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Leaving Ben and his companion for a time, we go back to record an incident which will prove to have a bearing upon the fortunes of those in whom we are interested.
One morning two men, Taylor and O'Reilly, who had been out prospecting, came into camp, conveying between them, very much as two policemen conduct a prisoner, a terrifled-looking Chinaman, whose eyes, rolling helplessly from one to the other, seemed to indicate that he considered his position a very perilous one.
At that early period in the settlement of California, a few Chinamen had found their way to the Pacific coast; but the full tide of immigration did not set in till a considerable time later, and, therefore, the miners regarded one as a curiosity.
"Who have you got there, O'Reilly?" inquired one of his mining-comrades.
"A yeller haythen!" answered O'Eeilly. "Look at the craythur! Ain't he a beauty jist wid his long pigtail hangin' down his back like a monkey's tail?"
"Where did you find him?"
"He was huntin' for gold, the haythen, jist for all the world as if he was as white as you or I."
Mr. Patrick O'Reilly appeared to hold the opinion that gold-hunting should be confined to the Caucasian race. He looked upon a Chinaman as rather a superior order of monkey, suitable for exhibition in a cage, but not to be regarded as possessing the ordinary rights of an adopted American resident. If he could have looked forward twenty-five years, and foreseen the extent to which these barbarians would throng the avenues of employment, he would, no doubt, have been equally amazed and disgusted. Indeed, the capture of Ki Sing was made through his influence, as Taylor, a man from Ohio, was disposed to let him alone.
Soon a crowd gathered around the terrified Chinaman and his captors, and he was plied with questions, some of a jocular character, by the miners, who were glad of anything that relieved the monotony of their ordinary life.
"What's your name?" asked one.
The Chinaman gazed at the questioner vacantly.
"What's your name, you haythen?" repeated O'Reilly, emphasizing the inquiry by a powerful shake.
"My name Ki Sing," answered the Mongolian nervously.
"Where did you come from, old pigtail?"
"My name Ki Sing, not Pigtail," said the Chinaman, not understanding the meaning of the epithet.
This answer appeared to be regarded by the crowd as either witty or absurd, for it elicited a roar of laughter.
"Never mind what your name is, old stick in the mud! We'll call you whatever we please. Where do you come from?"
"Me come from 'Flisco."
It is well known that a Chinaman cannot pronounce the letter r, which in his mouth softens to l, in some cases producing a ludicrous effect.
"What have you come here for, Cy King, or whatever your name is."
"My name Ki Sing."
"Well, it's a haythen name; anyhow," remarked Mr. Patrick O'Eeilly. "Before I'd have such a name, I'd go widout one intirely. Did you hear the gintleman ask you what you came here for?"
"You bling me," answered Ki Sing shrewdly.
There was another laugh.
"That Chinee ain't no fool!" said Dick Roberts.
"What made you leave China?" he asked.
"Me come to Amelica fol gold."
"Hi, ho! That's it, is it? What are you going to do with your gold when you find it?"
"Cally it back to China."
"And when you've callied it back, what'll you do then?"
"Me mally wife, have good time and plenty money to buy lice."
Of course, Ki Sing's meaning was plain, but there was a roar of laughter, to which he listened with mild-eyed wonder, evidently thinking that the miners who so looked down on him were themselves a set of outside barbarians, to whom the superior civilization of China was utterly unknown. It is fortunate that his presumption was not suspected by those around him. No one would have resented it more than Mr. Patrick O'Reilly, whose rank as regards enlightenment and education certainly was not very high.
"I say, John," said Dick Roberts, "are you fond of rat pie?"
"Lat pie velly good," returned Ki Sing, with a look of appreciation.
"Melican man like him?"
"Hear the haythen!" said O'Reilly, with an expression of deep disgust. "He thinks we ate rats and mice, like him. No, old pigtail, we ain't cats. We are good Christians."
"Chlistian! Ma don't know Ghlistian," said the Chinaman.
"Then look at O'Reilly," said Dick Roberts, mischievously. "He's a good solid Christian."
Ki Sing turned his almond eyes upon O'Reilly, who, with his freckled face, wide mouth, broad nose, and stubby beard, was by no means a prepossessing-looking man, and said interrogatively: "He Chlistian?"
"Yes, John. Wouldn't you like to be one?"
Ki Sing shook his head decidedly.
"Me no want to be Chlistian," he answered. "Me velly well now. Me want to be good Chinaman."
"There's a compliment for you, O'Reilly," said one of the miners.
"John prefers to be a Chinaman to being like you."
"He's a barbarious haythen, anyhow," said O'Reilly, surveying his prisoner with unfriendly eyes. "What did he come over to America for, anyhow?"
"He probably came over for the same reason that brought you, O'Reilly," said a young man, who spoke for the first time, though he had been from the outset a disgusted witness of what had taken place.
"And what's that?" demanded O'Reilly angrily.
"To make a living," answered Richard Dewey quietly.
As this is the first time this young man has been introduced, we will briefly describe him. He was of medium size, well knit and vigorous, with a broad forehead, blue eyes, and an intelligent and winning countenance. He might have been suspected of too great amiability and gentleness, but for a firm expression about the mouth, and an indefinable air of manliness, which indicated that it would not do to go too far with him. There was a point, as all his friends knew, where his forbearance gave way and he sternly asserted his rights. He was not so popular in camp as some, because he declined to drink or gamble, and, despite the rough circumstances in which he found himself placed, was resolved to preserve his self-respect.
O'Reilly did not fancy his interference, and demanded, in a surly tone:
"Do you mean to compare me wid this haythen?"
"You are alike in one respect," said Richard Dewey quietly. "Neither of you were born in this country, but each of you came here to improve your fortunes."
"And hadn't I the right, I'd like to know?" blustered O'Reilly.
"To be sure you had. This country is free to all who wish to make a home here."
"Then what are you talkin' about, anyway?"
"You ought to be able to understand without asking. Ki Sing has come here, and has the same right that you have."
"Do you mane to put me on a livel wid him?"
"In that one respect, I do."
"I want you to understand that Patrick O'Reilly won't take no insults from you, nor any other man!"
"Hush, O'Reilly!" said Terence O'Gorman, another Irish miner. "Dewey is perfectly right. I came over from Ireland like you, but he hasn't said anything against either of us."
"That is where you are right, O'Gorman," said Richard Dewey cordially. "You are a man of sense, and can understand me. My own father emigrated from England, and I am not likely to say anything against the class to which he belonged. Now, boys, you have had enough sport out of the poor Chinaman. I advise you to let him go."
Ki Sing grasped at this suggestion.
"Melican man speak velly good," he said.
"Of course, you think so," sneered O'Reilly. "I say, boys, let's cut off his pigtail," touching the poor Chinaman's queue.
Ki Sing uttered a cry of dismay as O'Reilly's suggestion was greeted with favorable shouts by the thoughtless crowd.
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