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.