Chapter XXX. A Midnight Visit.
 

This conversation set Dewey to thinking. Though he was independent, he was not foolishly so, and he was not willing, out of a spirit of opposition, to expose his new acquaintance to annoyance, perhaps to injury. He did not care to retain Ki Sing in his employment for any length of time, and made up his mind to dismiss him early the next mornng, say, at four o'clock, before the miners had thrown off the chains of sleep.

He did not anticipate any harm to his Mongolian friend during the night; but this was because he did not fully understand the feeling of outraged dignity which rankled in the soul of O'Reilly.

Patrick O'Reilly was like his countrymen in being always ready for a fight; but he was unlike them in harboring a sullen love of revenge. In this respect he was more like an Indian.

He felt that Richard Dewey had got the better of him in the brief contest, and the fact that he had been worsted in the presence of his fellow miners humiliated him. If he could only carry his point, and deprive the Chinaman of his queue after all, the disgrace would be redeemed, and O'Reilly would be himself again.

"And why shouldn't I?" he said to himself. "The haythen will sleep in Dewey's tent. Why can't I creep up, unbeknownst, in the middle of the night, and cut off his pigtail, while he is aslape? Faith, I'd like to see how he and his friend would look in the morning. I don't belave a word of his not bein' allowed to go back to Chiny widout it. That is an invintion of Dewey,"

The more O'Reilly dwelt upon this idea the more it pleased him. Once the pigtail was cut off, the mischief could not be repaired, and he would have a most suitable and satisfactory revenge.

Of course, it would not do to make the attempt till Ki Sing and his protector were both fast asleep. "All men are children when they are asleep," says an old proverb. That is, all men are as helpless as children when their senses are locked in slumber. It would be safer, therefore, to carry out his plan if he could manage to do so without awaking the two men.

O'Reilly determined not to take any one into his confidence. This was prudent, for it was sure to prevent his plan from becoming known. There was, however, one inconvenience about this, as it would prevent him from borrowing the scissors upon which he had relied to cut off the queue. But he had a sharp knife, which he thought would answer the purpose equally well.

It was rather hard for O'Reilly to keep awake till midnight-the earliest hour which he thought prudent-but the motive which impelled him was sufficiently strong to induce even this sacrifice.

So, as the shadows darkened, and the night came on, Patrick O'Reilly forced himself to lie awake, while he waited eagerly for the hour of midnight. Meanwhile, Richard Dewey and Ki Sing lay down at nine o'clock and sought refreshment in sleep. Both were fatigued, but it was the Chinaman who first lost consciousness. Dewey scanned with curiosity the bland face of his guest, looking childlike and peaceful, as he lay by his side.

"I wonder if he is dreaming of his distant home in China," thought Dewey. "The cares of life do not seem to sit heavy upon him. Though he has been in danger to-day, and may be so still, he yields himself up trustfully to the repose which he needs. Is it true, I wonder, that cares increase with mental culture? Doubtless, it is true. If I were in China, threatened with a loss which would prevent my returning to my native country, I am sure it would keep me awake. But there can be nothing to fear now."

Richard raised himself on his elbow, and looked about him. The tents of the miners were grouped together, within a comparatively small radius, and on all sides could be heard-it was now past ten-the deep breathing of men exhausted by the day's toils. This would not ordinarily have been the case at so early an hour, for when there was whisky in the camp, there was often late carousing. It chanced, however, at this time that the stock of liquor was exhausted, and, until a new supply could be obtained from San Francisco, necessity enforced the rule of total abstinence. It would have been well if, for months to come, there could have been the same good reason for abstinence, but, as a matter of fact, the very next day some casks were brought into camp, much to the delighted and satisfaction of the anti-temperance party.

Finally Dewey fell asleep, but his sleep was a troubled one. He had unthinkingly reclined upon his back, and this generally brought bad dreams. He woke with a start from a dream, in which it seemed to him that the miners were about to hang Ki Sing from the branch of one of the tall trees near-by, when he detected a stealthy step close at hand.

Instantly he was on the alert. Turning his head, he caught sight of a human figure nearing the tent. A second glance showed him that it was O'Reilly, with a knife in his hand.

"Good heavens!" thought Dewey, "does he mean to kill the poor Chinaman?"

A muttered sentence from O'Reilly reassured him on this point.

"Now, you yeller haythen, I'll cut off your pigtail in spite of that impertinent friend of yours--Dick Dewey. I'll show you that an O'Reilly isn't to be interfered wid."

"So he wants the poor fellow's queue, does he?" said Dewey to himself. "You're not quite smart enough, Mr. O'Reilly."

There was no time to lose.

O'Reilly was already on his knees, with the poor Chinaman's treasured queue in his hand, when he felt himself seized in a powerful grip.

"What are you about, O'Reilly?" demanded Richard Dewey, in a deep, stern voice.

O'Reilly uttered a cry, rather of surprise than alarm.

"What are you about?" repeated Richard Dewey, in a tone of authority.

"I'm goin' to cut off the haythen's pigtail," answered the Irishman doggedly.

"What for?"

"I've said I'd do it, and I'll do it."

"Well, Mr. O'Reilly, I've said you sha'n't do it, and I mean to keep my word."

O'Reilly tried to carry out his intent, but suddenly found himself flung backward in a position very favorable for studying the position of the stars.

"Are you not ashamed to creep up to my tent in the middle of the night on such an errand as that, Patrick O'Reilly?" demanded Dewey.

"No, I'm not. Let me up, Dick Dewey, or it'll be the worse for you," said the intruder wrathfully.

"Give me your knife, then."

"I won't. It's my own."

"The errand on which you come is my warrant for demanding it."

"I won't give you the knife, but I'll go back," said O'Reilly.

"That won't do."

"Don't you go too far, Dick Dewey. I'm your aiqual."

"No man is my equal who creeps to my tent at the dead of night. Do you know what the camp will think, O'Eeilly?"

"And what will they think?"

"That you came to rob me."

"Then they'll think a lie!" said O'Reilly, startled, for he knew that on such a charge he would be liable to be suspended to the nearest tree.

"If they chose to think so, it would be bad for you."

"You know it isn't so Dick Dewey," said O'Reilly.

"I consider your intention quite as bad. You wanted to prevent this poor Chinaman from ever returning to his native land, though he had never injured you in any way. You can't deny it."

"I don't belave a word of all that rigmarole, Dick Dewey."

"It makes little difference whether you believe it or not. You have shown a disposition to injure and annoy Ki Sing, but I have foiled you. And now," here Dewey's tone became deep and stern, "give me that knife directly, and go back to your tent, or I'll rouse the camp, and they may form their own conclusions as to what brought you here."

O'Reilly felt that Dewey was in earnest, and that he must yield. He did so with a bad grace enough and slunk back to his tent, which he did not leave till morning.

Early in the morning, Richard Dewey awakened Ki Sing.

"You had better not stay here, Ki Sing," he said. "There are those who would do you mischief. Go into the mountains, and you may find gold. There you will be safe."

"Melican man velly good-me go," said the Chinaman submissively.

"Good luck to you, Ki Sing!"

"Good luckee, Melican man!"

So the two parted, and when morning came to the camp, nothing was to be seen of the Chinaman.

Dewey returned O'Reilly's knife, the latter receiving it in sullen silence.

It was not long afterward that Richard Dewey himself left Murphy's in search of a richer claim.