The Mad King

By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Page 177

three miles north of the forts. Shells were
bursting in the trenches, the forts, and the city. To the south a
stream of terror-stricken refugees was pouring out of Lustadt along
the King's Road. Rich and poor, animated by a common impulse, filled
the narrow street that led to the city's southern gate. Carts drawn
by dogs, laden donkeys, French limousines, victorias,
wheelbarrows--every conceivable wheeled vehicle and beast of
burden--were jammed in a seemingly inextricable tangle in the mad
rush for safety.

Rumor passed back and forth through the fleeing thousands. Now came
word that Fort No. 2 had been silenced by the Austrian guns.
Immediately followed news that the Luthanian line was falling back
upon the city. Fear turned to panic. Men fought to outdistance their
neighbors.

A shell burst upon a roof-top in an adjoining square.

Women fainted and were trampled. Hoarse shouts of anger mingled
with screams of terror, and then into the midst of it from
Margaretha Street rode a man on horseback. Behind him were a score
of officers. A trumpeter raised his instrument to his lips, and
above the din of the fleeing multitude rose the sharp, triple call
that announces the coming of the king. The mob halted and turned.

Looking down upon them from his saddle was Leopold of Lutha. His
palm was raised for silence and there was a smile upon his lips.
Quite suddenly, and as by a miracle, fear left them. They made a
line for him and his staff to ride through. One of the officers
turned in his saddle to address a civilian friend in an automobile.

"His majesty is riding to the firing line," he said and he raised
his voice that many might hear. Quickly the word passed from mouth
to mouth, and as Barney Custer, of Beatrice, passed along Margaretha
Street he was followed by a mad din of cheering that drowned the
booming of the distant cannon and the bursting of the shells above
the city.

The balance of the day the pseudo-king rode back and forth along his
lines. Three of his staff were killed and two horses were shot from
beneath him, but from the moment that he appeared the Luthanian line
ceased to waver or fall back. The advanced trenches that they had
abandoned to the Austrians they took again at the point of the
bayonet. Charge after charge they repulsed, and all the time there
hovered above the enemy Lutha's sole aeroplane, watching, watching,
ever watching for the coming of the allies. Somewhere to the
northeast the Serbians were advancing toward Lustadt. Would they
come in time?

It

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