The Mad King
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Part 6 out of 7
a voice in the peace negotiations.
"If we must bow to the surrender of our national integrity,
let us do so only after we have exhausted every resource of
the country in our country's defense. In the past your majesty
has not appeared to realize the menace of your most power-
ful neighbor. I beg of you, sire, to trust me. Believe that I
have only the interests of Lutha at heart, and let us work
together for the salvation of our country and your majesty's
Barney laid his hand upon the old man's shoulder. It
seemed a shame to carry the deception further, but the
American well knew that only so could he accomplish aught
for Lutha or the Von der Tanns. Once the old chancellor
suspected the truth as to his identity he would be the first
to denounce him.
"I think that you and I can work together, Prince Lud-
wig," he said. "I have sent for the Serbian and Austrian
ministers. The former should be here immediately."
Nor did they have long to wait before the tall Slav was
announced. Barney lost no time in getting down to business.
He asked no questions. What Von der Tann had told him,
what he had seen with his own eyes since he had entered
Lutha, and what he had overheard in the inn at Burgova
was sufficient evidence that the fate of Lutha hung upon
the prompt and energetic decisions of the man who sat
upon Lutha's throne for the next few days.
Had Leopold been the present incumbent Lutha would
have been lost, for that he would play directly into the
hands of Austria was not to be questioned. Were Von der
Tann to seize the reins of government a state of revolution
would exist that would divide the state into two bitter
factions, weaken its defense, and give Austria what she most
desired--a plausible pretext for intervention.
Lutha's only hope lay in united defense of her liberties
under the leadership of the one man whom all acknowledged
king--Leopold. Very well, Barney Custer, of Beatrice, would
be Leopold for a few days, since the real Leopold had
proven himself incompetent to meet the emergency.
General Petko, the Serbian minister to Lutha, brought to
the audience the memory of a series of unpleasant encounters
with the king. Leopold had never exerted himself to hide
his pro-Austrian sentiments. Austria was a powerful country
--Serbia, a relatively weak neighbor. Leopold, being a royal
snob, had courted the favor of the emperor and turned up
his nose at Serbia. The general was prepared for a repetition
of the veiled affronts that Leopold delighted in according
him; but this time he brought with him a reply that for
two years he had been living in the hope of some day being
able to deliver to the young monarch he so cordially de-
It was an ultimatum from his government--an ultimatum
couched in terms from which all diplomatic suavity had
been stripped. If Barney Custer, of Beatrice, could have
read it he would have smiled, for in plain American it might
have been described as announcing to Leopold precisely
"where he got off." But Barney did not have the opportunity
to read it, since that ultimatum was never delivered.
Barney took the wind all out of it by his first words. "Your
excellency may wonder why it is that we have summoned
you at such an early hour," he said.
General Petko inclined his head in deferential acknowl-
edgment of the truth of the inference.
"It is because we have learned from our chancellor,"
continued the American, "that Serbia has mobilized an en-
tire army corps upon the Luthanian frontier. Am I correctly
General Petko squared his shoulders and bowed in assent.
At the same time he reached into his breast-pocket for the
"Good!" exclaimed Barney, and then he leaned close to
the ear of the Serbian. "How long will it take to move that
army corps to Lustadt?"
General Petko gasped and returned the ultimatum to his
"Sire!" he cried, his face lighting with incredulity. "You
"I mean," said the American, "that if Serbia will loan
Lutha an army corps until the Austrians have evacuated
Luthanian territory, Lutha will loan Serbia an army corps
until such time as peace is declared between Serbia and
Austria. Other than this neither government will incur any
obligations to the other.
"We may not need your help, but it will do us no harm
to have them well on the way toward Lustadt as quickly as
possible. Count Zellerndorf will be here in a few minutes.
We shall, through him, give Austria twenty-four hours to
withdraw all her troops beyond our frontiers. The army of
Lutha is mobilized before Lustadt. It is not a large army,
but with the help of Serbia it should be able to drive the
Austrians from the country, provided they do not leave of
their own accord."
General Petko smiled. So did the American and the chan-
cellor. Each knew that Austria would not withdraw her
army from Lutha.
"With your majesty's permission I will withdraw," said
the Serbian, "and transmit Lutha's proposition to my gov-
ernment; but I may say that your majesty need have no
apprehension but that a Serbian army corps will be crossing
into Lutha before noon today."
"And now, Prince Ludwig," said the American after the
Serbian had bowed himself out of the apartment, "I sug-
gest that you take immediate steps to entrench a strong
force north of Lustadt along the road to Blentz."
Von der Tann smiled as he replied. "It is already done,
sire," he said.
"But I passed in along the road this morning," said Bar-
ney, "and saw nothing of such preparations."
"The trenches and the soldiers were there, nevertheless,
sire," replied the old man, "only a little gap was left on
either side of the highway that those who came and went
might not suspect our plans and carry word of them to
the Austrians. A few hours will complete the link across
"Good! Let it be completed at once. Here is Count Zel-
lerndorf now," as the minister was announced.
Von der Tann bowed himself out as the Austrian entered
the king's presence. For the first time in two years the
chancellor felt that the destiny of Lutha was safe in the
hands of her king. What had caused the metamorphosis
in Leopold he could not guess. He did not seem to be the
same man that had whined and growled at their last audi-
ence a week before.
The Austrian minister entered the king's presence with an
expression of ill-concealed surprise upon his face. Two days
before he had left Leopold safely ensconced at Blentz,
where he was to have remained indefinitely. He glanced
hurriedly about the room in search of Prince Peter or an-
other of the conspirators who should have been with the
king. He saw no one. The king was speaking. The Austrian's
eyes went wider, not only at the words, but at the tone of
"Count Zellerndorf," said the American, "you were doubt-
less aware of the embarrassment under which the king of
Lutha was compelled at Blentz to witness the entry of a
foreign army within his domain. But we are not now at
Blentz. We have summoned you that you may receive from
us, and transmit to your emperor, the expression of our
surprise and dismay at the unwarranted violation of Luth-
"But, your majesty--" interrupted the Austrian.
"But nothing, your excellency," snapped the American.
"The moment for diplomacy is passed; the time for action
has come. You will oblige us by transmitting to your govern-
ment at once a request that every Austrian soldier now in
Lutha be withdrawn by noon tomorrow."
Zellerndorf looked his astonishment.
"Are you mad, sire?" he cried. "It will mean war!"
"It is what Austria has been looking for," snapped the
American, "and what people look for they usually get, es-
pecially if they chance to be looking for trouble. When can
you expect a reply from Vienna?"
"By noon, your majesty," replied the Austrian, "but are
you irretrievably bound to your present policy? Remember
the power of Austria, sire. Think of your throne. Think--"
"We have thought of everything," interrupted Barney.
"A throne means less to us than you may imagine, count;
but the honor of Lutha means a great deal."
AT FIVE o'clock that afternoon the sidewalks bordering Mar-
garetha Street were crowded with promenaders. The little
tables before the cafes were filled. Nearly everyone spoke
of the great war and of the peril which menaced Lutha.
Upon many a lip was open disgust at the supine attitude
of Leopold of Lutha in the face of an Austrian invasion of
his country. Discontent was open. It was ripening to some-
thing worse for Leopold than an Austrian invasion.
Presently a sergeant of the Royal Horse Guards cantered
down the street from the palace. He stopped here and there,
and, dismounting, tacked placards in conspicuous places. At
the notice, and in each instance cheers and shouting fol-
lowed the sergeant as he rode on to the next stop.
Now, at each point men and women were gathered,
eagerly awaiting an explanation of the jubilation farther up
the street. Those whom the sergeant passed called to him
for an explanation, and not receiving it, followed in a quickly
growing mob that filled Margaretha Street from wall to
wall. When he dismounted he had almost to fight his way
to the post or door upon which he was to tack the next
placard. The crowd surged about him in its anxiety to
read what the placard bore, and then, between the cheering
and yelling, those in the front passed back to the crowd the
tidings that filled them with so great rejoicing.
"Leopold has declared war on Austria!" "The king calls
for volunteers!" "Long live the king!"
The battle of Lustadt has passed into history. Outside of
the little kingdom of Lutha it received but passing notice
by the world at large, whose attention was riveted upon the
great conflicts along the banks of the Meuse, the Marne,
and the Aisne. But in Lutha! Ah, it will be told and re-
told, handed down from mouth to mouth and from genera-
tion to generation to the end of time.
How the cavalry that the king sent north toward Blentz
met the advancing Austrian army. How, fighting, they fell
back upon the infantry which lay, a thin line that stretched
east and west across the north of Lustadt, in its first line of
trenches. A pitifully weak line it was, numerically, in com-
parison with the forces of the invaders; but it stood its
ground heroically, and from the heights to the north of
the city the fire from the forts helped to hold the enemy
in check for many hours.
