The girl, upon her side of the room, fired with equal care and coolness; and as the man heard the report of her revolver from time to time something stirred in his heart which no woman ever had stirred before.
“Ah,” he thought, “what a queen she would make!” And the girl, oblivious alike of his thoughts and his identity, found herself regretting that he was but an unhung outlaw.
Presently there was a lull in the firing, and a voice bellowed out of the darkness, demanding that they surrender and promising freedom for the man and a fair ransom for the two women.
The replies of both the man and the girl were identical and simultaneous. Two shots rang out from the interior of the shack as the voice of the brigand ceased, and immediately the battle recommenced with increased violence. As the bullets shattered the few remaining remnants of splintered glass from the window panes the girl crawled across the floor to the man’s side.
“Give me some more ammunition,” she whispered. “I have used all that was in that belt.”
He turned and placed a hand upon hers where it rested on his arm.
“Go over to the chimney and hide,’ he replied; “I have no more revolver ammunition—and only a few more rounds for the rifle.”
She made no move to obey him, nor did she remove her hand from beneath his.
“Hurry,” he said; “you might be shot here—uselessly.”
“You are very brave,” said the Princess Mary. “I do not understand why you, The Rider, should risk your life in battle with your own men to protect me.”
The man leaned closer to her. From the darkness of the night without came a sullen roar as the brigands, sensing the diminution of the firing from within, rose to rush the shack.
“It can do no harm to tell you now,” he said, “for death is very near, for me at least—there was a reason which was based on honor; but had that reason not existed there is another which would have made it a joy for me to give my life for you—would you like to bear it?”
And though the Princess Mary of Margoth knew the words that he was about to speak, and though she knew him for a brutal robber, for an outcast, for a pariah, she whispered: “Yes.”
“Because I love you,” he said, and raised her fingers to his lips.
And then a volley rattled loudly about them, he pushed her to the floor in the shelter of the log wall, and, rising, fired upon the charging ruffians without.
On they came, though some fell, until they battered at the door with their gun butts; smashed at the sturdy timbers that at last splintered and gave, while within the dark interior Prince Boris of Karlova stood with hot rifle pumping his remaining cartridges through the panels into the cursing, screaming mob without.
The door was swinging in upon its broken hinges when, of a sudden, there came a sharp volley from the edge of the ravine, a volley which was followed by the clear, piercing strains of a bugle sounding The Charge!
Mary of Margoth leaped to her feet. “The Guard!” she cried. “Stefan carried the word to Demia, and The Guard has come!”
A moment later the brigands were fleeing before the shots of the royal troopers; and as all officer stepped into the interior of the little room, a flash lamp in his hand, he saw a tall young man standing in the middle of the floor, an empty rifle dangling in his right hand and blood flowing down the side of his face, from a flesh wound across his temple. Behind the young man stood a much disheveled girl, and as the eyes of the captain crossed to her he sprang forward, and going upon one knee raised the girl’s fingers to his lips, with a fervent: “Thank God that Your Royal Highness in unharmed.”
Boris of Karlova turned wide and wondering eyes upon the tableau at his side. “Your Royal Highness,” he muttered to himself, and then other officers and troopers pushed into the room, in their midst a bloody and ragged prisoner.
“There he is,” shouted the prisoner. “There he is! There’s the man your lookin’ for—The Rider!” and he pointed a grimy forefinger at Prince Boris of Karlova. “And I want the reward that’s been upon his head these many years.”
The officers pressed forward to seize the renowned bandit, and at the same time Princess Mary of Margoth stepped between them and their prey.
“Wait!” she said. “He is indeed The Rider; but this night he has won the gratitude of Margoth, for at the risk of his life he has fought for me and saved me from these ruffians. Let him go Captain.”
“Who are you?” asked Boris of Karlova, turning wondering eyes upon the girl. “I thought that you were Miss Bass the American.”
“I am Mary, Princess of Margoth,” she replied; and, I am your friend, too, no matter what or who you are.”
“I am sorry, your highness,” interrupted Captain Polnik; “but I must place this man under arrest and take him back to Demia. Upon his hands is the blood of many innocent victims. He is a menace to the safety of the roads and to the people of Margoth. His defense of your highness will doubtless win him the clemency of the court before which he must be tried for his crimes; so that instead of expiating those crimes upon the gibbet he may hope for the lesser punishment of imprisonment for life.”
Boris of Karlova gave a long whistle. Imprisonment for life! Of course by divulging his identity he could escape all that; but the scandal! No! he dared not tell them who he was—he must wait and find a better way out of his difficulty, and so it was that the crown prince of Karlova was led back to the capitol city of Margoth and thrown into prison within sight of the palace where the Princess Mary took with unwonted meekness a severe lecture from her royal sire.