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purposes and motives were ulterior.

The officer stepped toward the road as though to halt him. Barney
pretended to be fussing with some refractory piece of controlling
mechanism beneath the cowl - apparently he did not see the officer.
He was just opposite him when the latter shouted to him. Barney
straightened up quickly and saluted, but did not stop.

"Halt!" cried the officer.

Barney pointed down the road in the direction in which he was

"Halt!" repeated the officer, running to the car.

Barney glanced ahead. Two hundred yards farther on was another
post - beyond that he saw no soldiers. He turned and shouted a volley
of intentionally unintelligible jargon at the officer, continuing to
point ahead of him.

He hoped to confuse the man for the few seconds necessary for him to
reach the last post. If the soldiers there saw that he had been
permitted to pass through the first they doubtless would not hinder
his further passage. That they were watching him Barney could see.

He had passed the officer now. There was no necessity for
dalliance. He pressed the accelerator down a trifle. The car moved
forward at increased speed. A final angry shout broke from the
officer behind him, followed by a quick command. Barney did not have
to wait long to learn the tenor of the order, for almost immediately
a shot sounded from behind and a bullet whirred above his head.
Another shot and another followed.

Barney was pressing the accelerator downward to the limit. The car
responded nobly - there was no sputtering, no choking. Just a rapid
rush of increasing momentum as the machine gained headway by leaps
and bounds.

The bullets were ripping the air all about him. Just ahead the
second outpost stood directly in the center of the road. There were
three soldiers and they were taking deliberate aim, as carefully as
though upon the rifle range. It seemed to Barney that they couldn't
miss him. He swerved the car suddenly from one side of the road to
the other. At the rate that it was going the move was fraught with
but little less danger than the supine facing of the leveled guns

The three rifles spoke almost simultaneously. The glass of the
windshield shattered in Barney's face. There was a hole in the
left-hand front fender that had not been there before.

"Rotten shooting," commented Barney Custer, of Beatrice.

The soldiers still stood in the center of the road firing at the
swaying car as, lurching from side to side, it bore down upon them.
Barney sounded the raucous military horn; but the soldiers seemed
unconscious of their danger - they still stood there pumping lead
toward the onrushing Juggernaut. At the last instant they attempted
to rush from its path; but they were too late.

At over sixty miles an hour the huge, gray monster bore down upon
them. One of them fell beneath the wheels - the two others were
thrown high in air as the bumper struck them. The body of the man
who had fallen beneath the wheels threw the car half way across the
road - only iron nerve and strong arms held it from the ditch upon
the opposite side.

Barney Custer had never been nearer death than at that moment - not
even when he faced the firing squad before the factory wall in
Burgova. He had done that without a tremor - he had heard the bullets
of the outpost whistling about his head a moment before, with a
smile upon his lips - he had faced the leveled rifles of the three he
had ridden down and he had not quailed. But now, his machine in the
center of the road again, he shook like a leaf, still in the grip of
the sickening nausea of that awful moment when the mighty, insensate
monster beneath him had reeled drunkenly in its mad flight, swerving
toward the ditch and destruction.

For a few minutes he held to his rapid pace before he looked around,
and then it was to see two cars climbing into the road from the
encampment in the field and heading toward him in pursuit. Barney
grinned. Once more he was master of his nerves. They'd have a merry
chase, he thought, and again he accelerated the speed of the car.
Once before he had had it up to seventy-five miles, and for a
moment, when he had had no opportunity to even glance at the
speedometer, much higher. Now he was to find the maximum limit of
the possibilities of the brave car he had come to look upon with
real affection.

The road ahead was comparatively straight and level. Behind him
came the enemy. Barney watched the road rushing rapidly out of sight
beneath the gray fenders. He glanced occasionally at the
speedometer. Seventy-five miles an hour. Seventy-seven! "Going
some," murmured Barney as he saw the needle vibrate up to eighty.
Gradually he nursed her up and up to greater speed.

