Part 1 out of 8
Produced by C. Aldarondo, T. Vergon, J. Fairbanks
and Online Distributed Proofreaders
THE GREY DAWN
STEWART EDWARD WHITE
They moved away, leaving Mrs. Morrell alone, biting her lips and planning
King listened to him in silence
"Look here, don't try to come that rot. I said, get out--and I mean it!"
"Call all you please," he sneered. "Nobody's going to pay any attention to
your calls at Jake's Place!"
OTHER BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR
THE CLAIM JUMPERS
THE BLAZED TRAIL
BLAZED TRAIL STORIES
CAMP AND TRAIL
THE SIGN AT SIX
THE RULES OF THE GAME
THE SILENT PLACES
THE ADVENTURES OF BOBBY ORDE
THE MAGIC FOREST
THE LAND OF FOOTPRINTS
AFRICAN CAMP FIRES
THE REDISCOVERED COUNTRY
(With Samuel Hopkins Adams)
THE GRAY DAWN
PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS IN TALE
MILTON KEITH: a young lawyer from Baltimore.
NAN KEITH: his wife.
JOHN SHERWOOD: a gambler.
PATSY SHERWOOD: his wife.
ARTHUR MORRELL: an English adventurer.
MIMI MORRELL: his wife or mistress.
BEN SANSOME: a lady-killer, destined to become an "old beau."
W. T. COLEMAN, or "old Vigilante," a leader.
DAVID TERRY: a leader on the other side.
JAMES KING OF WILLIAM: a modern Crusader.
THE SPIRIT OF SAN FRANCISCO
On the veranda of the Bella Union Hotel, San Francisco, a man sat enjoying
his morning pipe. The Bella Union overlooked the Plaza of that day, a
dusty, unkempt, open space, later to be swept and graded and dignified into
Portsmouth Square. The man was at the younger fringe of middle life. He was
dressed neatly and carefully in the fashionable costume of the time, which
was the year of grace 1852. As to countenance, he was square and solid; as
to physique, he was the same; as to expression, he inclined toward the
quietly humorous; in general he would strike the observer as deliberately,
philosophically competent. A large pair of steelbound spectacles sat
halfway down his nose. Sometimes he read his paper through their lenses;
and sometimes, forgetting, he read over the tops of their bows. The
newspaper he held was an extraordinary document. It consisted of four large
pages. The outside page was filled solidly with short eight or ten line
advertisements; the second page grudgingly vouchsafed a single column of
news items; the third page warmed to a column of editorial and another of
news; all the rest of the space on these and the entire fourth page was
again crowded close with the short advertisements. They told of the arrival
of ships, the consignment of goods, the movements of real estate, the sales
of stock, but mainly of auctions. The man paid little attention to the
scanty news, and none at all to the editorials. His name was John Sherwood,
and he was a powerful and respected public gambler.
The approach across the Plaza of a group of men caused him to lay aside his
paper, and with it his spectacles. The doffing of the latter strangely
changed his whole expression. The philosophical middle-aged quietude fell
from him. He became younger, keener, more alert. It was as though he had
removed a disguise.
The group approaching were all young men, and all dressed in the height of
fashion. At that rather picturesque time this implied the flat-brimmed
beaver hat; the long swallowtail, or skirted coat; the tight "pantaloons";
varicoloured, splendid, low-cut waistcoats of satin, of velvet, or of
brocade; high wing collars; varnished boots; many sparkling, studs and
cravat pins; rather longish hair; and whiskers cut close to the cheek or
curling luxuriantly under the chin. They were prosperous, well-fed,
arrogant-looking youths, carrying their crests high, the light of questing
recklessness in their eyes, ready to laugh, drink, or fight with anybody.
At sight of Sherwood they waved friendly hands, and canes, and veered in
"Yo're just the man we are looking for!" cried a tall, dark, graceful young
fellow, "We are all 'specially needful of wisdom. The drinks are on some
one, and we cain't decide who."
John Sherwood, his keen eyes twinkling, set his chair down on four legs.
"State your case, Cal," he said.
Cal waved a graceful hand at a stout, burly, red-faced man whose thick
blunt fingers, square blue jowl, and tilted cigar gave the flavour of the
professional politician. "John Webb, here-excuse _me_, Sheriff John Webb-
presumin' on the fact that he has been to the mines, and that he came here
in '49, arrogates to himself the exclusive lyin' privileges, of this
"Pretty large order," commented Sherwood.
"_Pre_cisely," agreed Cal, "and that's why the drinks are on him!"
But Sheriff Webb, who had been chuckling cavernously inside his bulky
frame, spoke up in a harsh and husky voice: "I told them an innocent
experience of mine, and they try to hold me up for drinks. I don't object
to giving them a reasonable amount of drinks--what _I_ call reasonable," he
added hastily, "but I object to being held up."
"He says he used to cook," put in a small, alert, nervous, rather flashily
dressed individual named Rowlee, editor of the _Bugle_.
"I did!" stoutly asseverated Webb.
"And that he baked a loaf of bread so hard nobody could eat it."
"Sounds perfectly reasonable," said Sherwood.
"And that nobody could _break_ it," Rowlee went on.
"I have no difficulty in believing that," said Sherwood judicially. "Your
case is mighty weak yet, Cal."
"But he claims it was so hard that they used it for a grindstone."
"I did not!" disclaimed Webb indignantly.
An accusing groan met this statement.
"I tell you I didn't say anything of the kind," roared Webb, his bull voice
overtopping them all.
"Well, what did you say, then?" challenged Calhoun Bennett.
"I said we tried to use her as a grindstone," said Webb, "but it didn't
"Weak case, boys; weak case," said Sherwood.
The little group, their eyes wide, their nostrils distended, waited
accusingly for Webb to proceed. After an interval, the sheriff, staring
critically at the lighted end of his cigar, went on in a drawling voice:
"Yes, we, couldn't get a hole through her to hang her axle on. We blunted
all our drills. Every Sunday we'd try a new scheme. Finally we laid her
flat under a tree and rigged a lightnin' rod down to the centre of her. No
use. She tore that lightning all to pieces."
He looked up at them with a limpid, innocent eye, to catch John Sherwood
gazing at him accusingly.
"John Webb," said he "you forget that I came out here in, '48. On your
honour, do you expect _me_ to believe that yarn?"
"Well," said Webb, gazing again at his cigar end, "no--really I don't. The
fact is," he went on with a perfectly solemn air of confidence, "the fact
is, I've lived out here so long and told so many damn lies that now without
some help I don't know when to believe myself."
"Do we get that drink?" insisted Calhoun Bennett.
"Oh, Lord, yes, you always get a drink."
"Well, come on and _get_ it then--you, too, of course, Mr. Sherwood."
The gambler arose, and began leisurely to fold his paper and to put away
"I see you got Mex Ryan off, Cal," he observed. "You either had
extraordinary luck, or you're a mighty fine lawyer. Looked like a clear
case to me. He just naturally went in and beat Rucker half to death in his
own store. How did you do it?"
"I assure yo' it was no sinecure," laughed the tall, dark youth. "I earned
"Yes," grumbled Webb, "but he got six months--and I got to take care of
him. Cluttering up my jail with dirty beasts like Mex Ryan! Could just as
easy have turned him loose!"
"That would have been a little too much!" smiled Bennett. "It was takin'
some risk to let him off as easy as we did. It isn't so long since the
"Oh, hell, we can handle that sort of trash now," snorted Webb.
"Who was backing Mex, anyway?" asked Rowlee curiously.
"Better ask who had it in for Rucker," suggested the fourth member of the
group, a man who had not heretofore spoken. This was Dick Blatchford, a
round-faced, rather corpulent, rather silent though jovial-looking
individual, with a calculating and humorous eye. He was magnificently
apparelled, but rather untidy.
"Well, I do ask it," said Rowlee.
But to this he got no response.
"Come on, ain't you got that valuable paper folded up yet?" rumbled Webb to
They all turned down the high-pillared veranda, toward the bar, talking
idly and facetiously of last night's wine and this morning's head. A door
opened at their very elbow, and in it a woman appeared.
She was a slender woman, of medium height, with a small, well-poised head,
on which the hair lay smooth and glossy. Her age was somewhere between
thirty and thirty-five years. A stranger would have been first of all
impressed by the imperious carriage of her head and shoulders, the repose
of her attitude. Become a friend or a longer acquaintance, he would have
noticed more particularly her wide low brow, her steady gray eyes and her
grave but humorous lips. But inevitably he would have gone back at last to
her more general impression. Ben Sansome, the only man in town who did
nothing, made society and dress a profession and the judgment of women a
religion, had long since summed her up: "She carries her head charmingly."
This poised, wise serenity of carriage was well set off by the costume of
the early fifties--a low collar, above which her neck rose like a flower
stem; flowing sleeves; full skirts with many silken petticoats that
whispered and rustled; low sandalled shoes, their ties crossed and
recrossed around white slender ankles. A cameo locket, hung on a heavy gold
chain, rose and fell with her breast; a cameo brooch pinned together the
folds of her bodice; massive and wide bracelets of gold clasped her wrists
and vastly set off her rounded, slender forearms.
She stood quite motionless in the doorway, nodding with a little smile in
response to the men's sweeping salutes.
"You will excuse me gentlemen, I am sure," said Sherwood formally, and
instantly turned aside.
The woman in the doorway thereupon preceded him down a narrow, bare,
unlighted hallway, opened another door, and entered a room. Sherwood
followed, closing the door after him.
"Want something, Patsy?" he inquired.
The room was obviously one of the best of the Bella Union. That is to say,
it was fairly large, the morning sun streamed in through its two windows,
and it contained a small iron stove. In all other respects it differed
quite from any other hotel room in the San Francisco of that time. A heavy
carpet covered the floor, the upholstery was of leather or tapestry, wall
paper adorned the walls, a large table supported a bronze lamp and numerous
books and papers, a canary, in a brass cage, hung in the sunshine of one of
the windows, flitted from perch to perch, occasionally uttering a few
liquid notes under its breath.
"Just a little change, Jack, if you have some with you," said the woman.
Her speaking voice was rich and low.
Sherwood thrust a forefinger into his waistcoat pocket, and produced one of
the hexagonal slugs of gold current at that time.
"Oh, not so much!" she protested.
"All I've got. What are you up to to-day, Patsy?"
"I thought of going down to Yet Lee's--unless there is something better to
"Doesn't sound inspiring. Did you go to that fair or bazaar thing
She smiled with her lips, but her eyes darkened.
"Yes, I went. It was not altogether enjoyable. I doubt if I'll try that
sort of thing again."
Sherwood's eye suddenly became cold and dangerous.
"If they didn't treat you right--"
She smiled, genuinely this time, at his sudden truculence.
