The Mad King
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Part 4 out of 7
Barney's cigar, forgotten, had long since died out. Not
even its former fitful glow proclaimed his presence upon the
porch, whose black shadows completely enveloped him. Be-
fore him stretched a wide acreage of lawn, tree dotted at
the side of the house. Bushes hid the stone wall that
marked the boundary of the Custer grounds and extended
here and there out upon the sward among the trees. The
night was moonless but clear. A faint light pervaded the
Barney sat staring straight ahead, but his gaze did not
stop upon the familiar objects of the foreground. Instead it
spanned two continents and an ocean to rest upon the little
spot of woodland and rugged mountain and lowland that
is Lutha. It was with an effort that the man suddenly focused
his attention upon that which lay directly before him. A
shadow among the trees had moved!
Barney Custer sat perfectly still, but now he was sud-
denly alert and watchful. Again the shadow moved where
no shadow should be moving. It crossed from the shade of
one tree to another. Barney came cautiously to his feet.
Silently he entered the house, running quickly to a side door
that opened upon the grounds. As he drew it back its
hinges gave forth no sound. Barney looked toward the spot
where he had seen the shadow. Again he saw it scuttle
hurriedly beneath another tree nearer the house. This time
there was no doubt. It was a man!
Directly before the door where Barney stood was a per-
gola, ivy-covered. Behind this he slid, and, running its
length, came out among the trees behind the night prowler.
Now he saw him distinctly. The fellow was bearded, and
in his right hand he carried a package. Instantly Barney
recalled Butzow's comment upon the destruction of the mill
--"if it WAS lightning!"
Cold sweat broke from every pore of his body. His mother
and father were there in the house, and Vic--all sleeping
peacefully. He ran quickly toward the menacing figure,
and as he did so he saw the other halt behind a great tree
and strike a match. In the glow of the flame he saw it
touch close to the package that the fellow held, and then he
was upon him.
There was a brief and terrific struggle. The stranger hurled
the package toward the house. Barney caught him by the
throat, beating him heavily in the face; and then, realizing
what the package was, he hurled the fellow from him, and
sprang toward the hissing and sputtering missile where it
lay close to the foundation wall of the house, though in the
instant of his close contact with the man he had recognized
through the disguising beard the features of Captain Ernst
Maenck, the principal tool of Peter of Blentz.
Quick though Barney was to reach the bomb and ex-
tinguish the fuse, Maenck had disappeared before he re-
turned to search for him; and, though he roused the gardener
and chauffeur and took turns with them in standing guard
the balance of the night, the would-be assassin did not
There was no question in Barney Custer's mind as to
whom the bomb was intended for. That Maenck had hurled
it toward the house after Barney had seized him was merely
the result of accident and the man's desire to get the death-
dealing missile as far from himself as possible before it ex-
ploded. That it would have wrecked the house in the hope
of reaching him, had he not fortunately interfered, was too
evident to the American to be questioned.
And so he decided before the night was spent to put him-
self as far from his family as possible, lest some future
attempt upon his life might endanger theirs. Then, too,
righteous anger and a desire for revenge prompted his de-
cision. He would run Maenck to earth and have an ac-
counting with him. It was evident that his life would not
be worth a farthing so long as the fellow was at liberty.
Before dawn he swore the gardener and chauffeur to si-
lence, and at breakfast announced his intention of leaving
that day for New York to seek a commission as correspondent
with an old classmate, who owned the New York Evening
National. At the hotel Barney inquired of the proprietor
relative to a bearded stranger, but the man had had no one
of that description registered. Chance, however, gave him a
clue. His roadster was in a repair shop, and as he stopped
in to get it he overheard a conversation that told him all
he wanted to know. As he stood talking with the foreman
a dust-covered automobile pulled into the garage.
"Hello, Bill," called the foreman to the driver. "Where
you been so early?"
"Took a guy to Lincoln," replied the other. "He was in
an awful hurry. I bet we broke all the records for that
stretch of road this morning--I never knew the old boat
had it in her."
"Who was it?" asked Barney.
"I dunno," replied the driver. "Talked like a furriner, and
looked the part. Bushy black beard. Said he was a German
army officer, an' had to beat it back on account of the war.
Seemed to me like he was mighty anxious to get back there
an' be killed."
Barney waited to hear no more. He did not even go
home to say good-bye to his family. Instead he leaped into
his gray roadster--a later model of the one he had lost in
Lutha--and the last that Beatrice, Nebraska, saw of him
was a whirling cloud of dust as he raced north out of town
He was five minutes too late into the capital city to catch
the eastbound limited that Maenck must have taken; but
he caught the next through train for Chicago, and the
second day thereafter found him in New York. There he
had little difficulty in obtaining the desired credentials from
his newspaper friend, especially since Barney offered to pay
all his own expenses and donate to the paper anything he
found time to write.
Passenger steamers were still sailing, though irregularly,
and after scanning the passenger-lists of three he found the
name he sought. "Captain Ernst Maenck, Lutha." So he had
not been mistaken, after all. It was Maenck he had appre-
hended on his father's grounds. Evidently the man had little
fear of being followed, for he had made no effort to hide
his identity in booking passage for Europe.
The steamer he had caught had sailed that very morning.
Barney was not so sorry, after all, for he had had time
during his trip from Beatrice to do considerable thinking,
and had found it rather difficult to determine just what to
do should he have overtaken Maenck in the United States.
He couldn't kill the man in cold blood, justly as he may
have deserved the fate, and the thought of causing his ar-
rest and dragging his own name into the publicity of court
proceedings was little less distasteful to him.
Furthermore, the pursuit of Maenck now gave Barney a
legitimate excuse for returning to Lutha, or at least to the
close neighborhood of the little kingdom, where he might
await the outcome of events and be ready to give his services
in the cause of the house of Von der Tann should they be
By going directly to Italy and entering Austria from that
country Barney managed to arrive within the boundaries of
the dual monarchy with comparatively few delays. Nor did
he encounter any considerable bodies of troops until he
reached the little town of Burgova, which lies not far from the
Serbian frontier. Beyond this point his credentials would
not carry him. The emperor's officers were polite, but firm.
No newspaper correspondents could be permitted nearer
the front than Burgova.
There was nothing to be done, therefore, but wait until
some propitious event gave him the opportunity to approach
more closely the Serbian boundary and Lutha. In the mean-
time he would communicate with Butzow, who might be
able to obtain passes for him to some village nearer the
Luthanian frontier, when it should be an easy matter to
cross through to Serbia. He was sure the Serbian authori-
ties would object less strenuously to his presence.
The inn at which he applied for accommodations was al-
ready overrun by officers, but the proprietor, with scant
apologies for a civilian, offered him a little box of a room in
the attic. The place was scarce more than a closet, and for
that Barney was in a way thankful since the limited space
could accommodate but a single cot, thus insuring him the
privacy that a larger chamber would have precluded.
He was very tired after his long and comfortless land
journey, so after an early dinner he went immediately to
his room and to bed. How long he slept he did not know,
but some time during the night he was awakened by the
sound of voices apparently close to his ear.
For a moment he thought the speakers must be in his
own room, so distinctly did he overhear each word of their
conversation; but presently he discovered that they were
upon the opposite side of a thin partition in an adjoining
room. But half awake, and with the sole idea of getting
back to sleep again as quickly as possible, Barney paid only
the slightest attention to the meaning of the words that fell
upon his ears, until, like a bomb, a sentence broke through
his sleepy faculties, banishing Morpheus upon the instant.
"It will take but little now to turn Leopold against Von
der Tann." The speaker evidently was an Austrian. "Already
I have half convinced him that the old man aspires to the
throne. Leopold fears the loyalty of his army, which is for
Von der Tann body and soul. He knows that Von der Tann
is strongly anti-Austrian, and I have made it plain to him
that if he allows his kingdom to take sides with Serbia he
will have no kingdom when the war is over--it will be a
part of Austria.
"It was with greater difficulty, however, my dear Peter,
that I convinced him that you, Von Coblich, and Captain
Maenck were his most loyal friends. He fears you yet, but,
nevertheless, he has pardoned you all. Do not forget when
you return to your dear Lutha that you owe your repatria-
tion to Count Zellerndorf of Austria."
"You may be assured that we shall never forget," replied
another voice that Barney recognized at once as belonging
to Prince Peter of Blentz, the one time regent of Lutha.
"It is not for myself," continued Count Zellerndorf, "that I
crave your gratitude, but for my emperor. You may do
much to win his undying gratitude, while for yourselves
you may win to almost any height with the friendship of
Austria behind you. I am sure that should any accident,
which God forfend, deprive Lutha of her king, none would
make a more welcome successor in the eyes of Austria than
our good friend Peter."
Barney could almost see the smile of satisfaction upon the
thin lips of Peter of Blentz as this broad hint fell from the
lips of the Austrian diplomat--a hint that seemed to the
American little short of the death sentence of Leopold, King
"We owed you much before, count," said Peter. "But for
you we should have been hanged a year ago--without your
aid we should never have been able to escape from the
fortress of Lustadt or cross the border into Austria-Hungary.
I am sorry that Maenck failed in his mission, for had he
not we would have had concrete evidence to present to the
king that we are indeed his loyal supporters. It would have
dispelled at once such fears and doubts as he may still
entertain of our fealty."
