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worth a farthing so long as the fellow was at liberty.

Before dawn he swore the gardener and chauffeur to silence, and at
breakfast announced his intention of leaving that day for New York
to seek a commission as correspondent with an old classmate, who
owned the New York Evening National. At the hotel Barney inquired of
the proprietor relative to a bearded stranger, but the man had had
no one of that description registered. Chance, however, gave him a
clue. His roadster was in a repair shop, and as he stopped in to get
it he overheard a conversation that told him all he wanted to know.
As he stood talking with the foreman a dust-covered automobile
pulled into the garage.

"Hello, Bill," called the foreman to the driver. "Where you been so

"Took a guy to Lincoln," replied the other. "He was in an awful
hurry. I bet we broke all the records for that stretch of road this
morning - I never knew the old boat had it in her."

"Who was it?" asked Barney.

"I dunno," replied the driver. "Talked like a furriner, and looked
the part. Bushy black beard. Said he was a German army officer, an'
had to beat it back on account of the war. Seemed to me like he was
mighty anxious to get back there an' be killed."

Barney waited to hear no more. He did not even go home to say
good-bye to his family. Instead he leaped into his gray roadster - a
later model of the one he had lost in Lutha - and the last that
Beatrice, Nebraska, saw of him was a whirling cloud of dust as he
raced north out of town toward Lincoln.

He was five minutes too late into the capital city to catch the
eastbound limited that Maenck must have taken; but he caught the
next through train for Chicago, and the second day thereafter found
him in New York. There he had little difficulty in obtaining the
desired credentials from his newspaper friend, especially since
Barney offered to pay all his own expenses and donate to the paper
anything he found time to write.

Passenger steamers were still sailing, though irregularly, and after
scanning the passenger-lists of three he found the name he sought.
"Captain Ernst Maenck, Lutha." So he had not been mistaken, after
all. It was Maenck he had apprehended on his father's grounds.
Evidently the man had little fear of being followed, for he had made
no effort to hide his identity in booking passage for Europe.

The steamer he had caught had sailed that very morning. Barney was
not so sorry, after all, for he had had time during his trip from
Beatrice to do considerable thinking, and had found it rather
difficult to determine just what to do should he have overtaken
Maenck in the United States. He couldn't kill the man in cold blood,
justly as he may have deserved the fate, and the thought of causing
his arrest and dragging his own name into the publicity of court
proceedings was little less distasteful to him.

Furthermore, the pursuit of Maenck now gave Barney a legitimate
excuse for returning to Lutha, or at least to the close neighborhood
of the little kingdom, where he might await the outcome of events
and be ready to give his services in the cause of the house of Von
der Tann should they be required.

By going directly to Italy and entering Austria from that country
Barney managed to arrive within the boundaries of the dual monarchy
with comparatively few delays. Nor did he encounter any considerable
bodies of troops until he reached the little town of Burgova, which
lies not far from the Serbian frontier. Beyond this point his
credentials would not carry him. The emperor's officers were polite,
but firm. No newspaper correspondents could be permitted nearer the
front than Burgova.

There was nothing to be done, therefore, but wait until some
propitious event gave him the opportunity to approach more closely
the Serbian boundary and Lutha. In the meantime he would communicate
with Butzow, who might be able to obtain passes for him to some
village nearer the Luthanian frontier, when it should be an easy
matter to cross through to Serbia. He was sure the Serbian
authorities would object less strenuously to his presence.

The inn at which he applied for accommodations was already overrun
by officers, but the proprietor, with scant apologies for a
civilian, offered him a little box of a room in the attic. The place
was scarce more than a closet, and for that Barney was in a way
thankful since the limited space could accommodate but a single cot,
thus insuring him the privacy that a larger chamber would have

He was very tired after his long and comfortless land journey, so
after an early dinner he went immediately to his room and to bed.
How long he slept he did not know, but some time during the night he
was awakened by the sound of voices apparently close to his ear.