And then the enemy succeeded in bringing up their
heavy artillery to the ridge that lies three miles north of
the forts. Shells were bursting in the trenches, the forts, and
the city. To the south a stream of terror-stricken refugees
was pouring out of Lustadt along the King's Road. Rich
and poor, animated by a common impulse, filled the narrow
street that led to the city's southern gate. Carts drawn by
dogs, laden donkeys, French limousines, victorias, wheel-
barrows--every conceivable wheeled vehicle and beast of
burden--were jammed in a seemingly inextricable tangle in
the mad rush for safety.
Rumor passed back and forth through the fleeing thou-
sands. Now came word that Fort No. 2 had been silenced
by the Austrian guns. Immediately followed news that the
Luthanian line was falling back upon the city. Fear turned
to panic. Men fought to outdistance their neighbors.
A shell burst upon a roof-top in an adjoining square.
Women fainted and were trampled. Hoarse shouts of
anger mingled with screams of terror, and then into the
midst of it from Margaretha Street rode a man on horse-
back. Behind him were a score of officers. A trumpeter
raised his instrument to his lips, and above the din of
the fleeing multitude rose the sharp, triple call that an-
nounces the coming of the king. The mob halted and turned.
Looking down upon them from his saddle was Leopold
of Lutha. His palm was raised for silence and there was a
smile upon his lips. Quite suddenly, and as by a miracle,
fear left them. They made a line for him and his staff to
ride through. One of the officers turned in his saddle to
address a civilian friend in an automobile.
"His majesty is riding to the firing line," he said and he
raised his voice that many might hear. Quickly the word
passed from mouth to mouth, and as Barney Custer, of
Beatrice, passed along Margaretha Street he was followed
by a mad din of cheering that drowned the booming of the
distant cannon and the bursting of the shells above the
The balance of the day the pseudo-king rode back and
forth along his lines. Three of his staff were killed and two
horses were shot from beneath him, but from the moment
that he appeared the Luthanian line ceased to waver or
fall back. The advanced trenches that they had abandoned
to the Austrians they took again at the point of the bayonet.
Charge after charge they repulsed, and all the time there
hovered above the enemy Lutha's sole aeroplane, watching,
watching, ever watching for the coming of the allies. Some-
where to the northeast the Serbians were advancing toward
Lustadt. Would they come in time?
It was five o'clock in the morning of the second day, and
though the Luthanian line still held, Barney Custer knew
that it could not hold for long. The Austrian artillery fire,
which had been rather wild the preceding day, had now
become of deadly accuracy. Each bursting shell filled some
part of the trenches with dead and wounded, and though
their places were taken by fresh men from the reserve,
there would soon be no reserve left to call upon.
At his left, in the rear, the American had massed the
bulk of his reserves, and at the foot of the heights north of
the city and just below the forts the major portion of the
cavalry was drawn up in the shelter of a little ravine. Bar-
ney's eyes were fixed upon the soaring aeroplane.
In his hand was his watch. He would wait another fifteen
minutes, and if by then the signal had not come that the
Serbians were approaching, he would strike the blow that
he had decided upon. From time to time he glanced at his
The fifteen minutes had almost elapsed when there flut-
tered from the tiny monoplane a paper parachute. It dropped
for several hundred feet before it spread to the air pressure
and floated more gently toward the earth and a moment
later there burst from its basket a puff of white smoke. Two
more parachutes followed the first and two more puffs of
smoke. Then the machine darted rapidly off toward the
Barney turned to Prince von der Tann with a smile. "They
are none too soon," he said.
The old prince bowed in acquiescence. He had been very
happy for two days. Lutha might be defeated now, but she
could never be subdued. She had a king at last--a real
king. Gott! How he had changed. It reminded Prince von
der Tann of the day he had ridden beside the imposter two
years before in the battle with the forces of Peter of Blentz.
Many times he had caught himself scrutinizing the face of
the monarch, searching for some proof that after all he
was not Leopold.
"Direct the commanders of forts three and four to con-
centrate their fire on the enemy's guns directly north of Fort
No. 3," Barney directed an aide. "Simultaneously let the
cavalry and Colonel Kazov's infantry make a determined as-
sault on the Austrian trenches."
Then he turned his horse toward the left of his line, where,
a little to the rear, lay the fresh troops that he had been
holding in readiness against this very moment. As he gal-
loped across the plain, his staff at his heels, shrapnel burst
about them. Von der Tann spurred to his side.
"Sire," he cried, "it is unnecessary that you take such
grave risks. Your staff is ready and willing to perform such
service that you may be preserved to your people and your
"I believe the men fight better when they think their king
is watching them," said the American simply.
"I know it, sire," replied Von der Tann, "but even so,
Lutha could ill afford to lose you now. I thank God, your
majesty, that I have lived to see this day--to see the last of
the Rubinroths upholding the glorious traditions of the
Barney led the reserves slowly through the wood to the
rear of the extreme left of his line. The attack upon the
Austrian right center appeared to be meeting with much
greater success than the American dared to hope for. Al-
ready, through his glasses, he could see indications that
the enemy was concentrating a larger force at this point to
repulse the vicious assaults of the Luthanians. To do this
they must be drawing from their reserves back of other por-
tions of their line.
It was what Barney had desired. The three bombs from
the aeroplane had told him that the Serbians had been
sighted three miles away. Already they were engaging the
Austrians. He could hear the rattle of rifles and quick-firers
and the roar of cannon far to the northeast. And now he
gave the word to the commander of the reserve.
At a rapid trot the men moved forward behind the ex-
treme left end of the Luthanian left wing. They were almost
upon the Austrians before they emerged from the shelter of
the wood, and then with hoarse shouts and leveled bayonets
they charged the enemy's position. The fight there was the
bloodiest of the two long days. Back and forth the tide of
battle surged. In the thick of it rode the false king en-
couraging his men to greater effort. Slowly at last they bore
the Austrians from their trenches. Back and back they bore
them until retreat became a rout. The Austrian right was
crumpled back upon its center!
Here the enemy made a determined stand; but just be-
fore dark a great shouting arose from the heights to their
left, where the bulk of their artillery was stationed. Both the
Luthanian and Austrian troops engaged in the plain saw
Austrian infantry and artillery running down the slopes in
disorderly rout. Upon their heads came a cheering line of
soldiers firing as they ran, and above them waved the battle-
flag of Serbia.
A mighty shout rose from the Luthanian ranks--an an-
swering groan from the throats of the Austrians. Hemmed
in between the two lines of allies, the Austrians were help-
less. Their artillery was captured, retreat cut off. There was
but a single alternative to massacre--the white flag.
A few regiments between Lustadt and Blentz, but nearer
the latter town, escaped back into Austria, the balance Bar-
ney arranged with the Serbian minister to have taken back
to Serbia as prisoners of war. The Luthanian army corps that
the American had promised the Serbs was to be utilized
along the Austrian frontier to prevent the passage of Austrian
troops into Serbia through Lutha.
The return to Lustadt after the battle was made through
cheering troops and along streets choked with joy-mad
citizenry. The name of the soldier-king was upon every
tongue. Men went wild with enthusiasm as the tall figure
rode slowly through the crowd toward the palace.
Von der Tann, grim and martial, found his lids damp with
the moisture of a great happiness. Even now with all the
proofs of reality about him, it seemed impossible that this
scene could be aught but the ephemeral vapors of a dream
--that Leopold of Lutha, the coward, the craven, could
have become in a single day the heroic figure that had
loomed so large upon the battlefield of Lustadt--the simple,
modest gentleman who received the plaudits of his subjects
with bowed head and humble mien.
As Barney Custer rode up Margaretha Street toward the
royal palace of the kings of Lutha, a dust-covered horseman
in the uniform of an officer of the Horse Guards entered
Lustadt from the south. It was the young aide of Prince
von der Tann's staff, who had been sent to Blentz nearly a
week earlier with a message for the king, and who had
been captured and held by the Austrians.
During the battle before Lustadt all the Austrian troops
had been withdrawn from Blentz and hurried to the front.
It was then that the aide had been transferred to the castle,
from which he had escaped early that morning. To reach
Lustadt he had been compelled to circle the Austrian posi-
tion, coming to Lustadt from the south.
Once within the city he rode straight to the palace, flung
himself from his jaded mount, and entered the left wing of
the building--the wing in which the private apartments of
the chancellor were located.
Here he inquired for the Princess Emma, learning with
evident relief that she was there. A moment later, white
with dust, his face streamed with sweat, he was ushered
into her presence.
"Your highness," he blurted, "the king's commands have
been disregarded--the American is to be shot tomorrow. I
have just escaped from Blentz. Peter is furious. He realizes
that whether the Austrians win or lose, his standing with
the king is gone forever.
"In a fit of rage he has ordered that Mr. Custer be sacri-
ficed to his desire for revenge, in the hope that it will in-
sure for him the favor of the Austrians. Something must be
done at once if he is to be saved."
For a moment the girl swayed as though about to fall.
The young officer stepped quickly to support her, but be-
fore he reached her side she had regained complete mastery
of herself. From the street without there rose the blare of
trumpets and the cheering of the populace.
