Part 2 out of 7
she had been reading, but she was unsuccessful. A stealthy
scratching brought her round quickly, staring in the direc-
tion of the great portrait. The girl would have sworn that she
had heard a noise within her chamber. She shuddered at
the thought that it might have come from that painted thing
upon the wall.
What was the matter with her? Was she losing all control
of herself to be frightened like a little child by ghostly noises?
She tried to return to her reading, but for the life of her
she could not keep her eyes off the silent, painted woman
who stared and stared and stared in cold, threatening si-
lence upon this ancient enemy of her house.
Presently the girl's eyes went wide in horror. She could
feel the scalp upon her head contract with fright. Her terror-
filled gaze was frozen upon that awful figure that loomed
so large and sinister above her, for the thing had moved! She
had seen it with her own eyes. There could be no mistake--
no hallucination of overwrought nerves about it. The Blentz
Princess was moving slowly toward her!
Like one in a trance the girl rose from her chair, her eyes
glued upon the awful apparition that seemed creeping upon
her. Slowly she withdrew toward the opposite side of the
chamber. As the painting moved more quickly the truth
flashed upon her--it was mounted on a door.
The crack of the door widened and beyond it the girl saw
dimly, eyes fastened upon her. With difficulty she restrained
a shriek. The portal swung wide and a man in uniform
stepped into the room.
It was Maenck.
Emma von der Tann gazed in unveiled abhorrence upon
the leering face of the governor of Blentz.
"What means this intrusion?" cried the girl.
"What would you have here?"
"You," replied Maenck.
The girl crimsoned.
Maenck regarded her sneeringly.
"You coward!" she cried. "Leave my apartments at once.
Not even Peter of Blentz would countenance such abhorrent
treatment of a prisoner."
"You do not know Peter my dear," responded Maenck.
"But you need not fear. You shall be my wife. Peter has
promised me a baronetcy for the capture of Leopold, and
before I am done I shall be made a prince, of that you may
rest assured, so you see I am not so bad a match after all."
He crossed over toward her and would have laid a rough
hand upon her arm.
The girl sprang away from him, running to the opposite
side of the library table at which she had been reading.
Maenck started to pursue her, when she seized a heavy,
copper bowl that stood upon the table and hurled it full
in his face. The missile struck him a glancing blow, but the
edge laid open the flesh of one cheek almost to the jaw bone.
With a cry of pain and rage Captain Ernst Maenck leaped
across the table full upon the young girl. With vicious, mur-
derous fingers he seized upon her fair throat, shaking her as
a terrier might shake a rat. Futilely the girl struck at the
hate-contorted features so close to hers.
"Stop!" she cried. "You are killing me."
The fingers released their hold.
"No," muttered the man, and dragged the princess roughly
across the room.
Half a dozen steps he had taken when there came a sud-
den crash of breaking glass from the window across the
chamber. Both turned in astonishment to see the figure of a
man leap into the room, carrying the shattered crystal and
the casement with him. In one hand was a naked sword.
"The king!" cried Emma von der Tann.
"The devil!" muttered Maenck, as, dropping the girl, he
scurried toward the great painting from behind which he
had found ingress to the chambers of the princess.
Maenck was a coward, and he had seen murder in the
eyes of the man rushing upon him. With a bound he reached
the picture which still stood swung wide into the room.
Barney was close behind him, but fear lent wings to the
governor of Blentz, so that he was able to dart into the pas-
sage behind the picture and slam the door behind him a
moment before the infuriated man was upon him.
The American clawed at the edge of the massive frame,
but all to no avail. Then he raised his sword and slashed
the canvas, hoping to find a way into the place beyond, but
mighty oaken panels barred his further progress. With a
whispered oath he turned back toward the girl.
"Thank Heaven that I was in time, Emma," he cried.
"Oh, Leopold, my king, but at what a price," replied the
girl. "He will return now with others and kill you. He is
furious--so furious that he scarce knows what he does."
"He seemed to know what he was doing when he ran for
that hole in the wall," replied Barney with a grin. "But
come, it won't pay to let them find us should they return."
Together they hastened to the window beyond which the
girl could see a rope dangling from above. The sight of it
partially solved the riddle of the king's almost uncanny pres-
ence upon her window sill in the very nick of time.
Below, the lights in the watch tower at the outer gate
were plainly visible, and the twinkling of them reminded
Barney of the danger of detection from that quarter. Quickly
he recrossed the apartment to the wall-switch that operated
the recently installed electric lights, and an instant later the
chamber was in total darkness.
Once more at the girl's side Barney drew in one end of
the rope and made it fast about her body below her arms,
leaving a sufficient length terminating in a small loop to per-
mit her to support herself more comfortably with one foot
within the noose. Then he stepped to the outer sill, and
reaching down assisted her to his side.
Far below them the moonlight played upon the sluggish
waters of the moat. In the distance twinkled the lights of
the village of Blentz. From the courtyard and the palace
came faintly the sound of voices, and the movement of men.
A horse whinnied from the stables.
Barney turned his eyes upward. He could see the head
and shoulders of Joseph leaning from the window of the
chamber directly above them.
"Hoist away, Joseph!" whispered the American, and to
the girl: "Be brave. Shut your eyes and trust to Joseph and
"And my king," finished the girl for him.
His arm was about her shoulders, supporting her upon
the narrow sill. His cheek so close to hers that once he felt
the soft velvet of it brush his own. Involuntarily his arm
tightened about the supple body.
"My princess!" he murmured, and as he turned his face
toward hers their lips almost touched.
Joseph was pulling upon the rope from above. They
could feel it tighten beneath the girl's arms. Impulsively
Barney Custer drew the sweet lips closer to his own. There
was no resistance.
"I love you," he whispered. The words were smothered
as their lips met.
Joseph, above, wondered at the great weight of the Princess
Emma von der Tann.
"I love you, Leopold, forever," whispered the girl, and
then as Joseph's Herculean tugging seemed likely to drag
them both from the narrow sill, Barney lifted the girl up-
ward with one hand while he clung to the window frame
with the other. The distance to the sill above was short,
and a moment later Joseph had grasped the princess's hand
and was helping her over the ledge into the room beyond.
At the same instant there came a sudden commotion from
the interior of the room in the window of which Barney still
stood waiting for Joseph to remove the rope from about the
princess and lower it for him. Barney heard the heavy feet
of men, the clank of arms, and muttered oaths as the
searchers stumbled against the furniture.
Presently one of them found the switch and instantly the
room was flooded with light, which revealed to the American
a dozen Luthanian troopers headed by the murderous
Barney looked anxiously aloft. Would Joseph never lower
that rope! Within the room the men were searching. He
could hear Maenck directing them. Only a thin portiere
screened him from their view. It was but a matter of seconds
before they would investigate the window through which
Maenck knew the king had found ingress.
Yes! It had come.
"Look to the window," commanded Maenck. "He may
have gone as he came."
Two of the soldiers crossed the room toward the casement.
From above Joseph was lowering the rope; but it was too
late. The men would be at the window before he could
clamber out of their reach.
"Hoist away!" he whispered to Joseph. "Quick now, my
man, and make your escape with the Princess von der Tann.
It is the king's command."
Already the soldiers were at the window. At the sound
of his voice they tore aside the draperies; at the same instant
the pseudo-king turned and leaped out into the blackness
of the night.
There were exclamations of surprise and rage from the
soldiers--a woman's scream. Then from far below came a
dull splash as the body of Bernard Custer struck the surface
of the moat.
Maenck, leaning from the window, heard the scream and
the splash, and jumped to the conclusion that both the king
and the princess had attempted to make their escape in this
harebrained way. Immediately all the resources at his com-
mand were put to the task of searching the moat and the
He was sure that one or both of the prisoners would be
stunned by impact with the surface of the water, and then
drowned before they regained consciousness, but he did not
know Bernard Custer, nor the facility and almost uncanny
ease with which that young man could negotiate a high dive
into shallow water.
Nor did he know that upon the floor above him one
Joseph was hastening along a dark corridor toward a secret
panel in another apartment, and that with him was the Prin-
cess Emma bound for liberty and safety far from the frown-
ing walls of Blentz.
As Barney's head emerged above the surface of the moat
he shook it vigorously to free his eyes from water, and then
struck out for the further bank.
Long before his pursuers had reached the courtyard and
alarmed the watch at the barbican, the American had
crawled out upon dry land and hastened across the broad
clearing to the patch of stunted trees that grew lower down
upon the steep hillside before the castle.
He shrank from the thought of leaving Blentz without
knowing positively that Joseph had made good the escape
of himself and the princess, but he finally argued that even
if they had been retaken, he could serve her best by hasten-
ing to her father and fetching the only succor that might
prevail against the strength of Blentz--armed men in suffi-
cient force to storm the ancient fortress.
