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- Bar-20 Days - 4/39 -
"Hand grenades! Hand grenades!" he cried. Then he remembered that his two mates were also below and would share in the mutineers' fate, and his rage increased at his galling helplessness. When he had calmed sufficiently to think clearly he realized that it was certain death for any one to attempt going down the ladder, and that his must be a waiting game. He glanced at his crew, thirteen good men, all armed with windlass bars and belaying pins, and gave them orders. Two were to watch the hatch and break the first head to appear, while the others returned to work. Hunger and thirst would do the rest. And what joy would be his when they were forced to surrender!
Hopalong groped his way slowly towards the patch of light, barking his shins, stumbling and falling over the barrels and crates and finally, losing his footing at a critical moment, tumbled down upon a box marked "Cotton." There was a splintering crash and the very faint clink of metal. Dazed and bruised, he sat up and felt of himself--and found that he had lost his gun in the fall.
"Now, where in blazes did it fly to?" he muttered angrily, peering about anxiously. His eyes suddenly opened their widest and he stared in surprise at a field gun which covered him; and then he saw parts of two more.
"Good Lord! Is this a gunboat?" he cried. "Are we up against bluejackets an' Uncle Sam?" He glanced quickly back the way he had come when he heard Johnny's shot, but he could see nothing. He figured that Johnny had sense enough to call for help if he needed it, and put that possibility out of his mind. "Naw, this ain't no gunboat--the Government don't steal men; it enlists 'em. But it's a funny pile of junk, all the same. Where in blazes is that toy gun? /Well/, I'll be hanged!" and he plunged toward the "Cotton" box he had burst in his descent, and worked at it frantically.
"Winchesters! Winchesters!" he cried, dragging out two of them. "Whoop! Now for the cartridges--there shore must be some to go with these guns!" He saw a keg marked "Nails," and managed to open it after great labor--and found it full of army Colts. Forcing down the desire to turn a handspring, he slipped one of the six-shooters in his empty holster and patted it lovingly. "Old friend, I'm shore glad to see you, all right. You've been used, but that don't make no difference." Searching further, he opened a full box of /machetes/, and soon after found cartridges of many kinds and calibres. It took him but a few minutes to make his selection and cram his pockets with them. Then he filled two Colts and two Winchesters--and executed a short jig to work off the dangerous pressure of his exuberance.
"But what an unholy lot of weapons," he soliloquized on his way back to Johnny. "An' they're all second-hand. Cannons, too--an' /machetes/!" he exclaimed, suddenly understanding. "Jumping Jerusalem!--a filibustering expedition bound for Cuba, or one of them wildcat republics down south! Oh, ho, my friends; I see where you have bit off more'n you can chew." In his haste to impart the joyous news to his companion, he barked his shins shamefully.
"'Way down south in the land o' cotton, cinnamon seed an''--whoa, blast you!" and Hopalong stuck his head through the opening in the partition and grinned. "Heard you shoot, Kid; I reckoned you might need me--an' these!" he finished, looking fondly upon the weapons as he shoved them into the forecastle.
Johnny groaned and held his stomach, but his eyes lighted up when he saw the guns, and he eagerly took one of each kind, a faint smile wreathing his lips. "Now we'll show these water snakes what kind of men they stole," he threatened.
Up on the deck the choleric captain still stamped and swore, and his crew, with well-concealed mirth, went about their various duties as if they were accustomed to have shanghaied men act this way. They sympathized with the unfortunate pair, realizing how they themselves would feel if shanghaied to break broncos.
Hogan, A. B., stated the feelings of his companions very well in his remarks to the men who worked alongside: "In me hear-rt I'm dommed glad av it, Yensen. I hope they bate the old man at his own game. 'T is a shame in these days for honest men to be took in that unlawful way. I've heard me father tell of the press gangs on the other side, an' 't is small business."
Yensen looked up to reply, chanced to glance aft, and dropped his calking iron in his astonishment. "Yumping Yimminy! Luk at dat fallar!"
Hogan looked. "The deuce! That's a man after me own heat-rt! Kape yore pagan mouth shut! If ye take a hand agin 'em I'll swab up the deck wid yez. G'wan wor-rking like a sane man, ye ijit!"
"Ay ent ban fight wit dat fallar! Luk at the gun!"
A man had climbed out of the after hatch and was walking rapidly towards them, a rifle in his hands, while at his thigh swung a Colt. He watched the two seamen closely and caught sight of Hogan's twinkling blue eyes, and a smile quivered about his mouth. Hogan shut and opened one eye and went on working.
As soon as Hopalong caught sight of the captain, the rifle went up and he announced his presence without loss of time. "Throw up yore hands, you pole-cat! I'm running this ranch from now on!"
