Then the dismal men formed in line before him at the opposite side of the courtyard. Maenck stood to the left of them. He was giving commands. They fell upon the doomed man’s ears with all the cruelty of physical blows. Tears coursed down his white cheeks. With incoherent mumblings he begged for his life. Leopold, King of Lutha, trembling in the face of death!
THE TWO KINGS
Twenty troopers had ridden with Lieutenant Butzow and the false king from Lustadt to Blentz. During the long, hard ride there had been little or no conversation between the American and his friend, for Butzow was still unsuspicious of the true identity of the man who posed as the ruler of Lutha. The lieutenant was all anxiety to reach Blentz and rescue the American he thought imprisoned there and in danger of being shot.
At the gate they were refused admittance unless the king would accept conditions. Barney refused—there was another way to gain entrance to Blentz that not even the master of Blentz knew. Butzow urged him to accede to anything to save the life of the American. He recalled all that the latter had done in the service of Lutha and Leopold. Barney leaned close to the other’s ear.
“If they have not already shot him,” he whispered, “we shall save the prisoner yet. Let them think that we give up and are returning to Lustadt. Then follow me.”
Slowly the little cavalcade rode down from the castle of Blentz toward the village. Just out of sight of the grim pile where the road wound down into a ravine Barney turned his horse’s head up the narrow defile. In single file Butzow and the troopers followed until the rank undergrowth precluded farther advance. Here the American directed that they dismount, and, leaving the horses in charge of three troopers, set out once more with the balance of the company on foot.
It was with difficulty that the men forced their way through the bushes, but they had not gone far when their leader stopped before a sheer wall of earth and stone, covered with densely growing shrubbery. Here he groped in the dim light, feeling his way with his hands before him, while at his heels came his followers. At last he separated a wall of bushes and disappeared within the aperture his hands had made. One by one his men followed, finding themselves in inky darkness, but upon a smooth stone floor and with stone walls close upon either hand. Those who lifted their hands above their heads discovered an arched stone ceiling close above them.
Along this buried corridor the “king” led them, for though he had never traversed it himself the Princess Emma had, and from her he had received minute directions. Occasionally he struck a match, and presently in the fitful glare of one of these he and those directly behind him saw the foot of a ladder that disappeared in the Stygian darkness above.