"Yes, I, too, am sorry," agreed Zellerndorf. "I can assure
you that the news we hoped Captain Maenck would bring
from America would have gone a long way toward re-
storing you to the confidence and good graces of the king."
"I did my best," came another voice that caused Barney's
eyes to go wide in astonishment, for it was none other than
the voice of Maenck himself. "Twice I risked hanging to
get him and only came away after I had been recognized."
"It is too bad," sighed Zellerndorf; "though it may not be
without its advantages after all, for now we still have this
second bugbear to frighten Leopold with. So long, of course,
as the American lives there is always the chance that he
may return and seek to gain the throne. The fact that his
mother was a Rubinroth princess might make it easy for
Von der Tann to place him upon the throne without much
opposition, and if he married the old man's daughter it is
easy to conceive that the prince might favor such a move.
At any rate, it should not be difficult to persuade Leopold
of the possibility of such a thing.
"Under the circumstances Leopold is almost convinced
that his only hope of salvation lies in cementing friendly
relations with the most powerful of Von der Tann's enemies,
of which you three gentlemen stand preeminently in the
foreground, and of assuring to himself the support of Aus-
tria. And now, gentlemen," he went on after a pause, "good
night. I have handed Prince Peter the necessary military
passes to carry you safely through our lines, and tomorrow
you may be in Blentz if you wish."
CONDEMNED TO DEATH
FOR SOME time Barney Custer lay there in the dark revolv-
ing in his mind all that he had overheard through the parti-
tion--the thin partition which alone lay between himself
and three men who would be only too glad to embrace the
first opportunity to destroy him. But his fears were not for
himself so much as for the daughter of old Von der Tann,
and for all that might befall that princely house were these
three unhung rascals to gain Lutha and have their way
with the weak and cowardly king who reigned there.
If he could but reach Von der Tann's ear and through
him the king before the conspirators came to Lutha! But
how might he accomplish it? Count Zellerndorf's parting
words to the three had shown that military passes were
necessary to enable one to reach Lutha.
His papers were practically worthless even inside the lines.
That they would carry him through the lines he had not
the slightest hope. There were two things to be accomplished
if possible. One was to cross the frontier into Lutha; and
the other, which of course was quite out of the question,
was to prevent Peter of Blentz, Von Coblich, and Maenck
from doing so. But was that altogether impossible?
The idea that followed that question came so suddenly
that it brought Barney Custer out onto the floor in a bound,
to don his clothes and sneak into the hall outside his room
with the stealth of a professional second-story man.
To the right of his own door was the door to the apart-
ment in which the three conspirators slept. At least, Barney
hoped they slept. He bent close to the keyhole and lis-
tened. From within came no sound other than the regular
breathing of the inmates. It had been at least half an hour
since the American had heard the conversation cease. A
glance through the keyhole showed no light within the
room. Stealthily Barney turned the knob. Had they bolted
the door? He felt the tumbler move to the pressure--
soundlessly. Then he pushed gently inward. The door swung.
A moment later he stood in the room. Dimly he could
see two beds--a large one and a smaller. Peter of Blentz
would be alone upon the smaller bed, his henchmen sleep-
ing together in the larger. Barney crept toward the lone
sleeper. At the bedside he fumbled in the dark groping for
the man's clothing--for the coat, in the breastpocket of
which he hoped to find the military pass that might carry
him safely out of Austria-Hungary and into Lutha. On the
foot of the bed he found some garments. Gingerly he felt
them over, seeking the coat.
At last he found it. His fingers, steady even under the
nervous tension of this unaccustomed labor, discovered the
inner pocket and the folded paper. There were several of
them; Barney took them all.
So far he made no noise. None of the sleepers had stirred.
Now he took a step toward the doorway and--kicked a
shoe that lay in his path. The slight noise in that quiet room
sounded to Barney's ears like the fall of a brick wall. Peter
of Blentz stirred, turning in his sleep. Behind him Barney
heard one of the men in the other bed move. He turned his
head in that direction. Either Maenck or Coblich was sitting
up peering through the darkness.
"Is that you, Prince Peter?" The voice was Maenck's.
"What's the matter?" persisted Maenck.
"I'm going for a drink of water," replied the American,
and stepped toward the door.
Behind him Peter of Blentz sat up in bed.
"That you, Maenck?" he called.
Instantly Maenck was out of bed, for the first voice had
come from the vicinity of the doorway; both could not be
"Quick!" he cried; "there's someone in our room."
Barney leaped for the doorway, and upon his heels came
the three conspirators. Maenck was closest to him--so close
that Barney was forced to turn at the top of the stairs. In
the darkness he was just conscious of the form of the man
who was almost upon him. Then he swung a vicious blow
for the other's face--a blow that landed, for there was a
cry of pain and anger as Maenck stumbled back into the
arms of the two behind him. From below came the sound
of footsteps hurrying up the stairs to the accompaniment
of a clanking saber. Barney's retreat was cut off.
Turning, he dodged into his own room before the enemy
could locate him or even extricate themselves from the con-
fusion of Maenck's sudden collision with the other two. But
what could Barney gain by the slight delay that would be
immediately followed by his apprehension?
He didn't know. All that he was sure of was that there
had been no other place to go than this little room. As he
entered the first thing that his eyes fell upon was the small
square window. Here at least was some slight encourage-
He ran toward it. The lower sash was raised. As the
door behind him opened to admit Peter of Blentz and his
companions, Barney slipped through into the night, hanging
by his hands from the sill without. What lay beneath or
how far the drop he could not guess, but that certain death
menaced him from above he knew from the conversation he
had overheard earlier in the evening.
For an instant he hung suspended. He heard the men
groping about the room. Evidently they were in some fear
of the unknown assailant they sought, for they did not
move about with undue rashness. Presently one of them
struck a light--Barney could see its flare lighten the window
casing for an instant.
"The room is empty," came a voice from above him.
"Look to the window!" cried Peter of Blentz, and then
Barney Custer let go his hold upon the sill and dropped
into the blackness below.
His fall was a short one, for the window had been di-
rectly over a low shed at the side of the inn. Upon the
roof of this the American landed, and from there he dropped
to the courtyard without mishap. Glancing up, he saw the
heads of three men peering from the window of the room
he had just quitted.
"There he is!" cried one, and instantly the three turned
back into the room. As Barney fled from the courtyard he
heard the rattle of hasty footsteps upon the rickety stairway
of the inn.
Choosing an alley rather than a street in which he might
run upon soldiers at any moment, he moved quickly yet
cautiously away from the inn. Behind him he could hear
the voices of many men. They were raised to a high pitch
by excitement. It was clear to Barney that there were many
more than the original three--Prince Peter had, in all proba-
bility, enlisted the aid of the military.
Could he but reach the frontier with his stolen passes he
would be comparatively safe, for the rugged mountains of
Lutha offered many places of concealment, and, too, there
were few Luthanians who did not hate Peter of Blentz
most cordially--among the men of the mountains at least.
Once there he could defy a dozen Blentz princes for the little
time that would be required to carry him into Serbia and
As he approached a cross street a couple of squares from
the inn he found it necessary to pass beneath a street lamp.
For a moment he paused in the shadows of the alley listen-
ing. Hearing nothing moving in the street, Barney was about
to make a swift spring for the shadows upon the opposite
side when it occurred to him that it might be safer to make
assurance doubly sure by having a look up and down the
street before emerging into the light.
It was just as well that he did, for as he thrust his head
around the corner of the building the first thing that his eyes
fell upon was the figure of an Austrian sentry, scarcely three
paces from him. The soldier was standing in a listening
attitude, his head half turned away from the American. The
sounds coming from the direction of the inn were apparently
what had attracted his attention.
Behind him, Barney was sure he heard evidences of pur-
suit. Before him was certain detection should he attempt to
cross the street. On either hand rose the walls of buildings.
That he was trapped there seemed little doubt.
He continued to stand motionless, watching the Austrian
soldier. Should the fellow turn toward him, he had but to
withdraw his head within the shadow of the building that
hid his body. Possibly the man might turn and take his beat
in the opposite direction. In which case Barney was sure
he could dodge across the street, undetected.
Already the vague threat of pursuit from the direction of
the inn had developed into a certainty--he could hear men
moving toward him through the alley from the rear. Would
the sentry never move! Evidently not, until he heard the
others coming through the alley. Then he would turn, and
the devil would be to pay for the American.
Barney was about hopeless. He had been in the war zone
long enough to know that it might prove a very disagreeable
matter to be caught sneaking through back alleys at night.
There was a single chance--a sort of forlorn hope--and that
was to risk fate and make a dash beneath the sentry's nose
for the opposite alley mouth.
"Well, here goes," thought Barney. He had heard that
many of the Austrians were excellent shots. Visions of Bea-
trice, Nebraska, swarmed his memory. They were pleasant
visions, made doubly alluring by the thought that the reali-
ties of them might never again be for him.
He turned once more toward the sounds of pursuit--the
men upon his track could not be over a square away--there
was not an instant to be lost. And then from above him,
upon the opposite side of the alley, came a low: "S-s-t!"
Barney looked up. Very dimly he could see the dark out-
line of a window some dozen feet from the pavement, and
framed within it the lighter blotch that might have been a
human face. Again came the challenging: "S-s-t!" Yes, there
was someone above, signaling to him.
