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at hand, for he is not such a fool that he does not perfectly
realize that he is the most cordially hated man in all Lutha, and
that only those attend upon him who hope to profit through his
success or who fear his evil nature."

"If Peter is crowned today," asked Barney, "will it prevent Leopold
regaining his throne?"

"It is difficult to say," replied Butzow; "but the chances are that
the throne would be lost to him forever. To regain it he would have
to plunge Lutha into a bitter civil war, for once Peter is
proclaimed king he will have the law upon his side, and with the
resources of the State behind him - the treasury and the army - he
will feel in no mood to relinquish the scepter without a struggle. I
doubt much that you will ever sit upon your throne, sire, unless you
do so within the very next hour."

For some time Barney rode in silence. He saw that only by a master
stroke could the crown be saved for the true king. Was it worth it?
The man was happier without a crown. Barney had come to believe that
no man lived who could be happy in possession of one. Then there
came before his mind's eye the delicate, patrician face of Emma von
der Tann.

Would Peter of Blentz be true to his new promises to the house of
Von der Tann? Barney doubted it. He recalled all that it might mean
of danger and suffering to the girl whose kisses he still felt upon
his lips as though it had been but now that hers had placed them
there. He recalled the limp little body of the boy, Rudolph, and the
Spartan loyalty with which the little fellow had given his life in
the service of the man he had thought king. The pitiful figure of
the fear-haunted man upon the iron cot at Tafelberg rose before him
and cried for vengeance.

To this man was the woman he loved betrothed! He knew that he might
never wed the Princess Emma. Even were she not promised to another,
the iron shackles of convention and age-old customs must forever
separate her from an untitled American. But if he couldn't have her
he still could serve her!

"For her sake," he muttered.

"Did your majesty speak?" asked Butzow.

"Yes, lieutenant. We urge greater haste, for if we are to be
crowned today we have no time to lose."

Butzow smiled a relieved smile. The king had at last regained his
senses!


Within the ancient cathedral at Lustadt a great and gorgeously
attired assemblage had congregated. All the nobles of Lutha were
gathered there with their wives, their children, and their
retainers. There were the newer nobility of the lowlands - many whose
patents dated but since the regency of Peter - and there were the
proud nobility of the highlands - the old nobility of which Prince
Ludwig von der Tann was the chief.

It was noticeable that though a truce had been made between Ludwig
and Peter, yet the former chancellor of the kingdom did not stand
upon the chancel with the other dignitaries of the State and court.

Few there were who knew that he had been invited to occupy a place
of honor there, and had replied that he would take no active part in
the making of any king in Lutha whose veins did not pulse to the
flow of the blood of the house in whose service he had grown gray.

Close packed were the retainers of the old prince so that their
great number was scarcely noticeable, though quite so was the fact
that they kept their cloaks on, presenting a somber appearance in
the midst of all the glitter of gold and gleam of jewels that
surrounded them - a grim, business-like appearance that cast a chill
upon Peter of Blentz as his eyes scanned the multitude of faces
below him.

He would have shown his indignation at this seeming affront had he
dared; but until the crown was safely upon his head and the royal
scepter in his hand Peter had no mind to do aught that might
jeopardize the attainment of the power he had sought for the past
ten years.

The solemn ceremony was all but completed; the Bishop of Lustadt had
received the great golden crown from the purple cushion upon which
it had been borne at the head of the procession which accompanied
Peter up the broad center aisle of the cathedral. He had raised it
above the head of the prince regent, and was repeating the solemn
words which precede the placing of the golden circlet upon the man's
brow. In another moment Peter of Blentz would be proclaimed the king
of Lutha.

By her father's side stood Emma von der Tann. Upon her haughty,
high-bred face there was no sign of the emotions which ran riot
within her fair bosom. In the act that she was witnessing she saw
the eventual ruin of her father's house. That Peter would long want
for an excuse to break and humble his ancient enemy she did not
believe; but this was not the only cause for the sorrow that
overwhelmed her.

Her most poignant grief, like that of her father, was for the dead
king, Leopold; but to the sorrow of the loyal subject was added the
grief of the loving woman, bereft. Close to her heart she hugged the
memory of the brief hours spent with the man whom she had been
taught since childhood to look upon as her future husband, but for
whom the all-consuming fires of love had only been fanned to life
within her since that moment, now three weeks gone, that he had
crushed her to his breast to cover her lips with kisses for the
short moment ere he sacrificed his life to save her from a fate
worse than death.

