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all was to die on the morrow because of what he had done to place
the Rubinroth upon his throne.

"Perhaps Lieutenant Butzow might find a way," suggested the officer.
"He or your father; they are both fond of Mr. Custer."

"Yes," said the girl dully, "see Lieutenant Butzow - he would do the

The officer bowed and hastened from the apartment in search of
Butzow. The girl approached the window and stood there for a long
time, looking out at the surging multitude that pressed around the
palace gates, filling Margaretha Street with a solid mass of happy

They cheered the king, the chancellor, the army; but most often they
cheered the king. From a despised monarch Leopold had risen in a
single bound to the position of a national idol.

Repeatedly he was called to the balcony over the grand entrance that
the people might feast their eyes on him. The princess wondered how
long it was before she herself would be forced to offer her
congratulations and, perchance, suffer his caresses. She shivered
and cringed at the thought, and then there came a knock upon the
door, and in answer to her permission it opened, and the king stood
upon the threshold alone.

At a glance the man took in the pain and sorrow mirrored upon the
girl's face. He stepped quickly across the room toward her.

"What is it?" he asked. "What is the matter?"

For a moment he had forgotten the part that he had been
playing - forgot that the Princess Emma was ignorant of his identity.
He had come to her to share with her the happiness of the hour - the
glory of the victorious arms of Lutha. For a time he had almost
forgotten that he was not the king, and now he was forgetting that
he was not Barney Custer to the girl who stood before him with
misery and hopelessness writ so large upon her countenance.

For a brief instant the girl did not reply. She was weighing the
problematical value of an attempt to enlist the king in the cause of
the American. Leopold had shown a spark of magnanimity when he had
written a pardon for Mr. Custer; might he not rise again above his
petty jealousy and save the American's life? It was a forlorn hope
to the woman who knew the true Leopold so well; but it was a hope.

"What is the matter?" the king repeated.

"I have just received word that Prince Peter has ignored your
commands, sire," replied the girl, "and that Mr. Custer is to be
shot tomorrow."

Barney's eyes went wide with incredulity. Here was a pretty pass,
indeed! The princess came close to him and seized his arm.

"You promised, sire," she said, "that he would not be harmed - you
gave your royal word. You can save him. You have an army at your
command. Do not forget that he once saved you."

The note of appeal in her voice and the sorrow in her eyes gave
Barney Custer a twinge of compunction. The necessity for longer
concealing his identity in so far as the salvation of Lutha was
concerned seemed past; but the American had intended to carry the
deception to the end.

He had given the matter much thought, but he could find no grounds
for belief that Emma von der Tann would be any happier in the
knowledge that her future husband had had nothing to do with the
victory of his army. If she was doomed to a life at his side, why
not permit her the grain of comfort that she might derive from the
memory of her husband's achievements upon the battlefield of
Lustadt? Why rob her of that little?

But now, face to face with her, and with the evidence of her
suffering so plain before him, Barney's intentions wavered. Like
most fighting men, he was tender in his dealings with women. And now
the last straw came in the form of a single tiny tear that trickled
down the girl's cheek. He seized the hand that lay upon his arm.

"Your highness," he said, "do not grieve for the American. He is not
worth it. He has deceived you. He is not at Blentz."

The girl drew her hand from his and straightened to her full height.

"What do you mean, sire?" she exclaimed. "Mr. Custer would not
deceive me even if he had an opportunity - which he has not had. But
if he is not at Blentz, where is he?"

Barney bowed his head and looked at the floor.

"He is here, your highness, asking your forgiveness," he said.

There was a puzzled expression upon the girl's face as she looked at
the man before her. She did not understand. Why should she? Barney
drew a diamond ring from his little finger and held it out to her.

"You gave it to me to cut a hole in the window of the garage where I
stole the automobile," he said. "I forgot to return it. Now do you
know who I am?"

Emma von der Tann's eyes showed her incredulity; then, act by act,
she recalled all that this man had said and done since they had
escaped from Blentz that had been so unlike the king she knew.

"When did you assume the king's identity?" she asked.

