Before they found one their captive was a mile ahead of them, and, barring accident, quite beyond recapture. She was making for a highway that would lead her to Lustadt. Ordinarily she had been wont to bear a little to the north-east at this point and strike back into the road that she had just left; but today she feared to do so lest she be cut off before she gained the north and south highroad which the other road crossed a little farther on.
To her right was a small farm across which she had never ridden, for she always had made it a point never to trespass upon fenced grounds. On the opposite side of the farm was a wood, and somewhere beyond that a small stream which the highroad crossed upon a little bridge. It was all new country to her, but it must be ventured.
She took the fence at the edge of the clearing and then reined in a moment to look behind her. A mile away she saw the head and shoulders of a horseman above some low bushes—the pursuers had found a way through the gully.
Turning once more to her flight the girl rode rapidly across the fields toward the wood. Here she found a high wire fence so close to thickly growing trees upon the opposite side that she dared not attempt to jump it—there was no point at which she would not have been raked from the saddle by overhanging boughs. Slipping to the ground she attacked the barrier with her bare hands, attempting to tear away the staples that held the wire in place. For several minutes she surged and tugged upon the unyielding metal strand. An occasional backward glance revealed to her horrified eyes the rapid approach of her enemies. One of them was far in advance of the others—in another moment he would be upon her.
With redoubled fury she turned again to the fence. A superhuman effort brought away a staple. One wire was down and an instant later two more. Standing with one foot upon the wires to keep them from tangling about her horse’s legs, she pulled her mount across into the wood. The foremost horseman was close upon her as she finally succeeded in urging the animal across the fallen wires.
The girl sprang to her horse’s side just as the man reached the fence. The wires, released from her weight, sprang up breast high against his horse. He leaped from the saddle the instant that the girl was swinging into her own. Then the fellow jumped the fence and caught her bridle.
She struck at him with her whip, lashing him across the head and face, but he clung tightly, dragged hither and thither by the frightened horse, until at last he managed to reach the girl’s arm and drag her to the ground.
Almost at the same instant a man, unkempt and disheveled, sprang from behind a tree and with a single blow stretched the trooper unconscious upon the ground.
BARNEY TO THE RESCUE
As Barney Custer raced along the Austrian highroad toward the frontier and Lutha, his spirits rose to a pitch of buoyancy to which they had been strangers for the past several days. For the first time in many hours it seemed possible to Barney to entertain reasonable hopes of escape from the extremely dangerous predicament into which he had gotten himself.