"They didn't mob me," she rejoined equably, "and, anyway, I suppose it is
to be expected."
"It's that cat of Morrell's," he surmised.
"Oh, she--and others. I ought not to have spoken of it, Jack. It's really
beneath the contempt of sensible people."
"I'll get after Morrell, if he doesn't make that woman behave," said
Sherwood, without attention to her last speech.
She smiled at him again, entirely calm and reasonable.
"And what good would it do to get after Morrell?" she asked. "Mrs. Morrell
only stands for what most of them feel. I don't care, anyway. I get along
splendidly without them." She sauntered over to the window, where she began
idly to poke one finger at the canary.
"For the life of me, Patsy," confessed Sherwood, "I can't see that they're
an inspiring lot, anyway. From what little I've seen of them, they haven't
more than an idea apiece. They'd bore me to death in a week."
"I know that. They'd bore me, too. Don't talk about them. When do they
expect the _Panama_--do you know?"
But with masculine persistence he refused to abandon the topic.
"I must confess I don't see the point," he insisted. "You've got more
brains than the whole lot of them together, you've got more sense, you're a
lot better looking"--he surveyed her, standing in the full light by the
canary's cage, her little glossy head thrown back, her pink lips pouted
teasingly at the charmed and agitated bird, her fine clear features
profiled in the gold of the sunshine--"and you're a thoroughbred, egad,
which most of them are not."
"Oh, thank you, kind sir." She threw him a humourous glance. "But of course
that is not the point."
"Oh, isn't it? Well, perhaps you'll tell me the point."
She left the canary and came to face him.
"I'm not respectable," she said.
At the word he exploded.
"Respectable? What are you talking about? You talk as though--as though we
weren't married, egad!"
"Well, Jack," she replied, a faint mocking smile curving the corners of her
mouth, "when it comes to that, we _did_ elope, you'll have to acknowledge.
And we weren't married for quite a long time afterward."
"We got married as soon as we could, didn't we?" he cried indignantly. "Was
it our fault that we didn't get married sooner? And what difference did it
"Now don't get all worked up," she chided. "I'm just telling you why, in
the eyes of some of these people, I'm not 'respectable.' You asked me, you
"Go on," he conceded to this last.
"Well, we ran away and weren't married. That's item one. Then perhaps
you've forgotten that I sat on lookout for some of your games in the early
days in the mining camps?"
"Forgotten?" said Sherwood, the light of reminiscence springing to his
The same light had come into hers.
"Will you _ever_ forget," she murmured, "the camps by the summer streams,
the log towns, the lights, the smoke, the freedom--the comradeship--"
"Homesick for the old rough days?" he teased.
"Kind of," she confessed. "But it wasn't 'respectable'--a--well, a _fairly_
good-looking woman in a miner's saloon."
He flared again.
"Do you mean to tell me they dare say--"
"They dare say anything--behind our backs," she said, with cool contempt.
"It's all drivelling nonsense. I care nothing about it. But you asked me.
Don't bother your head about it. Have you anything to suggest doing this
morning, instead of Yet Lee's?" She turned away from him toward the door
leading into another room. "I'll get my hat," she said over her shoulder.
"Look here, Patsy," said Sherwood, rather grimly, "if you want to get in
with that lot, you shall."
She stopped at this, and turned square around.
"If I do--when I do--I will," she replied. "But, John Sherwood, you mustn't
interfere--never in the world! Promise!" She stood there, almost menacing
in her insistence, evidently resolved to nip this particularly masculine
resolution in the bud.
"Egad, Patsy," cried Sherwood, "you are certainly a raving beauty!"
He covered the ground between them in two strides, and crushed her in his
arms. She threw her head back for his kiss.
A knock sounded, and almost immediately a very black, very bullet-headed
young negro thrust his head in at the door.
"Sam," said Sherwood deliberately, "some day I'm going to kill you!"
"Yes, sah! yes, sah!" agreed Sam heartily.
"Well, what the devil do you want?"
"Th' _Panama_ done been, signalled; yes, sah!" said the negro, but without
following his head through the door.
"Well, what the devil do you suppose I care, you black limb?" roared
Sherwood, "and what do you mean coming in here before you're told?"
"Yes, sah! yes, sah, dat's right," ducked Sam, "Shell I awdah the team,
"I suppose we might as well go see her docked. Would you like it?" he asked
"I'd love it."
"Then get the team. And some day I'm going to kill you."
Mrs. Sherwood prepared herself first of all by powdering her nose. This
simple operation, could it have been seen by the "respectable" members of
the community, would in itself have branded her as "fast," In those days
cosmetics of any sort were by most considered inventions of the devil. It
took extraordinary firmness of character even to protect one's self against
sunburn by anything more artificial than the shadow of a hat or a parasol.
Then she assumed a fascinating little round hat that fitted well down over
her small head. This, innocent of pins, was held on by an elastic at the
back. A ribbon, hanging down directly in front, could be utilized to steady
it in a breeze.
"All ready," she announced, picking up a tiny parasol, about big enough for
a modern doll. "You may carry my mantle."
Near the foot of the veranda steps waited Sam at the heads of a pair of
beautiful, slim, satiny horses. Their bay coats had been groomed until they
rippled and sparkled with every movement of the muscles beneath. Wide red-
lined nostrils softly expanded and contracted with a restrained eagerness;
and soft eyes rolled in the direction of the Sherwoods--keen, lithe,
nervous, high-strung creatures, gently stamping little hoofs, impatiently
tossing dainty heads, but nevertheless making no movement that would stir
the vehicle that stood "cramped" at the steps. Their harness carried no
blinders; their tails, undocked, swept the ground; but their heads were
pulled into the air by the old stupid overhead check reins until their
noses pointed almost straight ahead. It gave them rather a haughty air.
Sherwood stepped in first, took the reins in one hand, and offered his
other hand to his wife. Sam instantly left the horses' heads to hold a
wicker contrivance against the arc of the wheels. This was to protect
skirts from dusty tires. Mrs. Sherwood settled as gracefully to her place
as a butterfly on its flower. Sam snatched away the wicker guards. Sherwood
spoke to the horses. With a purring little snort they moved smoothly away.
The gossamerlike wheels threw the light from their swift spokes. Sam, half
choked by the swirl of dust, gazed after them. Sherwood, leaning slightly
forward against the first eagerness of the animals, showed a strong,
competent, arresting figure, with his beaver hat, his keen grim face, his
snow-white linen, and the blue of his brass-buttoned-coat. The beautiful
horses were stepping as one, a delight to the eye, making nothing whatever
of the frail vehicle at their heels. But Sam's eye lingered longest on the
small stately figure of his mistress. She sat very straight, her head high,
the little parasol poised against the sun, the other hand clasping the hat
"Dem's quality foh sure!" said Sam with conviction.
Sherwood drove rapidly around the edge of the Plaza and, so into Kearney
Street. From here to the water front were by now many fireproof brick and
stone structures, with double doors and iron shatters, like fortresses. So
much had San Francisco learned from her five disastrous fires. The stone
had come from China, the brick also from overseas. Down side streets one
caught glimpses of huge warehouses--already in this year of 1852 men talked
of the open-air auctions of three years before as of something in history
inconceivably remote. The streets, where formerly mule teams had literally
been drowned in mud, now were covered with planking. This made a fine
resounding pavement. Horses' hoofs went merrily _klop, klop, klop_, and the
wheels rumbled a dull undertone. San Francisco had been very proud of this
pavement when it was new. She was very grateful for it even now, for in the
upper part of town the mud and dust were still something awful.
Unfortunately the planks were beginning to wear out in places; and a city
government, trying to give the least possible for its taxes, had made no
There were many holes, large or small: jagged, splintered, ugly holes going
down to indeterminate blackness either of depth or mud. Private
philanthropists had fenced or covered these. Private facetiousness had
labelled most of them with signboards. These were rough pictures of
disaster painted from the marking pot, and various screeds--"Head of
Navigation," "No Bottom," "Horse and Dray Lost Here," "Take Soundings,"
"Storage, Inquire Below," "Good Fishing for Teal," and the like.
Among these obstructions Sherwood guided his team skilfully, dodging not
only them, but other vehicles darting or crawling in the same direction.
There were no rules of the road. Omnibuses careered along, every window
rattling loudly; drays creaked and strained, their horses' hoofs slipping
against wet planks; horsemen threaded their way; nondescript delivery
wagons tried to outrattle the omnibuses. The din was something
extraordinary--hoofs drumming, wheels rumbling, oaths and shouts, and from
the sidewalks the blare and bray of brass bands in front of the various
auction shops. Newsboys and bootblacks darted in all directions, shouting
raucously as they do to-day. Cigar boys, an institution of the time, added
to the hubbub. Everybody was going in the same direction, some sauntering
with an air of leisure, some hurrying as though their fortunes were at
A wild shriek arose, and everybody made room for the steam sand shovel on
its way to dump the sand hills into the bay. It was called the "steam
paddy" to distinguish it from the "hand paddy"--out of Cork or Dublin. It
rumbled by on its track, very much like juggernaut in its calm indifference
as to how many it ran over. Sherwood's horses looked at it nervously
askance; but he spoke to them, and though they trembled they stood.
Now they debouched on the Central Wharf, and the sound of the hoofs and the
wheels changed its tone. Central Wharf extended a full mile into the bay.
It was lined on either side its narrow roadway by small shacks, in which
were offered fowls, fish, vegetables, candy, refreshments. Some of them
were tiny saloons or gambling houses. But by far the majority were the
cubicles where the Jewish slop sellers displayed their wares. Men returning
from the mines here landed, and here replenished their wardrobes.
Everything was exposed to view outside, like clothes hung out after a rain.
The narrow way between this long row of shops was crowded almost
dangerously. Magnificent dray horses, with long hair on the fetlocks above
their big heavy hoofs, bridling in conscious pride of silver-mounted
harness and curled or braided manes, rose above the ruck as their
ancestors, the warhorses, must have risen in medieval battle. The crowd
parted before them and closed in behind them. Here and there, too, a
horseman could be seen--with a little cleared space at his heels. Or a
private calash picking its way circumspectly.
From her point of vantage on the elevated seat Mrs. Sherwood could see over
the heads of people. She sat very quietly, her body upright, but in the
poised repose characteristic of her. Many admiring glances were directed at
her. She seemed to be unconscious of them. Nevertheless, nothing escaped
her. She saw, and appreciated and enjoyed, every phase of that
heterogeneous crowd--miners in their exaggeratedly rough clothes, brocaded
or cotton clad Chinese, gorgeous Spaniards or Chilenos, drunken men, sober
men, excited men, empty cans or cases kicking around underfoot, frantic
runners for hotels or steamboats trying to push their way by, newsboys and
cigar boys darting about and miraculously worming their way through
impenetrable places. Atop a portable pair of steps a pale, well-dressed
young man was playing thimble-rig on his knees with a gilt pea. From an
upturned keg a preacher was exhorting. And occasionally, through gaps
between the shacks, she caught glimpses of blue water; or of ships at
anchor; or, more often, of the tall pile drivers whose hammers went
steadily up and down.
