He was even humming a gay little tune as he drove into a tiny hamlet through which the road wound. No sign of military appeared to fill him with apprehension. He was very hungry and the odor of cooking fell gratefully upon his nostrils. He drew up before the single inn, and presently, washed and brushed, was sitting before the first meal he had seen for two days. In the enjoyment of the food he almost forgot the dangers he had passed through, or that other dangers might be lying in wait for him at his elbow.
From the landlord he learned that the frontier lay but three miles to the south of the hamlet. Three miles! Three miles to Lutha! What if there was a price upon his head in that kingdom? It was her home. It had been his mother’s birthplace. He loved it.
Further, he must enter there and reach the ear of old Prince von der Tann. Once more he must save the king who had shown such scant gratitude upon another occasion.
For Leopold, Barney Custer did not give the snap of his fingers; but what Leopold, the king, stood for in the lives and sentiments of the Luthanians—of the Von der Tanns—was very dear to the American because it was dear to a trim, young girl and to a rugged, leonine, old man, of both of whom Barney was inordinately fond. And possibly, too, it was dear to him because of the royal blood his mother had bequeathed him.
His meal disposed of to the last morsel, and paid for, Barney entered the stolen car and resumed his journey toward Lutha. That he could remain there he knew to be impossible, but in delivering his news to Prince Ludwig he might have an opportunity to see the Princess Emma once again—it would be worth risking his life for, of that he was perfectly satisfied. And then he could go across into Serbia with the new credentials that he had no doubt Prince von der Tann would furnish him for the asking to replace those the Austrians had confiscated.
At the frontier Barney was halted by an Austrian customs officer; but when the latter recognized the military car and the Austrian uniform of the driver he waved him through without comment. Upon the other side the American expected possible difficulty with the Luthanian customs officer, but to his surprise he found the little building deserted, and none to bar his way. At last he was in Lutha—by noon on the following day he should be at Tann.
To reach the Old Forest by the best roads it was necessary to bear a little to the southeast, passing through Tafelberg and striking the north and south highway between that point and Lustadt, to which he could hold until reaching the east and west road that runs through both Tann and Blentz on its way across the kingdom.
The temptation to stop for a few minutes in Tafelberg for a visit with his old friend Herr Kramer was strong, but fear that he might be recognized by others, who would not guard his secret so well as the shopkeeper of Tafelberg would, decided him to keep on his way. So he flew through the familiar main street of the quaint old village at a speed that was little, if any less, than fifty miles an hour.