop and a doctor were talking at the head
of the couch. Pacing up and down the room, resplendent in the
marriage robes of a king of Lutha, was the man he sought.

Maenck drew his revolver. He broke the barrel, and saw that there
was a good cartridge in each chamber of the cylinder. He closed it
quietly. Then he threw open the door, stepped into the room, took
deliberate aim, and fired.

The old man with the ax moved cautiously along the corridor upon the
second floor of the Castle of Blentz until he came to a certain
door. Gently he turned the knob and pushed the door inward. Holding
the ax behind his back, he entered. In his pocket was a great roll
of money, and there was to be an equal amount waiting him at Lustadt
when his mission had been fulfilled.

Once within the room, he looked quickly about him. Upon a great bed
lay the figure of a man asleep. His face was turned toward the
opposite wall away from the side of the bed nearer the menacing
figure of the old servant. On tiptoe the man with the ax approached.
The neck of his victim lay uncovered before him. He swung the ax
behind him. A single blow, as mighty as his ancient muscles could
deliver, would suffice.

Barney Custer opened his eyes. Directly opposite him upon the wall
was a dark-toned photogravure of a hunting scene. It tilted slightly
forward upon its wire support. As Barney's opened it chanced that
they were directed straight upon the shiny glass of the picture. The
light from the window struck the glass in such a way as to transform
it into a mirror. The American's eyes were glued with horror upon
the reflection that he saw there--an old man swinging a huge ax down
upon his head.

It is an open question as to which of the two was the most surprised
at the cat-like swiftness of the movement that carried Barney Custer
out of that bed and landed him in temporary safety upon the opposite

With a snarl the old man ran around the foot of the bed to corner
his prey between the bed and the wall. He was swinging the ax as
though to hurl it. So close was he that Barney guessed it would be
difficult for him to miss his mark. The least he could expect would
be a frightful wound. To have attempted to escape would have
necessitated turning his back to his adversary, inviting instant
death. To grapple with a man thus armed appeared an equally hopeless

Shoulder-high beside him hung the photogravure that had already
saved his life once. Why not again? He snatched it from its
hangings, lifted it above his head in both hands, and hurled it at
the head of the old man. The glass shattered full upon the ancient's
crown, the man's head went through the picture, and the frame
settled over his shoulders. At the same instant Barney Custer leaped
across the bed, seized a light chair, and turned to face his foe
upon more even turns.

The old man did not pause to remove the frame from about his neck.
Blood trickled down his forehead and cheeks from deep gashes that
the broken glass had made. Now he was in a berserker rage.

As he charged again he uttered a peculiar whistling noise from
between his set teeth. To the American it sounded like the hissing
of a snake, and as he would have met a snake he met the venomous
attack of the old man.

When the short battle was over the Blentz servitor lay unconscious
upon the floor, while above him leaned the American, uninjured,
ripping long strips from a sheet torn from the bed, twisting them
into rope-like strands and, with them, binding the wrists and ankles
of his defeated foe. Finally he stuffed a gag between the toothless

Running to the wardrobe, he discovered that the king's uniform was
gone. That, with the witness of the empty bed, told him the whole
story. The American smiled. "More nerve than I gave him credit for,"
he mused, as he walked back to his bed and reached under the pillow
for the two papers he had forced the king to sign. They, too, were
gone. Slowly Barney Custer realized his plight, as there filtered
through his mind a suggestion of the possibilities of the trick that
had been played upon him.

Why should Leopold wish these papers? Of course, he might merely
have taken them that he might destroy them; but something told
Barney Custer that such was not the case. And something, too, told
him whither the king had ridden and what he would do there when he

He ran back to the wardrobe. In it hung the peasant attire that he
had stolen from the line of the careless house frau, and later
wished upon his majesty the king. Barney grinned as he recalled the
royal disgust with which Leopold had fingered the soiled garments.
He scarce blamed him. Looking further toward the back of the
wardrobe, the American discovered other clothing.