He had scarcely entered the wood when he heard the
sound of the searchers at the moat, and saw the rays of
their lanterns flitting hither and thither as they moved back
and forth along the bank.
Then the young man turned his face from the castle and
set forth across the unfamiliar country in the direction of the
Old Forest and the castle Von der Tann.
The memory of the warm lips that had so recently been
pressed to his urged him on in the service of the wondrous
girl who had come so suddenly into his life, bringing to him
the realization of a love that he knew must alter, for hap-
piness or for sorrow, all the balance of his existence, even
He dreaded the day of reckoning when, at last, she must
learn that he was no king. He did not have the temerity to
hope that her courage would be equal to the great sacrifice
which the acknowledgment of her love for one not of noble
blood must entail; but he could not believe that she would
cease to love him when she learned the truth.
So the future looked black and cheerless to Barney Custer
as he trudged along the rocky, moonlit way. The only bright
spot was the realization that for a while at least he might
be serving the one woman in all the world.
All the balance of the long night the young man traversed
valley and mountain, holding due south in the direction he
supposed the Old Forest to lie. He passed many a little
farm tucked away in the hollow of a hillside, and quaint
hamlets, and now and then the ruins of an ancient feudal
stronghold, but no great forest of black oaks loomed before
him to apprise him of the nearness of his goal, nor did he
dare to ask the correct route at any of the homes he passed.
His fatal likeness to the description of the mad king of
Lutha warned him from intercourse with the men of Lutha
until he might know which were friends and which enemies
of the hapless monarch.
Dawn found him still upon his way, but with the deter-
mination fully crystallized to hail the first man he met and
ask the way to Tann. He still avoided the main traveled
roads, but from time to time he paralleled them close enough
that he might have ample opportunity to hail the first
The road was becoming more and more mountainous and
difficult. There were fewer homes and no hamlets, and now
he began to despair entirely of meeting any who could give
him direction unless he turned and retraced his steps to the
Directly before him the narrow trail he had been following
for the past few miles wound sharply about the shoulder of
a protruding cliff. He would see what lay beyond the turn--
perhaps he would find the Old Forest there, after all.
But instead he found something very different, though
in its way quite as interesting, for as he rounded the rugged
bluff he came face to face with two evil-looking fellows
astride stocky, rough-coated ponies.
At sight of him they drew in their mounts and eyed him
suspiciously. Nor was there great cause for wonderment in
that, for the American presented aught but a respectable
appearance. His khaki motoring suit, soaked from immersion
in the moat, had but partially dried upon him. Mud from
the banks of the stagnant pool caked his legs to the knees,
almost hiding his once tan puttees. More mud streaked his
jacket front and stained its sleeves to the elbows. He was
bare-headed, for his cap had remained in the moat at Blentz,
and his disheveled hair was tousled upon his head, while
his full beard had dried into a weird and tangled fringe
about his face. At his side still hung the sword that Joseph
had buckled there, and it was this that caused the two men
the greatest suspicion of this strange looking character.
They continued to eye Barney in silence, every now and
then casting apprehensive glances beyond him, as though
expecting others of his kind to appear in the trail at his back.
And that is precisely what they did fear, for the sword at
Barney's side had convinced them that he must be an officer
of the army, and they looked to see his command following
in his wake.
The young man saluted them pleasantly, asking the direc-
tion to the Old Forest. They thought it strange that a soldier
of Lutha should not know his own way about his native land,
and so judged that his question was but a blind to deceive
"Why do you not ask your own men the way?" parried
one of the fellows.
"I have no men, I am alone," replied Barney. "I am a
stranger in Lutha and have lost my way."
He who had spoken before pointed to the sword at Bar-
"Strangers traveling in Lutha do not wear swords," he said.
"You are an officer. Why should you desire to conceal the
fact from two honest farmers? We have done nothing. Let
us go our way."
Barney looked his astonishment at this reply.
"Most certainly, go your way, my friends," he said laugh-
ing. "I would not delay you if I could; but before you go
please be good enough to tell me how to reach the Old
Forest and the ancient castle of the Prince von der Tann."
For a moment the two men whispered together, then the
spokesman turned to Barney.
"We will lead you upon the right road. Come," and the
two turned their horses, one of them starting slowly back up
the trail while the other remained waiting for Barney to
The American, suspecting nothing, voiced his thanks, and
set out after him who had gone before. As be passed the
fellow who waited the latter moved in behind him, so that
Barney walked between the two. Occasionally the rider at
his back turned in his saddle to scan the trail behind, as
though still fearful that Barney had been lying to them
and that he would discover a company of soldiers charging
down upon them.
The trail became more and more difficult as they ad-
vanced, until Barney wondered how the little horses clung
to the steep mountainside, where he himself had difficulty
in walking without using his hand to keep from falling.
Twice the American attempted to break through the taci-
turnity of his guides, but his advances were met with noth-
ing more than sultry grunts or silence, and presently a sus-
picion began to obtrude itself among his thoughts that pos-
sibly these "honest farmers" were something more sinister
than they represented themselves to be.
A malign and threatening atmosphere seemed to surround
them. Even the cat-like movement of their silent mounts
breathed a sinister secrecy, and now, for the first time,
Barney noticed the short, ugly looking carbines that were
slung in boots at their saddle-horns. Then, promoted to fur-
ther investigation, he dropped back beside the man who had
been riding behind him, and as he did so he saw beneath
the fellow's cloak the butts of two villainous-looking pistols.
As Barney dropped back beside him the man turned his
mount across the narrow trail, and reining him in motioned
"I have changed my mind," said the American, "about
going to the Old Forest."
He had determined that he might as well have the thing
out now as later, and discover at once how he stood with
these two, and whether or not his suspicions of them were
The man ahead had halted at the sound of Barney's voice,
and swung about in the saddle.
"What's the trouble?" he asked.
"He don't want to go to the Old Forest," explained his
companion, and for the first time Barney saw one of them
grin. It was not at all a pleasant grin, nor reassuring.
"He don't, eh?" growled the other. "Well, he ain't goin',
is he? Who ever said he was?"
And then he, too, laughed.
"I'm going back the way I came," said Barney, starting
around the horse that blocked his way.
"No, you ain't," said the horseman. "You're goin' with us."
And Barney found himself gazing down the muzzle of one
of the wicked looking pistols.
For a moment he stood in silence, debating mentally the
wisdom of attempting to rush the fellow, and then, with a
shake of his head, he turned back up the trail between his
"Yes," he said, "on second thought I have decided to go
with you. Your logic is most convincing."
A KING'S RANSOM
FOR ANOTHER mile the two brigands conducted their captor
along the mountainside, then they turned into a narrow
ravine near the summit of the hills--a deep, rocky, wooded
ravine into whose black shadows it seemed the sun might
A winding path led crookedly among the pines that
grew thickly in this sheltered hollow, until presently, after
half an hour of rough going, they came upon a small natural
clearing, rock-bound and impregnable.
As they filed from the wood Barney saw a score of vil-
lainous fellows clustered about a camp fire where they
seemed engaged in cooking their noonday meal. Bits of meat
were roasting upon iron skewers, and a great iron pot boiled
vigorously at one side of the blaze.
At the sound of their approach the men sprang to their
feet in alarm, and as many weapons as there were men
leaped to view; but when they saw Barney's companions
they returned their pistols to their holsters, and at sight of
Barney they pressed forward to inspect the prisoner.
"Who have we here?" shouted a big blond giant, who
affected extremely gaudy colors in his selection of wearing
apparel, and whose pistols and knife had their grips heavily
ornamented with pearl and silver.
"A stranger in Lutha he calls himself," replied one of
Barney's captors. "But from the sword I take it he is one of
old Peter's wolfhounds."
"Well, he's found the wolves at any rate," replied the giant,
with a wide grin at his witticism. "And if Yellow Franz is
the particular wolf you're after, my friend, why here I am,"
he concluded, addressing the American with a leer.
"I'm after no one," replied Barney. "I tell you I'm a
stranger, and I lost my way in your infernal mountains. All
I wish is to be set upon the right road to Tann, and if you
will do that for me you shall be well paid for your trouble."
The giant, Yellow Franz, had come quite close to Barney
and was inspecting him with an expression of considerable
interest. Presently he drew a soiled and much-folded paper
from his breast. Upon one side was a printed notice, and at
the corners bits were torn away as though the paper had
once been tacked upon wood, and then torn down without
removing the tacks.
At sight of it Barney's heart sank. The look of the thing
was all too familiar. Before the yellow one had commenced
to read aloud from it Barney had repeated to himself the
words he knew were coming.
"'Gray eyes,'" read the brigand, "'brown hair, and a full,
reddish-brown beard.' Herman and Friedrich, my dear chil-
dren, you have stumbled upon the richest haul in all Lutha.
