He assumed a mocking attitude of studied grace, and twitched the wrinkles out of his threadbare waistcoat. Then, suddenly dropping his voice to a low pitch of singular sweetness, he continued:
“W’isky thought a lot o’ that Chink; nobody but me knew how ’e doted on ’im. Couldn’t bear ’im out of ’is sight, the derned protoplasm! And w’en ‘e came down to this clear-in’ one day an’ found him an’ me neglectin’ our work—him asleep an’ me grapplin a tarantula out of ‘is sleeve—W’isky laid hold of my axe and let us have it, good an’ hard! I dodged just then, for the spider bit me, but Ah Wee got it bad in the side an’ tumbled about like anything. W’isky was just weigh-in’ me out one w’en ’e saw the spider fastened on my finger; then ’e knew he’d made a jack ass of ’imself. He threw away the axe and got down on ’is knees alongside of Ah Wee, who gave a last little kick and opened ‘is eyes—he had eyes like mine—an’ puttin’ up ’is hands drew down W’isky’s ugly head and held it there w’ile ’e stayed. That wasn’t long, for a tremblin’ ran through ’im and ’e gave a bit of a moan an’ beat the game.”
During the progress of the story the narrator had become transfigured. The comic, or rather, the sardonic element was all out of him, and as he painted that strange scene it was with difficulty that I kept my composure. And this consummate actor had somehow so managed me that the sympathy due to his dramatis persone was given to himself. I stepped forward to grasp his hand, when suddenly a broad grin danced across his face and with a light, mocking laugh he continued:
“W’en W’isky got ‘is nut out o’ that ’e was a sight to see! All his fine clothes—he dressed mighty blindin’ those days—were spoiled everlastin’! ’Is hair was towsled and his face—what I could see of it—was whiter than the ace of lilies. ’E stared once at me, and looked away as if I didn’t count; an’ then there were shootin’ pains chasin’ one another from my bitten finger into my head, and it was Gopher to the dark. That’s why I wasn’t at the inquest.”
“But why did you hold your tongue afterward?” I asked.
“It’s that kind of tongue,” he replied, and not another word would he say about it.
“After that W’isky took to drinkin’ harder an’ harder, and was rabider an’ rabider anti-coolie, but I don’t think ’e was ever particularly glad that ’e dispelled Ah Wee. He didn’t put on so much dog about it w’en we were alone as w’en he had the ear of a derned Spectacular Extravaganza like you. ’E put up that headstone and gouged the inscription accordin’ to his varyin’ moods. It took ’im three weeks, workin’ between drinks. I gouged his in one day.”
“When did Jo. die?” I asked rather absently. The answer took my breath:
“Pretty soon after I looked at him through that knot-hole, w’en you had put something in his w’isky, you derned Borgia!”
Recovering somewhat from my surprise at this astounding charge, I was half-minded to throttle the audacious accuser, but was restrained by a sudden conviction that came to me in the light of a revelation. I fixed a grave look upon him and asked, as calmly as I could: “And when did you go luny?”