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toward Blentz with only his staff in attendance. It was long past
midnight when the lights of the town appeared directly ahead of the
little party. They rode at a trot along the road which passes
through the village to wind upward again toward the ancient feudal
castle that looks down from its hilltop upon the town.

At the edge of the village Von der Tann was thunderstruck by a
challenge from a sentry posted in the road, nor was his dismay
lessened when he discovered that the man was an Austrian.

"What is the meaning of this?" he cried angrily. "What are Austrian
soldiers doing barring the roads of Lutha to the chancellor of

The sentry called an officer. The latter was extremely suave. He
regretted the incident, but his orders were most positive - no one
could be permitted to pass through the lines without an order from
the general commanding. He would go at once to the general and see
if he could procure the necessary order. Would the prince be so good
as to await his return? Von der Tann turned on the young officer,
his face purpling with rage.

"I will pass nowhere within the boundaries of Lutha," he said, "upon
the order of an Austrian. You may tell your general that my only
regret is that I have not with me tonight the necessary force to
pass through his lines to my king - another time I shall not be so
handicapped," and Ludwig, Prince von der Tann, wheeled his mount and
spurred away in the direction of Lustadt, at his heels an extremely
angry and revengeful staff.



Long before Prince von der Tann reached Lustadt he had come to the
conclusion that Leopold was in virtue a prisoner in Blentz. To prove
his conclusion he directed one of his staff to return to Blentz and
attempt to have audience with the king.

"Risk anything," he instructed the officer to whom he had entrusted
the mission. "Submit, if necessary, to the humiliation of seeking an
Austrian pass through the lines to the castle. See the king at any
cost and deliver this message to him and to him alone and secretly.
Tell him my fears, and that if I do not have word from him within
twenty-four hours I shall assume that he is indeed a prisoner.

"I shall then direct the mobilization of the army and take such
steps as seem fit to rescue him and drive the invaders from the soil
of Lutha. If you do not return I shall understand that you are held
prisoner by the Austrians and that my worst fears have been

But Prince Ludwig was one who believed in being forehanded and so it
happened that the orders for the mobilization of the army of Lutha
were issued within fifteen minutes of his return to Lustadt. It
would do no harm, thought the old man, with a grim smile, to get
things well under way a day ahead of time. This accomplished, he
summoned the Serbian minister, with what purpose and to what effect
became historically evident several days later. When, after
twenty-four hours' absence, his aide had not returned from Blentz,
the chancellor had no regrets for his forehandedness.

In the castle of Peter of Blentz the king of Lutha was being
entertained royally. He was told nothing of the attempt of his
chancellor to see him, nor did he know that a messenger from Prince
von der Tann was being held a prisoner in the camp of the Austrians
in the village. He was surrounded by the creatures of Prince Peter
and by Peter's staunch allies, the Austrian minister and the
Austrian officers attached to the expeditionary force occupying the
town. They told him that they had positive information that the
Serbians already had crossed the frontier into Lutha, and that the
presence of the Austrian troops was purely for the protection of

It was not until the morning following the rebuff of Prince von der
Tann that Peter of Blentz, Count Zellerndorf and Maenck heard of the
occurrence. They were chagrined by the accident, for they were not
ready to deliver their final stroke. The young officer of the guard
had, of course, but followed his instructions - who would have
thought that old Von der Tann would come to Blentz! That he
suspected their motives seemed apparent, and now that his rebuff at
the gates had aroused his ire and, doubtless, crystallized his
suspicions, they might find in him a very ugly obstacle to the
fruition of their plans.

With Von der Tann actively opposed to them, the value of having the
king upon their side would be greatly minimized. The people and the
army had every confidence in the old chancellor. Even if he opposed
the king there was reason to believe that they might still side with

"What is to be done?" asked Zellerndorf. "Is there no way either to
win or force Von der Tann to acquiescence?"

"I think we can accomplish it," said Prince Peter, after a moment of
thought. "Let us see Leopold. His mind has been prepared to receive
almost gratefully any insinuations against the loyalty of Von der
Tann. With proper evidence the king may easily be persuaded to order
the chancellor's arrest - possibly his execution as well."

