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place. At the bottom of the ravine there was a little brook.

"There used to be a fallen log across it here," said the girl. "How
in the world am I ever to get across, your majesty?"

"If you call me that again, I shall begin to believe that I am a
king," he humored her, "and then, being a king, I presume that it
wouldn't be proper for me to carry you across, or would it? Never
really having been a king, I do not know."

"I think," replied the girl, "that it would be eminently proper."

She had difficulty in keeping in mind the fact that this handsome,
smiling young man was a dangerous maniac, though it was easy to
believe that he was the king. In fact, he looked much as she had
always pictured Leopold as looking. She had known him as a boy, and
there were many paintings and photographs of his ancestors in her
father's castle. She saw much resemblance between these and the
young man.

The brook was very narrow, and the girl thought that it took the
young man an unreasonably long time to carry her across, though she
was forced to admit that she was far from uncomfortable in the
strong arms that bore her so easily.

"Why, what are you doing?" she cried presently. "You are not
crossing the stream at all. You are walking right up the middle of

She saw his face flush, and then he turned laughing eyes upon her.

"I am looking for a safe landing," he said.

Emma von der Tann did not know whether to be frightened or amused.
As her eyes met the clear, gray ones of the man she could not
believe that insanity lurked behind that laughing, level gaze of her
carrier. She found herself continually forgetting that the man was
mad. He had turned toward the bank now, and a couple of steps
carried them to the low sward that fringed the little brooklet. Here
he lowered her to the ground.

"Your majesty is very strong," she said. "I should not have
expected it after the years of confinement you have suffered."

"Yes," he said, realizing that he must humor her - it was difficult
to remember that this lovely girl was insane. "Let me see, now just
what was I in prison for? I do not seem to be able to recall it. In
Nebraska, they used to hang men for horse stealing; so I am sure it
must have been something else not quite so bad. Do you happen to

"When the king, your father, died you were thirteen years old," the
girl explained, hoping to reawaken the sleeping mind, "and then your
uncle, Prince Peter of Blentz, announced that the shock of your
father's death had unbalanced your mind. He shut you up in Blentz
then, where you have been for ten years, and he has ruled as regent.
Now, my father says, he has recently discovered a plot to take your
life so that Peter may become king. But I suppose you learned of
that, and because of it you escaped!"

"This Peter person is all-powerful in Lutha?" he asked.

"He controls the army," the girl replied.

"And you really believe that I am the mad king Leopold?"

"You are the king," she said in a convincing manner.

"You are a very brave young lady," he said earnestly. "If all the
mad king's subjects were as loyal as you, and as brave, he would not
have languished for ten years behind the walls of Blentz."

"I am a Von der Tann," she said proudly, as though that was
explanation sufficient to account for any bravery or loyalty.

"Even a Von der Tann might, without dishonor, hesitate to accompany
a mad man through the woods," he replied, "especially if she
happened to be a very - a very - " He halted, flushing.

"A very what, your majesty?" asked the girl.

"A very young woman," he ended lamely.

Emma von der Tann knew that he had not intended saying that at all.
Being a woman, she knew precisely what he had meant to say, and she
discovered that she would very much have liked to hear him say it.

"Suppose," said Barney, "that Peter's soldiers run across us - what

"They will take you back to Blentz, your majesty."

"And you?"

"I do not think that they will dare lay hands on me, though it is
possible that Peter might do so. He hates my father even more now
than he did when the old king lived."

"I wish," said Mr. Custer, "that I had gone down after my guns. Why
didn't you tell me, in the first place, that I was a king, and that
I might get you in trouble if you were found with me? Why, they may
even take me for an emperor or a mikado - who knows? And then look at
all the trouble we'd be in."

Which was Barney's way of humoring a maniac.

"And they might even shave off your beautiful beard."

Which was the girl's way.

"Do you think that you would like me better in the green wastebasket
hat with the red roses?" asked Barney.

A very sad look came into the girl's eyes. It was pitiful to think
that this big, handsome young man, for whose return to the throne
all Lutha had prayed for ten long years, was only a silly half-wit.
What might he not have accomplished for his people had this terrible
misfortune not overtaken him! In every other way he seemed fitted to
be the savior of his country. If she could but make him remember!

