Part 4 out of 8
proceeding. In one of these pauses he distinctly heard a window slam shut;
there were plenty of louder things, he heard only the window. He hadn't the
least idea of the time of night, except that it must be very late. As a
matter of fact, it was not more than half-past ten. Near his own gate he
nearly ran into a woman strolling. With some instinct of apology, he turned
in her direction. As his bare head was revealed in the dim light, the woman
uttered a low laugh.
"And was Belle as charming as ever?" demanded Mrs. Morrell sweetly but
icily. "Go in carefully now, so dear little wifey won't know."
She laughed again and moved past him. He stared after her with a vague
sense of injustice, somehow; then went on.
Keith was sorry next morning, but he was not repentant, in the sense of
feeling that he had done anything fatally wrong. He was disgusted with
himself. He wasted no regrets, but did register a very definite intention
not to let _that_ happen again! It was all harmless enough, once in a way,
but it was not his sort of thing. Nan would not understand it a bit--why
should she? His head ached, and he was feeling a little conscience-stricken
about Nan, anyway. He must take her around more, see more of her. Business
had been very absorbing lately, but now that this deal had been brought off
successfully, it was only due her and himself that he take a little time
off. In his present mood he convinced himself, as do most American business
or professional men, that he was being driven in his work, and that he
wanted nothing better than a let-up from the grind. As a matter of fact,
he--and they--love their work.
In this frame of mind he started downtown, rather late. On the street he
met a number of his friends. A good many of them chaffed him good-naturedly
about the night before. By the time he reached his office he was feeling
much better. Things were assuming more of an everyday comfortable aspect.
He had not been seated ten minutes before Dick Blatchford drifted in,
smoking a black cigar that gave Keith a slight qualmish feeling. Dick
seemed quite unaffected by the evening before.
"Hullo, Milt!" he boomed, rolling his heavy form into a chair, his round,
red face beaming. "How's the wild Injin this morning? Say, you're a wonder
when you get started! You needn't deny it; wasn't I there?" He shook his
head, chuckling fatly. "Look here," he went on, "I'm busy this morning--got
to get down to North Beach to see Harry Meigs--and I guess you are." He
tossed over a package of papers that he produced from an inside pocket.
"Look those over at your leisure. I think we better sue the sons of guns.
Let me know what you think." He fished about in a tight-drawn waistcoat
pocket with a chubby thumb and forefinger, pulled out a strip of paper, and
flipped it to Keith as casually as though it were a cigarette paper.
"There's a little something as a retainer," said he. "Well, be good!"
After he had lumbered out, Keith examined the check. It was for one
thousand dollars. If anything were needed to restore his entire confidence
in himself, this retainer would have sufficed. The little spree was
regrettable, of course, but it had brought him a client--and a good one!
Two days later Keith, who now had reason to spend more time in his office,
received another and less welcome visitor: this was Morrell. The young
Englishman, his clean-cut face composed to wooden immobility, his too-
close-set eyes squinting watchfully, came in as though on a social call.
"Just dropped around to look at your diggin's," he told the surprised
Keith. "Not badly fixed here; good light and all.".
He accepted a cigar, and sat for some moments, his hat and stick carefully
disposed on his knees.
"Look here, Keith," he broke into a desultory chat after a few minutes.
"Deucedly awkward, and all that, of course; but I've been wondering whether
you would, be willing to tide me over--remittances late, and all that sort
of thing. Stony for the moment. Everything lovely when the mails arrive.
Neighbours, see a lot of each other, and that sort, you know."
Keith was totally unprepared for this, and floundered. Morrell, watching
him calmly, went on:
"Of course I wouldn't think of coming to you, old chap--plenty of people
glad to bank for me temporarily--but I wanted you to know just how we
stand--Mrs. Morrell and I--that we feel friendly to you, and all that sort
of thing, you know! You can rely on us--no uneasiness, you know."
"Why, that's very kind of you," returned Keith, puzzled.
"Not a bit! The way I looked at it was that a chap wouldn't borrow from a
man he wasn't friendly with, it isn't done." He laughed his high, cackling
laugh, "So I said to Mimi, 'the dear man must be worryin' his head off.' It
was lucky for you, old top, that a woman of the world with some sense saw
you the other night instead of some feather-headed gossipin' fool. But
Mimi's not that."
Keith was slowly beginning to suspect, but as yet he considered his
"How much do you need?" he asked,
"Five hundred dollars," replied Morrell coolly.
"I doubt I have that sum free in ready cash."
Morrell looked him in the eye.
"I fancy you will be able to raise it," he said very deliberately.
The men looked at each other.
"This is blackmail, then," said Keith without excitement.
Morrell became very stiff and English in manner.
"Words do not frighten me, sir. This is a personal loan. It is an action
between friends, just as my silence on the subject of your peccadillo is a
friendly action. I mention that silence, not as a threat, but as an
evidence of my own friendly feeling. I see I have made a mistake."
He arose, his bearing very frigid. Keith was naturally not in the least
deceived by this assumption of injured innocence, but he had been thinking.
"Hold on!" he said. "You must forgive my being startled; and you must admit
you were a little unfortunate in your presentation. For this loan, what
"My personal note," replied Morrell calmly.
"I must look into my resources. I will let you know to-morrow."
"Not later than to-morrow. I'll call at this hour," said Morrell with
After the Englishman had gone Keith considered the matter at leisure.
Although of a sanguine and excitable temperament When only little things
were involved, he was clear headed and uninfluenced by personal feeling in
First, would the Morrells carry out the implied threat? His instinct
supplied that answer. Of Morrell himself he had never had any trust. Now he
remembered what had never really struck him before: that Morrell, even in
this fast and loose society, had never been more than tolerated, and that,
apparently, only because of the liveliness of his wife. He had the
indefinable air of a bad 'un. And Keith's knowledge of women was broad
enough to tell him that Mrs. Morrell would be relentless.
Second, would a denial avail against their story? His commonsense told him
that if the Morrells started this thing they would carry it through to a
finish. There was no sense in it otherwise, for such an attack would mean
the burning of most of their social bridges. Morrell could get witnesses
from Belle's--say, the coloured maid whom he had not tipped--and there were
his hat and coat.
Third, could he afford to let them tell the tale? As far as his position in
the city, either professionally or socially, most decidedly yes. But at
home, as decidedly no. In her calmest, most judicial, trusting, loving
mood, Nan could never understand. Her breeding and upbringing were against
it. She could never comprehend the difference between such a place as
Belle's and any disreputable house--if there was a difference. This point
needed little argument.
Then he must pay.
Having definitely decided this, he repressed his natural inclinations
toward anger, drew the money, laid it aside in his drawer, and went on with
his work. When Morrell came, in next morning, very easy and debonair, he
handed out the gold pieces and took in return the man's note, without
relaxing the extreme gravity and formality of his manner.
"Thanks, old chap!" cried Morrell. "You've saved my life. I won't forget."
He paused; then cackled harshly: "Good joke that! No, _I won't_ forget!"
Keith bowed coldly, waiting. Morrell, with, a final cackle, made leisurely
for the door. As he laid his hand on the knob, Keith spoke:
"By the way, Morrell."
"Take care you don't overdo this," advised Keith, very deliberately.
Morrell examined him. Keith's face was grim. He smiled enigmatically.
"Tact is a blessed gift, old top," said he, and went out.
This whole episode proved to be a turning-point in Keith's career. His
revulsion against the feminine--hence society--side of life brought about
by the affair of Mrs. Morrell, might soon have passed, and he might soon
have returned to the old round of picnics, excursions, dinners, and
parties, were it not that coincidentally a new and absorbing occupation was
thrust upon him. Dick Blatchford's case was only one of many that came to
him. He became completely immersed in the fascinating intricacies of the
As has been previously pointed out, nowhere before nor since has pure
legality been made such a fetish. It was a game played by lawyers, not an
attempt to get justice done. Since, in all criminal cases at least, the
prosecution was carried on by one man and his associates, poorly paid and
hence of mediocre ability, and the defence conducted by the keenest brains
in the profession, it followed that convictions were rare. Homicide in
various forms was little frowned upon. Duels were of frequent occurrence,
and, in several instances, regular excursions, with tickets, were organized
to see them. Street shootings of a more informal nature were too numerous
to count. Invariably an attempt, generally successful, was made to arrest
the homicide. If he had money, he hired the best lawyers, and rested
secure. If he had no money, he disappeared for a time. Almost everybody had
enough money, or enough friends with money, to adopt the former course. Of
1,200 murders--or "killings"--committed in the San Francisco of those days,
there was just _one_ legal conviction!
It was a point of professional pride with a lawyer to get his client free.
Indeed, to fail would be equivalent to losing a very easy game. The whole
battery of technical delays, demurrers, etc., was at his command; a much
larger battery than even the absurd criminal courts of our present day can
muster. Delays to allow the dispersal of witnesses were easily arranged
for, as were changes of venue to courts either prejudiced in favour of the
strict interpretation of "law" or frankly venal. Of shadier expedients,
such as packing juries, there seemed no end.
Your honourable, high-minded lawyers--which meant the well-dressed and
prosperous--had nothing to do with such dirty work; that is, directly.
There were plenty of lawyers not so honourable and high minded called in as
"counsel." These little lawyers, shoulder strikers, bribe givers and
takers, were held in good-humoured contempt by the legal stars--who
employed them! Actual dishonesty was diluted through a number of men.
Packing a jury was a fine art. Initially was needed connivance at the
sheriff's office. Hence lawyers, as a class, were in politics. Neither the
stellar lawyer nor the sheriff knew any of the details of the transaction.
A sum of money went to the former's "counsel" as expenses, and emerged,
considerably diminished, in the sheriff's office as "perquisites." It had
gone from the counsel to somebody like Mex Ryan, from him to various plug-
uglies, ward heelers, shoulder strikers, from them to one or another of the
professional jurymen, and then on the upward curve through the sheriff's
underlings who made out the jury lists to Webb himself. The thing was done.
In this tortuous way many influences were needed. The most honest lawyer's
limit as to the queer things he would do depended on his individual
conscience. It is extraordinary what long training and the moral support of
a whole profession will do toward educating a conscience. Do not despise
unduly the lawyers of that day. We have all of us good friends in the legal
profession who will defend in court a criminal they know to be guilty as
charged. They will urge that no man should go undefended; and will argue
themselves into a belief that in such a case "defence" means not merely
fair play, but a desperate effort to get him off anyhow--trained
conscience. If such sophistries are sincerely believed by honest men
nowadays, it cannot be wondered at that queerer sophistries passed current
in a community not five years old. It was difficult to draw the line
between the men who mistakenly believed themselves honest and those who
knew themselves dishonest.
