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- Bar-20 Days - 2/39 -


opening with a wad of wrapping paper and disposed of the shot and screws, Johnny following his laudable example. After haggling a moment over the bill they paid it and walked out, to the apparent joy of the clerk.

"Don't laugh, Kid; you'll spoil it all," warned Hopalong, as he noted signs of distress on his companion's face. "Now, then; what was it we said about thirst? Come on; I see one already."

Having entered the saloon and ordered, Hopalong beamed upon the bartender and shoved his glass back again. "One more, kind stranger; it's good stuff."

"Yes, feels like a shore-enough gun," remarked Johnny, combining two thoughts in one expression, which is brevity.

The bartender looked at him quickly and then stood quite still and listened, a puzzled expression on his face.

/Tic--tickety-tick--tic-tic/, came strange sounds from the other side of the bar. Hopalong was intently studying a chromo on the wall and Johnny gazed vacantly out of the window.

"What's that? What in the deuce is that?" quickly demanded the man with the apron, swiftly reaching for his bung-starter.

/Tickety-tic-tic-tic-tic-tic/, the noise went on, and Hopalong, slowly rolling his eyes, looked at the floor. A screw rebounded and struck his foot, while shot were rolling recklessly.

"Them's making the noise," Johnny explained after critical survey.

"Hang it! I knowed we ought to 'a' got them wedges!" Hopalong exclaimed, petulantly, closing the bottom of the sheath. "Why, I won't have no gun left soon 'less I holds it in." The complaint was plaintive.

"Must be filtering through the stopper," Johnny remarked. "But don't it sound nice, especially when it hits that brass cuspidor!"

The bartender, grasping the mallet even more firmly, arose on his toes and peered over the bar, not quite sure of what he might discover. He had read of infernal machines although he had never seen one. "What the blazes!" he exclaimed in almost a whisper; and then his face went hard. "You get out of here, quick! You've had too much already! I've seen drunks, but-- G'wan! Get out!"

"But we ain't begun yet," Hopalong interposed hastily. "You see--"

"Never mind what I see! I'd hate to see what you'll be seeing before long. God help you when you finish!" rather impolitely interrupted the bartender. He waved the mallet and made for the end of the counter with no hesitancy and lots of purpose in his stride. "G'wan, now! Get out!"

"Come on, Johnny; I'd shoot him only we didn't put no powder with the shot," Hopalong remarked sadly, leading the way out of the saloon and towards the hardware store.

"You better get out!" shouted the man with the mallet, waving the weapon defiantly. "An' don't you never come back again, neither," he warned.

"Hey, it leaked," Hopalong said pleasantly as he closed the door of the hardware store behind him, whereupon the clerk jumped and reached for the sawed-off shotgun behind the counter. Sawed-off shotguns are great institutions for arguing at short range, almost as effective as dynamite in clearing away obstacles.

"Don't you come no nearer!" he cried, white of face. "You git out, or I'll let /this/ leak, an' give you /all/ shot, an' more than you can carry!"

"Easy! Easy there, pardner; we want them wedges," Hopalong replied, somewhat hurriedly. "The others ain't no good; I choked on the very first screw. Why, I wouldn't hurt you for the world," Hopalong assured him, gazing interestedly down the twin tunnels.

Johnny leaned over a nail keg and loosed the shot and screws into it, smiling with childlike simplicity as he listened to the tintinnabulation of the metal shower among the nails. "It /does/ drop when you let go of it," he observed.

"Didn't I tell you it would? I allus said so," replied Hopalong, looking back to the clerk and the shotgun. "Didn't I, stranger?"

The clerk's reply was a guttural rumbling, ninety per cent profanity, and Hopalong, nodding wisely, picked up two wedges. "Johnny, here's yore gun. If this man will stop talking to hisself and drop that lead- sprayer long enough to take our good money, we'll wear em."

He tossed a gold coin on the table, and the clerk, still holding tightly to the shotgun, tossed the coin into the cash box and cautiously slid the change across the counter. Hopalong picked up the money and, emptying his holster into the nail keg, followed his companion to the street, in turn followed slowly by the suspicious clerk. The door slammed shut behind them, the bolt shot home, and the clerk sat down on a box and cogitated.

