Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Mad King online

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All Lustadt was in an uproar. The mad king had escaped. Little
knots of excited men stood upon the street corners listening to each
latest rumor concerning this most absorbing occurrence. Before the
palace a great crowd surged to and fro, awaiting they knew not what.

For ten years no man of them had set eyes upon the face of the
boy-king who had been hastened to the grim castle of Blentz upon the
death of the old king, his father.

There had been murmurings then when the lad's uncle, Peter of
Blentz, had announced to the people of Lutha the sudden mental
affliction which had fallen upon his nephew, and more murmurings for
a time after the announcement that Peter of Blentz had been
appointed Regent during the lifetime of the young King Leopold, "or
until God, in His infinite mercy, shall see fit to restore to us in
full mental vigor our beloved monarch."

But ten years is a long time. The boy-king had become but a vague
memory to the subjects who could recall him at all.

There were many, of course, in the capital city, Lustadt, who still
retained a mental picture of the handsome boy who had ridden out
nearly every morning from the palace gates beside the tall, martial
figure of the old king, his father, for a canter across the broad
plain which lies at the foot of the mountain town of Lustadt; but
even these had long since given up hope that their young king would
ever ascend his throne, or even that they should see him alive

Peter of Blentz had not proved a good or kind ruler. Taxes had
doubled during his regency. Executives and judiciary, following the
example of their chief, had become tyrannical and corrupt. For ten
years there had been small joy in Lutha.

There had been whispered rumors off and on that the young king was
dead these many years, but not even in whispers did the men of Lutha
dare voice the name of him whom they believed had caused his death.
For lesser things they had seen their friends and neighbors thrown
into the hitherto long-unused dungeons of the royal castle.

And now came the rumor that Leopold of Lutha had escaped the Castle
of Blentz and was roaming somewhere in the wild mountains or ravines
upon the opposite side of the plain of Lustadt.

Peter of Blentz was filled with rage and, possibly, fear as well.

"I tell you, Coblich," he cried, addressing his dark-visaged
minister of war, "there's more than coincidence in this matter.
Someone has betrayed us. That he should have escaped upon the very
eve of the arrival at Blentz of the new physician is most
suspicious. None but you, Coblich, had knowledge of the part that
Dr. Stein was destined to play in this matter," concluded Prince
Peter pointedly.

Coblich looked the Regent full in the eye.

"Your highness wrongs not only my loyalty, but my intelligence," he
said quietly, "by even so much as intimating that I have any guilty
knowledge of Leopold's escape. With Leopold upon the throne of
Lutha, where, think you, my prince, would old Coblich be?"

Peter smiled.

"You are right, Coblich," he said. "I know that you would not be
such a fool; but whom, then, have we to thank?"

"The walls have ears, prince," replied Coblich, "and we have not
always been as careful as we should in discussing the matter.
Something may have come to the ears of old Von der Tann. I don't for
a moment doubt but that he has his spies among the palace servants,
or even the guard. You know the old fox has always made it a point
to curry favor with the common soldiers. When he was minister of war
he treated them better than he did his officers."

"It seems strange, Coblich, that so shrewd a man as you should have
been unable to discover some irregularity in the political life of
Prince Ludwig von der Tann before now," said the prince querulously.
"He is the greatest menace to our peace and sovereignty. With Von
der Tann out of the way there would be none powerful enough to
question our right to the throne of Lutha - after poor Leopold passes

"You forget that Leopold has escaped," suggested Coblich, "and that
there is no immediate prospect of his passing away."

"He must be retaken at once, Coblich!" cried Prince Peter of Blentz.
"He is a dangerous maniac, and we must make this fact plain to the
people - this and a thorough description of him. A handsome reward
for his safe return to Blentz might not be out of the way, Coblich."

"It shall be done, your highness," replied Coblich. "And about Von
der Tann? You have never spoken to me quite so - ah - er - pointedly
before. He hunts a great deal in the Old Forest. It might be
possible - in fact, it has happened, before - there are many accidents
in hunting, are there not, your highness?"