So they saw the king, only to meet a stubborn refusal upon the part
of Leopold to accede to their suggestions. He still was madly in
love with Von der Tann's daughter, and he knew that a blow delivered
at her father would only tend to increase her bitterness toward him.
The conspirators were nonplussed.

They had looked for a comparatively easy road to the consummation of
their desires. What in the world could be the cause of the king's
stubborn desire to protect the man they knew he feared, hated, and
mistrusted with all the energy of his suspicious nature? It was the
king himself who answered their unspoken question.

"I cannot believe in the disloyalty of Prince Ludwig," he said, "nor
could I, even if I desired it, take such drastic steps as you
suggest. Some day the Princess Emma, his daughter, will be my

Count Zellerndorf was the first to grasp the possibilities that lay
in the suggestion the king's words carried.

"Your majesty," he cried, "there is a way to unite all factions in
Lutha. It would be better to insure the loyalty of Von der Tann
through bonds of kinship than to antagonize him. Marry the Princess
Emma at once.

"Wait, your majesty," he added, as Leopold raised an objecting hand.
"I am well informed as to the strange obstinacy of the princess, but
for the welfare of the state - yes, for the sake of your very throne,
sire - you should exert your royal prerogatives and command the
Princess Emma to carry out the terms of your betrothal."

"What do you mean, Zellerndorf?" asked the king.

"I mean, sire, that we should bring the princess here and compel her
to marry you."

Leopold shook his head. "You do not know her," he said. "You do not
know the Von der Tann nature - one cannot force a Von der Tann."

"Pardon, sire," urged Zellerndorf, "but I think it can be
accomplished. If the Princess Emma knew that your majesty believed
her father to be a traitor - that the order for his arrest and
execution but awaited your signature - I doubt not that she would
gladly become queen of Lutha, with her father's life and liberty as
a wedding gift."

For several minutes no one spoke after Count Zellerndorf had ceased.
Leopold sat looking at the toe of his boot. Peter of Blentz, Maenck,
and the Austrian watched him intently. The possibilities of the plan
were sinking deep into the minds of all four. At last the king rose.
He was mumbling to himself as though unconscious of the presence of
the others.

"She is a stubborn jade," he mumbled. "It would be an excellent
lesson for her. She needs to be taught that I am her king," and then
as though his conscience required a sop, "I shall be very good to
her. Afterward she will be happy." He turned toward Zellerndorf.
"You think it can be done?"

"Most assuredly, your majesty. We shall take immediate steps to
fetch the Princess Emma to Blentz," and the Austrian rose and backed
from the apartment lest the king change his mind. Prince Peter and
Maenck followed him.

Princess Emma von der Tann sat in her boudoir in her father's castle
in the Old Forest. Except for servants, she was alone in the
fortress, for Prince von der Tann was in Lustadt. Her mind was
occupied with memories of the young American who had entered her
life under such strange circumstances two years before - memories
that had been awakened by the return of Lieutenant Otto Butzow to
Lutha. He had come directly to her father and had been attached to
the prince's personal staff.

From him she had heard a great deal about Barney Custer, and the old
interest, never a moment forgotten during these two years, was
reawakened to all its former intensity.

Butzow had accompanied Prince Ludwig to Lustadt, but Princess Emma
would not go with them. For two years she had not entered the
capital, and much of that period had been spent in Paris. Only
within the past fortnight had she returned to Lutha.

In the middle of the morning her reveries were interrupted by the
entrance of a servant bearing a message. She had to read it twice
before she could realize its purport; though it was plainly
worded - the shock of it had stunned her. It was dated at Lustadt and
signed by one of the palace functionaries:

Prince von der Tann has suffered a slight stroke. Do not be
alarmed, but come at once. The two troopers who bear this message
will act as your escort.

It required but a few minutes for the girl to change to her riding
clothes, and when she ran down into the court she found her horse
awaiting her in the hands of her groom, while close by two mounted
troopers raised their hands to their helmets in salute.

A moment later the three clattered over the drawbridge and along the
road that leads toward Lustadt. The escort rode a short distance
behind the girl, and they were hard put to it to hold the mad pace
which she set them.