Down upon your marrow-bones, you swine, and rub your
low-born noses in the dirt before your king."
The others looked their surprise.
"The king?" one cried.
"Behold!" cried Yellow Franz. "Leopold of Lutha!"
He waved a ham-like hand toward Barney.
Among the rough men was a young smooth-faced boy,
and now with wide eyes he pressed forward to get a nearer
view of the wonderful person of a king.
"Take a good look at him, Rudolph," cried Yellow Franz.
"It is the first and will probably be the last time you will
ever see a king. Kings seldom visit the court of their fellow
monarch, Yellow Franz of the Black Mountains.
"Come, my children, remove his majesty's sword, lest he
fall and stick himself upon it, and then prepare the royal
chamber, seeing to it that it be made so comfortable that
Leopold will remain with us a long time. Rudolph, fetch
food and water for his majesty, and see to it that the silver
plates and the golden goblets are well scoured and polished
They conducted Barney to a miserable lean-to shack at
one side of the clearing, and for a while the motley crew
loitered about bandying coarse jests at the expense of the
"king." The boy, Rudolph, brought food and water, he alone
of them all evincing the slightest respect or awe for the
royalty of their unwilling guest.
After a time the men tired of the sport of king-baiting, for
Barney showed neither rancor nor outraged majesty at their
keenest thrusts, instead, often joining in the laugh with
them at his own expense. They thought it odd that the king
should hold his dignity in so low esteem, but that he was
king they never doubted, attributing his denials to a dis-
position to deceive them, and rob them of the "king's ran-
som" they had already commenced to consider as their own.
Shortly after Barney arrived at the rendezvous he saw a
messenger dispatched by Yellow Franz, and from the re-
peated gestures toward himself that had accompanied the
giant's instructions to his emissary, Barney was positive that
the man's errand had to do with him.
After the men had left his prison, leaving the boy standing
awkwardly in wide-eyed contemplation of his august charge,
the American ventured to open a conversation with his
"Aren't you rather young to be starting in the bandit
business, Rudolph?" asked Barney, who had taken a fancy
to the youth.
"I do not want to be a bandit, your majesty," whispered
the lad; "but my father owes Yellow Franz a great sum of
money, and as he could not pay the debt Yellow Franz stole
me from my home and says that he will keep me until my
father pays him, and that if he does not pay he will make a
bandit of me, and that then some day I shall be caught and
hanged until I am dead."
"Can't you escape?" asked the young man. "It would
seem to me that there would be many opportunities for you
to get away undetected."
"There are, but I dare not. Yellow Franz says that if I
run away he will be sure to come across me some day again
and that then he will kill me."
"He is just talking, my boy," he said. "He thinks that by
frightening you he will be able to keep you from running
"Your majesty does not know him," whispered the youth,
shuddering. "He is the wickedest man in all the world.
Nothing would please him more than killing me, and he
would have done it long since but for two things. One is
that I have made myself useful about his camp, doing
chores and the like, and the other is that were he to kill
me he knows that my father would never pay him."
"How much does your father owe him?"
"Five hundred marks, your majesty," replied Rudolph.
"Two hundred of this amount is the original debt, and the
balance Yellow Franz has added since he captured me, so
that it is really ransom money. But my father is a poor man,
so that it will take a long time before he can accumulate
so large a sum.
"You would really like to go home again, Rudolph?"
"Oh, very much, your majesty, if I only dared."
Barney was silent for some time, thinking. Possibly he
could effect his own escape with the connivance of Rudolph,
and at the same time free the boy. The paltry ransom he
could pay out of his own pocket and send to Yellow Franz
later, so that the youth need not fear the brigand's revenge.
It was worth thinking about, at any rate.
"How long do you imagine they will keep me, Rudolph?"
he asked after a time.
"Yellow Franz has already sent Herman to Lustadt with
a message for Prince Peter, telling him that you are being
held for ransom, and demanding the payment of a huge sum
for your release. Day after tomorrow or the next day he
should return with Prince Peter's reply.
"If it is favorable, arrangements will be made to turn
you over to Prince Peter's agents, who will have to come to
some distant meeting place with the money. A week, per-
haps, it will take, maybe longer."
It was the second day before Herman returned from Lus-
tadt. He rode in just at dark, his pony lathered from hard
Barney and the boy saw him coming, and the youth ran
forward with the others to learn the news that he had
brought; but Yellow Franz and his messenger withdrew to
a hut which the brigand chief reserved for his own use, nor
would he permit any beside the messenger to accompany
him to hear the report.
For half an hour Barney sat alone waiting for word from
Yellow Franz that arrangements had been consummated for
his release, and then out of the darkness came Rudolph,
wide-eyed and trembling.
"Oh, my king?" he whispered. "What shall we do? Peter
has refused to ransom you alive, but he has offered a great
sum for unquestioned proof of your death. Already he has
caused a proclamation to be issued stating that you have
been killed by bandits after escaping from Blentz, and or-
dering a period of national mourning. In three weeks he is
to be crowned king of Lutha."
"When do they intend terminating my existence?" queried
There was a smile upon his lips, for even now he could
scarce believe that in the twentieth century there could be
any such medieval plotting against a king's life, and yet, on
second thought, had he not ample proof of the lengths
to which Peter of Blentz was willing to go to obtain the
crown of Lutha!
"I do not know, your majesty," replied Rudolph, "when
they will do it; but soon, doubtless, since the sooner it is
done the sooner they can collect their pay."
Further conversation was interrupted by the sound of
footsteps without, and an instant later Yellow Franz entered
the squalid apartment and the dim circle of light which
flickered feebly from the smoky lantern that hung suspended
from the rafters.
He stopped just within the doorway and stood eyeing the
American with an ugly grin upon his vicious face. Then his
eyes fell upon the trembling Rudolph.
"Get out of here, you!" he growled. "I've got private
business with this king. And see that you don't come nosing
round either, or I'll slit that soft throat for you."
Rudolph slipped past the burly ruffian, barely dodging a
brutal blow aimed at him by the giant, and escaped into
the darkness without.
"And now for you, my fine fellow," said the brigand,
turning toward Barney. "Peter says you ain't worth nothing
to him--alive, but that your dead body will fetch us a
hundred thousand marks."
"Rather cheap for a king, isn't it?" was Barney's only
"That's what Herman tells him," replied Yellow Franz.
"But he's a close one, Peter is, and so it was that or nothing."
"When are you going to pull off this little--er--ah--
royal demise?" asked Barney.
"If you mean when am I going to kill you," replied the
bandit, "why, there ain't no particular rush about it. I'm a
tender-hearted chap, I am. I never should have been in this
business at all, but here I be, and as there ain't nobody that
can do a better job of the kind than me, or do it so pain-
lessly, why I just got to do it myself, and that's all there
is to it. But, as I says, there ain't no great rush. If you
want to pray, why, go ahead and pray. I'll wait for you."
"I don't remember," said Barney, "when I have met so
generous a party as you, my friend. Your self-sacrificing
magnanimity quite overpowers me. It reminds me of an-
other unloved Robin Hood whom I once met. It was in
front of Burket's coal-yard on Ella Street, back in dear old
Beatrice, at some unchristian hour of the night.
"After he had relieved me of a dollar and forty cents he
remarked: 'I gotta good mind to kick yer slats in fer not
havin' more of de cush on yeh; but I'm feelin' so good
about de last guy I stuck up I'll let youse off dis time.'"
"I do not know what you are talking about," replied
Yellow Franz; "but if you want to pray you'd better hurry
up about it."
He drew his pistol from its holster on the belt at his hips.
Now Barney Custer had no mind to give up the ghost
without a struggle; but just how he was to overcome the
great beast who confronted him with menacing pistol was,
to say the least, not precisely plain. He wished the man
would come a little nearer where he might have some chance
to close with him before the fellow could fire. To gain time
the American assumed a prayerful attitude, but kept one
eye on the bandit.
Presently Yellow Franz showed indications of impatience.
He fingered the trigger of his weapon, and then slowly
raised it on a line with Barney's chest.
"Hadn't you better come closer?" asked the young man.
"You might miss at that distance, or just wound me."
Yellow Franz grinned.
"I don't miss," he said, and then: "You're certainly a game
one. If it wasn't for the hundred thousand marks, I'd be
hanged if I'd kill you."
"The chances are that you will be if you do," said Barney,
"so wouldn't you rather take one hundred and fifty thousand
marks and let me make my escape?"
Yellow Franz looked at the speaker a moment through
"Where would you find any one willing to pay that
amount for a crazy king?" he asked.
"I have told you that I am not the king," said Barney.
"I am an American with a father who would gladly pay
that amount on my safe delivery to any American consul."
Yellow Franz shook his head and tapped his brow sig-
"Even if you was what you are dreaming, it wouldn't pay
me," he said.
