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principles were shocked and shattered by the enormity of the thing
the man she loved had asked of her, and yet cold reason told her
that it was the only way.

Lutha would be lost should the truth be known - that the king was
dead, for there was no heir of closer blood connection with the
royal house than Prince Peter of Blentz, whose great-grandmother had
been a Rubinroth princess. Slowly, at last, she wrote as follows:


The king's will is law.


That was all. Placing the note in an envelope she sealed it and
handed it to the officer, who bowed and left the room.

A half hour later officers of the Royal Horse were riding through
the streets of Lustadt. Some announced to the people upon the
streets the coming marriage of the king and princess. Others rode to
the houses of the nobility with the king's command that they be
present at the ceremony in the old cathedral at four o'clock that

Never had there been such bustling about the royal palace or in the
palaces of the nobles of Lutha. The buzz and hum of excited
conversation filled the whole town. That the choice of the king met
the approval of his subjects was more than evident. Upon every lip
was praise and love of the Princess Emma von der Tann. The future of
Lutha seemed assured with a king who could fight joined in marriage
to a daughter of the warrior line of Von der Tann.

The princess was busy up to the last minute. She had not seen her
future husband since his return from Blentz, for he, too, had been
busy. Twice he had sent word to her, but on both occasions had
regretted that he could not come personally because of the pressure
of state matters and the preparations for the ceremony that was to
take place in the cathedral in so short a time.

At last the hour arrived. The cathedral was filled to overflowing.
After the custom of Lutha, the bride had walked alone up the broad
center aisle to the foot of the chancel. Guardsmen lining the way on
either hand stood rigidly at salute until she stopped at the end of
the soft, rose-strewn carpet and turned to await the coming of the

Presently the doors at the opposite end of the cathedral opened.
There was a fanfare of trumpets, and up the center aisle toward the
waiting girl walked the royal groom. It seemed ages to the princess
since she had seen her lover. Her eyes devoured him as he approached
her. She noticed that he limped, and wondered; but for a moment the
fact carried no special suggestion to her brain.

The people had risen as the king entered. Again, the pieces of the
guardsmen had snapped to present; but silence, intense and utter,
reigned over the vast assembly. The only movement was the measured
stride of the king as he advanced to claim his bride.

At the head of each line of guardsmen, nearest the chancel and upon
either side of the bridal party, the ranks were formed of
commissioned officers. Butzow was among them. He, too, out of the
corner of his eye watched the advancing figure. Suddenly he noted
the limp, and gave a little involuntary gasp. He looked at the
Princess Emma, and saw her eyes suddenly widen with consternation.

Slowly at first, and then in a sudden tidal wave of memory, Butzow's
story of the fight in the courtyard at Blentz came back to her.

"I saw but little of Mr. Custer," he had said. "He was slightly
wounded in the left leg. The king was wounded in the breast." But
Lieutenant Butzow had not known the true identity of either.

The real Leopold it was who had been wounded in the left leg, and
the man who was approaching her up the broad cathedral aisle was
limping noticeably - and favoring his left leg. The man to whom she
was to be married was not Barney Custer - he was Leopold of Lutha!

A hundred mad schemes rioted through her brain. The wedding must
not go on! But how was she to avert it? The king was within a few
paces of her now. There was a smile upon his lips, and in that smile
she saw the final confirmation of her fears. When Leopold of Lutha
smiled his upper lip curved just a trifle into a shadow of a sneer.
It was a trivial characteristic that Barney Custer did not share in
common with the king.

Half mad with terror, the girl seized upon the only subterfuge which
seemed at all likely to succeed. It would, at least, give her a
slight reprieve - a little time in which to think, and possibly find
an avenue from her predicament.

She staggered forward a step, clapped her two hands above her heart,
and reeled as though to fall. Butzow, who had been watching her
narrowly, sprang forward and caught her in his arms, where she lay
limp with closed eyes as though in a dead faint. The king ran
forward. The people craned their necks. A sudden burst of
exclamations rose throughout the cathedral, and then Lieutenant
Butzow, shouldering his way past the chancel, carried the Princess
Emma to a little anteroom off the east transept. Behind him walked
the king, the bishop, and Prince Ludwig.



