The Mad King is a Ruritanian romance by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, originally published in two parts as "The Mad King" and "Barney Custer of Beatrice" in All-Story Weekly, in 1914 and 1915, respectively. These were combined for the book edition, first published in hardcover by A. C. McClurg in 1926. Set in the fictional European kingdom of Lutha, the protagonist is a young American named Barney Custer, of Beatrice, Nebraska, who is the son of an American farmer and a runaway Luthan princess, Victoria Rubinroth. Unaware of his royal blood, much less that he is a dead ringer for his relative Leopold, the current king of Lutha, Barney visits Lutha on the eve of the First World War to see for himself his mother's native land. As he arrives in Lutha, King Leopold has just escaped from his ten years' imprisonment at the hands of his scheming uncle, Prince Peter of Blentz. Much to his own and everyone else's confusion, Barney is naturally mistaken for the king, leading to numerous complications. Barney meets and falls in love with Princess Emma Von Der Tann, Leopold's promised bride and then becomes intimately involved in Luthan affairs, working to help the king and ultimately allowing himself to be proclaimed as king while impersonating Leopold to prevent Prince Peter from seizing the throne. He finally succeeds in foiling Peter's plans to become king himself by rescuing and fighting for the real king. Unfortunately, after his coronation, King Leopold discovers the shared love between Barney and Princess Emma, and Barney is forced to leave Lutha, mimicking the flight of his father years earlier, though his father left with a princess—Barney has only a soldier. Thus ends part one.
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All Lustadt was in an uproar. The mad king had escaped. Little knots of excited men stood upon the street corners listening to each latest rumor concerning this most absorbing occurrence. Before the palace a great crowd surged to and fro, awaiting they knew not what.
For ten years no man of them had set eyes upon the face of the boy-king who had been hastened to the grim castle of Blentz upon the death of the old king, his father.
There had been murmurings then when the lad's uncle, Peter of Blentz, had announced to the people of Lutha the sudden mental affliction which had fallen upon his nephew, and more murmurings for a time after the announcement that Peter of Blentz had been appointed Regent during the lifetime of the young King Leopold, "or until God, in His infinite mercy, shall see fit to restore to us in full mental vigor our beloved monarch."
But ten years is a long time. The boy-king had become but a vague memory to the subjects who could recall him at all.
There were many, of course, in the capital city, Lustadt, who still retained a mental picture of the handsome boy who had ridden out nearly every morning from the palace gates beside the tall, martial figure of the old king, his father, for a canter across the broad plain which lies at the foot of the mountain town of Lustadt; but even these had long since given up hope that their young king would ever ascend his throne, or even that they should see him alive again.
Peter of Blentz had not proved a good or kind ruler. Taxes had doubled during his regency. Executives and judiciary, following the example of their chief, had become tyrannical and corrupt. For ten years there had been small joy in Lutha.
There had been whispered rumors off and on that the young king was dead these many years, but not even in whispers did the men of Lutha dare voice the name of him whom they believed had caused his death. For lesser things they had seen their friends and neighbors thrown into the hitherto long-unused dungeons of the royal castle.
And now came the rumor that Leopold of Lutha had escaped the Castle of Blentz and was roaming somewhere in the wild mountains or ravines upon the opposite side of the plain of Lustadt.
Peter of Blentz was filled with rage and, possibly, fear as well.
"I tell you, Coblich," he cried, addressing his dark-visaged minister of war, "there's more than coincidence in this matter. Someone has betrayed us. That he should have escaped upon the very eve of the arrival at Blentz of the new physician is most suspicious. None but you, Coblich, had knowledge of the part that Dr. Stein was destined to play in this matter," concluded Prince Peter pointedly.
Coblich looked the Regent full in the eye.
"Your highness wrongs not only my loyalty, but my intelligence," he said quietly, "by even so much as intimating that I have any guilty knowledge of Leopold's escape. With Leopold upon the throne of Lutha, where, think you, my prince, would old Coblich be?"
"You are right, Coblich," he said. "I know that you would not be such a fool; but whom, then, have we to thank?"
"The walls have ears, prince," replied Coblich, "and we have not always been as careful as we should in discussing the matter. Something may have come to the ears of old Von der Tann. I don't for a moment doubt but that he has his spies among the palace servants, or even the guard. You know the old fox has always made it a point to curry favor with the common soldiers. When he was minister of war he treated them better than he did his officers."