Eighty-five! The trees were racing by him in an indistinct blur of
green. The fences were thin, wavering lines - the road a white-gray
ribbon, ironed by the terrific speed to smooth unwrinkledness. He
could not take his eyes from the business of steering to glance
behind; but presently there broke faintly through the whir of the
wind beating against his ears the faint report of a gun. He was
being fired upon again. He pressed down still further upon the
accelerator. The car answered to the pressure. The needle rose
steadily until it reached ninety miles an hour - and topped it.

Then from somewhere in the radiator hose a hissing and a spurt of
steam. Barney was dumbfounded. He had filled the cooling system at
the inn where he had eaten. It had been working perfectly before and
since. What could have happened? There could be but a single
explanation. A bullet from the gun of one of the three men who had
attempted to stop him at the second outpost had penetrated the
radiator, and had slowly drained it.

Barney knew that the end was near, since the usefulness of the car
in furthering his escape was over. At the speed he was going it
would be but a short time before the superheated pistons expanding
in their cylinders would tear the motor to pieces. Barney felt that
he would be lucky if he himself were not killed when it happened.

He reduced his speed and glanced behind. His pursuers had not
gained upon him, but they still were coming. A bend in the road shut
them from his view. A little way ahead the road crossed over a river
upon a wooden bridge. On the opposite side and to the right of the
road was a wood. It seemed to offer the most likely possibilities of
concealment in the vicinity. If he could but throw his pursuers off
the trail for a while he might succeed in escaping through the wood,
eventually reaching Tann on foot. He had a rather hazy idea of the
exact direction of the town and castle, but that he could find them
eventually he was sure.

The sight of the river and the bridge he was nearing suggested a
plan, and the ominous grating of the overheated motor warned him
that whatever he was to do he must do at once. As he neared the
bridge he reduced the speed of the car to fifteen miles an hour, and
set the hand throttle to hold it there. Still gripping the steering
wheel with one hand, he climbed over the left-hand door to the
running board. As the front wheels of the car ran up onto the bridge
Barney gave the steering wheel a sudden turn to the right, and

The car veered toward the wooden handrail, there was a splintering
of stanchions, as, with a crash, the big machine plunged through
them headforemost into the river. Without waiting to give even a
glance at his handiwork Barney Custer ran across the bridge, leaped
the fence upon the right-hand side and plunged into the shelter of
the wood.

Then he turned to look back up the road in the direction from which
his pursuers were coming. They were not in sight - they had not seen
his ruse. The water in the river was of sufficient depth to
completely cover the car - no sign of it appeared above the surface.

Barney turned into the wood smiling. His scheme had worked well.
The occupants of the two cars following him might not note the
broken handrail, or, if they did, might not connect it with Barney
in any way. In this event they would continue in the direction of
Lustadt, wondering what in the world had become of their quarry. Or,
if they guessed that his car had gone over into the river, they
would doubtless believe that its driver had gone with it. In either
event Barney would be given ample time to find his way to Tann.

He wished that he might find other clothes, since if he were dressed
otherwise there would be no reason to imagine that his pursuers
would recognize him should they come upon him. None of them could
possibly have gained a sufficiently good look at his features to
recognize them again.

The Austrian uniform, however, would convict him, or at least lay
him under suspicion, and in Barney's present case, suspicion was as
good as conviction were he to fall into the hands of the Austrians.
The garb had served its purpose well in aiding in his escape from
Austria, but now it was more of a menace than an asset.

For a week Barney Custer wandered through the woods and mountains of
Lutha. He did not dare approach or question any human being. Several
times he had seen Austrian cavalry that seemed to be scouring the
country for some purpose that the American could easily believe was
closely connected with himself. At least he did not feel disposed to
stop them, as they cantered past his hiding place, to inquire the
nature of their business.

Such farmhouses as he came upon he gave a wide berth except at
night, and then he only approached them stealthily for such
provender as he might filch. Before the week was up he had become an
expert chicken thief, being able to rob a roost as quietly as the
most finished carpetbagger on the sunny side of Mason and Dixon's

A careless housewife, leaving her lord and master's rough shirt and
trousers hanging upon the line overnight, had made possible for
Barney the coveted change in raiment. Now he was barged as a
Luthanian peasant. He was hatless, since the lady had failed to hang
out her mate's woolen cap, and Barney had not dared retain a single
vestige of the damning Austrian uniform.

