"Yes, I heard it," said the other non-committally.
"I can't stand this any longer," Adrian exclaimed. "I'm going in there. I—I've got to know—"
He rose, determinedly, shaking off Spear's detaining arm. In the doorway stood Dr. Jones. Again came the tiny cry. "It's a boy," said the medico, and held out his hand.
But Adrian caught him by the shoulders. "My wife?" he asked. "How is she? Is there any—"
"Danger? No, it's over," said the doctor. "Sit down and calm yourself."
Adrian relaxed a trifle. Finally his set face softened; he laughed.
* * * * *
It was the evening of July 14, 1849. Stanley stood over the cradle of his son, looking worshipfully down at the tiny sleeping face. Inez Stanley, busied with the varied tasks of motherhood, came and stood for a moment beside him. She voiced that platitude of wives and mothers in their pride: "He looks just like you, Adrian."
Stanley put his hands upon her shoulders. "Got your mouth, your big eyes," he said, and kissed her.
They were wont to quarrel tenderly over this. But tonight Inez looked seriously up at her husband. Suddenly she hid her face upon his shoulder.
"If only—if only—" she whispered, "he wouldn't grow up. And we wouldn't grow old."
Stanley's fingers on her hair stroked gently. "Life is life, my dear," he said at last. "Let us not question the inexorable too deeply. Yesterday is gone, you know. Tomorrow never comes.... And here we are together in the best town in the world. With love, good prospects ... our little Francisco—"
"He will live to see a great city," said Inez, comforted. "He will help to make it." Her eyes were prophetic. The child stirred and hastily they withdrew, lowering the light so that his slumber might be undisturbed. A light tap sounded at the door and Adrian answered.
Spear and Brannan with Benito stood upon the threshold. The latter entered, kissed his sister and was shown the sleeping child. "How is Alice?" Inez asked.
"Well. And the best little wife in the world," Benito answered. His eyes glowed happily. "The tiny Francisco is growing like a weed. Only ten months old—"
"Nine months, two weeks and three days," said his mother, glibly. "Won't you all come in and see the baby?" she invited.
"No," Spear answered. "We must steal your husband for a' little while. There's business at the City Hall...."
"Adrian's become a prominent citizen, you know," he added at her look of pouting protest.
She brought her husband's hat. "Don't be long," she urged, and smiled a good-bye from the threshold. When he heard the door shut, Adrian turned on Brannan. "What's up?"
"Plenty," said the other meaningly. "The Hounds have broken out. They looted Little Chili about dark tonight and one of them was shot. They threaten to burn the foreign quarter. They're arming. There's trouble afoot."
"And what do you want of me?" Stanley questioned.
"Damn it! Wake up, man!" cried Spear. "A citizens' committee. We're going to enforce the law—if it takes a rope."
THE CHAOS OF '49
Inez and Alice were returning from church on Sunday, July 15 when they encountered a strange, unsabbatical procession; a company of grim and tight-lipped citizens marching, rifles over shoulder toward the Bay. At their head was William Spofford. Midway of the parade were a dozen rough-appearing fellows, manacled and guarded. Among these Inez recognized Sam Roberts, gaunt and bearded leader of the hoodlum band known as The Hounds or Regulars. From Little Chili, further to the north and west, rose clouds of smoke; now and then a leaping tongue of flame.
Presently Benito, musket at shoulder, came marching by and Inez plucked at his arm.
"Can't stop now," he told her hurriedly. "We're taking these rogues to the sloop Warren. They're to be tried for arson and assault in the foreign quarter."
"By the Eternal!" shouted a bystander enthusiastically. "We've got Law in San Francisco at last.... Hurrah for Bill Spofford and the Citizens' Committee."
"There's Adrian," cried Inez as the rearguard of the pageant passed. "Isn't it fine? Alice, aren't you proud?"
But Alice was a practical little body. "They'll be hungry when they come home," she averred. "Let us hurry back and get their dinner ready."
The affair of The Hounds was already past history when the gold-seekers, hunted from the heights by early snows, returned to San Francisco in great numbers. Sara Roberts and his evil band had been deported. Better government obtained but there were many other civic problems still unsolved. San Francisco, now a hectic, riotous metropolis of 25,000 inhabitants, was like a muddy Venice, for heavy rains had made its unpaved streets canals of oozy mud. At Clay and Kearny streets, in the heart of the business district, some wag had placed a placard reading:
THIS STREET IS IMPASSABLE NOT EVEN JACKASSABLE
In which there was both truth and poetry. Passersby who laughed at the inscription witnessed simultaneously the rescue of an almost-submerged donkey by means of an improvised derrick.
* * * * *
Benito was showing his friend David Broderick, a recent arrival from New York, some of San Francisco's sights. "Everything is being used to bridge the crossings," said the former laughingly ... "stuff that came from those deserted ships out in the bay. Their masts are like a forest—hundreds of them."
"You mean their crew deserted during the gold rush?" Broderick inquired.
"Yes, even the skippers and officers in many cases.... See, here is a cargo of sieves with which some poor misguided trader overwhelmed the market. They make a fair crossing, planted in the mud. And there are stepping stones of tobacco boxes—never been opened, mind you—barrels of tainted pork and beef. On Montgomery street is a row of cook stoves which make a fine sidewalk, though, sometimes the mud covers them."
"And what are those two brigs doing stranded in the mud?" asked Broderick.
"Oh, those are the Euphemia and Apollo. They use the first one for a jail. That's Geary's scheme. He's full of business. And the second's a tavern.... Let's go up to the new post-office. Alice is always eager for a letter from her folks in Massachusetts."
They made their way to the new wooden structure at Clay and Pike streets where several clerks were busily sorting the semi-weekly mail which had just arrived. Hundreds of people stood in long queues before each of the windows. "Get in line stranger," said a red-shirted man laughingly. "Only seventy-five ahead of us. I counted 'em.... Some have been in line since last night I'm told. They're up near the front and holding places for others ... getting $20 cash for their time."
Broderick and Benito decided not to wait. They made another journey round the town, watching Chinese builders erecting long rows of habitations that had come in sections from Cathay. Everywhere was hasty, feverish construction—flimsy houses going up like mushrooms over night to meet the needs of San Francisco's swiftly augmenting populace.
"It's like a house of cards," said Broderick, who had been a fireman in New York. "Lord help us if it ever starts to burn. Even our drinking water comes from Sausalito across the Bay."
RETRIEVING A BIRTHRIGHT
Benito Windham stole from his dwelling, closing the door softly after him so Alice, his wife, might not wake. A faint rose dawn colored the Contra Costa ridge. From a few of the huts and larger buildings which sprinkled San Francisco's hills and hollows so haphazardly, curls of blue white wood smoke rose into the windless air. Here and there some belated roisterer staggered toward his habitation. But otherwise all was still, quicscent. San Francisco slept.
It was the morning of December 24, 1849—the first Christmas eve following the gold rush. Windham, who had lain awake since midnight, pondered upon this and other things. Events had succeeded each other with such riotous activity of late that life seemed more like a dream than a reality. His turbulent months at the mines, his high preliminary hopes of fortune, their gradual waning to a slow despair; the advent of James Burthen and his daughter; then love, his partner's murder and the girl's abduction; his pursuit and illness. Alice's rescue and their marriage; his return to find the claim covered with snow; finally a clerical post in San Francisco.
A sudden distaste for the feverish, riotous town assailed him—a longing for the peace and beauty of those broad paternal acres he had lost upon the gaming table wrenched his heart.
He pictured Alice in the old rose patio, where his American father had wooed his Spanish mother.
Involuntarily his steps turned eastward. At Sacramento and Leidesdorff streets he left solid ground to tread a four-foot board above the water, to the theoretical line of Sansome street; thence south upon a similar foothold to the solid ground of Bush street, where an immense sand-*hill with a hollow in its middle, like a crater, struck across the path. Some called this depression Thieves Hollow, for in it deserting sailors, ticket-of-leave men from Botany Bay prison colony and all manner of human riff-raff consorted for nefarious intrigue.
Benito, mounting the slope, looked down at a welter of tents, shacks, deck houses and galleys of wrecked ships. He had expected their occupants to be asleep, for they were nighthawks who reversed man's usual order in the prosecution of nocturnal and ill-favored trades. He was astonished to note a general activity. At the portholes of dwellings retrieved from the wreck of the sea, unkempt bearded faces stared; smoke leaped from a dozen rickety, unstable chimneys, and in the open several groups of men and women plied frying pans and coffee pots over driftwood fires.
Benito observed them with a covert interest. A black-browed man with a shaggy beard and something leonine about him, seemed the master of the chief of this godless band. He moved among them, giving orders, and with two companions finally ascended to the top. Benito, concealing himself behind a scrub oak, watched them, animatedly conversing, as they descended and picked their way inland toward the Square. So swift their movements and so low their tones he could not make out the tenor of their discourse. He caught the words, "like tow," but that was all. Musingly, he went on.
Up the broad and muddy path to Market street, thence west again to Third, he made his way. Now south to Mission and once more west, a favored route for caballeros. Benito had never traveled it before afoot. But his horse had succumbed to the rigors of that frantic ride in pursuit of Alice and McTurpin several months ago. Mounts were a luxury now.
He skirted the edge of a lagoon that stretched from Sixth to Eighth streets and on the ascent beyond observed a tiny box-like habitation, brightly painted, ringed with flowers and crowned with an imposing flagpole from which floated the Star-Spangled Banner. It was a note of gay melody struck athwart the discordant monotony of soiled tent houses, tumble-down huts and oblong, flat-roofed buildings stretching their disorderly array along the road. Coming closer he saw the name, "Pipesville," printed on the door, and knew that this must be the "summer home," as it was called, of San Francisco's beloved minstrel, Stephen Massett, otherwise "Jeems Pipes of Pipesville," singer, player, essayist and creator of those wondrous one-man concerts dear to all the countryside.
"Jeems" himself appeared in the doorway to wave a greeting and Benito went on oddly cheered by the encounter. In front of the Mansion House, adjoining Mission Dolores, stood Bob Ridley, talking with his partner.