"S-s-t!" replied Barney. He knew that he had been dis-
covered, and could think of no better plan for throwing the
discoverer off his guard than to reply.
Then a soft voice floated down to him--a woman's voice!
"Is that you?" The tongue was Serbian. Barney could
understand it, though he spoke it but indifferently.
"Yes," he replied truthfully.
"Thank Heaven!" came the voice from above. "I have
been watching you, and thought you one of the Austrian
pigs. Quick! They are coming--I can hear them;" and at
the same instant Barney saw something drop from the win-
dow to the ground. He crossed the alley quickly, and could
have shouted in relief for what he found there--the end of
a knotted rope dangling from above.
His pursuers were almost upon him when he seized the
rude ladder to clamber upward. At the window's ledge a
firm, young hand reached out and, seizing his own, almost
dragged him through the window. He turned to look back
into the alley. He had been just in time; the Austrian sentry,
alarmed by the sound of approaching footsteps down the
alley, had stepped into view. He stood there now with
leveled rifle, a challenge upon his lips. From the advancing
party came a satisfactory reply.
At the same instant the girl beside him in the Stygian
blackness of the room threw her arms about Barney's neck
and drew his face down to hers.
"Oh, Stefan," she whispered, "what a narrow escape! It
makes me tremble to think of it. They would have shot you,
The American put an arm about the girl's shoulders, and
raised one hand to her cheek--it might have been in caress,
but it wasn't. It was to smother the cry of alarm he antici-
pated would follow the discovery that he was not "Stefan."
He bent his lips close to her ear.
"Do not make an outcry," he whispered in very poor
Serbian. "I am not Stefan; but I am a friend."
The exclamation of surprise or fright that he had expected
was not forthcoming. The girl lowered her arms from about
"Who are you?" she asked in a low whisper.
"I am an American war correspondent," replied Barney,
"but if the Austrians get hold of me now it will be mighty
difficult to convince them that I am not a spy." And then a
sudden determination came to him to trust his fate to this
unknown girl, whose face, even, he had never seen. "I am
entirely at your mercy," he said. "There are Austrian soldiers
in the street below. You have but to call to them to send
me before the firing squad--or, you can let me remain here
until I can find an opportunity to get away in safety. I am
trying to reach Serbia."
"Why do you wish to reach Serbia?" asked the girl sus-
"I have discovered too many enemies in Austria tonight
to make it safe for me to remain," he replied, "and, further,
my original intention was to report the war from the Serbian
The girl hesitated for a while, evidently in thought.
"They are moving on," suggested Barney. "If you are
going to give me up you'd better do it at once."
"I'm not going to give you up," replied the girl. "I'm going
to keep you prisoner until Stefan returns--he will know best
what to do with you. Now you must come with me and be
locked up. Do not try to escape--I have a revolver in my
hand," and to give her prisoner physical proof of the weapon
he could not see she thrust the muzzle against his side.
"I'll take your word for the gun," said Barney, "if you'll
just turn it in the other direction. Go ahead--I'll follow you."
"No, you won't," replied the girl. "You'll go first; but
before that you'll raise your hands above your head. I want
to search you."
Barney did as he was bid and a moment later felt deft
fingers running over his clothing in search of concealed
weapons. Satisfied at last that he was unarmed, the girl
directed him to precede her, guiding his steps from behind
with a hand upon his arm. Occasionally he felt the muzzle
of her revolver touch his body. It was a most unpleasant
They crossed the room to a door which his captor directed
him to open, and after they had passed through and she had
closed it behind them the girl struck a match and lit a candle
which stood upon a little bracket on the partition wall. The
dim light of the tallow dip showed Barney that he was in a
narrow hall from which several doors opened into different
rooms. At one end of the hall a stairway led to the floor
below, while at the opposite end another flight disappeared
into the darkness above.
"This way," said the girl, motioning toward the stairs
that led upward.
Barney had turned toward her as she struck the match,
obtaining an excellent view of her features. They were clear-
cut and regular. Her eyes were large and very dark. Dark
also was her hair, which was piled in great heaps upon her
finely shaped head. Altogether the face was one not easily
to be forgotten. Barney could scarce have told whether the
girl was beautiful or not, but that she was striking there
could be no doubt.
He preceded her up the stairway to a door at the top. At
her direction he turned the knob and entered a small room
in which was a cot, an ancient dresser and a single chair.
"You will remain here," she said, "until Stefan returns.
Stefan will know what to do with you." Then she left him,
taking the light with her, and Barney heard a key turn in
the lock of the door after she had closed it. Presently her
footfalls died out as she descended to the lower floors.
"Anyhow," thought the American, "this is better than the
Austrians. I don't know what Stefan will do with me, but I
have a rather vivid idea of what the Austrians would have
done to me if they'd caught me sneaking through the alleys
of Burgova at midnight."
Throwing himself on the cot Barney was soon asleep, for
though his predicament was one that, under ordinary cir-
cumstances might have made sleep impossible, yet he had
so long been without the boon of slumber that tired nature
would no longer be denied.
When he awoke it was broad daylight. The sun was
pouring in through a skylight in the ceiling of his tiny
chamber. Aside from this there were no windows in the
room. The sound of voices came to him with an uncanny
distinctness that made it seem that the speakers must be in
this very chamber, but a glance about the blank walls con-
vinced him that he was alone.
Presently he espied a small opening in the wall at the
head of his cot. He rose and examined it. The voices ap-
peared to be coming from it. In fact, they were. The opening
was at the top of a narrow shaft that seemed to lead to
the basement of the structure--apparently once the shaft of
a dumb-waiter or a chute for refuse or soiled clothes.
Barney put his ear close to it. The voices that came from
below were those of a man and a woman. He heard every
"We must search the house, fraulein," came in the deep
voice of a man.
"Whom do you seek?" inquired a woman's voice. Barney
recognized it as the voice of his captor.
"A Serbian spy, Stefan Drontoff," replied the man. "Do
you know him?"
There was a considerable pause on the girl's part before
she answered, and then her reply was in such a low voice
that Barney could barely hear it.
"I do not know him," she said. "There are several men
who lodge here. What may this Stefan Drontoff look like?"
"I have never seen him," replied the officer; "but by ar-
resting all the men in the house we must get this Stefan
also, if he is here."
"Oh!" cried the girl, a new note in her voice, "I guess I
know now whom you mean. There is one man here I have
heard them call Stefan, though for the moment I had for-
gotten it. He is in the small attic-room at the head of the
stairs. Here is a key that will fit the lock. Yes, I am sure
that he is Stefan. You will find him there, and it should be
easy to take him, for I know that he is unarmed. He told
me so last night when he came in."
"The devil!" muttered Barney Custer; but whether he
referred to his predicament or to the girl it would be im-
possible to tell. Already the sound of heavy boots on the
stairs announced the coming of men--several of them. Bar-
ney heard the rattle of accouterments--the clank of a scab-
bard--the scraping of gun butts against the walls. The
Austrians were coming!
He looked about. There was no way of escape except the
door and the skylight, and the door was impossible.
Quickly he tilted the cot against the door, wedging its
legs against a crack in the floor--that would stop them for a
minute or two. then he wheeled the dresser beneath the sky-
light and, placing the chair on top of it, scrambled to the
seat of the latter. His head was at the height of the sky-
light. to force the skylight from its frame required but a
moment. A key entered the lock of the door from the op-
posite side and turned. He knew that someone without was
pushing. Then he heard an oath and heavy battering upon
the panels. A moment later he had drawn himself through
the skylight and stood upon the roof of the building. Be-
fore him stretched a series of uneven roofs to the end of
the street. Barney did not hesitate. He started on a rapid trot
toward the adjoining roof. From that he clambered to a
higher one beyond.
On he went, now leaping narrow courts, now dropping
to low sheds and again clambering to the heights of the
higher buildings, until he had come almost to the end of the
row. Suddenly, behind him he heard a hoarse shout, fol-
lowed by the report of a rifle. With a whir, a bullet flew
a few inches above his head. He had gained the last roof--
a large, level roof--and at the shot he turned to see how
near to him were his pursuers.
Scarce had he taken his eyes from the path ahead than
his foot fell upon a glass skylight, and with a loud crash he
plunged through amid a shower of broken glass.
His fall was a short one. Directly beneath the skylight
was a bed, and on the bed a fat Austrian infantry captain.
Barney lit upon the pit of the captain's stomach. With a
howl of pain the officer catapulted Barney to the floor. There
were three other beds in the room, and in each bed one or
two other officers. Before the American could regain his
feet they were all sitting on him--all except the infantry
captain. He lay shrieking and cursing in a painful attempt
to regain his breath, every atom of which Barney had
knocked out of him.
The officers sitting on Barney alternately beat him and
questioned him, interspersing their interrogations with lurid
"If you will get off of me," at last shouted the American,
"I shall be glad to explain--and apologize."
They let him up, scowling ferociously. He had promised
to explain, but now that he was confronted by the immedi-
ate necessity of an explanation that would prove at all satis-
factory as to how he happened to be wandering around the
rooftops of Burgova, he discovered that his powers of in-
vention were entirely inadequate. The need for explaining,
however, was suddenly removed. A shadow fell upon them
from above, and as they glanced up Barney saw the figure
of an officer surrounded by several soldiers looking down
"Ah, you have him!" cried the new-comer in evident satis-
faction. "It is well. Hold him until we descend."