A few miles from Tann the road forks. One branch leads toward the
capital and the other winds over the hills in the direction of
Blentz. The fork occurs within the boundaries of the Old Forest.
Great trees overhang the winding road, casting a twilight shade even
at high noon. It is a lonely spot, far from any habitation.

As the Princess Emma approached the fork she reined in her mount,
for across the road to Lustadt a dozen horsemen barred her way. At
first she thought nothing of it, turning her horse's head to the
righthand side of the road to pass the party, all of whom were in
uniform; but as she did so one of the men reined directly in her
path. The act was obviously intentional.

The girl looked quickly up into the man's face, and her own went
white. He who stopped her way was Captain Ernst Maenck. She had not
seen the man for two years, but she had good cause to remember him
as the governor of the castle of Blentz and the man who had
attempted to take advantage of her helplessness when she had been a
prisoner in Prince Peter's fortress. Now she looked straight into
the fellow's eyes.

"Let me pass, please," she said coldly.

"I am sorry," replied Maenck with an evil smile; "but the king's
orders are that you accompany me to Blentz - the king is there."

For answer the girl drove her spur into her mount's side. The animal
leaped forward, striking Maenck's horse on the shoulder and half
turning him aside, but the man clutched at the girl's bridle-rein,
and, seizing it, brought her to a stop.

"You may as well come voluntarily, for come you must," he said. "It
will be easier for you."

"I shall not come voluntarily," she replied. "If you take me to
Blentz you will have to take me by force, and if my king is not
sufficiently a gentleman to demand an accounting of you, I am at
least more fortunate in the possession of a father who will."

"Your father will scarce wish to question the acts of his king,"
said Maenck - "his king and the husband of his daughter."

"What do you mean?" she cried.

"That before you are many hours older, your highness, you will be
queen of Lutha."

The Princess Emma turned toward her tardy escort that had just
arrived upon the scene.

"This person has stopped me," she said, "and will not permit me to
continue toward Lustadt. Make a way for me; you are armed!"

Maenck smiled. "Both of them are my men," he explained.

The girl saw it all now - the whole scheme to lure her to Blentz.
Even then, though, she could not believe the king had been one of
the conspirators of the plot.

Weak as he was he was still a Rubinroth, and it was difficult for a
Von der Tann to believe in the duplicity of a member of the house
they had served so loyally for centuries. With bowed head the
princess turned her horse into the road that led toward Blentz. Half
the troopers preceded her, the balance following behind.

Maenck wondered at the promptness of her surrender.

"To be a queen - ah! that was the great temptation," he thought but
he did not know what was passing in the girl's mind. She had seen
that escape for the moment was impossible, and so had decided to
bide her time until a more propitious chance should come. In silence
she rode among her captors. The thought of being brought to Blentz
alive was unbearable.

Somewhere along the road there would be an opportunity to escape.
Her horse was fleet; with a short start he could easily outdistance
these heavier cavalry animals and as a last resort she could - she
must - find some way to end her life, rather than to be dragged to
the altar beside Leopold of Lutha.

Since childhood Emma von der Tann had ridden these hilly roads. She
knew every lane and bypath for miles around. She knew the short
cuts, the gullies and ravines. She knew where one might, with a good
jumper, save a wide detour, and as she rode toward Blentz she passed
in review through her mind each of the many spots where a sudden
break for liberty might have the best chance to succeed.

And at last she hit upon the place where a quick turn would take her
from the main road into the roughest sort of going for one not
familiar with the trail. Maenck and his soldiers had already
partially relaxed their vigilance. The officer had come to the
conclusion that his prisoner was resigned to her fate and that,
after all, the fate of being forced to be queen did not appear so
dark to her.

They had wound up a wooded hill and were half way up to the summit.
The princess was riding close to the right-hand side of the road.
Quite suddenly, and before a hand could be raised to stay her, she
wheeled her mount between two trees, struck home her spur, and was
gone into the wood upon the steep hillside.