"You look warm, son," he remarked paternally to Windham, "let me mix you up a milk punch and you'll feel more like yourself. Where's your boss and whither are ye bound?"
"Died," Benito answered. "Going to my—to the ranch."
"Thought so," Ridley said. "I hear there's no one on it. Why not steal a march on that tin-horn gambler and scallawag. Rally up some friends and take possession. That's nine points of the law, my boy, and a half-dozen straight-shooting Americans is nine hundred more, now that Geary's alcalde and that weak-kneed psalm-singing Leavenworth's resigned under fire."
"You're sure—there's no one at the place?" Benito questioned.
"Pretty sure. But what's it matter? Everybody knows it's yours by rights. Wait," he cried, excitedly. "I'll get horses. Stuart and I will go along. We'll pick up six or seven bully boys along the way. Is it a go?"
"A go!" exclaimed Benito, his eyes ashine. "You—you're too good, Bob Ridley." He pressed the other's hand. "My wife," he mused, "among the roses in the patio! The old home, Dear God! Let it come true!"
An hour later ten men galloped through the gate of the Windham rancho. No one offered them resistance. It had the look of a place long abandoned. Dead leaves and litter everywhere. All of the animals had been driven off—sold, no doubt. The hacienda had been ransacked of its valuables. It was almost bare of furniture. The rose court, neglected, unkempt, brought back a surge of memories. A chimney had fallen; broken adobe bricks lay scattered on the grass.
But to Benito it spelled home. For him and for Alice. This should be his Christmas gift. Old Antonio, his former major-domo, lingered still in San Francisco. He would send him out this very day to set the place in order. Tomorrow he and Alice would ride—his brow clouded. He should have to borrow two horses. No matter. Tomorrow they would ride—
A startled exclamation from Bob Ridley roused him from his rhapsody.
"Benito, come here! Look! What the devil is that?"
From their eminence the town of San Francisco was plainly visible; tall, thin shafts of smoke rising straight and black from many chimneys; the blue bay shimmering in the morning sunshine; the curious fretwork shadows of that great flotilla of deserted ships. But there was something more; something startlingly unnatural; a great pillar of black vapor—beneath it a livid red thing that leaped and grew.
"Good God! The town's afire!" cried Benito.
FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!
Benito's first thought was of Alice. He had left her sleeping. Perhaps she had not yet awakened, for the morning was young. Adrian had gone to San Jose the previous afternoon. His wife, his sister and her child would be alone.
Benito sprang upon his horse; the others followed. In less than half an hour they crossed Market street and were galloping down Kearny toward the Square. At California street they were halted by a crowd, pushing, shouting, elbowing this way and that without apparent or concerted purpose. Above the human babel sounded a vicious crackle of burning wood like volleys of shots from small rifles. Red and yellow flames shot high and straight into the air. Now and then a gust of wind sent the licking fire demon earthward, and before its hot breath people fled in panic.
Benito flung his reins to a bystander. He was scarcely conscious of his movements; only that he was fighting for breath in a surging, suffocating press of equally excited human beings. From this he finally emerged, hatless, disheveled, into a small cleared space filled with flying sparks and stifling heat. Across it men rushed feverishly carrying pails of water. Dennison's Exchange on Kearny street, midway of the block facing Portsmouth Square, was a roaring furnace. Flame sprang like red, darting tongues from its windows and thrust impertinent fingers here and there through the sloping roof.
Somewhere—no one seemed to know precisely—a woman screamed, "My baby! Save my baby!" The sound died to a moan, was stilled. Benito, passing a bucket along the line, stared, white faced, at his neighbor. "What was that?" he asked.
"Quien sabe?" said the other, "hurry along with that pail. The roof's falling."
It was true. The shingle-covered space above the burning building stirred gently, undulating like some wind-ruffled pond. The mansard windows seemed to bow to the watchers, then slowly sink forward. With a roar, the whole roof sprang into fire, buckled, collapsed; the veranda toppled. Smoke poured from the eight mansard windows of the Parker House, next door. South of the Parker House were single-storied buildings, one of wood, another of adobe; the first was a restaurant; over its roof several foreign-looking men spread rugs and upon them poured a red liquid.
"It's wine," Bob Ridley said. "But they'll never save it. Booker's store is going, too. Looks like a clean sweep of the block."
Broderick's commanding figure could be seen rushing hither and thither. "No use," Benito heard him say to one of his lieutenants. "Water won't stop it. Not enough.... Is there any powder hereabouts?"
"Powder!" cried the other with a blanching face. "By the Eternal, yes! A store of it is just around the corner. Mustn't let the fire reach—"
Broderick cut him short. "Go and get it. You and two others. Blow up or pull down that building," he indicated a sprawling ramshackle structure on the corner.
"But it's mine," one of the fire-fighters wailed. "Cost me ten thousand dollars—"
Fiercely Broderick turned upon him. "It'll cost the town ten millions if you don't hurry," he bellowed. "You can't save it, anyhow. Do you want the whole place to burn?"
"All right, all right, Cap. Don't shoot," the other countered with a sudden laugh. "Come on, boys, follow me." Benito watched him and the others presently returning with three kegs. They dived into the building indicated. Presently, with the noise of a hundred cannon, the corner building burst apart. Sticks and bits of plaster flew everywhere. The crowd receded, panic-stricken.
"Good work!" cried the fire marshal.
It seemed, indeed, as though the flames were daunted. The two small structures were blazing now. The Parker House, reeling drunkenly, collapsed.
Unexpectedly a gust of wind sent fire from the ruins of Dennison's Exchange northward. It reached across the open space and flung a rain of sparks down Washington street toward Montgomery. Instantly there came an answering crackle, and exasperated fire-fighters rushed to meet the latest sortie of their enemy. Once more three men, keg laden, made their way through smoke and showering brands. Again the deafening report reverberated and the crowd fell back, alarmed.
Someone grasped Benito's arm and shook it violently. He turned and looked into the feverishly questioning eyes of Adrian Stanley.
"I've just returned," the other panted. "Tell me, is all well—with Inez? The women?"
"Don't know," said Benito, half bewildered. The woman's wail for a lost child leaped terrifyingly into his recollection. His hand went up as if to ward off something. "Don't know," he repeated. "Wasn't home when—fire started."
It came to him weirdly that he was talking like a drunken man; that Adrian eyed him with a sharp disfavor. "Where the devil were you, then?"
"At the ranch," he answered. Suddenly he laughed. It all seemed very funny. He had meant to give his wife a Christmas present; later he had ridden madly to her rescue, yet here he was passing buckets in a fire brigade. And Adrian, regarding him with suspicion, accusing him silently with his eyes.
"You take the pail," he cried. "You fight the fire." And while Stanley looked puzzledly after him, Benito charged through a circle of spectators up the hill. He did not know that his face was almost black; that his eyebrows and the little foreign moustache of which they had made fun at the mines was charred and grizzled. He knew only that Alice might be in danger. That the fire might have spread west as well as east and north.
As he sped up Washington street another loud explosion drummed against his ears. A shout followed it. Benito neither knew nor cared for its significance. Five minutes later he stumbled across his own doorsill, calling his wife's name. There was no answer. Frenziedly he shouted "Alice! Alice!" till at last a neighbor answered him.
"She and Mrs. Stanley and the baby went to Preacher Taylor's house. Is the fire out?"
"No," returned Benito. Once more he plunged down hill, seized a bucket and began the interminable passing of water. He looked about for Adrian but did not see him. He became a machine, dully, persistently, desperately performing certain ever-repeated tasks.
Hours seemed to pass. Then, of a sudden, something interrupted the accustomed trend. He held out his hands and no bucket met it. With a look of stupid surprise he stared at the man behind him. He continued to hold out his hand.
"Wake up," cried the other, and gave him a whack across the shoulders. "Wake up, Benito, man. The fire's out."
Robert Parker, whose hotel was a litter of smoking timbers, and Tom Maguire, owner of what once had been the Eldorado gambling house, were discussing their losses.
"Busted?" Parker asked.
"Cleaned!" Maguire answered.
"Goin' to rebuild?"
"Yep. And you?"
"Sartin. Sure. Soon as I can get the lumber and a loan."
"Put her there, pard."
Their hands met with a smack.
"That's the spirit of San Francisco," Ridley remarked. "Well we've learned a lesson. Next time we'll be ready for this sort of thing. Broderick's planning already for an engine company."
"I reckon," Adrian commented as he joined the group, "a vigilance committee is what we need even more."
To this Benito made no answer. Into his mind flashed a memory of the trio that had left Thieves' Hollow at daybreak.
POLITICS AND A WARNING
Benito Windham rose reluctantly and stretched himself. It was very comfortable in the living-room of the ranch house, where a fire crackled in the huge stone grate built by his grandfather's Indian artisans. Many of the valuable tapestries imported from Spain had been removed by McTurpin during his tenure, but even bare adobe walls were cheerful in the light of blazing logs, and rugs of native weave accorded well with the simple mission furniture. In a great chair that almost swallowed her sat Alice, gazing dreamily into the embers. Family portraits hung upon the wall, and one of these, stiff and haughty in the regimentals of a soldado de cuero, seemed to look down upon the domestic picture with a certain austere benignity. This was the painting of Francisco Garvez of hidalgo lineage, who had stood beside Ortega, the Pathfinder, when that honored scout of Portola had found the bay of San Francisco and the Golden Gate.
"Carissima, how he would have loved you, that old man!" Benito's tone was dreamy.
Alice Windham turned. "You are like him, Benito," she said fondly. "There is the same flash in your eye. Come, sit for awhile by the fire. It's so cosy when it storms."
Benito kissed her. "I would that I might, but today there is an election in the city," he reminded. "I must go to vote. Perhaps I can persuade the good Broderick to dine with us this evening; or Brannan—though he is so busy nowadays. Often I look about unconsciously for Nathan Spear. It seems impossible that he is dead."
"He was 47, but he seemed so young," commented Alice. She rose hastily. "You must be very careful, dear," she cautioned, with a swift anxiety, "of the cold and wet—and of the hoodlums. They tell me there are many. Every week one reads in the Alta that So-and-So was killed at the Eldorado or the Verandah. Never more than that. In my home in the East they would call it murder. There would be a great commotion; the assassin would be hanged."