"There are, Coblich," replied the prince, "and if Leopold is able he
will make straight for the Tann, so that there may be two hunting
together in a day or so, Coblich."

"I understand, your highness," replied the minister. "With your
permission, I shall go at once and dispatch troops to search the
forest for Leopold. Captain Maenck will command them."

"Good, Coblich! Maenck is a most intelligent and loyal officer. We
must reward him well. A baronetcy, at least, if he handles this
matter well," said Peter. "It might not be a bad plan to hint at as
much to him, Coblich."

And so it happened that shortly thereafter Captain Ernst Maenck, in
command of a troop of the Royal Horse Guards of Lutha, set out
toward the Old Forest, which lies beyond the mountains that are
visible upon the other side of the plain stretching out before
Lustadt. At the same time other troopers rode in many directions
along the highways and byways of Lutha, tacking placards upon trees
and fence posts and beside the doors of every little rural post

The placard told of the escape of the mad king, offering a large
reward for his safe return to Blentz.

It was the last paragraph especially which caused a young man, the
following day in the little hamlet of Tafelberg, to whistle as he
carefully read it over.

"I am glad that I am not the mad king of Lutha," he said as he paid
the storekeeper for the gasoline he had just purchased and stepped
into the gray roadster for whose greedy maw it was destined.

"Why, mein Herr?" asked the man.

"This notice practically gives immunity to whoever shoots down the
king," replied the traveler. "Worse still, it gives such an account
of the maniacal ferocity of the fugitive as to warrant anyone in
shooting him on sight."

As the young man spoke the storekeeper had examined his face closely
for the first time. A shrewd look came into the man's ordinarily
stolid countenance. He leaned forward quite close to the other's

"We of Lutha," he whispered, "love our 'mad king' - no reward could
be offered that would tempt us to betray him. Even in
self-protection we would not kill him, we of the mountains who
remember him as a boy and loved his father and his grandfather,
before him.

"But there are the scum of the low country in the army these days,
who would do anything for money, and it is these that the king must
guard against. I could not help but note that mein Herr spoke too
perfect German for a foreigner. Were I in mein Herr's place, I
should speak mostly the English, and, too, I should shave off the
'full, reddish-brown beard.'"

Whereupon the storekeeper turned hastily back into his shop, leaving
Barney Custer of Beatrice, Nebraska, U.S.A., to wonder if all the
inhabitants of Lutha were afflicted with a mental disorder similar
to that of the unfortunate ruler.

"I don't wonder," soliloquized the young man, "that he advised me to
shave off this ridiculous crop of alfalfa. Hang election bets,
anyway; if things had gone half right I shouldn't have had to wear
this badge of idiocy. And to think that it's got to be for a whole
month longer! A year's a mighty long while at best, but a year in
company with a full set of red whiskers is an eternity."

The road out of Tafelberg wound upward among tall trees toward the
pass that would lead him across the next valley on his way to the
Old Forest, where he hoped to find some excellent shooting.
All his life Barney had promised himself that some day he should
visit his mother's native land, and now that he was here he found it
as wild and beautiful as she had said it would be.

Neither his mother nor his father had ever returned to the little
country since the day, thirty years before, that the big American
had literally stolen his bride away, escaping across the border but
a scant half-hour ahead of the pursuing troop of Luthanian cavalry.
Barney had often wondered why it was that neither of them would ever
speak of those days, or of the early life of his mother, Victoria
Rubinroth, though of the beauties of her native land Mrs. Custer
never tired of talking.

Barney Custer was thinking of these things as his machine wound up
the picturesque road. Just before him was a long, heavy grade, and
as he took it with open muffler the chugging of his motor drowned
the sound of pounding hoof beats rapidly approaching behind him.

It was not until he topped the grade that he heard anything unusual,
and at the same instant a girl on horseback tore past him. The speed
of the animal would have been enough to have told him that it was
beyond the control of its frail rider, even without the added
testimony of the broken bit that dangled beneath the tensely
outstretched chin.

Foam flecked the beast's neck and shoulders. It was evident that
the horse had been running for some distance, yet its speed was
still that of the thoroughly frightened runaway.