Before her stood the Nemesis of her dead king. The last act of the
hideous crime against the man she had loved was nearing its close.
As the crown, poised over the head of Peter of Blentz, sank slowly
downward the girl felt that she could scarce restrain her desire to
shriek aloud a protest against the wicked act - the crowning of a
murderer king of her beloved Lutha.

A glance at the old man at her side showed her the stern, commanding
features of her sire molded in an expression of haughty dignity;
only the slight movement of the muscles of the strong jaw revealed
the tensity of the hidden emotions of the stern old warrior. He was
meeting disappointment and defeat as a Von der Tann should - brave to
the end.

The crown had all but touched the head of Peter of Blentz when a
sudden commotion at the back of the cathedral caused the bishop to
look up in ill-concealed annoyance. At the sight that met his eyes
his hands halted in mid-air.

The great audience turned as one toward the doors at the end of the
long central aisle. There, through the wide-swung portals, they saw
mounted men forcing their way into the cathedral. The great horses
shouldered aside the foot-soldiers that attempted to bar their way,
and twenty troopers of the Royal Horse thundered to the very foot of
the chancel steps.

At their head rode Lieutenant Butzow and a tall young man in soiled
and tattered khaki, whose gray eyes and full reddish-brown beard
brought an exclamation from Captain Maenck who commanded the guard
about Peter of Blentz.

"Mein Gott - the king!" cried Maenck, and at the words Peter went
white.

In open-mouthed astonishment the spectators saw the hurrying
troopers and heard Butzow's "The king! The king! Make way for
Leopold, King of Lutha!"

And a girl saw, and as she saw her heart leaped to her mouth. Her
small hand gripped the sleeve of her father's coat. "The king,
father," she cried. "It is the king."

Old Von der Tann, the light of a new hope firing his eyes, threw
aside his cloak and leaped to the chancel steps beside Butzow and
the others who were mounting them. Behind him a hundred cloaks
dropped from the shoulders of his fighting men, exposing not silks
and satins and fine velvet, but the coarse tan of khaki, and grim
cartridge belts well filled, and stern revolvers slung to well-worn
service belts.

As Butzow and Barney stepped upon the chancel Peter of Blentz leaped
forward. "What mad treason is this?" he fairly screamed.

"The days of treason are now past, prince," replied Butzow
meaningly. "Here is not treason, but Leopold of Lutha come to claim
his crown which he inherited from his father."

"It is a plot," cried Peter, "to place an impostor upon the throne!
This man is not the king."

For a moment there was silence. The people had not taken sides as
yet. They awaited a leader. Old Von der Tann scrutinized the
American closely.

"How may we know that you are Leopold?" he asked. "For ten years we
have not seen our king."

"The governor of Blentz has already acknowledged his identity,"
cried Butzow. "Maenck was the first to proclaim the presence of the
putative king."

At that someone near the chancel cried: "Long live Leopold, king of
Lutha!" and at the words the whole assemblage raised their voices in
a tumultuous: "Long live the king!"

Peter of Blentz turned toward Maenck. "The guard!" he cried.
"Arrest those traitors, and restore order in the cathedral. Let the
coronation proceed."

Maenck took a step toward Barney and Butzow, when old Prince von der
Tann interposed his giant frame with grim resolve.

"Hold!" He spoke in a low, stern voice that brought the cowardly
Maenck to a sudden halt.

The men of Tann had pressed eagerly forward until they stood, with
bared swords, a solid rank of fighting men in grim semicircle behind
their chief. There were cries from different parts of the cathedral
of: "Crown Leopold, our true king! Down with Peter! Down with the
assassin!"

"Enough of this," cried Peter. "Clear the cathedral!"

He drew his own sword, and with half a hundred loyal retainers at
his back pressed forward to clear the chancel. There was a brief
fight, from which Barney, much to his disgust, was barred by the
mighty figure of the old prince and the stalwart sword-arm of
Butzow. He did get one crack at Maenck, and had the satisfaction of
seeing blood spurt from a flesh wound across the fellow's cheek.

"That for the Princess Emma," he called to the governor of Blentz,
and then men crowded between them and he did not see the captain
again during the battle.