"Ah, yes; but this is a new country," he said, a little lamely.
"Will there never be law in San Francisco?" Alice asked him, passionately. "I have not forgotten—how my father died."
Benito's face went suddenly white. "Nor I," he said, with an odd intensity; "there are several things ... that you may trust me ... to remember."
"You mean," she queried in alarm, "McTurpin?"
Benito's mood changed. "There, my dear." He put an arm about her shoulders soothingly. "Don't worry. I'll be careful; neither storm nor bullets shall harm me. I will promise you that."
* * * * *
Early as it was in the day's calendar—for San Francisco had no knack of rising with the sun—Benito found the town awake, intensely active when he picked his way along the edge of those dangerous bogs that passed for business streets. Several polling places had been established. Toward each of them, lines of citizens converged in patient single-file detachments that stretched usually around the corner and the length of another block. Official placards announced that all citizens of the United States were entitled to the ballot and beneath one of these, a wag had written with white chalk in a large and sprawling hand:
"No Chinese Coolies in Disguise Need Apply."
No one seemed to mind the rain, though a gale blew from the sea, causing a multitude of tents to sway and flap in dangerous fashion. Now and then a canvas habitation broke its moorings and went racing down the hill, pursued by a disheveled and irate occupant, indulging in the most violent profanity.
At Kearny and Sacramento streets Benito, approaching the voting station, was told to get in line by Charley Elleard, the town constable. Elleard rode his famous black pony. This pony was the pet of the town and had developed a sagacity nearly human. It was considered wondrous sport to give the little animal a "two-bit" piece, which it would gravely hold between its teeth and present to the nearest bootblack, placing its forefeet daintily upon the footrests for a "shine."
As he neared the polls in the slow succession of advancing voters, Benito was beset by a rabble of low-voiced, rough-dressed men, who thrust their favorite tickets into his hands and bade him vote as indicated, often in a threatening manner. Raucously they tried to cry each other down. "Here's for Geary and the good old council," one would shout. "Geary and his crowd forever."
"We've had the old one too long," a red-shirted six-footer bellowed. "Fresh blood for me. We want sidewalks and clean streets."
This provoked a chorus of "Aye! Aye! That's the ticket, pard," until a satirical voice exclaimed, "Clean streets and sidewalks! Gor a'mighty. He's dreamin' o' Heaven!"
A roar of laughter echoed round the town at this sally. It was repeated everywhere. The campaign slogan was hastily dropped.
At the polling desk Benito found himself behind a burly Kanaka sailor, dark as an African.
"I contest his vote," cried one of the judges. "If he's an American, I'm a Hottentot."
"Where were you born?" asked the challenging judge of election.
"New York," whispered a voice in the Kanaka's ear, and he repeated the word stammeringly. "Where was your father born?" came the second question, and again the word was repeated. "What part of New York?"
"New York, New York." The answer was parrot-like. Someone laughed.
"Ask him what part of the Empire State he hails from?" suggested another. The question was put in simpler form, but it proved too much for the Islander. He stammered, stuttered, waved his hand uncertainly toward the ocean. Perceiving that he was the butt of public jest, he broke out of the line and made off as fast as his long legs could transport him.
The man whose whispered promptings had proved unavailing, fell sullenly into the background, after venomous glance at the successful objector. Benito caught his eyes under the dripping crown of a wide-brimmed slouch hat. They seemed to him vaguely familiar. Almost instinctively his hand sought the pocket in which his derringer reposed. Then, with a laugh, he dismissed the matter. He had no quarrel with the fellow; that murderous look was aimed at Henry Mellus, not at him. So he cast his ballot and went out.
Opposite the Square he paused to note the progress of rehabilitation in the burned area. It was less than a fortnight since he had stood there feverishly passing buckets of water in a fight against the flames, but already most of the evidences of conflagration were hidden behind the framework of new buildings. The Eldorado announced a grand opening in the "near future"; Maguire's Jenny Lind Theater notified one in conspicuous letters, "We Will Soon Be Ready for Our Patrons, Bigger and Grander Than Ever."
Benito nodded to Robert Parker, whose hotel was rising, phoenix-like from its ashes.
"Things are coming along," he said with a gesture toward the buildings. "Have you seen anything of Dave Broderick?"
Parker shook the rain-drops from his hat. "Saw him going toward the Bella Union," he replied. "They say he's as good as elected. A fine State senator he'll make, too." Taking Benito's arm, he walked with him out of earshot of those nearby.
"Benito," his tone was grave. "They tell me you've resumed possession of your ranch."
"Yes," confirmed the younger. "Half a dozen of my old servants are there with Mrs. Windham and myself. I've bought a little stock on credit and all's going well."
For a moment Parker said nothing; then, almost in Benito's ear, he spoke a warning: "Do you know that McTurpin is back?"
ON THE TRAIL OF McTURPIN
Benito, in a mood of high excitement, strode uphill toward the Bella Union, pondering the significance of Parker's startling information.
So McTurpin had come back.
He had been about to ask for further details when one of the hurrying workmen called his informant away. After all it did not matter much just how or when the gambler had returned. They were sure to meet sooner or later. Once more Windham's hand unconsciously sought the pistol in his pocket. At the entrance of the Bella Union he halted, shook the rain from his hat, scraped the mud from his feet upon a pile of gunnysacks which served as doormats, and went into the brilliant room. Since the temporary closing of the Eldorado, this place had become the most elegant and crowded of the city's gaming palaces. A mahogany bar extended the length of the building; huge hanging lamps surrounded by ornate clusters of prisms lent an air of jeweled splendor which the large mirrors and pyramids of polished glasses back of the counter enhanced. On a platform at the rear were several Mexican musicians in rich native costumes twanging gaily upon guitars and mandolins. Now and then one of them sang, or a Spanish dancer pirouetted, clicking her castanets and casting languishing glances at the ring of auditors about her. These performers were invariably showered with coins. Tables of all sizes filled the center of the room from the long roulette board to the little round ones where drinks were served. Faro, monte, roulette, rouge et noir, vingt-un, chuck-a-luck and poker: each found its disciples; now and then a man went quietly out and another took his place; there was nothing to indicate that he had lost perhaps thousands of dollars, the "clean-up" of a summer of hardships at the mines. A bushy bearded miner boasted that he had won $40,000 and lost it again in an hour and a half. Henry Mellus offered him work as a teamster and the other accepted.
"Easy come, easy go," he commented philosophically and, lighting his pipe from one of the sticks of burning punk placed at intervals along the bar, he went out.
In an out-of-the-way corner, where the evening's noise and activity ebbed and flowed a little more remotely, Benito discovered Broderick chewing an unlighted cigar and discussing the probabilities of election with John Geary. They hailed him cordially, but in a little while Geary drifted off to learn further news of the polls.
"And how is the charming Mrs. Windham?" asked Broderick.
"Well and happy, thank you," said Benito. "She loves the old place. Cannot you dine with us there tonight?"
"With real pleasure," Broderick returned. "In this raw, boisterous place a chance to enjoy a bit of home life, to talk with a high-bred woman is more precious than gold."
Benito bowed. "It is not often that we have a Senator for a guest," he returned, smiling.
Broderick placed a hand upon his shoulder almost paternally. "I hope that is prophetic, Benito," he said. "I'm strangely serious about it. This town has taken hold of me—your San Francisco."
They turned to greet Sam Brannan, now a candidate for the ayuntamiento or town council. "How goes it, Sam?" asked Broderick.
"Well enough," responded Brannan. He looked tired, irritated. "There's been a conspiracy against us by the rowdy element, but I think we've beaten them now."
Broderick's brow clouded. "We need a better government; a more effective system of police, Sam," he said, striking his first against the table.
"What we need," said Brannan, "is a citizens' society of public safety; a committee of vigilance. And, mark my word, we're going to have 'em. There's more than one who suspects the town was set afire last December."
"But," said Broderick, "mob rule is dangerous. The constituted authorities must command. They are the ones to uphold the law."
"But what if they don't?" Brannan's aggressive chin was thrust forward. "What then?"
"They must be made to; but authority should not be overthrown. That's revolution."
"And where, may I ask, would human liberty be today if there'd never been a revolution?" Brannan countered.
Benito left them. He had no stomach for such argument, though he was to hear much more of it in years to come. Suddenly he recalled the man who had tried to coach the Kanaka; who had glared so murderously at Mellus. Those eyes had been familiar; something about them had made him grip his pistol, an impulse at which afterward he had laughed. But now he knew the reason for that half-involuntary action. Despite the beard and mustache covering the lower portion of his face completely; despite the low-pulled hat, the disguising ulster, he knew the man.
The hot Spanish temper which he had never entirely mastered, flamed like a scorching blast across Benito's mind. He saw again McTurpin smiling as he won by fraud the stake at cards which he had laid against Benito's ranch; he seemed to hear again the gambler's sneering laugh as he, his father and Adrian had been ambushed at the entrance of his home; in his recollection burned the fellow's insult to his sister; the abduction of Alice, his wife; the murder of his partner. He was certain that McTurpin had somehow been at the bottom of it. Swiftly he was lost to all reason. He took the weapon from his pocket, examined it carefully to make certain that the caps were unimpaired by moisture. Then he set forth.
At the polling station he made casual inquiries, but the ballot-box stuffer for some time had not been seen.
"Charley Elleard ran him off, I think," said Frank Ward, laughing. "He'd have voted Chinamen and Indians if he'd had his way. But if you're looking for the rascal try the gambling house at Long Wharf and Montgomery street; that's where his kind hang out."
Later in the spring of 1850 Montgomery street was graded. Now it was a sloping streak of mud, the western side of which was several feet above the other. Where Long Wharf, which was to be cut through and called Commercial street, intersected, or rather bisected Montgomery, stood a large building with a high, broad roof. Its eaves projected over a row of benches, and here, sheltered somewhat from the rain, a group of Mexicans and Chilenos lounged in picturesque native costumes, smoking cigarettes. Through the door came a rollicking melody—sailor tunes played by skillful performers—and a hum of converse punctuated by the click of chips and coin. Benito entered. The room was blue with cigarette smoke, its score of tables glimpsed as through a fog. Sawdust covered the floor and men of all nationalities mingled quietly enough at play of every kind. A stream of men came and went to and from the gaming boards and bar.