Through senses numb with the cold of anguish the mean-
ing of the tumult slowly filtered to her brain--the king had
come. He was returning from the battlefield, covered with
honors and flushed with glory--the man who was to be
her husband; but there was no rejoicing in the heart of the
Instead, there was a dull ache and impotent rebellion
at the injustice of the thing--that Leopold should be reap-
ing these great rewards, while he who had made it possible
for him to be a king at all was to die on the morrow be-
cause of what he had done to place the Rubinroth upon
"Perhaps Lieutenant Butzow might find a way," suggested
the officer. "He or your father; they are both fond of Mr.
"Yes," said the girl dully, "see Lieutenant Butzow--he
would do the most."
The officer bowed and hastened from the apartment in
search of Butzow. The girl approached the window and
stood there for a long time, looking out at the surging multi-
tude that pressed around the palace gates, filling Margaretha
Street with a solid mass of happy faces.
They cheered the king, the chancellor, the army; but most
often they cheered the king. From a despised monarch Leo-
pold had risen in a single bound to the position of a national
Repeatedly he was called to the balcony over the grand
entrance that the people might feast their eyes on him. The
princess wondered how long it was before she herself would
be forced to offer her congratulations and, perchance, suffer
his caresses. She shivered and cringed at the thought, and
then there came a knock upon the door, and in answer to
her permission it opened, and the king stood upon the
At a glance the man took in the pain and sorrow mir-
rored upon the girl's face. He stepped quickly across the
room toward her.
"What is it?" he asked. "What is the matter?"
For a moment he had forgotten the part that he had
been playing--forgot that the Princess Emma was ignorant
of his identity. He had come to her to share with her the
happiness of the hour--the glory of the victorious arms of
Lutha. For a time he had almost forgotten that he was not
the king, and now he was forgetting that he was not Barney
Custer to the girl who stood before him with misery and
hopelessness writ so large upon her countenance.
For a brief instant the girl did not reply. She was weigh-
ing the problematical value of an attempt to enlist the king
in the cause of the American. Leopold had shown a spark of
magnanimity when he had written a pardon for Mr. Custer;
might he not rise again above his petty jealousy and save
the American's life? It was a forlorn hope to the woman
who knew the true Leopold so well; but it was a hope.
"What is the matter?" the king repeated.
"I have just received word that Prince Peter has ignored
your commands, sire," replied the girl, "and that Mr. Custer
is to be shot tomorrow."
Barney's eyes went wide with incredulity. Here was a
pretty pass, indeed! The princess came close to him and
seized his arm.
"You promised, sire," she said, "that he would not be
harmed--you gave your royal word. You can save him. You
have an army at your command. Do not forget that he
once saved you."
The note of appeal in her voice and the sorrow in her
eyes gave Barney Custer a twinge of compunction. The
necessity for longer concealing his identity in so far as the
salvation of Lutha was concerned seemed past; but the
American had intended to carry the deception to the end.
He had given the matter much thought, but he could find
no grounds for belief that Emma von der Tann would be
any happier in the knowledge that her future husband had
had nothing to do with the victory of his army. If she was
doomed to a life at his side, why not permit her the grain
of comfort that she might derive from the memory of her
husband's achievements upon the battlefield of Lustadt? Why
rob her of that little?
But now, face to face with her, and with the evidence of
her suffering so plain before him, Barney's intentions wa-
vered. Like most fighting men, he was tender in his dealings
with women. And now the last straw came in the form of a
single tiny tear that trickled down the girl's cheek. He
seized the hand that lay upon his arm.
"Your highness," he said, "do not grieve for the American.
He is not worth it. He has deceived you. He is not at
The girl drew her hand from his and straightened to her
"What do you mean, sire?" she exclaimed. "Mr. Custer
would not deceive me even if he had an opportunity--which
he has not had. But if he is not at Blentz, where is he?"
Barney bowed his head and looked at the floor.
"He is here, your highness, asking your forgiveness," he
There was a puzzled expression upon the girl's face as
she looked at the man before her. She did not understand.
Why should she? Barney drew a diamond ring from his
little finger and held it out to her.
"You gave it to me to cut a hole in the window of the
garage where I stole the automobile," he said. "I forgot to
return it. Now do you know who I am?"
Emma von der Tann's eyes showed her incredulity; then,
act by act, she recalled all that this man had said and
done since they had escaped from Blentz that had been
so unlike the king she knew.
"When did you assume the king's identity?" she asked.
Barney told her all that had transpired in the king's apart-
ments at Blentz before she had been conducted to the
"And Leopold is there now?" she asked.
"He is there," replied Barney, "and he is to be shot in
"Gott!" exclaimed the girl. "What are we to do?"
"There is but one thing to do," replied the American,
"and that is for Butzow and me to ride to Blentz as fast as
horses will carry us and rescue the king."
"And then?" asked the girl, a shadow crossing her face.
"And then Barney Custer will have to beat it for the
boundary," he replied with a sorry smile.
She came quite close to him, laying her hands upon his
"I cannot give you up now," she said simply. "I have
tried to be loyal to Leopold and the promise that my father
made his king when I was only a little girl; but since I
thought that you were to be shot, I have wished a thousand
times that I had gone with you to America two years ago.
Take me with you now, Barney. We can send Lieutenant
Butzow to rescue the king, and before he has returned we
can be safe across the Serbian frontier."
The American shook his head.
"I got the king into this mess and I must get him out,"
he said. "He may deserve to be shot, but it is up to me
to prevent it, if I can. And there is your father to consider.
If Butzow rides to Blentz and rescues the king, it may be
difficult to get him back to Lustadt without the truth of
his identity and mine becoming known. With me there, the
change can be effected easily, and not even Butzow need
know what has happened.
"If the people should guess that it was not Leopold who
won the battle of Lustadt there might be the devil to pay,
and your father would go down along with the throne. No,
I must stay until Leopold is safe in Lustadt. But there is a
hope for us. I may be able to wrest from Leopold his
sanction of our marriage. I shall not hesitate to use threats
to get it, and I rather imagine that he will be in such a
terror-stricken condition that he will assent to any terms for
his release from Blentz. If he gives me such a paper, Emma,
will you marry me?"
Perhaps there never had been a stranger proposal than
this; but to neither did it seem strange. For two years each
had known the love of the other. The girl's betrothal to
the king had prevented an avowal of their love while Barney
posed in his own identity. Now they merely accepted the
conditions that had existed for two years as though a mat-
ter of fact which had been often discussed between them.
"Of course I'll marry you," said the princess. "Why in the
world would I want you to take me to America otherwise?"
As Barney Custer took her in his arms he was happier
than he had ever before been in all his life, and so, too,
was the Princess Emma von der Tann.
LEOPOLD WAITS FOR DAWN
AFTER THE American had shoved him through the secret
doorway into the tower room of the castle of Blentz, Leopold
had stood for several minutes waiting for the next command
from his captor. Presently, hearing no sound other than that
of his own breathing, the king ventured to speak. He asked
the American what he purposed doing with him next.
There was no reply. For another minute the king listened
intently; then he raised his hands and removed the bandage
from his eyes. He looked about him. The room was vacant
except for himself. He recognized it as the one in which he
had spent ten years of his life as a prisoner. He shuddered.
What had become of the American? He approached the
door and listened. Beyond the panels he could hear the two
soldiers on guard there conversing. He called to them.
"What do you want?" shouted one of the men through
the closed door.
"I want Prince Peter!" yelled the king. "Send him at
The soldiers laughed.
"He wants Prince Peter," they mocked. "Wouldn't you
rather have us send the king to you?" they asked.
"I am the king!" yelled Leopold. "I am the king! Open
the door, pigs, or it will go hard with you! I shall have you
both shot in the morning if you do not open the door and
fetch Prince Peter."
"Ah!" exclaimed one of the soldiers. "Then there will be
three of us shot together."
Leopold went white. He had not connected the sentence
of the American with himself; but now, quite vividly, he
realized what it might mean to him if he failed before dawn
to convince someone that he was not the American. Peter
would not be awake at so early an hour, and if he had no
better success with others than he was having with these
soldiers, it was possible that he might be led out and shot
before his identity was discovered. The thing was prepos-
terous. The king's knees became suddenly quite weak. They
shook, and his legs gave beneath his weight so that he had
to lean against the back of a chair to keep from falling.
Once more he turned to the soldiers. This time he pleaded
with them, begging them to carry word to Prince Peter that
a terrible mistake had been made, and that it was the king
and not the American who was confined in the death cham-
ber. But the soldiers only laughed at him, and finally threat-
ened to come in and beat him if he again interrupted their
It was a white and shaken prisoner that the officer of the
guard found when he entered the room at dawn. The man
before him, his face streaked with tears of terror and self-
pity, fell upon his knees before him, beseeching him to carry
word to Peter of Blentz, that he was the king. The officer
drew away with a gesture of disgust.
"I might well believe from your actions that you are Leo-
pold," he said; "for, by Heaven, you do not act as I have
always imagined the American would act in the face of
danger. He has a reputation for bravery that would suffer
could his admirers see him now."
