“The safest thing to do is to put him where he at least cannot come back to threaten us, and having done so upon the orders of Peter, let the king’s blood be upon Peter’s head. I, at least, shall obey my master, and let you two bear witness that I did the thing with my own hand.” So saying he drew his sword and crossed toward the king.
But Captain Ernst Maenck never reached his sovereign.
As the terrified shriek of the sorry monarch rang through the interior of the desolate ruin another sound mingled with it, half-drowning the piercing wail of terror.
It was the sharp crack of a revolver, and even as it spoke Maenck lunged awkwardly forward, stumbled, and collapsed at Leopold’s feet. With a moan the king shrank back from the grisly thing that touched his boot, and then two men were in the center of the room, and things were happening with a rapidity that was bewildering.
About all that he could afterward recall with any distinctness was the terrified face of Coblich, as he rushed past him toward a door in the opposite side of the room, and the horrid leer upon the face of the dead trooper, who foolishly, had made a move to draw his revolver.
Within the cathedral at Lustadt excitement was at fever heat. It lacked but two minutes of noon, and as yet no king had come to claim the crown. Rumors were running riot through the close-packed audience.
One man had heard the king’s chamberlain report to Prince von der Tann that the master of ceremonies had found the king’s apartments vacant when he had gone to urge the monarch to hasten his preparations for the coronation.
Another had seen Butzow and two strangers galloping north through the city. A third told of a little old man who had come to the king with an urgent message.
Peter of Blentz and Prince Ludwig were talking in whispers at the foot of the chancel steps. Peter ascended the steps and facing the assemblage raised a silencing hand.
“He who claimed to be Leopold of Lutha,” he said, “was but a mad adventurer. He would have seized the throne of the Rubinroths had his nerve not failed him at the last moment. He has fled. The true king is dead. Now I, Prince Regent of Lutha, declare the throne vacant, and announce myself king!”
There were a few scattered cheers and some hissing. A score of the nobles rose as though to protest, but before any could take a step the attention of all was directed toward the sorry figure of a white-faced man who scurried up the broad center aisle.
It was Coblich.
He ran to Peter’s side, and though he attempted to speak in a whisper, so out of breath, and so filled with hysterical terror was he that his words came out in gasps that were audible to many of those who stood near by.
“Maenck is dead,” he cried. “The impostor has stolen the king.”
Peter of Blentz went white as his lieutenant. Von der Tann heard and demanded an explanation.