"It seems strange, Coblich, that so shrewd a man as you should have been unable to discover some irregularity in the political life of Prince Ludwig von der Tann before now," said the prince querulously. "He is the greatest menace to our peace and sovereignty. With Von der Tann out of the way there would be none powerful enough to question our right to the throne of Lutha—after poor Leopold passes away."
"You forget that Leopold has escaped," suggested Coblich, "and that there is no immediate prospect of his passing away."
"He must be retaken at once, Coblich!" cried Prince Peter of Blentz. "He is a dangerous maniac, and we must make this fact plain to the people—this and a thorough description of him. A handsome reward for his safe return to Blentz might not be out of the way, Coblich."
"It shall be done, your highness," replied Coblich. "And about Von der Tann? You have never spoken to me quite so—ah—er—pointedly before. He hunts a great deal in the Old Forest. It might be possible—in fact, it has happened, before—there are many accidents in hunting, are there not, your highness?"
"There are, Coblich," replied the prince, "and if Leopold is able he will make straight for the Tann, so that there may be two hunting together in a day or so, Coblich."
"I understand, your highness," replied the minister. "With your permission, I shall go at once and dispatch troops to search the forest for Leopold. Captain Maenck will command them."
"Good, Coblich! Maenck is a most intelligent and loyal officer. We must reward him well. A baronetcy, at least, if he handles this matter well," said Peter. "It might not be a bad plan to hint at as much to him, Coblich."
And so it happened that shortly thereafter Captain Ernst Maenck, in command of a troop of the Royal Horse Guards of Lutha, set out toward the Old Forest, which lies beyond the mountains that are visible upon the other side of the plain stretching out before Lustadt. At the same time other troopers rode in many directions along the highways and byways of Lutha, tacking placards upon trees and fence posts and beside the doors of every little rural post office.
The placard told of the escape of the mad king, offering a large reward for his safe return to Blentz.
It was the last paragraph especially which caused a young man, the following day in the little hamlet of Tafelberg, to whistle as he carefully read it over.
"I am glad that I am not the mad king of Lutha," he said as he paid the storekeeper for the gasoline he had just purchased and stepped into the gray roadster for whose greedy maw it was destined.
"Why, mein Herr?" asked the man.
"This notice practically gives immunity to whoever shoots down the king," replied the traveler. "Worse still, it gives such an account of the maniacal ferocity of the fugitive as to warrant anyone in shooting him on sight."
As the young man spoke the storekeeper had examined his face closely for the first time. A shrewd look came into the man's ordinarily stolid countenance. He leaned forward quite close to the other's ear.
"We of Lutha," he whispered, "love our 'mad king'—no reward could be offered that would tempt us to betray him. Even in self-protection we would not kill him, we of the mountains who remember him as a boy and loved his father and his grandfather, before him.
"But there are the scum of the low country in the army these days, who would do anything for money, and it is these that the king must guard against. I could not help but note that mein Herr spoke too perfect German for a foreigner. Were I in mein Herr's place, I should speak mostly the English, and, too, I should shave off the 'full, reddish-brown beard.'"
Whereupon the storekeeper turned hastily back into his shop, leaving Barney Custer of Beatrice, Nebraska, U.S.A., to wonder if all the inhabitants of Lutha were afflicted with a mental disorder similar to that of the unfortunate ruler.
"I don't wonder," soliloquized the young man, "that he advised me to shave off this ridiculous crop of alfalfa. Hang election bets, anyway; if things had gone half right I shouldn't have had to wear this badge of idiocy. And to think that it's got to be for a whole month longer! A year's a mighty long while at best, but a year in company with a full set of red whiskers is an eternity."
The road out of Tafelberg wound upward among tall trees toward the pass that would lead him across the next valley on his way to the Old Forest, where he hoped to find some excellent shooting. All his life Barney had promised himself that some day he should visit his mother's native land, and now that he was here he found it as wild and beautiful as she had said it would be.
Neither his mother nor his father had ever returned to the little country since the day, thirty years before, that the big American had literally stolen his bride away, escaping across the border but a scant half-hour ahead of the pursuing troop of Luthanian cavalry. Barney had often wondered why it was that neither of them would ever speak of those days, or of the early life of his mother, Victoria Rubinroth, though of the beauties of her native land Mrs. Custer never tired of talking.