Benito ordered a drink, and surveyed the room searchingly. The man he sought was not in evidence. "Is McTurpin here?" he asked the bartender.
If that worthy heard, he made no answer; but a slight, agile man with sly eyes looked up from a nearby table, "What d'ye want of him, stranger?"
An arrogant retort sprang to Benito's lips, but he checked it. He bent toward the questioner confidentially. "I've news for Alec," he whispered; "news he ought to know—and quickly."
THE SQUATTER CONSPIRACY
Instantly the slight man rose. He had narrow eyes, shrewd and calculating and the sinuous motions of a contortionist. Linking his arm with Benito's, he smiled, disclosing small, discolored teeth. There was something ratlike about him, infinitely repellant. "Come, I'll tyke ye to 'im," he volunteered.
But this did not suit Benito's purpose. "I must go alone," he said emphatically.
The other eyed him with suspicion. "Then find him alone," he countered, sullenly. But a moment later he was plucking at Benito's elbow. "What's it all abaout, this 'ere news? Cawn't ye tell a fellow? Give me an inklin'; trust me and I'll trust you; that's business."
Benito hesitated. "It's about the ranch," he returned at a venture.
"Ow, the rawnch. Well, you needn't 'ave been so bloody sly about it. Alec isn't worried much abaout the rawnch. 'E's bigger fish to fry. But you can see 'im if you wants. 'E's at the Broken Bottle Tavern up in Sydney Town."
They had a drink together; then Benito parted from his informant, ruminating over what the little man, so palpably a "Sydney Duck," had told him.
Benito surveyed his reflection in a glass. In his rain-bedraggled attire he might pass for one of the Sydney Ducks himself. His boots were splashed with mud, his scrape wrinkled and formless. He pulled the dripping hat into a disheveled slouch, low down on his forehead. McTurpin had not seen him with a beard, had failed to recognize him at the polling station. Benito decided to risk it.
* * * * *
One of the largest and most pretentious of Sydney Town's "pubs," or taverns, was The Broken Bottle, kept by a former English pugilist from Botany Bay. He was known as Bruiser Jake, could neither read nor write and was shaped very much like a log, his neck being as large as his head. It was said that the Australian authorities had tried to hang him several times, but failed because the noose slipped over his chin and ears, refusing its usual function. So he finally had been given a "ticket of leave" and had come to California. Curiously enough the Bruiser never drank. He prided himself on his sobriety and the great strength of his massive hands in which he could squeeze the water out of a potato. Ordinarily he was not quarrelsome, though he fought like a tiger when aroused.
Benito found this worthy behind his bar and asked for a drink of English ale, a passable quality of which was served in the original imported bottles at most public houses.
The Bruiser watched him furtively with little piglike eyes. "And who might ye be, stranger?" he asked when Benito set down his glass.
"'Awkins—that's as good a nyme as another," said Benito, essaying the cockney speech. "And what ye daon't know won't 'urt you, my friend." He threw down a silver piece, took the bottle and glass with him and sat down at a table near the corner. Hard by he had glimpsed the familiar broad back of McTurpin.
At first the half-whispered converse of the trio at the adjoining table was incomprehensible to his ears, but after a time he caught words, phrases, sentences.
First the word "squatters" reached him, several times repeated; then, "at Rincon." Finally, "the best lots in the city can be held."
After that for a time he lost the thread of the talk. An argument arose, and, in its course, McTurpin's voice was raised incautiously.
"Who's to stop us?" he contended, passionately. "The old alcalde grants aren't worth the paper they're written on. Haven't squatters dispossessed the Spaniards all over California? Didn't they take the San Antonio ranch in Oakland, defend it with cannon, and put old Peralta in jail for bothering them with his claims of ownership?" He laughed. "It's a rare joke, this land business. If we squat on the Rincon, who'll dispossess us? Answer me that."
"But it's government ground. It's leased to Ted Shillaber," one objected.
"To the devil with Shillaber," McTurpin answered. "He won't know we're going to squat till we've put up our houses. And when he comes we'll quote him squatter law. He can buy us off if he likes. It'll cost him uncommon high. He can fight us in the courts and we'll show him squatter justice. We've our friends in the courts, let me tell you."
"Aye, mayhap," returned a lanky, red-haired sailor, "but there's them o' us, like you and me and Andy, yonder, what isn't hankerin' for courts."
McTurpin leaned forward, and his voice diminished so that Benito could scarcely hear his words. "Don't be afraid," he said. "I've got my men selected for the Rincon business, a full dozen of 'em ... all with clean records, mind ye. Nothing against them." He pounded the table with his fist by way of emphasis. "And when we've done old Shillaber, we'll come in closer. We'll claim lots that are worth fifty thou—" He paused. His tone sank even lower, so that some of his sentence was lost.
It was at this juncture that Benito sneezed. He had felt the approach of that betraying reflex for some minutes, but had stifled it. Those who have tried this under similar circumstances know the futility of such attempts; know the accumulated fury of sound with which at length bursts forth the startling, terrible and irrepressible
McTurpin and his two companions wheeled like lightning. "Who's this?" the gambler snarled. He took a step toward the Bruiser. "Who the devil let him in to spy on us?"
"Aw, stow it, Alec!" said the former fighter. "'E's no spy. 'E's one o' our lads from the bay. Hi can tell by 'is haccent."
Benito rose. His hand crept toward the derringer, but McTurpin was before him. "Don't try that, blast you!" he commanded. "Now, my friend, let's have a look at you.... By the Eternal! It's young Windham!"
"The cove you don hout o' his rawnch?" asked the Bruiser, curiously.
"Shut up, you fool!" roared the gambler. His face was white with fury. "What are you doing here?" he asked Benito.
"Getting some points on—er—land holding," said Windham. He was perfectly calm. Several times this man had overawed, outwitted, beaten him. Now, though he was in the enemy's country, surrounded by cutthroats and thieves, he felt suddenly the master of the situation. Perhaps it was McTurpin's dismay, perhaps the spur of his own danger. He knew that there was only one escape, and that through playing on McTurpin's anger. "A most ingenious scheme, but it'll fail you!"
"And why'll it fail, my young jackanapes?" the gambler blazed at him. "Do you reckon I'll let you go to give the alarm?"
It was then Benito threw his bombshell. It was but a shrewd guess. Yet it worked amazingly. "Your plan will fail," he said with slow distinctness, "because Sam Brennan and Alcalde Geary know you set the town afire. Because they're going to hang you."
Rage and terror mingled in McTurpin's face. Speechless, paralyzing wrath that held him open-mouthed a moment. In that moment Windham acted quickly. He hurled the bottle, still half full of ale, at his antagonist, missed him by the fraction of an inch and sent the missile caroming against the Bruiser's ear, thence down among a pyramid of glasses. There was a shivering tinkle; then the roar as of a maddened bull. The Bruiser charged. Windham shot twice into the air and fled. He heard a rending crash behind him, a voice that cried aloud in mortal pain, a shot. Then, silence.
On the morning of February 28, 1850, Theodore Shillaber, with a number of friends, made a visit to the former's leased land on the Rincon, later known as Rincon Hill. Here, on the old government reserve, whose guns had once flanked Yerba Buena Cove, Shillaber had secured a lease on a commanding site which he planned to convert into a fashionable residence section. What was his surprise, then, to find the scenic promontory covered with innumerable rickety and squalid huts. A tall and muscular young fellow with open-throated shirt and stalwart, hirsute chest, swaggered toward him, fingering rather carelessly, it seemed to Shillaber, the musket he held.
"Lookin' for somebody, stranger?" he inquired, meaningly.
Shillaber, somewhat taken aback, inquired by what right the members of this colony held possession.
"Squatter's rights," returned the large youth, calmly, and spat uncomfortably near to Shillaber's polished boots.
"And what are squatter's rights, may I ask?" said Shillaber, striving to control his rising temper.
The youth tapped his rifle barrel. "Anyone that tries to dispossess us'll soon find out," he returned gruffly, and, turning his back on the visitors, he strode back toward his cabin.
"Wait," called Shillaber, red with wrath, "I notify you now, in the presence of witnesses that if you and all your scurvy crew are not gone bag and baggage within twentyfour hours, I'll have the authorities dispossess you and throw you into jail for trespassing."
The large young man halted and presented a grinning face to his threatener. He did not deign to reply, but, as though he had given a signal, shrill cackles of laughter broke out in a dozen places.
Shillaber, who was a choleric man, shook his fist at them. He was too angry for speech.
Shillaber had more than his peck of trouble with the Sydney Ducks that roosted on his land. He sent the town authorities to dispossess them, but without result. There were too many squatters and too few police. Next he sent an agent to collect rents, but the man returned with a sore head and bruised body, minus coin. Shillaber was on the verge of insanity. He appealed to everyone from the prefect to the governor. In Sydney Town his antics were the sport of a gay and homogeneous population and at the public houses one might hear the flouted landlord rave through the impersonations of half a dozen clever mimics. At The Broken Bottle a new boniface held forth. Bruiser Jake had mysteriously disappeared on the evening of election. And with him had vanished Alec McTurpin, though a sly-eyed little man now and then brought messages from the absent leader.
In the end Shillaber triumphed, for he persuaded Captain Keyes, commander at the Presidio, that the squatters were defying Federal law. Thus, one evening, a squad of cavalry descended upon the Rincon squatters, scattering them like chaff and demolishing their flimsy habitations in the twinkling of an eye. But this did not end squatterism. Some of the evicted took up claims on lots closer in. A woman's house was burned and she, herself, was driven off. Another woman was shot while defending her husband's home during his absence.
Meanwhile, San Francisco's streets had been graded and planked. The old City Hall, proving inadequate, was succeeded by a converted hotel. The Graham House, a four-story wooden affair of many balconies, at Kearny and Pacific streets, was now the seat of local government.
For it the council paid the extraordinary sum of $150,000, thereby provoking a storm of newspaper discussion. Three destructive fires had ravaged through the cloth and paper districts, and on their ashes more substantial structures stood.