For a moment he thought the speakers must be in his own room, so
distinctly did he overhear each word of their conversation; but
presently he discovered that they were upon the opposite side of a
thin partition in an adjoining room. But half awake, and with the
sole idea of getting back to sleep again as quickly as possible,
Barney paid only the slightest attention to the meaning of the words
that fell upon his ears, until, like a bomb, a sentence broke
through his sleepy faculties, banishing Morpheus upon the instant.

"It will take but little now to turn Leopold against Von der Tann."
The speaker evidently was an Austrian. "Already I have half
convinced him that the old man aspires to the throne. Leopold fears
the loyalty of his army, which is for Von der Tann body and soul. He
knows that Von der Tann is strongly anti-Austrian, and I have made
it plain to him that if he allows his kingdom to take sides with
Serbia he will have no kingdom when the war is over - it will be a
part of Austria.

"It was with greater difficulty, however, my dear Peter, that I
convinced him that you, Von Coblich, and Captain Maenck were his
most loyal friends. He fears you yet, but, nevertheless, he has
pardoned you all. Do not forget when you return to your dear Lutha
that you owe your repatriation to Count Zellerndorf of Austria."

"You may be assured that we shall never forget," replied another
voice that Barney recognized at once as belonging to Prince Peter of
Blentz, the one time regent of Lutha.

"It is not for myself," continued Count Zellerndorf, "that I crave
your gratitude, but for my emperor. You may do much to win his
undying gratitude, while for yourselves you may win to almost any
height with the friendship of Austria behind you. I am sure that
should any accident, which God forfend, deprive Lutha of her king,
none would make a more welcome successor in the eyes of Austria than
our good friend Peter."

Barney could almost see the smile of satisfaction upon the thin lips
of Peter of Blentz as this broad hint fell from the lips of the
Austrian diplomat - a hint that seemed to the American little short
of the death sentence of Leopold, King of Lutha.

"We owed you much before, count," said Peter. "But for you we
should have been hanged a year ago - without your aid we should never
have been able to escape from the fortress of Lustadt or cross the
border into Austria-Hungary. I am sorry that Maenck failed in his
mission, for had he not we would have had concrete evidence to
present to the king that we are indeed his loyal supporters. It
would have dispelled at once such fears and doubts as he may still
entertain of our fealty."

"Yes, I, too, am sorry," agreed Zellerndorf. "I can assure you that
the news we hoped Captain Maenck would bring from America would have
gone a long way toward restoring you to the confidence and good
graces of the king."

"I did my best," came another voice that caused Barney's eyes to go
wide in astonishment, for it was none other than the voice of Maenck
himself. "Twice I risked hanging to get him and only came away after
I had been recognized."

"It is too bad," sighed Zellerndorf; "though it may not be without
its advantages after all, for now we still have this second bugbear
to frighten Leopold with. So long, of course, as the American lives
there is always the chance that he may return and seek to gain the
throne. The fact that his mother was a Rubinroth princess might make
it easy for Von der Tann to place him upon the throne without much
opposition, and if he married the old man's daughter it is easy to
conceive that the prince might favor such a move. At any rate, it
should not be difficult to persuade Leopold of the possibility of
such a thing.

"Under the circumstances Leopold is almost convinced that his only
hope of salvation lies in cementing friendly relations with the most
powerful of Von der Tann's enemies, of which you three gentlemen
stand preeminently in the foreground, and of assuring to himself the
support of Austria. And now, gentlemen," he went on after a pause,
"good night. I have handed Prince Peter the necessary military
passes to carry you safely through our lines, and tomorrow you may
be in Blentz if you wish."



For some time Barney Custer lay there in the dark revolving in his
mind all that he had overheard through the partition - the thin
partition which alone lay between himself and three men who would be
only too glad to embrace the first opportunity to destroy him. But
his fears were not for himself so much as for the daughter of old
Von der Tann, and for all that might befall that princely house were
these three unhung rascals to gain Lutha and have their way with the
weak and cowardly king who reigned there.

If he could but reach Von der Tann's ear and through him the king
before the conspirators came to Lutha! But how might he accomplish
it? Count Zellerndorf's parting words to the three had shown that
military passes were necessary to enable one to reach Lutha.