What the peasant woman thought when she discovered the empty line
the following morning Barney could only guess, but he was morally
certain that her grief was more than tempered by the gold piece he
had wrapped in a bit of cloth torn from the soldier's coat he had
worn, which he pinned on the line where the shirt and pants had

It was somewhere near noon upon the seventh day that Barney skirting
a little stream, followed through the concealing shade of a forest
toward the west. In his peasant dress he now felt safer to approach
a farmhouse and inquire his way to Tann, for he had come a
sufficient distance from the spot where he had stolen his new
clothes to hope that they would not be recognized or that the news
of their theft had not preceded him.

As he walked he heard the sound of the feet of a horse galloping
over a dry field - muffled, rapid thud approaching closer upon his
right hand. Barney remained motionless. He was sure that the rider
would not enter the wood which, with its low-hanging boughs and
thick underbrush, was ill adapted to equestrianism.

Closer and closer came the sound until it ceased suddenly scarce a
hundred yards from where the American hid. He waited in silence to
discover what would happen next. Would the rider enter the wood on
foot? What was his purpose? Was it another Austrian who had by some
miracle discovered the whereabouts of the fugitive? Barney could
scarce believe it possible.

Presently he heard another horse approaching at the same mad gallop.
He heard the sound of rapid, almost frantic efforts of some nature
where the first horse had come to a stop. He heard a voice urging
the animal forward - pleading, threatening. A woman's voice. Barney's
excitement became intense in sympathy with the subdued excitement of
the woman whom he could not as yet see.

A moment later the second rider came to a stop at the same point at
which the first had reined in. A man's voice rose roughly. "Halt!"
it cried. "In the name of the king, halt!" The American could no
longer resist the temptation to see what was going on so close to
him "in the name of the king."

He advanced from behind his tree until he saw the two figures - a
man's and a woman's. Some bushes intervened - he could not get a
clear view of them, yet there was something about the figure of the
woman, whose back was toward him as she struggled to mount her
frightened horse, that caused him to leap rapidly toward her. He
rounded a tree a few paces from her just as the man - a trooper in
the uniform of the house of Blentz - caught her arm and dragged her
from the saddle. At the same instant Barney recognized the girl - it
was Princess Emma.

Before either the trooper or the princess were aware of his presence
he had leaped to the man's side and dealt him a blow that stretched
him at full length upon the ground - stunned.



For an instant the two stood looking at one another. The girl's
eyes were wide with incredulity, with hope, with fear. She was the
first to break the silence.

"Who are you?" she breathed in a half whisper.

"I don't wonder that you ask," returned the man. "I must look like
a scarecrow. I'm Barney Custer. Don't you remember me now? Who did
you think I was?"

The girl took a step toward him. Her eyes lighted with relief.

"Captain Maenck told me that you were dead," she said, "that you had
been shot as a spy in Austria, and then there is that uncanny
resemblance to the king - since he has shaved his beard it is
infinitely more remarkable. I thought you might be he. He has been
at Blentz and I knew that it was quite possible that he had
discovered treachery upon the part of Prince Peter. In which case he
might have escaped in disguise. I really wasn't sure that you were
not he until you spoke."

Barney stooped and removed the bandoleer of cartridges from the
fallen trooper, as well as his revolver and carbine. Then he took
the girl's hand and together they turned into the wood. Behind them
came the sound of pursuit. They heard the loud words of Maenck as he
ordered his three remaining men into the wood on foot. As he
advanced, Barney looked to the magazine of his carbine and the
cylinder of his revolver.

"Why were they pursuing you?" he asked.

"They were taking me to Blentz to force me to wed Leopold," she
replied. "They told me that my father's life depended upon my
consenting; but I should not have done so. The honor of my house is
more precious than the life of any of its members. I escaped them a
few miles back, and they were following to overtake me."