Sherwood guided his glossy team and light spidery vehicle with the greatest
delicacy and skill. He was wholly absorbed in his task. Suddenly up ahead a
wild turmoil broke out. People crowded to right and left, clambering,
shouting, screaming. A runaway horse hitched to a light buggy came
careering down the way.
A collision seemed inevitable. Sherwood turned his horses' heads directly
at an open shop front. They hesitated, their small pointed ears working
nervously. Sherwood spoke to them. They moved forward, quivering, picking
their way daintily. Sherwood spoke again. They stopped. The runaway hurtled
by, missing the tail of the buggy by two feet. A moment later a grand crash
marked the end of its career farther down the line. Again Sherwood spoke to
his horses, and exerted the slightest pressure on the reins. Daintily,
slowly, their ears twitching back and forth, their fine eyes rolling, they
backed out of the opening.
Throughout all this exciting little incident the woman had not altered her
pose nor the expression of her face. Her head high, her eye ruminative, she
had looked on it all as one quite detached from possible consequences. The
little parasol did not change its angle. Only, quite deliberately, she had
relinquished the ribbon by which she held on her hat, and had placed her
slender hand steadyingly on the side of the vehicle.
The bystanders, already leaping down from their places of refuge and again
crowding the narrow way, directed admiring eyes toward the beautiful,
nervous, docile horses, the calm and dominating man, and the poised, dainty
creature at his side. One drunken individual cheered her personally. At
this a faint shell pink appeared in her cheeks, though she gave no other
sign that she had heard. Sherwood glanced down at her, amused.
But now emerged the Jew slop seller, very voluble. He had darted like a rat
to some mysterious inner recess of his burrow; but now he was out again
filling the air with lamentations, claims, appeals for justice. Sherwood
did not even glance toward him; but in the very act of tooling his horses
into the roadway tossed the man some silver. Immediately, with shouts and
cheers and laughter, the hoodlums nearby began a scramble.
The end of the long wharf widened to a great square, free of all buildings
but a sort of warehouse near one end. Here a rope divided off a landing
space. Close to the rope the multitude crowded, ready for its
entertainment. Here also stood in stately grandeur the three livery hacks
of which San Francisco boasted. They were magnificent affairs, the like of
which has never elsewhere been seen plying for public hire, brightly
painted, highly varnished, lined with silks, trimmed with solid silver. The
harnesses were heavily mounted with the same metal. On their boxes sat
fashionable creatures, dressed, not in livery, but throughout in the very
latest of the late styles, shod with varnished leather, gloved with softest
kid. Sherwood drove skilfully to the very edge of the roped space, pushing
aside the crowd on foot. They growled at him savagely. He paid no attention
to them, and they gave way. The buggy came to a stop. The horses, tossing
their heads, rolling their eyes, stamping their little hoofs, nevertheless
stood without need of further attention.
Now the brass bands blared with a sudden overwhelming blast of sound, the
crowd cheered noisily; the runners for the hotels began to bark like a pack
of dogs. With a vast turmoil of paddle wheels, swirling of white and green
waters, bellowing of speaking trumpets, throwing of handlines and scurrying
of deck hands and dock hands, the _Panama_ came to rest. After considerable
delay the gangplank was placed. The passengers began to disembark, facing
the din much as they would have faced the buffeting of a strong wind. This
was the cream of the entertainment for which the crowd had gathered; for
which, indeed, the Sherwoods had made their excursion. Each individual
received his meed of comment, sometimes audible and by no means always
flattering. Certainly in variety both of character and of circumstance they
offered plenty of material. From wild, half-civilized denizens of
Louisiana's canebrakes, clinging closely to their little bundles and their
long rifles, to the most polished exquisites of fashion they offered all
grades and intermediates. Some of them looked rather bewildered. Some
seemed to know just what to do and where to go. Most dove into the crowd
with the apparent idea of losing their identity as soon as possible. The
three magnificent hacks were filled, and managed, with much plunging and
excitement, to plow a way through the crowd and so depart. Amusing things
happened to which the Sherwoods called each other's attention. Thus a man,
burdened with a single valise, ducked under the ropes near them. A paper
boy happened to be standing near. The passenger offered the boy a fifty-
"Here, boy," said he, "just carry this valise for me."
The paper boy gravely contemplated the fifty cents, dove into his pocket,
and produced another.
"Here, man," said he, handing them both to the traveller, "take this and
carry it yourself."
One by one the omnibuses filled and departed. The stream of passengers down
the gangplank had ceased. The crowd began to thin. Sherwood gathered his
reins to go. Mrs. Sherwood suddenly laid her hand on his forearm.
"Oh, the poor thing!" she cried, her voice thrilling with compassion.
A young man and a steward were supporting a girl down the gangplank.
Evidently she was very weak and ill. Her face was chalky white, with dark
rings under the eyes, her lips were pale, and she leaned heavily on the
men. Although she could not have heard Mrs. Sherwood's exclamation of pity,
she happened to look up at that instant, revealing a pair of large, dark,
and appealing eyes. Her figure, too, dressed in a plain travelling dress,
strikingly simple but bearing the unmistakable mark of distinction, was
appealing; as were her exquisite, smooth baby skin and the downward
drooping, almost childlike, curves of her lips. The inequalities of the
ribbed gangplank were sufficient to cause her to stumble.
"She is very weak," commented Mrs. Sherwood.
"She is--or would be--remarkably pretty," added Sherwood. "I wonder what
Arrived at the foot of the gangplank the young man removed his hat with an
air of perplexity, and looked about him. He was of the rather florid,
always boyish type; and the removal of his hat had revealed a mat of close-
curling brown hair, like a cap over his well-shaped head. The normal
expression of his face was probably quizzically humorous, for already the
little lines of habitual half laughter were sketched about his eyes.
"A plunger," said John Sherwood to himself, out of his knowledge of men;
then as the young man glanced directly toward him, disclosing the colour
and expression of his eyes, "a plunger in something," he amended, revising
his first impression.
But now the humorous element was quite in abeyance, and a faint dismay had
taken its place. One arm supporting the drooping girl, he was looking up
and down the wharf. Not a vehicle remained save the heavy drays already
backing up to receive their loads of freight. The dock hands had dropped
and were coiling the line that had separated the crowd from the landing
With another exclamation the woman in the carriage rose, and before
Sherwood could make a move to assist her, had poised on the rim of the
wheel and leaped lightly to the dock. Like a thistledown she floated to the
little group at the foot of the gangplank. The steward instantly gave way
to her evident intention. She passed her arm around the girl's waist. The
three moved slowly toward the buggy, Mrs. Sherwood, her head bent
charmingly forward, murmuring compassionate, broken, little phrases,
supporting the newcomer's reviving footsteps.
Sherwood, a faint, fond amusement lurking in the depths of his eyes,
quietly cramped the wheels of the buggy.
A half hour later the two men, having deposited the women safely in the
Sherwoods' rooms at the Bella Union, and having been unceremoniously
dismissed by Mrs. Sherwood, strolled together to the veranda. They had not,
until now, had a chance to exchange six words.
The newcomer, who announced himself as Milton Keith from Baltimore, proved
to have a likable and engaging personality. He was bubbling with interest
and enthusiasm; and these qualities, provided they are backed solidly, are
always prepossessing. Sherwood, quietly studying him, concluded that such
was the case. His jaw and mouth were set in firm lines; his eye, while
dancing and mischievous, had depths of capability and reserves of
forcefulness. But Sherwood was, by inclination and by the necessities of
his profession, a close observer of men. Another, less practised, might
have seen here merely an eager, rather talkative, apparently volatile, very
friendly, quite unreserved young man of twenty-five. Any one, analytical or
otherwise, could not have avoided feeling the attractive force of the
youth's personality, the friendly quality that is nine tenths individual
magnetism and one tenth the cast of mind that initially takes for granted
the other man's friendliness.
At the moment Keith was boyishly avid for the sights of the new city. In
these modern days of long journeys, a place so remote as San Francisco, in
the most commonplace of circumstances, gathers to its reputation something
of the fabulous. How much more true then of a city built from sand dunes in
four years; five times swept by fire, yet rising again and better before
its ashes were extinct; the resort of all the picturesque, unknown races of
the earth--the Chinese, the Chileno, the Mexican, the Spanish, the
Islander, the Moor, the Turk--not to speak of ordinary foreigners from
Russia, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the out-of-the-way
corners of Europe; the haunt of the wild and striking individuals of all
these races. "Sydney ducks" from the criminal colonies; "shoulder strikers"
direct from the tough wards of New York; long, lean, fever-haunted crackers
from the Georgia mountains or the Louisiana canebrakes; Pike County
desperadoes; long-haired men from the trapping countries; hard-fisted,
sardonic state of Maine men fresh from their rivers; and Indian fighters
from the Western Reserve; grasping, shrewd commercial Yankees; fire-eating
Southern politicians; lawyers, doctors, merchants, chiefs, and thiefs, the
well-educated and the ignorant, the high-minded and the scalawags, all
dumped down together on a sand hill to work out their destinies; a city
whose precedents, whose morals, whose laws, were made or adapted on the
spot; where might in some form or another--revolver, money, influence--made
its only right; whose history ranged in three years the gamut of human
passion, strife, and development; whose background was the fabled El Dorado
whence the gold in unending floods poured through its sluices. To the
outside world tales of these things had come. They did not lose in the
journey. The vast loom of actual occurrences rose above the horizon like
mirages. Names and events borrowed a half-legendary quality from distances,
as elsewhere from time. Keith had heard of Coleman, of Terry, of Broderick,
Brannan, Gwin, Geary, as he had heard of the worthies of ancient history;
he had visualized the fabled splendours of San Francisco's great gambling
houses, of the excitements of her fervid, fevered life, as he might have
visualized the magnificences of pagan Rome; he had listened to tales of her
street brawls, her vast projects, the buccaneering raids of her big men,
her Vigilance Committee of the year before, as he would have listened to
the stories of one of Napoleon's veterans. Now, by the simple process of a
voyage that had seemed literally interminable but now was past, he had
landed in the very midst of fable. It was like dying, he told Sherwood
eagerly, like going irretrievably to a new planet. All his old world now
seemed as remote, as insubstantial, as phantomlike, as this had seemed.