He dragged it all out upon the floor. There was an old shooting
jacket, several pairs of trousers and breeches, and a hunting coat.
In a drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe he found many old shoes,
puttees, and boots.

From this miscellany he selected riding breeches, a pair of boots,
and the red hunting coat as the only articles that fitted his rather
large frame. Hastily he dressed, and, taking the ax the old man had
brought to the room as the only weapon available, he walked boldly
into the corridor, down the spiral stairway and into the guardroom.

Barney Custer was prepared to fight. He was desperate. He could
have slunk from the Castle of Blentz as he had entered it--through
the secret passageway to the ravine; but to attempt to reach Lustadt
on foot was not at all compatible with the urgent haste that he felt
necessary. He must have a horse, and a horse he would have if he had
to fight his way through a Blentz army.

But there were no armed retainers left at Blentz. The guardroom was
vacant; but there were arms there and ammunition. Barney
commandeered a sword and a revolver, then he walked into the
courtyard and crossed to the stables. The way took him by the
garden. In it he saw a coffin-like box resting upon planks above a
grave-like excavation. Barney investigated. The box was empty. Once
again he grinned. "It is not always wise," he mused, "to count your
corpses before they're dead. What a lot of work the old man might
have spared himself if he'd only caught his cadaver first--or at
least tried to."

Passing on by his own grave, he came to the stables. A groom was
currying a strong, clean-limbed hunter haltered in the doorway. The
man looked up as Barney approached him. A puzzled expression entered
the fellow's eyes. He was a young man--a stupid-looking lout. It was
evident that he half recognized the face of the newcomer as one he
had seen before. Barney nodded to him.

"Never mind finishing," he said. "I am in a hurry. You may saddle
him at once." The voice was authoritative--it brooked no demur. The
groom touched his forehead, dropped the currycomb and brush, and
turned back into the stable to fetch saddle and bridle.

Five minutes later Barney was riding toward the gate. The portcullis
was raised--the drawbridge spanned the moat--no guard was there to
bar his way. The sunlight flooded the green valley, stretching
lazily below him in the soft warmth of a mellow autumn morning.
Behind him he had left the brooding shadows of the grim old
fortress--the cold, cruel, depressing stronghold of intrigue,
treason, and sudden death.

He threw back his shoulders and filled his lungs with the sweet,
pure air of freedom. He was a new man. The wound in his breast was
forgotten. Lightly he touched his spurs to the hunter's sides.
Tossing his head and curveting, the animal broke into a long, easy
trot. Where the road dipped into the ravine and down through the
village to the valley the rider drew his restless mount into a walk;
but, once in the valley, he let him out. Barney took the short road
to Lustadt. It would cut ten miles off the distance that the main
wagonroad covered, and it was a good road for a horseman. It should
bring him to Lustadt by one o'clock or a little after. The road
wound through the hills to the east of the main highway, and was
scarcely more than a trail where it crossed the Ru River upon a
narrow bridge that spanned the deep mountain gorge that walls the Ru
for ten miles through the hills.

When Barney reached the river his hopes sank. The bridge was
gone--dynamited by the Austrians in their retreat. The nearest
bridge was at the crossing of the main highway over ten miles to the
southwest. There, too, the river might be forded even if the
Austrians had destroyed that bridge also; but here or elsewhere in
the hills there could be no fording--the banks of the Ru were
perpendicular cliffs.

The misfortune would add nearly twenty miles to his journey--he
could not now hope to reach Lustadt before late in the afternoon.
Turning his horse back along the trail he had come, he retraced his
way until he reached a narrow bridle path that led toward the
southwest. The trail was rough and indistinct, yet he pushed
forward, even more rapidly than safety might have suggested. The
noble beast beneath him was all loyalty and ambition.

"Take it easy, old boy," whispered Barney into the slim, pointed
ears that moved ceaselessly backward and forward, "you'll get your
chance when we strike the highway, never fear."

