The officers sitting on Barney alternately beat him and questioned him, interspersing their interrogations with lurid profanity.
“If you will get off of me,” at last shouted the American, “I shall be glad to explain—and apologize.”
They let him up, scowling ferociously. He had promised to explain, but now that he was confronted by the immediate necessity of an explanation that would prove at all satisfactory as to how he happened to be wandering around the rooftops of Burgova, he discovered that his powers of invention were entirely inadequate. The need for explaining, however, was suddenly removed. A shadow fell upon them from above, and as they glanced up Barney saw the figure of an officer surrounded by several soldiers looking down upon him.
“Ah, you have him!” cried the newcomer in evident satisfaction. “It is well. Hold him until we descend.”
A moment later he and his escort had dropped through the broken skylight to the floor beside them.
“Who is the mad man?” cried the captain who had broken Barney’s fall. “The assassin! He tried to murder me.”
“I cannot doubt it,” replied the officer who had just descended, “for the fellow is no other than Stefan Drontoff, the famous Serbian spy!”
“Himmel!” ejaculated the officers in chorus. “You have done a good days’ work, lieutenant.”
“The firing squad will do a better work in a few minutes,” replied the lieutenant, with a grim pointedness that took Barney’s breath away.
BEFORE THE FIRING SQUAD
They marched Barney before the staff where he urged his American nationality, pointing to his credentials and passes in support of his contention.
The general before whom he had been brought shrugged his shoulders. “They are all Americans as soon as they are caught,” he said; “but why did you not claim to be Prince Peter of Blentz? You have his passes as well. How can you expect us to believe your story when you have in your possession passes for different men?
“We have every respect for our friends the Americans. I would even stretch a point rather than chance harming an American; but you will admit that the evidence is all against you. You were found in the very building where Drontoff was known to stay while in Burgova. The young woman whose mother keeps the place directed our officer to your room, and you tried to escape, which I do not think that an innocent American would have done.
“However, as I have said, I will go to almost any length rather than chance a mistake in the case of one who from his appearance might pass more readily for an American than a Serbian. I have sent for Prince Peter of Blentz. If you can satisfactorily explain to him how you chance to be in possession of military passes bearing his name I shall be very glad to give you the benefit of every other doubt.”