The Mad King

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 115

he is Bernard Custer, an American," urged the
general, who, it seemed to Barney, was anxious to make no mistake,
and to give the prisoner every reasonable chance--a state of mind
that rather surprised him in a European military chieftain, all of
whom appeared to share the popular obsession regarding the
prevalence of spies.

"Pardon me, general," interrupted Maenck. "I am well acquainted
with Mr. Custer, who spent some time in Lutha a couple of years ago.
This man is not he."

"That is sufficient, gentlemen, I thank you," said the general. He
did not again look at the prisoner, but turned to a lieutenant who
stood near-by. "You may remove the prisoner," he directed. "He will
be destroyed with the others--here is the order," and he handed the
subaltern a printed form upon which many names were filled in and at
the bottom of which the general had just signed his own. It had
evidently been waiting the outcome of the examination of Stefan
Drontoff.

Surrounded by soldiers, Barney Custer walked from the presence of
the military court. It was to him as though he moved in a strange
world of dreams. He saw the look of satisfaction upon the face of
Peter of Blentz as he passed him, and the open sneer of Maenck. As
yet he did not fully realize what it all meant--that he was marching
to his death! For the last time he was looking upon the faces of his
fellow men; for the last time he had seen the sun rise, never again
to see it set.

He was to be "destroyed." He had heard that expression used many
times in connection with useless horses, or vicious dogs.
Mechanically he drew a cigarette from his pocket and lighted it.
There was no bravado in the act. On the contrary it was done almost
unconsciously. The soldiers marched him through the streets of
Burgova. The men were entirely impassive--even so early in the war
they had become accustomed to this grim duty. The young officer who
commanded them was more nervous than the prisoner--it was his first
detail with a firing squad. He looked wonderingly at Barney,
expecting momentarily to see the man collapse, or at least show some
sign of terror at his close impending fate; but the American walked
silently toward his death, puffing leisurely at his cigarette.

At last, after what seemed a long time, his guard turned in at a
large gateway in a brick wall surrounding a factory. As they entered
Barney saw twenty or thirty men in civilian dress, guarded by a
dozen infantrymen. They were

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