Barney told her all that had transpired in the king's apartments at
Blentz before she had been conducted to the king's presence.

"And Leopold is there now?" she asked.

"He is there," replied Barney, "and he is to be shot in the

"Gott!" exclaimed the girl. "What are we to do?"

"There is but one thing to do," replied the American, "and that is
for Butzow and me to ride to Blentz as fast as horses will carry us
and rescue the king."

"And then?" asked the girl, a shadow crossing her face.

"And then Barney Custer will have to beat it for the boundary," he
replied with a sorry smile.

She came quite close to him, laying her hands upon his shoulders.

"I cannot give you up now," she said simply. "I have tried to be
loyal to Leopold and the promise that my father made his king when I
was only a little girl; but since I thought that you were to be
shot, I have wished a thousand times that I had gone with you to
America two years ago. Take me with you now, Barney. We can send
Lieutenant Butzow to rescue the king, and before he has returned we
can be safe across the Serbian frontier."

The American shook his head.

"I got the king into this mess and I must get him out," he said.
"He may deserve to be shot, but it is up to me to prevent it, if I
can. And there is your father to consider. If Butzow rides to Blentz
and rescues the king, it may be difficult to get him back to Lustadt
without the truth of his identity and mine becoming known. With me
there, the change can be effected easily, and not even Butzow need
know what has happened.

"If the people should guess that it was not Leopold who won the
battle of Lustadt there might be the devil to pay, and your father
would go down along with the throne. No, I must stay until Leopold
is safe in Lustadt. But there is a hope for us. I may be able to
wrest from Leopold his sanction of our marriage. I shall not
hesitate to use threats to get it, and I rather imagine that he will
be in such a terror-stricken condition that he will assent to any
terms for his release from Blentz. If he gives me such a paper,
Emma, will you marry me?"

Perhaps there never had been a stranger proposal than this; but to
neither did it seem strange. For two years each had known the love
of the other. The girl's betrothal to the king had prevented an
avowal of their love while Barney posed in his own identity. Now
they merely accepted the conditions that had existed for two years
as though a matter of fact which had been often discussed between

"Of course I'll marry you," said the princess. "Why in the world
would I want you to take me to America otherwise?"

As Barney Custer took her in his arms he was happier than he had
ever before been in all his life, and so, too, was the Princess Emma
von der Tann.



After the American had shoved him through the secret doorway into
the tower room of the castle of Blentz, Leopold had stood for
several minutes waiting for the next command from his captor.
Presently, hearing no sound other than that of his own breathing,
the king ventured to speak. He asked the American what he purposed
doing with him next.

There was no reply. For another minute the king listened intently;
then he raised his hands and removed the bandage from his eyes. He
looked about him. The room was vacant except for himself. He
recognized it as the one in which he had spent ten years of his life
as a prisoner. He shuddered. What had become of the American? He
approached the door and listened. Beyond the panels he could hear
the two soldiers on guard there conversing. He called to them.

"What do you want?" shouted one of the men through the closed door.

"I want Prince Peter!" yelled the king. "Send him at once!"

The soldiers laughed.

"He wants Prince Peter," they mocked. "Wouldn't you rather have us
send the king to you?" they asked.

"I am the king!" yelled Leopold. "I am the king! Open the door,
pigs, or it will go hard with you! I shall have you both shot in the
morning if you do not open the door and fetch Prince Peter."

"Ah!" exclaimed one of the soldiers. "Then there will be three of
us shot together."

Leopold went white. He had not connected the sentence of the
American with himself; but now, quite vividly, he realized what it
might mean to him if he failed before dawn to convince someone that
he was not the American. Peter would not be awake at so early an
hour, and if he had no better success with others than he was having
with these soldiers, it was possible that he might be led out and
shot before his identity was discovered. The thing was preposterous.
The king's knees became suddenly quite weak. They shook, and his
legs gave beneath his weight so that he had to lean against the back
of a chair to keep from falling.

Once more he turned to the soldiers. This time he pleaded with
them, begging them to carry word to Prince Peter that a terrible
mistake had been made, and that it was the king and not the American
who was confined in the death chamber. But the soldiers only laughed
at him, and finally threatened to come in and beat him if he again
interrupted their conversation.

