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old man was saying. "That you are the true Leopold is all that I am
positive of, for the discomfiture of Prince Peter evidenced that
fact all too plainly. But who the impostor was who ruled Lutha in
your name for two days, disappearing as miraculously as he came, I
cannot guess.

"But for another miracle which preserved you for us in the nick of
time he might now be wearing the crown of Lutha in your stead.
Having Peter of Blentz safely in custody our next immediate task
should be to hunt down the impostor and bring him to justice also;
though" - and the old prince sighed - "he was indeed a brave man, and
a noble figure of a king as he led your troops to battle."

The king had been smiling as Von der Tann first spoke of the
"impostor," but at the old man's praise of the other's bravery a
slight flush tinged his cheek, and the shadow of a scowl crossed his

"Wait," he said, "we shall not have to look far for your
'impostor,'" and summoning an aide he dispatched him for "Lieutenant
Butzow and Mr. Custer."

A moment later the two entered the audience chamber. Barney found
that Leopold the king, surrounded by comforts and safety, was a very
different person from Leopold the fugitive. The weak face now wore
an expression of arrogance, though the king spoke most graciously to
the American.

"Here, Von der Tann," said Leopold, "is your 'impostor.' But for him
I should doubtless be dead by now, or once again a prisoner at

Barney and Butzow found it necessary to repeat their stories several
times before the old man could fully grasp all that had transpired
beneath his very nose without his being aware of scarce a single
detail of it.

When he was finally convinced that they were telling the truth, he
extended his hand to the American.

"I knelt to you once, young man," he said, "and kissed your hand. I
should be filled with bitterness and rage toward you. On the
contrary, I find that I am proud to have served in the retinue of
such an impostor as you, for you upheld the prestige of the house of
Rubinroth upon the battlefield, and though you might have had a
crown, you refused it and brought the true king into his own."

Leopold sat tapping his foot upon the carpet. It was all very well
if he, the king, chose to praise the American, but there was no need
for old von der Tann to slop over so. The king did not like it. As a
matter of fact, he found himself becoming very jealous of the man
who had placed him upon his throne.

"There is only one thing that I can harbor against you," continued
Prince Ludwig, "and that is that in a single instance you deceived
me, for an hour before the coronation you told me that you were a

"I told you, prince," corrected Barney, "that the royal blood of
Rubinroth flowed in my veins, and so it does. I am the son of the
runaway Princess Victoria of Lutha."

Both Leopold and Ludwig looked their surprise, and to the king's
eyes came a sudden look of fear. With the royal blood in his veins,
what was there to prevent this popular hero from some day striving
for the throne he had once refused? Leopold knew that the minds of
men were wont to change most unaccountably.

"Butzow," he said suddenly to the lieutenant of horse, "how many do
you imagine know positively that he who has ruled Lutha for the past
two days and he who was crowned in the cathedral this noon are not
one and the same?"

"Only a few besides those who are in this room, your majesty,"
replied Butzow. "Peter and Coblich have known it from the first, and
then there is Kramer, the loyal old shopkeeper of Tafelberg, who
followed Coblich and Maenck all night and half a day as they dragged
the king to the hiding-place where we found him. Other than these
there may be those who guess the truth, but there are none who

For a moment the king sat in thought. Then he rose and commenced
pacing back and forth the length of the apartment.

"Why should they ever know?" he said at last, halting before the
three men who had been standing watching him. "For the sake of Lutha
they should never know that another than the true king sat upon the
throne even for an hour."

He was thinking of the comparison that might be drawn between the
heroic figure of the American and his own colorless part in the
events which had led up to his coronation. In his heart of hearts he
felt that old Von der Tann rather regretted that the American had
not been the king, and he hated the old man accordingly, and was
commencing to hate the American as well.

Prince Ludwig stood looking at the carpet after the king had spoken.
His judgment told him that the king's suggestion was a wise one; but
he was sorry and ashamed that it had come from Leopold. Butzow's
lips almost showed the contempt that he felt for the ingratitude of
his king.

Barney Custer was the first to speak.

"I think his majesty is quite right," he said, "and tonight I can
leave the palace after dark and cross the border some time tomorrow
evening. The people need never know the truth."