A moment later he and his escort had dropped through
the broken skylight to the floor beside them.
"Who is the mad man?" cried the captain who had broken
Barney's fall. "The assassin! He tried to murder me."
"I cannot doubt it," replied the officer who had just de-
scended, "for the fellow is no other than Stefan Drontoff,
the famous Serbian spy!"
"Himmel! ejaculated the officers in chorus. "You have
done a good days' work, lieutenant."
"The firing squad will do a better work in a few minutes,"
replied the lieutenant, with a grim pointedness that took
Barney's breath away.
BEFORE THE FIRING SQUAD
THEY MARCHED Barney before the staff where he urged his
American nationality, pointing to his credentials and passes
in support of his contention.
The general before whom he had been brought shrugged
his shoulders. "They are all Americans as soon as they are
caught," he said; "but why did you not claim to be Prince
Peter of Blentz? You have his passes as well. How can you
expect us to believe your story when you have in your pos-
session passes for different men?
"We have every respect for our friends the Americans. I
would even stretch a point rather than chance harming an
American; but you will admit that the evidence is all against
you. You were found in the very building where Drontoff
was known to stay while in Burgova. The young woman
whose mother keeps the place directed our officer to your
room, and you tried to escape, which I do not think that
an innocent American would have done.
"However, as I have said, I will go to almost any length
rather than chance a mistake in the case of one who from
his appearance might pass more readily for an American
than a Serbian. I have sent for Prince Peter of Blentz. If
you can satisfactorily explain to him how you chance to be
in possession of military passes bearing his name I shall be
very glad to give you the benefit of every other doubt."
Peter of Blentz. Send for Peter of Blentz! Barney won-
dered just what kind of a sensation it was to stand facing a
firing squad. He hoped that his knees wouldn't tremble--
they felt a trifle weak even now. There was a chance that
the man might not recall his face, but a very slight chance.
It had been his remarkable likeness to Leopold of Lutha
that had resulted in the snatching of a crown from Prince
Likely indeed that he would ever forget his, Barney's,
face, though he had seen it but once without the red beard
that had so added to Barney's likeness to the king. But
Maenck would be along, of course, and Maenck would have
no doubts--he had seen Barney too recently in Beatrice to
fail to recognize him now.
Several men were entering the room where Barney stood
before the general and his staff. A glance revealed to the
prisoner that Peter of Blentz had come, and with him Von
Coblich and Maenck. At the same instant Peter's eyes met
Barney's, and the former, white and wide-eyed came al-
most to a dead halt, grasping hurriedly at the arm of Maenck
who walked beside him.
"My God!" was all that Barney heard him say, but he
spoke a name that the American did not hear. Maenck also
looked his surprise, but his expression was suddenly changed
to one of malevolent cunning and gratification. He turned
toward Prince Peter with a few low-whispered words. A look
of relief crossed the face of the Blentz prince.
"You appear to know the gentleman," said the general
who had been conducting Barney's examination. "He has
been arrested as a Serbian spy, and military passes in your
name were found upon his person together with the papers
of an American newspaper correspondent, which he claims
to be. He is charged with being Stefan Drontoff, whom we
long have been anxious to apprehend. Do you chance to
know anything about him, Prince Peter?"
"Yes," replied Peter of Blentz, "I know him well by sight.
He entered my room last night and stole the military passes
from my coat--we all saw him and pursued him, but he
got away in the dark. There can be no doubt but that he
is the Serbian spy."
"He insists that he is Bernard Custer, an American," urged
the general, who, it seemed to Barney, was anxious to make
no mistake, and to give the prisoner every reasonable chance
--a state of mind that rather surprised him in a European
military chieftain, all of whom appeared to share the popu-
lar obsession regarding the prevalence of spies.
"Pardon me, general," interrupted Maenck. "I am well
acquainted with Mr. Custer, who spent some time in Lutha
a couple of years ago. This man is not he."
"That is sufficient, gentlemen, I thank you," said the gen-
eral. He did not again look at the prisoner, but turned to a
lieutenant who stood near-by. "You may remove the pris-
oner," he directed. "He will be destroyed with the others--
here is the order," and he handed the subaltern a printed
form upon which many names were filled in and at the bot-
tom of which the general had just signed his own. It had
evidently been waiting the outcome of the examination of
Surrounded by soldiers, Barney Custer walked from the
presence of the military court. It was to him as though he
moved in a strange world of dreams. He saw the look of
satisfaction upon the face of Peter of Blentz as he passed
him, and the open sneer of Maenck. As yet he did not
fully realize what it all meant--that he was marching to
his death! For the last time he was looking upon the faces
of his fellow men; for the last time he had seen the sun
rise, never again to see it set.
He was to be "destroyed." He had heard that expression
used many times in connection with useless horses, or vicious
dogs. Mechanically he drew a cigarette from his pocket and
lighted it. There was no bravado in the act. On the contrary
it was done almost unconsciously. The soldiers marched him
through the streets of Burgova. The men were entirely im-
passive--even so early in the war they had become accus-
tomed to this grim duty. The young officer who commanded
them was more nervous than the prisoner--it was his first
detail with a firing squad. He looked wonderingly at Bar-
ney, expecting momentarily to see the man collapse, or at
least show some sign of terror at his close impending fate;
but the American walked silently toward his death, puffing
leisurely at his cigarette.
At last, after what seemed a long time, his guard turned
in at a large gateway in a brick wall surrounding a factory.
As they entered Barney saw twenty or thirty men in civilian
dress, guarded by a dozen infantrymen. They were stand-
ing before the wall of a low brick building. Barney noticed
that there were no windows in the wall. It suddenly oc-
curred to him that there was something peculiarly grim
and sinister in the appearance of the dead, blank surface
of weather-stained brick. For the first time since he had
faced the military court he awakened to a full realization of
what it all meant to him--he was going to be lined up
against that ominous brick wall with these other men--
they were going to shoot them.
A momentary madness seized him. He looked about upon
the other prisoners and guards. A sudden break for liberty
might give him temporary respite. He could seize a rifle
from the nearest soldier, and at least have the satisfaction of
selling his life dearly. As he looked he saw more soldiers
entering the factory yard.
A sudden apathy overwhelmed him. What was the use?
He could not escape. Why should he wish to kill these
soldiers? It was not they who were responsible for his plight
--they were but obeying orders. The close presence of death
made life seem very desirable. These men, too, desired life.
Why should he take it from them uselessly. At best he
might kill one or two, but in the end he would be killed as
surely as though he took his place before the brick wall
with the others.
He noticed now that these others evinced no inclination
to contest their fates. Why should he, then? Doubtless
many of them were as innocent as he, and all loved life as
well. He saw that several were weeping silently. Others
stood with bowed heads gazing at the hard-packed earth of
the factory yard. Ah, what visions were their eyes beholding
for the last time! What memories of happy firesides! What
dear, loved faces were limned upon that sordid clay!
His reveries were interrupted by the hoarse voice of a
sergeant, breaking rudely in upon the silence and the dumb
terror. The fellow was herding the prisoners into position.
When he was done Barney found himself in the front rank
of the little, hopeless band. Opposite them, at a few paces,
stood the firing squad, their gun butts resting upon the
The young lieutenant stood at one side. He issued some
instructions in a low tone, then he raised his voice.
"Ready!" he commanded. Fascinated by the horror of it,
Barney watched the rifles raised smartly to the soldiers'
hips--the movement was as precise as though the men were
upon parade. Every bolt clicked in unison with its fellows.
"Aim!" the pieces leaped to the hollows of the men's
shoulders. The leveled barrels were upon a line with the
breasts of the condemned. A man at Barney's right moaned.
"Fire!" There was the hideous roar of the volley. Barney
Custer crumpled forward to the ground, and three bodies
fell upon his. A moment later there was a second volley--
all had not fallen at the first. Then the soldiers came among
the bodies, searching for signs of life; but evidently the two
volleys had done their work. The sergeant formed his men
in line. The lieutenant marched them away. Only silence
remained on guard above the pitiful dead in the factory
The day wore on and still the stiffening corpses lay where
they had fallen. Twilight came and then darkness. A head
appeared above the top of the wall that had enclosed the
grounds. Eyes peered through the night and keen ears lis-
tened for any sign of life within. At last, evidently satisfied
that the place was deserted, a man crawled over the summit
of the wall and dropped to the ground within. Here again
he paused, peering and listening.
What strange business had he here among the dead that
demanded such caution in its pursuit? Presently he ad-
vanced toward the pile of corpses. Quickly he tore open
coats and searched pockets. He ran his fingers along the
fingers of the dead. Two rings had rewarded his search
and he was busy with a third that encircled the finger of a
body that lay beneath three others. It would not come off.
He pulled and tugged, and then he drew a knife from his
But he did not sever the digit. Instead he shrank back
with a muffled scream of terror. The corpse that he would
have mutilated had staggered suddenly to its feet, flinging
the dead bodies to one side as it rose.
"You fiend!" broke from the lips of the dead man, and
the ghoul turned and fled, gibbering in his fright.