But once in politics there could be no end. In this field the law rubbed
shoulders with big contracts, big operations. A city was being built, in a
few years, out of nothing, by a busy, careless, and shifting population.
The opportunities for making money on public works--either honestly or by
jobbery--were almost unlimited. The mood of the times was extravagant. From
the still unexhausted placers poured a flood of gold, hard money, tangible
wealth; and a large percentage of it paused in San Francisco, changed hands
before continuing its journey. Immigrants brought with them a lesser but
still significant sum. Money was easy. People could and would pay high
taxes without a thought, for they would rather pay well to be let alone
than bother with public affairs. The city treasury should have been full to
bursting. In addition, the municipality was rich in its real estate. The
value of all land had gone up immensely; any time more cash was needed it
could quickly be raised by the sale of public lots. The supply seemed
Like hyenas to a kill the public contractors gathered. Immense public works
were undertaken at enormous prices. Paving, sewers, grading, filling,
lighting, wharves, buildings Were all voted; and the work completed in the
quickest, flimsiest, most slipshod fashion; and at terrible prices. The
Graham House, a pretentious frail structure that had failed as a hotel
because a swamp lay between it and the city, was bought at a huge price to
serve as city hall. It was a veritable white elephant, and even the busy
populace spared time to grumble at the flagrant steal. Nobody knew what it
would cost to make the thing habitable even. Soon, to every one's relief,
it burned down. The property was then swindled over to Peter Smith. The
Jenny Lind Theatre, an impossible, ramshackle structure, was purchased over
the vigorous protest of every decent citizen, for the enormous sum of
$300,000. Another $100,000 was alleged to have been spent in remodelling
and furnishing it. Then it was solemnly declared "unsuited to the purpose."
It also burned down in one of the numerous fires. But the money was safe!
To get such deals as these through "legally" it was of course necessary
that officials, councilmen, engineers, etc., should be sympathetic.
Naturally the big operators, as well as the big lawyers, had to go into
politics. Elections came soon to be so many farces. In some wards no decent
citizen dared show his face. "Shoulder strikers" were openly hired for
purposes of intimidation. Bribery was scarcely concealed. And if things
looked doubtful, there were always the election inspectors and judges in
reserve who could be relied upon to make things come out right in the final
count. The proper men were always returned as elected. If violence or fraud
were alleged, lawyers always got the accused off in a strictly legal
In these matters, it must be repeated, no opprobrium ever rested on either
the big lawyers or the big operators. "Expenses" went to the underlings,
and after some mysterious subterranean manipulation, of which the big
fellows remained blandly unconscious, results came back.
In the world of public works Keith rapidly made himself a position. He was
leading counsel for Dick Blatchford and one or two others. His job was to
know all the rules of the game so well that there were no comebacks; to set
the machinery in motion by which the contracts were procured; and to
straighten out any irregularities that might arise afterward. His position
was almost academic. The matters he fought and decided were so detached
from actuality, as far as he was concerned, that they might have been
hypothetical cases. When Dick wanted anything specific, Keith instructed
Patsy Corrigan to see that the proper officials awarded the contract. If
the matter ever came to the courts, Keith furnished the brains and Patsy
somehow "saw" the sheriff and whoever was necessary from the mysterious
underworld. Everybody was doing the same thing. In the minds of men profits
of any sort were legitimate provided they were "legal," but especially
against so vague an entity as a community. Civic consciousness had not been
born in them, for the simple reason that the city was constituted perfectly
to suit them. Only when men are dissatisfied with their government do they
seek to become responsible for it. There was no active public opinion
against them. Men were too busy to bother with such things. Occasionally a
fairly vigorous protest against some peculiarly outrageous steal made
itself heard, but the men who made it were either cranks or it was
suspected they had been pinched in some way. They merely represented the
opposition any active man expects.
And every last one of these merry, jovial pirates was inordinately proud of
the ship he was helping to scuttle! That one fact, attentively considered,
The city was growing, it was taking on a permanent character. In spite of
waste, shoddy work, and frequent fires, its vitality was triumphant. The
sand hills had all been graded flat, and the material from them had filled
in the water lots of the bay; miles of fireproof brick structures had been
built on four or five streets; there were now a half score of long wharves
instead of one; omnibuses ran everywhere; fine steamers plied to
fashionable watering places about the bay; the planks in the streets were
being replaced by cobblestones; telegraph service had been inaugurated to
San Jose and Sacramento; several new theatres had been built; gas lamps
were being placed about the streets; huge wooden palaces with much
scrollwork ornamentation were being built on Stockton Street and the Rincon
Hill. All these things, as well as the climate, the mines, the agricultural
resources, the commerce, the scenery, were fully appreciated and
enthusiastically made the most of by every mother's son. Any man among them
was ready at a moment's notice to wax enthusiastic about the resources and
the future of the place. They were "boosters" in the modern acceptation of
In this eager, fast-living, nervous, high-strung man's world Keith took to
himself a prominent part. He was so fully-occupied in other directions that
his practice did not lead him into criminal law, so he missed an influence
that must have either ended by blunting or repelling him. He corresponded
to what nowadays would be called a corporation lawyer. His clients were
few, but wealthy, powerful, and remunerative; his cases were subtle and
hard fought, He enjoyed the intricate game for its own sake, and he enjoyed
his success in it. In the inevitable give and take of a complicated world
he knew, of course, of shady doings beneath; but he was not personally
involved; he accepted them as part of the make-up of society, human nature,
the medium--of work.
But Nan was necessarily left more and more to her own devices. And,
further, she was left alone without even the preoccupation furnished her
domestic side by such an affair as that with Mrs. Morrell. She knew that
Keith was wholly absorbed in his business. She was loyal to his unexpressed
idea that in these propitious beginnings he must devote all his energies to
his career. She was loyal to his preoccupation. It was the only way in
which she could help. And yet, without being given cause for grievance, she
was temporarily thrust outside his life, put in cold storage, as it were,
until she should be wanted. He bolted immediately after breakfast; often he
did not come home to lunch; was quite likely to go out again in the
It followed that Nan had to make her own life out of the materials at hand.
This was at first difficult, for all the materials were novel to her.
Gradually, however, she fitted herself into the social transformation that
was taking place.
Heretofore, society had not existed. Now, vaguely, it was beginning to take
coherence and form. A transition period was on. The "nobs" were evolving
from chaos. People of the fast Morrell type were losing their influence and
ascendency, were being pushed aside to the fringes by the more "solid"
elements. Wealth and arrogant dignity were coming into their innings.
Formal functions, often on an elaborate scale, were taking the place of the
harum-scarum informal parties. There came up some questions of social
leadership. In short, social life was developing into the usual game.
Lacking other interests, Nan found it amused her to play at it, to contend
with the leaders, to form alliances, to declare war, to assume by right and
talent her place among the best.
This pleased Keith. Social standing helped him in business; and he enjoyed
the sight of his beautiful young wife queening it serenely over the city's
best. He was always eager to advance money for new gowns or expensive
parties. At first he went out with her, but soon found that three o'clock
in the morning meant a next day's brain dulled of its keenest edge. But he
would not hear of her staying at home on his account.
"I'm tired, and I'm going to bed right away," he told her. "You go and
uphold the splendour of the family. Get Ben to take you."
Ben Sansome was to Keith a tremendous convenience. He was the only idle man
in town, always on tap, ready to stay out any and every night until the
cocks crowed. Why shouldn't he? He had nothing to do all next day, except,
perhaps, to decide which stick he should carry! With a busy man's good-
humoured contempt for the mere idler, Keith looked upon Sansome as a
harmless household-pet sort of person; good natured, accommodating,
pleasant to talk to, good looking, foppish in dress, but beneath any
serious human being's notice. Sansome was on easy terms of intimacy with
the Keiths. It was mighty good of him to look out for Nan. If he did not,
Keith would have to.
In this formative period Ben Sansome was, however, a very important figure
in the woman's world. Social construction was a ticklish matter. There were
so many things to be decided; small items of etiquette, the "proper thing"
--procedure, decorations, good form, larger matters as to whether so-and-so
should be received, and if so, how extensively. Ben Sansome was past master
of such things. He was the only man in town who knew--or cared--how to
"draw lines." He became truly a modern _arbiter elegantiarum_. For San
Francisco had begun in real earnest to "draw lines."
They were rather strange lines at times. Of course such people as the
Brannans, Montgomerys, Terrys, Bushs, Bakers, Caldwells, and other "old
families" (three or four years old), went without saying. Also were
included the greater merchants and their feminine representatives, such as
Palmer, Cook, Adams, Wilkins, and the like. Also there seemed to be a solid
foundation of those respectable and powerful with plenty of wealth--"but
hopeless, my dear, absolutely hopeless!" groaned some of the livelier
Lightning struck capriciously at those on whom this new society might
frown, on those who as lately as last year had ridden the crest of the
wave. For example, it spared Sally Warner, with her spotted veils drawn
close around her face, her red belts, and her red tufts on her small
toques, but it blasted the Morrells. Mrs. Morrell clung tenaciously to the
outskirts, but she knew only too well that she did not "belong." In her
heart she ascribed this fact to Mrs. Keith. This was unjust, but it added
to her bitterness against her neighbours.
Perhaps her suspicions were not unnatural, for Nan won easily in this game.
She was undoubtedly the social leader. It seemed eminently fitting that,
lacking her husband, she should go out much with Ben Sansome. Most women
thought her lucky to have acquired so valuable a social acquisition. Some
people, like fat, coarse, sensible Mrs. Dick Blatchford, were a little
"Shucks!" snorted Sally Warner, slapping her little riding boot dashingly
with her latest novelty, an English hunting crop, "Nan Keith impresses me
as one who knows her way about. And, anyway, as long as Mr. Keith is
satisfied, I'm sure we should be!"