It was a white and shaken prisoner that the officer of the guard
found when he entered the room at dawn. The man before him, his face
streaked with tears of terror and self-pity, fell upon his knees
before him, beseeching him to carry word to Peter of Blentz, that he
was the king. The officer drew away with a gesture of disgust.

"I might well believe from your actions that you are Leopold," he
said; "for, by Heaven, you do not act as I have always imagined the
American would act in the face of danger. He has a reputation for
bravery that would suffer could his admirers see him now."

"But I am not the American," pleaded the king. "I tell you that the
American came to my apartments last night, overpowered me, forced me
to change clothing with him, and then led me back here."

A sudden inspiration came to the king with the memory of all that
had transpired during that humiliating encounter with the American.

"I signed a pardon for him!" he cried. "He forced me to do so. If
you think I am the American, you cannot kill me now, for there is a
pardon signed by the king, and an order for the American's immediate
release. Where is it? Do not tell me that Prince Peter did not
receive it."

"He received it," replied the officer, "and I am here to acquaint
you with the fact, but Prince Peter said nothing about your release.
All he told me was that you were not to be shot this morning," and
the man emphasized the last two words.

Leopold of Lutha spent two awful days a prisoner at Blentz, not
knowing at what moment Prince Peter might see fit to carry out the
verdict of the Austrian court martial. He could convince no one that
he was the king. Peter would not even grant him an audience. Upon
the evening of the third day, word came that the Austrians had been
defeated before Lustadt, and those that were not prisoners were
retreating through Blentz toward the Austrian frontier.

The news filtered to Leopold's prison room through the servant who
brought him his scant and rough fare. The king was utterly
disheartened before this word reached him. For the moment he seemed
to see a ray of hope, for, since the impostor had been victorious,
he would be in a position to force Peter of Blentz to give up the
true king.

There was the chance that the American, flushed with success and
power, might elect to hold the crown he had seized. Who would guess
the transfer that had been effected, or, guessing, would dare voice
his suspicions in the face of the power and popularity that Leopold
knew such a victory as the impostor had won must have given him in
the hearts and minds of the people of Lutha? Still, there was a bare
possibility that the American would be as good as his word, and
return the crown as he had promised. Though he hated to admit it,
the king had every reason to believe that the impostor was a man of
honor, whose bare word was as good as another's bond.

He was commencing, under this line of reasoning, to achieve a
certain hopeful content when the door to his prison opened and Peter
of Blentz, black and scowling, entered. At his elbow was Captain
Ernst Maenck.

"Leopold has defeated the Austrians," announced the former. "Until
you returned to Lutha he considered the Austrians his best friends.
I do not know how you could have reached or influenced him. It is to
learn how you accomplished it that I am here. The fact that he
signed your pardon indicates that his attitude toward you changed
suddenly - almost within an hour. There is something at the bottom of
it all, and that something I must know."

"I am Leopold!" cried the king. "Don't you recognize me, Prince
Peter? Look at me! Maenck must know me. It was I who wrote and
signed the American's pardon - at the point of the American's
revolver. He forced me to exchange clothing with him, and then he
brought me here to this room and left me."

The two men looked at the speaker and smiled.

"You bank too strongly, my friend," said Peter of Blentz, "upon your
resemblance to the king of Lutha. I will admit that it is strong,
but not so strong as to convince me of the truth of so improbable a
story. How in the world could the American have brought you through
the castle, from one end to the other, unseen? There was a guard
before the king's door and another before this. No, Herr Custer, you
will have to concoct a more plausible tale.