When Peter saw that more than half of the palace guard were shouting
for Leopold, and fighting side by side with the men of Tann, he
realized the futility of further armed resistance at this time.
Slowly he withdrew, and at last the fighting ceased and some
semblance of order was restored within the cathedral.

Fearfully, the bishop emerged from hiding, his robes disheveled and
his miter askew. Butzow grasped him none too reverently by the arm
and dragged him before Barney. The crown of Lutha dangled in the
priest's palsied hands.

"Crown the king!" cried the lieutenant. "Crown Leopold, king of
Lutha!"

A mad roar of acclaim greeted this demand, and again from all parts
of the cathedral rose the same wild cry. But in the lull that
followed there were some who demanded proof of the tattered young
man who stood before them and claimed that he was king.

"Let Prince Ludwig speak!" cried a dozen voices.

"Yes, Prince Ludwig! Prince Ludwig!" took up the throng.

Prince Ludwig von der Tann turned toward the bearded young man.
Silence fell upon the crowded cathedral. Peter of Blentz stood
awaiting the outcome, ready to demand the crown upon the first
indication of wavering belief in the man he knew was not Leopold.

"How may we know that you are really Leopold?" again asked Ludwig of
Barney.

The American raised his left hand, upon the third finger of which
gleamed the great ruby of the royal ring of the kings of Lutha. Even
Peter of Blentz started back in surprise as his eyes fell upon the
ring.

Where had the man come upon it?

Prince von der Tann dropped to one knee before Mr. Bernard Custer of
Beatrice, Nebraska, U.S.A., and lifted that gentleman's hand to his
lips, and as the people of Lutha saw the act they went mad with joy.

Slowly Prince Ludwig rose and addressed the bishop. "Leopold, the
rightful heir to the throne of Lutha, is here. Let the coronation
proceed."

The quiet of the sepulcher fell upon the assemblage as the holy man
raised the crown above the head of the king. Barney saw from the
corner of his eye the sea of faces upturned toward him. He saw the
relief and happiness upon the stern countenance of the old prince.

He hated to dash all their new found joy by the announcement that he
was not the king. He could not do that, for the moment he did Peter
would step forward and demand that his own coronation continue. How
was he to save the throne for Leopold?

Among the faces beneath him he suddenly descried that of a beautiful
young girl whose eyes, filled with the tears of a great happiness
and a greater love, were upturned to his. To reveal his true
identity would lose him this girl forever. None save Peter knew that
he was not the king. All save Peter would hail him gladly as Leopold
of Lutha. How easily he might win a throne and the woman he loved by
a moment of seeming passive compliance.

The temptation was great, and then he recalled the boy, lying dead
for his king in the desolate mountains, and the pathetic light in
the eyes of the sorrowful man at Tafelberg, and the great trust and
confidence in the heart of the woman who had shown that she loved
him.

Slowly Barney Custer raised his palm toward the bishop in a gesture
of restraint.

"There are those who doubt that I am king," he said. "In these
circumstances there should be no coronation in Lutha until all
doubts are allayed and all may unite in accepting without question
the royal right of the true Leopold to the crown of his father. Let
the coronation wait, then, until another day, and all will be well."

"It must take place before noon of the fifth day of November, or not
until a year later," said Prince Ludwig. "In the meantime the Prince
Regent must continue to rule. For the sake of Lutha the coronation
must take place today, your majesty."

"What is the date?" asked Barney.

"The third, sire."

"Let the coronation wait until the fifth."

"But your majesty," interposed Von der Tann, "all may be lost in two
days."

"It is the king's command," said Barney quietly.

"But Peter of Blentz will rule for these two days, and in that time
with the army at his command there is no telling what he may
accomplish," insisted the old man.

"Peter of Blentz shall not rule Lutha for two days, or two minutes,"
replied Barney. "We shall rule. Lieutenant Butzow, you may place
Prince Peter, Coblich, Maenck, and Stein under arrest. We charge
them with treason against their king, and conspiring to assassinate
their rightful monarch."

Butzow smiled as he turned with his troopers at his back to execute
this most welcome of commissions; but in a moment he was again at
Barney's side.

"They have fled, your majesty," he said. "Shall I ride to Blentz
after them?"