Leopold looked relieved.

"We must reward you, Mr. Custer," he said. "Name that which it lies
within our power to grant you and it shall be yours."

Barney thought of the girl he loved; but he did not mention her
name, for he knew that she was not for him now.

"There is nothing, your majesty," he said.

"A money reward," Leopold started to suggest, and then Barney Custer
lost his temper.

A flush mounted to his face, his chin went up, and there came to his
lips bitter words of sarcasm. With an effort, however, he held his
tongue, and, turning his back upon the king, his broad shoulders
proclaiming the contempt he felt, he walked slowly out of the room.

Von der Tann and Butzow and Leopold of Lutha stood in silence as the
American passed out of sight beyond the portal.

The manner of his going had been an affront to the king, and the
young ruler had gone red with anger.

"Butzow," he cried, "bring the fellow back; he shall be taught a
lesson in the deference that is due kings."

Butzow hesitated. "He has risked his life a dozen times for your
majesty," said the lieutenant.

Leopold flushed.

"Do not humiliate him, sire," advised Von der Tann. "He has earned
a greater reward at your hands than that."

The king resumed his pacing for a moment, coming to a halt once more
before the two.

"We shall take no notice of his insolence," he said, "and that shall
be our royal reward for his services. More than he deserves, we dare
say, at that."

As Barney hastened through the palace on his way to his new quarters
to obtain his arms and order his horse saddled, he came suddenly
upon a girlish figure gazing sadly from a window upon the drear
November world - her heart as sad as the day.

At the sound of his footstep she turned, and as her eyes met the
gray ones of the man she stood poised as though of half a mind to
fly. For a moment neither spoke.

"Can your highness forgive?" he asked.

For answer the girl buried her face in her hands and dropped upon
the cushioned window seat before her. The American came close and
knelt at her side.

"Don't," he begged as he saw her shoulders rise to the sudden
sobbing that racked her slender frame. "Don't!"

He thought that she wept from mortification that she had given her
kisses to another than the king.

"None knows," he continued, "what has passed between us. None but
you and I need ever know. I tried to make you understand that I was
not Leopold; but you would not believe. It is not my fault that I
loved you. It is not my fault that I shall always love you. Tell me
that you forgive me my part in the chain of strange circumstances
that deceived you into an acknowledgment of a love that you intended
for another. Forgive me, Emma!"

Down the corridor behind them a tall figure approached on silent,
noiseless feet. At sight of the two at the window seat it halted. It
was the king.

The girl looked up suddenly into the eyes of the American bending so
close above her.

"I can never forgive you," she cried, "for not being the king, for I
am betrothed to him - and I love you!"

Before she could prevent him, Barney Custer had taken her in his
arms, and though at first she made a pretense of attempting to
escape, at last she lay quite still. Her arms found their way about
the man's neck, and her lips returned the kisses that his were
showering upon her upturned mouth.

Presently her glance wandered above the shoulder of the American,
and of a sudden her eyes filled with terror, and, with a little gasp
of consternation, she struggled to free herself.

"Let me go!" she whispered. "Let me go - the king!"

Barney sprang to his feet and, turning, faced Leopold. The king had
gone quite white.

"Failing to rob me of my crown," he cried in a trembling voice, "you
now seek to rob me of my betrothed! Go to your father at once, and
as for you - you shall learn what it means for you thus to meddle in
the affairs of kings."

Barney saw the terrible position in which his love had placed the
Princess Emma. His only thought now was for her. Bowing low before
her he spoke so that the king might hear, yet as though his words
were for her ears alone.

"Your highness knows the truth, now," he said, "and that after all I
am not the king. I can only ask that you will forgive me the
deception. Now go to your father as the king commands."

Slowly the girl turned away. Her heart was torn between love for
this man, and her duty toward the other to whom she had been
betrothed in childhood. The hereditary instinct of obedience to her
sovereign was strong within her, and the bonds of custom and society
held her in their relentless shackles. With a sob she passed up the
corridor, curtsying to the king as she passed him.

When she had gone Leopold turned to the American. There was an evil
look in the little gray eyes of the monarch.

