“I believe we are going to make it,” whispered the girl, her voice tense with excitement. “If you could only go a little faster, Mr. Custer, I’m sure that we will.”
“She’s reached her limit in this sand,” replied the man, “and there’s a grade just ahead—we may find better going beyond, but they’re bound to gain on us before we reach the top.”
The girl strained her eyes into the night before them. On the right of the road stood an ancient ruin—grim and forbidding. As her eyes rested upon it she gave a little exclamation of relief.
“I know where we are now,” she cried. “The hill ahead is sandy, and there is a quarter of a mile of sand beyond, but then we strike the Lustadt highway, and if we can reach it ahead of them their horses will have to go ninety miles an hour to catch us—provided this car possesses any such speed possibilities.”
“If it can go forty we are safe enough,” replied Barney; “but we’ll give it a chance to go as fast as it can—the farther we are from the vicinity of Blentz the safer I shall feel for the welfare of your highness.”
A shot rang behind them, and a bullet whistled high above their heads. The princess seized the carbine that rested on the seat between them.
“Shall I?” she asked, turning its muzzle back over the lowered top.
“Better not,” answered the man. “They are only trying to frighten us into surrendering—that shot was much too high to have been aimed at us—they are shooting over our heads purposely. If they deliberately attempt to pot us later, then go for them, but to do it now would only draw their fire upon us. I doubt if they wish to harm your highness, but they certainly would fire to hit in self-defense.”
The girl lowered the firearm. “I am becoming perfectly bloodthirsty,” she said, “but it makes me furious to be hunted like a wild animal in my native land, and by the command of my king, at that. And to think that you who placed him upon his throne, you who have risked your life many times for him, will find no protection at his hands should you be captured is maddening. Ach, Gott, if I were a man!”
“I thank God that you are not, your highness,” returned Barney fervently.
Gently she laid her hand upon his where it gripped the steering wheel.
“No,” she said, “I was wrong—I do not need to be a man while there still be such men as you, my friend; but I would that I were not the unhappy woman whom Fate had bound to an ingrate king—to a miserable coward!”
They had reached the grade at last, and the motor was straining to the Herculean task imposed upon it.
Grinding and grating in second speed the car toiled upward through the clinging sand. The pace was snail-like. Behind, the horsemen were gaining rapidly. The labored breathing of their mounts was audible even above the noise of the motor, so close were they. The top of the ascent lay but a few yards ahead, and the pursuers were but a few yards behind.