"I'll make it two hundred thousand," said Barney.
"No--it's a waste of time talking about it. It's worth more
than money to me to know that I'll always have this thing
on Peter, and that when he's king he won't dare bother me
for fear I'll publish the details of this little deal. Come, you
must be through praying by this time. I can't wait around
here all night." Again Yellow Franz raised his pistol toward
Before the brigand could pull the trigger, or Barney hurl
himself upon his would-be assassin, there was a flash and a
loud report from the open window of the shack.
With a groan Yellow Franz crumpled to the dirt floor,
and simultaneously Barney was upon him and had wrested
the pistol from his hand; but the precaution was unneces-
sary for Yellow Franz would never again press finger to
trigger. He was dead even before Barney reached his side.
In possession of the weapon, the American turned toward
the window from which had come the rescuing shot, and
as he did so he saw the boy, Rudolph, clambering over the
sill, white-faced and trembling. In his hand was a smoking
carbine, and on his brow great beads of cold sweat.
"God forgive me!" murmured the youth. "I have killed
"You have killed a dangerous wild beast, Rudolph," said
Barney, "and both God and your fellow man will thank
and reward you."
"I am glad that I killed him, though," went on the boy,
"for he would have killed you, my king, had I not done so.
Gladly would I go to the gallows to save my king."
"You are a brave lad, Rudolph," said Barney, "and if ever
I get out of the pretty pickle I'm in you'll be well rewarded
for your loyalty to Leopold of Lutha. After all," thought the
young man, "being a kind has its redeeming features, for if
the boy had not thought me his monarch he would never
have risked the vengeance of the bloodthirsty brigands in
this attempt to save me."
"Hasten, your majesty," whispered the boy, tugging at
the sleeve of Barney's jacket. "There is no time to be lost.
We must be far away from here when the others discover
that Yellow Franz has been killed."
Barney stooped above the dead man, and removing his
belt and cartridges transferred them to his own person. Then
blowing out the lantern the two slipped out into the dark-
ness of the night.
About the camp fire of the brigands the entire pack was
congregated. They were talking together in low voices, ever
and anon glancing expectantly toward the shack to which
their chief had gone to dispatch the king. It is not every day
that a king is murdered, and even these hardened cut-
throats felt the spell of awe at the thought of what they
believed the sharp report they had heard from the shack
Keeping well to the far side of the clearing, Rudolph led
Barney around the group of men and safely into the wood
below them. From this point the boy followed the trail
which Barney and his captors had traversed two days previ-
ously, until he came to a diverging ravine that led steeply
up through the mountains upon their right hand.
In the distance behind them they suddenly heard, faintly,
the shouting of men.
"They have discovered Yellow Franz," whispered the boy,
"Then they'll be after us directly," said Barney.
"Yes, your majesty," replied Rudolph, "but in the dark-
ness they will not see that we have turned up this ravine,
and so they will ride on down the other. I have chosen this
way because their horses cannot follow us here, and thus
we shall be under no great disadvantage. It may be, how-
ever, that we shall have to hide in the mountains for a
while, since there will be no place of safety for us between
here and Lustadt until after the edge of their anger is dulled."
And such proved to be the case, for try as they would
they found it impossible to reach Lustadt without detection
by the brigands who patrolled every highway and byway
from their rugged mountains to the capital of Lutha.
For nearly three weeks Barney and the boy hid in caves
or dense underbrush by day, and by night sought some
avenue which would lead them past the vigilant sentries
that patrolled the ways to freedom.
Often they were wet by rains, nor were they ever in the
warm sunlight for a sufficient length of time to become
thoroughly dry and comfortable. Of food they had little,
and of the poorest quality.
They dared not light a fire for warmth or cooking, and
their light was so miserable that, but for the boy's pitiful
terror at the thought of being recaptured by the bandits,
Barney would long since have made a break for Lustadt,
depending upon their arms and ammunition to carry them
safely through were they discovered by their enemies.
Rudolph had contracted a severe cold the first night, and
now, it having settled upon his lungs, he had developed a
persistent and aggravating cough that caused Barney not a
little apprehension. When, after nearly three weeks of suffer-
ing and privation, it became clear that the boy's lungs were
affected, the American decided to take matters into his own
hands and attempt to reach Lustadt and a good doctor; but
before he had an opportunity to put his plan into execution
the entire matter was removed from his jurisdiction.
It happened like this: After a particularly fatiguing and
uncomfortable night spent in attempting to elude the senti-
nels who blocked their way from the mountains, daylight
found them near a little spring, and here they decided to
rest for an hour before resuming their way.
The little pool lay not far from a clump of heavy bushes
which would offer them excellent shelter, as it was Barney's
intention to go into hiding as soon as they had quenched
their thirst at the spring.
Rudolph was coughing pitifully, his slender frame wracked
by the convulsion of each new attack. Barney had placed
an arm about the boy to support him, for the paroxysms
always left him very weak.
The young man's heart went out to the poor boy, and
pangs of regret filled his mind as he realized that the child's
pathetic condition was the direct result of his self-sacrificing
attempt to save his king. Barney felt much like a murderer
and a thief, and dreaded the time when the boy should be
brought to a realization of his mistake.
He had come to feel a warm affection for the loyal little
lad, who had suffered so uncomplainingly and whose every
thought had been for the safety and comfort of his king.
Today, thought Barney, I'll take this child through to
Lustadt even if every ragged brigand in Lutha lies between
us and the capital; but even as he spoke a sudden crashing
of underbrush behind caused him to wheel about, and there,
not twenty paces from them, stood two of Yellow Franz's
At sight of Barney and the lad they gave voice to a shout
of triumph, and raising their carbines fired point-blank at
the two fugitives.
But Barney had been equally as quick with his own
weapon, and at the moment that they fired he grasped Ru-
dolph and dragged him backward to a great boulder behind
which their bodies might be protected from the fire of their
Both the bullets of the bandits' first volley had been di-
rected at Barney, for it was upon his head that the great
price rested. They had missed him by a narrow margin,
due, perhaps, to the fact that the mounts of the brigands
had been prancing in alarm at the unexpected sight of the
two strangers at the very moment that their riders attempted
to take aim and fire.
But now they had ridden back into the brush and dis-
mounted, and after hiding their ponies they came creeping
out upon their bellies upon opposite sides of Barney's shelter.
The American saw that it would be an easy thing for
them to pick him off if he remained where he was, and so
with a word to Rudolph he sprang up and the boy with
him. Each delivered a quick shot at the bandit nearest him,
and then together they broke for the bushes in which the
brigand's mounts were hidden.
Two shots answered theirs. Rudolph, who was ahead of
Barney, stumbled and threw up his hands. He would have
fallen had not the American thrown a strong arm about him.
"I'm shot, your majesty," murmured the boy, his head
dropping against Barney's breast.
With the lad grasped close to him, the young man turned
at the edge of the brush to meet the charge of the two
ruffians. The wounding of the youth had delayed them just
enough to preclude their making this temporary refuge in
As Barney turned both the men fired simultaneously, and
both missed. The American raised his revolver, and with the
flash of it the foremost brigand came to a sudden stop. An
expression of bewilderment crossed his features. He ex-
tended his arms straight before him, the revolver slipped
from his grasp, and then like a dying top he pivoted once
drunkenly and collapsed upon the turf.
At the instant of his fall his companion and the American
fired point-blank at one another.
Barney felt a burning sensation in his shoulder, but it was
forgotten for the moment in the relief that came to him as
he saw the second rascal sprawl headlong upon his face.
Then he turned his attention to the limp little figure that
hung across his left arm.
Gently Barney laid the boy upon the sward, and fetching
water from the pool bathed his face and forced a few drops
between the white lips. The cooling draft revived the
wounded child, but brought on a paroxysm of coughing.
When this had subsided Rudolph raised his eyes to those
of the man bending above him.
"Thank God, your majesty is unharmed," he whispered.
"Now I can die in peace."
The white lids drooped lower, and with a tired sigh the
boy lay quiet. Tears came to the young man's eyes as he
let the limp body gently to the ground.
"Brave little heart," he murmured, "you gave up your life
in the service of your king as truly as though you had not
been all mistaken in the object of your veneration, and if
it lies within the power of Barney Custer you shall not have
died in vain."
THE REAL LEOPOLD
TWO HOURS later a horseman pushed his way between tum-
bled and tangled briers along the bottom of a deep ravine.
He was hatless, and his stained and ragged khaki be-
tokened much exposure to the elements and hard and con-
tinued usage. At his saddle-bow a carbine swung in its boot,
and upon either hip was strapped a long revolver. Am-
munition in plenty filled the cross belts that he had looped
about his shoulders.