"Let them go," replied the American, and then, with his retinue
about him the new king of Lutha passed down the broad aisle of the
cathedral of Lustadt and took his way to the royal palace between
ranks of saluting soldiery backed by cheering thousands.




IX

THE KING'S GUESTS

Once within the palace Barney sought the seclusion of a small room
off the audience chamber. Here he summoned Butzow.

"Lieutenant," said the American, "for the sake of a woman, a dead
child and an unhappy king I have become dictator of Lutha for
forty-eight hours; but at noon upon the fifth this farce must cease.
Then we must place the true Leopold upon the throne, or a new
dictator must replace me.

"In vain I have tried to convince you that I am not the king, and
today in the cathedral so great was the temptation to take advantage
of the odd train of circumstances that had placed a crown within my
reach that I all but surrendered to it - not for the crown of gold,
Butzow, but for an infinitely more sacred diadem which belongs to
him to whom by right of birth and lineage, belongs the crown of
Lutha. I do not ask you to understand - it is not necessary - but this
you must know and believe: that I am not Leopold, and that the true
Leopold lies in hiding in the sanatorium at Tafelberg, from which
you and I, Butzow, must fetch him to Lustadt before noon on the
fifth."

"But, sire - " commenced Butzow, when Barney raised his hand.

"Enough of that, Butzow!" he cried almost irritably. "I am sick of
being 'sired' and 'majestied' - my name is Custer. Call me that when
others are not present. Believe what you will, but ride with me in
secrecy to Tafelberg tonight, and together we shall bring back
Leopold of Lutha. Then we may call Prince Ludwig into our
confidence, and none need ever know of the substitution.

"I doubt if many had a sufficiently close view of me today to
realize the trick that I have played upon them, and if they note a
difference they will attribute it to the change in apparel, for we
shall see to it that the king is fittingly garbed before we exhibit
him to his subjects, while hereafter I shall continue in khaki,
which becomes me better than ermine."

Butzow shook his head.

"King or dictator," he said, "it is all the same, and I must obey
whatever commands you see fit to give, and so I will ride to
Tafelberg tonight, though what we shall find there I cannot imagine,
unless there are two Leopolds of Lutha. But shall we also find
another royal ring upon the finger of this other king?"

Barney smiled. "You're a typical hard-headed Dutchman, Butzow," he
said.

The lieutenant drew himself up haughtily. "I am not a Dutchman,
your majesty. I am a Luthanian."

Barney laughed. "Whatever else you may be, Butzow, you're a brick,"
he said, laying his hand upon the other's arm.

Butzow looked at him narrowly.

"From your speech," he said, "and the occasional Americanisms into
which you fall I might believe that you were other than the king but
for the ring."

"It is my commission from the king," replied Barney. "Leopold
placed it upon my finger in token of his royal authority to act in
his behalf. Tonight, then Butzow, you and I shall ride to Tafelberg.
Have three good horses. We must lead one for the king."

Butzow saluted and left the apartment. For an hour or two the
American was busy with tailors whom he had ordered sent to the
palace to measure him for the numerous garments of a royal wardrobe,
for he knew the king to be near enough his own size that he might
easily wear clothes that had been fitted to Barney; and it was part
of his plan to have everything in readiness for the substitution
which was to take place the morning of the coronation.

Then there were foreign dignitaries, and the heads of numerous
domestic and civic delegations to be given audience. Old Von der
Tann stood close behind Barney prompting him upon the royal duties
that had fallen so suddenly upon his shoulders, and none thought it
strange that he was unfamiliar with the craft of kingship, for was
it not common knowledge that he had been kept a close prisoner in
Blentz since boyhood, nor been given any coaching for the duties
Peter of Blentz never intended he should perform?

After it was all over Prince Ludwig's grim and leathery face relaxed
into a smile of satisfaction.

"None who witnessed the conduct of your first audience, sire," he
said, "could for a moment doubt your royal lineage - if ever a man
was born to kingship, your majesty, it be you."

Barney smiled, a bit ruefully, however, for in his mind's eye he saw
a future moment when the proud old Prince von der Tann would know
the truth of the imposture that had been played upon him, and the
young man foresaw that he would have a rather unpleasant half-hour.