The road at the point where the animal had passed Custer was cut
from the hillside. At the left an embankment rose steeply to a
height of ten or fifteen feet. On the right there was a drop of a
hundred feet or more into a wooded ravine. Ahead, the road
apparently ran quite straight and smooth for a considerable

Barney Custer knew that so long as the road ran straight the girl
might be safe enough, for she was evidently an excellent horsewoman;
but he also knew that if there should be a sharp turn to the left
ahead, the horse in his blind fright would in all probability dash
headlong into the ravine below him.

There was but a single thing that the man might attempt if he were
to save the girl from the almost certain death which seemed in store
for her, since he knew that sooner or later the road would turn, as
all mountain roads do. The chances that he must take, if he failed,
could only hasten the girl's end. There was no alternative except to
sit supinely by and see the fear-crazed horse carry its rider into
eternity, and Barney Custer was not the sort for that role.

Scarcely had the beast come abreast of him than his foot leaped to
the accelerator. Like a frightened deer the gray roadster sprang
forward in pursuit. The road was narrow. Two machines could not have
passed upon it. Barney took the outside that he might hold the horse
away from the dangerous ravine.

At the sound of the whirring thing behind him the animal cast an
affrighted glance in its direction, and with a little squeal of
terror redoubled its frantic efforts to escape. The girl, too,
looked back over her shoulder. Her face was very white, but her eyes
were steady and brave.

Barney Custer smiled up at her in encouragement, and the girl smiled
back at him.

"She's sure a game one," thought Barney.

Now she was calling to him. At first he could not catch her words
above the pounding of the horse's hoofs and the noise of his motor.
Presently he understood.

"Stop!" she cried. "Stop or you will be killed. The road turns to
the left just ahead. You'll go into the ravine at that speed."

The front wheel of the roadster was at the horse's right flank.
Barney stepped upon the accelerator a little harder. There was
barely room between the horse and the edge of the road for the four
wheels of the roadster, and Barney must be very careful not to touch
the horse. The thought of that and what it would mean to the girl
sent a cold shudder through Barney Custer's athletic frame.

The man cast a glance to his right. His machine drove from the left
side, and he could not see the road at all over the right hand door.
The sight of tree tops waving beneath him was all that was visible.
Just ahead the road's edge rushed swiftly beneath the right-hand
fender; the wheels on that side must have been on the very verge of
the embankment.

Now he was abreast the girl. Just ahead he could see where the road
disappeared around a corner of the bluff at the dangerous curve the
girl had warned him against.

Custer leaned far out over the side of his car. The lunging of the
horse in his stride, and the swaying of the leaping car carried him
first close to the girl and then away again. With his right hand he
held the car between the frantic horse and the edge of the
embankment. His left hand, outstretched, was almost at the girl's
waist. The turn was just before them.

"Jump!" cried Barney.

The girl fell backward from her mount, turning to grasp Custer's arm
as it closed about her. At the same instant Barney closed the
throttle, and threw all the weight of his body upon the foot brake.

The gray roadster swerved toward the embankment as the hind wheels
skidded on the loose surface gravel. They were at the turn. The
horse was just abreast the bumper. There was one chance in a
thousand of making the turn were the running beast out of the way.
There was still a chance if he turned ahead of them. If he did not
turn - Barney hated to think of what must follow.

But it was all over in a second. The horse bolted straight ahead.
Barney swerved the roadster to the turn. It caught the animal full
in the side. There was a sickening lurch as the hind wheels slid
over the embankment, and then the man shoved the girl from the
running board to the road, and horse, man and roadster went over
into the ravine.

A moment before a tall young man with a reddish-brown beard had
stood at the turn of the road listening intently to the sound of the
hurrying hoof beats and the purring of the racing motor car
approaching from the distance. In his eyes lurked the look of the
hunted. For a moment he stood in evident indecision, but just before
the runaway horse and the pursuing machine came into view he slipped
over the edge of the road to slink into the underbrush far down
toward the bottom of the ravine.

When Barney pushed the girl from the running board she fell heavily
to the road, rolling over several times, but in an instant she
scrambled to her feet, hardly the worse for the tumble other than a
few scratches.