"Your majesty," she said, "do you not recall the time that your
father came upon a state visit to my father's castle? You were a
little boy then. He brought you with him. I was a little girl, and
we played together. You would not let me call you 'highness,' but
insisted that I should always call you Leopold. When I forgot you
would accuse me of lese-majeste, and sentence me to - to punishment."

"What was the punishment?" asked Barney, noticing her hesitation and
wishing to encourage her in the pretty turn her dementia had taken.

Again the girl hesitated; she hated to say it, but if it would help
to recall the past to that poor, dimmed mind, it was her duty.

"Every time I called you 'highness' you made me give you a - a kiss,"
she almost whispered.

"I hope," said Barney, "that you will be guilty of lese-majeste

"We were little children then, your majesty," the girl reminded him.

Had he thought her of sound mind Mr. Custer might have taken
advantage of his royal prerogatives on the spot, for the girl's lips
were most tempting; but when he remembered the poor, weak mind,
tears almost came to his eyes, and there sprang to his heart a great
desire to protect and guard this unfortunate child.

"And when I was Crown Prince what were you, way back there in the
beautiful days of our childhood?" asked Barney.

"Why, I was what I still am, your majesty," replied the girl.
"Princess Emma von der Tann."

So the poor child, besides thinking him a king, thought herself a
princess! She certainly was mad. Well, he would humor her.

"Then I should call you 'your highness,' shouldn't I?" he asked.

"You always called me Emma when we were children."

"Very well, then, you shall be Emma and I Leopold. Is it a

"The king's will is law," she said.

They had come to a very steep hillside, up which the
half-obliterated trail zigzagged toward the crest of a flat-topped
hill. Barney went ahead, taking the girl's hand in his to help her,
and thus they came to the top, to stand hand in hand, breathing
heavily after the stiff climb.

The girl's hair had come loose about her temples and a lock was
blowing over her face. Her cheeks were very red and her eyes bright.
Barney thought he had never looked upon a lovelier picture. He
smiled down into her eyes and she smiled back at him.

"I wished, back there a way," he said, "that that little brook had
been as wide as the ocean - now I wish that this little hill had been
as high as Mont Blanc."

"You like to climb?" she asked.

"I should like to climb forever - with you," he said seriously.

She looked up at him quickly. A reply was on her lips, but she
never uttered it, for at that moment a ruffian in picturesque rags
leaped out from behind a near-by bush, confronting them with leveled
revolver. He was so close that the muzzle of the weapon almost
touched Barney's face. In that the fellow made his mistake.

"You see," said Barney unexcitedly, "that I was right about the
brigands after all. What do you want, my man?"

The man's eyes had suddenly gone wide. He stared with open mouth at
the young fellow before him. Then a cunning look came into his eyes.

"I want you, your majesty," he said.

"Godfrey!" exclaimed Barney. "Did the whole bunch escape?"

"Quick!" growled the man. "Hold up your hands. The notice made it
plain that you would be worth as much dead as alive, and I have no
mind to lose you, so do not tempt me to kill you."

Barney's hands went up, but not in the way that the brigand had
expected. Instead, one of them seized his weapon and shoved it
aside, while with the other Custer planted a blow between his eyes
and sent him reeling backward. The two men closed, fighting for
possession of the gun. In the scrimmage it was exploded, but a
moment later the American succeeded in wresting it from his
adversary and hurled it into the ravine.

Striking at one another, the two surged backward and forward at the
very edge of the hill, each searching for the other's throat. The
girl stood by, watching the battle with wide, frightened eyes. If
she could only do something to aid the king!

She saw a loose stone lying at a little distance from the fighters
and hastened to procure it. If she could strike the brigand a single
good blow on the side of the head, Leopold might easily overpower
him. When she had gathered up the rock and turned back toward the
two she saw that the man she thought to be the king was not much in
the way of needing outside assistance. She could not but marvel at
the strength and dexterity of this poor fellow who had spent almost
half his life penned within the four walls of a prison. It must be,
she thought, the superhuman strength with which maniacs are always

Nevertheless, she hurried toward them with her weapon; but just
before she reached them the brigand made a last mad effort to free
himself from the fingers that had found his throat. He lunged
backward, dragging the other with him. His foot struck upon the root
of a tree, and together the two toppled over into the ravine.

