Then he turned to look back up the road in the direction from which his pursuers were coming. They were not in sight—they had not seen his ruse. The water in the river was of sufficient depth to completely cover the car—no sign of it appeared above the surface.
Barney turned into the wood smiling. His scheme had worked well. The occupants of the two cars following him might not note the broken handrail, or, if they did, might not connect it with Barney in any way. In this event they would continue in the direction of Lustadt, wondering what in the world had become of their quarry. Or, if they guessed that his car had gone over into the river, they would doubtless believe that its driver had gone with it. In either event Barney would be given ample time to find his way to Tann.
He wished that he might find other clothes, since if he were dressed otherwise there would be no reason to imagine that his pursuers would recognize him should they come upon him. None of them could possibly have gained a sufficiently good look at his features to recognize them again.
The Austrian uniform, however, would convict him, or at least lay him under suspicion, and in Barney’s present case, suspicion was as good as conviction were he to fall into the hands of the Austrians. The garb had served its purpose well in aiding in his escape from Austria, but now it was more of a menace than an asset.
For a week Barney Custer wandered through the woods and mountains of Lutha. He did not dare approach or question any human being. Several times he had seen Austrian cavalry that seemed to be scouring the country for some purpose that the American could easily believe was closely connected with himself. At least he did not feel disposed to stop them, as they cantered past his hiding place, to inquire the nature of their business.
Such farmhouses as he came upon he gave a wide berth except at night, and then he only approached them stealthily for such provender as he might filch. Before the week was up he had become an expert chicken thief, being able to rob a roost as quietly as the most finished carpetbagger on the sunny side of Mason and Dixon’s line.
A careless housewife, leaving her lord and master’s rough shirt and trousers hanging upon the line overnight, had made possible for Barney the coveted change in raiment. Now he was barged as a Luthanian peasant. He was hatless, since the lady had failed to hang out her mate’s woolen cap, and Barney had not dared retain a single vestige of the damning Austrian uniform.
What the peasant woman thought when she discovered the empty line the following morning Barney could only guess, but he was morally certain that her grief was more than tempered by the gold piece he had wrapped in a bit of cloth torn from the soldier’s coat he had worn, which he pinned on the line where the shirt and pants had been.
It was somewhere near noon upon the seventh day that Barney skirting a little stream, followed through the concealing shade of a forest toward the west. In his peasant dress he now felt safer to approach a farmhouse and inquire his way to Tann, for he had come a sufficient distance from the spot where he had stolen his new clothes to hope that they would not be recognized or that the news of their theft had not preceded him.