Quickly she ran to the edge of the embankment, a look of immense
relief coming to her soft, brown eyes as she saw her rescuer
scrambling up the precipitous side of the ravine toward her.

"You are not killed?" she cried in German. "It is a miracle!"

"Not even bruised," reassured Barney. "But you? You must have had
a nasty fall."

"I am not hurt at all," she replied. "But for you I should be lying
dead, or terribly maimed down there at the bottom of that awful
ravine at this very moment. It's awful." She drew her shoulders
upward in a little shudder of horror. "But how did you escape? Even
now I can scarce believe it possible."

"I'm quite sure I don't know how I did escape," said Barney,
clambering over the rim of the road to her side. "That I had nothing
to do with it I am positive. It was just luck. I simply dropped out
onto that bush down there."

They were standing side by side, now peering down into the ravine
where the car was visible, bottom side up against a tree, near the
base of the declivity. The horse's head could be seen protruding
from beneath the wreckage.

"I'd better go down and put him out of his misery," said Barney, "if
he is not already dead."

"I think he is quite dead," said the girl. "I have not seen him

Just then a little puff of smoke arose from the machine, followed by
a tongue of yellow flame. Barney had already started toward the

"Please don't go," begged the girl. "I am sure that he is quite
dead, and it wouldn't be safe for you down there now. The gasoline
tank may explode any minute."

Barney stopped.

"Yes, he is dead all right," he said, "but all my belongings are
down there. My guns, six-shooters and all my ammunition. And," he
added ruefully, "I've heard so much about the brigands that infest
these mountains."

The girl laughed.

"Those stories are really exaggerated," she said. "I was born in
Lutha, and except for a few months each year have always lived here,
and though I ride much I have never seen a brigand. You need not be

Barney Custer looked up at her quickly, and then he grinned. His
only fear had been that he would not meet brigands, for Mr. Bernard
Custer, Jr., was young and the spirit of Romance and Adventure
breathed strong within him.

"Why do you smile?" asked the girl.

"At our dilemma," evaded Barney. "Have you paused to consider our

The girl smiled, too.

"It is most unconventional," she said. "On foot and alone in the
mountains, far from home, and we do not even know each other's

"Pardon me," cried Barney, bowing low. "Permit me to introduce
myself. I am," and then to the spirits of Romance and Adventure was
added a third, the spirit of Deviltry, "I am the mad king of Lutha."



The effect of his words upon the girl were quite different from what
he had expected. An American girl would have laughed, knowing that
he but joked. This girl did not laugh. Instead her face went white,
and she clutched her bosom with her two hands. Her brown eyes peered
searchingly into the face of the man.

"Leopold!" she cried in a suppressed voice. "Oh, your majesty,
thank God that you are free - and sane!"

Before he could prevent it the girl had seized his hand and pressed
it to her lips.

Here was a pretty muddle! Barney Custer swore at himself inwardly
for a boorish fool. What in the world had ever prompted him to speak
those ridiculous words! And now how was he to unsay them without
mortifying this beautiful girl who had just kissed his hand?

She would never forgive that - he was sure of it.

There was but one thing to do, however, and that was to make a clean
breast of it. Somehow, he managed to stumble through his explanation
of what had prompted him, and when he had finished he saw that the
girl was smiling indulgently at him.

"It shall be Mr. Bernard Custer if you wish it so," she said; "but
your majesty need fear nothing from Emma von der Tann. Your secret
is as safe with me as with yourself, as the name of Von der Tann
must assure you."

She looked to see the expression of relief and pleasure that her
father's name should have brought to the face of Leopold of Lutha,
but when he gave no indication that he had ever before heard the
name she sighed and looked puzzled.

"Perhaps," she thought, "he doubts me. Or can it be possible that,
after all, his poor mind is gone?"

"I wish," said Barney in a tone of entreaty, "that you would forgive
and forget my foolish words, and then let me accompany you to the
end of your journey."

"Whither were you bound when I became the means of wrecking your
motor car?" asked the girl.

"To the Old Forest," replied Barney.