To his surprise Ben Sansome found himself warming to what he considered a
real passion. At least it was as real a passion as he was capable of
feeling. Sansome had always been spoiled. Accustomed as he was to easy
conquests, especially of late among the faster San Francisco women of the
early days, Nan Keith's very aloofness attracted him. She dwelt in a serene
atmosphere of unsuspicion, going about freely with him, taking their right
relations for granted, and not thinking about them. Contemplating this,
Sansome was clever enough to see that, a false move at the wrong time would
do for him. Therefore, he occupied himself at first merely in making
himself useful. He accepted Keith's role for him, becoming the friend of
the family, dropping in often and informally, happening on the spot at just
the right time to relieve Keith of the necessity of escorting Nan to this
or that tea or ball. So well did he play his part that at last there came a
time when Keith said:
"I'm dead tired to-night, Nan. Seems as if I couldn't stand chatter. Can't
you send a note around to Ben and see if he can't get you there and back?"
This came to be a regular thing. If Sansome did not happen to be there, he
was sent for. And his engagements were never such that he failed to accept.
He and Keith called each other by their given names; but even after a close
intimacy had been established, he never addressed Nan by hers.
"You sound very formal," she hinted to him at last.
"To me the privilege of calling you by your 'little name' is so great an
evidence of friendship, that it actually seems like flaunting that
friendship to call you so before others" he replied.
Always after that he called her "Nan" when they were alone together, but
"Mrs. Keith" when a third, even Keith himself, was present. In that way
their tete-a-tetes were marked off a little. When alone with her he
maintained the pose of one struggling manfully against tremendous
temptations held back only by her sweet influence. But he never overdid it.
As they came to know each other better, he talked ever the more freely of
men's mysterious temptations. Nan could not define to herself exactly what
they might be.
"Yesterday I couldn't see you," he told her. "I struggled with myself all
day. Good God, what does a woman like you know of a man's weaknesses and
temptations--But I conquered."
Nan was uneasy. She did not know quite what it was all about, but her
instincts warned her.
"I am glad," she replied; and went on hastily, "but you must tell me what
you think about having the tea served in the arbour on the seventh, I've
been dying to ask you."
With an obvious effort to be cheerful about this fresh subject, he wrenched
himself into a new mood. They consulted on the party for the seventh. He
broke off abruptly to say: "Do you know you're an extraordinary person--but
you are!" he overrode her protests. "Don't I know the ordinary kind? Women
have a deep strength of their own that men cannot understand."
He stayed only a few minutes after that. On parting he for the first time
permitted himself a lingering gaze into her eyes as he reluctantly
relinquished her hand. She turned away, distinctly uneasy. Yet so skilfully
had he woven, his illusion of dependence on her that she shook it off with
a tender and maternal smile.
"Poor boy," she murmured. "He is so unhappy and alone!"
Sansome was an accomplished equestrian. Finding that Nan knew nothing
whatever about riding, he procured her a gentle horse, and took the
greatest trouble and pleasure in teaching her. She proved apt, for she had
good natural control of her body. After the first uncertainty and the first
stiffness had worn off, she delighted in long rides toward different parts
of the peninsula. Gringo, now a full-grown dog inclining toward the
shepherd more than anything else, delighted in them, too. He ranged far and
wide in front of the horses, exploring every ditch and thicket, wallowing
happily in every mudhole, returning occasionally to roll his comical eyes
at them as though to say, "Aren't we having a good time?" for Gringo was a
dog with a sense of humour. On these excursions she renewed acquaintance
with the sand dunes, and the little canons with birds, and the broad beach
at low tide on which it was glorious to gallop. Once or twice they even
stopped at the little rancho where the Keiths had lunched. There Nan,
through Sansome, who talked Spanish, was able to communicate with her
kindly hosts; and Gringo met his honoured but rather snappy mother. The
mother disowned him utterly. As the days grew shorter they often rode on
the Presidio hills, watching the sun set beyond the Golden Gate.
One such evening they had reined up their horses atop one of the hills next
the Gate. The sun had set somewhere beyond the headlands. Tamalpais was
deep pink with the glow; the water in the Gate was pale lilac; the sky
close to the horizon burned orange, but above turned to a pale green that
made with its lucent colour alone infinite depths and spaces. Below, the
darker waters twisted and turned with the tide. The western headlands were
"Oh, but it is beautiful!" she said at last.
"Yes, it is beautiful," he agreed somberly; "but when one is lonely,
somehow it hurts."
There ensued a short, tense silence, broken only by the soft rolling of the
bit wheels in the horses' mouths.
"Yes," she agreed softly, after a moment, "I feel that, too. Yet sometimes
I wonder if one doesn't see and feel more keenly when one is not too
happy--" She hesitated.
"Yes, yes! Go on!" he urged in a low voice. His tone, his attitude,
suddenly seemed to envelop her with understanding. He appeared to offer her
aid, chivalrous aid, although no word was spoken. She had not quite meant
it that way; in fact, her thought was to offer _him_ sympathy. But somehow
it was grateful. It would do no harm to enjoy it, secretly, for a moment.
His unexpressed sympathy--for what she would have been unable to say--was
attractive to her isolation.
Often on returning from these rides she asked him in for a cup of tea.
Occasionally, when she was overheated, or damp from the fog, she would
excuse herself and slip into a soft negligee. With lamp and fire lit they
made a very cozy tete-a-tete. He smoked contemplatively; she stitched at
the inevitable embroidery of the period. Occasionally they talked
animatedly; quite as frequently they sat in sociable silence. Gringo slept
by the fire dreaming of rabbits and things, his hind legs twitching as he
triumphantly ran them down. One evening she caught sight of a rip in the
sewing of his tobacco pouch. In spite of his protests, she insisted on
sewing it up for him. She was conscious of his eyes on her while she plied
the needle, and felt somehow very feminine and sure of her power.
"There!" she cried, when she had finished. "You certainly do need somebody
to take care of you!"
He took it without spoken thanks, and put it slowly away in his pocket--as
though, he would have kissed it. A pregnant silence followed, he sitting
staring at her, she jabbing the needle idly into the arm of her chair.
Suddenly, as though taking a tremendous resolution, he spoke:
"Nan, I am going to ask you a question. You must not be offended. Do you
really love your husband?" At her hasty movement he hurried on: "I imagine
I feel something unsatisfied about you--besides, lots of women don't."
As he probably expected, her indignation was thoroughly aroused. He took
his castigation and dismissal meekly, and found some interest in the
ensuing negotiations toward reconciliation. No one knew better than he how
to sue for forgiveness. But he was quite satisfied to have implanted the
idea, for Ben Sansome was content with slow coral-insect progress. A busy
man, engaged in men's occupations, would never have had the patience for
this leisurely establishment of atmosphere and influence; his impatience or
passion would have betrayed him to an early outbreak. But with Sansome it
was the practice of a fine art. He knew just how far to go. No one could
more skilfully ingratiate himself in small ways. He always knew what gown
she should wear or had worn, and always commented appreciatively on what
she had on. Keith merely knew vaguely whether she looked well or ill.
Sansome noticed and praised little things--her well-shod feet, the red
lights in her hair, an unusual flower in her belt. He knew every hat she
owned, and he had his well-marked preferences. He never made direct love,
nor attempted to touch her. She felt the growing attraction, enjoyed it,
but did not analyze it. She merely considered Ben Sansome as "nice," as
needing guidance, as romantic----
Occasionally, after seeing more than usual of him, some feeling of reaction
or some faint stirring of conscience would impel her--perhaps to convince
herself of the harmlessness of it all--to make an especial effort to draw
her husband out of his preoccupation into more human relations. She dressed
with great care, earlier than usual; she gathered flowers for the vases,
she fussed about lighting lamps, placing ash trays and chairs, generally
arranging the setting for his welcome home. The preparations kindled her
own enthusiasm. She became herself quite worked up in anticipation. When
she heard his step, she ran to meet him in the hall. Keith happened to be
tired to the point of exhaustion.
"Good heavens!" was his comment; "are we having company to-night? Why all
the clothes and illumination?"
His relaxed, dispirited manner of removing and hanging up his coat reacted
upon her instantly. Her high spirits sank to the depths. They ate their
meal in almost complete silence. Nan could not help visualizing Sansome's
appreciation of such an occasion.
The new coherence in society began to manifest itself in one important way:
public gambling declined. In the "old days" it was said that everybody but
clergymen frequented the big gambling halls. They were a sort of club. But
now the most influential citizens began to stay away. Probably they gambled
as much as ever, but they took such pleasures in private. Two or three only
of the larger places remained in business. Save for them, open gambling was
confined to the low dives near the water front. There was no definite
movement against the practice. It merely fell off gradually.
During these busy years the Sherwoods had quite methodically continued to
lead their customary lives. He read his morning paper on the veranda of the
Bella Union, talked his leisurely politics, drove his horses, and in the
evening attended to his business. She drove abroad, received her men
friends, gave them impartial advice and help in their difficulties, dressed
well, and carried on a life of many small activities. The Sherwoods were
always an attractive looking and imposing couple, whenever they appeared.
About three or four times a year they drove into the residential part of
town and made a half-dozen formal calls--on the Keiths among others.
Probably their lives were more nearly ordered on a routine than those of
any other people in the new city.
One afternoon Sherwood came in at the usual hour, deposited his high hat
carefully on the table, flicked the dust off his boots, and remarked
"Patsy, I've sold the business."
Mrs. Sherwood was pinning on her hat. She stopped short, her hand halfway
to her head, as though turned to marble. After a moment she asked in a
quick, stifled voice:
"What do you mean?"
"Well," replied Sherwood, continuing methodically to readjust his dress,
"I've been thinking for some time that times were changing. The gambling
business is losing tone. I don't see the same class of people I used to
see. Public sentiment--of the very best people, I mean--is drifting away
from it. In the future, in my judgment, it's not going to pay as it ought.
I've been thinking these things for some time. So when a bona fide
purchaser came along----"
But he got no further. With a smothered cry she let her arms drop. Her
customary poise had vanished. She flung herself on him, laughing, crying,
"Why, Patsy! Patsy!" he cried, patting her small, sleek head as it pressed
against his shoulder. "What is it, dearie? Tell me? What's wrong?"
He was vastly perturbed and anxious, for she was not at all the type that
loses control readily.
"Nothing! nothing!" she gasped. "I'll be all right in a minute. Don't mind
me. Just let me alone. Only you told me so suddenly----"
"Don't you want me to sell?" he asked, utterly bewildered.
Gradually he gathered from her disjointed exclamations that this was just
the one thing she had wanted, secretly, for years; the thing she had
schooled herself not to hope for; the last thing in the world she had
expected. And to his astonishment he gathered further that now she was free
she could take her place with the other women----
"But I hadn't the slightest idea you wanted to!" he interrupted at this
point. "You've never showed any signs of paying the slightest attention to
She was drying her eyes, and looking a little happily foolish.