"No," and Peter of Blentz scowled savagely, as though to impress
upon his listener the importance of his next utterance, "there were
more than you and the king involved in his sudden departure from
Blentz and in his hasty change of policy toward Austria. To be quite
candid, it seems to me that it may be necessary to my future
welfare - vitally necessary, I may say - to know precisely how all
this occurred, and just what influence you have over Leopold of
Lutha. Who was it that acted as the go-between in the king's
negotiations with you, or rather, yours with the king? And what
argument did you bring to bear to force Leopold to the action he

"I have told you all that I know about the matter," whined the king.
"The American appeared suddenly in my apartment. When he brought me
here he first blindfolded me. I have no idea by what route we
traveled through the castle, and unless your guards outside this
door were bribed they can tell you more about how we got in here
than I can - provided we entered through that doorway," and the king
pointed to the door which had just opened to admit his two visitors.

"Oh, pshaw!" exclaimed Maenck. "There is but one door to this
room - if the king came in here at all, he came through that door."

"Enough!" cried Peter of Blentz. "I shall not be trifled with
longer. I shall give you until tomorrow morning to make a full
explanation of the truth and to form some plan whereby you may
utilize once more whatever influence you had over Leopold to the end
that he grant to myself and my associates his royal assurance that
our lives and property will be safe in Lutha."

"But I tell you it is impossible," wailed the king.

"I think not," sneered Prince Peter, "especially when I tell you
that if you do not accede to my wishes the order of the Austrian
military court that sentenced you to death at Burgova will be
carried out in the morning."

With his final words the two men turned and left the room. Behind
them, upon the floor, inarticulate with terror, knelt Leopold of
Lutha, his hands outstretched in supplication.

The long night wore its weary way to dawn at last. The sleepless
man, alternately tossing upon his bed and pacing the floor, looked
fearfully from time to time at the window through which the
lightening of the sky would proclaim the coming day and his last
hour on earth. His windows faced the west. At the foot of the hill
beneath the castle nestled the village of Blentz, once more
enveloped in peaceful silence since the Austrians were gone.

An unmistakable lessening of the darkness in the east had just
announced the proximity of day, when the king heard a clatter of
horses' hoofs upon the road before the castle. The sound ceased at
the gates and a loud voice broke out upon the stillness of the dying
night demanding entrance "in the name of the king."

New hope burst aflame in the breast of the condemned man. The
impostor had not forsaken him. Leopold ran to the window, leaning
far out. He heard the voices of the sentries in the barbican as they
conversed with the newcomers. Then silence came, broken only by the
rapid footsteps of a soldier hastening from the gate to the castle.
His hobnail shoes pounding upon the cobbles of the courtyard echoed
among the angles of the lofty walls. When he had entered the castle
the silence became oppressive. For five minutes there was no sound
other than the pawing of the horses outside the barbican and the
subdued conversation of their riders.

Presently the soldier emerged from the castle. With him was an
officer. The two went to the barbican. Again there was a parley
between the horsemen and the guard. Leopold could hear the officer
demanding terms. He would lower the drawbridge and admit them upon

One of these the king overheard - it concerned an assurance of full
pardon for Peter of Blentz and the garrison; and again Leopold heard
the officer addressing someone as "your majesty."

Ah, the impostor was there in person. Ach, Gott! How Leopold of
Lutha hated him, and yet, in the hands of this American lay not only
his throne but his very life as well.

Evidently the negotiations proved unsuccessful for after a time the
party wheeled their horses from the gate and rode back toward
Blentz. As the sound of the iron-shod hoofs diminished in the
distance, with them diminished the hopes of the king.

When they ceased entirely his hopes were at an end, to be supplanted
by renewed terror at the turning of the knob of his prison door as
it swung open to admit Maenck and a squad of soldiers.

"Come!" ordered the captain. "The king has refused to intercede in
your behalf. When he returns with his army he will find your body at
the foot of the west wall in the courtyard."

With an ear-piercing shriek that rang through the grim old castle,
Leopold of Lutha flung his arms above his head and lunged forward
upon his face. Roughly the soldiers seized the unconscious man and
dragged him from the room.

Along the corridor they hauled him and down the winding stairs
within the north tower to the narrow slit of a door that opened upon
the courtyard. To the foot of the west wall they brought him,
tossing him brutally to the stone flagging. Here one of the soldiers
brought a flagon of water and dashed it in the face of the king. The
cold douche returned Leopold to a consciousness of the nearness of
his impending fate.