There was neither law nor order worthy of the name. Only feverish activity. A newsboy who peddled Altas on the streets made $40,000 from his operations; another vendor of the Sacramento Union, boasted $30,000 for his pains. A washerwoman left her hut on the lagoon and built a "mansion." Laundering, enhanced by real estate investments, had given her a fortune of $100,000.
Social strata were not yet established. Caste was practically unknown. Former convicts married, settled down, became respected citizens. Carpenters, bartenders, laborers, mechanics from the East and Middle West, became bankers, Senators, judges, merchant princes and promoters.
White linen replaced red flannel, bowie knives and revolvers were sedately hidden beneath frock coats, the vicuna hat was a substitute for slouch and sombrero.
But, under it all, the fierce, restless heart of San Francisco beat on unchanged. In it stirred the daring, the lawless adventure, the feverish ambition and the hair-trigger pride of argonauts from many lands. And in it burned the deviltry, brutality, licentiousness and greed of criminal elements freed from the curb of legal discipline.
David Broderick discussed it frequently with Alice Windham. He had fallen into a habit of coming to the ranch when wearied by affairs of state. He was a silent, brooding man, robbed somehow of his national heritage, a sense of humor, for he had Irish blood. He was a man of fire, implacable as an enemy, inalienable as a friend. And to Alice, as she sat embroidering or knitting before the fire, he told many of his dreams, his plans. She would nod her head sagely, giving him her eyes now and then—eyes that were clear and calm with understanding.
Thus Alice came to know what boded for the town of San Francisco. "Benito," she said one night, when Broderick had gone, "Benito, my dearest, will you let me stir you—even if it wounds?" She came up behind him quickly; put her arms about his neck and leaned her golden head against his own. "We are sitting here too quietly ... while life goes by," her tone was wistful. "You, especially, Benito. Outside teems the world; the gorgeous, vibrant world of which our David speaks."
"What do you want me to do?" he asked, stirring restlessly, "go into business? Make money—like Adrian?"
"No, no," she nestled closer. "It isn't money that I crave. We are happy here. But"—she looked up at the portrait of Francisco Garvez, and Benito followed her glance. "What would he have you do?"
"I promised him in thought," her husband said, "that I would help to build the city he loved. It was a prophecy," his tone grew dreamy, "a prophecy that he and his—the Garvez blood—should always stir in San Francisco's heart." Swiftly he rose and, standing very straight before the picture, raised his right hand to salute. "You are right," he said. "He would have wanted me to be a soldier."
But Alice shook her head. "The conquest is over," she told him. "San Francisco needs no gun nor saber now. In our courts and legislatures lie the future battlegrounds for justice. You must study law, Benito.... I want"—quick color tinged her face—"I want my—son to have a father who—"
"Alice!" cried Benito. But she fled from him. The door of her bedroom closed behind her. But it opened again very softly—"who makes his country's laws," she finished, fervently.
THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
About 8 o'clock on the evening of February 19, 1851, two men entered the store of C.J. Jansen & Co., a general merchandise shop on Montgomery street. The taller and older presented a striking figure. He was of such height that, possibly from entering many low doorways, he had acquired a slight stoop. His beard was long and dark, his hair falling to the collar, was a rich and wavy brown. He had striking eyes, an aquiline nose and walked with a long, measured stride. Charles Jansen, alone in the store, noted these characteristics half unconsciously and paid little attention to the smaller man who lurked behind his companion in the shadows.
"Show me some blankets," said the tall man peremptorily. Jansen did not like his tone, nor his looks for that matter, but he turned toward a shelf where comforters, sheets and blankets were piled in orderly array. As he did so he heard a quick step behind him; the universe seemed to split asunder in a flash of countless stars. And then the world turned black.
Hours afterward his partner found him prone behind the counter, a great bleeding cut on his head. The safe stood open and a hasty examination revealed the loss of $2,000 in gold dust and coin. Jansen was revived with difficulty and, after a period of delirium, described what had occurred. The next morning's Alta published a sensational account of the affair, describing Jansen's assailant and stating that the victim's recovery was uncertain.
As Adrian, Benito and Samuel Brannan passed the new city hall on the morning of February 22, they noticed that a crowd was gathering. People seemed to be running from all directions. Newsboys with huge armfuls of morning papers, thrust them in the faces of pedestrians, crying, "Extra! Extra! Assassins of Jansen caught." Adrian tossed the nearest lad a two-bit piece and grasped the outstretched sheet. It related in heavy blackfaced type the arrest of "two scoundrelly assassins," one of whom, James Stuart, a notorious "Sydney Duck," was wanted in Auburn for the murder of Sheriff Moore. This was the man identified by Jansen. He claimed mistaken identity, however, insisting that his name was Thomas Berdue.
"They'll let him go on that ridiculous plea, no doubt," remarked Brannan, wrathfully. "There are always a dozen alibis and false witnesses for these gallows-birds. It's time the people were doing something."
"It looks very much as though we were doing something," said Benito, with a glance at the gathering crowd.
There were shouts of "Lynch them! Bring them out and hang them to a tree!" Someone thrust a handbill toward Benito, who grasped it mechanically. It read:
CITIZENS OF SAN FRANCISCO
The series of murders and robberies that have been committed in the city seems to leave us entirely in a state of anarchy. Law, it appears, is but a nonentity to be sneered at; redress can be had for aggression but through the never-failing remedy so admirably laid down in the Code of Judge Lynch.
All those who would rid our city of its robbers and murderers will assemble on Sunday at 2 o'clock on the Plaza.
"This means business," commented Adrian grimly. "It may mean worse unless their temper cools. I've heard this Stuart has a double. They should give him time—"
"Bosh!" cried Brannan, "they should string him up immediately." He waved the handbill aloft. "Hey, boys," he called out loudly, "let us go and take them. Let us have a little justice in this town."
"Aye, aye," cried a score of voices. Instantly a hundred men rushed up the stairs and pushed aside policemen stationed at the doors. They streamed inward, hundreds more pushing from the rear until the court room was reached. There they halted suddenly. Angry shouts broke from the rear. "What's wrong ahead? Seize the rascals. Bring them out!"
But the front rank of that invading army paused for an excellent reason. They faced a row of bayonets with determined faces behind them. Sheriff Hayes had sensed the brewing troubles and had brought the Washington Guards quietly in at a rear entrance.
So the crowd fell back and the first mob rush was baffled. Outside the people still talked angrily. At least a thousand thronged the court house, surrounding it with the determined and angry purpose of letting no one escape. Mayor Geary made his way with difficulty through the press and urged them to disperse. He assured them that the law would take its proper course and that there was no danger of the prisoners' release or escape. They listened to him respectfully but very few left their posts. Here and there speakers addressed the multitude.
The crowd, the first fever abated, had resolved itself into a semi-parliamentary body. But no real leader had arisen. And so it arrived at nothing save the appointment of a committee to confer with the authorities and insure the proper guarding of the prisoners. Brannan was one of these and Benito another.
"Windham's getting to be a well-known citizen," said a bystander to Adrian, "I hear he's studying law with Hall McAllister. Used to be a dreamy sort of chap. He's waking up."
"Yes, his wife is at the bottom of it," Stanley answered.
Sunday morning 8,000 people surrounded the courthouse. Less turbulent than on the previous day, their purpose was more grimly certain.
Mayor Geary's impressive figure appeared on the balcony of the court house. He held out a hand for silence and amid the hush that followed, spoke with brevity and to the point.
"The people's will is final," he conceded, "but this very fact entails responsibility, noblesse oblige! What we want is justice, gentlemen. Now, I'll tell you how to make it sure. Appoint a jury of twelve men from among yourselves. Let them sit at the trial with the presiding judge. Their judgment shall be final. I pledge you my word for that."
He ceased and again the crowd began murmuring. A tall, smooth-shaven youth began to talk with calm distinctness.
There was about him the aspect of command. People ceased their talk to listen. "I move you, gentlemen," he shouted, "that a committee of twelve men be appointed from amongst us to retire and consider this situation calmly. They shall then report and if their findings are approved, they shall be law."
"Good! Good!" came a chorus of voices. "Hurray for Bill Coleman. Make him chairman."
Coleman bowed. "I thank you, gentlemen," he said, then crisply, like so many whip-cracks, he called the names of eleven men. One by one they answered and the crowd made way for them. Silently and in a body they departed.
"There's a leader for you," exclaimed Adrian to his brother-in-law. Benito nodded, eyes ashine with admiration. Presently there was a stir among the crowd. The jury was returning. "Well, gentlemen," the mayor raised his voice, "what is the verdict?"
Coleman answered: "We recommend that the prisoners be tried by the people. If the legal courts wish to aid they're invited. Otherwise we shall appoint a prosecutor and attorney for the prisoners. The trial will take place this afternoon."
"Hurray! Hurray!" the people shouted. The cheers were deafening.
THE PEOPLE'S JURY
Benito, as he elbowed his way through a crowd which ringed the city hall that afternoon, was impressed by the terrific tight-lipped determination of those faces all about him. It was as though San Francisco had but one thought, one straight, relentless purpose—the punishment of crime by Mosaic law. The prisoners in the county jail appeared to sense this wave of retributive hatred, for they paced their cells like caged beasts.
It was truly a case of "The People vs. Stuart (alias Berdue) and Windred," charged with robbery and assault. Coleman and his Committee of Twelve were in absolute charge. They selected as judges, three popular and trusted citizens, J.R. Spence, H.R. Bowie and C.L. Ross. W.A. Jones was named the judge's clerk and J.E. Townes the whilom sheriff.
While the jury was impaneling, Brannan spoke to Benito: "Twelve good men and true; the phrase means something here. Lord, if we could have such jurymen as these in all our American courts."
Benito nodded. "They've appointed Bill Coleman as public prosecutor; that's rather a joke on Bill."
Judge Spence, who sat between his two colleagues, presiding on the bench, now spoke:
"I appoint Judge Shattuck and—er—Hall McAllister as counsel for the defendants."