With an oath, Maenck cried to his men to be after her. He himself
spurred into the forest at the point where the girl had disappeared.
So sudden had been her break for liberty and so quickly had the
foliage swallowed her that there was something almost uncanny in it.

A hundred yards from the road the trees were further apart, and
through them the pursuers caught a glimpse of their quarry. The girl
was riding like mad along the rough, uneven hillside. Her mount,
surefooted as a chamois, seemed in his element. But two of the
horses of her pursuers were as swift, and under the cruel spurs of
their riders were closing up on their fugitive. The girl urged her
horse to greater speed, yet still the two behind closed in.

A hundred yards ahead lay a deep and narrow gully, hid by bushes
that grew rankly along its verge. Straight toward this the Princess
Emma von der Tann rode. Behind her came her pursuers - two quite
close and the others trailing farther in the rear. The girl reined
in a trifle, letting the troopers that were closest to her gain
until they were but a few strides behind, then she put spur to her
horse and drove him at topmost speed straight toward the gully. At
the bushes she spoke a low word in his backlaid ears, raised him
quickly with the bit, leaning forward as he rose in air. Like a bird
that animal took the bushes and the gully beyond, while close behind
him crashed the two luckless troopers.

Emma von der Tann cast a single backward glance over her shoulder,
as her horse regained his stride upon the opposite side of the
gully, to see her two foremost pursuers plunging headlong into it.
Then she shook free her reins and gave her mount his head along a
narrow trail that both had followed many times before.

Behind her, Maenck and the balance of his men came to a sudden stop
at the edge of the gully. Below them one of the troopers was
struggling to his feet. The other lay very still beneath his
motionless horse. With an angry oath Maenck directed one of his men
to remain and help the two who had plunged over the brink, then with
the others he rode along the gully searching for a crossing.

Before they found one their captive was a mile ahead of them, and,
barring accident, quite beyond recapture. She was making for a
highway that would lead her to Lustadt. Ordinarily she had been wont
to bear a little to the north-east at this point and strike back
into the road that she had just left; but today she feared to do so
lest she be cut off before she gained the north and south highroad
which the other road crossed a little farther on.

To her right was a small farm across which she had never ridden, for
she always had made it a point never to trespass upon fenced
grounds. On the opposite side of the farm was a wood, and somewhere
beyond that a small stream which the highroad crossed upon a little
bridge. It was all new country to her, but it must be ventured.

She took the fence at the edge of the clearing and then reined in a
moment to look behind her. A mile away she saw the head and
shoulders of a horseman above some low bushes - the pursuers had
found a way through the gully.

Turning once more to her flight the girl rode rapidly across the
fields toward the wood. Here she found a high wire fence so close to
thickly growing trees upon the opposite side that she dared not
attempt to jump it - there was no point at which she would not have
been raked from the saddle by overhanging boughs. Slipping to the
ground she attacked the barrier with her bare hands, attempting to
tear away the staples that held the wire in place. For several
minutes she surged and tugged upon the unyielding metal strand. An
occasional backward glance revealed to her horrified eyes the rapid
approach of her enemies. One of them was far in advance of the
others - in another moment he would be upon her.

With redoubled fury she turned again to the fence. A superhuman
effort brought away a staple. One wire was down and an instant later
two more. Standing with one foot upon the wires to keep them from
tangling about her horse's legs, she pulled her mount across into
the wood. The foremost horseman was close upon her as she finally
succeeded in urging the animal across the fallen wires.

The girl sprang to her horse's side just as the man reached the
fence. The wires, released from her weight, sprang up breast high
against his horse. He leaped from the saddle the instant that the
girl was swinging into her own. Then the fellow jumped the fence and
caught her bridle.

She struck at him with her whip, lashing him across the head and
face, but he clung tightly, dragged hither and thither by the
frightened horse, until at last he managed to reach the girl's arm
and drag her to the ground.

Almost at the same instant a man, unkempt and disheveled, sprang
from behind a tree and with a single blow stretched the trooper
unconscious upon the ground.



As Barney Custer raced along the Austrian highroad toward the
frontier and Lutha, his spirits rose to a pitch of buoyancy to which
they had been strangers for the past several days. For the first
time in many hours it seemed possible to Barney to entertain
reasonable hopes of escape from the extremely dangerous predicament
into which he had gotten himself.

