Chapter XXII. In Hand-to-Hand Conflict
 

"I'm done with you, Bob Lasar! And you, too, Comstock!" thundered Mr. Marquand, as the rascals stood at the door of his room some two hours later.

Mr. Marquand had been waiting for them, and with him was Tad Butler, whom he had urged to accompany him back to the hotel that he might be a witness to what took place. Perhaps, too, Mr. Marquand reasoned that his former associates might not take the same attitude toward him in the presence of the boy that they might otherwise take.

The two men had halted in the doorway as Mr. Marquand hurled his decision at them.

Lasar shoved his companion into the room and closed the door.

"Sit down, both of you! So you thought to hoodwink me-- to get the secret of the treasure and then put me out of the way, eh? That was your game, was it? Well, it's all off now. I'll have nothing further to do with you."

"Why-- why, Mr. Marquand, it's all a mistake!" began one of the pair.

"Perhaps you'll deny having plotted against me on a train on your way to Bluewater."

"I deny ever having tried to put up a game on--"

"Master Tad, did you ever see these men before?"

They turned on the lad quickly. Neither man had previously observed him.

"Yes, sir."

"Where?"

"On the train, as you mentioned just now."

"And they were plotting my life?"

"So it seemed to me, sir."

"What have you to say to that?" demanded Mr. Marquand.

"That the boy lies!"

Tad's face flushed angrily.

"That'll do," said Marquand, more quietly.

"Then you believe him-- you do not believe me?"

"I believe him. I know he has told me the truth. Now, it isn't necessary to explain to you. You deserve no explanation and you'll get none further than what you already have."

"But--"

"No 'buts' about it. I said I was done with you. Now, I want you to get out of my sight! You're a couple of rogues-- so crooked that you can't walk straight."

Bob Lasar's face had grown livid with rage. His anger was rapidly getting beyond all bounds. Tad observed it and saw the storm coming. It arrived a moment later when Lasar whipped out a revolver.

Before Mr. Marquand could make a move to draw his own weapon Bob had aimed his weapon and pulled the trigger.

Tad, instantly divining the purpose of the man when he saw his hand fly to the pistol holster under his coat, sprang forward.

There was a deafening report. A bullet buried itself in the ceiling of the room.

Tad had struck up the desperado's arm just in the nick of time, thus preventing a terrible crime. But the end was not yet. There were five more bullets in the cylinder of the weapon, as the lad knew full well.

He grabbed Lasar's arm, hanging on desperately, at the same time trying to get a wrestling hold.

The weapon went off again, this time sending a bullet into the floor.

"Look out for the other fellow!" shouted Tad.

Mr. Marquand already had done so. Comstock had just made an attempt to draw his own weapon when Marquand threw himself upon the man. The two went crashing to the floor, while Tad and Lasar were battling all over the room, the latter's weapon barking viciously every little while.

Lasar was much more powerful than his slender antagonist, but Tad being very quick on his feet managed to keep out of the way of the revolver and at the same time to avoid being thrown.

Suddenly, the boy gave the gun-hand of his opponent a quick twist.

Lasar uttered a sharp exclamation of pain. The revolver clattered to the floor.

Quick as a flash, Tad threw a leg behind the knee of his antagonist, gave it a quick jerk, with the result that Lasar went to the floor with great violence.

By this time, occupants of the hotel were running down the hall, while others were hammering at the door. Lasar had turned the key upon entering the room.

Those within did not have time to listen to the demands of those in the hall, who were demanding admission.

Mr. Marquand, as soon as he got his opponent down, quickly disarmed him.

"Get up!" he commanded. "I don't want to kill you. I ought to do so, but I won't."

He sprang from Comstock, and jerking Tad from Lasar, whom the lad was making heroic efforts to hold down, pulled the fallen rascal to his feet.

"Get out, both of you!" he commanded, covering both his visitors with his weapon.

Lasar, in struggling to his feet, reached for his revolver.

"Drop it or I'll fill you full of lead!"

At that instant, the door burst open and half a dozen men sprang into the room.

Lasar, seeing that he was caught, leaped through the open window. He was followed closely by Comstock. He, too, made a clean leap, landing on the soft ground below.

"What's the meaning of this shooting?" shouted the proprietor, his face flushed with anger.

"Two men tried to murder me," replied Marquand coolly.

"It looks as though you were doing your share of it," snapped the proprietor, noting his guest's belligerent attitude and drawn weapon.

Just then three shots in quick succession were fired from the outside. Two of the bullets narrowly missed some of the men, who had forced their way into the room.

As the third shot was fired, Tad threw one hand to his head; then drew it away grinning.

"Those rascals have evidently gotten a new supply of fire arms," he said.

A bullet had gone through his hair and his scalp burned where the lead had brushed it.

All of the newcomers drew their revolvers and sprang to the window.

"Don't shoot!" cried the Pony Rider Boy; "You'll hit the wrong one. There are a hundred people down there."

"He's right!" shouted Mr. Marquand, pushing his way between the men and the window, at the imminent risk of getting a bullet in his back from either Lasar or Comstock. "Let 'em go. They'll be running for home about this time. They are a couple of scoundrels, sir."

"But the damage. Look at my fine room."

"I'll pay for the damage, and I'll quit your hotel now. I've had enough of the place," retorted Mr. Marquand, pulling a roll of bills from his pocket. "How much is it?"

"Well, you see--"

"How much is it?"

"Well, I guess twenty-five would be about right. You see--"

"Here's your twenty-five. Clear out!"

With many apologies the proprietor, accompanied by the others, backed from the room.

"We came pretty near having a fight, didn't we?" Marquand smiled, looking at Tad for the first time since the disturbance began.

"Almost."

"He would have got me if you hadn't knocked up his gun-hand. That's another one I owe you. Well, maybe we'll have a pay day soon."

"You had better go back to camp with me, and bunk in with us to-night," suggested the lad, "We shall want to make an early start in the morning, anyway. I think it will be safer there, too. That pair won't dare come fooling around our camp, knowing they can't trifle with us," added the lad, with a note of pride in his tone.

"I'll do it. Not that I'm afraid of anything that walks on two legs, but the sooner we hitch up the better it'll be. Got room enough?"

"Plenty. Where's your pony?"

"Up near your camp. Come on."

The man and the boy walked from the hotel, the former looking neither to the right nor to the left, Tad observing their surroundings half

suspiciously. He was sure they had not yet heard the last of Bob Lasar and Joe Comstock. In this he was right.

Marquand and the boy had gone no more than ten rods from the hotel, when the report of a revolver was heard, and a bullet fired from the corner of an adobe building passed within an inch of Mr. Marquand's head.

With wonderful quickness the latter drew and sent three shots at the flash.

Whether he had hit any thing or not he did not know.

"Run! I don't want you to get hit," cried the boy's new friend, grasping Tad by the hand and starting off at a brisk pace.

"Bullets don't scare me, so long as they don't hit me," laughed young Butler.