Barney Custer was thinking of these things as his machine wound up the picturesque road. Just before him was a long, heavy grade, and as he took it with open muffler the chugging of his motor drowned the sound of pounding hoof beats rapidly approaching behind him.
It was not until he topped the grade that he heard anything unusual, and at the same instant a girl on horseback tore past him. The speed of the animal would have been enough to have told him that it was beyond the control of its frail rider, even without the added testimony of the broken bit that dangled beneath the tensely outstretched chin.
Foam flecked the beast's neck and shoulders. It was evident that the horse had been running for some distance, yet its speed was still that of the thoroughly frightened runaway.
The road at the point where the animal had passed Custer was cut from the hillside. At the left an embankment rose steeply to a height of ten or fifteen feet. On the right there was a drop of a hundred feet or more into a wooded ravine. Ahead, the road apparently ran quite straight and smooth for a considerable distance.
Barney Custer knew that so long as the road ran straight the girl might be safe enough, for she was evidently an excellent horsewoman; but he also knew that if there should be a sharp turn to the left ahead, the horse in his blind fright would in all probability dash headlong into the ravine below him.
There was but a single thing that the man might attempt if he were to save the girl from the almost certain death which seemed in store for her, since he knew that sooner or later the road would turn, as all mountain roads do. The chances that he must take, if he failed, could only hasten the girl's end. There was no alternative except to sit supinely by and see the fear-crazed horse carry its rider into eternity, and Barney Custer was not the sort for that role.
Scarcely had the beast come abreast of him than his foot leaped to the accelerator. Like a frightened deer the gray roadster sprang forward in pursuit. The road was narrow. Two machines could not have passed upon it. Barney took the outside that he might hold the horse away from the dangerous ravine.
At the sound of the whirring thing behind him the animal cast an affrighted glance in its direction, and with a little squeal of terror redoubled its frantic efforts to escape. The girl, too, looked back over her shoulder. Her face was very white, but her eyes were steady and brave.
Barney Custer smiled up at her in encouragement, and the girl smiled back at him.
"She's sure a game one," thought Barney.
Now she was calling to him. At first he could not catch her words above the pounding of the horse's hoofs and the noise of his motor. Presently he understood.
"Stop!" she cried. "Stop or you will be killed. The road turns to the left just ahead. You'll go into the ravine at that speed."
The front wheel of the roadster was at the horse's right flank. Barney stepped upon the accelerator a little harder. There was barely room between the horse and the edge of the road for the four wheels of the roadster, and Barney must be very careful not to touch the horse. The thought of that and what it would mean to the girl sent a cold shudder through Barney Custer's athletic frame.
The man cast a glance to his right. His machine drove from the left side, and he could not see the road at all over the right hand door. The sight of tree tops waving beneath him was all that was visible. Just ahead the road's edge rushed swiftly beneath the right-hand fender; the wheels on that side must have been on the very verge of the embankment.
Now he was abreast the girl. Just ahead he could see where the road disappeared around a corner of the bluff at the dangerous curve the girl had warned him against.
Custer leaned far out over the side of his car. The lunging of the horse in his stride, and the swaying of the leaping car carried him first close to the girl and then away again. With his right hand he held the car between the frantic horse and the edge of the embankment. His left hand, outstretched, was almost at the girl's waist. The turn was just before them.
"Jump!" cried Barney.
The girl fell backward from her mount, turning to grasp Custer's arm as it closed about her. At the same instant Barney closed the throttle, and threw all the weight of his body upon the foot brake.
The gray roadster swerved toward the embankment as the hind wheels skidded on the loose surface gravel. They were at the turn. The horse was just abreast the bumper. There was one chance in a thousand of making the turn were the running beast out of the way. There was still a chance if he turned ahead of them. If he did not turn—Barney hated to think of what must follow.
But it was all over in a second. The horse bolted straight ahead. Barney swerved the roadster to the turn. It caught the animal full in the side. There was a sickening lurch as the hind wheels slid over the embankment, and then the man shoved the girl from the running board to the road, and horse, man and roadster went over into the ravine.