He was even humming a gay little tune as he drove into a tiny hamlet
through which the road wound. No sign of military appeared to fill
him with apprehension. He was very hungry and the odor of cooking
fell gratefully upon his nostrils. He drew up before the single inn,
and presently, washed and brushed, was sitting before the first meal
he had seen for two days. In the enjoyment of the food he almost
forgot the dangers he had passed through, or that other dangers
might be lying in wait for him at his elbow.

From the landlord he learned that the frontier lay but three miles
to the south of the hamlet. Three miles! Three miles to Lutha! What
if there was a price upon his head in that kingdom? It was HER home.
It had been his mother's birthplace. He loved it.

Further, he must enter there and reach the ear of old Prince von der
Tann. Once more he must save the king who had shown such scant
gratitude upon another occasion.

For Leopold, Barney Custer did not give the snap of his fingers; but
what Leopold, the king, stood for in the lives and sentiments of the
Luthanians - of the Von der Tanns - was very dear to the American
because it was dear to a trim, young girl and to a rugged, leonine,
old man, of both of whom Barney was inordinately fond. And possibly,
too, it was dear to him because of the royal blood his mother had
bequeathed him.

His meal disposed of to the last morsel, and paid for, Barney
entered the stolen car and resumed his journey toward Lutha. That he
could remain there he knew to be impossible, but in delivering his
news to Prince Ludwig he might have an opportunity to see the
Princess Emma once again - it would be worth risking his life for, of
that he was perfectly satisfied. And then he could go across into
Serbia with the new credentials that he had no doubt Prince von der
Tann would furnish him for the asking to replace those the Austrians
had confiscated.

At the frontier Barney was halted by an Austrian customs officer;
but when the latter recognized the military car and the Austrian
uniform of the driver he waved him through without comment. Upon the
other side the American expected possible difficulty with the
Luthanian customs officer, but to his surprise he found the little
building deserted, and none to bar his way. At last he was in
Lutha - by noon on the following day he should be at Tann.

To reach the Old Forest by the best roads it was necessary to bear a
little to the southeast, passing through Tafelberg and striking the
north and south highway between that point and Lustadt, to which he
could hold until reaching the east and west road that runs through
both Tann and Blentz on its way across the kingdom.

The temptation to stop for a few minutes in Tafelberg for a visit
with his old friend Herr Kramer was strong, but fear that he might
be recognized by others, who would not guard his secret so well as
the shopkeeper of Tafelberg would, decided him to keep on his way.
So he flew through the familiar main street of the quaint old
village at a speed that was little, if any less, than fifty miles an

On he raced toward the south, his speed often necessarily diminished
upon the winding mountain roads, but for the most part clinging to a
reckless mileage that caused the few natives he encountered to flee
to the safety of the bordering fields, there to stand in
open-mouthed awe.

Halfway between Tafelberg and the crossroad into which he purposed
turning to the west toward Tann there is an S-curve where the bases
of two small hills meet. The road here is narrow and
treacherous - fifteen miles an hour is almost a reckless speed at
which to travel around the curves of the S. Beyond are open fields
upon either side of the road.

Barney took the turns carefully and had just emerged into the last
leg of the S when he saw, to his consternation, a half-dozen
Austrian infantrymen lolling beside the road. An officer stood near
them talking with a sergeant. To turn back in that narrow road was
impossible. He could only go ahead and trust to his uniform and the
military car to carry him safely through. Before he reached the
group of soldiers the fields upon either hand came into view. They
were dotted with tents, wagons, motor-vans and artillery. What did
it mean? What was this Austrian army doing in Lutha?

Already the officer had seen him. This was doubtless an outpost,
however clumsily placed it might be for strategic purposes. To pass
it was Barney's only hope. He had passed through one Austrian
army - why not another? He approached the outpost at a moderate rate
of speed - to tear toward it at the rate his heart desired would be
to awaken not suspicion only but positive conviction that his

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Mad King → online text (page 14 of 22)