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.