After a hurried breakfast Peter of Blentz and Captain Ernst Maenck
left the castle of Blentz. Prince Peter rode north toward the
frontier, Austria, and safety, Captain Maenck rode south toward
Lustadt. Neither knew that general orders had been issued to
soldiery and gendarmerie of Lutha to capture them dead or alive. So
Prince Peter rode carelessly; but Captain Maenck, because of the
nature of his business and the proximity of enemies about Lustadt,
proceeded with circumspection.

Prince Peter was arrested at Tafelberg, and, though he stormed and
raged and threatened, he was immediately packed off under heavy
guard back toward Lustadt.

Captain Ernst Maenck was more fortunate. He reached the capital of
Lutha in safety, though he had to hide on several occasions from
detachments of troops moving toward the north. Once within the city
he rode rapidly to the house of a friend. Here he learned that which
set him into a fine state of excitement and profanity. The king and
the Princess Emma von der Tann were to be wed that very afternoon!
It lacked but half an hour to four o'clock.

Maenck grabbed his cap and dashed from the house before his
astonished friend could ask a single question. He hurried straight
toward the cathedral. The king had just arrived, and entered when
Maenck came up, breathless. The guard at the doorway did not
recognize him. If they had they would have arrested him. Instead
they contented themselves with refusing him admission, and when he
insisted they threatened him with arrest.

To be arrested now would be to ruin his fine plan, so he turned and
walked away. At the first cross street he turned up the side of the
cathedral. The grounds were walled up on this side, and he sought in
vain for entrance. At the rear he discovered a limousine standing in
the alley where its chauffeur had left it after depositing his
passengers at the front door of the cathedral. The top of the
limousine was but a foot or two below the top of the wall.

Maenck clambered to the hood of the machine, and from there to the
top. A moment later he dropped to the earth inside the cathedral
grounds. Before him were many windows. Most of them were too high
for him to reach, and the others that he tried at first were
securely fastened. Passing around the end of the building, he at
last discovered one that was open - it led into the east transept.

Maenck crawled through. He was within the building that held the
man he sought. He found himself in a small room - evidently a
dressing-room. There were two doors leading from it. He approached
one and listened. He heard the tones of subdued conversation beyond.

Very cautiously he opened the door a crack. He could not believe
the good fortune that was revealed before him. On a couch lay the
Princess Emma von der Tann. Beside her her father. At the door was
Lieutenant Butzow. The bishop and a doctor were talking at the head
of the couch. Pacing up and down the room, resplendent in the
marriage robes of a king of Lutha, was the man he sought.

Maenck drew his revolver. He broke the barrel, and saw that there
was a good cartridge in each chamber of the cylinder. He closed it
quietly. Then he threw open the door, stepped into the room, took
deliberate aim, and fired.

The old man with the ax moved cautiously along the corridor upon the
second floor of the Castle of Blentz until he came to a certain
door. Gently he turned the knob and pushed the door inward. Holding
the ax behind his back, he entered. In his pocket was a great roll
of money, and there was to be an equal amount waiting him at Lustadt
when his mission had been fulfilled.

Once within the room, he looked quickly about him. Upon a great bed
lay the figure of a man asleep. His face was turned toward the
opposite wall away from the side of the bed nearer the menacing
figure of the old servant. On tiptoe the man with the ax approached.
The neck of his victim lay uncovered before him. He swung the ax
behind him. A single blow, as mighty as his ancient muscles could
deliver, would suffice.

Barney Custer opened his eyes. Directly opposite him upon the wall
was a dark-toned photogravure of a hunting scene. It tilted slightly
forward upon its wire support. As Barney's eyes opened it chanced that
they were directed straight upon the shiny glass of the picture. The
light from the window struck the glass in such a way as to transform
it into a mirror. The American's eyes were glued with horror upon
the reflection that he saw there - an old man swinging a huge ax down
upon his head.

