“I’m shot, your majesty,” murmured the boy, his head dropping against Barney’s breast.
With the lad grasped close to him, the young man turned at the edge of the brush to meet the charge of the two ruffians. The wounding of the youth had delayed them just enough to preclude their making this temporary refuge in safety.
As Barney turned both the men fired simultaneously, and both missed. The American raised his revolver, and with the flash of it the foremost brigand came to a sudden stop. An expression of bewilderment crossed his features. He extended his arms straight before him, the revolver slipped from his grasp, and then like a dying top he pivoted once drunkenly and collapsed upon the turf.
At the instant of his fall his companion and the American fired point-blank at one another.
Barney felt a burning sensation in his shoulder, but it was forgotten for the moment in the relief that came to him as he saw the second rascal sprawl headlong upon his face. Then he turned his attention to the limp little figure that hung across his left arm.
Gently Barney laid the boy upon the sward, and fetching water from the pool bathed his face and forced a few drops between the white lips. The cooling draft revived the wounded child, but brought on a paroxysm of coughing. When this had subsided Rudolph raised his eyes to those of the man bending above him.
“Thank God, your majesty is unharmed,” he whispered. “Now I can die in peace.”
The white lids drooped lower, and with a tired sigh the boy lay quiet. Tears came to the young man’s eyes as he let the limp body gently to the ground.
“Brave little heart,” he murmured, “you gave up your life in the service of your king as truly as though you had not been all mistaken in the object of your veneration, and if it lies within the power of Barney Custer you shall not have died in vain.”
THE REAL LEOPOLD
Two hours later a horseman pushed his way between tumbled and tangled briers along the bottom of a deep ravine.
He was hatless, and his stained and ragged khaki betokened much exposure to the elements and hard and continued usage. At his saddle-bow a carbine swung in its boot, and upon either hip was strapped a long revolver. Ammunition in plenty filled the cross belts that he had looped about his shoulders.
Grim and warlike as were his trappings, no less grim was the set of his strong jaw or the glint of his gray eyes, nor did the patch of brown stain that had soaked through the left shoulder of his jacket tend to lessen the martial atmosphere which surrounded him. Fortunate it was for the brigands of the late Yellow Franz that none of them chanced in the path of Barney Custer that day.
For nearly two hours the man had ridden downward out of the high hills in search of a dwelling at which he might ask the way to Tann; but as yet he had passed but a single house, and that a long untenanted ruin. He was wondering what had become of all the inhabitants of Lutha when his horse came to a sudden halt before an obstacle which entirely blocked the narrow trail at the bottom of the ravine.