The officer hesitated.
“We shall have to take the king’s body with us, your highness,” he said.
The officer evidently becoming suspicious, came closer, and as he did so Barney Custer sat up.
“Go away!” cried the girl, for she saw that the king was attempting to speak. “My father’s people will carry Leopold of Lutha in state to the capital of his kingdom.”
“What’s all this row about?” he asked. “Can’t you let a dead king alone if the young lady asks you to? What kind of a short sport are you, anyway? Run along, now, and tie yourself outside.”
The officer smiled, a trifle maliciously perhaps.
“Ah,” he said, “I am very glad indeed that you are not dead, your majesty.”
Barney Custer turned his incredulous eyes upon the lieutenant.
“Et tu, Brute?” he cried in anguished accents, letting his head fall back into the girl’s lap. He found it very comfortable there indeed.
The officer smiled and shook his head. Then he tapped his forehead meaningly.
“I did not know,” he said to the girl, “that he was so bad. But come—it is some distance to Blentz, and the afternoon is already well spent. Your highness will accompany us.”
“I?” cried the girl. “You certainly cannot be serious.”
“And why not, your highness?” asked the officer. “We had strict orders to arrest not only the king, but any companions who may have been involved in his escape.”
“I had nothing whatever to do with his escape,” said the girl, “though I should have been only too glad to have aided him had the opportunity presented.”
“King Peter may think differently,” replied the man.
“The Regent, you mean?” the girl corrected him haughtily.
The officer shrugged his shoulders.
“Regent or King, he is ruler of Lutha nevertheless, and he would take away my commission were I to tell him that I had found a Von der Tann in company with the king and had permitted her to escape. Your blood convicts your highness.”
“You are going to take me to Blentz and confine me there?” asked the girl in a very small voice and with wide incredulous eyes. “You would not dare thus to humiliate a Von der Tann?”
“I am very sorry,” said the officer, “but I am a soldier, and soldiers must obey their superiors. My orders are strict. You may be thankful,” he added, “that it was not Maenck who discovered you.”
At the mention of the name the girl shuddered.
“In so far as it is in my power your highness and his majesty will be accorded every consideration of dignity and courtesy while under my escort. You need not entertain any fear of me,” he concluded.
Barney Custer, during this, to him, remarkable dialogue, had risen to his feet, and assisted the girl in rising. Now he turned and spoke to the officer.
“This farce,” he said, “has gone quite far enough. If it is a joke it is becoming a very sorry one. I am not a king. I am an American—Bernard Custer, of Beatrice, Nebraska, U.S.A. Look at me. Look at me closely. Do I look like a king?”