A moment before a tall young man with a reddish-brown beard had stood at the turn of the road listening intently to the sound of the hurrying hoof beats and the purring of the racing motor car approaching from the distance. In his eyes lurked the look of the hunted. For a moment he stood in evident indecision, but just before the runaway horse and the pursuing machine came into view he slipped over the edge of the road to slink into the underbrush far down toward the bottom of the ravine.
When Barney pushed the girl from the running board she fell heavily to the road, rolling over several times, but in an instant she scrambled to her feet, hardly the worse for the tumble other than a few scratches.
Quickly she ran to the edge of the embankment, a look of immense relief coming to her soft, brown eyes as she saw her rescuer scrambling up the precipitous side of the ravine toward her.
"You are not killed?" she cried in German. "It is a miracle!"
"Not even bruised," reassured Barney. "But you? You must have had a nasty fall."
"I am not hurt at all," she replied. "But for you I should be lying dead, or terribly maimed down there at the bottom of that awful ravine at this very moment. It's awful." She drew her shoulders upward in a little shudder of horror. "But how did you escape? Even now I can scarce believe it possible."
"I'm quite sure I don't know how I did escape," said Barney, clambering over the rim of the road to her side. "That I had nothing to do with it I am positive. It was just luck. I simply dropped out onto that bush down there."
They were standing side by side, now peering down into the ravine where the car was visible, bottom side up against a tree, near the base of the declivity. The horse's head could be seen protruding from beneath the wreckage.
"I'd better go down and put him out of his misery," said Barney, "if he is not already dead."
"I think he is quite dead," said the girl. "I have not seen him move."
Just then a little puff of smoke arose from the machine, followed by a tongue of yellow flame. Barney had already started toward the horse.
"Please don't go," begged the girl. "I am sure that he is quite dead, and it wouldn't be safe for you down there now. The gasoline tank may explode any minute."
"Yes, he is dead all right," he said, "but all my belongings are down there. My guns, six-shooters and all my ammunition. And," he added ruefully, "I've heard so much about the brigands that infest these mountains."
The girl laughed.
"Those stories are really exaggerated," she said. "I was born in Lutha, and except for a few months each year have always lived here, and though I ride much I have never seen a brigand. You need not be afraid."
Barney Custer looked up at her quickly, and then he grinned. His only fear had been that he would not meet brigands, for Mr. Bernard Custer, Jr., was young and the spirit of Romance and Adventure breathed strong within him.
"Why do you smile?" asked the girl.
"At our dilemma," evaded Barney. "Have you paused to consider our situation?"
The girl smiled, too.
"It is most unconventional," she said. "On foot and alone in the mountains, far from home, and we do not even know each other's name."
"Pardon me," cried Barney, bowing low. "Permit me to introduce myself. I am," and then to the spirits of Romance and Adventure was added a third, the spirit of Deviltry, "I am the mad king of Lutha."
The effect of his words upon the girl were quite different from what he had expected. An American girl would have laughed, knowing that he but joked. This girl did not laugh. Instead her face went white, and she clutched her bosom with her two hands. Her brown eyes peered searchingly into the face of the man.
"Leopold!" she cried in a suppressed voice. "Oh, your majesty, thank God that you are free—and sane!"
Before he could prevent it the girl had seized his hand and pressed it to her lips.
Here was a pretty muddle! Barney Custer swore at himself inwardly for a boorish fool. What in the world had ever prompted him to speak those ridiculous words! And now how was he to unsay them without mortifying this beautiful girl who had just kissed his hand?
She would never forgive that—he was sure of it.
There was but one thing to do, however, and that was to make a clean breast of it. Somehow, he managed to stumble through his explanation of what had prompted him, and when he had finished he saw that the girl was smiling indulgently at him.
"It shall be Mr. Bernard Custer if you wish it so," she said; "but your majesty need fear nothing from Emma von der Tann. Your secret is as safe with me as with yourself, as the name of Von der Tann must assure you."
She looked to see the expression of relief and pleasure that her father's name should have brought to the face of Leopold of Lutha, but when he gave no indication that he had ever before heard the name she sighed and looked puzzled.
"Perhaps," she thought, "he doubts me. Or can it be possible that, after all, his poor mind is gone?"