"Even yet I can't believe it's all so," he cried, walking excitedly back
and forth, and waving an extinct cigar. "I've got to see it, touch it! Why,
I know it all in advance. That must be where the Jenny Lind Theatre stood--
before the fire--just opposite? I thought so! And the bay used to come up
to Montgomery Street, only a block down! You see, I know it all! And when
we came in, and I saw all those idle ships lying at anchor, just as they
have lain since their crews deserted them in '49 to go to the mines--and I
know why they haven't been used since, why they will continue to lie there
at anchor until they rot or sink--"
"Do you?" said Sherwood, who was vastly amused and greatly taken by this
"Yes, the clipper ships!" Keith swept on. "The first cargoes in this new
market make the money--the fastest clippers--poor old hulks--but you
brought in the argonauts!"
So he ran on, venting his impatience, so plainly divided between his sense
of duty in staying near his wife and his great desire to slip the leash,
that Sherwood smiled to himself. Once again he mentioned Coleman and the
Vigilantes of '51.
"I suppose he's around here? I may see him?"
"Oh, yes," said Sherwood, "you'll see him. But if you would accept a bit of
advice, go slow. You must remember that such a movement makes enemies,
arouses opposition. A great many excellent people--whom you will know--are
a little doubtful about all that."
Keith mentioned other names.
"I know them all. They are among the most influential members of the bar."
He glanced at a large watch. "Just at this hour we might find them at the
Monumental engine house. What do you say?"
"I should like nothing better!" cried Keith.
"Your wife's illness is not likely to require immediate attendance?"
suggested Sherwood inquiringly.
"She's only seasick--horrible voyage--she's always under the weather on
shipboard--three weeks of it from Panama--Nan's as strong as a horse,"
replied Keith, with obvious impatience.
They walked across the Plaza to the Monumental fire engine house, a square
brick structure of two stories, with wide folding doors, and a bell cupola
apart. Keith paused to admire the engine. It was of the type usual in those
days, consisting of a waterbox with inlet and outlet connections, a pump
atop, and parallel pump rails on either side, by the hand manipulation of
which the water was thrown with force from the box. The vehicle was drawn
by means of a long rope, carried on a drum. This could be slacked off at
need to accommodate as high as a hundred men or as few as would suffice to
move her. So far this engine differed in no manner from those Keith had
seen in the East. But this machine belonged to a volunteer company, one of
many and all rivals. It was gayly coloured. On the sides of its waterbox
were scenic paintings of some little merit. The woodwork was all mahogany.
Its brass ornamentation was heavy and brought to a high state of polish.
From a light rack along its centre dangled two beautifully chased speaking
trumpets, and a row of heavy red-leather helmets. Axes nestled in sockets.
A screaming gilt eagle, with wings outspread, hovered atop. Alongside the
engine stood the hook and ladder truck and the hose cart. These smaller and
less important vehicles were painted in the same scheme of colour, were
equally glittering and polished. Keith commented on all this admiringly.
"Yes," said Sherwood, "you see, since the big fires, it has become a good
deal a matter of pride. There are eleven volunteer companies, and they are
great rivals in everything, political and social, as well as in the line of
regular business, so to speak. Mighty efficient. You'll have to join a
company, of course; and you better look around a little before deciding.
Each represents something different--some different element. They are
really as much clubs as fire companies."
They mounted to the upper story, where Keith found himself in a long room,
comfortably fitted with chairs, tables, books, and papers. A double door
showed a billiard table in action. Sherwood indicated a closed door across
"Card rooms," said he briefly.
The air was blue with smoke and noisy with rather vociferative conversation
and laughter. Several groups of men were gathered in little knots. A negro
in white duck moved here and there carrying a tray.
Sherwood promptly introduced Keith to many of these men, and he was as
promptly asked to name his drink. Keith caught few of the names, but he
liked the hearty, instant cordiality. Remarking on the beauty and order of
the machines, loud cries arose for "Taylor! Bert Taylor!" After a moment's
delay a short, stocky, very red-faced man, with rather a fussy manner, came
"Mr. Keith," said a tall, dark youth, with a pronounced Southern accent,
"I want foh to make you acquainted with Mr. Tayloh. Mr. Tayloh is at once
the patron saint of the Monumentals, but to a large extent its 'angel' as
well --I hope you understand the theatrical significance of that term,
suh. He is motheh, fatheh, guardeen, and dry nurse to every stick, stone,
and brick, every piece of wood, brass, or rubbah, every inch of hose, and
every man _and_ Irishman on these premises." Taylor had turned an
embarrassed brick red. "Mr. Keith," went on the dark youth, explanatorily,
"was just sayin' that though he had inspected carefully many fire
equipments, per'fessional and amateur, he had nevah feasted his eyes
on so complete an outfit as that of our Monumentals."
Keith had not said all this, but possibly he had meant it. The brick-red,
stocky little man was so plainly embarrassed and anxious to depart that
Keith racked his brains for something to say. All he could remember was the
manufacturer's nameplate on the machine downstairs.
"I see you have selected the Hunaman engine, sir," said he. The little
man's eye brightened.
"It may be, sir, that you favour the piano-box type--of the sort made by
Smith or Van Ness?" he inquired politely.
"It is a point on which my opinion is still-suspended," replied Keith with
The little man moved nearer, and his shyness fell from him.
"Oh, but really there is no choice, none whatever!" he cried. "I'm sure,
sir, I can convince you in five minutes. I assure you we have gone into the
subject thoroughly--this Hunaman cost us over five thousand dollars; and
you may be certain we went very thoroughly into the matter before making
He went on talking in his self-effacing, deprecatory, but very earnest
fashion. The other men in the group, Keith felt, were watching with covert
amusement. Occasionally, he thought to catch half-concealed grins at his
predicament. In less than the five minutes the claims of the piano box were
utterly demolished. Followed a dissertation on methods of fighting fire;
and then a history of the Monumental Company--its members, its officers,
and its proud record. "And our bell--did you know that?--is the bell used
by the Vigilantes--" He broke off suddenly in confusion, his embarrassment
descending on him again. A moment later he sidled away.
"But I found him very interesting!" protested Keith, in answer to implied
"Bert is invaluable here; but he's a lunatic on fire apparatus. We couldn't
get along without him, but it's sometimes mighty difficult to get on _with_
him," said some one.
Keith was making a good impression without consciously trying to do so. His
high spirits of youth and enthusiasm were in his favour; and as yet he had
no interests to come into conflict with those of any one present. More
drinks were ordered and fresh cigars lighted. From Sherwood they now
learned that Keith had but just landed, and intended to settle as a
permanent resident. As one man they uprose.
"And yo' wastin' of yo' time indoors!" mourned the dark Southerner. "And so
much to see!"
Enthusiastically they surrounded him and led him forth. Only a very old,
very small, very decadent village is devoid of what is modernly called the
"booster" spirit. In those early days of slow transportation and isolated
communities, local patriotism was much stronger than it is now. And
something about the air's wine of the Pacific slope has always, and
probably will always, make of every man an earnest proselyte for whatever
patch of soil he calls home. But add to these general considerations the
indubitable facts of harbour, hill, health, opportunity, activity, and a
genuine history, if of only three years, one can no longer marvel that
every man, each in his own way, saw visions.
In the course of the next few hours Keith got confused and mixed
impressions of many things. The fortresslike warehouses; the plank roads;
the new Jenny Lind Theatre; the steam paddies eating steadily into the sand
hills at the edge of town; the Dramatic Museum; houses perched on the
crumbling edges of hills; houses sunk far below the level of new streets,
with tin cans and ducks floating around them; new office buildings; places
where new office buildings were going to be or merely ought to be; land
that in five years was going to be worth fabulous sums; unlikely looking
spots where historic things had stood or had happened--all these were
pointed out to him. He was called upon to exercise the eye of faith; to
reconstruct; to eliminate the unfinished, the mean, the sordid; to overlook
the inadequate; to build the city as it was sure to be; and to concern
himself with that and that only. He admired Mount Tamalpais over the way.
He was taken up a high hill--a laborious journey--to gaze on the spot where
he would have been able to see Mount Diabolo, if only Mount Diabolo had
been visible. And every few blocks he was halted and made to shake hands
with some one who was always immediately characterized to him impressively,
under the breath--"Colonel Baker, sir, one of the most divinely endowed men
with the gift of eloquence, sir"; "Mr. Rowlee, sir, editor of one of our
leading journals"; "Judge Caldwell, sir at present one of the ornaments of
our bench"; "Mr. Ben Sansome, sir, a leadin' young man in our young but
vigorous social life"; and so on.
These introductions safely and ceremoniously accomplished, each newcomer
insisted on leading the way to the nearest bar.
"I insist, sir. It is just the hour for my afternoon toddy."
After some murmuring of expostulation, the invitation was invariably
There was always a barroom immediately adjacent. Keith was struck by the
number and splendour of these places. Although San Francisco was only three
years removed from the tent stage, and although the freightage from the
centres of civilization was appalling, there was no lack of luxury.
Mahogany bars with brass rails, huge mirrors with gilt frames, pyramids of
delicate crystal, rich hangings, oil paintings of doubtful merit but
indisputable interest, heavy chandeliers of prism glasses, most elaborate
free lunches, and white-clad barkeepers--such matters were common to all.
In addition, certain of the more pretentious boasted special attractions.
Thus, one place supported its ceiling on crystal pillars; another--and this
was crowded--had dashing young women to serve the drinks, though the mixing
was done by men; a third offered one of the new large musical boxes capable
of playing several very noisy tunes; a fourth had imported a marvellous
piece of mechanism: a piece of machinery run by clockwork, exhibiting the
sea in motion, a ship tossing on its bosom; on shore, a water mill in
action, a train of cars passing over a bridge, a deer chase with hounds,
huntsmen, and game, all in pursuit or flight, and the like. The barkeepers
were marvels of dexterity and of especial knowledge. At command they would
deftly and skilfully mix a great variety of drinks--cocktails, sangarees,
juleps, bounces, swizzles, and many others. In mixing these drinks it was
their especial pride to pass them at arm's length from one tall glass to
another, the fluid describing a long curve through the air, but spilling
never a drop.
In these places Keith pledged in turn each of his new acquaintances, and
was pledged by them. Never, he thought, had he met so jolly, so
interesting, so experienced a lot of men. They had not only lived history,
they had made it. They were so full of high spirits and the spirit of play.
His heart warmed to them mightily; and over and over he told himself that
he had made no mistake in his long voyage to new fields of endeavour. On
the other hand, he, too, made a good impression. Naturally the numerous
drinks had something to do with this mutual esteem; but also it was a fact
that his boyish, laughing, half-reckless spirit had much in common with the
spirit of the times. Quite accidentally he discovered that the tall, dark
Southern youth was Calhoun Bennett. This then seemed to him a remarkable
"Why, I have a letter of introduction to you!" he said.