He saw the little squad of soldiers before him. He saw the cold,
gray wall behind, and, above, the cold, gray sky of early dawn. The
dismal men leaning upon their shadowy guns seemed unearthly specters
in the weird light of the hour that is neither God's day nor devil's
night. With difficulty two of them dragged Leopold to his feet.

Then the dismal men formed in line before him at the opposite side
of the courtyard. Maenck stood to the left of them. He was giving
commands. They fell upon the doomed man's ears with all the cruelty
of physical blows. Tears coursed down his white cheeks. With
incoherent mumblings he begged for his life. Leopold, King of Lutha,
trembling in the face of death!



Twenty troopers had ridden with Lieutenant Butzow and the false king
from Lustadt to Blentz. During the long, hard ride there had been
little or no conversation between the American and his friend, for
Butzow was still unsuspicious of the true identity of the man who
posed as the ruler of Lutha. The lieutenant was all anxiety to reach
Blentz and rescue the American he thought imprisoned there and in
danger of being shot.

At the gate they were refused admittance unless the king would
accept conditions. Barney refused - there was another way to gain
entrance to Blentz that not even the master of Blentz knew. Butzow
urged him to accede to anything to save the life of the American. He
recalled all that the latter had done in the service of Lutha and
Leopold. Barney leaned close to the other's ear.

"If they have not already shot him," he whispered, "we shall save
the prisoner yet. Let them think that we give up and are returning
to Lustadt. Then follow me."

Slowly the little cavalcade rode down from the castle of Blentz
toward the village. Just out of sight of the grim pile where the
road wound down into a ravine Barney turned his horse's head up the
narrow defile. In single file Butzow and the troopers followed until
the rank undergrowth precluded farther advance. Here the American
directed that they dismount, and, leaving the horses in charge of
three troopers, set out once more with the balance of the company on

It was with difficulty that the men forced their way through the
bushes, but they had not gone far when their leader stopped before a
sheer wall of earth and stone, covered with densely growing
shrubbery. Here he groped in the dim light, feeling his way with his
hands before him, while at his heels came his followers. At last he
separated a wall of bushes and disappeared within the aperture his
hands had made. One by one his men followed, finding themselves in
inky darkness, but upon a smooth stone floor and with stone walls
close upon either hand. Those who lifted their hands above their
heads discovered an arched stone ceiling close above them.

Along this buried corridor the "king" led them, for though he had
never traversed it himself the Princess Emma had, and from her he
had received minute directions. Occasionally he struck a match, and
presently in the fitful glare of one of these he and those directly
behind him saw the foot of a ladder that disappeared in the Stygian
darkness above.

"Follow me up this, very quietly," he said to those behind him. "Up
to the third landing."

They did as he bid them. At the third landing Barney felt for the
latch he knew was there - he was on familiar ground now. Finding it
he pushed open the door it held in place, and through a tiny crack
surveyed the room beyond. It was vacant. The American threw the door
wide and stepped within. Directly behind him was Butzow, his eyes
wide in wonderment. After him filed the troopers until seventeen of
them stood behind their lieutenant and the "king."

Through the window overlooking the courtyard came a piteous wailing.
Barney ran to the casement and looked out. Butzow was at his side.

"Himmel!" ejaculated the Luthanian. "They are about to shoot him.
Quick, your majesty," and without waiting to see if he were followed
the lieutenant raced for the door of the apartment. Close behind him
came the American and the seventeen.

It took but a moment to reach the stairway down which the rescuers
tumbled pell-mell.

Maenck was giving his commands to the firing squad with fiendish
deliberation and delay. He seemed to enjoy dragging out the agony
that the condemned man suffered. But it was this very cruelty that
caused Maenck's undoing and saved the life of Leopold of Lutha. Just
before he gave the word to fire Maenck paused and laughed aloud at
the pitiable figure trembling and whining against the stone wall
before him, and during that pause a commotion arose at the tower
doorway behind the firing squad.

Maenck turned to discover the cause of the interruption, and as he

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Mad King → online text (page 19 of 22)