As he walked he heard the sound of the feet of a horse galloping over a dry field—muffled, rapid thud approaching closer upon his right hand. Barney remained motionless. He was sure that the rider would not enter the wood which, with its low-hanging boughs and thick underbrush, was ill adapted to equestrianism.
Closer and closer came the sound until it ceased suddenly scarce a hundred yards from where the American hid. He waited in silence to discover what would happen next. Would the rider enter the wood on foot? What was his purpose? Was it another Austrian who had by some miracle discovered the whereabouts of the fugitive? Barney could scarce believe it possible.
Presently he heard another horse approaching at the same mad gallop. He heard the sound of rapid, almost frantic efforts of some nature where the first horse had come to a stop. He heard a voice urging the animal forward—pleading, threatening. A woman’s voice. Barney’s excitement became intense in sympathy with the subdued excitement of the woman whom he could not as yet see.
A moment later the second rider came to a stop at the same point at which the first had reined in. A man’s voice rose roughly. “Halt!” it cried. “In the name of the king, halt!” The American could no longer resist the temptation to see what was going on so close to him “in the name of the king.”
He advanced from behind his tree until he saw the two figures—a man’s and a woman’s. Some bushes intervened—he could not get a clear view of them, yet there was something about the figure of the woman, whose back was toward him as she struggled to mount her frightened horse, that caused him to leap rapidly toward her. He rounded a tree a few paces from her just as the man—a trooper in the uniform of the house of Blentz—caught her arm and dragged her from the saddle. At the same instant Barney recognized the girl—it was Princess Emma.
Before either the trooper or the princess were aware of his presence he had leaped to the man’s side and dealt him a blow that stretched him at full length upon the ground—stunned.
AN ADVENTUROUS DAY
For an instant the two stood looking at one another. The girl’s eyes were wide with incredulity, with hope, with fear. She was the first to break the silence.
“Who are you?” she breathed in a half whisper.
“I don’t wonder that you ask,” returned the man. “I must look like a scarecrow. I’m Barney Custer. Don’t you remember me now? Who did you think I was?”
The girl took a step toward him. Her eyes lighted with relief.
“Captain Maenck told me that you were dead,” she said, “that you had been shot as a spy in Austria, and then there is that uncanny resemblance to the king—since he has shaved his beard it is infinitely more remarkable. I thought you might be he. He has been at Blentz and I knew that it was quite possible that he had discovered treachery upon the part of Prince Peter. In which case he might have escaped in disguise. I really wasn’t sure that you were not he until you spoke.”