Again and again he recurred to this point, insisting on telling everybody
how extraordinary the situation was.
"Here I've been talking to him for three hours," he exclaimed, "and never
knew who he was, and all the time I had a letter of introduction to him!"
This and a warm irresponsible glow of comradeship were the sole indications
of the drinks he had had. Keith possessed a strong head. Some of the others
were not so fortunate. Little Rowlee was frankly verging on drunkenness.
The afternoon wind was beginning to die, and the wisps of high fog that
had, since two o'clock, been flying before it, now paused and forgathered
to veil the sky. Dusk was falling.
"Look here," suggested Rowlee suddenly; "let's go to Allen's Branch and
have a good dinner, and then drift around to Belle's place and see if
there's any excitement to be had thereabouts."
"Belle--our local Aspasia, sah," breathed a very elaborate, pompous,
elderly Southerner, who had been introduced as Major Marmaduke Miles.
But this suggestion brought to Keith a sudden realization of the lateness
of the hour, the duration of his absence, and the fact that, not only had
he not yet settled his wife in rooms of her own, but had left her on the
hands of strangers. For the first time he noticed that Sherwood was not of
"When did Sherwood leave?" he cried.
"Oh, a right sma't time ago," said Bennett.
Keith started to his feet.
"I should like to join you," said he, "but it is impossible now."
A chorus of expostulation went up at this.
"But I haven't settled down yet!" persisted Keith. "I don't know even
whether my baggage is at the hotel."
They waived aside his objections; but finding him obdurate, perhaps a
little panicky over the situation, they gave over urging the point.
"But you must join us later in the evening," said they.
The idea grew.
"I tell you what," said Rowlee, with half-drunken gravity; "he's got to
come back. We can't afford to lose him this early. And he can't afford to
lose us. The best life of this glorious commonwealth is as yet a sealed
book to him. It is our sacred duty, gentlemen, to break those seals. What
does he know of our temples of Terpsichore? Our altars to the gods of
chance? Our bowers of the Cyprians?"
He would have gone on at length, but Keith, laughingly protesting, trying
to disengage himself from the detaining hands, broke in with a promise to
return. But little Rowlee was not satisfied.
"I think we should take no chances," he stated. "How would it be to appoint
a committee to 'company him and see that he gets back?"
Keith's head was clear enough to realize with dismay that this brilliant
idea was about to take. But Ben Sansome, seizing the situation, locked his
arm firmly in Keith's.
"I'll see personally that he gets back," said he.
"That was mighty good of you; you saved my life!" said Keith to him,
gratefully, as they walked up the street.
"You couldn't have that tribe of wild Indians descending on your wife,"
said Sansome. He had kept pace with, the others, but showed it not at all.
Sansome was a slender, languid, bored, quiet sort of person, exceedingly
well dressed in the height of fashion, speaking with a slight, well-bred
drawl, given to looking rather superciliously from beneath his fine
eyelashes, almost too good looking. He liked, or pretended he liked, to
view life from the discriminating spectator's standpoint; and remained
unstirred by stirring events. He prided himself on the delicacy of his
social tact. In the natural course of evolution he would probably never
marry, and would become in time an "old beau," haunting ballrooms with
reminiscences of old-time belles.
Keith, meeting the open air, began to feel his exhilaration.
"What I need is my head under a pump for about ten seconds," he told
Sansome frankly. "Lord! It was just about time I got away."
Arrived at the hotel, Sansome said good-bye, but Keith would have none of
"No, no!" he cried. "You must come in, now you've come so far! I want you
to meet my wife; she'll be delighted!"
And Sansome, whose celebrated social tact had been slightly obscured by his
potations, finally consented. Truth to tell, it would have been a little
difficult for him to have got away. Poising his light stick and gloves in
his left hand, giving his drooping moustache a last twirl, and settling his
heavy cravat in place, he followed Keith down the little hall to the
At the knock Keith was at once invited to enter. The men threw open the
door. Sansome stared with all his might.
Nan Keith had made the usual miraculous recovery from seasickness once she
felt the solid ground beneath, her. The beautiful baby-textured skin had
come alive with soft colour, her dark, wide, liquid eyes had brightened.
She had assumed a soft, silken, wrapperlike garment with, a wide sash,
borrowed from Mrs. Sherwood; and at the moment was seated in an enveloping
armchair beneath a wide-shaded lamp. The firm, soft lines of her figure,
uncorseted in this negligee, were suggested beneath the silk. Sansome
stopped short, staring, his eyes kindling with, interest. Here was
something not only new but different--a distinct addition. Sansome, like
most dilettantes, was something of a phrase maker, and prided himself on
the apt word. He found it here, to his own satisfaction, at least.
"Her beauty is positively creamy!" he murmured to himself.
At sight of her Keith crossed directly to her, full of a sudden, engaging,
"How are you feeling now, honey?" he inquired. "Quite recovered? All right
But Nan was inclined to be a little vexed and reproachful. She had been
left alone, with strangers, altogether too long. Keith excused himself
volubly and convincingly--she had been asleep--she was much better off not
being disturbed--that this was true was proven by results--she was
blooming, positively blooming--as fresh as a rose leaf--of course it was
rather an imposition on the Sherwoods, but the baggage hadn't come up yet,
and they were kind people, our sort, the sort for whom the word obligation
did not exist--he, personally, had not intended being gone so long, but by
the rarest of chances he had run across some of the men to whom, he had
introductions, and they had been most kind in making him acquainted--
nothing was more important to a young lawyer than to "establish
connections"--it did not do to overlook a chance.
He urged all this, and more, with all his usual, vital, enthusiastic force.
In spite of herself, she was overborne to a reproachful forgiveness.
In the meantime Mrs. Sherwood had gone over to where Ben Sansome was still
standing by the door. Sansome did not like Mrs. Sherwood. He considered
that she had no social tact at all. This was mainly--though he did not
analyze it--because she was quite apt to speak the direct and literal truth
to him; because she had a disquieting self-confidence and competence in
place of appropriate, graceful, feminine dependence; but especially because
she had never and would never play up to his game.
"Are you making a formal afternoon call, Ben?" she asked in her cool,
mocking voice. "Aren't you really a little _de trop?_"
"I did not come of my own volition at this time, I assure you," he replied
a trifle stiffly. The thought that he was suspected of a blunder in social
custom stung him; as, in a rather lazily amused way, she knew it would.
At this reply she glanced keenly toward Keith, then nodded; slowly.
"I see," she conceded.
Sansome moved to go. But at this Keith's attention was attracted. He sprang
forward, seized Sansome's arm, insisted on introducing him to Nan, was
over-effusive, over-cordial, buoyant. Both Sansome and Mrs. Sherwood were
experienced enough to yield entirely to his mood. They understood perfectly
that at the least opposition Keith was in just the condition to reveal
himself, perhaps, to break over the frail barrier that separates
exhilaration from loss of self-control. They saw also that Nan had no
suspicion of the state of affairs. Indeed, following the reaction from her
long voyage and her illness, she responded and played up to Keith's high
spirits. Neither wanted her to grasp the situation if it could be avoided:
Mrs. Sherwood from genuine good feeling, Sansome because of the social
awkwardness and bad taste. Besides, he felt that his presence at such a
scene would be a very bad beginning for himself.
"No, you're not going," Keith was insisting; "you don't realize what a
celebration this is! Here we've pulled up all our roots, haven't we, Nan?
and come thousands of miles to a new country, a wonderful country; and the
very first day of our landing you want us to act as though nothing had
Nan nodded a vigorous assent to his implied reference to her.
"And what we're going to do is to celebrate," insisted Keith. "You're all
going to dine with us. No, I insist! You're the only friends we have out
here, and you aren't going to desert us the very first day we need you."
"I wish you would!" cried Nan, sitting forward eagerly.
They tried to expostulate, to get out of it, but without avail. It seemed
easier to promise. Keith rushed out to look for his baggage, to arrange for
rooms, leaving the three together to await his return.
Both Mrs. Sherwood and Sansome applied themselves to relieving whatever
embarrassment Nan might feel over this unusual situation. Sansome was
possessed of great charm and social experience. He could play the game of
light conversation to perfection. By way of bridging the pause in events,
he set himself to describing the society in which the Keiths would shortly
find themselves launched. His remarks were practically a monologue,
interspersed by irrepressible gurgles of laughter from Nan. Mrs. Sherwood
sat quietly by. She did not laugh, but it was evident she was amused. In
this congenial atmosphere Sansome outdid himself.
"They are all afraid of each other," he told her, "because they don't know
anything about each other. Each ex-washerwoman thinks the other ex-
washerwoman must have been at least a duchess at home. It's terribly funny.
If they can get hold of six porcelain statuettes, a half-dozen
antimacassars, some gilt chairs, and a glass bell of wax flowers, they
imagine they're elegantly furnished. And their functions! I give you my
word, I'd as soon attend a reasonably pleasant funeral! Some of them try to
entertain by playing intellectual games--you know, rhyming or spelling
games--seriously!" He went on to describe some of the women, mentioning no
names, however. "You'll recognize them when you meet them," he assured her.
"There's one we'll call the Social Agitator--she isn't happy unless she is
running things. I believe she spent two weeks once in London--or else she
buys her boots there--anyway, when discussions get lively she squelches
them by saying, 'Of course, my dear, that may be absolutely _au fait_ in
New York--but in London--' It corks them up every time. And 'pon honour,
three quarters of the time she's quite wrong! Then there's the Lady Thug,
Square jaw, square shoulder, sort of bulging out at the top--you know--in
decollete one cannot help thinking 'one more struggle and she'll be free!'"
"Oh, fie, Mr. Sansome," laughed Nan, half shocked.
Sansome rattled on. The ultimate effect was to convey an impression of San
Francisco society--such as existed at all--as stodgy, stupid, pretentious,
unattractive. Nan was immensely amused, but inclined to take it all with a
grain of salt.
"Mrs. Sherwood doesn't bear you out," she told him, "and she's the only one
I've seen yet. I think we're going to have a pretty good time."
But at this point Keith returned. He was quite sobered from his temporary
exhilaration, but still most cordial and enthusiastic over his little
party, Sansome noted with quiet amusement that his light curly hair was
damp. Evidently he had taken his own prescription as to the pump.
"Well," he announced, "I have a room--such as it is. Can't say much for it.
The baggage is all here; nothing missing for a wonder. I've spoken to the
manager about dinner for five." He turned to Nan with brightening interest.
"Guess what I saw on the bill of fare! Grizzly bear steak! Think of that! I
Sansome groaned comically.