The tramp of soldiers in the street beyond ceased sud-
denly at the sound from within the factory yard. It was a
detail of the guard marching to the relief of sentries. A
moment later the gates swung open and a score of soldiers
entered. They saw a figure dodging toward the wall a
dozen paces from them, but they did not see the other that
ran swiftly around the corner of the factory.
This other was Barney Custer of Beatrice. When the com-
mand to fire had been given to the squad of riflemen, a
single bullet had creased the top of his head, stunning him.
All day he had lain there unconscious. It had been the
tugging of the ghoul at his ring that had roused him to life
Behind him, as he scurried around the end of the factory
building, he heard the scattering fire of half a dozen rifles,
followed by a scream--the fleeing hyena had been hit. Bar-
ney crouched in the shadow of a pile of junk. He heard the
voices of soldiers as they gathered about the wounded
man, questioning him, and a moment later the imperious
tones of an officer issuing instructions to his men to search
the yard. That he must be discovered seemed a certainty
to the American. He crouched further back in the shadows
close to the wall, stepping with the utmost caution.
Presently to his chagrin his foot touched the metal cover of
a manhole; there was a resultant rattling that smote upon
Barney's ears and nerves with all the hideous clatter of a
boiler shop. He halted, petrified, for an instant. He was no
coward, but after being so near death, life had never looked
more inviting, and he knew that to be discovered meant
certain extinction this time.
The soldiers were circling the building. Already he could
hear them nearing his position. In another moment they
would round the corner of the building and be upon him.
For an instant he contemplated a bold rush for the fence. In
fact, he had gathered himself for the leaping start and the
quick sprint across the open under the noses of the soldiers
who still remained beside the dying ghoul, when his mind
suddenly reverted to the manhole beneath his feet. Here
lay a hiding place, at least until the soldiers had departed.
Barney stooped and raised the heavy lid, sliding it to one
side. How deep was the black chasm beneath he could not
even guess. Doubtless it led into a coal bunker, or it might
open over a pit of great depth. There was no way to dis-
cover other than to plumb the abyss with his body. Above
was death--below, a chance of safety.
The soldiers were quite close when Barney lowered him-
self through the manhole. Clinging with his fingers to the
upper edge his feet still swung in space. How far beneath
was the bottom? He heard the scraping of the heavy shoes
of the searchers close above him, and then he closed his
eyes, released the grasp of his fingers, and dropped.
A RACE TO LUTHA
BARNEY'S FALL was not more than four or five feet. He
found himself upon a slippery floor of masonry over which
two or three inches of water ran sluggishly. Above him he
heard the soldiers pass the open manhole. It was evident
that in the darkness they had missed it.
For a few minutes the fugitive remained motionless, then,
hearing no sounds from above he started to grope about his
retreat. Upon two sides were blank, circular walls, upon the
other two circular openings about four feet in diameter. It
was through these openings that the tiny stream of water
Barney came to the conclusion that he had dropped into
a sewer. To get out the way he had entered appeared im-
possible. He could not leap upward from the slimy, concave
bottom the distance he had dropped. To follow the sewer
upward would lead him nowhere nearer escape. There
remained no hope but to follow the trickling stream down-
ward toward the river, into which his judgment told him
the entire sewer system of the city must lead.
Stooping, he entered the ill-smelling circular conduit, grop-
ing his way slowly along. As he went the water deepened.
It was half way to his knees when he plunged unexpectedly
into another tube running at right angles to the first. The
bottom of this tube was lower than that of the one which
emptied into it, so that Barney now found himself in a
swiftly running stream of filth that reached above his knees.
Downward he followed this flood--faster now for the fear
of the deadly gases which might overpower him before he
could reach the river.
The water deepened gradually as he went on. At last he
reached a point where, with his head scraping against the
roof of the sewer, his chin was just above the surface of
the stream. A few more steps would be all that he could take
in this direction without drowning. Could he retrace his way
against the swift current? He did not know. He was weak-
ened from the effects of his wound, from lack of food and
from the exertions of the past hour. Well, he would go on
as far as he could. The river lay ahead of him somewhere.
Behind was only the hostile city.
He took another step. His foot found no support. He
surged backward in an attempt to regain his footing, but the
power of the flood was too much for him. He was swept
forward to plunge into water that surged above his head
as he sank. An instant later he had regained the surface
and as his head emerged he opened his eyes.
He looked up into a starlit heaven! He had reached the
mouth of the sewer and was in the river. For a moment he
lay still, floating upon his back to rest. Above him he heard
the tread of a sentry along the river front, and the sound of
The sweet, fresh air, the star-shot void above, acted as a
powerful tonic to his shattered hopes and overwrought
nerves. He lay inhaling great lungsful of pure, invigorating
air. He listened to the voices of the Austrian soldiery above
him. All the buoyancy of his inherent Americanism returned
"This is no place for a minister's son," he murmured, and
turning over struck out for the opposite shore. The river
was not wide, and Barney was soon nearing the bank along
which he could see occasional camp fires. Here, too, were
Austrians. He dropped down-stream below these, and at last
approached the shore where a wood grew close to the
water's edge. The bank here was steep, and the American
had some difficulty in finding a place where he could clamber
up the precipitous wall of rock. But finally he was success-
ful, finding himself in a little clump of bushes on the
river's brim. Here he lay resting and listening--always lis-
tening. It seemed to Barney that his ears ached with the
constant strain of unflagging duty that his very existence
demanded of them.
Hearing nothing, he crawled at last from his hiding place
with the purpose of making his way toward the south and
to the frontier as rapidly as possible. He could hope only to
travel by night, and he guessed that this night must be
nearly spent. Stooping, he moved cautiously away from the
river. Through the shadows of the wood he made his way
for perhaps a hundred yards when he was suddenly con-
fronted by a figure that stepped from behind the bole of a
"Halt! Who goes there?" came the challenge.
Barney's heart stood still. With all his care he had run
straight into the arms of an Austrian sentry. To run would
be to be shot. To advance would mean capture, and that
too would mean death.
For the barest fraction of an instant he hesitated, and
then his quick American wits came to his aid. Feigning
intoxication he answered the challenge in dubious Austrian
that he hoped his maudlin tongue would excuse.
"Friend," he answered thickly. "Friend with a drink--
have one?" And he staggered drunkenly forward, banking
all upon the credulity and thirst of the soldier who con-
fronted him with fixed bayonet.
That the sentry was both credulous and thirsty was evi-
denced by the fact that he let Barney come within reach of
his gun. Instantly the drunken Austrian was transformed into
a very sober and active engine of destruction. Seizing the
barrel of the piece Barney jerked it to one side and toward
him, and at the same instant he leaped for the throat of the
So quickly was this accomplished that the Austrian had
time only for a single cry, and that was choked in his wind-
pipe by the steel fingers of the American. Together both men
fell heavily to the ground, Barney retaining his hold upon
the other's throat.
Striking and clutching at one another they fought in
silence for a couple of minutes, then the soldier's struggles
began to weaken. He squirmed and gasped for breath. His
mouth opened and his tongue protruded. His eyes started
from their sockets. Barney closed his fingers more tightly
upon the bearded throat. He rained heavy blows upon the
upturned face. The beating fists of his adversary waved
wildly now--the blows that reached Barney were pitifully
weak. Presently they ceased. The man struggled violently
for an instant, twitched spasmodically and lay still.
Barney clung to him for several minutes longer, until
there was not the slightest indication of remaining life. The
perpetration of the deed sickened him; but he knew that
his act was warranted, for it had been either his life or the
other's. He dragged the body back to the bushes in which
he had been hiding. There he stripped off the Austrian
uniform, put his own clothes upon the corpse and rolled it
into the river.
Dressed as an Austrian private, Barney Custer shouldered
the dead soldier's gun and walked boldly through the wood
to the south. Momentarily he expected to run upon other
soldiers, but though he kept straight on his way for hours
he encountered none. The thin line of sentries along the
river had been posted only to double the preventive measures
that had been taken to keep Serbian spies either from enter-
ing or leaving the city.
Toward dawn, at the darkest period of the night, Barney
saw lights ahead of him. Apparently he was approaching a
village. He went more cautiously now, but all his care did
not prevent him from running for the second time that night
almost into the arms of a sentry. This time, however, Barney
saw the soldier before he himself was discovered. It was
upon the edge of the town, in an orchard, that the sentinel
was posted. Barney, approaching through the trees, darting
from one to another, was within a few paces of the man be-
fore he saw him.
The American remained quietly in the shadow of a tree
waiting for an opportunity to escape, but before it came he
heard the approach of a small body of troops. They were
coming from the village directly toward the orchard. They
passed the sentry and marched within a dozen feet of the
tree behind which Barney was hiding.
As they came opposite him he slipped around the tree to
the opposite side. The sentry had resumed his pacing, and
was now out of sight momentarily among the trees further
on. He could not see the American, but there were others
who could. They came in the shape of a non-commissioned
officer and a detachment of the guard to relieve the sentry.
Barney almost bumped into them as he rounded the tree.
There was no escape--the non-commissioned officer was
within two feet of him when Barney discovered him. "What
are you doing here?" shouted the sergeant with an oath.
"Your post is there," and he pointed toward the position
where Barney had seen the sentry.
