“Under the circumstances Leopold is almost convinced that his only hope of salvation lies in cementing friendly relations with the most powerful of Von der Tann’s enemies, of which you three gentlemen stand preeminently in the foreground, and of assuring to himself the support of Austria. And now, gentlemen,” he went on after a pause, “good night. I have handed Prince Peter the necessary military passes to carry you safely through our lines, and tomorrow you may be in Blentz if you wish.”
CONDEMNED TO DEATH
For some time Barney Custer lay there in the dark revolving in his mind all that he had overheard through the partition—the thin partition which alone lay between himself and three men who would be only too glad to embrace the first opportunity to destroy him. But his fears were not for himself so much as for the daughter of old Von der Tann, and for all that might befall that princely house were these three unhung rascals to gain Lutha and have their way with the weak and cowardly king who reigned there.
If he could but reach Von der Tann’s ear and through him the king before the conspirators came to Lutha! But how might he accomplish it? Count Zellerndorf’s parting words to the three had shown that military passes were necessary to enable one to reach Lutha.
His papers were practically worthless even inside the lines. That they would carry him through the lines he had not the slightest hope. There were two things to be accomplished if possible. One was to cross the frontier into Lutha; and the other, which of course was quite out of the question, was to prevent Peter of Blentz, Von Coblich, and Maenck from doing so. But was that altogether impossible?
The idea that followed that question came so suddenly that it brought Barney Custer out onto the floor in a bound, to don his clothes and sneak into the hall outside his room with the stealth of a professional second-story man.
To the right of his own door was the door to the apartment in which the three conspirators slept. At least, Barney hoped they slept. He bent close to the keyhole and listened. From within came no sound other than the regular breathing of the inmates. It had been at least half an hour since the American had heard the conversation cease. A glance through the keyhole showed no light within the room. Stealthily Barney turned the knob. Had they bolted the door? He felt the tumbler move to the pressure—soundlessly. Then he pushed gently inward. The door swung.
A moment later he stood in the room. Dimly he could see two beds—a large one and a smaller. Peter of Blentz would be alone upon the smaller bed, his henchmen sleeping together in the larger. Barney crept toward the lone sleeper. At the bedside he fumbled in the dark groping for the man’s clothing—for the coat, in the breastpocket of which he hoped to find the military pass that might carry him safely out of Austria-Hungary and into Lutha. On the foot of the bed he found some garments. Gingerly he felt them over, seeking the coat.