"What's the matter?" inquired Keith.
"Did you ever try it before? Tough, stringy, unfit for human consumption."
But Keith was fascinated by the name of the thing.
"There's plenty else," he urged defensively, "and I always try everything
It was agreed that they should all meet again after an hour. Sansome
renewed his promises to be on hand.
The room Keith had engaged was on the second story, and quite a different
sort of affair from that of the Sherwoods'. Indeed it was little more than
a pine box, containing only the bare necessities. One window looked out on
an unkempt backyard, now mercifully hidden by darkness.
"This is pretty tough," said Keith, "but it is the very best I could do.
And the price is horrible. We'll have to hunt up a living place about the
first thing we do."
"Oh, it's all right," said Nan indifferently. The lassitude of seasickness
had left her, and the excitement of new surroundings was beginning. She
felt gently stirred by the give and take of the light conversation in the
Sherwoods' room; and, although she did not quite realize it, she was
responding to the stimulation of having made a good impression. Her
subconscious self was perfectly aware that in the silken negligee, under
the pink-shaded lamp, her clear soft skin, the pure lines of her radiant
childlike beauty, the shadows of her tumbled hair, had been very appealing
and effective. She moved about a trifle restlessly, looking at things
without seeing them. "I'm glad to see the brown trunk. Open it, will you,
dear? Heavens, what a mirror!" She surveyed herself in the flawed glass,
moving from side to side, fascinated at the strange distortions.
"I call it positive extortion, charging what they do for a room like this,"
grumbled Keith, busy at the trunk. "The Sherwoods must pay a mint of money
for theirs. I wonder what he does!"
Her attention attracted by this subject, she arrested her posing before the
"They certainly are quick to take the stranger in," she commented lightly.
Something in her tone arrested Keith's attention, and he stopped fussing at
his keys. Nan had meant little by the remark. It had expressed the vague
instinctive recoil of the woman brought up in rather conventional
circumstances and in a conservative community from too sudden intimacy,
nothing more. She did not herself understand this.
"Don't you like the Sherwoods?" he instantly demanded, with the masculine
insistence on dissecting every butterfly.
"Why, she's charming!" said Nan, opening her eyes in surprise. "Of course,
I like her immensely!"
"I should think so," grumbled Keith. "They certainly have been mighty good
But Nan had dropped her negligee about her feet, and was convulsed at the
figure made of her slim young body by the distorted mirror.
"Come here, Milt," she gasped.
She clung to him, gurgling with laughter, pointing one shaking finger at
the monstrosity in the glass.
"Look--look what you married!"
They dressed gayly. His optimism and enthusiasm boiled over again. It was a
shame, his leaving her all that afternoon, he reiterated; but she had no
idea what giant strides he had made. He told her of the city, and he
enumerated some of the acquaintances he had made--Calhoun Bennett, Bert
Taylor, Major Marmaduke Miles, Michael Rowlee, Judge Caldwell, and others.
They had been most cordial to him, most kind; they had taken him in without
"It's the spirit of the West, Nan," he cried, "hospitable, unsuspicious,
free, eager to welcome! Oh, this is going to be the place for me;
opportunity waits at every corner. They are not tied down by conventions,
by the way somebody else has done things--"
He went on rapidly to detail to her some of the things he had been told--
the contemplated public improvements, the levelling of the sand hills, the
building of a city out of nothing.
"Why, Nan, do you realize that only four years ago this very Plaza had only
six small buildings around it, that there were only three two-story
structures in town, that the population was only about five hundred--there
are thirty-five thousand now, that--" he rattled on, detailing his recently
acquired statistics. Oh, potent influence of the Western spirit--already,
eight hours after his landing on California's shores, Milton Keith was a
With an expansion of relief that only a woman could fully appreciate, Nan
unpacked and put on a frock that had nothing whatever to do with the sea
voyage, and which she had not for some time seen. In ordinary accustomed
circumstances she would never have thought of donning so elaborate a
toilette for a hotel dining-room, but she was yielding to reaction. In her
way she was "celebrating," just as was Keith. Her hair she did low after
the fashion of the time, and bound it to her brow by a bandeau of pearls.
The gown itself was pale green and filmy. It lent her a flowerlike
semblance that was very fresh and lovely.
"By Jove, Nan, you certainly have recovered from the sea!" cried Keith, and
insisted on kissing her.
"Look how you've mussed me all up!" chided Nan, but without irritation.
They found the other three waiting for them, and without delay entered the
dining-room. This, as indeed all the lower story, was in marked contrast of
luxury with the bare pine bedrooms upstairs. Long red velvet curtains, held
back by tasselled silken cords, draped the long windows; fluted columns at
regular intervals upheld the ceiling; the floor was polished and slippery;
the tables shone with white and silver. An obese and tremendous darkey in
swallowtail waved a white-gloved hand at them, turned ponderously, and
preceded them down the aisle with the pomp of a drum major. His dignity was
colossal, awe inspiring, remote. Their progress became a procession, a
triumphal procession, such as few of Caesar's generals had ever known.
Arrived at the predestined table, he stood one side while menials drew out
the chairs. Then he marched tremendously back to the main door, his chin
high, his expression haughty, his backbone rigid. This head waiter was the
feature of the Bella Union Hotel, just as the glass columns were the
feature of the Empire, or the clockwork mechanism of the El Dorado.
The dinner itself went well. Everybody seemed to be friendly and at ease,
but by one of those strange and sudden social transitions it was rather
subdued. This was for various reasons. Nan Keith, after her brief reaction,
found herself again suffering from the lassitude and fatigue of a long
voyage; she needed a night's rest and knew it. Keith himself was a trifle
sleepy as an after affect to the earlier drinking. Sherwood was naturally
reserved and coolly observing; Mrs. Sherwood was apparently somehow on
guard; and Sansome, as always, took his tone from those about him. The wild
spirits of the hour before had taken their flight. It was, however, a
pleasant dinner--without constraint, as among old friends. After the meal
they went to the public parlour, a splendid but rather dismal place.
Sherwood almost immediately excused himself. After a short and somewhat
awkward interval, Nan decided she would go to bed for her needed rest.
"You won't think me rude, I know." said she.
Keith, whose buoyant temper had been sadly divided between a genuine wish
to do the proper and dutiful thing by his wife and a great desire to see
more of this fascinating city, rose with so evident an alacrity under
restraint that Mrs. Sherwood scarcely, concealed a smile. She said her
adieux at the same time, and left the room, troubling herself only to the
extent of that ancient platitude about "letters to write."
"I think we'll find most of the proper crowd down at the Empire," observed
Sansome as the two picked their way across the Plaza. "That is one of the
few old-fashioned, respectable gambling places left to us. The town is not
what it used to be in a sporting way. It was certainly wide open in the
good old days!"
The streets at night were ill lighted, except where a blaze of illumination
poured from the bigger saloons. The interims were dark, and the side
streets and alleys stygian. "None too safe, either," Sansome understated
the case. Many people were abroad, but Keith noticed that there seemed to
be no idlers; every one appeared to be going somewhere in particular. After
a short stroll they entered the Empire, which, Sansome explained, was the
most stylish and frequented gambling place in town, a sort of evening club
for the well-to-do and powerful. Keith looked over a very large room or
hall, at the lower end of which an alcove made a sort of raised stage with
footlights. Here sat a dozen "nigger minstrels" with banjos strumming, and
bawling away at top pressure. An elaborate rosewood bar ran down the whole
length at one side--an impressive polished bar, perhaps sixty feet long,
with a white-clad, immaculate barkeeper for every ten feet of it. Big
mirrors of French plate reflected the whole room, and on the shelf in front
of them glittered crystal glasses of all shapes and sizes, arranged in
pyramids and cubes. The whole of the main floor was carpeted heavily. Down
the centre were stationed two rows of gambling tables, where various games
could be played--faro, keeno, roulette, stud poker, dice. Beyond these
gambling tables, on the other side of the room from the bar, were small
tables, easy chairs of ample proportions, lounges, and a fireplace.
Everything was most ornate. The ceilings and walls were ivory white and
much gilt. Heavy chandeliers, with the usual glass prisms and globes,
revolved slowly or swayed from side to side. Huge oil paintings with shaded
top and foot-lights occupied all vacant spaces in the walls. They were
"valued" at from ten to thirty thousand dollars apiece, and that fact was
advertised. "Leda and the Swan," "The Birth of Venus," "The Rape of the
Sabines," "Cupid and Psyche" were some of the classic themes treated as
having taken place in a warm climate. "Susannah and the Elders" and "Salome
Dancing" gave the Biblical flavour. The "Bath of the Harem" finished the
collection. No canvas was of less size than seven by ten feet.
The floor was filled with people. A haze of blue smoke hung in the air.
There was no loud noise except from the minstrel stage at the end. A low
hum of talk, occasionally accented, buzzed continuously. Many of the people
wandering about, leaning against the bar, or integers of the compact groups
around the gambling tables, were dressed in the height of fashion; but, on
the other hand, certainly half were in the roughest sort of clothes--floppy
old slouch hats, worn flannel shirts, top boots to which dried mud was
clinging. These men were as well treated as the others.
Fascinated, Keith would, have liked to linger, but Sansome threaded his way
toward the farther corner. As Keith passed near one of the close groups
around a gambling table, it parted momentarily, and he looked into the eyes
of the man in charge, cold, passionless, aloof, eyes neither friendly nor
unfriendly. And he saw the pale skin; the weary, bored, immobile features;
the meticulous neat dress; the long, deft fingers; and caught the
withdrawn, deadly, exotic personality of the professional gambler on duty.
The whole place was unlike anything he had ever seen before. Whether it was
primarily a bar, a gambling resort, or a sort of a public club with
trimmings, he could not have determined. Many of those present, perhaps a
majority, were neither gambling, nor drinking; they seemed not to be adding
to the profits of the place in any way, but either wandered about or sat in
the easy chairs, smoking, reading papers, or attending to the occasional
outbreaks of the minstrels. It was most interesting.
They joined a group in the far corner. A white-clad negro instantly brought
them chairs, and hovered discreetly near. Among those sitting about Keith
recognized several he had met in the afternoon; and to several more he was
introduced. Of these the one who most instantly impressed him was called
Morrell. This was evidently a young Englishman, a being of a type raised
quite abundantly in England, but more rarely seen in native Americans--the
lean-faced, rather flat-cheeked, high-cheek-boned, aquiline-nosed, florid-
complexioned, silent, clean-built sort that would seem to represent the
high-bred, finely drawn product of a long social evolution. These traits
when seen in the person of a native-born American generally do represent
this fineness; but the English, having been longer at the production of
their race, can often produce the outward semblance without necessarily the
inner reality. Many of us even now do not quite realize that fact;
certainly in 1852 most of us did not. Morrell was dressed in riding
breeches, carried a short bamboo crop, smiled engagingly to exhibit even,
strong, white teeth, and had little to say.