It is an open question as to which of the two was the most surprised
at the cat-like swiftness of the movement that carried Barney Custer
out of that bed and landed him in temporary safety upon the opposite

With a snarl the old man ran around the foot of the bed to corner
his prey between the bed and the wall. He was swinging the ax as
though to hurl it. So close was he that Barney guessed it would be
difficult for him to miss his mark. The least he could expect would
be a frightful wound. To have attempted to escape would have
necessitated turning his back to his adversary, inviting instant
death. To grapple with a man thus armed appeared an equally hopeless

Shoulder-high beside him hung the photogravure that had already
saved his life once. Why not again? He snatched it from its
hangings, lifted it above his head in both hands, and hurled it at
the head of the old man. The glass shattered full upon the ancient's
crown, the man's head went through the picture, and the frame
settled over his shoulders. At the same instant Barney Custer leaped
across the bed, seized a light chair, and turned to face his foe
upon more even terms.

The old man did not pause to remove the frame from about his neck.
Blood trickled down his forehead and cheeks from deep gashes that
the broken glass had made. Now he was in a berserker rage.

As he charged again he uttered a peculiar whistling noise from
between his set teeth. To the American it sounded like the hissing
of a snake, and as he would have met a snake he met the venomous
attack of the old man.

When the short battle was over the Blentz servitor lay unconscious
upon the floor, while above him leaned the American, uninjured,
ripping long strips from a sheet torn from the bed, twisting them
into rope-like strands and, with them, binding the wrists and ankles
of his defeated foe. Finally he stuffed a gag between the toothless

Running to the wardrobe, he discovered that the king's uniform was
gone. That, with the witness of the empty bed, told him the whole
story. The American smiled. "More nerve than I gave him credit for,"
he mused, as he walked back to his bed and reached under the pillow
for the two papers he had forced the king to sign. They, too, were
gone. Slowly Barney Custer realized his plight, as there filtered
through his mind a suggestion of the possibilities of the trick that
had been played upon him.

Why should Leopold wish these papers? Of course, he might merely
have taken them that he might destroy them; but something told
Barney Custer that such was not the case. And something, too, told
him whither the king had ridden and what he would do there when he

He ran back to the wardrobe. In it hung the peasant attire that he
had stolen from the line of the careless house frau, and later
wished upon his majesty the king. Barney grinned as he recalled the
royal disgust with which Leopold had fingered the soiled garments.
He scarce blamed him. Looking further toward the back of the
wardrobe, the American discovered other clothing.

He dragged it all out upon the floor. There was an old shooting
jacket, several pairs of trousers and breeches, and a hunting coat.
In a drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe he found many old shoes,
puttees, and boots.

From this miscellany he selected riding breeches, a pair of boots,
and the red hunting coat as the only articles that fitted his rather
large frame. Hastily he dressed, and, taking the ax the old man had
brought to the room as the only weapon available, he walked boldly
into the corridor, down the spiral stairway and into the guardroom.

Barney Custer was prepared to fight. He was desperate. He could
have slunk from the Castle of Blentz as he had entered it - through
the secret passageway to the ravine; but to attempt to reach Lustadt
on foot was not at all compatible with the urgent haste that he felt
necessary. He must have a horse, and a horse he would have if he had
to fight his way through a Blentz army.

But there were no armed retainers left at Blentz. The guardroom was
vacant; but there were arms there and ammunition. Barney
commandeered a sword and a revolver, then he walked into the
courtyard and crossed to the stables. The way took him by the
garden. In it he saw a coffin-like box resting upon planks above a
grave-like excavation. Barney investigated. The box was empty. Once
again he grinned. "It is not always wise," he mused, "to count your
corpses before they're dead. What a lot of work the old man might
have spared himself if he'd only caught his cadaver first - or at
least tried to."

Passing on by his own grave, he came to the stables. A groom was
currying a strong, clean-limbed hunter haltered in the doorway. The
man looked up as Barney approached him. A puzzled expression entered
the fellow's eyes. He was a young man - a stupid-looking lout. It was
evident that he half recognized the face of the newcomer as one he
had seen before. Barney nodded to him.

"Never mind finishing," he said. "I am in a hurry. You may saddle
him at once." The voice was authoritative - it brooked no demur. The
groom touched his forehead, dropped the currycomb and brush, and
turned back into the stable to fetch saddle and bridle.