There was a murmur of interest. Judge Shattuck, dignified, a trifle ponderous, came forward, spectacles in hand. He put them on, surveyed his clients with distaste, and took his place composedly at the table. Hall McAllister, dapper, young and something of a dandy, advanced with less assurance. He would have preferred the other side of the case, for he did not like running counter to the people.
Amid a stir the prisoners were led forward to the dock. Judge Spence, looking down at them over his spectacles, read the charges. "Are you guilty or not guilty?" he asked.
Windred, the younger, with a frightened glance about the court room, murmured almost inaudibly, "Not guilty." The other, in a deep and penetrating voice, began a sort of speech. It was incoherent, agonized. Benito thought it held a semblance of sincerity.
"Always, your honor," he declared, "I am mistaken for that scoundrel; that Stuart.... I am a decent man ... but what is the use? I say it's terrible...."
"Judge" Spence removed his eyeglasses and wiped them nervously; "does anyone in the courtroom recognize this man as Thomas Berdue?"
There was silence. Then a hand rose. "I do," said the voice of a waterfront merchant. "I've done business with him under that name."
Immediately there was an uproar. "A confederate," cried voices. "Put him out." A woman's voice in the background shrieked out shrilly, "Hang him, too!"
McAllister rose. "There must be order here," he said, commandingly and the tumult subsided. McAllister addressed Berdue's sponsor. "Can you bring anyone else to corroborate your testimony?"
The merchant, red and angry, cried: "It's nothing to me; hang him and be damned—if you don't want the truth. I'm not looking for trouble." He turned away but the prisoner called to him piteously. "Don't desert me. Find Jones or Murphy down at the long wharf. They'll identify me.... Hurry! Hurry! ... or they'll string me up!"
"All right," agreed the other reluctantly. He left the court room and Judge Shattuck moved a postponement of the case.
"Your honor," William Coleman now addressed the court, "this is no ordinary trial. Ten thousand people are around this courthouse. They are there because the public patience with legal decorum is exhausted; however regular and reasonable my colleague's plea might be in ordinary circumstances, I warn you that to grant it will provoke disorder."
Judge Shattuck, startled, glanced out of the window and conferred with Hall McAllister.
"I withdraw my petition," he said hurriedly. The case went on.
Witnesses who were present when the prisoners were identified by Jansen gave their testimony. There was little cross-examination, though McAllister established Jansen's incomplete recovery of his mental faculties when the men were brought before him. Coleman pointed out the striking appearance of the older prisoner; there was little chance to err he claimed in such a case. The record of James Stuart was then dwelt upon; a history black with evil doing, red with blood. The jury retired with the sinister determined faces of men who have made up their minds.
Meanwhile, outside, the crowd stood waiting, none too patiently. Now and then a messenger came to the balcony and shouted out the latest aspect of the drama being enacted inside. The word was caught up by the first auditor, passed along to right and left until the whole throng knew and speculated on each bit of information.
Adrian, caught in the outer eddies of that human maelstrom, found himself beside Juana Briones. "The jury's out," she told him. "Jury's out!" the word swept onward. Then there came a long and silent wait. Once again the messenger appeared. "Still out," he bellowed, "having trouble." "What's the matter with them?" a score of voices shouted. Presently the messenger returned. His face was angry, almost apoplectic. One could see that he was having difficulty with articulation. He waved his hands in a gesture of impotent wrath. At last he found his voice and shouted, "Disagreed. The jury's disagreed."
An uproar followed. "Hang the jury!" cried an irate voice. A rush was made for the entrance. But two hundred armed, determined men opposed the onslaught. The very magnitude of the human press defeated its own ends. Men cried aloud that they were being crushed. Women screamed.
Soon or late the defenders must have fallen. But now a strange diversion occurred. On the balcony appeared General Baker, noted as the city's greatest orator. In his rich, sonorous tones, he began a political speech. It rang even above the excited shouts of the mob. Instantly there was a pause, an almost imperceptible let-down of the tension. Those who could not see asked eagerly of others, "What's the matter now? Who's talking?"
"It's Ed Baker making a speech."
Someone laughed. A voice roared. "Rah for Ed Baker." Others took it up.
Impulsive, variable as the wind, San Francisco found a new adventure. It listened spellbound to golden eloquence, extolling the virtues of a favored candidate. Meanwhile Acting Sheriff Townes rushed his prisoners to the county jail without anyone so much as noticing their departure.
Presently three men came hurrying up and with difficulty made their way into the court room.
"Good God! Are we too late?" the leader of the trio asked, excitedly. He was the waterfront merchant who had recognized Berdue.
"Too late for the trial," returned Coleman; "it's over; the jury's dismissed. Disagreed."
"And what are they doing outside?" cried the other, "are they hanging the prisoners?"
"No, the prisoners are safe," returned Coleman, "though they had a close enough shave, I'll admit." He laid a hand upon Benito's shoulder and there came a twinkle to his eyes. "Our young friend here had an inspiration—better than a hundred muskets. He sent Ed Baker out to charm them with his tongue."
It was June on the rancho Windham. Roses and honeysuckle climbed the pillars and lattices of the patio; lupin and golden poppies dotted the hillsides. Cloud-plumes waved across the faultless azure of a California summer sky and distant to the north and east, a million spangled flecks of sunlight danced upon the bay.
David Broderick sat on a rustic bench, his eyes on Alice Windham. He thought, with a vague stirring of unrecognized emotion that she seemed the spirit of womanhood in the body of a fay.
"A flower for your thoughts," she paraphrased and tossed him a rose. Instinctively he pressed it to his lips. He saw her color rise and turned away. For a moment neither spoke.
"My thoughts," he said at length, "have been of evil men and trickery and ambition. I realize that, always, when I come here—when I see you, Alice Windham. For a little time I am uplifted. Then I go back to my devious toiling in the dark."
A shadow crossed her eyes, but a smile quickly chased it away. "You are a fine man, David Broderick," she said, "brave and wonderful and strong. Why do you stoop to—"
"To petty politics?" his answering smile was rueful. "Because I must—to gain my ends. To climb a hill-top often one must go into a valley. That is life."
"No, that is sophistry," her clear, straight glance was on him searchingly. "You tell me that a statesman must be first a politician; that a politician must consort with rowdies, ballot-box stuffers, gamblers—even thieves. David Broderick, you're wrong. Women have their intuitions which are often truer than men's logic." She leaned forward, laid a hand half shyly on his arm. "I know this much, my friend: As surely as you climb your ladder with the help of evil forces, just so surely will they pull you down."
It was thus that Benito came upon them. "Scolding Dave again?" He questioned merrily, "What has our Lieutenant-Governor been doing now?"
"Consorting with rowdies, gamblers, ballot-box stuffers—not to mention thieves, 'twould seem," said Broderick with a forced laugh. Alice Windham's eyes looked hurt. "He has accused himself," she said with haste.
"You're always your own worst critic, Dave," Benito said. "I want to tell you something: The Vigilance Committee forms this afternoon."
The other's eyes flashed. "What is that to me?" he asked, with some asperity.
"Only this," retorted Windham. "The committee means business; it's going to clean up the town—" Broderick made as if to speak but checked his utterance. Benito went on: "I tell you, Dave, you had better cut loose from your crowd. Some of them are going to get into trouble. You can't afford to have them running to you—calling you their master."
He took from his pocket a folded paper. "We've been drafting a constitution, Hall McAllister and I." He read the rather stereotyped beginning. Broderick displayed small interest until Benito reached the conclusion:
WE ARE DETERMINED THAT NO THIEF, BURGLAR, INCENDIARY OR ASSASSIN SHALL ESCAPE PUNISHMENT EITHER BY THE QUIBBLES OF THE LAW, THE INSECURITY OF PRISONS, THE CARELESSNESS AND CORRUPTION OF POLICE OR A LAXITY OF THOSE WHO PRETEND TO ADMINISTER JUSTICE.
"And do you mean," asked Broderick, "that these men will take the law into their own hands; that they'll apprehend so-called criminals and presume to mete out punishment according to their own ideas of justice?"
"I mean just that," returned Benito.
"Why—it's extraordinary," Broderick objected. "It's mob law—organized banditti."
"You'll find it nothing of the sort," cried Windham hotly.
"How can it be otherwise?' asked Broderick. What's to prevent rascals taking advantage of such a movement—running it to suit themselves? They're much cleverer than honest, men; more powerful.... Else do you think I'd use my political machine? No, no, Benito, this is farce—disaster."
"Read this, then," urged Benito, and he thrust into the other's hand a list of some two hundred names. Broderick perused it with growing gravity. It represented the flower of San Francisco's business and professional aristocracy, men of all political creeds, religious, social affiliations.
* * * * *
A few days afterward Broderick conferred with his lieutenants. Word went forth that he had cut his leading strings to city politics. Rumors of a storm were in the air. When it would break no one could say with certainty. The Committee of Vigilance had quietly established quarters on Battery street near Pine, where several secret meetings had been held and officers elected. These were not made known. Members were designated by numerals instead of names. Some said they wore masks but this was an unproven rumor.
Broderick, brooding on these things one afternoon, was suddenly aware of many people running. He descried a man hastening down Long Wharf toward the bay. "Stop thief!" some one shouted. Others took it up. Broderick found himself running, too, over the loose boards of the wharf, in pursuit of the fleeing figure. The fugitive ran rapidly, despite a large burden slung over his shoulder. Presently he disappeared from view. But soon they glimpsed him in a boat, rowing lustily away.
A dozen boats set out in chase. Shots rang out. "He's thrown his bundle in the water," someone cried. "He's diving," called another. A silence, then "We've got him," came a hail exultingly.
Ere long a dripping figure surrounded by half a dozen captors, was brought upon the wharf. "He stole a safe from Virgin & Co.," Broderick was told. "The Vigilantes have him. They'll hang him probably. Come along and see the show."
"But where are the police?" asked Broderick. The man laughed contemptuously. "Where they always are—asleep," he answered, and went on.
Others brought the news that John Jenkins, an Australian convict, was the prisoner. He had several times escaped the clutches of the "law." He seemed to treat the whole proceeding as a bit of horseplay, joking profanely with his captors, boasting of his crimes.