"But I am not the American," pleaded the king. "I tell
you that the American came to my apartments last night,
overpowered me, forced me to change clothing with him,
and then led me back here."
A sudden inspiration came to the king with the memory
of all that had transpired during that humiliating encounter
with the American.
"I signed a pardon for him!" he cried. "He forced me to
do so. If you think I am the American, you cannot kill me
now, for there is a pardon signed by the king, and an order
for the American's immediate release. Where is it? Do not
tell me that Prince Peter did not receive it."
"He received it," replied the officer, "and I am here to
acquaint you with the fact, but Prince Peter said nothing
about your release. All he told me was that you were not to
be shot this morning," and the man emphasized the last two
Leopold of Lutha spent two awful days a prisoner at
Blentz, not knowing at what moment Prince Peter might
see fit to carry out the verdict of the Austrian court martial.
He could convince no one that he was the king. Peter would
not even grant him an audience. Upon the evening of the
third day, word came that the Austrians had been defeated
before Lustadt, and those that were not prisoners were re-
treating through Blentz toward the Austrian frontier.
The news filtered to Leopold's prison room through the
servant who brought him his scant and rough fare. The king
was utterly disheartened before this word reached him. For
the moment he seemed to see a ray of hope, for, since the
impostor had been victorious, he would be in a position to
force Peter of Blentz to give up the true king.
There was the chance that the American, flushed with
success and power, might elect to hold the crown he had
seized. Who would guess the transfer that had been ef-
fected, or, guessing, would dare voice his suspicions in the
face of the power and popularity that Leopold knew such a
victory as the impostor had won must have given him in
the hearts and minds of the people of Lutha? Still, there
was a bare possibility that the American would be as good
as his word, and return the crown as he had promised.
Though he hated to admit it, the king had every reason to
believe that the impostor was a man of honor, whose bare
word was as good as another's bond.
He was commencing, under this line of reasoning, to
achieve a certain hopeful content when the door to his prison
opened and Peter of Blentz, black and scowling, entered.
At his elbow was Captain Ernst Maenck.
"Leopold has defeated the Austrians," announced the
former. "Until you returned to Lutha he considered the Aus-
trians his best friends. I do not know how you could have
reached or influenced him. It is to learn how you accom-
plished it that I am here. The fact that he signed your
pardon indicates that his attitude toward you changed sud-
denly--almost within an hour. There is something at the
bottom of it all, and that something I must know."
"I am Leopold!" cried the king. "Don't you recognize me,
Prince Peter? Look at me! Maenck must know me. It was I
who wrote and signed the American's pardon--at the point
of the American's revolver. He forced me to exchange cloth-
ing with him, and then he brought me here to this room
and left me."
The two men looked at the speaker and smiled.
"You bank too strongly, my friend," said Peter of Blentz,
"upon your resemblance to the king of Lutha. I will admit
that it is strong, but not so strong as to convince me of the
truth of so improbable a story. How in the world could the
American have brought you through the castle, from one
end to the other, unseen? There was a guard before the
king's door and another before this. No, Herr Custer, you
will have to concoct a more plausible tale.
"No," and Peter of Blentz scowled savagely, as though to
impress upon his listener the importance of his next utterance,
"there were more than you and the king involved in his
sudden departure from Blentz and in his hasty change of
policy toward Austria. To be quite candid, it seems to me
that it may be necessary to my future welfare--vitally neces-
sary, I may say--to know precisely how all this occurred,
and just what influence you have over Leopold of Lutha.
Who was it that acted as the go-between in the king's nego-
tiations with you, or rather, yours with the king? And what
argument did you bring to bear to force Leopold to the
action he took?"
"I have told you all that I know about the matter,"
whined the king. "The American appeared suddenly in my
apartment. When he brought me here he first blindfolded
me. I have no idea by what route we traveled through the
castle, and unless your guards outside this door were bribed
they can tell you more about how we got in here than I
can--provided we entered through that doorway," and the
king pointed to the door which had just opened to admit
his two visitors.
"Oh, pshaw!" exclaimed Maenck. "There is but one door
to this room--if the king came in here at all, he came
through that door."
"Enough!" cried Peter of Blentz. "I shall not be trifled
with longer. I shall give you until tomorrow morning to make
a full explanation of the truth and to form some plan whereby
you may utilize once more whatever influence you had
over Leopold to the end that he grant to myself and my
associates his royal assurance that our lives and property
will be safe in Lutha."
"But I tell you it is impossible," wailed the king.
"I think not," sneered Prince Peter, "especially when I tell
you that if you do not accede to my wishes the order of the
Austrian military court that sentenced you to death at Bur-
gova will be carried out in the morning."
With his final words the two men turned and left the
room. Behind them, upon the floor, inarticulate with terror,
knelt Leopold of Lutha, his hands outstretched in supplica-
The long night wore its weary way to dawn at last. The
sleepless man, alternately tossing upon his bed and pacing
the floor, looked fearfully from time to time at the window
through which the lightening of the sky would proclaim the
coming day and his last hour on earth. His windows faced
the west. At the foot of the hill beneath the castle nestled
the village of Blentz, once more enveloped in peaceful si-
lence since the Austrians were gone.
An unmistakable lessening of the darkness in the east
had just announced the proximity of day, when the king
heard a clatter of horses' hoofs upon the road before the
castle. The sound ceased at the gates and a loud voice broke
out upon the stillness of the dying night demanding en-
trance "in the name of the king."
New hope burst aflame in the breast of the condemned
man. The impostor had not forsaken him. Leopold ran to
the window, leaning far out. He heard the voices of the
sentries in the barbican as they conversed with the new-
comers. Then silence came, broken only by the rapid foot-
steps of a soldier hastening from the gate to the castle. His
hobnail shoes pounding upon the cobbles of the courtyard
echoed among the angles of the lofty walls. When he had
entered the castle the silence became oppressive. For five
minutes there was no sound other than the pawing of the
horses outside the barbican and the subdued conversation
of their riders.
Presently the soldier emerged from the castle. With him
was an officer. The two went to the barbican. Again there
was a parley between the horsemen and the guard. Leo-
pold could hear the officer demanding terms. He would
lower the drawbridge and admit them upon conditions.
One of these the king overheard--it concerned an assur-
ance of full pardon for Peter of Blentz and the garrison; and
again Leopold heard the officer addressing someone as "your
Ah, the impostor was there in person. Ach, Gott! How
Leopold of Lutha hated him, and yet, in the hands of this
American lay not only his throne but his very life as well.
Evidently the negotiations proved unsuccessful for after a
time the party wheeled their horses from the gate and rode
back toward Blentz. As the sound of the iron-shod hoofs
diminished in the distance, with them diminished the hopes
of the king.
When they ceased entirely his hopes were at an end,
to be supplanted by renewed terror at the turning of the
knob of his prison door as it swung open to admit Maenck
and a squad of soldiers.
"Come!" ordered the captain. "The king has refused to
intercede in your behalf. When he returns with his army he
will find your body at the foot of the west wall in the court-
With an ear-piercing shriek that rang through the grim
old castle, Leopold of Lutha flung his arms above his head
and lunged forward upon his face. Roughly the soldiers
seized the unconscious man and dragged him from the room.
Along the corridor they hauled him and down the wind-
ing stairs within the north tower to the narrow slit of a
door that opened upon the courtyard. To the foot of the
west wall they brought him, tossing him brutally to the stone
flagging. Here one of the soldiers brought a flagon of water
and dashed it in the face of the king. The cold douche re-
turned Leopold to a consciousness of the nearness of his
He saw the little squad of soldiers before him. He saw
the cold, gray wall behind, and, above, the cold, gray sky
of early dawn. The dismal men leaning upon their shadowy
guns seemed unearthly specters in the weird light of the
hour that is neither God's day nor devil's night. With diffi-
culty two of them dragged Leopold to his feet.
Then the dismal men formed in line before him at the
opposite side of the courtyard. Maenck stood to the left of
them. He was giving commands. They fell upon the doomed
man's ears with all the cruelty of physical blows. Tears
coursed down his white cheeks. With incoherent mumblings
he begged for his life. Leopold, King of Lutha, trembling
in the face of death!
THE TWO KINGS
TWENTY TROOPERS had ridden with Lieutenant Butzow and
the false king from Lustadt to Blentz. During the long, hard
ride there had been little or no conversation between the
American and his friend, for Butzow was still unsuspicious
of the true identity of the man who posed as the ruler of
Lutha. The lieutenant was all anxiety to reach Blentz and
rescue the American he thought imprisoned there and in
danger of being shot.
At the gate they were refused admittance unless the king
would accept conditions. Barney refused--there was another
way to gain entrance to Blentz that not even the master of
Blentz knew. Butzow urged him to accede to anything to
save the life of the American. He recalled all that the latter
had done in the service of Lutha and Leopold. Barney leaned
close to the other's ear.
"If they have not already shot him," he whispered, "we
shall save the prisoner yet. Let them think that we give up
and are returning to Lustadt. Then follow me."