"A beverage seems called for," remarked Judge Caldwell, a gross, explosive,
tobacco-chewing man, with a merry, reckless eye. The order given, the
conversation swung back to the topic that had occupied it before Keith and
Sansome had arrived.
It seemed that an individual there present, Markle by name--a tall,
histrionic, dark man with a tossing mane--conceived himself to have been
insulted by some one whose name Keith did not catch, and had that very
afternoon issued warning that he would "shoot on sight." Some of the older
men were advising him to go slow.
"But, gentlemen," cried Markle heatedly, "none of you would stand such
conduct from anybody! What are we coming to? I'll get that----as sure as
God made little apples."
"That's all right; I don't blame yo'," argued Calhoun. Bennett. "Do not
misunderstand me, suh. I agree with yo', lock, stock, an' barrel. My point
is that yo' must be circumspect. Challenge him, that's the way."
"He isn't worth my challenge, sir, nor the challenge of any decent man. You
know that, sir,"
"Well, street shootings have got to be a little, a little----"
He fell silent, and Keith, looked up in surprise to see why. A man was
slowly passing the table. He was a thick, tall, strong man, moving with a
freedom that bespoke smoothly working muscles. His complexion was florid;
and this, in conjunction with a sweeping blue-black moustache, gave him
exactly the appearance of a gambler or bartender. Only as he passed the
table and responded gravely to the formal salutes, Keith caught a flash of
his eye. It was gray, hard as steel, forceful, but so far from being cold
it seemed to glow and change with an inner fire, The bartender impression
was swept into limbo forever.
"That's one good reason why," said Calhoun Bennett, when this man had gone
But Markle overflowed with a torrent of vituperative profanity. His face
was congested and purple with the violence of his emotions. Keith stared in
astonishment at the depth of hatred stirred. He turned for explanation to
the man next him, Judge Girvin, a gentleman of the old school, weighty,
authoritative, a little pompous.
"That is Coleman," Judge Girvin told him. "W.T. Coleman, the leader of the
vigilance movement of last year."
"That's why," repeated Calhoun Bennett, with quiet vindictiveness,
"lawlessness, disrespect foh law and order, mob rule. Since this strangler
business, no man can predict what the lawless element may do!"
This speech was the signal for an outburst against the Vigilance Committee,
so unanimous and hearty that Keith was rather taken aback. He voiced his
"Why, gentlemen, I am, of course, only in the most distant touch with these
events; but the impression East is certainly very general that the
Vigilantes did rather a good piece of work in clearing the city of crime."
They turned on him with a savagery that took his breath. Keith, laughing,
held up both hands.
"Don't shoot, don't shoot! I'll come down!" he cried. "I told you I didn't
know anything about it!"
They checked themselves, suddenly ashamed of their heat. Calhoun Bennett
voiced their feeling of apology.
"Yo' must accept our excuses, Mr, Keith, but this is a mattah on which we
feel strongly. Our indignation was naturally not directed against yo',
But Judge Girvin, ponderous, formal, dignified, was making a pronouncement.
"Undoubtedly, young sir," he rolled forth at Keith, "undoubtedly a great
many scoundrels were cleared from the city at that time. That no one would
have the temerity to deny. But you, sir, as a lawyer, realize with us that
even pure and equitable justice without due process of law is against the
interests of society as a coherent whole. Infringement of law, even for a
good purpose, invariably brings about ultimate contempt, for all law. In
the absence of regularly constituted tribunals, as in a primitive society--
such as that prior to the Constitutional Convention of September, 1849--it
may become necessary that informal plebiscites be countenanced. But in the
presence of regularly constituted and appointed tribunals, extra-legal
functions are not to be undertaken by the chance comer. If defects occur in
the administration of the law, the remedy is in the hand of the public. The
voter----" he went on at length, elaborating the legal view. Everybody
listened with respect and approval until he had finished. But then up spoke
Judge Caldwell, the round, shining, perspiring, untidy, jovial, Silenus-
like jurist with the blunt fingers.
"We all agree with you theoretically, Judge," said he. "What these other
fellows object to, I imagine, is that the law has such a hell of a hang
fire to it."
Judge Girvin's eyes flashed, and he tossed back his white mane. "The due
forms of the law are our heritage from the ages!" he thundered back. "The
so-called delays and technicalities are the checks devised by human
experience against the rash judgments and rasher actions by the volatile
element of society! They are the safeguards, the bulwarks of society! It is
better that a hundred guilty men escape than that one innocent man should
The old judge was magnificent, his eyes alight, his nostrils expanded, his
head reared back defiantly, all the great power of his magnetism and his
authority brought to bear. Keith was thrilled. He considered that the
discussion had been lifted to a high moral plane.
By rights Judge Caldwell should have been crushed, but he seemed
"Well," he remarked comfortably, "on that low average we must have quite a
few innocent men among us after all."
"What do you mean, sir?" demanded Judge Girvin, halted in mid career and
not catching the allusion.
"Surely, Judge, you don't mean to imply that you endorse Coleman and his
gang?" put in Calhoun Bennett courteously but incredulously.
"Endorse them? Certainly not!" disclaimed Caldwell. "I need my job," he
added with a chuckle.
Bennett tossed back his hair, and a faint disgust appeared in his dark
eyes, but he said nothing more. Caldwell lit a cigar with pudgy fingers.
"My advice to you," he said to Markle, "is that if you think you're going
to have to kill this man in self-defence"--he rolled an unabashed and
comical eye at the company--"you be sure to see our old friend, Sheriff
Webb, gets you to jail promptly." He heaved to his feet, "Might even send
him advance word," he suggested, and waddled away toward the bar.
A dead silence succeeded his departure. None of the younger men ventured a
word. Finally Judge Girvin, with a belated idea of upholding the honour of
the bench, turned to Keith.
"Judge Caldwell's humour is a little trying at times, but he is
The young Englishman, Morrell, uttered a high cackle.
"Quite right," he observed; "he'll fix it all right for you, Markle."
At the bad taste of what they thought an example of English stupidity every
one sat aghast. Keith managed to cover the situation by ordering another
round of drinks. Morrell seemed quite pleased with himself.
"Got a rise out of the old Johnny, what?" he remarked to Keith aside.
Judge Caldwell returned. The conversation became general. Vast projects
were discussed with the light touch--public works, the purchase of a
theatre for the town hall, the sale by auction of city or state lands, the
extension of wharves, the granting of franchises, and many other affairs,
involving, apparently, millions of money. All these things were spoken of
as from the inside. Keith, sipping his drinks quietly, sat apart and
listened. He felt himself in the current of big affairs. Occasionally, men
sauntered by, paused a moment. Keith noticed that they greeted his
companions with respect and deference. He experienced a feeling of being at
the centre of things. The evening drifted by pleasantly.
Along toward midnight, John Sherwood, without a hat, stopped long enough to
exchange a few joking remarks, then sauntered on.
"I know him," Keith told Calhoun Bennett. "That's John Sherwood. He's at
our hotel. What does _he_ do?"
"Oh, don't you know who he is?" replied Bennett. "He's the owner of this
"A gambler?" cried Keith, a trifle dashed.
"Biggest in town. But square."
Keith for a moment was a little nonplussed. The sudden intimacy rose up to
confront him. They were kind people, and Mrs. Sherwood was apparently
everything she should be--but a public gambler! Of course he had no
Keith returned to the hotel very late, and somewhat exalted. He was
bubbling over with good stories, interesting information, and ideas; so he
awakened Nan, and sat on the edge of the bed, and proceeded
enthusiastically to tell her all about it. She was very sleepy. Also an
exasperated inhabitant of the next room pounded on the thin partition.
Reluctantly Keith desisted. It took him some time to get to sleep, as the
excitement was seething in his veins.
He came to consciousness after a restless night. The sun was streaming in
at the window. He felt dull and heavy, with a slight headache and a
weariness in all his muscles. Worst of all, Nan, in a ravishing pink fluffy
affair, was bending over him, her eyes dancing with amusement and mischief.
"And how is my little madcap this morning?" she inquired with mock
solicitude. This stung Keith to some show of energy, and he got up.
The sun was really very bright. A dash of cold water made him feel better.
Enthusiasm began to flow back like a tide. The importance of the evening
before reasserted its claims on his imagination. As he dressed he told Nan
all about it. In the midst of a glowing eulogy of their prospects, he
checked himself with a chuckle.
"Guess what the Sherwoods are," said he.
Nan, who had been half listening up to this time, gave him her whole
"A gambler! A common gambler!" she repeated after him, a little dismayed.
"I felt the same way for a minute or so," he answered her tone cheerfully.
"But after all I remembered--you must remember--that society here is very
mixed. And anyway, Sherwood is no 'common gambler'; I should say he was a
most _un_common gambler!" He chuckled at his little joke. "All sorts of
people are received here. We've got to get used to that. And certainly no
one could hope anywhere to find nicer--more presentable--people."
She nodded, but with a reservation.
"Surely nowhere would you find kinder people," went on Keith. "See how they
took us in!"
"Look out they don't take you in, Milton," she interjected suddenly.
Keith, brought up short, sobered at this.
"That is unjust, Nan," he said gravely.
She said nothing, but showed no signs of having been convinced. After her
first need had passed, Nan Keith's natural reserve had asserted itself.
This was the result of heredity and training, as part of herself, something
she could not help. Its tendency was always to draw back from too great or
too sudden intimacies. There was nothing snobbish in this; it was a sort of
instinct, a natural reaction. She liked Mrs. Sherwood, admired her slow,
complete poise, approved her air of breeding and the things by which she
had surrounded herself. The older woman's kindness had struck in her a deep
chord of appreciation. But somehow circumstances had hurried her too much.
Her defensive antagonism, not to Mrs. Sherwood as a person, but to sudden
intimacy as such, had been aroused. It had had, in her own mind, no excuse.
She knew she ought to be grateful and cordial; she felt that she was not
quite ready. The fact that the Sherwoods had proved to be "common gamblers"
gave just the little excuse her conscience needed to draw back a trifle.
This, it should be added, was also quite instinctive, not at all a
She said nothing for some time; then remarked mysteriously:
"Perhaps that's why they go to meet boats."
Keith, who was miles beyond the Sherwoods by now, looked bewildered.
Keith had letters of business introduction to Palmer, Cook & Co., a banking
firm powerful and respected at the time, but destined to become involved in
scandal. The most pressing need, both he and Nan had determined, was a
house of their own; the hotel was at once uncomfortable and expensive.