"I knew better than to give them a chance to snub me," she told him. "Now
But at this Sherwood reared his crest.
"Respectable!" he snorted, "What do you mean? Haven't you always been
respectable? I'd like to see anybody who would hint--"
"You're a dear, but you're a man," she broke in more calmly. "Don't you
know that a gambler's wife isn't respectable--in their sense of the word?"
"But every mother's son of them gambles!" cried Sherwood. "It's a perfectly
legal and legitimate occupation!"
"The men do; we'd always get along if it was only a question of the men.
But the women make distinctions--"
"Look here!" he broke out wrathfully. "There's Dick Blatchford mixed up in
dirty work for dirty money I wouldn't lay my fingers on; and Terry, or
Brannan, or McGowan, or all the rest of the boodling, land-grabbing,
pettifogging crew! Why, if I made my living or spare cash the way that gang
of pirates and cutthroats do I'd carry a pair of handcuffs for myself.
Honest! Respectable! I've got no kick on their methods; it's, none of my
business. But their wives are all right. I don't see it!"
"It's all names, I acknowledge," she soothed, "just names, I attach no more
weight to them than you do. Don't you suppose I'd have said something if I
had thought you were doing anything wrong? But that's the way they play the
game, and it is their game. If we play it we've got to accept their rules.
Don't you see?"
"Well, it's a mighty poor game," grumbled Sherwood, "and they strike me as
an exceptionally stupid lot of women. They'd drive me to drink. I don't see
what you want to bother with them for."
"They are," she agreed. "They won't amuse me much--you couldn't understand
--it's just the _idea_ of it--But I won't be looked down on, even by my
inferiors! Tell me, Jack, when we sell the business are we going to be
wealthy, will we have plenty of money?"
A hurt look came into his fine, straightforward eyes.
"Haven't you always had all you wanted, Patsy?" he inquired.
"Of course I have, you old goose! But I want to know what our resources are
before I plan my campaign."
"Going in up to your neck, are you?" he commented ruefully.
She nodded. Her eyes were bright, and a spot of colour glowed in either
"Course I am. What can I spend?"
"You can have whatever you want."
"That's too vague, too indefinite. How rich--or poor--are we going to be?"
"We'll be rich enough."
"Well--yes, very. The business has paid, investments have panned out. I got
a good cash purchase price."
"How much can I spend a year?" she persisted. "It doesn't matter whether
it's much or little, but I want to know."
"What a mercenary little creature!" he cried facetiously, then sobered as
he saw by the expression of her face that this, apparently trivial thing
meant a great deal to her. "Oh, fifty thousand or so won't cripple us."
"A year?" she breathed, awed.
"Oh!" she cried rapidly. "Then we'll have a house--a house built for our
very own selves, our very own plans!"
"Why, I thought we were very comfortable here!" he protested, a little
dismayed. "Haven't we room enough? I'll make Rebinot cut a door----"
"No! no! no! a house of my own!" She was on fire with excitement, walking
restlessly up and down. He watched her a moment or so. His slower
imagination was kindling. He was beginning to grasp the symbolism of it,
what it meant to her, the release of long-pent secret desires. As she
passed him, he seized her and drew her gently to his knee.
"Patsy!" he cried contritely, "I didn't realize! I didn't guess you weren't
perfectly contented here!"
She brushed his cheek with hers.
"Of course you didn't," she reassured him.
"If you'd the slightest----"
She threw her head back proudly, her breast swelled.
"I married you to lead your life. Jack, whatever it was," she told him, "to
be your _help_mate."
"You're the game little sportsman in this town!" he cried. "And if you want
to make those flub-dubs crawl, by God you sail in! I'll back you!"
Ten minutes later she asked him:
"What are you going to do, yourself, Jack? Somehow, I can't imagine you
"Well," said Sherwood, "the boys are organizing a stock exchange, and it
struck me that it might be a good idea if I went into that."
She began to laugh softly, in affectionate amusement.
"Stop it!" he commanded indignantly. "I know that laugh, What have I done
"I was just thinking what a nice, _respectable_ gambler you are going to be
now," she said, "It's in your blood, Jack, and I love it--but it's funny!"
But now, at the very sources, the full flood of the somewhat turbid tide of
prosperity was beginning to fail. The ebb had not yet reached the civic
consciousness. It would have required a philosopher, and a detached
philosopher at that, to have connected cause and effect, to have forecast
the inevitable trend of events. If there were any philosophers they were
not detached! Nobody had discovered the simple truth that extravagance,
graft, waste, cost money; and that the money must come from somewhere.
Realization on its property and taxes were the twin sources of the city's
revenues. The property was now about all sold or swindled away. Remained
the taxes. And it is a self-evident truth that people will pay high taxes
cheerfully only so long as they themselves are making plenty of money
Up to this period such had been the case. Prices had been high, wages had
been high, opportunities had been many. Enormous profits had been the rule.
Everybody had invariably made money. These conditions upset the mental
balance of the shipping merchants back East. A madness seemed to obsess
them for sending goods to California. The mere rumour of a want or a lack
was answered by immense shipments of that particular commodity. The first
cargo to arrive supplied the want; all the rest simply broke the market. It
was a gamble as to who should get there first. The immediate and
picturesque consequence was a fleet of beautiful clipper ships, built like
racing yachts, with long clean lines and snowy sails. They made
extraordinarily fast voyages, and they promptly condemned to death the old-
fashioned, slow freight carriers. Indeed, four-hundred odd of these
actually rotted at anchor in the bay; it had not paid to move them! Some of
these clippers gained vast reputations: the _Flying Cloud_, the _White
Squall_, the _Typhoon_, the _Trade Wind_. The markets were continually in a
state of glut with goods sold at auction. This condition tightened the
money market, which in turn reacted on other branches of industry. Again,
the great fires of '49-'53 resulted in the erection of too many fireproof
buildings. Storage was needed, and rentals were high, so everybody plunged
on storehouses. By '54 many hundreds of them stood vacant, representing
loss. At that period the first abundance of the placers began to fall off.
Agriculture was beginning to be undertaken seriously; and while this would
be an ultimate source of wealth, its immediate effect was to diminish the
demand for imported foodstuffs--another blow to a purely mercantile city.
All this made for excitement, some immediate gain, but a sure ultimate
loss. Markets fluctuated wildly. A ship in sight threw operators into a
fever. No one knew what she might be carrying, or how she would, affect
prices. It was, therefore, positively unsafe to keep-many goods is stock.
Quick, immediate sales were the rule. And failures were many.
Now in these middle fifties the pinch was beginning at last to itself felt.
Everybody was a little vague about it all, and nobody had gone so far as to
formulate his dissatisfactions or his remedies. The tangible result was the
formation of two as yet inchoate elements, representing the extremes of
ideas and of interests.
The first of these elements--that can with equal justice be called the
parasitic or the middleman class--consisted in itself of several sorts of
people. The nucleus was a small, intellectually honest set of men who
believed, in the law _per se_, in the sacredness of formal institutions in
the constitution, and in the subservience of the individual to the
institution. This was temperamental. Behind them were many much larger
groups of those needed either the interpretation or the protection of the
law for their private interests. These were of all sorts from honest
literal-minded dealers, through shady contractors and operators, down to
grafters and the very lowest type of strong-arm bullies. The tone and
respectability came from the first, the practical results from the second.
The first class had a genuine intellectual contempt for men whose minds
could not see--or at least would not accept--the same subtleties that it
did. Its members were fond of such phrases as the "lawless mob," or the
"subversion of time-honoured institutions." This small, subjectively
honest, conservative, specially trained element must not be forgotten in
the final estimate of what later came to be known as the "Law and Order"
On the other hand was first of all an equally small nucleus of thinking men
whose respect for the law, merely as law, was not so profound; men who
were, reluctantly, willing to admit that when law completely broke down in
encompassing justice, individualism was justified in stepping in. Behind
them was a vast body of more or less unthinking men who recognized the
indubitable facts that the law had become a farce, that justice had
degenerated to tricks, and who were, therefore, instinctively against law,
lawyers, and everybody who had anything to do with them.
Strangely enough this made for lawlessness on both sides. Those who
believed in "law and order" committed crime or misdemeanour or mere
injustice, sure of escape through some technicality. Those who distrusted
courts administered justice illegally with their own hands! Nor was this
merely in theory. San Francisco at that time was undoubtedly the most
corrupt and lawless city in the world. Street shootings, duels, robberies,
ballot-box stuffing, bribery, all the crimes traceable to a supine police
and venal or technical courts were actually so commonplace as to command
but two or three lines in the daily papers. Justice was completely
smothered under technicalities and delays.
The situation would have been intolerable to any people less busy than the
people of that time. For political corruption in a vigorous body politic is
not, as pessimists would have us believer an indication of incipient decay,
but only an indication that a busy people are willing to pay that price to
be left alone, to be relieved of the administration of their public
affairs, When they get less busy, or the price in corruption becomes too
high, then they refuse to pay. The price Francisco was paying becoming very
high, not only in money, but in other and spiritual things. She could still
afford to pay it; but at the least pressure she would no longer afford it.
Then she would act.
In the second year of his residence Keith had a minor adventure that
shifted a portion of his activities to other fields. He was in attendance
at a council meeting, following the interests of certain clients. The
evening was warm, the proceedings dull. Opened windows let in the sounds
from the Plaza and a night air that occasionally flared the smoky lamps.
The clerk's voice was droning away at some routine when the outer door
opened and a most extraordinary quartette entered the chamber. Three of
these were the ordinary, ragged, discouraged, emaciated, diseased "bums,"
only too common in that city. In early California a man either succeeded or
he failed into a dark abyss of complete discouragement; the new
civilization had little use for weaklings. The fourth man can be no better
described than in the words of a chronicler of the period. Says the worthy
"He was a man of medium stature, slender but very graceful, with almost
effeminate hands and feet--the former scrupulously kept, the latter neatly
shod--and with a certain air of fragility; very soft blue eyes with sleepy
lids; a classically correct nose; short upper lip; rosy, moist lips. His
clothes: a claret-coloured coat, neither dress nor frock, but mixed of both
fashions, with a velvet collar and brass buttons; a black vest, double
breasted; iron-gray pantaloons; fresh, well-starched, and very fine linen;
plain black cravat, negligently tied; a cambric handkerchief; and dark kid
gloves. He wore gold spectacles, and carried a malacca cane."
