Maenck crawled through. He was within the building that held the man he sought. He found himself in a small room—evidently a dressing-room. There were two doors leading from it. He approached one and listened. He heard the tones of subdued conversation beyond.
Very cautiously he opened the door a crack. He could not believe the good fortune that was revealed before him. On a couch lay the Princess Emma von der Tann. Beside her her father. At the door was Lieutenant Butzow. The bishop and a doctor were talking at the head of the couch. Pacing up and down the room, resplendent in the marriage robes of a king of Lutha, was the man he sought.
Maenck drew his revolver. He broke the barrel, and saw that there was a good cartridge in each chamber of the cylinder. He closed it quietly. Then he threw open the door, stepped into the room, took deliberate aim, and fired.
The old man with the ax moved cautiously along the corridor upon the second floor of the Castle of Blentz until he came to a certain door. Gently he turned the knob and pushed the door inward. Holding the ax behind his back, he entered. In his pocket was a great roll of money, and there was to be an equal amount waiting him at Lustadt when his mission had been fulfilled.
Once within the room, he looked quickly about him. Upon a great bed lay the figure of a man asleep. His face was turned toward the opposite wall away from the side of the bed nearer the menacing figure of the old servant. On tiptoe the man with the ax approached. The neck of his victim lay uncovered before him. He swung the ax behind him. A single blow, as mighty as his ancient muscles could deliver, would suffice.
Barney Custer opened his eyes. Directly opposite him upon the wall was a dark-toned photogravure of a hunting scene. It tilted slightly forward upon its wire support. As Barney’s opened it chanced that they were directed straight upon the shiny glass of the picture. The light from the window struck the glass in such a way as to transform it into a mirror. The American’s eyes were glued with horror upon the reflection that he saw there—an old man swinging a huge ax down upon his head.
It is an open question as to which of the two was the most surprised at the cat-like swiftness of the movement that carried Barney Custer out of that bed and landed him in temporary safety upon the opposite side.
With a snarl the old man ran around the foot of the bed to corner his prey between the bed and the wall. He was swinging the ax as though to hurl it. So close was he that Barney guessed it would be difficult for him to miss his mark. The least he could expect would be a frightful wound. To have attempted to escape would have necessitated turning his back to his adversary, inviting instant death. To grapple with a man thus armed appeared an equally hopeless alternative.