“Follow me up this, very quietly,” he said to those behind him. “Up to the third landing.”
They did as he bid them. At the third landing Barney felt for the latch he knew was there—he was on familiar ground now. Finding it he pushed open the door it held in place, and through a tiny crack surveyed the room beyond. It was vacant. The American threw the door wide and stepped within. Directly behind him was Butzow, his eyes wide in wonderment. After him filed the troopers until seventeen of them stood behind their lieutenant and the “king.”
Through the window overlooking the courtyard came a piteous wailing. Barney ran to the casement and looked out. Butzow was at his side.
“Himmel!” ejaculated the Luthanian. “They are about to shoot him. Quick, your majesty,” and without waiting to see if he were followed the lieutenant raced for the door of the apartment. Close behind him came the American and the seventeen.
It took but a moment to reach the stairway down which the rescuers tumbled pell-mell.
Maenck was giving his commands to the firing squad with fiendish deliberation and delay. He seemed to enjoy dragging out the agony that the condemned man suffered. But it was this very cruelty that caused Maenck’s undoing and saved the life of Leopold of Lutha. Just before he gave the word to fire Maenck paused and laughed aloud at the pitiable figure trembling and whining against the stone wall before him, and during that pause a commotion arose at the tower doorway behind the firing squad.
Maenck turned to discover the cause of the interruption, and as he turned he saw the figure of the king leaping toward him with leveled revolver. At the king’s back a company of troopers of the Royal Horse Guard was pouring into the courtyard.
Maenck snatched his own revolver from his hip and fired point-blank at the “king.” The firing squad had turned at the sound of assault from the rear. Some of them discharged their pieces at the advancing troopers. Butzow gave a command and seventeen carbines poured their deadly hail into the ranks of the Blentz retainers. At Maenck’s shot the “king” staggered and fell to the pavement.
Maenck leaped across his prostrate form, yelling to his men “Shoot the American.” Then he was lost to Barney’s sight in the hand-to-hand scrimmage that was taking place. The American tried to regain his feet, but the shock of the wound in his breast had apparently paralyzed him for the moment. A Blentz soldier was running toward the prisoner standing open-mouthed against the wall. The fellow’s rifle was raised to his hip—his intention was only too obvious.
Barney drew himself painfully and slowly to one elbow. The man was rapidly nearing the true Leopold. In another moment he would shoot. The American raised his revolver and, taking careful aim, fired. The soldier shrieked, covered his face with his hands, spun around once, and dropped at the king’s feet.