At a little distance from them Barney saw Emma von der Tann
surrounded by a group of officials and palace officers. Since he had
come to Lustadt that day he had had no word with her, and now he
crossed toward her, amused as the throng parted to form an aisle for
him, the men saluting and the women curtsying low.

He took both of the girl's hands in his, and, drawing one through
his arm, took advantage of the prerogatives of kingship to lead her
away from the throng of courtiers.

"I thought that I should never be done with all the tiresome
business which seems to devolve upon kings," he said, laughing. "All
the while that I should have been bending my royal intellect to
matters of state, I was wondering just how a king might find a way
to see the woman he loves without interruptions from the horde that
dogs his footsteps."

"You seem to have found a way, Leopold," she whispered, pressing his
arm close to her. "Kings usually do."

"It is not because I am a king that I found a way, Emma," he
replied. "It is because I am an American."

She looked up at him with an expression of pleading in her eyes.

"Why do you persist?" she cried. "You have come into your own, and
there is no longer aught to fear from Peter or any other. To me at
least, it is most unkind still to deny your identity."

"I wonder," said Barney, "if your love could withstand the knowledge
that I am not the king."

"It is the MAN I love, Leopold," the girl replied.

"You think so now," he said, "but wait until the test comes, and
when it does, remember that I have always done my best to undeceive
you. I know that you are not for such as I, my princess, and when I
have returned your true king to you all that I shall ask is that you
be happy with him."

"I shall always be happy with my king," she whispered, and the look
that she gave him made Barney Custer curse the fate that had failed
to make him a king by birth.

An hour later darkness had fallen upon the little city of Lustadt,
and from a small gateway in the rear of the palace grounds two
horsemen rode out into the ill-paved street and turned their mounts'
heads toward the north. At the side of one trotted a led horse.

As they passed beneath the glare of an arc-light before a cafe at
the side of the public square, a diner sitting at a table upon the
walk spied the tall figure and the bearded face of him who rode a
few feet in advance of his companion. Leaping to his feet the man
waved his napkin above his head.

"Long live the king!" he cried. "God save Leopold of Lutha!"

And amid the din of cheering that followed, Barney Custer of
Beatrice and Lieutenant Butzow of the Royal Horse rode out into the
night upon the road to Tafelberg.


When Peter of Blentz had escaped from the cathedral he had hastily
mounted with a handful of his followers and hurried out of Lustadt
along the road toward his formidable fortress at Blentz. Half way
upon the journey he had met a dusty and travel-stained horseman
hastening toward the capital city that Peter and his lieutenants had
just left.

At sight of the prince regent the fellow reined in and saluted.

"May I have a word in private with your highness?" he asked. "I
have news of the greatest importance for your ears alone."

Peter drew to one side with the man.

"Well," he asked, "and what news have you for Peter of Blentz?"

The man leaned from his horse close to Peter's ear.

"The king is in Tafelberg, your highness," he said.

"The king is dead," snapped Peter. "There is an impostor in the
palace at Lustadt. But the real Leopold of Lutha was slain by Yellow
Franz's band of brigands weeks ago."

"I heard the man at Tafelberg tell another that he was the king,"
insisted the fellow. "Through the keyhole of his room I saw him take
a great ring from his finger - a ring with a mighty ruby set in its
center - and give it to the other. Both were bearded men with gray
eyes - either might have passed for the king by the description upon
the placards that have covered Lutha for the past month. At first he
denied his identity, but when the other had convinced him that he
sought only the king's welfare he at last admitted that he was
Leopold."

"Where is he now?" cried Peter.

"He is still in the sanatorium at Tafelberg. In room twenty-seven.
The other promised to return for him and take him to Lustadt, but
when I left Tafelberg he had not yet done so, and if you hasten you
may reach there before they take him away, and if there be any
reward for my loyalty to you, prince, my name is Ferrath."

"Ride with us and if you have told the truth, fellow, there shall be
a reward and if not - then there shall be deserts," and Peter of
Blentz wheeled his horse and with his company galloped on toward
Tafelberg.

As he rode he talked with his lieutenants Coblich, Maenck, and
Stein, and among them it was decided that it would be best that
Peter stop at Blentz for the night while the others rode on to
Tafelberg.

"Do not bring Leopold to Blentz," directed Peter, "for if it be he
who lies at Tafelberg and they find him gone it will be toward
Blentz that they will first look. Take him - "


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