“Oh!” cried the girl, a new note in her voice, “I guess I know now whom you mean. There is one man here I have heard them call Stefan, though for the moment I had forgotten it. He is in the small attic-room at the head of the stairs. Here is a key that will fit the lock. Yes, I am sure that he is Stefan. You will find him there, and it should be easy to take him, for I know that he is unarmed. He told me so last night when he came in.”
“The devil!” muttered Barney Custer; but whether he referred to his predicament or to the girl it would be impossible to tell. Already the sound of heavy boots on the stairs announced the coming of men—several of them. Barney heard the rattle of accouterments—the clank of a scabbard—the scraping of gun butts against the walls. The Austrians were coming!
He looked about. There was no way of escape except the door and the skylight, and the door was impossible.
Quickly he tilted the cot against the door, wedging its legs against a crack in the floor—that would stop them for a minute or two. Then he wheeled the dresser beneath the skylight and, placing the chair on top of it, scrambled to the seat of the latter. His head was at the height of the skylight. To force the skylight from its frame required but a moment. A key entered the lock of the door from the opposite side and turned. He knew that someone without was pushing. Then he heard an oath and heavy battering upon the panels. A moment later he had drawn himself through the skylight and stood upon the roof of the building. Before him stretched a series of uneven roofs to the end of the street. Barney did not hesitate. He started on a rapid trot toward the adjoining roof. From that he clambered to a higher one beyond.
On he went, now leaping narrow courts, now dropping to low sheds and again clambering to the heights of the higher buildings, until he had come almost to the end of the row. Suddenly, behind him he heard a hoarse shout, followed by the report of a rifle. With a whir, a bullet flew a few inches above his head. He had gained the last roof—a large, level roof—and at the shot he turned to see how near to him were his pursuers.
Scarce had he taken his eyes from the path ahead than his foot fell upon a glass skylight, and with a loud crash he plunged through amid a shower of broken glass.
His fall was a short one. Directly beneath the skylight was a bed, and on the bed a fat Austrian infantry captain. Barney lit upon the pit of the captain’s stomach. With a howl of pain the officer catapulted Barney to the floor. There were three other beds in the room, and in each bed one or two other officers. Before the American could regain his feet they were all sitting on him—all except the infantry captain. He lay shrieking and cursing in a painful attempt to regain his breath, every atom of which Barney had knocked out of him.