At sight of him they drew in their mounts and eyed him suspiciously. Nor was there great cause for wonderment in that, for the American presented aught but a respectable appearance. His khaki motoring suit, soaked from immersion in the moat, had but partially dried upon him. Mud from the banks of the stagnant pool caked his legs to the knees, almost hiding his once tan puttees. More mud streaked his jacket front and stained its sleeves to the elbows. He was bare-headed, for his cap had remained in the moat at Blentz, and his disheveled hair was tousled upon his head, while his full beard had dried into a weird and tangled fringe about his face. At his side still hung the sword that Joseph had buckled there, and it was this that caused the two men the greatest suspicion of this strange looking character.
They continued to eye Barney in silence, every now and then casting apprehensive glances beyond him, as though expecting others of his kind to appear in the trail at his back. And that is precisely what they did fear, for the sword at Barney’s side had convinced them that he must be an officer of the army, and they looked to see his command following in his wake.
The young man saluted them pleasantly, asking the direction to the Old Forest. They thought it strange that a soldier of Lutha should not know his own way about his native land, and so judged that his question was but a blind to deceive them.
“Why do you not ask your own men the way?” parried one of the fellows.
“I have no men, I am alone,” replied Barney. “I am a stranger in Lutha and have lost my way.”
He who had spoken before pointed to the sword at Barney’s side.
“Strangers traveling in Lutha do not wear swords,” he said. “You are an officer. Why should you desire to conceal the fact from two honest farmers? We have done nothing. Let us go our way.”
Barney looked his astonishment at this reply.
“Most certainly, go your way, my friends,” he said laughing. “I would not delay you if I could; but before you go please be good enough to tell me how to reach the Old Forest and the ancient castle of the Prince von der Tann.”
For a moment the two men whispered together, then the spokesman turned to Barney.
“We will lead you upon the right road. Come,” and the two turned their horses, one of them starting slowly back up the trail while the other remained waiting for Barney to pass him.
The American, suspecting nothing, voiced his thanks, and set out after him who had gone before. As he passed the fellow who waited the latter moved in behind him, so that Barney walked between the two. Occasionally the rider at his back turned in his saddle to scan the trail behind, as though still fearful that Barney had been lying to them and that he would discover a company of soldiers charging down upon them.
The trail became more and more difficult as they advanced, until Barney wondered how the little horses clung to the steep mountainside, where he himself had difficulty in walking without using his hand to keep from falling.