His papers were practically worthless even inside the lines. That
they would carry him through the lines he had not the slightest
hope. There were two things to be accomplished if possible. One was
to cross the frontier into Lutha; and the other, which of course was
quite out of the question, was to prevent Peter of Blentz, Von
Coblich, and Maenck from doing so. But was that altogether

The idea that followed that question came so suddenly that it
brought Barney Custer out onto the floor in a bound, to don his
clothes and sneak into the hall outside his room with the stealth of
a professional second-story man.

To the right of his own door was the door to the apartment in which
the three conspirators slept. At least, Barney hoped they slept. He
bent close to the keyhole and listened. From within came no sound
other than the regular breathing of the inmates. It had been at
least half an hour since the American had heard the conversation
cease. A glance through the keyhole showed no light within the room.
Stealthily Barney turned the knob. Had they bolted the door? He felt
the tumbler move to the pressure - soundlessly. Then he pushed gently
inward. The door swung.

A moment later he stood in the room. Dimly he could see two beds - a
large one and a smaller. Peter of Blentz would be alone upon the
smaller bed, his henchmen sleeping together in the larger. Barney
crept toward the lone sleeper. At the bedside he fumbled in the dark
groping for the man's clothing - for the coat, in the breastpocket of
which he hoped to find the military pass that might carry him safely
out of Austria-Hungary and into Lutha. On the foot of the bed he
found some garments. Gingerly he felt them over, seeking the coat.

At last he found it. His fingers, steady even under the nervous
tension of this unaccustomed labor, discovered the inner pocket and
the folded paper. There were several of them; Barney took them all.

So far he made no noise. None of the sleepers had stirred. Now he
took a step toward the doorway and - kicked a shoe that lay in his
path. The slight noise in that quiet room sounded to Barney's ears
like the fall of a brick wall. Peter of Blentz stirred, turning in
his sleep. Behind him Barney heard one of the men in the other bed
move. He turned his head in that direction. Either Maenck or Coblich
was sitting up peering through the darkness.

"Is that you, Prince Peter?" The voice was Maenck's.

"What's the matter?" persisted Maenck.

"I'm going for a drink of water," replied the American, and stepped
toward the door.

Behind him Peter of Blentz sat up in bed.

"That you, Maenck?" he called.

Instantly Maenck was out of bed, for the first voice had come from
the vicinity of the doorway; both could not be Peter's.

"Quick!" he cried; "there's someone in our room."

Barney leaped for the doorway, and upon his heels came the three
conspirators. Maenck was closest to him - so close that Barney was
forced to turn at the top of the stairs. In the darkness he was just
conscious of the form of the man who was almost upon him. Then he
swung a vicious blow for the other's face - a blow that landed, for
there was a cry of pain and anger as Maenck stumbled back into the
arms of the two behind him. From below came the sound of footsteps
hurrying up the stairs to the accompaniment of a clanking saber.
Barney's retreat was cut off.

Turning, he dodged into his own room before the enemy could locate
him or even extricate themselves from the confusion of Maenck's
sudden collision with the other two. But what could Barney gain by
the slight delay that would be immediately followed by his

He didn't know. All that he was sure of was that there had been no
other place to go than this little room. As he entered the first
thing that his eyes fell upon was the small square window. Here at
least was some slight encouragement.

He ran toward it. The lower sash was raised. As the door behind
him opened to admit Peter of Blentz and his companions, Barney
slipped through into the night, hanging by his hands from the sill
without. What lay beneath or how far the drop he could not guess,
but that certain death menaced him from above he knew from the
conversation he had overheard earlier in the evening.

For an instant he hung suspended. He heard the men groping about
the room. Evidently they were in some fear of the unknown assailant
they sought, for they did not move about with undue rashness.
Presently one of them struck a light - Barney could see its flare
lighten the window casing for an instant.

"The room is empty," came a voice from above him.

"Look to the window!" cried Peter of Blentz, and then Barney Custer
let go his hold upon the sill and dropped into the blackness below.

His fall was a short one, for the window had been directly over a
low shed at the side of the inn. Upon the roof of this the American
landed, and from there he dropped to the courtyard without mishap.
Glancing up, he saw the heads of three men peering from the window
of the room he had just quitted.