Accordingly a callow, chipper, self-confident, blond little clerk was
assigned to show them about. He had arrived from the East only six months
ago; but this was six months earlier than the Keiths, so he put on all the
airs of an old-timer. In a two-seated calash, furnished by the bankers,
they drove to the westerly part of the town. The plank streets soon ran out
into sand or rutty earth roads. These bored their way relentlessly between
sand hills in the process of removal. Steam paddies coughed and clanked in
all directions. Many houses had, by these operations, been left perched
high and dry far above the grade of the new streets. Often the sand was
crumbling away from beneath their outer corners. All sorts of nondescript
ramshackle and temporary stairs had been improvised to get their
inhabitants in or out. The latter seemed to be clinging to their tenements
as long as possible.
"They often cave in," explained the clerk, "and the whole kit and kaboodle
comes sailing down into the street. Sometimes it happens at night," he
"But isn't anybody hurt?" cried Nan.
"Lots of 'em," replied the clerk cheerfully "Git dap!"
They now executed a flank attack on the "fashionable" quarter of the town.
"They're grading the street down below," the clerk justified his roundabout
Here were a number of isolated, scattered wooden houses, of some size and
of much scroll and jigsaw work. Some of them had little ornamental iron
fencelets running along their ridgepoles, or lightning rods on the chimneys
or at the corners, although thunderstorms were practically unknown. The
clerk at once began to talk of these as "mansions." He drew up before one
of them, hitched the horse, and invited his clients to descend. Nan looked
at the exterior a trifle doubtfully. It was a high-peaked, slender house,
drawn together as though it felt cold; with carved wooden panels over each
window, miniature balconies with elaborate spindly columns beneath, and a
haughty, high, narrow porch partially clothing a varnished front door
flanked with narrow strips of coloured glass.
The clerk produced a key. The interior also was high and narrow. Much
glistening varnish characterized the front hall. They inspected one after
another the various rooms. The house was partly furnished. In the showrooms
hung heavy red curtains held back by cords with gilt tassels. Each
fireplace was framed by a mantel of white marble. But the glory was the
drawing-room. This had been frescoed in pale blue, and all about the wall
and even across part of the ceiling had been draped festoon after festoon
of fishnet. Only this was not real fishnet, as a closer inspection showed.
It had been cunningly painted! In the dim light, and to a person with an
optimistic imagination, the illusion was almost perfect. Nan choked
suddenly at the sight of this; then her eyes widened to a baby stare, and
she become preternaturally solemn.
They looked it all over from top to bottom; the clerk fairly tiptoeing
about with the bent-backed air of one who handles a precious jade vase.
From the front windows he showed them a really magnificent view, with the
blue waters of the bay shining, and the Contra Costa shore shimmering in
"In the residence next door to the west dwell most desirable neighbours,"
he urged, "the Morrells. They are English, or at least he is."
"I met him last night," said Keith to Nan; "he looked like a good sort."
"Who is in the big house over there?" asked Nan, indicating a very
elaborate structure diagonally opposite.
"That--oh, that--well, that is in rather a state of transition, as it
were," stammered the little clerk, and at once rattled on about something
else. This magnificent mansion, he explained, was the only one Palmer, Cook
& Co. had on their lists for the moment.
Therefore he drove them back to the Bella Union. Keith departed with him to
look up a suitable office downtown,
Nan bowed solemnly to his solemn salutation in farewell, and turned as
quickly as she could to the interior of the hotel. Sherwood sat in his
accustomed place, his big steel spectacles on his nose, his paper spread
out before him. He arose and bowed. She nodded, but did not pause. Once
inside the hall, she picked up her skirts and fairly flew up the stairs to
her room. Slamming the door shut, she locked it, then sank on the edge of
the bed and laughed--laughed until she wiped the tears from her cheeks,
rocking back and forth and hugging herself in an ecstasy. Every few moments
she would pull up; then some unconsidered enormity would strike her afresh
and she would go off into another paroxysm. After a while, much relieved,
she wiped her eyes and arose.
"This place will be the death of me yet," she told her distorted image in
She rummaged in one of her trunks, produced writing materials, and started
a letter to an Eastern friend. This occupied her fully for two hours. At
that period it was customary to "indite epistles" with a "literary
flavour," a practice that immensely tickled those who did the inditing. Nan
became wholly interested and quite pleased with herself. Her first
impressions, she found when she came to write them down, were stimulating
and interesting. She was full of enthusiasm; but had she been capable of a
real analysis she would have found it quite different from Keith's
enthusiasm. She looked on this strange, uncouth, vital city from the
outside, from the superior standpoint. She appreciated it as she would have
appreciated the "quaintness" of the villagers in some foreign town.
About noon Keith returned.
"I've looked into every possibility," he told her. "Honest, Nan, I don't
see exactly what we are to do unless we build for ourselves. That Boyle
house is the only house in town for rent--that is of any size and in a
respectable quarter. You see they are too new out here to have built houses
for rent yet; and if you find any vacant at all, it is sheer good fortune.
Of course to stay in this little box is impossible, and--"
She had been contemplating him, her eyes dancing with amusement.
"You've taken it!" she accused him.
"Well--I--yes," he admitted, a little red.
"I knew it," she said. "When can we move in? I want to get started."
Keith's first plunge into the teeming life of the place had to suffice him
for all the rest of that week. There seemed so many pressing things to do
at home. The Boyle house was only partly furnished. Each morning he and Nan
went downtown and prospected for things needed. This was Nan's first
experience of the sort; and she confessed to a ludicrous surprise over the
fact that pots, pans, brooms, kitchen utensils, and such homely matters had
to be thought of and bought.
"I had a sort of notion they grew on the premises," she said.
Mrs. Sherwood gave them much valuable advice, particularly as to auctions.
In the Keiths limited experience auctions generally had meant cheap or
second-hand articles, but out here the reverse was the case. A madness
possessed otherwise conservative Eastern merchants--especially of the staid
city of Boston--to send out on speculation immense cargoes of all sorts of
goods. These were the despair of consignees. Heavy freights, high interest
charges, tremendous warehouse rates, speedily ate up whatever chance of
profits a fresh consignment might have. The only solution was to sell out
as promptly as possible; and the quickest method was the auction.
Therefore, auctions were everywhere in progress, and the professional
auctioneers were a large, influential, and skilful class of people. Their
advertisements made the bulk of the newspapers. They dressed well, carried
an air of consequence, furnished refreshments, brass bands, or other
entertainments to their patrons. The era of fabulous prices was at an end,
but the era of wild speculation as to what the public was going to want was
in full tide. Keith and Nan found these auctions great fun, and piece by
piece they accumulated the items of their house furnishing. It was slow
work, but amusing. At times Mrs. Sherwood accompanied them, but not often.
Her advice was always good.
As to Mrs. Sherwood, Nan Keith found her attitude very vague. There was no
doubt that she liked her personally, admired her slow, purposeful, half-
indolent movements, the poise of her small, patrician head, the
unconscious, easy grace of her body, the direct commonsense quality of her
mind. One met her face to face; there were no frills and furbelows of the
spirit. Also, Nan was grateful for the other woman's first kindness and
real sympathy, and she wanted to "play the game." But, on the other hand,
all her social training and her instinct of formalism tended to hold her
aloof. She blamed herself intellectually for this feeling; but since it was
a feeling, and had nothing to do with intellect, it persisted.
In the auction rooms, also, she seemed to meet--be formally introduced to--
a bewildering number of people, most of whom she could not place at all.
There seemed to be no reason for meeting them; certainly she would not have
met them in the East. Nevertheless, they all shook her by the hand, and
bowed to her whenever subsequently they passed her on the street. Keith
told her this was all usual and proper in this new and mixed social order;
and she was perfectly willing to make the effort. She was really charming
to everybody. The consciousness that she was successfully adapting herself
to their primitive provincial scope, and her very gracious condescension to
all types, filled her with respect for her democracy and breadth of mind.
The afternoon they spent at the house receiving boxes and packages. Keith
worked busily, happily, feverishly, in his shirt sleeves. He attacked the
job on the principle of a whirlwind campaign, hammering, ripping, throwing
papers down, deciding instantly where this or that chair or table was to
stand, tearing on to the next, enjoying himself dustily and hugely.
Nan was more leisurely. She found time to gossip with the drayman who
brought up the goods, actually came to a liking and a warm friendly feeling
for him as a person. This was a new experience for Nan, and she explored it
John McGlynn was a teamster, but likewise a thoroughly independent and
capable citizen. He was of the lank, hewn, lean-faced, hawk-nosed type,
deliberate in movement and speech, with a twinkling, contemplative,
appraising eye, and an unhurried drawl. He told Nan he had come out in '49.
"No, ma'am," he disclaimed vigorously, "I didn't go to the mines. I am a
teamster, and I always did teaming." He did not add, as he might have done,
that in those days of the individual he had been an important influence.
His great pride was his team and wagon, and that pride was justified. The
wagon was a heavy flat affair, gayly decorated, and on the sides of the box
were paintings of landscapes. The horses were great, magnificent creatures,
with arching thick necks, long wavy manes and forelocks, soft, intelligent
eyes, and with great hoofs and hairy fetlocks. They carried themselves in
conscious pride, Their harness was heavy with silver and with many white
and coloured rings. In colour they were dapple gray.
"That team," said John McGlynn, "is a perfect match. Took me two years to
get them together. Wuth a mint of money. That Kate, there, is a regular
character. You'd be surprised how cute she is. I often wonder who Kate
_is_. She must be some very famous woman."
John McGlynn was a very wonderful and very accommodating person, Nan
thought. He would help carry things in, and was willing to unpack or to
carry out the mess Keith's mad career left behind, it. Also he cast an eye
on the garden possibilities, and issued friendly, expert advice to which
Nan listened, breathless. They held long intimate consultations as to the
treatment of the soil.
"A few posies does sort of brighten things up; they're wuth while," quoth
Without previous consultation, he appeared one day accompanied by a rotund,
bland, gorgeous Chinaman, perched beside him on his elevated seat.
"This is Wing Woh, a friend of mine," he announced. "You got to have a
Chink, of course. You can't run that sized house without help. Wing knows
all the Chinks in town, and bosses about half of them."
Wing Woh descended and without a word walked into the house. He was a very
ornate person, dressed in a skull cap with a red coral button atop, a
brocaded pale lavendar tunic of silk, baggy pale green trousers tied close
around the ankles, snow-white socks and the typical shoe. Gravely,
solemnly, methodically he went over the entire house; then returned and
clambered up beside John.
"All light," he vouchsafed to the astonished Nan.
Next morning she found waiting on the veranda a smiling "china boy" dressed