Slowly the little cavalcade rode down from the castle of
Blentz toward the village. Just out of sight of the grim pile
where the road wound down into a ravine Barney turned
his horse's head up the narrow defile. In single file Butzow
and the troopers followed until the rank undergrowth pre-
cluded farther advance. Here the American directed that
they dismount, and, leaving the horses in charge of three
troopers, set out once more with the balance of the com-
pany on foot.
It was with difficulty that the men forced their way
through the bushes, but they had not gone far when their
leader stopped before a sheer wall of earth and stone, cov-
ered with densely growing shrubbery. Here he groped in
the dim light, feeling his way with his hands before him,
while at his heels came his followers. At last he separated
a wall of bushes and disappeared within the aperture his
hands had made. One by one his men followed, finding
themselves in inky darkness, but upon a smooth stone floor
and with stone walls close upon either hand. Those who
lifted their hands above their heads discovered an arched
stone ceiling close above them.
Along this buried corridor the "king" led them, for though
he had never traversed it himself the Princess Emma had,
and from her he had received minute directions. Occasionally
he struck a match, and presently in the fitful glare of one of
these he and those directly behind him saw the foot of a
ladder that disappeared in the Stygian darkness above.
"Follow me up this, very quietly," he said to those behind
him. "Up to the third landing."
They did as he bid them. At the third landing Barney
felt for the latch he knew was there--he was on familiar
ground now. Finding it he pushed open the door it held in
place, and through a tiny crack surveyed the room beyond.
It was vacant. The American threw the door wide and
stepped within. Directly behind him was Butzow, his eyes
wide in wonderment. After him filed the troopers until
seventeen of them stood behind their lieutenant and the
Through the window overlooking the courtyard came a
piteous wailing. Barney ran to the casement and looked out.
Butzow was at his side.
"Himmel!" ejaculated the Luthanian. "They are about to
shoot him. Quick, your majesty," and without waiting to see
if he were followed the lieutenant raced for the door of the
apartment. Close behind him came the American and the
It took but a moment to reach the stairway down which
the rescuers tumbled pell-mell.
Maenck was giving his commands to the firing squad
with fiendish deliberation and delay. He seemed to enjoy
dragging out the agony that the condemned man suffered.
But it was this very cruelty that caused Maenck's undoing
and saved the life of Leopold of Lutha. Just before he gave
the word to fire Maenck paused and laughed aloud at the
pitiable figure trembling and whining against the stone wall
before him, and during that pause a commotion arose at
the tower doorway behind the firing squad.
Maenck turned to discover the cause of the interruption,
and as he turned he saw the figure of the king leaping to-
ward him with leveled revolver. At the king's back a com-
pany of troopers of the Royal Horse Guard was pouring
into the courtyard.
Maenck snatched his own revolver from his hip and fired
point-blank at the "king." The firing squad had turned at the
sound of assault from the rear. Some of them discharged
their pieces at the advancing troopers. Butzow gave a com-
mand and seventeen carbines poured their deadly hail into
the ranks of the Blentz retainers. At Maenck's shot the "king"
staggered and fell to the pavement.
Maenck leaped across his prostrate form, yelling to his
men "Shoot the American." Then he was lost to Barney's
sight in the hand-to-hand scrimmage that was taking place.
The American tried to regain his feet, but the shock of the
wound in his breast had apparently paralyzed him for the
moment. A Blentz soldier was running toward the prisoner
standing open-mouthed against the wall. The fellow's rifle
was raised to his hip--his intention was only too obvious.
Barney drew himself painfully and slowly to one elbow.
The man was rapidly nearing the true Leopold. In another
moment he would shoot. The American raised his revolver
and, taking careful aim, fired. The soldier shrieked, covered
his face with his hands, spun around once, and dropped at
the king's feet.
The troopers under Butzow were forcing the men of Blentz
toward the far end of the courtyard. Two of the Blentz fac-
tion were standing a little apart, backing slowly away and at
the same time deliberately firing at the king. Barney seemed
the only one who noticed them. Once again he raised his
revolver and fired. One of the men sat down suddenly, looked
vacantly about him, and then rolled over upon his side. The
other fired once more at the king and the same instant
Barney fired at the soldier. Soldier and king--would-be
assassin and his victim--fell simultaneously. Barney gri-
maced. The wound in his breast was painful. He had done
his best to save the king. It was no fault of his that he had
failed. It was a long way to Beatrice. He wondered if Emma
von der Tann would be on the station platform, awaiting
him--then he swooned.
Butzow and his seventeen had it all their own way in the
courtyard and castle of Blentz. After the first resistance the
soldiery of Peter fled to the guardroom. Butzow followed
them, and there they laid down their arms. Then the lieu-
tenant returned to the courtyard to look for the king and
Barney Custer. He found them both, and both were
wounded. He had them carried to the royal apartments in
the north tower. When Barney regained consciousness he
found the scowling portrait of the Blentz princess frowning
down upon him. He lay upon a great bed where the soldiers,
thinking him king, had placed him. Opposite him, against
the farther wall, the real king lay upon a cot. Butzow was
working over him.
"Not so bad, after all, Barney," the lieutenant was saying.
"Only a flesh wound in the calf of the leg."
The king made no reply. He was afraid to declare his
identity. First he must learn the intentions of the impostor.
He only closed his eyes wearily. Presently he asked a ques-
"Is he badly wounded?" and he indicated the figure upon
the great bed.
Butzow turned and crossed to where the American lay.
He saw that the latter's eyes were open and that he was
"How does your majesty feel?" he asked. There was more
respect in his tone than ever before. One of the Blentz sol-
diers had told him how the "king," after being wounded by
Maenck, had raised himself upon his elbow and saved the
prisoner's life by shooting three of his assailants.
"I thought I was done for," answered Barney Custer, "but
I rather guess the bullet struck only a glancing blow. It
couldn't have entered my lungs, for I neither cough nor
spit blood. To tell you the truth, I feel surprisingly fit.
How's the prisoner?"
"Only a flesh wound in the calf of his left leg, sire," re-
"I am glad," was Barney's only comment. He didn't want
to be king of Lutha; but he had foreseen that with the death
of the king his imposture might be forced upon him for life.
After Butzow and one of the troopers had washed and
dressed the wounds of both men Barney asked them to leave
"I wish to sleep," he said. "If I require you I will ring."
Saluting, the two backed from the apartment. Just as
they were passing through the doorway the American called
out to Butzow.
"You have Peter of Blentz and Maenck in custody?" he
"I regret having to report to your majesty," replied the
officer, "that both must have escaped. A thorough search of
the entire castle has failed to reveal them."
Barney scowled. He had hoped to place these two con-
spirators once and for all where they would never again
threaten the peace of the throne of Lutha--in hell. For a
moment he lay in thought. Then he addressed the officer
"Leave your force here," he said, "to guard us. Ride, your-
self, to Lustadt and inform Prince von der Tann that it is the
king's desire that every effort be made to capture these two
men. Have them brought to Lustadt immediately they are
apprehended. Bring them dead or alive."
Again Butzow saluted and prepared to leave the room.
"Wait," said Barney. "Convey our greetings to the Prin-
cess von der Tann, and inform her that my wound is of
small importance, as is also that of the--Mr. Custer. You
may go, lieutenant."
When they were alone Barney turned toward the king.
The other lay upon his side glaring at the American. When
he caught the latter's eyes upon him he spoke.
"What do you intend doing with me?" he said. "Are you
going to keep your word and return my identity?"
"I have promised," replied Barney, "and what I promise
I always perform."
"Then exchange clothing with me at once," cried the
king, half rising from his cot.
"Not so fast, my friend," rejoined the American. "There
are a few trifling details to be arranged before we resume
our proper personalities."
"Do you realize that you should be hanged for what you
have done?" snarled the king. "You assaulted me, stole my
clothing, left me here to be shot by Peter, and sat upon my
throne in Lustadt while I lay a prisoner condemned to
"And do you realize," replied Barney, "that by so doing
I saved your foolish little throne for you; that I drove the
invaders from your dominions; that I have unmasked your
enemies, and that I have once again proven to you that the
Prince von der Tann is your best friend and most loyal
"You laid your plebeian hands upon me," cried the king,
raising his voice. "You humiliated me, and you shall suffer
Barney Custer eyed the king for a long moment before he
spoke again. It was difficult to believe that the man was so
devoid of gratitude, and so blind as not to see that even
the rough treatment that he had received at the American's
hands was as nothing by comparison with the service that
the American had done him. Apparently Leopold had al-
ready forgotten that three times Barney Custer had saved
his life in the courtyard below. From the man's demeanor,
now that his life was no longer at stake, Barney caught an
inkling of what his attitude might be when once again he
was returned to the despotic power of his kingship.
"It is futile to reason with you," he said. "There is only
one way to handle such as you. At present I hold the power
to coerce you, and I shall continue to hold that power until
I am safely out of your two-by-four kingdom. If you do as
I say you shall have your throne back again. If you refuse,
why by Heaven you shall never have it. I'll stay king of
"What are your terms?" asked the king.