Grim and warlike as were his trappings, no less grim was
the set of his strong jaw or the glint of his gray eyes, nor
did the patch of brown stain that had soaked through the
left shoulder of his jacket tend to lessen the martial atmos-
phere which surrounded him. Fortunate it was for the brig-
ands of the late Yellow Franz that none of them chanced in
the path of Barney Custer that day.
For nearly two hours the man had ridden downward out
of the high hills in search of a dwelling at which he might
ask the way to Tann; but as yet he had passed but a single
house, and that a long untenanted ruin. He was wondering
what had become of all the inhabitants of Lutha when his
horse came to a sudden halt before an obstacle which en-
tirely blocked the narrow trail at the bottom of the ravine.
As the horseman's eyes fell upon the thing they went wide
in astonishment, for it was no less than the charred rem-
nants of the once beautiful gray roadster that had brought
him into this twentieth century land of medieval adventure
and intrigue. Barney saw that the machine had been lifted
from where it had fallen across the horse of the Princess
von der Tann, for the animal's decaying carcass now lay
entirely clear of it; but why this should have been done, or
by whom, the young man could not imagine.
A glance aloft showed him the road far above him, from
which he, the horse and the roadster had catapulted; and
with the sight of it there flashed to his mind the fair face of
the young girl in whose service the thing had happened.
Barney wondered if Joseph had been successful in returning
her to Tann, and he wondered, too, if she mourned for the
man she had thought king--if she would be very angry
should she ever learn the truth.
Then there came to the American's mind the figure of the
shopkeeper of Tafelberg, and the fellow's evident loyalty to
the mad king he had never seen. Here was one who might
aid him, thought Barney. He would have the will, at least
and with the thought the young man turned his pony's head
diagonally up the steep ravine side.
It was a tough and dangerous struggle to the road above,
but at last by dint of strenuous efforts on the part of the
sturdy little beast the two finally scrambled over the edge
of the road and stood once more upon level footing.
After breathing his mount for a few minutes Barney
swung himself into the saddle again and set off toward
Tafelberg. He met no one upon the road, nor within the
outskirts of the village, and so he came to the door of the
shop he sought without attracting attention.
Swinging to the ground he tied the pony to one of the
supporting columns of the porch-roof and a moment later
had stepped within the shop.
From a back room the shopkeeper presently emerged, and
when he saw who it was that stood before him his eyes went
wide in consternation.
"In the name of all the saints, your majesty," cried the old
fellow, "what has happened? How comes it that you are
out of the hospital, and travel-stained as though from a long,
hard ride? I cannot understand it, sire."
"Hospital?" queried the young man. "What do you mean,
my good fellow? I have been in no hospital."
"You were there only last evening when I inquired after
you of the doctor," insisted the shopkeeper, "nor did any
there yet suspect your true identity."
"Last evening I was hiding far up in the mountains from
Yellow Franz's band of cutthroats," replied Barney. "Tell me
what manner of riddle you are propounding."
Then a sudden light of understanding flashed through
"Man!" he exclaimed. "Tell me--you have found the true
king? He is at a hospital in Tafelberg?"
"Yes, your majesty, I have found the true king, and it is
so that he was at the Tafelberg sanatorium last evening. It
was beside the remnants of your wrecked automobile that
two of the men of Tafelberg found you.
"One leg was pinioned beneath the machine which was
on fire when they discovered you. They brought you to my
shop, which is the first on the road into town, and not
guessing your true identity they took my word for it that
you were an old acquaintance of mine and without more
ado turned you over to my care."
Barney scratched his head in puzzled bewilderment. He
began to doubt if he were in truth himself, or, after all,
Leopold of Lutha. As no one but himself could, by the
wildest stretch of imagination, have been in such a position,
he was almost forced to the conclusion that all that had
passed since the instant that his car shot over the edge of
the road into the ravine had been but the hallucinations
of a fever-excited brain, and that for the past three weeks
he had been lying in a hospital cot instead of experiencing
the strange and inexplicable adventures that he had believed
to have befallen him.
But yet the more he thought of it the more ridiculous
such a conclusion appeared, for it did not in the least explain
the pony tethered without, which he plainly could see from
where he stood within the shop, nor did it satisfactorily ac-
count for the blotch of blood upon his shoulder from a
wound so fresh that the stain still was damp; nor for the
sword which Joseph had buckled about his waist within
Blentz's forbidding walls; nor for the arms and ammunition
he had taken from the dead brigands--all of which he had
before him as tangible evidence of the rationality of the
past few weeks.
"My friend," said Barney at last, "I cannot wonder that
you have mistaken me for the king, since all those I have
met within Lutha have leaped to the same error, though
not one among them made the slightest pretense of ever
having seen his majesty. A ridiculous beard started the
trouble, and later a series of happenings, no one of which
was particularly remarkable in itself, aggravated it, until
but a moment since I myself was almost upon the point of
believing that I am the king.
"But, my dear Herr Kramer, I am not the king; and when
you have accompanied me to the hospital and seen that your
patient still is there, you may be willing to admit that there
is some justification for doubt as to my royalty."
The old man shook his head.
"I am not so sure of that," he said, "for he who lies at the
hospital, providing you are not he, or he you, maintains as
sturdily as do you that he is not Leopold. If one of you,
whichever be king--providing that you are not one and
the same, and that I be not the only maniac in the sad
muddle--if one of you would but trust my loyalty and love
for the true king and admit your identity, then I might be
of some real service to that one of you who is really Leo-
pold. Herr Gott! My words are as mixed as my poor brain."
"If you will listen to me, Herr Kramer," said Barney, "and
believe what I tell you, I shall be able to unscramble your
ideas in so far as they pertain to me and my identity. As to
the man you say was found beneath my car, and who now
lies in the sanatorium of Tafelberg, I cannot say until I have
seen and talked with him. He may be the king and he may
not; but if he insists that he is not, I shall be the last to
wish a kingship upon him. I know from sad experience the
hardships and burdens that the thing entails."
Then Barney narrated carefully and in detail the principal
events of his life, from his birth in Beatrice to his coming to
Lutha upon pleasure. He showed Herr Kramer his watch
with his monogram upon it, his seal ring, and inside the
pocket of his coat the label of his tailor, with his own name
written beneath it and the date that the garment had been
When he had completed his narrative the old man shook
"I cannot understand it," he said; "and yet I am almost
forced to believe that you are not the king."
"Direct me to the sanatorium," suggested Barney, "and if
it be within the range of possibility I shall learn whether the
man who lies there is Leopold or another, and if he be the
king I shall serve him as loyally as you would have served
me. Together we may assist him to gain the safety of Tann
and the protection of old Prince Ludwig."
"If you are not the king," said Kramer suspiciously, "why
should you be so interested in aiding Leopold? You may
even be an enemy. How can I know?"
"You cannot know, my good friend," replied Barney. "But
had I been an enemy, how much more easily might I have
encompassed my designs, whatever they might have been,
had I encouraged you to believe that I was king. The fact
that I did not, must assure you that I have no ulterior
designs against Leopold."
This line of reasoning proved quite convincing to the old
shopkeeper, and at last he consented to lead Barney to the
sanatorium. Together they traversed the quiet village streets
to the outskirts of the town, where in large, park-like grounds
the well-known sanatorium of Tafelberg is situated in quiet
surroundings. It is an institution for the treatment of nervous
diseases to which patients are brought from all parts of
Europe, and is doubtless Lutha's principal claim upon the
attention of the outer world.
As the two crossed the gardens which lay between the
gate and the main entrance and mounted the broad steps
leading to the veranda an old servant opened the door, and
recognizing Herr Kramer, nodded pleasantly to him.
"Your patient seems much brighter this morning, Herr
Kramer," he said, "and has been asking to be allowed to
"He is still here, then?" questioned the shopkeeper with
a sigh that might have indicated either relief or resignation.
"Why, certainly. You did not expect that he had entirely
recovered overnight, did you?"
"No," replied Herr Kramer, "not exactly. In fact, I did
not know what I should expect."
As the two passed him on their way to the room in which
the patient lay, the servant eyed Herr Kramer in surprise, as
though wondering what had occurred to his mentality since
he had seen him the previous day. He paid no attention to
Barney other than to bow to him as he passed, but there
was another who did--an attendant standing in the hallway
through which the two men walked toward the private room
where one of them expected to find the real mad king of
He was a dark-visaged fellow, sallow and small-eyed; and
as his glance rested upon the features of the American a
puzzled expression crossed his face. He let his gaze follow
the two as they moved on up the corridor until they turned
in at the door of the room they sought, then he followed
them, entering an apartment next to that in which Herr
Kramer's patient lay.
As Barney and the shopkeeper entered the small, white-
washed room, the former saw upon the narrow iron cot the
figure of a man of about his own height. The face that turned
toward them as they entered was covered by a full, reddish-
brown beard, and the eyes that looked up at them in trou-
bled surprise were gray. Beyond these Barney could see no
likenesses to himself; yet they were sufficient, he realized,
to have deceived any who might have compared one solely
to the printed description of the other.
