The Lad and the Lion

Chapter Seventeen

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE NIGHT that William Wesl waited in the palace gardens to deliver a letter to a mysterious stranger, Prince Ferdinand spent at the hunting lodge playing contract with several officers of the Guard, among whom were two who had never been invited to one of the Prince’s private gatherings before. These two were proteges of General Count Sarnya, and quite generally suspected in court circles of being members of his feared secret police.

Ferdinand was nervous and irritable all during the evening, jumping at the slightest sound. He played atrociously, which was unusual for Ferdinand, paying no attention to discards and bidding recklessly on four card suits after denial by his partner. He lost heavily and drank even more heavily. When the telephone rang between one-thirty and two, while he was making for the next hand, he turned very white and dropped the deck to the floor.

.     .     .     .     .

King Otto retired at a quarter before one; by one o’clock he was asleep. At twenty-nine minutes after one a man entered his room. He stood listening for thirty seconds; then he approached the bed where the King lay, passing around the foot of the bed and standing beside it between the bed and the window. The man made scarcely any noise; but the King, who was a light sleeper, awakened. He opened his eyes to see a man standing over him. In the dim light, he could see that the man was in uniform and wore white gloves. The King sat up.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

For answer, the man shot him twice through the heart; then he tossed the pistol out of the window, and ran from the room through the King’s study.

Captain Carlyn, Officer of the Guard, was the first man into the King’s bedroom after the shots were fired. He saw the King lying with his head over the side of the bed, but he paid no attention to the King. Instead he ran directly to the open window, drawing his service pistol. Below him, between the palace and the fountain, he saw a shadowy figure. Captain Carlyn, asking no question, giving no warning, immediately opened fire.

WilliamWesl, surprised, terrified, hesitated a moment; then turned and fled. The Officer of the Guard emptied his pistol at the fleeing figure. The last shot struck William in the left shoulder, the bullet penetrating his heart. Armed men, pouring into the gardens from the palace and gate found a little figure slumped in death beside the fountain. They also found a pistol lying beneath the bedroom window of the murdered king, and when they searched William’s body, they found a sealed note, typewritten, which read, “I did this because I hate kings. I had no confederates nor accomplices.”

“He was very clever,” said one of the officers who investigated the assassination. “There were no fingerprints on the pistol, because he wore gloves. If he had escaped by the postern gate, he might never have been apprehended. It was only Captain Carlyn’s quick wit and marksmanship that avenged the King.”

The pistol they found was a .32 caliber automatic. The empty shells on the floor of the King’s bedroom and the bullets in his heart were also .32 caliber. The service pistol of the Officer of the Guard was a .45 caliber.

It was a .45 caliber bullet that had killed William Wesl. All these things came out at the inquest; but when they traced the pistol by its serial number, police records showed that it had been purchased by a Lieutenant Hans de Groot of the 10th Regiment of Cavalry, which looked pretty bad for Hans for a short time, until his testimony that the pistol had been stolen from his quarters several weeks before was substantiated by the testimony of Captain Carlyn, who stated that he was a close friend of Lieutenant de Groot and distinctly recalled that the latter had told him at the time of the theft of his pistol.

The authorities were delighted that the affair had been cleared up so easily, and relieved to know that it had been the work of a weak-minded individual and not the outcome of a Terrorist plot; so everyone was happy except the cobbler’s pretty daughter.

The question as to how the assassin gained entrance to the palace and penetrated to the King’s bedroom without being seen, remained an unsolved mystery, as did the fact that he had jumped from a second-story window onto turf without leaving any imprint on the ground; but of course Captain Carlyn, who, as Officer of the Guard, made the initial investigation did the best that he could under the circumstances; and that is all that should be expected of anyone.

.     .     .     .     .

When the telephone rang at the hunting lodge between one-thirty and two that morning, and the Crown Prince dropped the cards on the floor, an aide picked up the telephone receiver and took the message. He was very white as he hung up and turned toward the little company of men; then he stood up very straight and clicked his heels together.

“The King is dead,” he said. “Long live the King!”

Otto was given a most impressive funeral. Two kings walked behind the flag-draped gun carriage that bore the body of the dead monarch—his son and the father of Queen Maria—and there were many princes and dignitaries of the state and church and a great cortege of armed troops. The streets were lined with lesser people, some of whom sat on the curbs and ate their lunches from paper bags. There was a holiday air that belied the bier on the gun carriage and the lugubrious music of the military bands. The people had come to look and enjoy, not to mourn. They might have been congregating for an Iowa picnic in Sycamore Grove, but for time and place.

As it must to all men, death had come to Otto; and nobody gave a damn.

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