"That Prince Peter of Blentz, Captain Ernst Maenck, and
old Von Coblich be tried, convicted, and hanged for high
treason," replied the American.
"That is easy," said the king. "I should do so anyway
immediately I resumed my throne. Now get up and give
me my clothes. Take this cot and I will take the bed.
None will know of the exchange."
"Again you are too fast," answered Barney. "There is an-
"You must promise upon your royal honor that Ludwig,
Prince von der Tann, remain chancellor of Lutha during
your life or his."
"Very well," assented the king. "I promise," and again he
half rose from his cot.
"Hold on a minute," admonished the American; "there
is yet one more condition of which I have not made mention."
"What, another?" exclaimed Leopold testily. "How much
do you want for returning to me what you have stolen?"
"So far I have asked for nothing for myself," replied Bar-
ney. "Now I am coming to that part of the agreement.
The Princess Emma von der Tann is betrothed to you. She
does not love you. She has honored me with her affection,
but she will not wed until she has been formally released
from her promise to wed Leopold of Lutha. The king must
sign such a release and also a sanction of her marriage to
Barney Custer, of Beatrice. Do you understand what I
The king went livid. He came to his feet beside the cot.
For the moment, his wound was forgotten. He tottered to-
ward the impostor.
"You scoundrel!" he screamed. "You scoundrel! You have
stolen my identity and my throne and now you wish to steal
the woman who loves me."
"Don't get excited, Leo," warned the American, "and
don't talk so loud. The Princess doesn't love you, and you
know it as well as I. She will never marry you. If you want
your dinky throne back you'll have to do as I desire; that
is, sign the release and the sanction.
"Now let's don't have any heroics about it. You have
the proposition. Now I am going to sleep. In the meantime
you may think it over. If the papers are not ready when it
comes time for us to leave, and from the way I feel now I
rather think I shall be ready to mount a horse by morning,
I shall ride back to Lustadt as king of Lutha, and I shall
marry her highness into the bargain, and you may go hang!
"How the devil you will earn a living with that king job
taken away from you I don't know. You're a long way from
New York, and in the present state of carnage in Europe
I rather doubt that there are many headwaiters jobs open
this side of the American metropolis, and I can't for the
moment think of anything else at which you would shine--
with all due respect to some excellent headwaiters I have
For some time the king remained silent. He was thinking.
He realized that it lay in the power of the American to do
precisely what he had threatened to do. No one would
doubt his identity. Even Peter of Blentz had not recognized
the real king despite Leopold's repeated and hysterical
Lieutenant Butzow, the American's best friend, had no
more suspected the exchange of identities. Von der Tann,
too, must have been deceived. Everyone had been deceived.
There was no hope that the people, who really saw so little
of their king, would guess the deception that was being
played upon them. Leopold groaned. Barney opened his eyes
and turned toward him.
"What's the matter?" he asked.
"I will sign the release and the sanction of her highness'
marriage to you," said the king.
"Good!" exclaimed the American. "You will then go at
once to Brosnov as originally planned. I will return to Lus-
tadt and get her highness, and we will immediately leave
Lutha via Brosnov. There you and I will effect a change of
raiment, and you will ride back to Lustadt with the small
guard that accompanies her highness and me to the frontier."
"Why do you not remain in Lustadt?" asked the king.
"You could as well be married there as elsewhere."
"Because I don't trust your majesty," replied the American.
"It must be done precisely as I say or not at all. Are you
The king assented with a grumpy nod.
"Then get up and write as I dictate," said Barney. Leo-
pold of Lutha did as he was bid. The result was two short,
crisply worded documents. At the bottom of each was the
signature of Leopold of Lutha. Barney took the two papers
and carefully tucked them beneath his pillow.
"Now let's sleep," he said. "It is getting late and we both
need the rest. In the morning we have long rides ahead of
us. Good night."
The king did not respond. In a short time Barney was
fast asleep. The light still burned.
"THE KING'S WILL IS LAW"
THE BLENTZ princess frowned down upon the king and
impostor impartially from her great gilt frame. It must have
been close to midnight that the painting moved--just a frac-
tion of an inch. Then it remained motionless for a time.
Again it moved. This time it revealed a narrow crack at its
edge. In the crack an eye shone.
One of the sleepers moved. He opened his eyes. Stealthily
he raised himself on his elbow and gazed at the other across
the apartment. He listened intently. The regular breathing
of the sleeper proclaimed the soundness of his slumber. Gin-
gerly the man placed one foot upon the floor. The eye glued
to the crack at the edge of the great, gilt frame of the
Blentz princess remained fastened upon him. He let his
other foot slip to the floor beside the first. Carefully he
raised himself until he stood erect upon the floor. Then, on
tiptoe he started across the room.
The eye in the dark followed him. The man reached the
side of the sleeper. Bending over he listened intently to the
other's breathing. Satisfied that slumber was profound he
stepped quickly to a wardrobe in which a soldier had hung
the clothing of both the king and the American. He took
down the uniform of the former, casting from time to time
apprehensive glances toward the sleeper. The latter did not
stir, and the other passed to the little dressing-room adjoin-
A few minutes later he reentered the apartment fully
clothed and wearing the accouterments of Leopold of Lutha.
In his hand was a drawn sword. Silently and swiftly he
crossed to the side of the sleeping man. The eye at the crack
beside the gilded frame pressed closer to the aperture. The
sword was raised above the body of the slumberer--its point
hovered above his heart. The face of the man who wielded
it was hard with firm resolve.
His muscles tensed to drive home the blade, but some-
thing held his hand. His face paled. His shoulders con-
tracted with a little shudder, and he turned toward the
door of the apartment, almost running across the floor in his
anxiety to escape. The eye in the dark maintained its un-
With his hand upon the knob a sudden thought stayed
the fugitive's flight. He glanced quickly back at the sleeper
--he had not moved. Then the man who wore the uniform
of the king of Lutha recrossed the apartment to the bed,
reached beneath one of the pillows and withdrew two neatly
folded official-looking documents. These he placed in the
breastpocket of his uniform. A moment later he was walk-
ing down the spiral stairway to the main floor of the castle.
In the guardroom the troopers of the Royal Horse who
were not on guard were stretched in slumber. Only a cor-
poral remained awake. As the man entered the guardroom
the corporal glanced up, and as his eyes fell upon the new-
comer, he sprang to his feet, saluting.
"Turn out the guard!" he cried. "Turn out the guard for
his majesty, the king!"
The sleeping soldiers, but half awake, scrambled to their
feet, their muscles reacting to the command that their brains
but half perceived. They snatched their guns from the racks
and formed a line behind the corporal. The king raised his
fingers to the vizor of his helmet in acknowledgment of their
"Saddle up quietly, corporal," he said. "We shall ride to
The non-commissioned officer saluted. "And an extra horse
for Herr Custer?" he said.
The king shook his head. "The man died of his wound
about an hour ago," he said. "While you are saddling up I
shall arrange with some of the Blentz servants for his burial
The corporal marched his troopers from the guardroom
toward the stables. The man in the king's clothes touched a
bell which was obviously a servant call. He waited impa-
tiently a reply to his summons, tapping his finger-tips against
the sword-scabbard that was belted to his side. At last a
sleepy-eyed man responded--a man who had grown gray
in the service of Peter of Blentz. At sight of the king he
opened his eyes in astonishment, pulled his foretop, and
"Come closer," whispered the king. The man did so, and
the king spoke in his ear earnestly, but in scarce audible
tones. The eyes of the listener narrowed to mere slits--of
avarice and cunning, cruelly cold and calculating. The speak-
er searched through the pockets of the king's clothes that
covered him. At last he withdrew a roll of bills. The amount
must have been a large one, but he did not stop to count it.
He held the money under the eyes of the servant. The fel-
low's claw-like fingers reached for the tempting wealth. He
nodded his head affirmatively.
"You may trust me, sire," he whispered.
The king slipped the money into the other's palm. "And
as much more," he said, "when I receive proof that my
wishes have been fulfilled."
"Thank you, sire," said the servant.
The king looked steadily into the other's face before he
"And if you fail me," he said, "may God have mercy on
your soul." Then he wheeled and left the guardroom, walk-
ing out into the courtyard where the soldiers were busy
saddling their mounts.
A few minutes later the party clattered over the draw-
bridge and down the road toward Blentz and Lustadt. From
a window of the apartments of Peter of Blentz a man
watched them depart. When they passed across a strip of
moonlit road, and he had counted them, he smiled with re-
A moment later he entered a panel beside the huge fire-
place in the west wall and disappeared. There he struck a
match, found a candle and lighted it. Walking a few steps
he came to a figure sleeping upon a pile of clothing. He
stooped and shook the sleeper by the shoulder.
"Wake up!" he cried in a subdued voice. "Wake up, Prince
Peter; I have good news for you."
The other opened his eyes, stretched, and at last sat up.
"What is it, Maenck?" he asked querulously.
"Great news, my prince," replied the other.
