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.
“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.”