At 10 o'clock the Monumental fire bell struck several deep-toned notes and fifteen minutes later eighty members of the Vigilance Committee had assembled. The door was locked. A constable from the police department knocked upon it long without avail. Everything was very still about the building; even the crowd which gathered there to await developments conversed in whispers.
At midnight several cloaked forms emerged, walking rapidly up the street. Then the California fire engine bell began to toll. James King of William, a local banker, leaving Vigilante quarters almost collided with Broderick. "What does that mean?" the latter asked; he pointed to the tolling bell.
"It means," King answered, solemnly, "that Jenkins is condemned to death. He'll be executed on the Plaza in an hour."
THE HANGING OF JENKINS
Mayor Brenham pushed his way forward. "Did I understand you rightly, Mr. King?" he questioned. "This committee means to lynch a man—to murder him?"
King turned upon him fiery-eyed. "I might accuse you of a hundred murders, sir, with much more justice. Where are your police when our citizens are slain? What are your courts but strongholds of political iniquity?" He raised his arm and with a dramatic gesture, pointed toward the city hall. "Go, Mayor Brenham, rouse your jackals of pretended law.... The people have risen. At the Plaza in an hour you shall see what Justice means."
Several voices cheered. Brenham, overwhelmed, inarticulate before this outburst, turned and strode away. Broderick walked on thoughtfully. It was evident that the people were aroused past curbing. As he neared the city hall, Constable Charles Elleard approached him anxiously.
"There's going to be trouble, isn't there?" he asked. "What shall we do? We've less than a hundred men, Mr. Broderick. Perhaps we could get fifty more."
"Whatever happens, don't use firearms," Broderick cautioned. "One shot will set the town afire tonight." He came closer to the officer and whispered, "Make a show of interference, that's all.... If possible see that Sheriff Hayes' pistols don't go off.... You understand? I know what's best."
Elleard nodded. Broderick went on. Soon he heard the tramp of many feet. A procession headed by men bearing torches, was proceeding down the street toward the Plaza. As they neared he saw Jenkins, hands tied behind his back, striding along in the midst of his captors. A rope was about his neck; it extended for a hundred feet behind him, upheld by many hands.
Diagonally across the Plaza the procession streamed. At the flagstaff a halt was made. Samuel Brannan mounted a sand-heap and addressed the crowd.
"I have been deputed by the Vigilance Committee," he began, "to tell you that John Jenkins has been fairly tried; he was proven guilty of grand larceny and other crimes." He paused dramatically. "The sentence of the People's Court is death through hanging by the neck. It will be executed here at once, with your approval. All who are in favor of the committee's action, will say 'Aye.'"
"Aye! Aye!" came a thunder of voices, mingled with a few desultory "noes." Sheriff Jack Hayes rode up importantly on his prancing black charger. "In the name of the law I command this proceeding to cease."
"In the name of what law?" mocked Brannan, "the law you've been giving us for six months past?"
A roar of laughter greeted this retort. The sheriff, red-faced, held up a hand for silence. "I demand the prisoner," he shouted.
Instantly there was a quiet order. Fifty men in soldierly formation surrounded Jenkins. "Take him, then," a voice said pleasantly. It was William Coleman's. The guards of the forward ranks threw back their cloaks, revealing a score of business-like short-barrelled shotguns.
Before this show of force, the gallant Hayes retreated, baffled. He was a former Texan ranger, fearless to a fault; but he was wise enough to know when he was beaten.
"I've orders not to shoot," he said, "but I warn you that all who participate in this man's hanging will be liable for murder."
Again came Brannan's sneer. "If we're as safe as the last hundred men that took human life in this town, we've nothing to fear." Again a chorus of derision. The sheriff turned, outraged, on his tormentor. "You shall hear from me, sir," he said indignantly, and wheeling his horse, he rode off.
"String him up on the flagpole," suggested a bystander. But this was cried down with indignation. Several members who had been investigating now advanced with the recommendation that the hanging take place at the south-end of the old Custom House.
"We can throw the rope over a beam," cried a tall man. He was one of those who had pursued and caught Jenkins on the bay. Now he seized the rope and called, "Come on, boys."
There was a rush toward the southwest corner of the Plaza, so sudden that the hapless prisoner was jerked off his feet and dragged over the ground. When the improvised gallows was reached he was half strangled, could not stand. Several men supported him while others tossed the rope across the beam. Then, with a shout, he was jerked from his feet into space. His dangling figure jerked convulsively for a time, hung limp.
* * * * *
After the inquest Brannan met William Coleman at Vigilante headquarters. "They were very hostile," he declared; "the political gang is hot on our trail. They questioned me as to the names on our committee. I told them we went by numbers only," he laughed.
"There have been threats, veiled and open," said Coleman, soberly. "King has lost several good banking accounts and my business has fallen off noticeably. Friends have advised me to quit the committee—or worse things might happen."
Brannan took a folded paper from his pocket; it was a printed scrawl unsigned, which read:
"Beware; or your house will be burned. We mean business."
A newsboy hurried down the street crying an extra on the inquest. Brannan snatched one from his hand and the two men perused it eagerly. The finding, couched in usual verbiage, recited the obvious facts that Jenkins, alias Simpson, perished by strangulation and that "an association of citizens styling themselves a Committee of Vigilance," was responsible.
"Eight of us are implicated, besides myself," said Brannan finally, "they'll start proceedings probably at once."
"And they'll have the courts to back their dirty work," added Coleman, thoughtfully. "That will never do," his teeth shut with a little click. "I'm going to the Herald office."
"What for?" asked Brannan, quickly.
"To publish the full list of names," Coleman responded. "We're all in this together; no group must bear the brunt."
"But," objected Brannan, "is that wise?"
"Of course.... in union there is strength. These crooks will hesitate to fight two hundred leading citizens; if they know them all they can't pick out a few for persecution."
"Well, I'll go along," said Brannan. "Eh, what's that? What's happened now?"
The Monumental engine bell was tolling violently. Coleman listened. "Its not a fire," he declared, "it's the Vigilante signal. We'll wait here."
A man came running toward them from the bay. "They've captured James Stuart," he shouted. "Bludgeoned a captain on his ship but the man's wife held on to him and yelled till rescue came."
"But Stuart's in the Auburn jail, awaiting execution for the murder of the sheriff," Coleman said bewildered.
"No," cried the man, "this is the real one. The other's Tom Berdue, his double."
"Then there'll be another hanging," Coleman muttered.
THE PEOPLE AND THE LAW
Frightened, desperate, angered by the usurpation of their power, varied forces combined in opposition to the Vigilance Committee. Political office-holders, good and bad, were naturally arrayed against it, and for the first time made a common cause. Among the politicians were many men of brains, especially those affiliated with the "Chivalry" faction, as it was known—Southern men whose object it was to introduce slavery into California. These were fiery, fearless, eloquent and quick at stratagem. There was also Broderick's Tammany organization, an almost perfect political machine, though as yet in the formative stage. There was the tacit union of the underworld; gamblers, thieves, plug-uglies, servitors of or parasites upon the stronger factions. Each and all they feared and hated this new order of the Vigilantes.
Coleman's scheme of publishing the names of the entire committee was carried out after a meeting of the executive committee. It had the effect of taking the wind out of their opponents' sails for a time. But it also robbed committee members of a certain security. In a dozen dark and devious ways the Vigilantes were harassed, opposed; windows of shops were broken; men returning to their homes were set upon from ambush; long-standing business accounts were diverted or withdrawn. Even socially the feud was felt. For the Southerners were more or less the arbiters of society. Wives of Vigilante members were struck from invitation lists in important affairs. Whispers came to them that if their husbands were persuaded to withdraw, all would be well.
A few, indeed, did hand their resignations to the committee, but more set their names with eagerness upon its roster.
The hanging of James Stuart was impressive and conducted with extreme decorum. Stuart, tried before twelve regularly impaneled talesmen and defended by an advocate, cut matters short by a voluntary confession of his crimes. In fact, he boasted of them with a curious pride. Arson, murder, robbery, he admitted with a lavishness which first aroused a doubt as to his sanity and truth, but when in many of the cases he recited details which were later verified, all doubt as to his evil triumphs vanished.
On the morning of July 11 he was sentenced. In the afternoon his body swung from a waterfront derrick at Battery and Market streets.
"Get it over with," he urged his executioners, "this 'ere's damned tiresome business for a gentleman." He begged a "quid o' terbacker" from one of the guards and chewed upon it stolidly until the noose tightened about his neck. He did not struggle much. A vagrant wind blew off his hat and gently stirred his long and wavy hair.
When Benito next saw Broderick he asked the latter anxiously if all were well with him. The latter answered with a wry smile, "I suppose so. I have not been ordered to leave town so far."
"You've remembered what we told you—Alice and I?"
"Yes," said Broderick, "and it was good advice. Tell your wife for me that woman's intuition sometimes sees more clearly than man's cunning.... It is nearer God and truth," he added, softly.
"I shall tell her that. 'Twill please her," Benito replied. "You must come to see us soon."
Brannan joined them rather anxiously and drew Benito aside with a brusque apology. "Do you know that Governor McDougall has issued a proclamation condemning the Vigilance Committee?... I happen to know that Broderick inspired this." He gave a covert glance over his shoulder, but the Lieutenant-Governor had wandered off. "So far he's taken no part against us. And we've left him alone. Now we shall strike back."
"I shall advise against it," Windham objected. "Dave is honest. He's played fair."
"If you think we're going to let this pass, you're quite mistaken," Brannan answered, hotly. "Why, its not long ago that Governor McDougall came to our committee room and commended our work. Said he hoped we'd go on."
"Exactly," said Benito, "in the presence of witnesses. Let us see if King and Coleman are inside. I have a plan."
They found their tall and quiet leader with James King of William and half a dozen others already in session. Brannan, in fiery anger, read the Governor's proclamation. There was silence when he finished. Possibly a shade of consternation. "Windham's got a scheme to answer him," said Brannan.
That day the Evening Picayune printed the Committee's defn. It was as follows:
San Francisco, Aug. 20, 1851.