Instead of slipping into the seats provided for spectators, this striking
individual marched boldly to the open space before the mayor's chair,
followed, shamefaced and shambling, by the three bums.
"Your honours and gentlemen," he cried in a clear, ringing voice, to the
scandal of the interrupted legislators, "we are very sick and hungry and
helpless and wretched. If somebody does not do something for us, we shall
die; and that would be bad, considering how far we have come, and how hard
it was to get here, and how short a time we have been here, and that we
have not had a fair chance. All we ask is a fair chance, and we say again,
upon our honour, gentlemen, if somebody does not do something for us, we
shall die, or we shall be setting fire to the town first and cutting all
He stood leaning lightly against his malacca cane, surveying them through
his sleepy blue eyes. The first astonishment over, they took up a
collection, after the customary careless, generous fashion. The young man
saluted with his cane, and herded his three exhibits out.
Keith, much struck, followed them, overtaking the quartette on the street.
"My name is Keith," he said, "I should like to make your acquaintance."
"Mine is Krafft," replied the unknown, "and I am delighted to accept your
He said nothing more until he had marshalled his charges, into a cheap
eating-house, ordered and paid for a supper, and divided the remainder of
the amount collected. Then he dusted his fingers daintily with a fine
handkerchief, and sauntered out into the street, swinging his malacca cane.
"Incidents of that sort restore one's faith in the generosity of our
people," Keith remarked, in order to say something.
"Nobody has been generous," denied Krafft categorically, "and no particular
good has been accomplished. Filled their bellies for this evening; given
them a place to sleep for this night; that's all."
"That's something," ventured Keith. "It helps."
"The only way to help we have not undertaken. We have done nothing toward
finding out why there are such creatures--in a place like this. That's the
only way to help them: find out why they are, and then remove the why."
This commonplace of modern charity was then a brand-new thought. Keith had
never heard it expressed, and he was much interested.
"I suppose there are always the weak and the useless," he said vaguely.
"If those men were wholly weak and useless, how did they get out here?"
countered Krafft. "To compass such a journey takes a certain energy, a
certain sum of money, a certain fund of hope. The money goes, the energy
drains, the hope fades. Why?"
They stopped at a corner.
"I live just near here," said Krafft. "If you will honour me."
He led the way down a narrow dark alley, along which they had fairly to
grope their way. It debouched, however, into the forgotten centre of the
square. All the edges had been built close with brick stores, warehouses,
and office buildings. But in the very middle had been left a waste piece of
ground, occupied only by a garden and a low one-room abode, with a veranda
and a red-tiled roof. Under the moonlight and the black shadows from the
modern buildings it slept amid its bright flowers with the ancient air of
another world. Krafft turned a key and lighted a lamp. Keith found himself
in a small, neat room, with heavy beams, fireplace, and deep embrasured
windows. An iron bed, two chairs, a table, a screen, a shelf of books, and
a wardrobe were its sole furnishings. In the fireplace had been laid, but
not lighted, a fire of sagebrush roots.
Krafft touched a match to the roots, which instantly leaped into eager and
aromatic flames. From a shelf he took a new clay pipe which he handed to
"Tobacco is in that jar," he said.
He himself filled and lighted a big porcelain pipe with wexelwood stem.
"What would you do about it?" asked Keith, continuing the discussion.
"What would you most want, if you were those poor men?" retorted Krafft,
blowing a huge cloud.
"Drink, food, clothes, bed," he stated succinctly.
"And work wherewith to get them," supplemented Krafft.
Keith laughed again.
"Not if I know their sort! Work is the one thing they _don't_ want."
Krafft leaned forward, and tapped the table with one of his long
"The lazy part of them, the earthen part of them, the dross of them--yes,
perhaps. But let us concede to them a spark that smoulders, way down deep
within them--a spark of which they think they are ashamed, which they do
not themselves realize the existence of except occasionally. What is the
deep need of them? It is to feel that they are still of use, that they
amount to something, that they are men. That more than mere food and
warmth. Is it not so?"
"I believe you're right," said Keith, impressed.
"Then," said Krafft triumphantly, "it _is_ work they want, work that is
useful and worth paying for."
"But there's plenty of work to be had," objected Keith, after a moment. "In
fact, there's more work in this town than there are men to do it."
"True, But it is the hard work these men have failed at. It is too hard.
They try; they are discouraged; they fall again, and perhaps they never get
up. Such men must be led, must be watched, must be stopped within their
"Who's there to do that sort of dry nursing of bums?" demanded Keith with a
"He who would help," said Krafft quietly.
They smoked for some time in silence; then Keith arose to go.
"It is a big idea; it requires thought," said he ruminativeiy. "You are a
recent arrival, Mr. Krafft? What is your line of activity?"
The slight, elegant little man smiled.
"I am one of the--what is it you called, them--bums of whom we talk. I try
to do what is within my power, within my strength-lest I, too, become
discouraged, lest I, too, fall again--and not get up."
"I have not seen you about anywhere," said Keith, puzzled by this speech.
"I do not go anywhere; I should be eaten. You do not understand me, and I
am a poor host to talk in riddles. I am a philosopher, not a man of action;
egotist, not an egoist; one who cannot swim in your strong waters. As I
said, one of that same class whom your bounty helped this evening."
"Good Lord, man!" cried Keith, looking about the little room. "You're not
Krafft laughed gently.
"In your sense, no. I have my meals. Enough of me. Go, and think of what I
Keith did so, and the result was the first organized charity in San
Francisco. Since 1849 men had always been exceptionally generous in
responding to appeals for money. Huge sums could easily be raised at any
time. Hospitals and almshouses dated from the first. But having given,
these pioneers invariably forgot. The erection of the buildings cost more
than they should, and management being venal, conditions soon became
disgraceful. Alms reached the professional pauper. The miner or immigrant,
diseased, discouraged, out of luck, more often died--either actually or
So much had this first interview caught his interest that Keith dropped in
on his new acquaintance quite often. It soon became evident that Krafft
lived in what might be called decent poverty. The one fine rig-out in which
he made his public appearances was most carefully preserved. Indoors he
always promptly assumed a dressing-gown, a skull cap with a gold tassel,
and his great porcelain pipe. His meals he cooked for himself. Never did he
leave his house until about three o'clock. Then, spick and span,
exquisitely appointed, he sauntered forth swinging his malacca cane. After
a promenade of several hours he returned again to his dressing-gown, his
porcelain pipe, and his books. Keith enjoyed hugely his detached,
reflective, philosophical, spectator-of-life conversation. They talked on
many subjects besides sociology. At his fourth visit Krafft made a
"You shall come with me and see," said he.
He led the way to the water front under Telegraph Hill, the newest and the
most squalid part of town. The shallow water was in slow process of being
filled in by sand from the grading uptown and with all sorts of
miscellaneous debris, Pending solidity, this sketchy real estate swarmed
with squatters. There were lots sunken below the street level, filled with
stagnant water, discarded garments, old boxes, ashes, and rubbish; houses
huddled closely together with stale water beneath; there were muddy alleys;
murderous cheap saloons; cheaper gambling joints; rickety, sagging
tenements. The people corresponded to their habitations. All the low
elements lurked here, the thugs, strong-arm men, the hold-ups, the heelers,
the weaklings, the bums, the diseased. In ordinary times they here dwelt in
a twilight existence; but at periods of excitement--as when the city
burned--they swarmed out like rats for plunder.
Krafft held his way steadily to the wharves. There he left the causeway and
descended to the level of the beach. Beneath the pilings, and above the
high-water mark, was a little hut. It was not over six feet square,
constructed of all sorts of old pieces of boxes, scraps of tin, or remnants
of canvas. Overhead rumbled continuously the heavy drays, shaking down,
through the cracks the dust of the roadway. Against one outside wall of
this crazy structure an old man sat, chair tilted in the sun. Even the
chair was a curiosity, miraculously held together by wires. The man was
very old, and very feeble, his knotted hands clasping a short, black clay
pipe. Inside the hut Keith, saw a rough bunk on which lay jumbled a quilt
and a piece of canvas.
"Well, John," greeted Krafft cheerfully, "I've brought a friend to see
The old man turned on Keith a twinkling blue eye.
"Glad to see you," he said briefly.
"Getting on?" pursued Krafft.
"Here's a new kind of tobacco I want you to try. I should value your
Keith's hand wandered toward his pocket, but stopped at a sharp look from
Krafft. After a moment's chat they withdrew.
"What a pathetic old figure! What utter misery!" cried Keith.
"No!" said Krafft positively. "There you are wrong. Old John is in no need
of us. He has his house and his bed, and he gets his food. How, I do not
know, but he gets it. The spark is burning clear and steady. He has not
lost his grip. He gets his living with confidence. Let him alone."
"But he must be very miserable--especially when it rains," persisted Keith.
Krafft shrugged his shoulders.
"As to that, I know not," he returned indifferently. "That does not matter
to the soul. I will now show you another man."
They retraced their steps. On a corner of Montgomery Street Krafft stopped
before a one-armed beggar, the stump exposed, a placard around his neck.
"Now here's another John," said Krafft. "What he wants is work, and
somebody to see that he does it."
The one-armed beggar, who was fat, with a good-natured countenance,
evidently considered this a joke. He grinned cheerfully.
"Don't have to, guvenor," said he.
"How much did you take in yesterday, John?" asked Krafft; then, catching
the beggar's look of suspicion, he added, "This is a friend of mine; he's
"Twenty-two dollars," replied the beggar proudly. "Pretty good day's
"I'm afraid the spark is about out with you, John," said Krafft
thoughtfully. He walked on a few steps, then turned back. "John," he asked,
"what is your contribution to society?"
The beggar stared, uncertain of this new chaff.
"The true theory of business, John, is that traffic which does not result
In reciprocal advantages to buyer and seller is illegitimate, or at least
They walked on, Keith laughing at the expression on the beggar's face.
"That was considerably over his head," he observed.
Nothing more was said for half a block.
"I wonder if it was over yours," then said Krafft, unexpectedly.
"Eh?" ejaculated Keith, bewildered.
These walks with Krafft finally resulted in the institution of a fund which
Keith raised and put into Krafft's hands for intelligent use. The effects
were so interesting that Keith, thoroughly fascinated, began to pester his
friends for positions for some of his proteges. As he was well-liked and in
earnest, these efforts were taken good-humourediy.
