I turned from it with indifference, and brushing away the leaves from the tablet of the dead pagan restored to light the mocking words which, fresh from their long neglect, seemed to have a certain pathos. My guide, too, appeared to take on an added seriousness as he read it, and I fancied that I could detect beneath his whimsical manner something of manliness, almost of dignity. But while I looked at him his former aspect, so subtly inhuman, so tantalizingly familiar, crept back into his big eyes, repellant and attractive. I resolved to make an end of the mystery if possible.
“My friend,” I said, pointing to the smaller grave, “did Jo. Dunfer murder that Chinaman?”
He was leaning against a tree and looking across the open space into the top of another, or into the blue sky beyond. He neither withdrew his eyes, nor altered his posture as he slowly replied:
“No, sir; he justifiably homicided him.”
“Then he really did kill him.”
“Kill ’im? I should say he did, rather. Doesn’t everybody know that? Didn’t he stan’ up before the coroner’s jury and confess it? And didn’t they find a verdict of ’Came to ’is death by a wholesome Christian sentiment workin’ in the Caucasian breast’? An’ didn’t the church at the Hill turn W’isky down for it? And didn’t the sovereign people elect him Justice of the Peace to get even on the gospelers? I don’t know where you were brought up.”
“But did Jo. do that because the Chinaman did not, or would n’ot, learn to cut down trees like a white man?”
“Sure!—it stan’s so on the record, which makes it true an’ legal. My knowin’ better doesn’t make any difference with legal truth; it wasn’t my funeral and I wasn’t invited to deliver an oration. But the fact is, W’isky was jealous o’ me”—and the little wretch actually swelled out like a turkeycock and made a pretense of adjusting an imaginary neck-tie, noting the effect in the palm of his hand, held up before him to represent a mirror.
“Jealous of you!” I repeated with ill-mannered astonishment.
“That’s what I said. Why not?—don’t I look all right?”