At the doorway Kramer halted, motioning Barney within.
"It will be better if you talk with him alone," he said. "I
am sure that before both of us he will admit nothing."
Barney nodded, and the shopkeeper of Tafelberg with-
drew and closed the door behind him. The American ap-
proached the bedside with a cheery "Good morning."
The man returned the salutation with a slight inclination
of his head. There was a questioning look in his eyes; but
dominating that was a pitiful, hunted expression that touched
the American's heart.
The man's left hand lay upon the coverlet. Barney glanced
at the third finger. About it was a plain gold band. There
was no royal ring of the kings of Lutha in evidence, yet
that was no indication that the man was not Leopold; for
were he the king and desirous of concealing his identity, his
first act would be to remove every symbol of his kingship.
Barney took the hand in his.
"They tell me that you are well on the road to recovery,"
he said. "I am very glad that it is so."
"Who are you?" asked the man.
"I am Bernard Custer, an American. You were found
beneath my car at the bottom of a ravine. I feel that I owe
you full reparation for the injuries you received, though
it is beyond me how you happened to be found under the
machine. Unless I am truly mad, I was the only occupant
of the roadster when it plunged over the embankment."
"It is very simple," replied the man upon the cot. "I
chanced to be at the bottom of the ravine at the time and
the car fell upon me."
"What were you doing at the bottom of the ravine?" asked
Barney quite suddenly, after the manner of one who ad-
ministers a third degree.
The man started and flushed with suspicion.
"That is my own affair," he said.
He tried to disengage his hand from Barney's, and as he
did so the American felt something within the fingers of the
other. For an instant his own fingers tightened upon those
that lay within them, so that as the others were withdrawn
his index finger pressed close upon the thing that had
aroused his curiosity.
It was a large setting turned inward upon the third
finger of the left hand. The gold band that Barney had
seen was but the opposite side of the same ring.
A quick look of comprehension came to Barney's eyes. The
man upon the cot evidently noted it and rightly interpreted
its cause, for, having freed his hand, he now slipped it
quickly beneath the coverlet.
"I have passed through a series of rather remarkable ad-
ventures since I came to Lutha," said Barney apparently
quite irrelevantly, after the two had remained silent for a
moment. "Shortly after my car fell upon you I was mistaken
for the fugitive King Leopold by the young lady whose
horse fell into the ravine with my car. She is a most loyal
supporter of the king, being none other than the Princess
Emma von der Tann. From her I learned to espouse the
cause of Leopold."
Step by step Barney took the man through the adventures
that had befallen him during the past three weeks, closing
with the story of the death of the boy, Rudolph.
"Above his dead body I swore to serve Leopold of Lutha
as loyally as the poor, mistaken child had served me, your
majesty," and Barney looked straight into the eyes of him
who lay upon the little iron cot.
For a moment the man held his eyes upon those of the
American, but finally, under the latter's steady gaze, they
dropped and wandered.
"Why do you address me as 'your majesty'?" he asked
"With my forefinger I felt the ruby and the four wings of
the setting of the royal ring of the kings of Lutha upon
the third finger of your left hand," replied Barney.
The king started up upon his elbow, his eyes wild with
"It is not so," he cried. "It is a lie! I am not the king."
"Hush!" admonished Barney. "You have nothing to fear
from me. There are good friends and loyal subjects in plenty
to serve and protect your majesty, and place you upon the
throne that has been stolen from you. I have sworn to serve
you. The old shopkeeper, Herr Kramer, who brought me
here, is an honest, loyal old soul. He would die for you,
your majesty. Trust us. Let us help you. Tomorrow, Kramer
tells me, Peter of Blentz is to have himself crowned as king
in the cathedral at Lustadt.
"Will you sit supinely by and see another rob you of your
kingdom, and then continue to rob and throttle your sub-
jects as he has been doing for the past ten years? No, you
will not. Even if you do not want the crown, you were
born to the duties and obligations it entails, and for the sake
of your people you must assume them now."
"How am I to know that you are not another of the
creatures of that fiend of Blentz?" cried the king. "How am
I to know that you will not drag me back to the terrors of
that awful castle, and to the poisonous potions of the new
physician Peter has employed to assassinate me? I can trust
"Go away and leave me. I do not want to be king. I wish
only to go away as far from Lutha as I can get and pass
the balance of my life in peace and security. Peter may
have the crown. He is welcome to it, for all of me. All I
ask is my life and my liberty."
Barney saw that while the king was evidently of sound
mind, his was not one of those iron characters and coura-
geous hearts that would willingly fight to the death for his
own rights and the rights and happiness of his people. Per-
haps the long years of bitter disappointment and misery,
the tedious hours of imprisonment, and the constant haunt-
ing fears for his life had reduced him to this pitiable condi-
Whatever the cause, Barney Custer was determined to
overcome the man's aversion to assuming the duties which
were rightly his, for in his memory were the words of Emma
von der Tann, in which she had made plain to him the fate
that would doubtless befall her father and his house were
Peter of Blentz to become king of Lutha. Then, too, there
was the life of the little peasant boy. Was that to be given
up uselessly for a king with so mean a spirit that he would
not take a scepter when it was forced upon him?
And the people of Lutha? Were they to be further and
continually robbed and downtrodden beneath the heel of
Peter's scoundrelly officials because their true king chose to
evade the responsibilities that were his by birth?
For half an hour Barney pleaded and argued with the
king, until he infused in the weak character of the young
man a part of his own tireless enthusiasm and courage.
Leopold commenced to take heart and see things in a brighter
and more engaging light. Finally he became quite excited
about the prospects, and at last Barney obtained a willing
promise from him that he would consent to being placed
upon his throne and would go to Lustadt at any time that
Barney should come for him with a force from the retainers
of Prince Ludwig von der Tann.
"Let us hope," cried the king, "that the luck of the reign-
ing house of Lutha has been at last restored. Not since my
aunt, the Princess Victoria, ran away with a foreigner has
good fortune shone upon my house. It was when my father
was still a young man--before he had yet come to the
throne--and though his reign was marked with great peace
and prosperity for the people of Lutha, his own private
fortunes were most unhappy.
"My mother died at my birth, and the last days of my
father's life were filled with suffering from the cancer that
was slowly killing him. Let us pray, Herr Custer, that you
have brought new life to the fortunes of my house."
"Amen, your majesty," said Barney. "And now I'll be off
for Tann--there must not be a moment lost if we are to
bring you to Lustadt in time for the coronation. Herr
Kramer will watch over you, but as none here guesses your
true identity you are safer here than anywhere else in Lutha.
Good-bye, your majesty. Be of good heart. We'll have you
on the road to Lustadt and the throne tomorrow morning."
After Barney Custer had closed the door of the king's
chamber behind him and hurried down the corridor, the door
of the room next the king's opened quietly and a dark-
visaged fellow, sallow and small-eyed, emerged. Upon his
lips was a smile of cunning satisfaction, as he hastened to
the office of the medical director and obtained a leave of
absence for twenty-four hours.
THE CORONATION DAY
TOWARD DUSK of the day upon which the mad king of Lutha
had been found, a dust-covered horseman reined in before
the great gate of the castle of Prince Ludwig von der Tann.
The unsettled political conditions which overhung the little
kingdom of Lutha were evident in the return to medievalism
which the raised portcullis and the armed guard upon the
barbican of the ancient feudal fortress revealed. Not for a
hundred years before had these things been done other
than as a part of the ceremonials of a fete day, or in honor
of visiting royalty.
At the challenge from the gate Barney replied that he
bore a message for the prince. Slowly the portcullis sank
into position across the moat and an officer advanced to
meet the rider.
"The prince has ridden to Lustadt with a large retinue,"
he said, "to attend the coronation of Peter of Blentz to-
"Prince Ludwig von der Tann has gone to attend the
coronation of Peter!" cried Barney in amazement. "Has the
Princess Emma returned from her captivity in the castle of
"She is with her father now, having returned nearly three
weeks ago," replied the officer, "and Peter has disclaimed
responsibility for the outrage, promising that those respon-
sible shall be punished. He has convinced Prince Ludwig
that Leopold is dead, and for the sake of Lutha--to save
her from civil strife--my prince has patched a truce with
Peter; though unless I mistake the character of the latter
and the temper of the former it will be short-lived.
"To demonstrate to the people," continued the officer, "that
Prince Ludwig and Peter are good friends, the great Von
der Tann will attend the coronation, but that he takes little
stock in the sincerity of the Prince of Blentz would be ap-
parent could the latter have a peep beneath the cloaks and
look into the loyal hearts of the men of Tann who rode
down to Lustadt today."