As the girl hastened toward the spot where the two had disappeared,
she was startled to see three troopers of the palace cavalry headed
by an officer break through the trees at a short distance from where
the battle had waged. The four men ran rapidly toward her.

"What has happened here?" shouted the officer to Emma von der Tann;
and then, as he came closer: "Gott! Can it be possible that it is
your highness?"

The girl paid no attention to the officer. Instead, she hurried
down the steep embankment toward the underbrush into which the two
men had fallen. There was no sound from below, and no movement in
the bushes to indicate that a moment before two desperately battling
human beings had dropped among them.

The soldiers were close upon the girl's heels, but it was she who
first reached the two quiet figures that lay side by side upon the
stony ground halfway down the hillside.

When the officer stopped beside her she was sitting on the ground
holding the head of one of the combatants in her lap.

A little stream of blood trickled from a wound in the forehead. The
officer stooped closer.

"He is dead?" he asked.

"The king is dead," replied the Princess Emma von der Tann, a little
sob in her voice.

"The king!" exclaimed the officer; and then, as he bent lower over
the white face: "Leopold!"

The girl nodded.

"We were searching for him," said the officer, "when we heard the
shot." Then, arising, he removed his cap, saying in a very low
voice: "The king is dead. Long live the king!"



The soldiers stood behind their officer. None of them had ever seen
Leopold of Lutha - he had been but a name to them - they cared nothing
for him; but in the presence of death they were awed by the majesty
of the king they had never known.

The hands of Emma von der Tann were chafing the wrists of the man
whose head rested in her lap.

"Leopold!" she whispered. "Leopold, come back! Mad king you may
have been, but still you were king of Lutha - my father's king - my

The girl nearly cried out in shocked astonishment as she saw the
eyes of the dead king open. But Emma von der Tann was quick-witted.
She knew for what purpose the soldiers from the palace were scouring
the country.

Had she not thought the king dead she would have cut out her tongue
rather than reveal his identity to these soldiers of his great
enemy. Now she saw that Leopold lived, and she must undo the harm
she had innocently wrought. She bent lower over Barney's face,
trying to hide it from the soldiers.

"Go away, please!" she called to them. "Leave me with my dead king.
You are Peter's men. You do not care for Leopold, living or dead. Go
back to your new king and tell him that this poor young man can
never more stand between him and the throne."

The officer hesitated.

"We shall have to take the king's body with us, your highness," he

The officer evidently becoming suspicious, came closer, and as he
did so Barney Custer sat up.

"Go away!" cried the girl, for she saw that the king was attempting
to speak. "My father's people will carry Leopold of Lutha in state
to the capital of his kingdom."

"What's all this row about?" he asked. "Can't you let a dead king
alone if the young lady asks you to? What kind of a short sport are
you, anyway? Run along, now, and tie yourself outside."

The officer smiled, a trifle maliciously perhaps.

"Ah," he said, "I am very glad indeed that you are not dead, your

Barney Custer turned his incredulous eyes upon the lieutenant.

"Et tu, Brute?" he cried in anguished accents, letting his head fall
back into the girl's lap. He found it very comfortable there indeed.

The officer smiled and shook his head. Then he tapped his forehead

"I did not know," he said to the girl, "that he was so bad. But
come - it is some distance to Blentz, and the afternoon is already
well spent. Your highness will accompany us."

"I?" cried the girl. "You certainly cannot be serious."

"And why not, your highness?" asked the officer. "We had strict
orders to arrest not only the king, but any companions who may have
been involved in his escape."

"I had nothing whatever to do with his escape," said the girl,
"though I should have been only too glad to have aided him had the
opportunity presented."

"King Peter may think differently," replied the man.

"The Regent, you mean?" the girl corrected him haughtily.

The officer shrugged his shoulders.

"Regent or King, he is ruler of Lutha nevertheless, and he would
take away my commission were I to tell him that I had found a Von
der Tann in company with the king and had permitted her to escape.
Your blood convicts your highness."