"You may go your way," he said coldly. "We shall give you
forty-eight hours to leave Lutha. Should you ever return your life
shall be the forfeit."

The American kept back the hot words that were ready upon the end of
his tongue. For her sake he must bow to fate. With a slight
inclination of his head toward Leopold he wheeled and resumed his
way toward his quarters.

Half an hour later as he was about to descend to the courtyard where
a trooper of the Royal Horse held his waiting mount, Butzow burst
suddenly into his room.

"For God's sake," cried the lieutenant, "get out of this. The king
has changed his mind, and there is an officer of the guard on his
way here now with a file of soldiers to place you under arrest.
Leopold swears that he will hang you for treason. Princess Emma has
spurned him, and he is wild with rage."

The dismal November twilight had given place to bleak night as two
men cantered from the palace courtyard and turned their horses'
heads northward toward Lutha's nearest boundary. All night they
rode, stopping at daylight before a distant farm to feed and water
their mounts and snatch a mouthful for themselves. Then onward once
again they pressed in their mad flight.

Now that day had come they caught occasional glimpses of a body of
horsemen far behind them, but the border was near, and their start
such that there was no danger of their being overtaken.

"For the thousandth time, Butzow," said one of the men, "will you
turn back before it is too late?"

But the other only shook his head obstinately, and so they came to
the great granite monument which marks the boundary between Lutha
and her powerful neighbor upon the north.

Barney held out his hand. "Good-bye, old man," he said. "If I've
learned the ingratitude of kings here in Lutha, I have found
something that more than compensates me - the friendship of a brave
man. Now hurry back and tell them that I escaped across the border
just as I was about to fall into your hands and they will think that
you have been pursuing me instead of aiding in my escape across the

But again Butzow shook his head.

"I have fought shoulder to shoulder with you, my friend," he said.
"I have called you king, and after that I could never serve the
coward who sits now upon the throne of Lutha. I have made up my mind
during this long ride from Lustadt, and I have come to the decision
that I should prefer to raise corn in Nebraska with you rather than
serve in the court of an ingrate."

"Well, you are an obstinate Dutchman, after all," replied the
American with a smile, placing his hand affectionately upon the
shoulder of his comrade.

There was a clatter of horses' hoofs upon the gravel of the road
behind them.

The two men put spurs to their mounts, and Barney Custer galloped
across the northern boundary of Lutha just ahead of a troop of
Luthanian cavalry, as had his father thirty years before; but a
royal princess had accompanied the father - only a soldier
accompanied the son.




"What's the matter, Vic?" asked Barney Custer of his sister. "You
look peeved."

"I am peeved," replied the girl, smiling. "I am terribly peeved. I
don't want to play bridge this afternoon. I want to go motoring with
Lieutenant Butzow. This is his last day with us."

"Yes. I know it is, and I hate to think of it," replied Barney;
"but why in the world do you have to play bridge if you don't want

"I promised Margaret that I'd go. They're short one, and she's
coming after me in her car."

"Where are you going to play - at the champion lady bridge player's
on Fourth Street?" asked Barney, grinning.

His sister answered with a nod and a smile. "Where you brought down
the wrath of the lady champion upon your head the other night when
you were letting your mind wander across to Lutha and the Old
Forest, instead of paying attention to the game," she added.

"Well, cheer up, Vic," cried her brother. "Bert'll probably set
fire to the car, the way he did to their first one, and then you
won't have to go."

"Oh, yes, I would; Margaret would send him after me in that
awful-looking, unwashed Ford runabout of his," answered the girl.

"And then you WOULD go," said Barney.

"You bet I would," laughed Victoria. "I'd go in a wheelbarrow with

But she didn't have to; and after she had driven off with her chum,
Barney and Butzow strolled down through the little city of Beatrice
to the corn mill in which the former was interested.

"I'm mighty sorry that you have to leave us, Butzow," said Barney's
partner. "It's bad enough to lose you, but I'm afraid it will mean
the loss of Barney, too. He's been hunting for some excuse to get
back to Lutha, and with you there and a war in sight I'm afraid
nothing can hold him."