Five minutes later Barney was riding toward the gate. The portcullis
was raised - the drawbridge spanned the moat - no guard was there to
bar his way. The sunlight flooded the green valley, stretching
lazily below him in the soft warmth of a mellow autumn morning.
Behind him he had left the brooding shadows of the grim old
fortress - the cold, cruel, depressing stronghold of intrigue,
treason, and sudden death.

He threw back his shoulders and filled his lungs with the sweet,
pure air of freedom. He was a new man. The wound in his breast was
forgotten. Lightly he touched his spurs to the hunter's sides.
Tossing his head and curveting, the animal broke into a long, easy
trot. Where the road dipped into the ravine and down through the
village to the valley the rider drew his restless mount into a walk;
but, once in the valley, he let him out. Barney took the short road
to Lustadt. It would cut ten miles off the distance that the main
wagonroad covered, and it was a good road for a horseman. It should
bring him to Lustadt by one o'clock or a little after. The road
wound through the hills to the east of the main highway, and was
scarcely more than a trail where it crossed the Ru River upon a
narrow bridge that spanned the deep mountain gorge that walls the Ru
for ten miles through the hills.

When Barney reached the river his hopes sank. The bridge was
gone - dynamited by the Austrians in their retreat. The nearest
bridge was at the crossing of the main highway over ten miles to the
southwest. There, too, the river might be forded even if the
Austrians had destroyed that bridge also; but here or elsewhere in
the hills there could be no fording - the banks of the Ru were
perpendicular cliffs.

The misfortune would add nearly twenty miles to his journey - he
could not now hope to reach Lustadt before late in the afternoon.
Turning his horse back along the trail he had come, he retraced his
way until he reached a narrow bridle path that led toward the
southwest. The trail was rough and indistinct, yet he pushed
forward, even more rapidly than safety might have suggested. The
noble beast beneath him was all loyalty and ambition.

"Take it easy, old boy," whispered Barney into the slim, pointed
ears that moved ceaselessly backward and forward, "you'll get your
chance when we strike the highway, never fear."

And he did.

So unexpected had been Maenck's entrance into the room in the east
transept, so sudden his attack, that it was all over before a hand
could be raised to stay him. At the report of his revolver the king
sank to the floor. At almost the same instant Lieutenant Butzow
whipped a revolver from beneath his tunic and fired at the assassin.
Maenck staggered forward and stumbled across the body of the king.
Butzow was upon him instantly, wresting the revolver from his
fingers. Prince Ludwig ran to the king's side and, kneeling there,
raised Leopold's head in his arms. The bishop and the doctor bent
over the limp form. The Princess Emma stood a little apart. She had
leaped from the couch where she had been lying. Her eyes were wide
in horror. Her palms pressed to her cheeks.

It was upon this scene that a hatless, dust-covered man in a red
hunting coat burst through the door that had admitted Maenck. The
man had seen and recognized the conspirator as he climbed to the top
of the limousine and dropped within the cathedral grounds, and he
had followed close upon his heels.

No one seemed to note his entrance. All ears were turned toward the
doctor, who was speaking.

"The king is dead," he said.

Maenck raised himself upon an elbow. He spoke feebly.

"You fools," he cried. "That man was not the king. I saw him steal
the king's clothes at Blentz and I followed him here. He is the
American - the impostor." Then his eyes, circling the faces about him
to note the results of his announcements, fell upon the face of the
man in the red hunting coat. Amazement and wonder were in his face.
Slowly he raised his finger and pointed.

"There is the king," he said.

Every eye turned in the direction he indicated. Exclamations of
surprise and incredulity burst from every lip. The old chancellor
looked from the man in the red hunting coat to the still form of the
man upon the floor in the blood-spattered marriage garments of a
king of Lutha. He let the king's head gently down upon the carpet,
and then he rose to his feet and faced the man in the red hunting

"Who are you?" he demanded.

Before Barney could speak Lieutenant Butzow spoke.

"He is the king, your highness," he said. "I rode with him to
Blentz to free Mr. Custer. Both were wounded in the courtyard in the
fight that took place there. I helped to dress their wounds. The
king was wounded in the breast - Mr. Custer in the left leg."

Prince von der Tann looked puzzled. Again he turned his eyes
questioningly toward the newcomer.

"Is this the truth?" he asked.

