“How am I to know that you are not another of the creatures of that fiend of Blentz?” cried the king. “How am I to know that you will not drag me back to the terrors of that awful castle, and to the poisonous potions of the new physician Peter has employed to assassinate me? I can trust none.
“Go away and leave me. I do not want to be king. I wish only to go away as far from Lutha as I can get and pass the balance of my life in peace and security. Peter may have the crown. He is welcome to it, for all of me. All I ask is my life and my liberty.”
Barney saw that while the king was evidently of sound mind, his was not one of those iron characters and courageous hearts that would willingly fight to the death for his own rights and the rights and happiness of his people. Perhaps the long years of bitter disappointment and misery, the tedious hours of imprisonment, and the constant haunting fears for his life had reduced him to this pitiable condition.
Whatever the cause, Barney Custer was determined to overcome the man’s aversion to assuming the duties which were rightly his, for in his memory were the words of Emma von der Tann, in which she had made plain to him the fate that would doubtless befall her father and his house were Peter of Blentz to become king of Lutha. Then, too, there was the life of the little peasant boy. Was that to be given up uselessly for a king with so mean a spirit that he would not take a scepter when it was forced upon him?
And the people of Lutha? Were they to be further and continually robbed and downtrodden beneath the heel of Peter’s scoundrelly officials because their true king chose to evade the responsibilities that were his by birth?
For half an hour Barney pleaded and argued with the king, until he infused in the weak character of the young man a part of his own tireless enthusiasm and courage. Leopold commenced to take heart and see things in a brighter and more engaging light. Finally he became quite excited about the prospects, and at last Barney obtained a willing promise from him that he would consent to being placed upon his throne and would go to Lustadt at any time that Barney should come for him with a force from the retainers of Prince Ludwig von der Tann.
“Let us hope,” cried the king, “that the luck of the reigning house of Lutha has been at last restored. Not since my aunt, the Princess Victoria, ran away with a foreigner has good fortune shone upon my house. It was when my father was still a young man—before he had yet come to the throne—and though his reign was marked with great peace and prosperity for the people of Lutha, his own private fortunes were most unhappy.
“My mother died at my birth, and the last days of my father’s life were filled with suffering from the cancer that was slowly killing him. Let us pray, Herr Custer, that you have brought new life to the fortunes of my house.”