"Here comes Milt Keith," said John Webb to Bert Taylor. "Bet you a beaver
hat he's got a highly educated college professor that he wants a job for."
"'A light job, not beyond his powers,'" quoted Taylor.
"Like cleaning genteel spittoons," supplemented Webb.
"The engine house is full of 'em polishing brass," complained Taylor.
"Well, he's a young felly, and I like him," concluded Webb heartily.
Of course many of the experiments failed, but fewer than might have been
anticipated. Part of Krafft's task was to keep in touch with the men. His
detached, philosophical method of encouragement and analysis of the
situation seemed just the thing they needed.
These activities gave Keith just the required door out into a world other
than his own. Were it not for something of the sort he might, like many
modern corporation lawyers, have confined himself entirely to his own
class. And this, of course, would eventually have meant narrowness.
But through Krafft, and especially through his desire to help Krafft's
work, he came in contact with all sorts of people; and, what was more
important, he found that he liked a great many of them. So it happened that
when it seemed expedient to the ruling caste to put him in as Assistant
District Attorney, his inevitable election met with wider approval than
such elections usually enjoy.
For it must be understood that in the fifties any candidate selected by the
ruling caste was absolutely sure of election. The machinery was thoroughly
in their hands. Diplomacy in party caucuses, delicate manipulation at
primaries, were backed by cruder methods if need be. Associations were
semi-publically formed for the sale of votes; gangs of men were driven from
one precinct to another, voting in all; intimidation, and, indeed, open
violence, was freely used. Only the most adventurous or the most determined
thought it worth while even to try to vote in the rough precincts. And if
the first and second lines of defence failed, there was still the third to
fall back on when the booths were dosed and the ballots counted: the boxes
could still be "stuffed," the count could still be scientifically juggled
to bring about any desired result.
This particular election was one of the worst in the history of the place.
All day fighting was kept up, and the rowdies swaggered everywhere. Whiskey
was to be had for the asking; and the roughs who surrounded the polls fired
shots, and in some places started what might fairly be called riots. Yankee
Sullivan returned James Casey as elected supervisor, which was probably a
mistake, for Casey was not a candidate, his name was on none of the
official ballots, and nobody could be found who had voted for him.
Everybody was surprised, Casey most of all! The sixth ward count was
delayed unconscionably, its returns being withheld until nearly morning. It
was more than hinted that this delay was prolonged until the returns had
been received from all other precincts, so that any deficiencies might be
made up by the sixth. The "slate" went through unbroken.
Of all the candidates, Keith received the most votes, for the simple reason
that his total included both the honest and dishonest ballots. Blanchford,
Neil, Palmer, Adams, all the political overlords of the city were
satisfied, as well they might be, for they had issued the fiat that he be
"He's one of us," said they.
But what was more unusual, the rank and file of decent, busy, hard-working
citizens approved, too.
"Keith is not stuck up," they told each other. "He is the _commonest_ man
in that bunch. And he's square."
The position carried some social as well as political significance. Society
made another effort to take him up. His rare appearances were rather in the
nature of concessions. They served to make him more regretted, for he had
an easy, jolly way of moving from one group or one woman to another, of
paying flattering, monopolizing, brief attention to each in turn, and then
disappearing, very early! His bold rather florid countenance radiated
energy and quizzical good humour; his tight, closely curled hair crisped
with virile alertness; he carried himself taut and eager--altogether a
figure to engage the curiosities of women or the interest of men.
Mrs. Sherwood alone was shrewd enough to penetrate to his true feelings.
She had experienced no difficulty in pushing to a social leadership shared
--indolently and indifferently--with Nan Keith. Already her past was
growing dim in a tradition kept alive only by a few whisperers. Her wealth,
her natural tact and poise, her calm assumption of the right to rule, her
great personal charm, beauty, and taste were more than sufficient to get
her what she wanted. The game was almost too easy, when one held the cards.
"Yes, he's very charming," she told her husband, "but that manner of his
does not impress me. As a matter of fact, he doesn't care a snap of his
finger about any of them. He does it too well. It's a stencil. Only the
outside of him does it. He's just as bad as you are; only _he_ doesn't hold
up a corner of the doorway all the evening, and beam vaguely in general,
like a good-natured, dear old owl."
A few clear-headed men--not the "chivalry," as the fire-eating professional
politicians and lawyers from the South were almost uniformly designated--
were able to see exactly the problem that must eventually demand Keith's
solution. Some of them talked it over while lounging and smoking in the
Fire Queen reading-room. There were present Talbot Ward and his huge
satellite, Munro; Coleman, quiet, grim, complacent, but looking, with his
sweeping, inky moustache and his florid, complexion, like a flashy "sport";
Hossfros, soon to become an historic character; and the banker, James King
The latter had recently come in for considerable public discussion. He had
for some time conducted a banking business, but becoming involved in
difficulties, he had turned over all his assets, all his personal fortune,
even his dwelling-house, to another bank as trustee to take care of his
debts. Almost immediately after, that bank had failed. Opinion in the
community divided according to the interests involved. The majority
considered that King had been almost quixotically conscientious in
stripping himself; but there did not lack those who accused him of sharp
practice. In the course of ensuing discussions and recriminations King was
challenged to a duel. He declined to fight, basing his refusal on
principle. As may be imagined, such an action at such a time was even more
widely commented upon than even his refusal to take advantage of the
bankruptcy laws. It was, as far as known, the first time any one had had
the moral courage to refuse a duel. King had gone quietly about his
business, taking an ordinary clerkship with Palmer, Cook & Co. In the eyes
of the discriminating few he had gained prestige, but most people thought
him down and out.
"What do you think of our new Assistant District Attorney?" Ward had begun
"He's a lawyer," growled Hossfros.
"A pretty fairly honest one, I think," ventured King. "His training may be
wrong, but his instincts are right."
"Fat chance anything's got when it mixes up with legalities," supplemented
"Nevertheless," remarked Coleman seriously, "I believe plain justice has
more of a chance with him in charge than with another."
"What sort of justice?" queried King. "Commercial?" He laughed in answer to
his own question. "Criminal? I'd like to think it, gentlemen, but I cannot.
You know as well as I do that any of us could this evening go into the
streets, select our victim, and shoot him down secure in the knowledge that
inconvenience is all the punishment we need expect--if we have money or
friends. Am I not right, Coleman?"
Coleman smiled sardonically, lifting his blue-black moustache.
"Were Herod for the slaughter of the Innocents brought before a jury of
this town, he would be acquitted," he said half-seriously. "Judas Iscariot
would pass unscathed so long as any portion of his thirty pieces of silver
remained with him."
They laughed at this remarkable pronouncement, but with an undernote of
"No man, even exceptionally equipped as this young man seems to be," went
on Coleman after a moment, "can accomplish _that_"--he snapped his fingers
--"against organized forces such as those of 'Law and Order.'"
"We can't stand this sort of thing forever!" cried Hossfros hotly. "It's
getting worse and worse!"
"We probably shall not stand it forever," agreed Coleman equably, "but we
are powerless--at present."
They looked toward him for explanation of this last.
"When the people at large find that _they_ cannot stand it either, then we
shall be no longer powerless. A single man can do something then--a single
"What will happen then?" asked Munro. "Vigilantes? '51 again?"
Coleman, the leader of the Vigilantes of '51, turned on him a grave eye.
"God forbid! We were then a frontier community. We are now an organized,
civilized city. We have rights and powers through the regular channels--at
the ballot box for example."
Hossfros laughed skeptically.
"It must wait," continued Coleman; "it must wait on public opinion."
"Well," spoke up King, "it's all very well to wait, but public opinion left
to itself is a mighty slow growth. It should be fostered. The newspapers--"
"Don't let's lose our sense of humour," cut in Talbot Ward. "Can you see
Charley Nugent or Mike Rowlee crusading for the right?"
"But my point is good," insisted King. "An honest, fearless editor, not
afraid to call a spade a spade--"
"Would be shot," said Coleman briefly.
"The chances of war," replied King.
"They don't grow that kind around here," grinned Ward.
"Well," concluded Coleman, "this young Keith probably won't help any, but
he's going to be interesting to watch, just the same, to see what he'll do
the first time they crack the whip over him. That's the vital point as far
as he is concerned."
Keith's activities did not immediately confront him with anything in the
nature of a test, however. His superiors confined him to the drawing of
briefs and the carrying through of carefully selected cases. It was
considered well to "work him in" a little before putting responsibility on
He enjoyed it, for now he had at his call all the civil and police
resources of the city. This gave him a pleasant feeling of power. He was at
the centre of things. And through his office he came into contact with
ever-widening circles of people, all of whom were disposed, even anxious,
to treat him well, to get in his good graces. Possibly most of these were
what we would call the worst elements; and by that we would mean not only
the roughnecks of the police or sheriff's offices, but also the
punctilious, smooth-mannered Southerners who practically monopolized the
political offices. These men would have been little considered in the
South; in fact, in many cases, they had left their native states under a
cloud or even with prison records; but their natural charm, their audacity,
and their great punctilio as to "honour" deeply impressed the ordinary
citizen. As one chronicler of the times puts it, they had "fluency in
harangue, vigour in invective, ostentatious courage, absolute confidence
about all matters of morals, politics, and propriety"--which is an
excellent thumbnail sketch. Many of these ex-jailbirds rose to wealth and
influence, so that to this day the sound of their names means aristocracy
and birth to those ignorant of local history. Their descendants may be seen
to-day ruffling it proudly on the strength of their "birth!"
They, and the classes they directly and indirectly encouraged, had at last
brought the city fairly on the financial rocks. There was no more revenue.
Everything taxable had been taxed. The poll tax was out of all reason;
property paid 4 per cent. on an actual valuation; theatres, bankers,
brokers, freight, miners, merchants, hotel, keepers, incorporations, every
form of industry was levied upon heavily. Still that was not enough. Even
labour was paid now in scrip so depreciated that the cost of the simplest
public works was terrible.
And to heap up the measure, the year of 1855 was one of financial
stringency. The season of '54-'55 had been one of drought. For lack of
water most of the mining had ceased. The miners wanted to be trusted for
their daily needs; the country stores had to have credit because the miners
could not pay; and so on up to the wholesalers in the city. Goods were
therefore sold cheap at auction, and the gold went East to pay at the
source. Money, actual physical money, became scarce. The gold was gone, and
there existed no institution legally entitled to issue the paper money that
might have taken its place. All the banking was done by private firms.