"There he is!" cried one, and instantly the three turned back into
the room. As Barney fled from the courtyard he heard the rattle of
hasty footsteps upon the rickety stairway of the inn.

Choosing an alley rather than a street in which he might run upon
soldiers at any moment, he moved quickly yet cautiously away from
the inn. Behind him he could hear the voices of many men. They were
raised to a high pitch by excitement. It was clear to Barney that
there were many more than the original three - Prince Peter had, in
all probability, enlisted the aid of the military.

Could he but reach the frontier with his stolen passes he would be
comparatively safe, for the rugged mountains of Lutha offered many
places of concealment, and, too, there were few Luthanians who did
not hate Peter of Blentz most cordially - among the men of the
mountains at least. Once there he could defy a dozen Blentz princes
for the little time that would be required to carry him into Serbia
and comparative safety.

As he approached a cross street a couple of squares from the inn he
found it necessary to pass beneath a street lamp. For a moment he
paused in the shadows of the alley listening. Hearing nothing moving
in the street, Barney was about to make a swift spring for the
shadows upon the opposite side when it occurred to him that it might
be safer to make assurance doubly sure by having a look up and down
the street before emerging into the light.

It was just as well that he did, for as he thrust his head around
the corner of the building the first thing that his eyes fell upon
was the figure of an Austrian sentry, scarcely three paces from him.
The soldier was standing in a listening attitude, his head half
turned away from the American. The sounds coming from the direction
of the inn were apparently what had attracted his attention.

Behind him, Barney was sure he heard evidences of pursuit. Before
him was certain detection should he attempt to cross the street. On
either hand rose the walls of buildings. That he was trapped there
seemed little doubt.

He continued to stand motionless, watching the Austrian soldier.
Should the fellow turn toward him, he had but to withdraw his head
within the shadow of the building that hid his body. Possibly the
man might turn and take his beat in the opposite direction. In which
case Barney was sure he could dodge across the street, undetected.

Already the vague threat of pursuit from the direction of the inn
had developed into a certainty - he could hear men moving toward him
through the alley from the rear. Would the sentry never move!
Evidently not, until he heard the others coming through the alley.
Then he would turn, and the devil would be to pay for the American.

Barney was about hopeless. He had been in the war zone long enough
to know that it might prove a very disagreeable matter to be caught
sneaking through back alleys at night. There was a single chance - a
sort of forlorn hope - and that was to risk fate and make a dash
beneath the sentry's nose for the opposite alley mouth.

"Well, here goes," thought Barney. He had heard that many of the
Austrians were excellent shots. Visions of Beatrice, Nebraska,
swarmed his memory. They were pleasant visions, made doubly alluring
by the thought that the realities of them might never again be for

He turned once more toward the sounds of pursuit - the men upon his
track could not be over a square away - there was not an instant to
be lost. And then from above him, upon the opposite side of the
alley, came a low: "S-s-t!"

Barney looked up. Very dimly he could see the dark outline of a
window some dozen feet from the pavement, and framed within it the
lighter blotch that might have been a human face. Again came the
challenging: "S-s-t!" Yes, there was someone above, signaling to

"S-s-t!" replied Barney. He knew that he had been discovered, and
could think of no better plan for throwing the discoverer off his
guard than to reply.

Then a soft voice floated down to him - a woman's voice!

"Is that you?" The tongue was Serbian. Barney could understand it,
though he spoke it but indifferently.

"Yes," he replied truthfully.

"Thank Heaven!" came the voice from above. "I have been watching
you, and thought you one of the Austrian pigs. Quick! They are
coming - I can hear them;" and at the same instant Barney saw
something drop from the window to the ground. He crossed the alley
quickly, and could have shouted in relief for what he found
there - the end of a knotted rope dangling from above.

His pursuers were almost upon him when he seized the rude ladder to
clamber upward. At the window's ledge a firm, young hand reached out
and, seizing his own, almost dragged him through the window. He
turned to look back into the alley. He had been just in time; the
Austrian sentry, alarmed by the sound of approaching footsteps down
the alley, had stepped into view. He stood there now with leveled
rifle, a challenge upon his lips. From the advancing party came a
satisfactory reply.