"We, the undersigned, do hereby aver that Governor McDougall asked to be introduced to the executive committee of the Committee of Vigilance, which was allowed and hour fixed. The Governor, upon being introduced, states THAT HE APPROVED OF THE ACTS OF THE COMMITTEE and that much good had taken place. He HOPED THEY WOULD GO ON and endeavor to act in concert with the authorities, AND IN CASE ANY JUDGE WAS GUILTY OF MAL-ADMINISTRATION TO HANG HIM and he would appoint others."
To this was appended the names of reputable citizens—men whose statements no one doubted. It was generally conceded, with a laugh, that Governor McDougall's private opinion differed from his sense of public duty.
That afternoon representatives of the Committee met an incoming vessel and examined the credentials of all passengers. Several of these not proving up to standard, they were denied admittance to the port. The outraged captain blustered and refused to take them back to Sydney. But in the end he agreed. There was nothing else to do. A guard was placed on the non-desirables and maintained until the vessel cleared—until the pilot boat returned in fact. San Francisco applauded.
But all the laurels were not with the Committee. On Thursday morning, August 21, Sheriff Hayes surprised Vigilante Headquarters at dawn and captured Samuel Whitaker and Robert McKenzie both convicted of murder by the Committee and sentenced to hang.
The City Government was much elated but the victory was short. For, on the following Sunday, Vigilantes gained an entrance to the jail and took their prisoners back without a struggle.
* * * * *
Broderick and Windham, en route to the latter's ranch that afternoon, heard the Monumental bell toll slowly, solemnly. "What's up?" asked Broderick, startled.
"It means," Benito answered, "that the Vigilance Committee still rules. Two more scoundrels have been punished."
FEVERS OF FINANCE
Four years had passed since the Vigilance Committee ceased active labors. Some said they preserved a tacit organization; theirs was still a name to conjure with among evil doers, but San Francisco, grown into a city of some 50,000, was more dignified and subtle in its wickedness. Politics continued notoriously bad. Comedians in the new Metropolitan Theatre made jokes about ballot-boxes said to have false bottoms, and public officials who had taken their degrees in "political economy" at Sing Sing.
"Honest Harry" Meiggs and his brother, the newly-elected City Controller, had sailed away on the yacht "American," leaving behind them an unpaid-for 2000-foot wharf and close to a million in debts; forged city warrants and promissory notes were held by practically every large business house in San Francisco.
It was concerning this urbane and gifted prince of swindlers that Adrian Stanley talked with William Sherman, manager of the banking house of Turner, Lucas & Company.
Sherman, once a lieutenant in the United States Army, had returned, after an Eastern trip, as a civilian financier. In behalf of St. Louis employers, he had purchased of James Lick a lot at Jackson and Montgomery streets, erecting thereon a $50,000 fire-proof building. The bank occupied the lower floor; a number of professional men had their offices on the second floor; on the third James P. Casey, Supervisor, journalist and politician, maintained the offices of The Sunday Times. He passed the two men as they stood in front of the bank and shouted a boisterous "hello." Adrian, ever courteous and good-natured, responded with a wave of the hand while Sherman, brusk and curt, as a habit of nature and military training, vouchsafed him a short nod.
"I have small use for that fellow," he remarked to Stanley, "even less than I had for Meiggs." The other had something impressive about him, something almost Napoleonic, in spite of his dishonesty. If business had maintained the upward trend of '51 and '52, Meiggs would have been a millionaire and people would have honored him—"
"You never trusted 'Honest Harry,' did you?" Stanley asked.
"No," said Sherman, "not for the amount he asked. I was the only banker here that didn't break his neck to give the fellow credit. I rather liked him, though. But this fellow upstairs," he snapped his fingers, "some day I shall order him out of my building."
"Why?" asked Adrian curiously. "Because of his—"
"His alleged prison record?" Sherman finished. "No. For many a good man's served his term." He shrugged. "I can't just tell you why I feel like that toward Jim Casey. He's no worse than the rest of his clan; the city government's rotten straight through except for a few honest judges and they're helpless before the quibbles and intricacies of law." He took the long black cigar from his mouth and regarded Adrian with his curious concentration—that force of purpose which was one day to list William Tecumseh Sherman among the world's great generals. "There's going to be the devil to pay, my young friend," he said, frowning, "between corruption, sectional feuds and business depression ..."
"What about the report that Page, Bacon & Company's St. Louis house has failed?" said Stanley in an undertone. Sherman eyed him sharply. "Where'd you hear that?" he shot back. And then, ere Adrian could answer, he inquired, "Have you much on deposit there?"
"Ten thousand," replied the young contractor.
For a moment Sherman remained silent, twisting the long cigar about between grim lips. Then he put a hand abruptly on the other's shoulder. "Take it out," he said, "today."
* * * * *
Somewhat later Sherman was summoned to a conference with Henry Haight, manager of the banking house in question, and young Page of the Sacramento branch. He emerged with a clouded brow, puffing furiously at his cigar. As he passed through the bank, Sherman noted an unusual line of men, interspersed with an occasional woman, waiting their turn for the paying teller's service. The man was counting out gold and silver feverishly. There was whispering among the file of waiters. To him the thing had an ominous look.
He stopped for a moment at the bank of Adams & Company. There also the number of people withdrawing deposits was unusual; the receiving teller's window was neglected. James King of William, who, since the closing of his own bank, had been Adams & Company's manager, came forward and drew Sherman aside. "What do you think of the prospect?" he asked. "Few of us can stand a run. We're perfectly solvent, but if this excitement spreads it means ruin for the house—for every bank in town perhaps."
"Haight's drunk," said Sherman tersely. "Page is silly with fear. I went over to help them ... but it's no use. They're gone."
King's bearded face was pale, but his eyes were steady. "I'm sorry," he said, "that makes it harder for us all." He smiled mirthlessly. "You're better off than we ... with our country branches. If anything goes wrong here, our agents will be blamed. There may be bloodshed even." He held out his hand and Sherman gripped it. "Good luck," the latter said, "we'll stand together, far as possible."
As Sherman left the second counting house, he noted how the line had grown before the paying teller's window. It extended now outside the door. At Palmer, Cook & Company's and Naglee's banks it was the same. The human queue, which issued from the doors of Page, Bacon & Company, now reached around the corner. It was growing turbulent. Women tried to force themselves between the close-packed file and were repelled. One of these was Sherman's washwoman. She clutched his coat-tails as he hurried by.
"My God, sir!" she wailed, "they've my money; the savings of years. And now they say it's gone ... that Haight's gambled ... spent it on women ..."
Sherman tried to quiet her and was beset by others. "How's your bank?" people shouted at him. "How's Lucas-Turner?"
"Sound as a dollar," he told them; "come and get your money when you please; it's there waiting for you."
But his heart was heavy with foreboding as he entered his own bank. Here the line was somewhat shorter than at most of the others, but still sufficiently long to cause dismay. Sherman passed behind the counter and conferred with his assistant.
"We close in half an hour—at three o'clock," he said. "That will give us a breathing spell. Tomorrow comes the test. By then the town will know of Page-Bacon's failure ..."
He beckoned to the head accountant, who came hurriedly, a quill pen bobbing behind his ear, his tall figure bent from stooping over ledgers.
"How much will we require to withstand a day's run?" Sherman flung the question at him like a thunderbolt. And almost as though the impact of some verbal missile had deprived him of speech, the man stopped, stammering.
"I—I—I think, s-s-sir," he gulped and recovered himself with an effort, "f-forty thousand will do it."
Swiftly Sherman turned toward the door. "Where are you going?" the assistant called.
"To get forty thousand dollars—if I have to turn highwayman," Sherman flung over his shoulder.
"GIVE US OUR SAVINGS!"
As he left the bank Sherman cast over in his mind with desperate swiftness the list of men to whom he could go for financial support. Turner, Lucas & Co. had loaned Captain Folsom $25,000 on his two late ventures, the Metropolitan Theatre and the Tehama House. Both, under normal conditions, would have made their promoter rich. But nothing was at par these days.
Sherman wondered uneasily whether Folsom could help. He was not a man to save money, and the banker, who made it his business to know what borrowers of the bank's money did, knew that Folsom liked gambling, frequented places where the stakes ran high. Of late he had met heavy losses. However, he was a big man, Sherman reasoned; he should have large resources. Both of them were former army officers. That should prove a bond between them. At Captain Folsom's house an old negro servant opened the door, his wrinkled black face anxious.
"Mars Joe, he ain't right well dis evenin'," he said, evasively, but when Sherman persisted he was ushered into a back room where sat the redoubtable captain, all the fierceness of his burnside whiskers, the austerity of his West Point manner, melted in the indignity of sneezes and wheezes.
Sherman looked at him in frank dismay.
"Heavens, man," he said, "I'm sorry to intrude on you in this condition ... but my errand won't wait...."
"What do you want, Bill Sherman?" the sick man glowered.
"Money," Sherman answered crisply. "You know, perhaps, that Page, Bacon & Co. have failed. Everyone's afraid of his deposits. We've got to have cash tomorrow. How about your—?"
With a cry of irritation Folsom threw up his hands. "Money! God Almighty! Sherman, there's not a loose dollar in town. My agent, Van Winkle, has walked his legs off, talked himself hoarse.... He can't get anything. It's impossible."
"Then you can do nothing?"
For answer Folsom broke into a torrent of sneezes and coughs. The old negro came running. Sherman shook his head and left the room.
There remained Major Hammond, collector of the port, two of whose notes the bank held.
He and Sherman were not over-friendly; yet Hammond must be asked. Sherman made his way to the customs house briskly, stated his business to the doorkeeper and sat down in an anteroom to await Hammond's pleasure. There he cooled his heels for a considerable period before he was summoned to an inner office.
"Well, Sherman," he asked, not ungraciously, "what can I do for you?"
"You can take up one of your notes with our bank," replied Sherman, without ado. "We need cash desperately."
"'Fraid of a run, eh?"
"Not afraid, no. But preparing for it."
The other nodded his approval. "Quite right! quite right!" he said with unexpected warmth.... "So you'd like me to cash one of my notes, Mr. Sherman?"
"Why, yes, sir, if it wouldn't inconvenience you," the banker answered, "it would aid us greatly." He looked into the collector's keen, inquiring eyes, then added: "I may as well say quite frankly, Mr. Hammond, you're our last resort."