At first Barney could scarce believe his ears. In the dark-
ness the sergeant had mistaken him for the sentinel! Could
he carry it out? And if so might it not lead him into worse
predicament? No, Barney decided, nothing could be worse.
To be caught masquerading in the uniform of an Austrian
soldier within the Austrian lines was to plumb the utter-
most depth of guilt--nothing that he might do now could
make his position worse.
He faced the sergeant, snapping his piece to present, hop-
ing that this was the proper thing to do. Then he stumbled
through a brief excuse. The officer in command of the troops
that had just passed had demanded the way of him, and
he had but stepped a few paces from his post to point out
the road to his superior.
The sergeant grunted and ordered him to fall in. Another
man took his place on duty. They were far from the enemy
and discipline was lax, so the thing was accomplished which
under other circumstances would have been well night im-
possible. A moment later Barney found himself marching
back toward the village, to all intents and purposes an Aus-
Before a low, windowless shed that had been converted
into barracks for the guard, the detail was dismissed. The
men broke ranks and sought their blankets within the shed,
tired from their lonely vigil upon sentry duty.
Barney loitered until the last. All the others had entered.
He dared not, for he knew that any moment the sentry
upon the post from which he had been taken would appear
upon the scene, after discovering another of his comrades.
He was certain to inquire of the sergeant. They would be
puzzled, of course, and, being soldiers, they would be
suspicious. There would be an investigation, which would
start in the barracks of the guard. That neighborhood would
at once become a most unhealthy spot for Barney Custer,
of Beatrice, Nebraska.
When the last of the soldiers had entered the shed Bar-
ney glanced quickly about. No one appeared to notice him.
He walked directly past the doorway to the end of the
building. Around this he found a yard, deeply shadowed.
He entered it, crossed it, and passed out into an alley be-
yond. At the first cross-street his way was blocked by the
sight of another sentry--the world seemed composed en-
tirely of Austrian sentries. Barney wondered if the entire
Austrian army was kept perpetually upon sentry duty; he
had scarce been able to turn without bumping into one.
He turned back into the alley and at last found a crooked
passageway between buildings that he hoped might lead
him to a spot where there was no sentry, and from which he
could find his way out of the village toward the south. The
passage, after devious windings, led into a large, open court,
but when Barney attempted to leave the court upon the
opposite side he found the ubiquitous sentries upon guard
Evidently there would be no escape while the Austrians
remained in the town. There was nothing to do, therefore,
but hide until the happy moment of their departure arrived.
He returned to the courtyard, and after a short search dis-
covered a shed in one corner that had evidently been used
to stable a horse, for there was straw at one end of it and a
stall in the other. Barney sat down upon the straw to wait
developments. Tired nature would be denied no longer. His
eyes closed, his head drooped upon his breast. In three
minutes from the time he entered the shed he was stretched
full length upon the straw, fast asleep.
The chugging of a motor awakened him. It was broad
daylight. Many sounds came from the courtyard without.
It did not take Barney long to gather his scattered wits--in
an instant he was wide awake. He glanced about. He was
the only occupant of the shed. Rising, he approached a
small window that looked out upon the court. All was life
and movement. A dozen military cars either stood about or
moved in and out of the wide gates at the opposite end of
the enclosure. Officers and soldiers moved briskly through a
doorway that led into a large building that flanked the court
upon one side. While Barney slept the headquarters of an
Austrian army corps had moved in and taken possession of
the building, the back of which abutted upon the court
where lay his modest little shed.
Barney took it all in at a single glance, but his eyes hung
long and greedily upon the great, high-powered machines
that chugged or purred about him.
Gad! If he could but be behind the wheel of such a car
for an hour! The frontier could not be over fifty miles to
the south, of that he was quite positive; and what would
fifty miles be to one of those machines?
Barney sighed as a great, gray-painted car whizzed into
the courtyard and pulled up before the doorway. Two offi-
cers jumped out and ran up the steps. The driver, a young
man in a uniform not unlike that which Barney wore, drew
the car around to the end of the courtyard close beside
Barney's shed. Here he left it and entered the building into
which his passengers had gone. By reaching through the
window Barney could have touched the fender of the ma-
chine. A few seconds' start in that and it would take more
than an Austrian army corps to stop him this side of the
border. Thus mused Barney, knowing already that the mad
scheme that had been born within his brain would be put
to action before he was many minutes older.
There were many soldiers on guard about the courtyard.
The greatest danger lay in arousing the suspicions of one
of these should he chance to see Barney emerge from the
shed and enter the car.
"The proper thing," thought Barney, "is to come from
the building into which everyone seems to pass, and the
only way to be seen coming out of it is to get into it; but
how the devil am I to get into it?"
The longer he thought the more convinced he became
that utter recklessness and boldness would be his only sal-
vation. Briskly he walked from the shed out into the court-
yard beneath the eyes of the sentries, the officers, the sol-
diers, and the military drivers. He moved straight among
them toward the doorway of the headquarters as though
bent upon important business--which, indeed, he was. At
least it was quite the most important business to Barney
Custer that that young gentleman could recall having ven-
tured upon for some time.
No one paid the slightest attention to him. He had left
his gun in the shed for he noticed that only the men on
guard carried them. Without an instant's hesitation he ran
briskly up the short flight of steps and entered the head-
quarters building. Inside was another sentry who barred his
way questioningly. Evidently one must state one's business
to this person before going farther. Barney, without any
loss of time or composure, stepped up to the guard.
"Has General Kampf passed in this morning?" he asked
blithely. Barney had never heard of any "General Kampf,"
nor had the sentry, since there was no such person in the
Austrian army. But he did know, however, that there were
altogether too many generals for any one soldier to know
the names of them all.
"I do not know the general by sight," replied the sentry.
Here was a pretty mess, indeed. Doubtless the sergeant
would know a great deal more than would be good for
Barney Custer. The young man looked toward the door
through which he had just entered. His sole object in com-
ing into the spider's parlor had been to make it possible for
him to come out again in full view of all the guards and
officers and military chauffeurs, that their suspicions might
not be aroused when he put his contemplated coup to the
He glanced toward the door. Machines were whizzing in
and out of the courtyard. Officers on foot were passing and
repassing. The sentry in the hallway was on the point of
calling his sergeant.
"Ah!" cried Barney. "There is the general now," and
without waiting to cast even a parting glance at the guard
he stepped quickly through the doorway and ran down
the steps into the courtyard. Looking neither to right nor to
left, and with a convincing air of self-confidence and im-
portant business, he walked directly to the big, gray ma-
chine that stood beside the little shed at the end of the
To crank it and leap to the driver's seat required but a
moment. The big car moved smoothly forward. A turn of
the steering wheel brought it around headed toward the
wide gates. Barney shifted to second speed, stepped on
the accelerator and the cut-out simultaneously, and with a
noise like the rattle of a machine gun, shot out of the court-
None who saw his departure could have guessed from
the manner of it that the young man at the wheel of the
gray car was stealing the machine or that his life depended
upon escape without detection. It was the very boldness of
his act that crowned it with success.
Once in the street Barney turned toward the south. Cars
were passing up and down in both directions, usually at
high speed. Their numbers protected the fugitive. Momen-
tarily he expected to be halted; but he passed out of the
village without mishap and reached a country road which,
except for a lane down its center along which automobiles
were moving, was blocked with troops marching southward.
Through this soldier-walled lane Barney drove for half an
From a great distance, toward the southeast, he could
hear the boom of cannon and the bursting of shells. Presently
the road forked. The troops were moving along the road on
the left toward the distant battle line. Not a man or ma-
chine was turning into the right fork, the road toward the
south that Barney wished to take.
Could he successfully pass through the marching soldiers
at his right? Among all those officers there surely would be
one who would question the purpose and destination of this
private soldier who drove alone in the direction of the near-
The moment had come when he must stake everything on
his ability to gain the open road beyond the plodding mass
of troops. Diminishing the speed of the car Barney turned it
in toward the marching men at the same time sounding his
horn loudly. An infantry captain, marching beside his com-
pany, was directly in front of the car. He looked up at the
American. Barney saluted and pointed toward the right-
The captain turned and shouted a command to his men.
Those who had not passed in front of the car halted. Barney
shot through the little lane they had opened, which im-
mediately closed up behind him. He was through! He was
upon the open road! Ahead, as far as he could see, there
was no sign of any living creature to bar his way, and the
frontier could not be more than twenty-five miles away.
THE TRAITOR KING
IN HIS CASTLE at Lustadt, Leopold of Lutha paced nerv-
ously back and forth between his great desk and the window
that overlooked the royal gardens. Upon the opposite side
of the desk stood an old man--a tall, straight, old man with
the bearing of a soldier and the head of a lion. His keen,
gray eyes were upon the king, and sorrow was written
upon his face. He was Ludwig von der Tann, chancellor
of the kingdom of Lutha.
At last the king stopped his pacing and faced the old man,
though he could not meet those eagle eyes squarely, try as
he would. It was his inability to do so, possibly, that added
to his anger. Weak himself, he feared this strong man and
envied him his strength, which, in a weak nature, is but
a step from hatred. There evidently had been a long pause
in their conversation, yet the king's next words took up the
thread of their argument where it had broken.
"You speak as though I had no right to do it," he snapped.