And he did.

So unexpected had been Maenck's entrance into the room in the east
transept, so sudden his attack, that it was all over before a hand
could be raised to stay him. At the report of his revolver the king
sank to the floor. At almost the same instant Lieutenant Butzow
whipped a revolver from beneath his tunic and fired at the assassin.
Maenck staggered forward and stumbled across the body of the king.
Butzow was upon him instantly, wresting the revolver from his
fingers. Prince Ludwig ran to the king's side and, kneeling there,
raised Leopold's head in his arms. The bishop and the doctor bent
over the limp form. The Princess Emma stood a little apart. She had
leaped from the couch where she had been lying. Her eyes were wide
in horror. Her palms pressed to her cheeks.

It was upon this scene that a hatless, dust-covered man in a red
hunting coat burst through the door that had admitted Maenck. The
man had seen and recognized the conspirator as he climbed to the top
of the limousine and dropped within the cathedral grounds, and he
had followed close upon his heels.

No one seemed to note his entrance. All ears were turned toward the
doctor, who was speaking.

"The king is dead," he said.

Maenck raised himself upon an elbow. He spoke feebly.

"You fools," he cried. "That man was not the king. I saw him steal
the king's clothes at Blentz and I followed him here. He is the
American--the impostor." Then his eyes, circling the faces about him
to note the results of his announcements, fell upon the face of the
man in the red hunting coat. Amazement and wonder were in his face.
Slowly he raised his finger and pointed.

"There is the king," he said.

Every eye turned in the direction he indicated. Exclamations of
surprise and incredulity burst from every lip. The old chancellor
looked from the man in the red hunting coat to the still form of the
man upon the floor in the blood-spattered marriage garments of a
king of Lutha. He let the king's head gently down upon the carpet,
and then he rose to his feet and faced the man in the red hunting

"Who are you?" he demanded.

Before Barney could speak Lieutenant Butzow spoke.

"He is the king, your highness," he said. "I rode with him to
Blentz to free Mr. Custer. Both were wounded in the courtyard in the
fight that took place there. I helped to dress their wounds. The
king was wounded in the breast--Mr. Custer in the left leg."

Prince von der Tann looked puzzled. Again he turned his eyes
questioningly toward the newcomer.

"Is this the truth?" he asked.

Barney looked toward the Princess Emma. In her eyes he could read
the relief that the sight of him alive had brought her. Since she
had recognized the king she had believed that Barney was dead. The
temptation was great--he dreaded losing her, and he feared he would
lose her when her father learned the truth of the deception that had
been practiced upon him. He might lose even more--men had lost their
heads for tampering with the affairs of kings.

"Well?" persisted the chancellor.

"Lieutenant Butzow is partially correct--he honestly believes that
he is entirely so," replied the American. "He did ride with me from
Lustadt to Blentz to save the man who lies dead here at your feet.
The lieutenant thought that he was riding with his king, just as
your highness thought that he was riding with his king during the
battle of Lustadt. You were both wrong--you were riding with Mr.
Bernard Custer, of Beatrice. I am he. I have no apologies to make.
What I did I would do again. I did it for Lutha and for the woman I
love. She knows and the king knew that I intended restoring his
identity to him with no one the wiser for the interchange that had
taken place. The king upset my plans by stealing back his identity
while I slept, with the result that you see before you upon the
floor. He has died as he had lived--futilely."

As he spoke the Princess Emma had crossed the room toward him. Now
she stood at his side, her hand in his. Tense silence reigned in the
apartment. The old chancellor stood with bowed head, buried in
thought. All eyes were upon him except those of the doctor, who had
turned his attention from the dead king to the wounded assassin.
Butzow stood looking at Barney Custer in open relief and admiration.
He had been trying to vindicate his friend in his own mind ever
since he had discovered, as he believed, that Barney had tricked
Leopold after the latter had saved his life at Blentz and ridden to
Lustadt in the king's guise. Now that he knew the whole truth he
realized how stupid he had been not to guess that the man who had
led the victorious Luthanian army before Lustadt could not have been
the cowardly Leopold.