"I don't know but that it may be just as well for my friends here
that I leave," said Butzow seriously. "I did not tell you, Barney,
all there is in this letter" - he tapped his breastpocket, where the
foreign-looking envelope reposed with its contents.

Custer looked at him inquiringly.

"Besides saying that war between Austria and Serbia seems
unavoidable and that Lutha doubtless will be drawn into it, my
informant warns me that Leopold had sent emissaries to America to
search for you, Barney, and myself. What his purpose may be my
friend does not know, but he warns us to be upon our guard. Von der
Tann wants me to return to Lutha. He has promised to protect me, and
with the country in danger there is nothing else for me to do. I
must go."

"I wish I could go with you," said Barney. "If it wasn't for this
dinged old mill I would; but Bert wants to go away this summer, and
as I have been away most of the time for the past two years, it's up
to me to stay."

As the three men talked the afternoon wore on. Heavy clouds
gathered in the sky; a storm was brewing. Outside, a man, skulking
behind a box car on the siding, watched the entrance through which
the three had gone. He watched the workmen, and as quitting time
came and he saw them leaving for their homes he moved more
restlessly, transferring the package which he held from one hand to
another many times, yet always gingerly.

At last all had left. The man started from behind the box car, only
to jump back as the watchman appeared around the end of one of the
buildings. He watched the guardian of the property make his rounds;
he saw him enter his office, and then he crept forward toward the
building, holding his queer package in his right hand.

In the office the watchman came upon the three friends. At sight of
him they looked at one another in surprise.

"Why, what time is it?" exclaimed Custer, and as he looked at his
watch he rose with a laugh. "Late to dinner again," he cried. "Come
on, we'll go out this other way." And with a cheery good night to
the watchman Barney and his friends hastened from the building.

Upon the opposite side the stranger approached the doorway to the
mill. The rain was falling in blinding sheets. Ominously the thunder
roared. Vivid flashes of lightning shot the heavens. The watchman,
coming suddenly from the doorway, his hat brim pulled low over his
eyes, passed within a couple of paces of the stranger without seeing

Five minutes later there was a blinding glare accompanied by a
deafening roar. It was as though nature had marshaled all her forces
in one mighty, devastating effort. At the same instant the walls of
the great mill burst asunder, a nebulous mass of burning gas shot
heavenward, and then the flames settled down to complete the
destruction of the ruin.

It was the following morning that Victoria and Barney Custer, with
Lieutenant Butzow and Custer's partner, stood contemplating the
smoldering wreckage.

"And to think," said Barney, "that yesterday this muss was the
largest corn mill west of anywhere. I guess we can both take
vacations now, Bert."

"Who would have thought that a single bolt of lightning could have
resulted in such havoc?" mused Victoria.

"Who would?" agreed Lieutenant Butzow, and then, with a sudden
narrowing of his eyes and a quick glance at Barney, "if it WAS

The American looked at the Luthanian. "You think - " he started.

"I don't dare think," replied Butzow, "because of the fear of what
this may mean to you and Miss Victoria if it was not lightning that
destroyed the mill. I shouldn't have spoken of it but that it may
urge you to greater caution, which I cannot but think is most
necessary since the warning I received from Lutha."

"Why should Leopold seek to harm me now?" asked Barney. "It has
been almost two years since you and I placed him upon his throne,
only to be rewarded with threats and hatred. In that time neither of
us has returned to Lutha nor in any way conspired against the king.
I cannot fathom his motives."

"There is the Princess Emma von der Tann," Butzow reminded him.
"She still repulses him. He may think that, with you removed
definitely and permanently, all will then be plain sailing for him
in that direction. Evidently he does not know the princess."

An hour later they were all bidding Butzow good-bye at the station.
Victoria Custer was genuinely grieved to see him go, for she liked
this soldierly young officer of the Royal Horse Guards immensely.

"You must come back to America soon," she urged.

He looked down at her from the steps of the moving train. There was
something in his expression that she had never seen there before.

"I want to come back soon," he answered, "to - to Beatrice," and he
flushed and smiled at his own stumbling tongue.

For about a week Barney Custer moped disconsolately, principally
about the ruins of the corn mill. He was in everyone's way and
accomplished nothing.

