“It will take but little now to turn Leopold against Von der Tann.” The speaker evidently was an Austrian. “Already I have half convinced him that the old man aspires to the throne. Leopold fears the loyalty of his army, which is for Von der Tann body and soul. He knows that Von der Tann is strongly anti-Austrian, and I have made it plain to him that if he allows his kingdom to take sides with Serbia he will have no kingdom when the war is over—it will be a part of Austria.
“It was with greater difficulty, however, my dear Peter, that I convinced him that you, Von Coblich, and Captain Maenck were his most loyal friends. He fears you yet, but, nevertheless, he has pardoned you all. Do not forget when you return to your dear Lutha that you owe your repatriation to Count Zellerndorf of Austria.”
“You may be assured that we shall never forget,” replied another voice that Barney recognized at once as belonging to Prince Peter of Blentz, the one time regent of Lutha.
“It is not for myself,” continued Count Zellerndorf, “that I crave your gratitude, but for my emperor. You may do much to win his undying gratitude, while for yourselves you may win to almost any height with the friendship of Austria behind you. I am sure that should any accident, which God forfend, deprive Lutha of her king, none would make a more welcome successor in the eyes of Austria than our good friend Peter.”
Barney could almost see the smile of satisfaction upon the thin lips of Peter of Blentz as this broad hint fell from the lips of the Austrian diplomat—a hint that seemed to the American little short of the death sentence of Leopold, King of Lutha.
“We owed you much before, count,” said Peter. “But for you we should have been hanged a year ago—without your aid we should never have been able to escape from the fortress of Lustadt or cross the border into Austria-Hungary. I am sorry that Maenck failed in his mission, for had he not we would have had concrete evidence to present to the king that we are indeed his loyal supporters. It would have dispelled at once such fears and doubts as he may still entertain of our fealty.”
“Yes, I, too, am sorry,” agreed Zellerndorf. “I can assure you that the news we hoped Captain Maenck would bring from America would have gone a long way toward restoring you to the confidence and good graces of the king.”
“I did my best,” came another voice that caused Barney’s eyes to go wide in astonishment, for it was none other than the voice of Maenck himself. “Twice I risked hanging to get him and only came away after I had been recognized.”
“It is too bad,” sighed Zellerndorf; “though it may not be without its advantages after all, for now we still have this second bugbear to frighten Leopold with. So long, of course, as the American lives there is always the chance that he may return and seek to gain the throne. The fact that his mother was a Rubinroth princess might make it easy for Von der Tann to place him upon the throne without much opposition, and if he married the old man’s daughter it is easy to conceive that the prince might favor such a move. At any rate, it should not be difficult to persuade Leopold of the possibility of such a thing.