At the same instant the girl beside him in the Stygian blackness of
the room threw her arms about Barney's neck and drew his face down
to hers.

"Oh, Stefan," she whispered, "what a narrow escape! It makes me
tremble to think of it. They would have shot you, my Stefan!"

The American put an arm about the girl's shoulders, and raised one
hand to her cheek - it might have been in caress, but it wasn't. It
was to smother the cry of alarm he anticipated would follow the
discovery that he was not "Stefan." He bent his lips close to her

"Do not make an outcry," he whispered in very poor Serbian. "I am
not Stefan; but I am a friend."

The exclamation of surprise or fright that he had expected was not
forthcoming. The girl lowered her arms from about his neck.

"Who are you?" she asked in a low whisper.

"I am an American war correspondent," replied Barney, "but if the
Austrians get hold of me now it will be mighty difficult to convince
them that I am not a spy." And then a sudden determination came to
him to trust his fate to this unknown girl, whose face, even, he had
never seen. "I am entirely at your mercy," he said. "There are
Austrian soldiers in the street below. You have but to call to them
to send me before the firing squad - or, you can let me remain here
until I can find an opportunity to get away in safety. I am trying
to reach Serbia."

"Why do you wish to reach Serbia?" asked the girl suspiciously.

"I have discovered too many enemies in Austria tonight to make it
safe for me to remain," he replied, "and, further, my original
intention was to report the war from the Serbian side."

The girl hesitated for a while, evidently in thought.

"They are moving on," suggested Barney. "If you are going to give
me up you'd better do it at once."

"I'm not going to give you up," replied the girl. "I'm going to
keep you prisoner until Stefan returns - he will know best what to do
with you. Now you must come with me and be locked up. Do not try to
escape - I have a revolver in my hand," and to give her prisoner
physical proof of the weapon he could not see she thrust the muzzle
against his side.

"I'll take your word for the gun," said Barney, "if you'll just turn
it in the other direction. Go ahead - I'll follow you."

"No, you won't," replied the girl. "You'll go first; but before
that you'll raise your hands above your head. I want to search you."

Barney did as he was bid and a moment later felt deft fingers
running over his clothing in search of concealed weapons. Satisfied
at last that he was unarmed, the girl directed him to precede her,
guiding his steps from behind with a hand upon his arm. Occasionally
he felt the muzzle of her revolver touch his body. It was a most
unpleasant sensation.

They crossed the room to a door which his captor directed him to
open, and after they had passed through and she had closed it behind
them the girl struck a match and lit a candle which stood upon a
little bracket on the partition wall. The dim light of the tallow
dip showed Barney that he was in a narrow hall from which several
doors opened into different rooms. At one end of the hall a stairway
led to the floor below, while at the opposite end another flight
disappeared into the darkness above.

"This way," said the girl, motioning toward the stairs that led

Barney had turned toward her as she struck the match, obtaining an
excellent view of her features. They were clear-cut and regular. Her
eyes were large and very dark. Dark also was her hair, which was
piled in great heaps upon her finely shaped head. Altogether the
face was one not easily to be forgotten. Barney could scarce have
told whether the girl was beautiful or not, but that she was
striking there could be no doubt.

He preceded her up the stairway to a door at the top. At her
direction he turned the knob and entered a small room in which was a
cot, an ancient dresser and a single chair.

"You will remain here," she said, "until Stefan returns. Stefan will
know what to do with you." Then she left him, taking the light with
her, and Barney heard a key turn in the lock of the door after she
had closed it. Presently her footfalls died out as she descended to
the lower floors.

"Anyhow," thought the American, "this is better than the Austrians.
I don't know what Stefan will do with me, but I have a rather vivid
idea of what the Austrians would have done to me if they'd caught me
sneaking through the alleys of Burgova at midnight."

Throwing himself on the cot Barney was soon asleep, for though his
predicament was one that, under ordinary circumstances might have

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Mad King → online text (page 11 of 22)