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- Bar-20 Days - 3/39 -
A man moaned and stirred restlessly in a bunk, muttering incoherently. A stampeded herd was thundering over him, the grinding hoofs beating him slowly to death. He saw one mad steer stop and lower its head to gore him and just as the sharp horns touched his skin, he awakened. Slowly opening his bloodshot eyes he squinted about him, sick, weak, racking with pain where heavy shoes had struck him in the melee, his head reverberating with roars which seemed almost to split it open. Slowly he regained his full senses and began to make out his surroundings. He was in a bunk which moved up and down, from side to side, and was never still. There was a small, round window near his feet--thank heaven it was open, for he was almost suffocated by the foul air and the heat. Where was he? What had happened? Was there a salty odor in the air, or was he still dreaming? Painfully raising himself on one elbow he looked around and caught sight of a man in the bunk across. It was Johnny Nelson! Then, bit by bit, the whole thing came to him and he cursed heartily as he reviewed it and reached the only possible conclusion. He was at sea! He, Hopalong Cassidy, the best fighting unit of a good fighting outfit, shanghaied and at sea! Drugged, beaten, and stolen to labor on a ship.
Johnny was muttering and moaning and Hopalong slowly climbed out of the narrow bunk, unsteadily crossed the moving floor, and shook him. "Reckon he's in a stampede, too!" he growled. "They shore raised h--l with us. Oh, what a beating we got! But we'll pass it along with trimmings."
Johnny's eyes opened and he looked around in confusion. "Wha', Hopalong!"
"Yes; it's me, the prize idiot of a blamed good pair of 'em. How'd you feel?"
"Sleepy an' sick. My eyes ache an' my head's splitting. Where's Buck an' the rest?"
Hopalong sat down on the edge of the bunk and sore luridly, eloquently, beautifully, with a fervor and polish which left nothing to be desired in that line, and caused his companion to gaze at him in astonishment.
"I had a mighty bad dream, but you must 'a' had one a whole lot worse, to listen to you," Johnny remarked. "Gee, you're going some! What's the matter with you. You sick, too?"
Thereupon Hopalong unfolded the tale of woe and when Johnny had grasped its import and knew that his dream had been a stern reality, he straightway loosed his vocabulary and earned a draw. "Well, I'm going back again," he finished, with great decision, arising to make good his assertion.
"Swim or walk?" asked Hopalong nonchalantly.
"Huh! Oh, Lord!"
"Well, I ain't going to either swim or walk," Hopalong soliloquized. "I'm just going to stay right here in this one-by-nothing cellar an' spoil the health an' good looks of any pirate that comes down that ladder to get me out." He looked around, interested in life once more, and his trained eye grasped the strategic worth of their position. "Only one at a time, an' down that ladder," he mused, thoughtfully. "Why, Johnny, we owns this range as long as we wants to. They can't get us out. But, say, if only we had our guns!" he sighed, regretfully.
"You're right as far as you go; but you don't go to the eating part. We'll starve, an' we ain't got no water. I can drink about a bucketful right now," moodily replied his companion.
"Well, yo're right; but mebby we can find food an' water."
"Don't see no signs of none. Hey!" Johnny exclaimed, smiling faintly in his misery. "Let's get busy an' burn the cussed thing up! Got any matches?"
"First you want to drown yoreself swimming, an' now you want to roast the pair of us to death," Hopalong retorted, eyeing the rear wall of the room. "Wonder what's on the other side of that partition?"
Johnny looked. "Why, water; an' lots of it, too."
"Naw; the water is on the other sides."
"Then how do I know?--sh! I hear somebody coming on the roof."
"Tumble back in yore bunk--quick!" Hopalong hurriedly whispered. "Be asleep--if he comes down here it'll be our deal."
The steps overhead stopped at the companionway and a shadow appeared across the small patch of sunlight on the floor of the forecastle. "Tumble up here, you blasted loafers!" roared a deep voice.
No reply came from the forecastle--the silence was unbroken.
"If I have to come down there I'll--" the first mate made promises in no uncertain tones and in very impolite language. He listened for a moment, and having very good ears and hearing nothing, made more promises and came down the ladder quickly and nimbly.