These took deposits, made loans, issued exchange, but could not issue
Still, things had looked a bit squally many times before, but nothing had
happened. Men had the habit of optimism. No one stopped to analyze the
situation, to realize that the very good reason nothing had happened was
that the city had always had behind it the strength of the mines, and that
now the mines had withdrawn.
Out of a clear sky came the announcement that Adams & Co. had failed!
At first nobody believed it. Adams & Co. had occupied in men's minds from
the start much the same position as the Bank of England. The confirmation
of the news caused the wildest panic and excitement. If Adams & Co. were
vulnerable, nobody was secure. Small merchants began to call in their
credits. The city caught up eagerly every item of news. All the assets of
the bankrupt firm were turned over to Alfred Cohen as receiver. Some
interested people did not trust Cohen. They made enough of a fuss to get H.
M. Naglee appointed in Cohen's place. Naglee, demanding the assets, was
told they had been deposited with Palmer, Cook & Co. The latter refused to
give them up, denying Naglee's jurisdiction in the matter. The case was
brought into court. Then suddenly it was found that Palmer, Cook & Co. had
mysteriously lost their paramount interest in the courts. They had counted
on the case being brought before their own judges; but it was cited before
Judges Hazen and Park, both of whom, while ultra-technical, were honest.
The truth of the matter was that the rats suspected Palmer, Cook & Co. of
sinking, too, and had deserted. Judges Hazen and Park called upon the firm
to turn over to Naglee the assets of Adams & Co. They still refused. One of
the partners, named Jones, and Cohen were imprisoned. Some where $269,000
was missing. Nobody knew anything about it. The books having to do with the
transaction had mysteriously disappeared. Two days later an Irishman found
them floating in the bay, and brought them to the court. But the crucial
pages were missing. And then suddenly, while both Judge Hazen and Judge
Park were out of town, application was made to the Supreme Court--of which
Judge Terry was head--for the release of Jones and Cohen. The application
So an immense sum of money disappeared; nobody was punished; it was all
strictly legal; and yet the dullest labourer could see that the whole
transaction amounted to robbery under arms. Failures resulted right and
left. Wells Fargo & Co. closed their doors, but resumed within a few days.
A great many pocketbooks were hit. There was much talk and excitement.
On an evening in October, returning home at an early hour, Keith found Nan
indignant and excited. She held in her hand a tiny newspaper, not half the
usual size, consisting only of a single sheet folded.
"Have you seen this?" she burst out as Keith entered. "Isn't it
Keith was tired, and sank into an easy chair with a sigh of relaxation.
"No, what is it?" he asked, reaching his hand for the paper. "Oh, the new
paper. I saw them selling it on the street yesterday."
It was the _Bulletin_, Vol. 1, No. 2. Like all papers of that day, and like
some of the English papers now, its first page was completely covered with
small advertisements. A thin driblet of short local items occupied a column
on the third and fourth pages, a single column of editorial on the second.
"Seems a piffling little sheet," he observed, "to be read in about eight
seconds by any one not interested in advertisements. What is it that
agitates you, Nan?"
"Read that." She pointed to the editorial.
The article in question proved to be an attack on Palmer, Cook & Co. It
said nothing whatever about the Cohen-Naglee robbery. Its subject was the
excessive rentals charged the public by Palmer, Cook & Co. for postal
boxes. But it mentioned names, recorded specific instances, avoided
generalities, and stated plainly that this was merely beginning at the
beginning in an expose of the methods of these "Uriah Heeps."
"Why do they permit such things?" cried Nan, scarcely waiting for Keith to
finish his reading, "What is Mr. Palmer going to do about it?"
"Survive, I guess," replied Keith, with a grin. "I take back my opinion of
the paper. It certainly has life." He turned to the head of the page.
"Hullo!" he cried in surprise. "James King of William running this, eh?" He
whistled, then laughed. "That promises to be interesting, sure. He was in
business with that crowd for some time. He ought to have information from
"Mrs. Palmer is simply furious," said Nan.
"I'll bet she is. Are we invited out this evening?"
"The Thurstons' musicale. I thought you'd be interested in that."
"Let me off, Nan, that's a good fellow," pleaded Keith, whose weariness had
vanished. "I'd be delighted to go at any other time. But this is too rich.
I must see what the gang has to say."
"I suppose I could drop Ben Sansome a note," assented Nan doubtfully.
"Do! Send the Chink around with it," urged Keith, rising. "I'll get a bite
downtown and not bother you."
The gang--as indeed the whole city--took it as a great joke. Of those Keith
met, only Jones, the junior partner, failed to see the humour, and he
passed the affair off in cavalier fashion. That did not save him from the
obligation of setting up the drinks.
"I'm going to fix this thing up in the morning," he stated confidently.
"Between you and me, there's evidently been a slip somewhere. Of course it
ought never to have been allowed to go so far. I'll see this man King first
thing in the morning, and buy him off. Undoubtedly that's about the only
reason his paper exists. Wonder where he got the money to start it? He's
busted. It can't last long."
"If it keeps up the present gait, it'll last," said Judge Caldwell
shrewdly. "Me--I'm going to send in a subscription tomorrow. Wouldn't miss
it for anything."
"It'll last as long as he does," growled Terry, "and that'll be about as
long as a snowball in hell. What you ought to do, Jones, is what any man of
spirit ought to do--call him out!"
"He announces definitely that he won't fight duels," said Calhoun Bennett.
"Then treat him like the cowardly hound he is," flared the uncompromising
Terry. "Take the whip to him; and if that isn't effective, shoot him down
as you would any other mad dog!"
"Surely, that's a little extreme, Judge," expostulated Caldwell. "He hasn't
done anything worse than stir up Jonesy a little."
"But he will, sir," insisted Terry, "you mark my words. If you give him
line, he'll not only hang himself, but he'll rope in a lot of bystanders as
"I'll bet he sells a lot of papers to-morrow, anyhow," predicted Keith.
"I hope so," bragged Jones. "There'll be the more to read his apology."
Evidently Jones fulfilled his promise, and quite as evidently Keith's
prediction was verified. Every man on the street had a copy of the next
day's _Bulletin_ within twenty minutes of issue.
A roar of delight went up. Jones's visit was reported simply as an item of
news, faithfully, sarcastically, and pompously. There was no comment. Even
the most faithful partisans of Palmer, Cook & Co. had to grin at the
effectiveness of this new way of meeting the impact of such a visit,
"It's clever journalism," Terry admitted, "but it's blackguardly; and I
blame Jones for passing it over."
The fourth number--eagerly purchased--proved more interesting because of
its hints of future disclosures rather than for its actual information.
Broderick was mentioned by name. The attention of the city marshal was
succinctly called to the disorderly houses and the statutes concerning
them; and it was added, "for his information," that at a certain address a
structure was actually building at a cost of $30,000 for improper purposes.
Then followed a list of personal bonds and sureties for which Palmer, Cook
& Co. were standing voucher, amounting to over two millions.
The expectations of disclosures, thus aroused, were not immediately
gratified, except in the case of Broderick. His swindles in the matters of
the Jenny Lind Theatre and the City Hall were traced out in detail. Every
one knew these things were done, but nobody knew just how; so these
disclosures made interesting reading if only as food for natural curiosity.
However, the tension somewhat relaxed. It was generally considered that the
coarse fibre of the ex-stone-cutter, the old Tammany heeler, and the thick
skins of his political adherents could stand this sort of thing. Nobody
with a sensitive honour to protect was assailed.
The position of the new paper was by now firmly established. It had a large
subscription list; it was eagerly bought on the streets; and its
advertising was increasing. King again turned his attention to Palmer, Cook
& Co. Each day he treated succinctly, clearly, without rhetoric, some
branch of their business. By the time he had finished with them he had not
only exposed their iniquities, he had educated the public to an
understanding of the financial methods of the times. His tilting at this
banking firm had inevitably led him to criticism of certain of their
subterfuges to avoid or take advantage of the law; and that as inevitably
brought him to analysis and condemnation of the firm's legal advisers,
James, Doyle, Barber & Boyd, a firm which had heretofore enjoyed a good
reputation. Incidentally he called attention to duelling, venal newspapers,
city sales, gambling, Billy Mulligan, Wooley Kearney, Casey, Cora, Yankee
Sullivan, Martin Gallagher, Tom Cunningham, Ned McGowan, Charles Duane, and
many other worthies, both of high and low degree. Never did he fear to name
names and cite specific instances plainly. James King of William dealt in
no innuendoes. He had found in himself the editor he had wished for, the
man who would call a spade a spade.
The _Bulletin_ twice enlarged its form. It sold by the thousand. Its weapon
of defence was the same as its weapon of offence--pitiless and complete
publicity. Measures of reprisal, either direct or underhand, undertaken
against him, King published often without comment.
At the first some of the cooler heads thought it might be well to reason
"The man has run a muck," said old Judge Girvin, "and while I am far from
denying that In many--perhaps in most--cases his facts are correct, still
his methods make for lawlessness among the masses. It might be well to meet
him reasonably, and to expostulate."
"I'd expostulate--with a blacksnake," growled the fiery Terry.
A number waited on King. Keith was among them. They found his office in a
small ramshackle frame building, situated in the middle instead of
alongside one of the back streets. It had probably been one of the early
small dwelling-houses, marooned by a resurvey of the streets, and never
since moved. King sat in his shirtsleeves before a small flat table. He
looked up at them uncompromisingly from his wide-apart steady eyes.
"Gentlemen," he greeted them tentatively.
Judge Girvin seated himself impressively, his fat legs well apart, his
beaver hat and cane poised in his left hand; the others, grouped themselves
back of him. The judge stated the moderate case well. "We do not deny any
man the right to his opinion," he concluded, "but have you reflected on the
effect such an expression often has on the minds of those not trained to
King listened to him in silence.
"It seems to me, sir," he answered, when Judge Girvin had quite finished,
"that if abuses exist they should be exposed until they are remedied; and
that the remedy should come from the law."
"What is your impelling motive?" asked the judge. "Why have you so suddenly
taken up this form of activity? Do you feel aggrieved in any way--
"My motive in starting a newspaper, if that is what you mean, is the plain
one of making an honest if modest living. And, incidentally, while doing
so, I have some small idea of being of public use. I have no personal
grievance; but I am aggrieved, as every decent man must be, at the way the
lawyers, the big financial operators, and the other blackguards have robbed
the city," stated King plainly.