A noise behind them caused Barney to turn. One of the troopers had
come into view. He carried his carbine in his hands and at sight of
the man with the fugitive girl he raised it to his shoulder; but as
the American turned toward him his eyes went wide and his jaw

Instantly Barney knew that the fellow had noted his resemblance to
the king. Barney's body was concealed from the view of the other by
a bush which grew between them, so the man saw only the face of the
American. The fellow turned and shouted to Maenck: "The king is with

"Nonsense," came the reply from farther back in the wood. "If there
is a man with her and he will not surrender, shoot him." At the
words Barney and the girl turned once more to their flight. From
behind came the command to halt - "Halt! or I fire." Just ahead
Barney saw the river.

They were sure to be taken there if he was unable to gain the time
necessary to make good a crossing. Upon the opposite side was a
continuation of the wood. Behind them the leading trooper was
crashing through the underbrush in renewed pursuit. He came in sight
of them again, just as they reached the river bank. Once more his
carbine was leveled. Barney pushed the girl to her knees behind a
bush. Then he wheeled and fired, so quickly that the man with the
already leveled gun had no time to anticipate his act.

With a cry the fellow threw his hands above his head, staggered
forward and plunged full length upon his face. Barney gathered the
princess in his arms and plunged into the shallow stream. The girl
held his carbine as he stumbled over the rocky bottom. The water
deepened rapidly - the opposite shore seemed a long way off and
behind there were three more enemies in hot pursuit.

Under ordinary circumstances Barney could have found it in his heart
to wish the little Luthanian river as broad as the Mississippi, for
only under such circumstances as these could he ever hope to hold
the Princess Emma in his arms. Two years before she had told him
that she loved him; but at the same time she had given him to
understand that their love was hopeless. She might refuse to wed the
king; but that she should ever wed another while the king lived was
impossible, unless Leopold saw fit to release her from her betrothal
to him and sanction her marriage to another. That he ever would do
this was to those who knew him not even remotely possible.

He loved Emma von der Tann and he hated Barney Custer - hated him
with a jealous hatred that was almost fanatic in its intensity. And
even that the Princess Emma von der Tann would wed him were she free
to wed was a question that was not at all clear in the mind of
Barney Custer. He knew something of the traditions of this noble
family - of the pride of caste, of the fetish of blood that
inexorably dictated the ordering of their lives.

The girl had just said that the honor of her house was more precious
than the life of any of its members. How much more precious would it
be to her than her own material happiness! Barney Custer sighed and
struggled through the swirling waters that were now above his hips.
If he pressed the lithe form closer to him than necessity demanded,
who may blame him?

The girl, whose face was toward the bank they had just quitted, gave
no evidence of displeasure if she noted the fierce pressure of his
muscles. Her eyes were riveted upon the wood behind. Presently a man
emerged. He called to them in a loud and threatening tone.

Barney redoubled his Herculean efforts to gain the opposite bank.
He was in midstream now and the water had risen to his waist. The
girl saw Maenck and the other trooper emerge from the underbrush
beside the first. Maenck was crazed with anger. He shook his fist
and screamed aloud his threatening commands to halt, and then, of a
sudden, gave an order to one of the men at his side. Immediately the
fellow raised his carbine and fired at the escaping couple.

The bullet struck the water behind them. At the sound of the report
the girl raised the gun she held and leveled it at the group behind
her. She pulled the trigger. There was a sharp report, and one of
the troopers fell. Then she fired again, quickly, and again and
again. She did not score another hit, but she had the satisfaction
of seeing Maenck and the last of his troopers dodge back to the
safety of protecting trees.

"The cowards!" muttered Barney as the enemy's shot announced his
sinister intention; "they might have hit your highness."

The girl did not reply until she had ceased firing.

"Captain Maenck is notoriously a coward," she said. "He is hiding
behind a tree now with one of his men - I hit the other."

"You hit one of them!" exclaimed Barney enthusiastically.

"Yes," said the girl. "I have shot a man. I often wondered what
the sensation must be to have done such a thing. I should feel
terribly, but I don't. They were firing at you, trying to shoot you
in the back while you were defenseless. I am not sorry - I cannot be;
but I only wish that it had been Captain Maenck."