"You are going to take me to Blentz and confine me there?" asked the
girl in a very small voice and with wide incredulous eyes. "You
would not dare thus to humiliate a Von der Tann?"

"I am very sorry," said the officer, "but I am a soldier, and
soldiers must obey their superiors. My orders are strict. You may be
thankful," he added, "that it was not Maenck who discovered you."

At the mention of the name the girl shuddered.

"In so far as it is in my power your highness and his majesty will
be accorded every consideration of dignity and courtesy while under
my escort. You need not entertain any fear of me," he concluded.

Barney Custer, during this, to him, remarkable dialogue, had risen
to his feet, and assisted the girl in rising. Now he turned and
spoke to the officer.

"This farce," he said, "has gone quite far enough. If it is a joke
it is becoming a very sorry one. I am not a king. I am an
American - Bernard Custer, of Beatrice, Nebraska, U.S.A. Look at me.
Look at me closely. Do I look like a king?"

"Every inch, your majesty," replied the officer.

Barney looked at the man aghast.

"Well, I am not a king," he said at last, "and if you go to
arresting me and throwing me into one of your musty old dungeons
you will find that I am a whole lot more important than most kings.
I'm an American citizen."

"Yes, your majesty," replied the officer, a trifle impatiently. "But
we waste time in idle discussion. Will your majesty be so good as to
accompany me without resistance?"

"If you will first escort this young lady to a place of safety,"
replied Barney.

"She will be quite safe at Blentz," said the lieutenant.

Barney turned to look at the girl, a question in his eyes. Before
them stood the soldiers with drawn revolvers, and now at the summit
of the hill a dozen more appeared in command of a sergeant. They
were two against nearly a score, and Barney Custer was unarmed.

The girl shook her head.

"There, is no alternative, I am afraid, your majesty," she said.

Barney wheeled toward the officer.

"Very well, lieutenant," he said, "we will accompany you."

The party turned back up the hillside, leaving the dead bandit where
he lay - the fellow's neck had been broken by the fall. A short
distance from where the man had confronted them the two prisoners
were brought to the main road where they saw still other troopers,
and with them the horses of those who had gone into the forest on

Barney and the girl were mounted on two of the animals, the soldiers
who had ridden them clambering up behind two of their comrades. A
moment later the troop set out along the road which leads to Blentz.

The prisoners rode near the center of the column, surrounded by
troopers. For a time they were both silent. Barney was wondering if
he had accidentally tumbled into the private grounds of Lutha's
largest madhouse, or if, in reality, these people mistook him for
the young king - it seemed incredible.

It had commenced slowly to dawn upon him that perhaps the girl was
not crazy after all. Had not the officer addressed her as "your
highness"? Now that he thought upon it he recalled that she did have
quite a haughty and regal way with her at times, especially so when
she had addressed the officer.

Of course she might be mad, after all, and possibly the bandit, too,
but it seemed unbelievable that the officer was mad and his entire
troop of cavalry should be composed of maniacs, yet they all
persisted in speaking and acting as though he were indeed the mad
king of Lutha and the young girl at his side a princess.

From pitying the girl he had come to feel a little bit in awe of
her. To the best of his knowledge he had never before associated
with a real princess. When he recalled that he had treated her as he
would an ordinary mortal, and that he had thought her demented, and
had tried to humor her mad whims, he felt very foolish indeed.

Presently he turned a sheepish glance in her direction, to find her
looking at him. He saw her flush slightly as his eyes met hers.

"Can your highness ever forgive me?" he asked.

"Forgive you!" she cried in astonishment. "For what, your

"For thinking you insane, and for getting you into this horrible
predicament," he replied. "But especially for thinking you insane."

"Did you think me mad?" she asked in wide-eyed astonishment.

"When you insisted that I was a king, yes," he replied. "But now I
begin to believe that it must be I who am mad, after all, or else I
bear a remarkable resemblance to Leopold of Lutha."

"You do, your majesty," replied the girl.

Barney saw it was useless to attempt to convince them and so he
decided to give up for the time.

"Have me king, if you will," he said, "but please do not call me
'your majesty' any more. It gets on my nerves."

"Your will is law - Leopold," replied the girl, hesitating prettily
before the familiar name, "but do not forget your part of the

He smiled at her. A princess wasn't half so terrible after all.