"/I'll/ bring you to," he muttered, reaching a brawny hand for Hopalong's nose, and missing. But he made contact with his own face, which stopped a short-arm blow from the owner of the aforesaid nose, a jolt full of enthusiasm and purpose. Beautiful and dazzling flashes of fire filled the air and just then something landed behind his ear and prolonged the pyrotechnic display. When the skyrockets went up he lost interest in the proceedings and dropped to the floor like a bag of meal.
Hopalong cut another piece from the rope in his hand and watched his companion's busy fingers. "Tie him good, Johnny; he's the only ace we've drawn in this game so far, an' we mustn't lose him."
Johnny tied an extra knot for luck and leaned forward, his eyes riveted on the bump under the victim's coat. His darting hand brought into sight that which pleased him greatly. "Oh, joy! Here, Hoppy; you take it."
Hopalong turned the weapon over in his hand, spun the cylinder and gloated, the clicking sweet music to his ears. "Plumb full, too! I never reckoned I'd ever be so tickled over a snub-nosed gun like this --but I feel like singing!"
"An' I feel like dying," grunted Johnny, grabbing at his stomach. "If the blamed shack would only stand still!" he groaned, gazing at the floor with strong disgust. "I don't reckon I've ever been so blamed sick in all my--" the sentence was unfinished, for the open porthole caught his eye and he leaped forward to use it for a collar.
Hopalong gazed at him in astonishment and sudden pity took possession of him as his pallid companion left the porthole and faced him.
"You ought to have something to eat, Kid--I'm purty hungry myself-- what the blazes!" he exclaimed, for Johnny's protesting wail was finished outside the port. Then a light broke upon him and he wondered how soon it would be his turn to pay tribute to Neptune.
"Mr. Wilkins!" shouted a voice from the deck, and Hopalong moved back a step. "Mr. Wilkins!" After a short silence the voice soliloquized: "Guess he changed his mind about it; I'll get 'em up for him," and feet came into view. When halfway down the ladder the second mate turned his head and looked blankly down a gun barrel while a quiet but angry voice urged him further: "Keep a-coming, keep a-coming!" The second mate complained, but complied.
"Stick 'em up higher--now, Johnny, wobble around behind the nice man an' take /his/ gun--you shut yore yap! I'm bossing this trick, not you. Got it, Kid? There's the rope--that's right. Nobody'd think you sick to see you work. Well, that's a good draw; but it's only a pair of aces against a full, at that. Wonder who'll be the next. Hope it's the foreman."
Johnny, keeping up by sheer grit, pointed to the rear wall. "What about that?"
For reply his companion walked over to it, put his shoulder to it and pushed. He stepped back and hurled his weight against it, but it was firm despite its squeaking protest. Then he examined it foot by foot and found a large knot, which he drove in by a blow of the gun. Bending, he squinted through the opening for a full minute and then reported:
"Purty black in there at this end, but up at the other there's a light from a hole in the roof, an' I could see boxes an' things like that. I reckon it's the main cellar."
"If we could get out at the other end with that gun you've got we could raise blazes for a while," suggested Johnny. "Anyhow, mebby they can come at us that way when they find out what we've gone an' done."
"Yo're right," Hopalong replied, looking around. Seeing an iron bar he procured it and, pushing it through the knot hole in the partition, pulled. The board, splitting and cracking under the attack, finally broke from its fastenings with a sharp report, and Hopalong, pulling it aside, stepped out of sight of his companion. Johnny was grinning at the success of his plan when he was interrupted.
"Ahoy, down there!" yelled a stentorian voice from above. "Mr. Wilkins! What the devil are you doing so long?" and after a very short wait other feet came into sight. Just then the second mate, having managed to slip off the gag, shouted warning:
"Look out, Captain! They've got us and our guns! One of them has--" but Johnny's knee thudded into his chest and ended the sentence as a bullet sent a splinter flying from under the captain's foot.
"Hang these guns!" Johnny swore, and quickly turned to secure the gag in the mouth of the offending second mate. "You make any more yaps like that an' I'll wing you for keeps with yore own gun!" he snapped. "We're caught in yore trap an' we'll fight to a finish. You'll be the first to go under if you gets any smart."
"Ahoy, men!" roared the captain in a towering rage, dancing frantically about on the deck and shouting for the crew to join him. He filled the air with picturesque profanity and stamped and yelled in passion at such rank mutiny.
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