Chapter XXVIII. The Duel of the Miners.
 

O'Reilly's suggestion chimed in with the rough humor of the crowd. They were not bad-hearted men, but, though rough in their manners, not much worse on the average than an equal number of men in the Eastern States. They only thought of the fun to be obtained from the proceeding, and supposed they would be doing the Chinaman no real harm.

"Has anybody got a pair of scissors?" asked O'Reilly, taking the Chinaman by the queue.

"I've got one in my tent," answered one of the miners.

"Go and get it, then."

Ki Sing again uttered a cry of dismay, but it did not seem likely that his valued appendage could be saved. Public sentiment was with his persecutor.

He had one friend, however, among the rough men who surrounded him, the same who had already taken his part.

Richard Dewey's eyes glittered sternly as he saw O'Reilly's intention, and he quietly advanced till he was within an arm's length of Ki Sing.

"What do you mean to do, O'Reilly?" he demanded sternly.

"None of your business!" retorted O'Reilly insolently.

"It is going to be my business. What do you mean to do?"

"Gut off this haythen's pigtail, and I'd just like to know who's going to prevent me."

At this moment the miner who had gone for a pair of scissors returned.

"Give me them scissors!" said O'Reilly sharply.

Richard Dewey reached out his hand and intercepted them. He took them in place of O'Reilly.

"Give me them scissors, Dewey, or it'll be the worse for you!" exclaimed the tyrant furiously.

Dewey regarded him with a look of unmistakable contempt.

There was a murmur among the miners, who were eager for the amusement which the Chinaman's terror and ineffectual struggles would afford them.

"Give him the scissors, Dewey!" said half a dozen.

"Boys," said Dewey, making no motion to obey them, "do you know what you are about to do? Why should you interfere with this poor, unoffending Chinaman? Has he wronged any one of you?"

"No, but that ain't the point," said a Kentuckian. "We only want to play a joke on him. It won't do him no harm to cut his hair."

"Of course not," chimed in several of the miners.

"Do you hear that, Dick Dewey?" demanded O'Reilly impatiently. "Do you hear what the boys say? Give me them scissors."

"Boys, you don't understand the effects of what you would do," said Dewey, taking no notice of O'Reilly, much to that worthy's indignation. "If Ki Sing has his queue cut off, he can never go back to China."

"Is that the law, squire?" asked a loose-jointed Yankee.

"Yes, it is. You may rely on my word. Ki Sing, if you cut off your queue, can you go back to China?"

"No go back-stay in Melica allee time."

"You see he confirms my statement."

"That's a queer law, anyway," said the Kentuckian.

"I admit that, but such as it is, we can't alter it. Now, Ki Sing has probably a father and mother, perhaps a wife and children, in China. He wants to go back to them some time. Shall we prevent this, and doom him to perpetual exile, just to secure a little sport? Come, boys, you've all of you got dear ones at home, that you hope some day to see again. I appeal to you whether this is manly or kind."

This was a sort of argument that had a strong effect. It was true that each one of these men had relatives for whom they were working, the thought of whom enabled them to bear hard work and privations thousands of miles away from home, and Richard Dewey's appeal touched their hearts.

"That's so! Dewey is right. Let him go, O'Reilly!" said the crowd.

The one man who was not touched by the appeal was O'Reilly himself. Not that he was altogether a bad man, but his spirit of opposition was kindled, and he could not bear to yield to Dewey, whose contempt he understood and resented.

His reply was, "I'm goin' to cut off the haythen's pigtail, whether or no. Give me them scissors, I tell you," and he gave a vicious twitch to the Chinaman's queue, which made Ki Sing utter a sharp cry of pain.

Richard Dewey's forbearance was at an end. His eyes blazed with fury, and, clenching his fist, he dashed it full in the face of the offending O'Reilly, who not only released his hold on Ki Sing, but measured his length on the ground.

O'Reilly was no coward, and he possessed the national love of a shindy. He sprang to his feet in a rage, and shouted:

"I'll murder ye for that, Dick Dewey! See if I don't!"

"A fight! a fight!" shouted the miners, willing to be amused in that way, since they had voluntarily given up the fun expected from cutting off the Chipaman's queue.

Richard Dewey looked rather disgusted.

"I don't want to fight, boys," he said. "It isn't to my taste."

"You've got to, you coward!" said O'Reilly, beginning to bluster.

"I don't think you'll find me a coward," said Dewey quietly, as he stood with his arms folded, looking at O'Reilly.

"You'll have to give O'Reilly satisfaction," said one of the miners. "You've knocked him down, and he's got a right to it."

"Will it be any satisfaction to him to get knocked over again?" asked Dewey, shrugging his shoulders.

"You can't do it! I'll bate you till you can't stand!" exclaimed the angry Irishman. "I'll tache you to insult a gintleman."

"Form a ring, boys!" exclaimed the Kentuck-ian. "We'll see there's fair play."

"One thing first," said Dewey, holding up his hand. "If I come off best in this encounter, you'll all agree to let this Chinaman go free? Is that agreed?"

"Yes, yes, it is agreed!"

Ki Sing stood trembling with fear while these preliminaries were being settled. He would have escaped from the crowd, but his first movement was checked.

"No, Cy King, we can't let you go jest yet," said Taylor. "We're goin' to see this thing through first."

O'Reilly was not in the least daunted by the contest in which he was to engage. Indeed, he felt a good deal of satisfaction at the prospect of being engaged in a scrimmage. Of course, he expected to come off a victor. He was a considerably larger man than Richard Dewey, with arms like flails and flats like sledge-hammers, and he had no sort of doubt that he could settle his smaller antagonist in less than five minutes.

But there was one thing of which he was not aware. Though slender, Dewey had trained and hardened his muscles by exercise in a gymnasium, and, moreover, he had taken a course of lessons in the manly art of self-defense. He had done this, not because he expected to be called upon to defend himself at any time, but because he thought it conducive to keeping up his health and strength. He awaited O'Reilly's onset with watchful calmness.

O'Reilly advanced with a whoop, flinging about his powerful arms somewhat like a windmill, and prepared to upset his antagonist at the first onset.

What was his surprise to find his own blows neatly parried, and to meet a tremendous blow from his opponent which set his nose to bleeding.

Astonished, but not panic-stricken, he pluckily advanced to a second round, and tried to grasp Dewey round the waist. But instead of doing this, he received another knock-down blow, which stretched him on the ground.

He was up again, and renewed the attack, but with even less chance of victory than before, for the blood was streaming down his face, and he could not see distinctly where to hit. Dewey contented himself with keeping on guard and parrying the blows of his demoralized adversary.

"It's no use, O'Reilly!" exclaimed two or three. "Dewey's the better man."

"Let me get at him! I'll show him what I can do," said O'Reilly doggedly.

"As long as you like, O'Reilly," said Richard Dewey coolly; "but you may as well give it up."

"Troth and I won't. I'm stronger than you are any day."

"Perhaps you are; but I understand fighting, and you don't."

"An O'Reilly not know how to fight!" exclaimed the Irishman hotly. "I could fight when I was six years old."

"Perhaps so; but you can't box."

One or two more attacks, and O'Reilly was dragged away by two of his friends, and Dewey remained master of the field.

The miners came up and shook hands with him cordially. They regarded him with new respect, now that it was found he had overpowered the powerful O'Reilly.

Among those who congratulated him was his Mongolian friend, Ki Sing.

"Melican man good fightee-knock over Ilishman. Hullah!"

"Come with me, Ki Sing," said Dewey. '"I will take care of you till to-morrow, and then you had better go."