"I wish," said Barney in a tone of entreaty, "that you would forgive and forget my foolish words, and then let me accompany you to the end of your journey."
"Whither were you bound when I became the means of wrecking your motor car?" asked the girl.
"To the Old Forest," replied Barney.
Now she was positive that she was indeed with the mad king of Lutha, but she had no fear of him, for since childhood she had heard her father scout the idea that Leopold was mad. For what other purpose would he hasten toward the Old Forest than to take refuge in her father's castle upon the banks of the Tann at the forest's verge?
"Thither was I bound also," she said, "and if you would come there quickly and in safety I can show you a short path across the mountains that my father taught me years ago. It touches the main road but once or twice, and much of the way passes through dense woods and undergrowth where an army might hide."
"Hadn't we better find the nearest town," suggested Barney, "where I can obtain some sort of conveyance to take you home?"
"It would not be safe," said the girl. "Peter of Blentz will have troops out scouring all Lutha about Blentz and the Old Forest until the king is captured."
Barney Custer shook his head despairingly.
"Won't you please believe that I am but a plain American?" he begged.
Upon the bole of a large wayside tree a fresh, new placard stared them in the face. Emma von der Tann pointed at one of the paragraphs.
"Gray eyes, brown hair, and a full reddish-brown beard," she read. "No matter who you may be," she said, "you are safer off the highways of Lutha than on them until you can find and use a razor."
"But I cannot shave until the fifth of November," said Barney.
Again the girl looked quickly into his eyes and again in her mind rose the question that had hovered there once before. Was he indeed, after all, quite sane?
"Then please come with me the safest way to my father's," she urged. "He will know what is best to do."
"He cannot make me shave," insisted Barney.
"Why do you wish not to shave?" asked the girl.
"It is a matter of my honor," he replied. "I had my choice of wearing a green wastebasket bonnet trimmed with red roses for six months, or a beard for twelve. If I shave off the beard before the fifth of November I shall be without honor in the sight of all men or else I shall have to wear the green bonnet. The beard is bad enough, but the bonnet—ugh!"
Emma von der Tann was now quite assured that the poor fellow was indeed quite demented, but she had seen no indications of violence as yet, though when that too might develop there was no telling. However, he was to her Leopold of Lutha, and her father's house had been loyal to him or his ancestors for three hundred years.
If she must sacrifice her life in the attempt, nevertheless still must she do all within her power to save her king from recapture and to lead him in safety to the castle upon the Tann.
"Come," she said; "we waste time here. Let us make haste, for the way is long. At best we cannot reach Tann by dark."
"I will do anything you wish," replied Barney, "but I shall never forgive myself for having caused you the long and tedious journey that lies before us. It would be perfectly safe to go to the nearest town and secure a rig."
Emma von der Tann had heard that it was always well to humor maniacs and she thought of it now. She would put the scheme to the test.
"The reason that I fear to have you go to the village," she said, "is that I am quite sure they would catch you and shave off your beard."
Barney started to laugh, but when he saw the deep seriousness of the girl's eyes he changed his mind. Then he recalled her rather peculiar insistence that he was a king, and it suddenly occurred to him that he had been foolish not to have guessed the truth before.
"That is so," he agreed; "I guess we had better do as you say," for he had determined that the best way to handle her would be to humor her—he had always heard that that was the proper method for handling the mentally defective. "Where is the—er—ah—sanatorium?" he blurted out at last.
"The what?" she asked. "There is no sanatorium near here, your majesty, unless you refer to the Castle of Blentz."
"Is there no asylum for the insane near by?"
"None that I know of, your majesty."
For a while they moved on in silence, each wondering what the other might do next.
Barney had evolved a plan. He would try and ascertain the location of the institution from which the girl had escaped and then as gently as possible lead her back to it. It was not safe for as beautiful a woman as she to be roaming through the forest in any such manner as this. He wondered what in the world the authorities at the asylum had been thinking of to permit her to ride out alone in the first place.
"From where did you ride today?" he blurted out suddenly.
"That is where we are going now?"
"Yes, your majesty."
Barney drew a breath of relief. The way had become suddenly difficult and he took the girl's arm to help her down a rather steep 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 it!"
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 know?"
"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 then?"
"They will take you back to Blentz, your majesty."
"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 often."
"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 bargain?"
"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 credited.
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 king."