Presently the chancellor broke the silence.

"You say that Leopold of Lutha lived futilely. You are right; but
when you say that he has died futilely, you are, I believe, wrong.
Living, he gave us a poor weakling. Dying, he leaves the throne to a
brave man, in whose veins flows the blood of the Rubinroths,
hereditary rulers of Lutha.

"You are the only rightful successor to the throne of Lutha," he
argued, "other than Peter of Blentz. Your mother's marriage to a
foreigner did not bar the succession of her offspring. Aside from
the fact that Peter of Blentz is out of the question, is the more
important fact that your line is closer to the throne than his. He
knew it, and this knowledge was the real basis of his hatred of

As the old chancellor ceased speaking he drew his sword and raised
it on high above his head.

"The king is dead," he said. "Long live the king!"



Barney Custer, of Beatrice, had no desire to be king of Lutha. He
lost no time in saying so. All that he wanted of Lutha was the girl
he had found there, as his father before him had found the girl of
his choice. Von der Tann pleaded with him.

"Twice have I fought under you, sire," he urged. "Twice, and only
twice since the old king died, have I felt that the future of Lutha
was safe in the hands of her ruler, and both these times it was you
who sat upon the throne. Do not desert us now. Let me live to see
Lutha once more happy, with a true Rubinroth upon the throne and my
daughter at his side."

Butzow added his pleas to those of the old chancellor. The American

"Let us leave it to the representatives of the people and to the
house of nobles," he suggested.

The chancellor of Lutha explained the situation to both houses.
Their reply was unanimous. He carried it to the American, who
awaited the decision of Lutha in the royal apartments of the palace.
With him was the Princess Emma von der Tann.

"The people of Lutha will have no other king, sire," said the old

Barney turned toward the girl.

"There is no other way, my lord king," she said with grave dignity.
"With her blood your mother bequeathed you a duty which you may not
shirk. It is not for you or for me to choose. God chose for you when
you were born."

Barney Custer took her hand in his and raised it to his lips.

"Let the King of Lutha," he said, "be the first to salute Lutha's

And so Barney Custer, of Beatrice, was crowned King of Lutha, and
Emma became his queen. Maenck died of his wound on the floor of the
little room in the east transept of the cathedral of Lustadt beside
the body of the king he had slain. Prince Peter of Blentz was tried
by the highest court of Lutha on the charge of treason; he was found
guilty and hanged. Von Coblich committed suicide on the eve of his
arrest. Lieutenant Otto Butzow was ennobled and given the
confiscated estates of the Blentz prince. He became a general in the
army of Lutha, and was sent to the front in command of the army
corps that guarded the northern frontier of the little kingdom.

I have made the following changes to the text:
72 VIII 3 1 Ludstadt Lustadt
81 3 2 mier miter
83 7 3 Ludstadt Lustadt
86 3 2 him arm his arm
90 4 4 monarch, he monarch he
94 2 4 colums columns
98 2 2 imposter impostor
121 1 1 approaced approached
126 2 5 from from the
140 6 5 whom, appeared whom appeared
142 5 1 once side one side
143 4 8 knew drew
158 4 5 presumptious presumptuous
182 5 3 jeweler's shot jeweler's shop
189 8 2 ingrate?" ingrate?
193 5 3 oil panting oil painting
200 7 1 soldiers soldier
211 2 1 men and woman men and women
212 3 5 instruments instrument
217 4 1 The cheered They cheered
217 6 2 gril's face girl's face
218 1 magnamity magnanimity
218 7 2 him. Barney's him, Barney's
225 3 3 horseman horsemen
228 5 1 ajaculated ejaculated
233 8 6 king of Lustadt, king of Lutha,
234 6 2 You "You
251 9 Luthania army Luthanian army
252 2 3 poor, weakling poor weakling

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