“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.”