"One might think that you were the king from the manner
with which you upbraid and reproach me. I tell you, Prince
von der Tann, that I shall stand it no longer."
The king approached the desk and pounded heavily upon
its polished surface with his fist. The physical act of vio-
lence imparted to him a certain substitute for the moral
courage which he lacked.
"I will tell you, sir, that I am king. It was not necessary
that I consult you or any other man before pardoning Prince
Peter and his associates. I have investigated the matter
thoroughly and I am convinced that they have been taught
a sufficient lesson and that hereafter they will be my most
He hesitated. "Their presence here," he added, "may
prove an antidote to the ambitions of others who lately have
taken it upon themselves to rule Lutha for me."
There was no mistaking the king's meaning, but Prince
Ludwig did not show by any change of expression that the
shot had struck him in a vulnerable spot; nor, upon the other
hand, did he ignore the insinuation. There was only sorrow
in his voice when he replied.
"Sire," he said, "for some time I have been aware of the
activity of those who would like to see Peter of Blentz re-
turned to favor with your majesty. I have warned you, only
to see that my motives were always misconstrued. There is a
greater power at work, your majesty, than any of us--
greater than Lutha itself. One that will stop at nothing in
order to gain its ends. It cares naught for Peter of Blentz,
naught for me, naught for you. It cares only for Lutha. For
strategic purposes it must have Lutha. It will trample you
under foot to gain its end, and then it will cast Peter of
Blentz aside. You have insinuated, sire, that I am ambitious.
I am. I am ambitious to maintain the integrity and freedom
"For three hundred years the Von der Tanns have labored
and fought for the welfare of Lutha. It was a Von der Tann
that put the first Rubinroth king upon the throne of Lutha.
To the last they were loyal to the former dynasty while
that dynasty was loyal to Lutha. Only when the king at-
tempted to sell the freedom of his people to a powerful
neighbor did the Von der Tanns rise against him.
"Sire! the Von der Tanns have always been loyal to the
house of Rubinroth. And but a single thing rises superior
within their breasts to that loyalty, and that is their loyalty
to Lutha." He paused for an instant before concluding. "And
I, sire, am a Von der Tann."
There could be no mistaking the old man's meaning. So
long as Leopold was loyal to his people and their interests
Ludwig von der Tann would be loyal to Leopold. The king
was cowed. He was very much afraid of this grim old war-
rior. He chafed beneath his censure.
"You are always scolding me," he cried irritably. "I am
getting tired of it. And now you threaten me. Do you call
that loyalty? Do you call it loyalty to refuse to compel your
daughter to keep her plighted troth? If you wish to prove
your loyalty command the Princess Emma to fulfil the prom-
ise you made my father--command her to wed me at once."
Von der Tann looked the king straight in the eyes.
"I cannot do that," he said. "She has told me that she will
kill herself rather than wed with your majesty. She is all I
have left, sire. What good would be accomplished by rob-
bing me of her if you could not gain her by the act? Win
her confidence and love, sire. It may be done. Thus only
may happiness result to you and to her."
"You see," exclaimed the king, "what your loyalty amounts
to! I believe that you are saving her for the impostor--I
have heard as much hinted at before this. Nor do I doubt
that she would gladly connive with the fellow if she thought
there was a chance of his seizing the throne."
Von der Tann paled. For the first time righteous indigna-
tion and anger got the better of him. He took a step toward
"Stop!" he commanded. "No man, not even my king, may
speak such words to a Von der Tann."
In an antechamber just outside the room a man sat near
the door that led into the apartment where the king and his
chancellor quarreled. He had been straining his ears to catch
the conversation which he could hear rising and falling in
the adjoining chamber, but till now he had been unsuccess-
ful. Then came Prince Ludwig's last words booming loudly
through the paneled door, and the man smiled. He was
Count Zellerndorf, the Austrian minister to Lutha.
The king's outraged majesty goaded him to an angry
"You forget yourself, Prince von der Tann," he cried.
"Leave our presence. When we again desire to be insulted
we shall send for you."
As the chancellor passed into the antechamber Count
Zellerndorf rose and greeted him warmly, almost effusively.
Von der Tann returned his salutations with courtesy but
with no answering warmth. Then he passed on out of the
"The old fox must have heard," he mused as he mounted
his horse and turned his face toward Tann and the Old
When Count Zellerndorf of Austria entered the presence
of Leopold of Lutha he found that young ruler much dis-
turbed. He had resumed his restless pacing between desk
and window, and as the Austrian entered he scarce paused
to receive his salutation. Count Zellerndorf was a frequent
visitor at the
palace. There were few formalities between
this astute diplomat and the young king; those had passed
gradually away as their acquaintance and friendship ripened.
"Prince Ludwig appeared angry when he passed through
the antechamber," ventured Zellerndorf. "Evidently your
majesty found cause to rebuke him."
The king nodded and looked narrowly at the Austrian.
"The Prince von der Tann insinuated that Austria's only
wish in connection with Lutha is to seize her," he said.
Zellerndorf raised his hands in well-simulated horror.
"Your majesty!" he exclaimed. "It cannot be that the prince
has gone to such lengths to turn you against your best
friend, my emperor. If he has I can only attribute it to his
own ambitions. I have hesitated to speak to you of this
matter, your majesty, but now that the honor of my own
ruler is questioned I must defend him.
"Bear with me then, should what I have to say wound
you. I well know the confidence which the house of Von der
Tann has enjoyed for centuries in Lutha; but I must brave
your wrath in the interest of right. I must tell you that it is
common gossip in Vienna that Von der Tann aspires to the
throne of Lutha either for himself or for his daughter
through the American impostor who once sat upon your
throne for a few days. And let me tell you more.
"The American will never again menace you--he was
arrested in Burgova as a spy and executed. He is dead; but
not so are Von der Tann's ambitions. When he learns that he
no longer may rely upon the strain of the Rubinroth blood
that flowed in the veins of the American from his royal
mother, the runaway Princess Victoria, there will remain to
him only the other alternative of seizing the throne for him-
self. He is a very ambitious man, your majesty. Already he
has caused it to become current gossip that he is the real
power behind the throne of Lutha--that your majesty is
but a figure-head, the puppet of Von der Tann."
Zellerndorf paused. He saw the flush of shame and anger
that suffused the king's face, and then he shot the bolt that
he had come to fire, but which he had not dared to hope
would find its target so denuded of defense.
"Your majesty," he whispered, coming quite close to the
king, "all Lutha is inclined to believe that you fear Prince
von der Tann. Only a few of us know the truth to be the
contrary. For the sake of your prestige you must take some
step to counteract this belief and stamp it out for good and
all. I have planned a way--hear it.
"Von der Tann's hatred of Peter of Blentz is well known.
No man in Lutha believes that he would permit you to have
any intercourse with Peter. I have brought from Blentz
an invitation to your majesty to honor the Blentz prince
with your presence as a guest for the ensuing week. Accept
it, your majesty.
"Nothing could more conclusively prove to the most skep-
tical that you are still the king, and that Von der Tann, nor
any other, may not dare to dictate to you. It will be the
most splendid stroke of statesmanship that you could achieve
at the present moment."
For an instant the king stood in thought. He still feared
Peter of Blentz as the devil is reputed to fear holy water,
though for converse reasons. Yet he was very angry with
Von der Tann. It would indeed be an excellent way to
teach the presumptuous chancellor his place.
Leopold almost smiled as he thought of the chagrin with
which Prince Ludwig would receive the news that he had
gone to Blentz as the guest of Peter. It was the last impetus
that was required by his weak, vindictive nature to press
it to a decision.
"Very well," he said, "I will go tomorrow."
It was late the following day that Prince von der Tann
received in his castle in the Old Forest word that an Austrian
army had crossed the Luthanian frontier--the neutrality of
Lutha had been violated. The old chancellor set out im-
mediately for Lustadt. At the palace he sought an interview
with the king only to learn that Leopold had departed
earlier in the day to visit Peter of Blentz.
There was but one thing to do and that was to follow the
king to Blentz. Some action must be taken immediately--it
would never do to let this breach of treaty pass unnoticed.
The Serbian minister who had sent word to the chancellor
of the invasion by the Austrian troops was closeted with
him for an hour after his arrival at the palace. It was clear
to both these men that the hand of Zellerndorf was plainly in
evidence in both the important moves that had occurred in
Lutha within the past twenty-four hours--the luring of the
king to Blentz and the entrance of Austrian soldiery into
Following his interview with the Serbian minister Von der
Tann rode toward Blentz with only his staff in attendance.
It was long past midnight when the lights of the town ap-
peared directly ahead of the little party. They rode at a
trot along the road which passes through the village to wind
upward again toward the ancient feudal castle that looks
down from its hilltop upon the town.
At the edge of the village Von der Tann was thunder-
struck by a challenge from a sentry posted in the road, nor
was his dismay lessened when he discovered that the man
was an Austrian.
"What is the meaning of this?" he cried angrily. "What
are Austrian soldiers doing barring the roads of Lutha to the
chancellor of Lutha?"
The sentry called an officer. The latter was extremely
suave. He regretted the incident, but his orders were most
positive--no one could be permitted to pass through the
lines without an order from the general commanding. He
would go at once to the general and see if he could procure
the necessary order. Would the prince be so good as to await
his return? Von der Tann turned on the young officer, his
face purpling with rage.