Barney did not wait to hear more. He was glad that in
the gathering dusk the officer had not seen his face plainly
enough to mistake him for the king. With a parting, "Then
I must ride to Lustadt with my message for the prince," he
wheeled his tired mount and trotted down the steep trail
from Tann toward the highway which leads to the capital.
All night Barney rode. Three times he wandered from the
way and was forced to stop at farmhouses to inquire the
proper direction; but darkness hid his features from the
sleepy eyes of those who answered his summons, and day-
light found him still forging ahead in the direction of the
capital of Lutha.
The American was sunk in unhappy meditation as his
weary little mount plodded slowly along the dusty road.
For hours the man had not been able to urge the beast out
of a walk. The loss of time consequent upon his having
followed wrong roads during the night and the exhaustion
of the pony which retarded his speed to what seemed little
better than a snail's pace seemed to assure the failure of
his mission, for at best he could not reach Lustadt before
There was no possibility of bringing Leopold to his capital
in time for the coronation, and but a bare possibility that
Prince Ludwig would accept the word of an entire stranger
that Leopold lived, for the acknowledgment of such a con-
dition by the old prince could result in nothing less than an
immediate resort to arms by the two factions. It was certain
that Peter would be infinitely more anxious to proceed with
his coronation should it be rumored that Leopold lived, and
equally certain that Prince Ludwig would interpose every
obstacle, even to armed resistance, to prevent the consum-
mation of the ceremony.
Yet there seemed to Barney no other alternative than to
place before the king's one powerful friend the information
that he had. It would then rest with Ludwig to do what he
An hour from Lustadt the road wound through a dense
forest, whose pleasant shade was a grateful relief to both
horse and rider from the hot sun beneath which they had
been journeying the greater part of the morning. Barney
was still lost in thought, his eyes bent forward, when at a
sudden turning of the road he came face to face with a
troop of horse that were entering the main highway at this
point from an unfrequented byroad.
At sight of them the American instinctively wheeled his
mount in an effort to escape, but at a command from an
officer a half dozen troopers spurred after him, their fresh
horses soon overtaking his jaded pony.
For a moment Barney contemplated resistance, for these
were troopers of the Royal Horse, the body which was now
Peter's most effective personal tool; but even as his hand
slipped to the butt of one of the revolvers at his hip, the
young man saw the foolish futility of such a course, and
with a shrug and a smile he drew rein and turned to face
the advancing soldiers.
As he did so the officer rode up, and at sight of Barney's
face gave an exclamation of astonishment. The officer was
"Well met, your majesty," he cried saluting. "We are rid-
ing to the coronation. We shall be just in time."
"To see Peter of Blentz rob Leopold of a crown," said
the American in a disgusted tone.
"To see Leopold of Lutha come into his own, your
majesty. Long live the king!" cried the officer.
Barney thought the man either poking fun at him be-
cause he was not the king, or, thinking he was Leopold, tak-
ing a mean advantage of his helplessness to bait him. Yet
this last suspicion seemed unfair to Butzow, who at Blentz
had given ample evidence that he was a gentleman, and of
far different caliber from Maenck and the others who served
If he could but convince the man that he was no king
and thus gain his liberty long enough to reach Prince Lud-
wig's ear, his mission would have been served in so far as
it lay in his power to serve it. For some minutes Barney
expended his best eloquence and logic upon the cavalry
officer in an effort to convince him that he was not Leopold.
The king had given the American his great ring to safe-
guard for him until it should be less dangerous for Leopold
to wear it, and for fear that at the last moment someone
within the sanatorium might recognize it and bear word to
Peter of the king's whereabouts. Barney had worn it turned
in upon the third finger of his left hand, and now he slipped
it surreptitiously into his breeches pocket lest Butzow should
see it and by it be convinced that Barney was indeed Leo-
"Never mind who you are," cried Butzow, thinking to
humor the king's strange obsession. "You look enough like
Leopold to be his twin, and you must help us save Lutha
from Peter of Blentz."
The American showed in his expression the surprise he
felt at these words from an officer of the prince regent.
"You wonder at my change of heart?" asked Butzow.
"How can I do otherwise?"
"I cannot blame you," said the officer. "Yet I think that
when you know the truth you will see that I have done
only that which I believed to be the duty of a patriotic
officer and a true gentleman."
They had rejoined the troop by this time, and the entire
company was once more headed toward Lustadt. Butzow
had commanded one of the troopers to exchange horses
with Barney, bringing the jaded animal into the city slowly,
and now freshly mounted the American was making better
time toward his destination. His spirits rose, and as they
galloped along the highway, he listened with renewed in-
terest to the story which Lieutenant Butzow narrated in
It seemed that Butzow had been absent from Lutha for
a number of years as military attache to the Luthanian
legation at a foreign court. He had known nothing of the
true condition at home until his return, when he saw such
scoundrels as Coblich, Maenck, and Stein high in the
favor of the prince regent. For some time before the events
that had transpired after he had brought Barney and the
Princess Emma to Blentz he had commenced to have his
doubts as to the true patriotism of Peter of Blentz; and
when he had learned through the unguarded words of
Schonau that there was a real foundation for the rumor
that the regent had plotted the assassination of the king his
suspicions had crystallized into knowledge, and he had
sworn to serve his king before all others--were he sane or
mad. From this loyalty he could not be shaken.
"And what do you intend doing now?" asked Barney.
"I intend placing you upon the throne of your ancestors,
sire," replied Butzow; "nor will Peter of Blentz dare the
wrath of the people by attempting to interpose any ob-
stacle. When he sees Leopold of Lutha ride into the capital
of his kingdom at the head of even so small a force as ours
he will know that the end of his own power is at hand, for
he is not such a fool that he does not perfectly realize that
he is the most cordially hated man in all Lutha, and that
only those attend upon him who hope to profit through his
success or who fear his evil nature."
"If Peter is crowned today," asked Barney, "will it pre-
vent Leopold regaining his throne?"
"It is difficult to say," replied Butzow; "but the chances
are that the throne would be lost to him forever. To regain
it he would have to plunge Lutha into a bitter civil war,
for once Peter is proclaimed king he will have the law
upon his side, and with the resources of the State behind
him--the treasury and the army--he will feel in no mood
to relinquish the scepter without a struggle. I doubt much
that you will ever sit upon your throne, sire, unless you do
so within the very next hour."
For some time Barney rode in silence. He saw that only
by a master stroke could the crown be saved for the true
king. Was it worth it? The man was happier without a
crown. Barney had come to believe that no man lived who
could be happy in possession of one. Then there came be-
fore his mind's eye the delicate, patrician face of Emma
von der Tann.
Would Peter of Blentz be true to his new promises to
the house of Von der Tann? Barney doubted it. He recalled
all that it might mean of danger and suffering to the girl
whose kisses he still felt upon his lips as though it had
been but now that hers had placed them there. He re-
called the limp little body of the boy, Rudolph, and the
Spartan loyalty with which the little fellow had given his
life in the service of the man he had thought king. The
pitiful figure of the fear-haunted man upon the iron cot at
Tafelberg rose before him and cried for vengeance.
To this man was the woman he loved betrothed! He
knew that he might never wed the Princess Emma. Even
were she not promised to another, the iron shackles of con-
vention and age-old customs must forever separate her from
an untitled American. But if he couldn't have her he still
could serve her!
"For her sake," he muttered.
"Did your majesty speak?" asked Butzow.
"Yes, lieutenant. We urge greater haste, for if we are to
be crowned today we have no time to lose."
Butzow smiled a relieved smile. The king had at last
regained his senses!
Within the ancient cathedral at Lustadt a great and gor-
geously attired assemblage had congregated. All the nobles
of Lutha were gathered there with their wives, their chil-
dren, and their retainers. There were the newer nobility of
the lowlands--many whose patents dated but since the
regency of Peter--and there were the proud nobility of the
highlands--the old nobility of which Prince Ludwig von
der Tann was the chief.
It was noticeable that though a truce had been made
between Ludwig and Peter, yet the former chancellor of the
kingdom did not stand upon the chancel with the other
dignitaries of the State and court.
Few there were who knew that he had been invited to
occupy a place of honor there, and had replied that he
would take no active part in the making of any king in
Lutha whose veins did not pulse to the flow of the blood
of the house in whose service he had grown gray.
Close packed were the retainers of the old prince so that
their great number was scarcely noticeable, though quite so
was the fact that they kept their cloaks on, presenting a
somber appearance in the midst of all the glitter of gold
and gleam of jewels that surrounded them--a grim, business-
like appearance that cast a chill upon Peter of Blentz as his
eyes scanned the multitude of faces below him.
He would have shown his indignation at this seeming
affront had he dared; but until the crown was safely upon
his head and the royal scepter in his hand Peter had no
mind to do aught that might jeopardize the attainment of
the power he had sought for the past ten years.