"While you have been sleeping many things have trans-
pired within the walls of your castle. The king's troopers
have departed; but that is a small matter compared with
the other. Here, behind the portrait of your great-grand-
mother, I have listened and watched all night. I opened the
secret door a fraction of an inch--just enough to permit me
to look into the apartment where the king and the American
lay wounded. They had been talking as I opened the door,
but after that they ceased--the king falling asleep at once--
the American feigning slumber. For a long time I watched,
but nothing happened until near midnight. Then the Ameri-
can arose and donned the king's clothes.
"He approached Leopold with drawn sword, but when
he would have thrust it through the heart of the sleeping
man his nerve failed him. Then he stole some papers from
the room and left. Just now he has ridden out toward
Lustadt with the men of the Royal Horse who captured
the castle yesterday."
Before Maenck was half-way through his narrative, Peter
of Blentz was wide awake and all attention. His eyes
glowed with suddenly aroused interest.
"Somewhere in this, prince," concluded Maenck, "there
must lie the seed of fortune for you and me."
Peter nodded. "Yes," he mused, "there must."
For a time both men were buried in thought. Suddenly
Maenck snapped his fingers. "I have it!" he cried. He bent
toward Prince Peter's ear and whispered his plan. When he
was done the Blentz prince grasped his hand.
"Just the thing, Maenck!" he cried. "Just the thing. Leo-
pold will never again listen to idle gossip directed against
our loyalty. If I know him--and who should know him
better--he will heap honors upon you, my Maenck; and
as for me, he will at least forgive me and take me back
into his confidence. Lose no time now, my friend. We are
free now to go and come, since the king's soldiers have been
In the garden back of the castle an old man was busy
digging a hole. It was a long, narrow hole, and, when it
was completed, nearly four feet deep. It looked like a grave.
When he had finished the old man hobbled to a shed that
leaned against the south wall. Here were boards, tools, and
a bench. It was the castle workshop. The old man selected
a number of rough pine boards. These he measured and
sawed, fitted and nailed, working all the balance of the
night. By dawn, he had a long, narrow box, just a trifle
smaller than the hole he had dug in the garden. The box
resembled a crude coffin. When it was quite finished, in-
cluding a cover, he dragged it out into the garden and set
it upon two boards that spanned the hole, so that it rested
precisely over the excavation.
All these precautions methodically made, he returned to
the castle. In a little storeroom he searched for and found an
ax. With his thumb he felt of the edge--for an ax it was
marvelously sharp. The old fellow grinned and shook his
head, as one who appreciates in anticipation the consumma-
tion of a good joke. Then he crept noiselessly through the
castle's corridors and up the spiral stairway in the north
tower. In one hand was the sharp ax.
The moment Lieutenant Butzow had reached Lustadt he
had gone directly to Prince von der Tann; but the moment
his message had been delivered to the chancellor he sought
out the chancellor's daughter, to tell her all that had oc-
curred at Blentz.
"I saw but little of Mr. Custer," he said. "He was very
quiet. I think all that he has been through has unnerved
him. He was slightly wounded in the left leg. The king was
wounded in the breast. His majesty conducted himself in a
most valiant and generous manner. Wounded, he lay upon
his stomach in the courtyard of the castle and defended
Mr. Custer, who was, of course, unarmed. The king shot
three of Prince Peter's soldiers who were attempting to
assassinate Mr. Custer."
Emma von der Tann smiled. It was evident that Lieuten-
ant Butzow had not discovered the deception that had been
practiced upon him in common with all Lutha--she being
the only exception. It seemed incredible that this good friend
of the American had not seen in the heroism of the man who
wore the king's clothes the attributes and ear-marks of Bar-
ney Custer. She glowed with pride at the narration of his
heroism, though she suffered with him because of his wound.
It was not yet noon when the detachment of the Royal
Horse arrived in Lustadt from Blentz. At their head rode
one whom all upon the streets of the capital greeted enthusi-
astically as king. The party rode directly to the royal palace,
and the king retired immediately to his apartments. A half
hour later an officer of the king's household knocked upon
the door of the Princess Emma von der Tann's boudoir. In
accord with her summons he entered, saluted respectfully,
and handed her a note.
It was written upon the personal stationary of Leopold of
Lutha. The girl read and reread it. For some time she could
not seem to grasp the enormity of the thing that had over-
whelmed her--the daring of the action that the message
explained. The note was short and to the point, and was
signed only with initials.
The king died of his wounds just before midnight. I
shall keep the throne. There is no other way. None
knows and none must ever know the truth. Your father
alone may suspect; but if we are married at once our
alliance will cement him and his faction to us. Send
word by the bearer that you agree with the wisdom
of my plan, and that we may be wed at once--this
afternoon, in fact.
The people may wonder for a few days at the strange
haste, but my answer shall be that I am going to the
front with my troops. The son and many of the high
officials of the Kaiser have already established the prece-
dent, marrying hurriedly upon the eve of their departure
for the front.
With every assurance of my undying love, believe me,
The girl walked slowly across the room to her writing
table. The officer stood in respectful silence awaiting the
answer that the king had told him to bring. The princess sat
down before the carved bit of furniture. Mechanically she
drew a piece of note paper from a drawer. Many times she
dipped her pen in the ink before she could determine what
reply to send. Ages of ingrained royalistic principles were
shocked and shattered by the enormity of the thing the man
she loved had asked of her, and yet cold reason told her
that it was the only way.
Lutha would be lost should the truth be known--that the
king was dead, for there was no heir of closer blood con-
nection with the royal house than Prince Peter of Blentz,
whose great-grandmother had been a Rubinroth princess.
Slowly, at last, she wrote as follows:
The king's will is law.
That was all. Placing the note in an envelope she sealed
it and handed it to the officer, who bowed and left the
A half hour later officers of the Royal Horse were riding
through the streets of Lustadt. Some announced to the
people upon the streets the coming marriage of the king
and princess. Others rode to the houses of the nobility with
the king's command that they be present at the ceremony
in the old cathedral at four o'clock that afternoon.
Never had there been such bustling about the royal pal-
ace or in the palaces of the nobles of Lutha. The buzz and
hum of excited conversation filled the whole town. That the
choice of the king met the approval of his subjects was more
than evident. Upon every lip was praise and love of the
Princess Emma von der Tann. The future of Lutha seemed
assured with a king who could fight joined in marriage to a
daughter of the warrior line of Von der Tann.
The princess was busy up to the last minute. She had
not seen her future husband since his return from Blentz,
for he, too, had been busy. Twice he had sent word to her,
but on both occasions had regretted that he could not come
personally because of the pressure of state matters and the
preparations for the ceremony that was to take place in the
cathedral in so short a time.
At last the hour arrived. The cathedral was filled to over-
flowing. After the custom of Lutha, the bride had walked
alone up the broad center aisle to the foot of the chancel.
Guardsmen lining the way on either hand stood rigidly at
salute until she stopped at the end of the soft, rose-strewn
carpet and turned to await the coming of the king.
Presently the doors at the opposite end of the cathedral
opened. There was a fanfare of trumpets, and up the center
aisle toward the waiting girl walked the royal groom. It
seemed ages to the princess since she had seen her lover. Her
eyes devoured him as he approached her. She noticed that
he limped, and wondered; but for a moment the fact car-
ried no special suggestion to her brain.
The people had risen as the king entered. Again, the
pieces of the guardsmen had snapped to present; but si-
lence, intense and utter, reigned over the vast assembly.
The only movement was the measured stride of the king
as he advanced to claim his bride.
At the head of each line of guardsmen, nearest the chan-
cel and upon either side of the bridal party, the ranks were
formed of commissioned officers. Butzow was among them.
He, too, out of the corner of his eye watched the advancing
figure. Suddenly he noted the limp, and gave a little in-
voluntary gasp. He looked at the Princess Emma, and saw
her eyes suddenly widen with consternation.
Slowly at first, and then in a sudden tidal wave of mem-
ory, Butzow's story of the fight in the courtyard at Blentz
came back to her.
"I saw but little of Mr. Custer," he had said. "He was
slightly wounded in the left leg. The king was wounded in
the breast." But Lieutenant Butzow had not known the true
identity of either.
The real Leopold it was who had been wounded in the
left leg, and the man who was approaching her up the
broad cathedral aisle was limping noticeably--and favoring
his left leg. The man to whom she was to be married was
not Barney Custer--he was Leopold of Lutha!
A hundred mad schemes rioted through her brain. The
wedding must not go on! But how was she to avert it? The
king was within a few paces of her now. There was a smile
upon his lips, and in that smile she saw the final confirma-
tion of her fears. When Leopold of Lutha smiled his upper
lip curved just a trifle into a shadow of a sneer. It was a
trivial characteristic that Barney Custer did not share in
common with the king.
Half mad with terror, the girl seized upon the only sub-
terfuge which seemed at all likely to succeed. It would, at
least, give her a slight reprieve--a little time in which to
think, and possibly find an avenue from her predicament.