The captain wheeled with a jerk and his mouth opened, and then clicked shut as he started forward, his rage acting galvanically. But he stopped quickly enough when he looked down the barrel of the Winchester and glared at the cool man behind it.
"What the blank are you doing?" he yelled.
"Well, I ain't kidnapping cow-punchers to steal my boat," replied Hopalong. "An' you fellers stand still or I'll drop you cold!" he ordered to the assembled and restless crew. "Johnny!" he shouted, and his companion popped up through the hatch like a jack-in-the-box. "Good boy, Johnny. Tie this coyote foreman like you did the others," he ordered. While Johnny obeyed, Hopalong looked around the circle, and his eyes rested on Hogan's face, studying it, and found something there which warmed his heart. "Friend, do you know the back trail? Can you find that runt of a town we left?"
"Shore, you; who'd you think I was talking to? Can you find the way back, the way we came?"
"Shure an' I can that, if I'm made to."
"You'll swing for mutiny if you do, you bilge-wallering pirate!" roared the trussed captain. "Take that gun away from him, d'ye hear!" he yelled at the crew. "I'm captain of this ship, an' I'll hang every last one of you if you don't obey orders! This is mutiny!"
"You won't do no hanging with that load of weapons below!" retorted Hopalong. "Uncle Sam is looking for filibusters--this here gun is 'cotton,'" he said, grinning. He turned to the crew. "But you fellers are due to get shot if you sees her through," he added.
"I'm captain of this ship--" began the helpless autocrat.
"You shore look like it, all right," Hopalong replied, smiling. "If yo're the captain you order her turned around and headed over the back trail, or I'll drop you overboard off yore own ship!" Then fierce anger at the thought of the indignities and injuries he and his companion had suffered swept over him and prompted a one-minute speech which left no doubt as to what he would do if his demand was not complied with. Johnny, now free to watch the crew, added a word or two of endorsement, and he acted a little as if he rather hoped it would not be complied with: he itched for an excuse.
The captain did some quick thinking; the true situation could not be disguised, and with a final oath of rage he gave in. "'Bout ship, Hogan; nor' by nor'west," he growled, and the seaman started away to execute the command, but was quickly stopped by Hopalong.
"Hogan, is that right?" he demanded. "No funny business, or we'll clean up the whole bunch, an' blamed quick, too!"
"That's the course, sor. That's the way back to town. I can navigate, an' me orders are plain. Ye're Irish, by the way av ye, and 't is back to town ye go, sor!" He turned to the crew: "Stand by, me boys." And in a short time the course was nor' by nor'west.
The return journey was uneventful and at nightfall the ship lay at anchor off the low Texas coast, and a boat loaded with men grounded on the sandy beach. Four of them arose and leaped out into the mild surf and dragged the boat as high up on the sand as it would go. Then the two cow-punchers followed and one of them gave a low-spoken order to the Irishman at his side.
"Yes, sor," replied Hogan, and hastened to help the captain out onto the sand and to cut the ropes which bound him. "Do ye want the mates, too, sor?" he asked, glancing at the trussed men in the boat.
"No; the foreman's enough," Hopalong responded, handing his weapons to Johnny and turning to face the captain, who was looking into Johnny's gun as he rubbed his arms to restore perfect circulation.
"Now, you flat-faced coyote, yo're going to get the beating of yore life, an' I'm going to give it to you!" Hopalong cried, warily advancing upon the man whom he held to be responsible for the miseries of the past twenty-four hours. "You didn't give me a square deal, but I'm man enough to give you one! When you drug an' steal any more cow- punchers--" action stopped his words.
It was a great fight. A filibustering sea captain is no more peaceful than a wild boar and about as dangerous; and while this one was not at his best, neither was Hopalong. The latter luckily had acquired some knowledge of the rudiments of the game and had the vigor of youth to oppose to the captain's experience and his infuriated but well-timed rushes. The seamen, for the honor of their calling and perhaps with a mind to the future, cheered on the captain and danced up and down in their delight and excitement. They had a lot of respect for the prowess of their master, and for the man who could stand up against him in a fair and square fist fight. To give assistance to either in a fair fight was not to be thought of, and Johnny's gun was sufficient after-excuse for non-interference.
The /sop! sop!/ of the punishing blows as they got home and the steady circling of Hopalong in avoiding the dangerous attacks, went on minute after minute. Slowly the captain's strength was giving out, and he resorted to trickery as his last chance. Retreating, he half raised his arms and lowered them as if weary, ready as a cat to strike with all his weight if the other gave an opening. It ought to have worked-- it had worked before--but Hopalong was there to win, and without the
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