The solemn ceremony was all but completed; the Bishop
of Lustadt had received the great golden crown from the
purple cushion upon which it had been borne at the head
of the procession which accompanied Peter up the broad
center aisle of the cathedral. He had raised it above the
head of the prince regent, and was repeating the solemn
words which precede the placing of the golden circlet upon
the man's brow. In another moment Peter of Blentz would
be proclaimed the king of Lutha.
By her father's side stood Emma von der Tann. Upon
her haughty, high-bred face there was no sign of the emo-
tions which ran riot within her fair bosom. In the act that
she was witnessing she saw the eventual ruin of her father's
house. That Peter would long want for an excuse to break
and humble his ancient enemy she did not believe; but
this was not the only cause for the sorrow that overwhelmed
Her most poignant grief, like that of her father, was for
the dead king, Leopold; but to the sorrow of the loyal sub-
ject was added the grief of the loving woman, bereft. Close
to her heart she hugged the memory of the brief hours spent
with the man whom she had been taught since childhood to
look upon as her future husband, but for whom the all-
consuming fires of love had only been fanned to life within
her since that moment, now three weeks gone, that he had
crushed her to his breast to cover her lips with kisses for
the short moment ere he sacrificed his life to save her from a
fate worse than death.
Before her stood the Nemesis of her dead king. The last
act of the hideous crime against the man she had loved was
nearing its close. As the crown, poised over the head of Peter
of Blentz, sank slowly downward the girl felt that she could
scarce restrain her desire to shriek aloud a protest against
the wicked act--the crowning of a murderer king of her
A glance at the old man at her side showed her the stern,
commanding features of her sire molded in an expression of
haughty dignity; only the slight movement of the muscles of
the strong jaw revealed the tensity of the hidden emotions
of the stern old warrior. He was meeting disappointment and
defeat as a Von der Tann should--brave to the end.
The crown had all but touched the head of Peter of
Blentz when a sudden commotion at the back of the cathe-
dral caused the bishop to look up in ill-concealed annoy-
ance. At the sight that met his eyes his hands halted in
The great audience turned as one toward the doors at
the end of the long central aisle. There, through the wide-
swung portals, they saw mounted men forcing their way into
the cathedral. The great horses shouldered aside the foot-
soldiers that attempted to bar their way, and twenty troop-
ers of the Royal Horse thundered to the very foot of the
At their head rode Lieutenant Butzow and a tall young
man in soiled and tattered khaki, whose gray eyes and full
reddish-brown beard brought an exclamation from Captain
Maenck who commanded the guard about Peter of Blentz.
"Mein Gott--the king!" cried Maenck, and at the words
Peter went white.
In open-mouthed astonishment the spectators saw the
hurrying troopers and heard Butzow's "The king! The king!
Make way for Leopold, King of Lutha!"
And a girl saw, and as she saw her heart leaped to her
mouth. Her small hand gripped the sleeve of her father's
coat. "The king, father," she cried. "It is the king."
Old Von der Tann, the light of a new hope firing his eyes,
threw aside his cloak and leaped to the chancel steps beside
Butzow and the others who were mounting them. Behind
him a hundred cloaks dropped from the shoulders of his
fighting men, exposing not silks and satins and fine velvet,
but the coarse tan of khaki, and grim cartridge belts well
filled, and stern revolvers slung to well-worn service belts.
As Butzow and Barney stepped upon the chancel Peter
of Blentz leaped forward. "What mad treason is this?" he
"The days of treason are now past, prince," replied But-
zow meaningly. "Here is not treason, but Leopold of Lutha
come to claim his crown which he inherited from his father."
"It is a plot," cried Peter, "to place an impostor upon the
throne! This man is not the king."
For a moment there was silence. The people had not taken
sides as yet. They awaited a leader. Old Von der Tann
scrutinized the American closely.
"How may we know that you are Leopold?" he asked.
"For ten years we have not seen our king."
"The governor of Blentz has already acknowledged his
identity," cried Butzow. "Maenck was the first to proclaim
the presence of the putative king."
At that someone near the chancel cried: "Long live Leo-
pold, king of Lutha!" and at the words the whole assemblage
raised their voices in a tumultuous: "Long live the king!"
Peter of Blentz turned toward Maenck. "The guard!" he
cried. "Arrest those traitors, and restore order in the cathe-
dral. Let the coronation proceed."
Maenck took a step toward Barney and Butzow, when old
Prince von der Tann interposed his giant frame with grim
"Hold!" He spoke in a low, stern voice that brought the
cowardly Maenck to a sudden halt.
The men of Tann had pressed eagerly forward until they
stood, with bared swords, a solid rank of fighting men in
grim semicircle behind their chief. There were cries from
different parts of the cathedral of: "Crown Leopold, our
true king! Down with Peter! Down with the assassin!"
"Enough of this," cried Peter. "Clear the cathedral!"
He drew his own sword, and with half a hundred loyal
retainers at his back pressed forward to clear the chancel.
There was a brief fight, from which Barney, much to his
disgust, was barred by the mighty figure of the old prince
and the stalwart sword-arm of Butzow. He did get one
crack at Maenck, and had the satisfaction of seeing blood
spurt from a fleshwound across the fellow's cheek.
"That for the Princess Emma," he called to the governor of
Blentz, and then men crowded between them and he did
not see the captain again during the battle.
When Peter saw that more than half of the palace guard
were shouting for Leopold, and fighting side by side with
the men of Tann, he realized the futility of further armed
resistance at this time. Slowly he withdrew, and at last the
fighting ceased and some semblance of order was restored
within the cathedral.
Fearfully, the bishop emerged from hiding, his robes dis-
heveled and his miter askew. Butzow grasped him none too
reverently by the arm and dragged him before Barney. The
crown of Lutha dangled in the priest's palsied hands.
"Crown the king!" cried the lieutenant. "Crown Leopold,
king of Lutha!"
A mad roar of acclaim greeted this demand, and again
from all parts of the cathedral rose the same wild cry. But
in the lull that followed there were some who demanded
proof of the tattered young man who stood before them and
claimed that he was king.
"Let Prince Ludwig speak!" cried a dozen voices.
"Yes, Prince Ludwig! Prince Ludwig!" took up the throng.
Prince Ludwig von der Tann turned toward the bearded
young man. Silence fell upon the crowded cathedral. Peter
of Blentz stood awaiting the outcome, ready to demand the
crown upon the first indication of wavering belief in the
man he knew was not Leopold.
"How may we know that you are really Leopold?" again
asked Ludwig of Barney.
The American raised his left hand, upon the third finger
of which gleamed the great ruby of the royal ring of the
kings of Lutha. Even Peter of Blentz started back in surprise
as his eyes fell upon the ring.
Where had the man come upon it?
Prince von der Tann dropped to one knee before Mr.
Bernard Custer of Beatrice, Nebraska, U.S.A., and lifted
that gentleman's hand to his lips, and as the people of Lutha
saw the act they went mad with joy.
Slowly Prince Ludwig rose and addressed the bishop.
"Leopold, the rightful heir to the throne of Lutha, is here.
Let the coronation proceed."
The quiet of the sepulcher fell upon the assemblage as the
holy man raised the crown above the head of the king. Bar-
ney saw from the corner of his eye the sea of faces up-
turned toward him. He saw the relief and happiness upon
the stern countenance of the old prince.
He hated to dash all their new found joy by the an-
nouncement that he was not the king. He could not do that,
for the moment he did Peter would step forward and de-
mand that his own coronation continue. How was he to
save the throne for Leopold?
Among the faces beneath him he suddenly descried that
of a beautiful young girl whose eyes, filled with the tears of
a great happiness and a greater love, were upturned to his.
To reveal his true identity would lose him this girl forever.
None save Peter knew that he was not the king. All save
Peter would hail him gladly as Leopold of Lutha. How
easily he might win a throne and the woman he loved by a
moment of seeming passive compliance.
The temptation was great, and then he recalled the boy,
lying dead for his king in the desolate mountains, and the
pathetic light in the eyes of the sorrowful man at Tafelberg,
and the great trust and confidence in the heart of the
woman who had shown that she loved him.
Slowly Barney Custer raised his palm toward the bishop
in a gesture of restraint.
"There are those who doubt that I am king," he said. "In
these circumstances there should be no coronation in Lutha
until all doubts are allayed and all may unite in accepting
without question the royal right of the true Leopold to the
crown of his father. Let the coronation wait, then, until
another day, and all will be well."
"It must take place before noon of the fifth day of Nov-
ember, or not until a year later," said Prince Ludwig. "In
the meantime the Prince Regent must continue to rule. For
the sake of Lutha the coronation must take place today,
"What is the date?" asked Barney.
"The third, sire."
"Let the coronation wait until the fifth."