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.