"I will pass nowhere within the boundaries of Lutha," he
said, "upon the order of an Austrian. You may tell your
general that my only regret is that I have not with me to-
night the necessary force to pass through his lines to my
king--another time I shall not be so handicapped," and Lud-
wig, Prince von der Tann, wheeled his mount and spurred
away in the direction of Lustadt, at his heels an extremely
angry and revengeful staff.
A TRAP IS SPRUNG
LONG BEFORE Prince von der Tann reached Lustadt he had
come to the conclusion that Leopold was in virtue a prisoner
in Blentz. To prove his conclusion he directed one of his
staff to return to Blentz and attempt to have audience with
"Risk anything," he instructed the officer to whom he had
entrusted the mission. "Submit, if necessary, to the humilia-
tion of seeking an Austrian pass through the lines to the
castle. See the king at any cost and deliver this message
to him and to him alone and secretly. Tell him my fears,
and that if I do not have word from him within twenty-
four hours I shall assume that he is indeed a prisoner.
"I shall then direct the mobilization of the army and
take such steps as seem fit to rescue him and drive the in-
vaders from the soil of Lutha. If you do not return I shall
understand that you are held prisoner by the Austrians and
that my worst fears have been realized."
But Prince Ludwig was one who believed in being fore-
handed and so it happened that the orders for the mobiliza-
tion of the army of Lutha were issued within fifteen minutes
of his return to Lustadt. It would do no harm, thought the
old man, with a grim smile, to get things well under way a
day ahead of time. This accomplished, he summoned the
Serbian minister, with what purpose and to what effect be-
came historically evident several days later. When, after
twenty-four hours' absence, his aide had not returned from
Blentz, the chancellor had no regrets for his forehanded-
In the castle of Peter of Blentz the king of Lutha was be-
ing entertained royally. He was told nothing of the attempt
of his chancellor to see him, nor did he know that a messen-
ger from Prince von der Tann was being held a prisoner
in the camp of the Austrians in the village. He was sur-
rounded by the creatures of Prince Peter and by Peter's
staunch allies, the Austrian minister and the Austrian officers
attached to the expeditionary force occupying the town.
They told him that they had positive information that the
Serbians already had crossed the frontier into Lutha, and
that the presence of the Austrian troops was purely for the
protection of Lutha.
It was not until the morning following the rebuff of
Prince von der Tann that Peter of Blentz, Count Zellern-
dorf and Maenck heard of the occurrence. They were cha-
grined by the accident, for they were not ready to deliver
their final stroke. The young officer of the guard had, of
course, but followed his instructions--who would have thought
that old Von der Tann would come to Blentz! That he
suspected their motives seemed apparent, and now that
his rebuff at the gates had aroused his ire and, doubtless,
crystallized his suspicions, they might find in him a very
ugly obstacle to the fruition of their plans.
With Von der Tann actively opposed to them, the value
of having the king upon their side would be greatly mini-
mized. The people and the army had every confidence in
the old chancellor. Even if he opposed the king there was
reason to believe that they might still side with him.
"What is to be done?" asked Zellerndorf. "Is there no
way either to win or force Von der Tann to acquiescence?"
"I think we can accomplish it," said Prince Peter, after a
moment of thought. "Let us see Leopold. His mind has
been prepared to receive almost gratefully any insinuations
against the loyalty of Von der Tann. With proper evidence
the king may easily be persuaded to order the chancellor's
arrest--possibly his execution as well."
So they saw the king, only to meet a stubborn refusal
upon the part of Leopold to accede to their suggestions. He
still was madly in love with Von der Tann's daughter, and
he knew that a blow delivered at her father would only
tend to increase her bitterness toward him. The conspirators
They had looked for a comparatively easy road to the
consummation of their desires. What in the world could be
the cause of the king's stubborn desire to protect the man
they knew he feared, hated, and mistrusted with all the
energy of his suspicious nature? It was the king himself
who answered their unspoken question.
"I cannot believe in the disloyalty of Prince Ludwig," he
said, "nor could I, even if I desired it, take such drastic
steps as you suggest. Some day the Princess Emma, his
daughter, will be my queen."
Count Zellerndorf was the first to grasp the possibilities
that lay in the suggestion the king's words carried.
"Your majesty," he cried, "there is a way to unite all
factions in Lutha. It would be better to insure the loyalty
of Von der Tann through bonds of kinship than to an-
tagonize him. Marry the Princess Emma at once.
"Wait, your majesty," he added, as Leopold raised an ob-
jecting hand. "I am well informed as to the strange obsti-
nacy of the princess, but for the welfare of the state--yes,
for the sake of your very throne, sire--you should exert
your royal prerogatives and command the Princess Emma to
carry out the terms of your betrothal."
"What do you mean, Zellerndorf?" asked the king.
"I mean, sire, that we should bring the princess here and
compel her to marry you."
Leopold shook his head. "You do not know her," he said.
"You do not know the Von der Tann nature--one cannot
force a Von der Tann."
"Pardon, sire," urged Zellerndorf, "but I think it can be
accomplished. If the Princess Emma knew that your majesty
believed her father to be a traitor--that the order for his
arrest and execution but awaited your signature--I doubt
not that she would gladly become queen of Lutha, with
her father's life and liberty as a wedding gift."
For several minutes no one spoke after Count Zellerndorf
had ceased. Leopold sat looking at the toe of his boot.
Peter of Blentz, Maenck, and the Austrian watched him in-
tently. The possibilities of the plan were sinking deep into
the minds of all four. At last the king rose. He was mum-
bling to himself as though unconscious of the presence of
"She is a stubborn jade," he mumbled. "It would be an
excellent lesson for her. She needs to be taught that I am
her king," and then as though his conscience required a
sop, "I shall be very good to her. Afterward she will be
happy." He turned toward Zellerndorf. "You think it can
"Most assuredly, your majesty. We shall take immediate
steps to fetch the Princess Emma to Blentz," and the Aus-
trian rose and backed from the apartment lest the king
change his mind. Prince Peter and Maenck followed him.
Princess Emma von der Tann sat in her boudoir in her
father's castle in the Old Forest. Except for servants, she
was alone in the fortress, for Prince von der Tann was in
Lustadt. Her mind was occupied with memories of the
young American who had entered her life under such strange
circumstances two years before--memories that had been
awakened by the return of Lieutenant Otto Butzow to Lutha.
He had come directly to her father and had been attached
to the prince's personal staff.
From him she had heard a great deal about Barney
Custer, and the old interest, never a moment forgotten dur-
ing these two years, was reawakened to all its former in-
Butzow had accompanied Prince Ludwig to Lustadt, but
Princess Emma would not go with them. For two years she
had not entered the capital, and much of that period had
been spent in Paris. Only within the past fortnight had she
returned to Lutha.
In the middle of the morning her reveries were inter-
rupted by the entrance of a servant bearing a message. She
had to read it twice before she could realize its purport;
though it was plainly worded--the shock of it had stunned
her. It was dated at Lustadt and signed by one of the
Prince von der Tann has suffered a slight stroke. Do
not be alarmed, but come at once. The two troopers
who bear this message will act as your escort.
It required but a few minutes for the girl to change to
her riding clothes, and when she ran down into the court she
found her horse awaiting her in the hands of her groom,
while close by two mounted troopers raised their hands to
their helmets in salute.
A moment later the three clattered over the drawbridge
and along the road that leads toward Lustadt. The escort
rode a short distance behind the girl, and they were hard
put to it to hold the mad pace which she set them.
A few miles from Tann the road forks. One branch leads
toward the capital and the other winds over the hills in the
direction of Blentz. The fork occurs within the boundaries
of the Old Forest. Great trees overhang the winding road,
casting a twilight shade even at high noon. It is a lonely
spot, far from any habitation.
As the Princess Emma approached the fork she reined in
her mount, for across the road to Lustadt a dozen horse-
men barred her way. At first she thought nothing of it,
turning her horse's head to the righthand side of the road
to pass the party, all of whom were in uniform; but as she
did so one of the men reined directly in her path. The act
was obviously intentional.
The girl looked quickly up into the man's face, and her
own went white. He who stopped her way was Captain
Ernst Maenck. She had not seen the man for two years, but
she had good cause to remember him as the governor of the
castle of Blentz and the man who had attempted to take
advantage of her helplessness when she had been a prisoner
in Prince Peter's fortress. Now she looked straight into the
"Let me pass, please," she said coldly.
"I am sorry," replied Maenck with an evil smile; "but the
king's orders are that you accompany me to Blentz--the
king is there."
For answer the girl drove her spur into her mount's side.
The animal leaped forward, striking Maenck's horse on the
shoulder and half turning him aside, but the man clutched
at the girl's bridle-rein, and, seizing it, brought her to a stop.
"You may as well come voluntarily, for come you must,"
he said. "It will be easier for you."
"I shall not come voluntarily," she replied. "If you take
me to Blentz you will have to take me by force, and if my
king is not sufficiently a gentleman to demand an account-
ing of you, I am at least more fortunate in the possession
of a father who will."
"Your father will scarce wish to question the acts of his
king," said Maenck--"his king and the husband of his
"What do you mean?" she cried.
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