"And your will shall be my law, Emma," he said.

It was almost dark when they came to Blentz. The castle lay far up
on the side of a steep hill above the town. It was an ancient pile,
but had been maintained in an excellent state of repair. As Barney
Custer looked up at the grim towers and mighty, buttressed walls his
heart sank. It had taken the mad king ten years to make his escape
from that gloomy and forbidding pile!

"Poor child," he murmured, thinking of the girl.

Before the barbican the party was halted by the guard. An officer
with a lantern stepped out upon the lowered portcullis. The
lieutenant who had captured them rode forward to meet him.

"A detachment of the Royal Horse Guards escorting His Majesty the
King, who is returning to Blentz," he said in reply to the officer's
sharp challenge.

"The king!" exclaimed the officer. "You have found him?" and he
advanced with raised lantern searching for the monarch.

"At last," whispered Barney to the girl at his side, "I shall be
vindicated. This man, at least, who is stationed at Blentz must
know his king by sight."

The officer came quite close, holding his lantern until the
rays fell full in Barney's face. He scrutinized the young man
for a moment. There was neither humility nor respect in his
manner, so that the American was sure that the fellow had
discovered the imposture.

From the bottom of his heart he hoped so. Then the officer
swung the lantern until its light shone upon the girl.

"And who's the wench with him?" he asked the officer who
had found them.

The man was standing close beside Barney's horse, and the words were
scarce out of his month when the American slipped from his saddle to
the portcullis and struck the officer full in the face.

"She is the Princess von der Tann, you boor," said Barney, "and let
that help you remember it in future."

The officer scrambled to his feet, white with rage. Whipping out
his sword he rushed at Barney.

"You shall die for that, you half-wit," he cried.

Lieutenant Butzow, he of the Royal Horse, rushed forward to prevent
the assault and Emma von der Tann sprang from her saddle and threw
herself in front of Barney.

Butzow grasped the other officer's arm.

"Are you mad, Schonau?" he cried. "Would you kill the king?"

The fellow tugged to escape the grasp of Butzow. He was crazed with

"Why not?" he bellowed. "You were a fool not to have done it
yourself. Maenck will do it and get a baronetcy. It will mean a
captaincy for me at least. Let me at him - no man can strike Karl
Schonau and live."

"The king is unarmed," cried Emma von der Tann. "Would you murder
him in cold blood?"

"He shall not murder him at all, your highness," said Lieutenant
Butzow quietly. "Give me your sword, Lieutenant Schonau. I place you
under arrest. What you have just said will not please the Regent
when it is reported to him. You should keep your head better when
you are angry."

"It is the truth," growled Schonau, regretting that his anger had
led him into a disclosure of the plot against the king's life, but
like most weak characters fearing to admit himself in error even
more than he feared the consequences of his rash words.

"Do you intend taking my sword?" asked Schonau suddenly, turning
toward Lieutenant Butzow standing beside him.

"We will forget the whole occurrence, lieutenant," replied Butzow,
"if you will promise not to harm his majesty, or offer him or the
Princess von der Tann further humiliation. Their position is
sufficiently unpleasant without our adding to the degradation of

"Very well," grumbled Schonau. "Pass on into the courtyard."

Barney and the girl remounted and the little cavalcade moved forward
through the ballium and the great gate into the court beyond.

"Did you notice," said Barney to the princess, "that even he
believes me to be the king? I cannot fathom it."

Within the castle they were met by a number of servants and
soldiers. An officer escorted them to the great hall, and presently
a dark visaged captain of cavalry entered and approached them.
Butzow saluted.

"His Majesty, the King," he announced, "has returned to Blentz. In
accordance with the commands of the Regent I deliver his august
person into your safe keeping, Captain Maenck."

Maenck nodded. He was looking at Barney with evident curiosity.

"Where did you find him?" he asked Butzow.

He made no pretense of according to Barney the faintest indication
of the respect that is supposed to be due to those of royal blood.
Barney commenced to hope that he had finally come upon one who would
know that he was not king.

Butzow recounted the details of the finding of the king. As he

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Mad King → online text (page 2 of 22)