Hopalong hooked his arm through Johnny's and started down the street. "I wonder what that feller thinks about us, anyhow. I'm glad Buck sent Red over to El Paso instead of us. Won't he be mad when we tell him all the fun we've had?" he asked, grinning broadly.

They were to meet Red at Dent's store on the way back and ride home together.

They were strangely clad for their surroundings, the chaps glaringly out of place in the Seaman's Port, and winks were exchanged by the regular /habitues/ when the two punchers entered the room and called for drinks. They were very tired and a little under the weather, for they had made the most of their time and spent almost all of their money; but any one counting on robbing them would have found them sober enough to look out for themselves. Night had found them ready to go to the hotel, but on the way they felt that they must have one more bracer, and finish their exploration of Jeremiah T. Jones' tabooed section. The town had begun to grow wearisome and they were vastly relieved when they realized that the rising sun would see them in the saddle and homeward bound, headed for God's country, which was the only place for cow-punchers after all.

"Long way from the home port, ain't you, mates?" queried a tar of Hopalong. Another seaman went to the bar to hold a short, whispered consultation with the bartender, who at first frowned and then finally nodded assent.

"Too far from home, if that's what yo're driving at," Hopalong replied. "Blast these hard trails--my feet are shore on the prod. Ever meet my side pardner? Johnny, here's a friend of mine, a salt-water puncher, an' he's welcome to the job, too."

Johnny turned his head ponderously and nodded. "Pleased to meet you, stranger. An' what'll you all have?"

"Old Holland, mate," replied the other, joining them.

"All up!" invited Hopalong, waving them forward. "Might as well do things right or not at all. Them's my sentiments, which I holds as proper. Plain rye, general, if you means me," he replied to the bartender's look of inquiry.

He drained the glass and then made a grimace. "Tastes a little off-- reckon it's my mouth; nothing tastes right in this cussed town. Now, up on our--" He stopped and caught at the bar. "Holy smoke! That's shore alcohol!"

Johnny was relaxing and vainly trying to command his will power. "Something's wrong; what's the matter?" he muttered sleepily.

"Guess you meant beer; you ain't used to drinking whiskey," grinned the bartender, derisively, and watching him closely.

"I can--drink as much whiskey as--" and, muttering, Johnny slipped to the floor.

"That wasn't whiskey!" cried Hopalong, sleepily. "that liquor was /fixed/!" he shouted, sudden anger bracing him. "An' I'm going to fix /you/, too!" he added, reaching for his gun, and drawing forth a wedge. His sailor friend leaped at him, to go down like a log, and Hopalong, seething with rage, wheeled and threw the weapon at the man behind the bar, who also went down. The wedge, glancing from his skull, swept a row of bottles and glasses from the shelf and, caroming, went through the window.

In an instant Hopalong was the vortex of a mass of struggling men and, handicapped as he was, fought valiantly, his rage for the time neutralizing the effects of the drug. But at last, too sleepy to stand or think, he, too, went down.

"By the Lord, that man's a fighter!" enthusiastically remarked the leader, gently touching his swollen eye. "George must 'a' put an awful dose in that grog."

"Lucky for us he didn't have no gun--the wedge was bad enough," groaned a man on the floor, slowly sitting up. "Whoever swapped him that wedge for his gun did us a good turn, all right."

A companion tentatively readjusted his lip. "I don't envy Wilkins his job breaking in that man when he gets awake."

"Don't waste no time, mates," came the order. "Up with 'em an' aboard. We've done our share; let the mate do his, an' be hanged. Hullo, Portsmouth; coming around, eh?" he asked the man who had first felt the wedge. "I was scared you was done for that time."

"No more shanghaiing hair pants for me, no more!" thickly replied Portsmouth. "Oh, my head, it's bust open!"

"Never mind about the bartender--let him alone; we can't waste no time with him now!" commanded the leader sharply. "Get these fellers on board before we're caught with 'em. We want our money after that."

"All clear!" came a low call from the lookout at the door, and soon a shadowy mass surged across the street and along a wharf. There was a short pause as a boat emerged out of the gloom, some whispered orders, and then the squeaking of oars grew steadily fainter in the direction of a ship which lay indistinct in the darkness.


Bar-20 Days - 2/39

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