In a short time Barney reached the bank and, helping the girl up,
climbed to her side. A couple of shots followed them as they left
the river, but did not fall dangerously near. Barney took the
carbine and replied, then both of them disappeared into the wood.

For the balance of the day they tramped on in the direction of
Lustadt, making but little progress owing to the fear of
apprehension. They did not dare utilize the high road, for they were
still too close to Blentz. Their only hope lay in reaching the
protection of Prince von der Tann before they should be recaptured
by the king's emissaries. At dusk they came to the outskirts of a
town. Here they hid until darkness settled, for Barney had
determined to enter the place after dark and hire horses.

The American marveled at the bravery and endurance of the girl. He
had always supposed that a princess was so carefully guarded from
fatigue and privation all her life that the least exertion would
prove her undoing; but no hardy peasant girl could have endured more
bravely the hardships and dangers through which the Princess Emma
had passed since the sun rose that morning.

At last darkness came, and with it they approached and entered the
village. They kept to unlighted side streets until they met a
villager, of whom they inquired their way to some private house
where they might obtain refreshments. The fellow scrutinized them
with evident suspicion.

"There is an inn yonder," he said, pointing toward the main street.
"You can obtain food there. Why should respectable folk want to go
elsewhere than to the public inn? And if you are afraid to go there
you must have very good reasons for not wanting to be seen, and - "
he stopped short as though assailed by an idea. "Wait," he cried,
excitedly, "I will go and see if I can find a place for you. Wait
right here," and off he ran toward the inn.

"I don't like the looks of that," said Barney, after the man had
left them. "He's gone to report us to someone. Come, we'd better get
out of here before he comes back."

The two turned up a side street away from the inn. They had gone
but a short distance when they heard the sound of voices and the
thud of horses' feet behind them. The horses were coming at a walk
and with them were several men on foot. Barney took the princess'
hand and drew her up a hedge bordered driveway that led into private
grounds. In the shadows of the hedge they waited for the party
behind them to pass. It might be no one searching for them, but it
was just as well to be on the safe side - they were still near
Blentz. Before the men reached their hiding place a motor car
followed and caught up with them, and as the party came opposite the
driveway Barney and the princess overheard a portion of their

"Some of you go back and search the street behind the inn - they may
not have come this way." The speaker was in the motor car. "We will
follow along this road for a bit and then turn into the Lustadt
highway. If you don't find them go back along the road toward Tann."

In her excitement the Princess Emma had not noticed that Barney
Custer still held her hand in his. Now he pressed it. "It is
Maenck's voice," he whispered. "Every road will be guarded."

For a moment he was silent, thinking. The searching party had
passed on. They could still hear the purring of the motor as
Maenck's car moved slowly up the street.

"This is a driveway," murmured Barney. "People who build driveways
into their grounds usually have something to drive. Whatever it is
it should be at the other end of the driveway. Let's see if it will
carry two."

Still in the shadow of the hedge they moved cautiously toward the
upper end of the private road until presently they saw a building
looming in their path.

"A garage?" whispered Barney.

"Or a barn," suggested the princess.

"In either event it should contain something that can go," returned
the American. "Let us hope that it can go like - like - ah - the wind."

"And carry two," supplemented the princess.

"Wait here," said Barney. "If I get caught, run. Whatever happens
you mustn't be caught."

Princess Emma dropped back close to the hedge and Barney approached
the building, which proved to be a private garage. The doors were
locked, as also were the three windows. Barney passed entirely
around the structure halting at last upon the darkest side. Here was
a window. Barney tried to loosen the catch with the blade of his
pocket knife, but it wouldn't unfasten. His endeavors resulted only
in snapping short the blade of his knife. For a moment he stood
contemplating the baffling window. He dared not break the glass for
fear of arousing the inmates of the house which, though he could not
see it, might be close at hand.

Presently he recalled a scene he had witnessed on State Street in

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Mad King → online text (page 15 of 22)