[Illustration: In the flash of an eye, Dan was making for the assassin.]
But he was too late. At least ten feet away Dan left his feet and launched himself into one of those old-time tackles which even in Exeter had attracted the eyes of the football authorities of three universities. Hard and straight he went, head to one side, jaws shut tight. Then he struck, one brawny shoulder snapping full into the man’s midriff. You have to know how to fall when tackled by a good man. This San Blancan did not. He went down like a falling tower. The gun was discharged in the air with a resounding report and flew into the bushes. The man lay still, gasping. The dinner ended abruptly and in great confusion. Guests poured out of the windows, tables were overturned.
Dan quickly dragged the prostrate man into a clump of mesquite. His first impulse had been to turn him over to the soldiers. But the defiant, if faint murmurs of the patriot, “Long live San Blanco; death to Rodriguez!” bringing back to him his emotions of the morning, caused him to decide differently. He seized the man by the collar.
“Stand up,” he said, “you are not hurt; only a bit winded. I guess Rodriguez has had enough heads without yours. You thought you were acting for your country’s good; I guess you were, from all I hear.”
The man had been looking at the speaker wonderingly, not understanding a word. Dan turned to him impatiently.
“Get out!” he said. He pushed the man, searching his brain for the Spanish equivalent. “What the mischief—oh,” he glared at the trembling prisoner. “Vayase Vd! Largo de aqui!”
The poor wretch needed no more. With a quick, smiling gleam of white teeth he bowed, and the next instant was loping through the garden. Dan sauntered slowly toward the hotel. Soldiers acting upon information given by Miss Howland were beating the grounds, and there was much shouting and occasionally a pistol shot.
But the hotel was deserted of the brilliant guests who had filled it but a quarter of an hour before. The spell of darkness lay upon the banquet hall. A few men and women were loitering in the court, awaiting developments. Oddington was there, and another man of the party, but the rest, including the Howlands, had evidently gone to their rooms.
“Miss Howland told us you made rather an interesting tackle, Merrithew,” said Oddington as Dan nodded to him. “I am sorry I missed it. Where is your prisoner?”
Dan smiled. “The tackle was so artistic,” he said, “that I jarred most of my senses out of me. He got away. Here’s his gun,” and Dan held up an old-fashioned carbine.
Oddington glanced at the weapon.
“Howland will be sorry you let your man escape, if only because he prevented the carefully prepared speech he had been laboring over. It was pretty nervy of you, although Howland tells me they are all the time potting at Rodriguez and missing him. Still, I should think they would give you the Order of San Blanco.”