Now she was positive that she was indeed with the mad king of Lutha,
but she had no fear of him, for since childhood she had heard her
father scout the idea that Leopold was mad. For what other purpose
would he hasten toward the Old Forest than to take refuge in her
father's castle upon the banks of the Tann at the forest's verge?

"Thither was I bound also," she said, "and if you would come there
quickly and in safety I can show you a short path across the
mountains that my father taught me years ago. It touches the main
road but once or twice, and much of the way passes through dense
woods and undergrowth where an army might hide."

"Hadn't we better find the nearest town," suggested Barney, "where I
can obtain some sort of conveyance to take you home?"

"It would not be safe," said the girl. "Peter of Blentz will have
troops out scouring all Lutha about Blentz and the Old Forest until
the king is captured."

Barney Custer shook his head despairingly.

"Won't you please believe that I am but a plain American?" he

Upon the bole of a large wayside tree a fresh, new placard stared
them in the face. Emma von der Tann pointed at one of the

"Gray eyes, brown hair, and a full reddish-brown beard," she read.
"No matter who you may be," she said, "you are safer off the
highways of Lutha than on them until you can find and use a razor."

"But I cannot shave until the fifth of November," said Barney.

Again the girl looked quickly into his eyes and again in her mind
rose the question that had hovered there once before. Was he indeed,
after all, quite sane?

"Then please come with me the safest way to my father's," she urged.
"He will know what is best to do."

"He cannot make me shave," insisted Barney.

"Why do you wish not to shave?" asked the girl.

"It is a matter of my honor," he replied. "I had my choice of
wearing a green wastebasket bonnet trimmed with red roses for six
months, or a beard for twelve. If I shave off the beard before the
fifth of November I shall be without honor in the sight of all men
or else I shall have to wear the green bonnet. The beard is bad
enough, but the bonnet - ugh!"

Emma von der Tann was now quite assured that the poor fellow was
indeed quite demented, but she had seen no indications of violence
as yet, though when that too might develop there was no telling.
However, he was to her Leopold of Lutha, and her father's house had
been loyal to him or his ancestors for three hundred years.

If she must sacrifice her life in the attempt, nevertheless still
must she do all within her power to save her king from recapture and
to lead him in safety to the castle upon the Tann.

"Come," she said; "we waste time here. Let us make haste, for the
way is long. At best we cannot reach Tann by dark."

"I will do anything you wish," replied Barney, "but I shall never
forgive myself for having caused you the long and tedious journey
that lies before us. It would be perfectly safe to go to the nearest
town and secure a rig."

Emma von der Tann had heard that it was always well to humor maniacs
and she thought of it now. She would put the scheme to the test.

"The reason that I fear to have you go to the village," she said,
"is that I am quite sure they would catch you and shave off your

Barney started to laugh, but when he saw the deep seriousness of the
girl's eyes he changed his mind. Then he recalled her rather
peculiar insistence that he was a king, and it suddenly occurred to
him that he had been foolish not to have guessed the truth before.

"That is so," he agreed; "I guess we had better do as you say," for
he had determined that the best way to handle her would be to humor
her - he had always heard that that was the proper method for
handling the mentally defective. "Where is the - er - ah - sanatorium?"
he blurted out at last.

"The what?" she asked. "There is no sanatorium near here, your
majesty, unless you refer to the Castle of Blentz."

"Is there no asylum for the insane near by?"

"None that I know of, your majesty."

For a while they moved on in silence, each wondering what the other
might do next.

Barney had evolved a plan. He would try and ascertain the location
of the institution from which the girl had escaped and then as
gently as possible lead her back to it. It was not safe for as
beautiful a woman as she to be roaming through the forest in any
such manner as this. He wondered what in the world the authorities
at the asylum had been thinking of to permit her to ride out alone
in the first place.

"From where did you ride today?" he blurted out suddenly.

"From Tann."

"That is where we are going now?"

"Yes, your majesty."

Barney drew a breath of relief. The way had become suddenly
difficult and he took the girl's arm to help her down a rather steep

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Mad King → online text (page 1 of 22)