Barney looked toward the Princess Emma. In her eyes he could read
the relief that the sight of him alive had brought her. Since she
had recognized the king she had believed that Barney was dead. The
temptation was great - he dreaded losing her, and he feared he would
lose her when her father learned the truth of the deception that had
been practiced upon him. He might lose even more - men had lost their
heads for tampering with the affairs of kings.

"Well?" persisted the chancellor.

"Lieutenant Butzow is partially correct - he honestly believes that
he is entirely so," replied the American. "He did ride with me from
Lustadt to Blentz to save the man who lies dead here at your feet.
The lieutenant thought that he was riding with his king, just as
your highness thought that he was riding with his king during the
battle of Lustadt. You were both wrong - you were riding with Mr.
Bernard Custer, of Beatrice. I am he. I have no apologies to make.
What I did I would do again. I did it for Lutha and for the woman I
love. She knows and the king knew that I intended restoring his
identity to him with no one the wiser for the interchange that had
taken place. The king upset my plans by stealing back his identity
while I slept, with the result that you see before you upon the
floor. He has died as he had lived - futilely."

As he spoke the Princess Emma had crossed the room toward him. Now
she stood at his side, her hand in his. Tense silence reigned in the
apartment. The old chancellor stood with bowed head, buried in
thought. All eyes were upon him except those of the doctor, who had
turned his attention from the dead king to the wounded assassin.
Butzow stood looking at Barney Custer in open relief and admiration.
He had been trying to vindicate his friend in his own mind ever
since he had discovered, as he believed, that Barney had tricked
Leopold after the latter had saved his life at Blentz and ridden to
Lustadt in the king's guise. Now that he knew the whole truth he
realized how stupid he had been not to guess that the man who had
led the victorious Luthanian army before Lustadt could not have been
the cowardly Leopold.

Presently the chancellor broke the silence.

"You say that Leopold of Lutha lived futilely. You are right; but
when you say that he has died futilely, you are, I believe, wrong.
Living, he gave us a poor weakling. Dying, he leaves the throne to a
brave man, in whose veins flows the blood of the Rubinroths,
hereditary rulers of Lutha.

"You are the only rightful successor to the throne of Lutha," he
argued, "other than Peter of Blentz. Your mother's marriage to a
foreigner did not bar the succession of her offspring. Aside from
the fact that Peter of Blentz is out of the question, is the more
important fact that your line is closer to the throne than his. He
knew it, and this knowledge was the real basis of his hatred of

As the old chancellor ceased speaking he drew his sword and raised
it on high above his head.

"The king is dead," he said. "Long live the king!"



Barney Custer, of Beatrice, had no desire to be king of Lutha. He
lost no time in saying so. All that he wanted of Lutha was the girl
he had found there, as his father before him had found the girl of
his choice. Von der Tann pleaded with him.

"Twice have I fought under you, sire," he urged. "Twice, and only
twice since the old king died, have I felt that the future of Lutha
was safe in the hands of her ruler, and both these times it was you
who sat upon the throne. Do not desert us now. Let me live to see
Lutha once more happy, with a true Rubinroth upon the throne and my
daughter at his side."

Butzow added his pleas to those of the old chancellor. The American

"Let us leave it to the representatives of the people and to the
house of nobles," he suggested.

The chancellor of Lutha explained the situation to both houses.
Their reply was unanimous. He carried it to the American, who
awaited the decision of Lutha in the royal apartments of the palace.
With him was the Princess Emma von der Tann.

"The people of Lutha will have no other king, sire," said the old

Barney turned toward the girl.

"There is no other way, my lord king," she said with grave dignity.
"With her blood your mother bequeathed you a duty which you may not
shirk. It is not for you or for me to choose. God chose for you when
you were born."

Barney Custer took her hand in his and raised it to his lips.

"Let the King of Lutha," he said, "be the first to salute Lutha's

And so Barney Custer, of Beatrice, was crowned King of Lutha, and
Emma became his queen. Maenck died of his wound on the floor of the
little room in the east transept of the cathedral of Lustadt beside
the body of the king he had slain. Prince Peter of Blentz was tried
by the highest court of Lutha on the charge of treason; he was found

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Online LibraryEdgar Rice BurroughsThe Mad King → online text (page 21 of 22)