She staggered forward a step, clapped her two hands
above her heart, and reeled as though to fall. Butzow, who
had been watching her narrowly, sprang forward and caught
her in his arms, where she lay limp with closed eyes as
though in a dead faint. The king ran forward. The people
craned their necks. A sudden burst of exclamations rose
throughout the cathedral, and then Lieutenant Butzow,
shouldering his way past the chancel, carried the Princess
Emma to a little anteroom off the east transept. Behind him
walked the king, the bishop, and Prince Ludwig.
AFTER a hurried breakfast Peter of Blentz and Captain
Ernst Maenck left the castle of Blentz. Prince Peter rode
north toward the frontier, Austria, and safety, Captain
Maenck rode south toward Lustadt. Neither knew that gen-
eral orders had been issued to soldiery and gendarmerie of
Lutha to capture them dead or alive. So Prince Peter rode
carelessly; but Captain Maenck, because of the nature of
his business and the proximity of enemies about Lustadt,
proceeded with circumspection.
Prince Peter was arrested at Tafelberg, and, though he
stormed and raged and threatened, he was immediately
packed off under heavy guard back toward Lustadt.
Captain Ernst Maenck was more fortunate. He reached
the capital of Lutha in safety, though he had to hide on
several occasions from detachments of troops moving toward
the north. Once within the city he rode rapidly to the house
of a friend. Here he learned that which set him into a fine
state of excitement and profanity. The king and the Princess
Emma von der Tann were to be wed that very afternoon!
It lacked but half an hour to four o'clock.
Maenck grabbed his cap and dashed from the house be-
fore his astonished friend could ask a single question. He
hurried straight toward the cathedral. The king had just
arrived, and entered when Maenck came up, breathless. The
guard at the doorway did not recognize him. If they had
they would have arrested him. Instead they contented them-
selves with refusing him admission, and when he insisted
they threatened him with arrest.
To be arrested now would be to ruin his fine plan, so he
turned and walked away. At the first cross street he turned
up the side of the cathedral. The grounds were walled
up on this side, and he sought in vain for entrance. At the
rear he discovered a limousine standing in the alley where
its chauffeur had left it after depositing his passengers at
the front door of the cathedral. The top of the limousine
was but a foot or two below the top of the wall.
Maenck clambered to the hood of the machine, and from
there to the top. A moment later he dropped to the earth
inside the cathedral grounds. Before him were many win-
dows. Most of them were too high for him to reach, and
the others that he tried at first were securely fastened. Pass-
ing around the end of the building, he at last discovered
one that was open--it led into the east transept.
Maenck crawled through. He was within the building that
held the man he sought. He found himself in a small room
--evidently a dressing-room. There were two doors leading
from it. He approached one and listened. He heard the
tones of subdued conversation beyond.
Very cautiously he opened the door a crack. He could not
believe the good fortune that was revealed before him. On
a couch lay the Princess Emma von der Tann. Beside her
her father. At the door was Lieutenant Butzow. The bishop
and a doctor were talking at the head of the couch. Pacing
up and down the room, resplendent in the marriage robes
of a king of Lutha, was the man he sought.
Maenck drew his revolver. He broke the barrel, and saw
that there was a good cartridge in each chamber of the cyl-
inder. He closed it quietly. Then he threw open the door,
stepped into the room, took deliberate aim, and fired.
The old man with the ax moved cautiously along the cor-
ridor upon the second floor of the Castle of Blentz until he
came to a certain door. Gently he turned the knob and
pushed the door inward. Holding the ax behind his back,
he entered. In his pocket was a great roll of money, and
there was to be an equal amount waiting him at Lustadt
when his mission had been fulfilled.
Once within the room, he looked quickly about him.
Upon a great bed lay the figure of a man asleep. His face
was turned toward the opposite wall away from the side of
the bed nearer the menacing figure of the old servant. On
tiptoe the man with the ax approached. The neck of his
victim lay uncovered before him. He swung the ax behind
him. a single blow, as mighty as his ancient muscles could
deliver, would suffice.
Barney Custer opened his eyes. Directly opposite him
upon the wall was a dark-toned photogravure of a hunting
scene. It tilted slightly forward upon its wire support. As
Barney's opened it chanced that they were directed
straight upon the shiny glass of the picture. The light from
the window struck the glass in such a way as to transform
it into a mirror. The American's eyes were glued with horror
upon the reflection that he saw there--an old man swinging
a huge ax down upon his head.
It is an open question as to which of the two was the
most surprised at the cat-like swiftness of the movement
that carried Barney Custer out of that bed and landed him
in temporary safety upon the opposite side.
With a snarl the old man ran around the foot of the bed
to corner his prey between the bed and the wall. He was
swinging the ax as though to hurl it. So close was he that
Barney guessed it would be difficult for him to miss his
mark. The least he could expect would be a frightful wound.
To have attempted to escape would have necessitated turn-
ing his back to his adversary, inviting instant death. To
grapple with a man thus armed appeared an equally hope-
Shoulder-high beside him hung the photogravure that
had already saved his life once. Why not again? He snatched
it from its hangings, lifted it above his head in both hands,
and hurled it at the head of the old man. The glass shat-
tered full upon the ancient's crown, the man's head went
through the picture, and the frame settled over his shoul-
ders. At the same instant Barney Custer leaped across the
bed, seized a light chair, and turned to face his foe upon
more even turns.
The old man did not pause to remove the frame from
about his neck. Blood trickled down his forehead and cheeks
from deep gashes that the broken glass had made. Now he
was in a berserker rage.
As he charged again he uttered a peculiar whistling noise
from between his set teeth. To the American it sounded like
the hissing of a snake, and as he would have met a snake he
met the venomous attack of the old man.
When the short battle was over the Blentz servitor lay
unconscious upon the floor, while above him leaned the
American, uninjured, ripping long strips from a sheet torn
from the bed, twisting them into rope-like strands and, with
them, binding the wrists and ankles of his defeated foe.
Finally he stuffed a gag between the toothless gums.
Running to the wardrobe, he discovered that the king's
uniform was gone. That, with the witness of the empty
bed, told him the whole story. The American smiled. "More
nerve than I gave him credit for," he mused, as he walked
back to his bed and reached under the pillow for the two
papers he had forced the king to sign. They, too, were
gone. Slowly Barney Custer realized his plight, as there
filtered through his mind a suggestion of the possibilities of
the trick that had been played upon him.
Why should Leopold wish these papers? Of course, he
might merely have taken them that he might destroy them;
but something told Barney Custer that such was not the
case. And something, too, told him whither the king had
ridden and what he would do there when he arrived.
He ran back to the wardrobe. In it hung the peasant
attire that he had stolen from the line of the careless house
frau, and later wished upon his majesty the king. Barney
grinned as he recalled the royal disgust with which Leopold
had fingered the soiled garments. He scarce blamed him.
Looking further toward the back of the wardrobe, the
American discovered other clothing.
He dragged it all out upon the floor. There was an old
shooting jacket, several pairs of trousers and breeches, and
a hunting coat. In a drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe
he found many old shoes, puttees, and boots.
From this miscellany he selected riding breeches, a pair
of boots, and the red hunting coat as the only articles that
fitted his rather large frame. Hastily he dressed, and, taking
the ax the old man had brought to the room as the only
weapon available, he walked boldly into the corridor, down
the spiral stairway and into the guardroom.
Barney Custer was prepared to fight. He was desperate.
He could have slunk from the Castle of Blentz as he had
entered it--through the secret passageway to the ravine;
but to attempt to reach Lustadt on foot was not at all
compatible with the urgent haste that he felt necessary. He
must have a horse, and a horse he would have if he had to
fight his way through a Blentz army.
But there were no armed retainers left at Blentz. The
guardroom was vacant; but there were arms there and am-
munition. Barney commandeered a sword and a revolver,
then he walked into the courtyard and crossed to the stables.
The way took him by the garden. In it he saw a coffin-like
box resting upon planks above a grave-like excavation. Bar-
ney investigated. The box was empty. Once again he grinned.
"It is not always wise," he mused, "to count your corpses
before they're dead. What a lot of work the old man might
have spared himself if he'd only caught his cadaver first--
or at least tried to."
Passing on by his own grave, he came to the stables. A
groom was carrying a strong, clean-limbed hunter haltered
in the doorway. The man looked up as Barney approached
him. A puzzled expression entered the fellow's eyes. He was
a young man--a stupid-looking lout. It was evident that he
half recognized the face of the newcomer as one he had
seen before. Barney nodded to him.
"Never mind finishing," he said. "I am in a hurry. You
may saddle him at once." The voice was authoritative--it
brooked no demur. The groom touched his forehead, dropped
the currycomb and brush, and turned back into the stable
to fetch saddle and bridle.
Five minutes later Barney was riding toward the gate.
The portcullis was raised--the drawbridge spanned the moat
--no guard was there to bar his way. The sunlight flooded
the green valley, stretching lazily below him in the soft
warmth of a mellow autumn morning. Behind him he had
left the brooding shadows of the grim old fortress--the cold,
cruel, depressing stronghold of intrigue, treason, and sud-
He threw back his shoulders and filled his lungs with the
sweet, pure air of freedom. He was a new man. The wound
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