"I was never intended for a captain of industry," he confided to his
partner for the hundredth time. "I wish some excuse would pop up to
which I might hang a reason for beating it to Europe. There's
something doing there. Nearly everybody has declared war upon
everybody else, and here I am stagnating in peace. I'd even welcome
a tornado."

His excuse was to come sooner than he imagined. That night, after
the other members of his family had retired, Barney sat smoking
within a screened porch off the living-room. His thoughts were upon
a trim little figure in riding togs, as he had first seen it nearly
two years before, clinging desperately to a runaway horse upon the
narrow mountain road above Tafelberg.

He lived that thrilling experience through again as he had many
times before. He even smiled as he recalled the series of events
that had resulted from his resemblance to the mad king of Lutha.

They had come to a culmination at the time when the king, whom
Barney had placed upon a throne at the risk of his own life,
discovered that his savior loved the girl to whom the king had been
betrothed since childhood and that the girl returned the American's
love even after she knew that he had but played the part of a king.

Barney's cigar, forgotten, had long since died out. Not even its
former fitful glow proclaimed his presence upon the porch, whose
black shadows completely enveloped him. Before him stretched a wide
acreage of lawn, tree dotted at the side of the house. Bushes hid
the stone wall that marked the boundary of the Custer grounds and
extended here and there out upon the sward among the trees. The
night was moonless but clear. A faint light pervaded the scene.

Barney sat staring straight ahead, but his gaze did not stop upon
the familiar objects of the foreground. Instead it spanned two
continents and an ocean to rest upon the little spot of woodland and
rugged mountain and lowland that is Lutha. It was with an effort
that the man suddenly focused his attention upon that which lay
directly before him. A shadow among the trees had moved!

Barney Custer sat perfectly still, but now he was suddenly alert and
watchful. Again the shadow moved where no shadow should be moving.
It crossed from the shade of one tree to another. Barney came
cautiously to his feet. Silently he entered the house, running
quickly to a side door that opened upon the grounds. As he drew it
back its hinges gave forth no sound. Barney looked toward the spot
where he had seen the shadow. Again he saw it scuttle hurriedly
beneath another tree nearer the house. This time there was no doubt.
It was a man!

Directly before the door where Barney stood was a pergola,
ivy-covered. Behind this he slid, and, running its length, came out
among the trees behind the night prowler. Now he saw him distinctly.
The fellow was bearded, and in his right hand he carried a package.
Instantly Barney recalled Butzow's comment upon the destruction of
the mill - "if it WAS lightning!"

Cold sweat broke from every pore of his body. His mother and father
were there in the house, and Vic - all sleeping peacefully. He ran
quickly toward the menacing figure, and as he did so he saw the
other halt behind a great tree and strike a match. In the glow of
the flame he saw it touch close to the package that the fellow held,
and then he was upon him.

There was a brief and terrific struggle. The stranger hurled the
package toward the house. Barney caught him by the throat, beating
him heavily in the face; and then, realizing what the package was,
he hurled the fellow from him, and sprang toward the hissing and
sputtering missile where it lay close to the foundation wall of the
house, though in the instant of his close contact with the man he
had recognized through the disguising beard the features of Captain
Ernst Maenck, the principal tool of Peter of Blentz.

Quick though Barney was to reach the bomb and extinguish the fuse,
Maenck had disappeared before he returned to search for him; and,
though he roused the gardener and chauffeur and took turns with them
in standing guard the balance of the night, the would-be assassin
did not return.

There was no question in Barney Custer's mind as to whom the bomb
was intended for. That Maenck had hurled it toward the house after
Barney had seized him was merely the result of accident and the
man's desire to get the death-dealing missile as far from himself as
possible before it exploded. That it would have wrecked the house in
the hope of reaching him, had he not fortunately interfered, was too
evident to the American to be questioned.

And so he decided before the night was spent to put himself as far
from his family as possible, lest some future attempt upon his life
might endanger theirs. Then, too, righteous anger and a desire for
revenge prompted his decision. He would run Maenck to earth and have
an accounting with him. It was evident that his life would not be

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Mad King → online text (page 10 of 22)