Judge Girvin, flushing, arose with dignity,
"I wish you good-day, sir," he said coldly, and at once withdrew.
Keith had been watching King with the keenly critical, detached, analytical
speculation of the lawyer. He carried away with him the impression of a man
At the engine house, to which the discomfited delegation withdrew, there
was more discussion.
"The man is within his legal rights so far," stated Judge Girvin. "If any
of his statements are libellous, it is the duty of the man so libelled to
institute action in the courts."
"He's too smooth for that," growled Jones.
"He'll bite off more than he can chew, if he keeps on," said Dick
Blatchford comfortably. "He's stirring up hornets' nests when he monkeys
with men like Yankee Sullivan. He's about due for an awful scare, one of
these days, and then he'll be good."
"Do you know, I don't believe he'll scare," said Keith suddenly, with
As Keith surmised, intimidation had no effect. In such a city of fire-
eaters it was promptly tried. A dozen publically announced that they
thirsted for his blood, and intended to have it; and the records of the
dozen were of determination and courage in such matters. In the gambling
resorts and on the streets bets were made and pools formed on the probable
duration of King's life. He took prompt notice of this fact. Said the
_Bulletin's_ editorial column:
Bets are now being offered, we are told, that the editor of the
_Bulletin_ will not be in existence twenty days longer, and the case
of Doctor Hogan, of the Vicksburg paper, who was murdered by gamblers
of that place, is cited as a warning. Pah! War, then, is the cry, is
it? War between the prostitutes and gamblers on one side, and the
virtuous and respectable on the other! Be it so, then! Gamblers of San
Francisco, you have made your election, and we are ready on our side
for the issue!
Keith read this over John Sherwood's shoulder at the
Monumental. The ex-gambler, his famous benign spectacles atop his nose,
chuckled over it.
"He doesn't scare for a cent, does he?" was his comment. "Strikes me I got
out of the ranks of the ungodly just in time. If I were still gambling, I
believe I'd take some of those bets he speaks of. He won't last--in this
town. But I like his pluck--kind of. Only he's damn bad for business!"
Saying which, John Sherwood, late gambler but now sincerely believing
himself a sound and conservative business man, passed the sheet over to
From vague threats the situation developed rapidly to the definite and
personal. One Selover sent a challenge to King, which was refused. Selover
then announced his intention of killing King on sight. The _Bulletin_
Mr. Selover, it is said, carries a knife. We carry a pistol. We hope
neither will be required, but if this encounter cannot be avoided, why
will Mr. Selover insist on imperilling the lives of others? We pass
every afternoon, about half-past four to five o'clock, along Market
Street from Fourth to Fifth streets. The road is wide, and not so much
frequented as those streets farther in town. If we are to be shot or
cut to pieces, for heaven's sake let it be done there. Others will not
be injured, and in case we fall, our house is but a few hundred yards
beyond, and the cemetery not much farther.
These detailed attacks and bold defiances had the effect of greatly
angering those who were the specific objects of attention; of making very
uneasy the class to which these victims belonged; of focussing on public
matters a public sentiment that was just becoming conscious of itself
because of the pinch of hard times; and of rendering contemptuously
indignant all of "higher" society.
To this latter category Keith would undoubtedly have belonged--as did his
wife and practically all his friends--had it not been for his association
with Krafft. Through him the young lawyer came into intimate personal touch
with a large class of people who would otherwise have been remote from him.
He heard of their difficulties and problems at first hand, saw the actual
effect of abuses that, looked at from above, were abstract or academic.
Police brutality as a phrase carried little significance; police brutality
as a clubbing of Malachi Hogan, who was brought in with his skull crushed,
and whose blood stained Keith's new coat, meant something. Waste of public
funds, translated before his eyes into eviction for nonpayment of taxes,
took on a new significance. Keith saw plainly that a reform was needed. He
was not, on that account, in the least sympathetic with King's methods.
Like Judge Girvin, he felt them revolutionary and subversive. But he could
not share the contempt of his class; rather he respected the editor as a
sincere but mistaken man. When his name came up for discussion or bitter
vituperation, Keith was silent. He read the _Bulletin_ editorials; and
while he in no way endorsed their conclusions or recommendations, he could
not but acknowledge their general accuracy. Without his knowing it, he was
being educated. He came to realize the need for better administration by
the city's officers and a better enforcement of the laws. Very quietly,
deep down within himself, he made up his mind that in the Assistant
District Attorney's office, at least, the old order of things should cease.
One afternoon Keith walked down Kearney Street deep in discussion of an
important Federal case with his friend, Billy Richardson, the United States
Marshal. Although both just and an official, Richardson was popular with
all classes save those with whom his duty brought him into conflict. They
found their way deliberately blocked, and came out of the absorption of
their discussion to recognize before them Charles Cora, an Italian gambler
of considerable prominence and wealth. Cora was a small, dark man,
nervously built, dressed neatly and carefully in the height of gambler
fashion. He seemed to be terribly excited, and at once launched a stream of
oaths at Richardson.
"What's the matter with you, Charley?" asked the latter, as soon as he had
recovered from his surprise.
Cora, evidently too incoherent to speak, leaped at the marshal, his fist
drawn back. Keith seized him around the body, holding his arms to his
"Hold on; take it easy!" he panted. "What's up, anyway?"
Cora, struggling violently, gritted out:
"He knows damn well what's up."
"I'll swear I don't!" denied Richardson.
"Then what do you mean telling every one that my Belle insulted your wife
last night at the opera house?" demanded Cora, ceasing to struggle.
"Belle?" repeated Richardson equably. "I don't know what you're talking
about. Be reasonable. Explain yourself."
"Yes, I got it straight," insisted the Italian. "Your wife says it insults
her to sit next to my Belle, and you go everywhere telling it. What right
you got to do that? Answer me that!"
"Now look here," said Richardson. "I was with Jim Scott all last evening.
My wife wasn't with me. If you don't believe me, go ask Scotty."
Cora had apparently cooled off, so Keith released him. He shook his head,
grumbling, only half convinced. After a moment he moved away. The two men
watched him go, half vexed, half amused.
"He's crazy as a pup about that woman," observed Richardson.
"Who is she?" inquired Keith.
"Why, Belle--you know Belle, the one who keeps that, crib up your way."
"That woman!" marvelled Keith.
He spent the afternoon in court and in his office. About half-past six, on
his way home, he saw Cora and Richardson come out of the Blue Wing saloon
together. They were talking earnestly, and stopped in the square of light
from the window. Richardson was explaining, and Cora was listening
sullenly. As Keith passed them he heard, the marshal say, "Well, is it all
right?" and Cora reply, "Yes." Something caused him to look back after he
had gone a dozen yards. He saw Cora suddenly seize Richardson's collar with
his left hand, at the same time drawing a derringer with his right.
"What are you going to do?" cried Richardson loudly and steadily, without
straggling, "Don't shoot; I am unarmed!"
Without reply Cora fired into his breast. The marshal wilted, but with iron
strength Cora continued for several moments to hold up his victim by the
collar. Then he let the body drop, and moved away at a fast walk, the
derringer still in his right hand.
Keith ran to his friend, and with others carried him into a nearby drug
store. The sound of the shot almost immediately brought out a crowd. Keith,
bending over the body of the murdered man, could see them pressing about
the windows outside, their faces showing white from the lamps in the drug-
store window or fading into the darkness beyond. They crowded through the
doorway until driven out again by some of the cooler heads. Conjectures and
inquiries flew thick. All sorts of reports were current of the details, but
the crowd had the main facts--Cora had shot Richardson, Richardson was
dead, Cora had been taken to jail.
"Then he's safe!" they sneered savagely.
Men had been shot on the streets before, many men, some of them as well
known and liked as Richardson; but not after public sentiment had been
aroused as the _Bulletin_ had aroused it. The crowds continued to gather.
Several men made violent street-corner speeches. There was some talk of
lynching. A storm of yes and no burst forth when the question was put.
Bells rang. A great mob surged to the jail, were firmly met by a strong
armed guard, and fell back muttering.
"Who will be the next victim?" men asked. "What a farce!" cried some, in
deep disgust. "Why, the jailer is Cora's especial crony!" stated others,
who seemed to know. "If the jury is packed, hang the jury!" advised certain
far-seeing ones. A grim, quiet, black-bearded man expressed the
undercurrent of opinion: "Mark my words," said he, "if Charles Cora is left
for trial, he will be let loose on the community to assassinate his third
victim!" It seemed that Cora had been involved in a previous shooting
scrape. But to swing a mob to action there must be determined men at its
head, and this mob had no leaders. Sam Brannan started to say something in
his coarse, roaring voice, and was promptly arrested for inciting a riot.
Nobody cared enough seriously for the redoubtable Sam to object to this.
The situation was ticklish, but the police handled it tactfully for once,
opposing only a passive opposition, leaving the crowd to fritter its
energies in purposeless cursing, surging to and fro, and in harmless
Keith did not join the throngs on the streets. Having determined that
Richardson was dead, he accompanied the body home. He was deeply stirred,
not only by the circumstances of the murder, but also by the scene at which
he had to assist when the news must be broken to Mrs. Richardson. From the
house he went directly to King's residence, where he was told that the
editor had gone downtown. After considerable search and inquiry he at last
got sight of his man standing atop a wooden awning overlooking the Plaza in
front of the jail. King nodded to him as he climbed out of the second-story
window to take his position at the newspaper man's side.
The square was a wild sight, filled, packed with men, a crowd of men tossed
in constant motion. A mumbling growl came from them continuously, and
occasionally a shout. Many hands were upraised, and in some of them were
weapons. Opposite, the blank front of the jail.
King's eyes were shining with interest and a certain quiet exultation, but
he seemed not at all excited.
"Will they storm the jail?" asked Keith.
King shook his head.
"No, these people will do nothing. But they show the spirit of the time.
All it needs now is organization, cool, deliberate organization--to-
"That's just what I've hunted you out to talk about," said Keith earnestly.
"There is much talk of a Vigilance Committee. As you say, all it needs is
the call. That means lawlessness, bloodshed."
"Conditions at present are intolerable," said King briefly.
"I agree with you," replied Keith. King stared. "But in this case I assure
you the law will do its duty. It is an absolutely open and shut case.
Acquittal is impossible. Why, I myself was witness of the affair."
King looked skeptical.
"Hundreds of such cases have been acquitted, or the indictment quashed."
"But this is entirely different. In the first place, the case will come