All night Barney rode. Three times he wandered from the way and was forced to stop at farmhouses to inquire the proper direction; but darkness hid his features from the sleepy eyes of those who answered his summons, and daylight found him still forging ahead in the direction of the capital of Lutha.
The American was sunk in unhappy meditation as his weary little mount plodded slowly along the dusty road. For hours the man had not been able to urge the beast out of a walk. The loss of time consequent upon his having followed wrong roads during the night and the exhaustion of the pony which retarded his speed to what seemed little better than a snail’s pace seemed to assure the failure of his mission, for at best he could not reach Lustadt before noon.
There was no possibility of bringing Leopold to his capital in time for the coronation, and but a bare possibility that Prince Ludwig would accept the word of an entire stranger that Leopold lived, for the acknowledgment of such a condition by the old prince could result in nothing less than an immediate resort to arms by the two factions. It was certain that Peter would be infinitely more anxious to proceed with his coronation should it be rumored that Leopold lived, and equally certain that Prince Ludwig would interpose every obstacle, even to armed resistance, to prevent the consummation of the ceremony.
Yet there seemed to Barney no other alternative than to place before the king’s one powerful friend the information that he had. It would then rest with Ludwig to do what he thought advisable.
An hour from Lustadt the road wound through a dense forest, whose pleasant shade was a grateful relief to both horse and rider from the hot sun beneath which they had been journeying the greater part of the morning. Barney was still lost in thought, his eyes bent forward, when at a sudden turning of the road he came face to face with a troop of horse that were entering the main highway at this point from an unfrequented byroad.
At sight of them the American instinctively wheeled his mount in an effort to escape, but at a command from an officer a half dozen troopers spurred after him, their fresh horses soon overtaking his jaded pony.
For a moment Barney contemplated resistance, for these were troopers of the Royal Horse, the body which was now Peter’s most effective personal tool; but even as his hand slipped to the butt of one of the revolvers at his hip, the young man saw the foolish futility of such a course, and with a shrug and a smile he drew rein and turned to face the advancing soldiers.
As he did so the officer rode up, and at sight of Barney’s face gave an exclamation of astonishment. The officer was Butzow.
“Well met, your majesty,” he cried saluting. “We are riding to the coronation. We shall be just in time.”
“To see Peter of Blentz rob Leopold of a crown,” said the American in a disgusted tone.