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 said.
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 majesty."
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 meaningly.
"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 foot.
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 majesty?"
"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 compact."
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 anger.
"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 it."
"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 spoke, Maenck's eyes, restless and furtive, seemed to be appraising the personal charms of the girl who stood just back of Barney.
The American did not like the appearance of the officer, but he saw that he was evidently supreme at Blentz, and he determined to appeal to him in the hope that the man might believe his story and untangle the ridiculous muddle that a chance resemblance to a fugitive monarch had thrown him and the girl into.
"Captain," said Barney, stepping closer to the officer, "there has been a mistake in identity here. I am not the king. I am an American traveling for pleasure in Lutha. The fact that I have gray eyes and wear a full reddish-brown beard is my only offense. You are doubtless familiar with the king's appearance and so you at least have already seen that I am not his majesty.
"Not being the king, there is no cause to detain me longer, and as I am not a fugitive and never have been, this young lady has been guilty of no misdemeanor or crime in being in my company. Therefore she too should be released. In the name of justice and common decency I am sure that you will liberate us both at once and furnish the Princess von der Tann, at least, with a proper escort to her home."
Maenck listened in silence until Barney had finished, a half smile upon his thick lips.
"I am commencing to believe that you are not so crazy as we have all thought," he said. "Certainly," and he let his eyes rest upon Emma von der Tann, "you are not mentally deficient in so far as your judgment of a good-looking woman is concerned. I could not have made a better selection myself.
"As for my familiarity with your appearance, you know as well as I that I have never seen you before. But that is not necessary—you conform perfectly to the printed description of you with which the kingdom is flooded. Were that not enough, the fact that you were discovered with old Von der Tann's daughter is sufficient to remove the least doubt as to your identity."
"You are governor of Blentz," cried Barney, "and yet you say that you have never seen the king?"
"Certainly," replied Maenck. "After you escaped the entire personnel of the garrison here was changed, even the old servants to a man were withdrawn and others substituted. You will have difficulty in again escaping, for those who aided you before are no longer here."
"There is no man in the castle of Blentz who has ever seen the king?" asked Barney.
"None who has seen him before tonight," replied Maenck. "But were we in doubt we have the word of the Princess Emma that you are Leopold. Did she not admit it to you, Butzow?"
"When she thought his majesty dead she admitted it," replied Butzow.
"We gain nothing by discussing the matter," said Maenck shortly. "You are Leopold of Lutha. Prince Peter says that you are mad. All that concerns me is that you do not escape again, and you may rest assured that while Ernst Maenck is governor of Blentz you shall not escape and go at large again.
"Are the royal apartments in readiness for his majesty, Dr. Stein?" he concluded, turning toward a rat-faced little man with bushy whiskers, who stood just behind him.
The query was propounded in an ironical tone, and with a manner that made no pretense of concealing the contempt of the speaker for the man he thought the king.
The eyes of the Princess Emma were blazing as she caught the scant respect in Maenck's manner. She looked quickly toward Barney to see if he intended rebuking the man for his impertinence. She saw that the king evidently intended overlooking Maenck's attitude. But Emma von der Tann was of a different mind.
She had seen Maenck several times at social functions in the capital. He had even tried to win a place in her favor, but she had always disliked him, even before the nasty stories of his past life had become common gossip, and within the year she had won his hatred by definitely indicating to him that he was persona non grata, in so far as she was concerned. Now she turned upon him, her eyes flashing with indignation.
"Do you forget, sir, that you address the king?" she cried. "That you are without honor I have heard men say, and I may truly believe it now that I have seen what manner of man you are. The most lowly-bred boor in all Lutha would not be so ungenerous as to take advantage of his king's helplessness to heap indignities upon him.
"Leopold of Lutha shall come into his own some day, and my dearest hope is that his first act may be to mete out to such as you the punishment you deserve."
Maenck paled in anger. His fingers twitched nervously, but he controlled his temper remarkably well, biding his time for revenge.
"Take the king to his apartments, Stein," he commanded curtly, "and you, Lieutenant Butzow, accompany them with a guard, nor leave until you see that he is safely confined. You may return here afterward for my further instructions. In the meantime I wish to examine the king's mistress."
For a moment tense silence reigned in the apartment after Maenck had delivered his wanton insult.
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