Nan had left off asking questions of Mrs. Sherwood, who answered none. The feeling of tense expectation filled her also. What was forward? Was this a mob? Why were these people gathered? Somehow they gave her the impression that they, too, like Mrs. Sherwood and herself, were waiting to see.
After a long time she saw the closely packed crowd down the vista of one of the converging streets move in the agitation of some disturbance. A moment later the sun caught files of bayonets. At the same instant the same thing happened at the end of the other converging street. The armed columns came steadily forward, the people giving way. Their men were dressed in sober citizens' clothes. The shining steel of the bayonets furnished the only touch of uniform. Quietly and steadily they came forward, the snake of steel undulating and twisting like a living thing. The two columns reached the convergence of the street together. As they entered the square before the jail, a third and fourth column debouched from side streets, and others deployed into view on the hills behind. The timing was perfect. One minute the prospect was empty of all but spectators, the next it was filled with grim and silent armed men.
Near the two women and among chance spectators on the piazza of the deserted house a well-known character of the times leaned against one of the pillars. This was Colonel Gift. Our chronicler, who has an eye for the telling phrase, describes him as "a tall, lank, empty-bowelled, tobacco- spurting Southerner, with eyes like burning black balls, who could talk a company of listeners into an insane asylum quicker than any man in California, and whose blasphemy could not be equalled, either in quantity or quality, by the most profane of any age or nation." In this crisis Colonel Gift's sympathies may be guessed. He watched the scene below him with a sardonic eye. As the armed columns wheeled into place and stood at attention, he turned to a man standing near.
"I tell you, stranger," said he, "when you see those damned psalm-singing Yankees turn out of their churches, shoulder their guns, and march away of a Sunday, you may know that hell is going to crack shortly!"
Mrs. Sherwood turned an amused eye in his direction. The colonel, for the first time becoming aware of her presence, swept off his black slouch hat and apologized profusely for the "damn."
The armed men stood rigid, four deep all around the square. Behind them the masses of the people watched. Even the murmur died. Again everybody waited.
Now, at a command, the ranks fell apart and from the side street marched the sixty men chosen by Olney dragging a field gun at the end of a rope. Their preliminary task of watching the jail for a possible escape finished, they had been again gathered. With beautiful military precision they wheeled and came to rest facing the frowning walls of the jail, the cannon pointed at the door.
Nan gasped sharply, and seized Mrs. Sherwood's arm with both hands. She had recognized Keith standing by the right wheel of the cannon. He was looking straight ahead, and the expression on his face was one she had never seen there before. Suddenly something swelled up within her breast and choked her. The tears rushed to her eyes.
Quite deliberately, each motion in plain sight, the cannon was loaded with powder and ball. A man lit a slow match, blew it painstakingly to a glow, then took his position at the breech. The slight innumerable sounds of these activities died. The bustle of men moving imperceptibly fell. Not even the coughing and sneezing usual to a gathering of people paying attention was heard, for the intense interest inhibited these nervous symptoms. Probably never have twenty thousand people, gathered in one place, made their presence so little evident. A deep, solemn stillness brooded over them. The spring sun lay warm and grateful on men's shoulders; the doves and birds, the distant dogs and roosters, cooed and twittered, barked and crowed.
Nothing happened for full ten minutes. The picked men stood rigid by the gun in the middle of the square; the slow match burned sleepily, a tiny thread of smoke rising in the still air; the sunlight gleamed from the ranks of bayonets; the vast multitude held its breath, the walls of the jail remained blank and inscrutable.
Then a man on horseback was seen pushing his way through the crowd. He rode directly up to the jail door, on which he rapped thrice with the handle of his riding whip. Against the silence these taps, but gently delivered, sounded sharp and staccato. After a moment the wicket opened. The rider, without dismounting, handed through it a note; then, with a superb display of the old-fashioned horsemanship, backed his horse half the length of the square where he, too, came to rest.
"Who is he?" whispered Nan. Why she whispered she could not have told.
"Charles Doane," answered Mrs. Sherwood, in the same voice.
Another commotion down the street. Again the ranks parted and closed again, this time to admit three carriages driven rapidly. As they came to a stop the muskets all around the square leaped to the "present." So disconcerting was this sudden slap and rattle of arms after the tenseness of the last half hour, that men dodged back as though from a blow. With admirable precision, Olney's men, obeying a series of commands, moved forward from the gun to form a hollow square around the carriages. Only the man with the burning slow match was left standing by the breech.
From the carriages then descended Coleman, Truett, Talbot Ward, Smiley, and two other men whom neither Nan nor Mrs. Sherwood recognized. Amid the dead silence they walked directly to the jail door, Olney's Sixty breaking the square and deploying close at their heels. A low colloquy through the wicket now took place. At length the door swung slowly open. The committee entered. The door swung shut after them. Again the people waited, but now once more arose the murmur of low-toned conversation.
Up to this day Casey had been very content with his situation. His quarters were the best the place afforded, and they had been made more comfortable. Scores of friends had visited him, hailing him as their champion. He had been made to feel quite a hero. To be sure it was a nuisance to be so confined; but when he shot King, he had anticipated undergoing some inconvenience. It was a price to pay. He understood that there was some public excitement, and that it was well to lie low for a little until that had died down. The momentary annoyance would be more than offset by later prestige. Casey did not in the least fear the courts. He had before his eyes too many reassuring examples. His friends were rallying nobly to his defence. Over the wines and cigars, with which he was liberally supplied, they boasted of their strength and their dispositions—the whole police force of the city, the militia companies sworn, to act in just such emergencies, hundreds of volunteers, if necessary the whole power of the State of California called to put down this affronting of duly constituted law!
But this Sunday morning Casey was uneasy. There seemed to be much whispering in corners, much bustling to and fro. He paced back and forth, fretting, interrogating those about him. But they could or would tell him little—there was trouble;—and they fussed away, leaving Casey alone. As a matter of fact, the withdrawal of the committee's guard of ten, and the formal notice that the truce was thus promptly ended, had caught the Law and Order party unprepared. With five hours' notice—or indeed by next day, even were no notice given—the jail would have been impregnably defended. The sudden move of the committee won; as prompt, decisive moves will.
The bustling of the people in the jail suddenly died. Casey heard no shuffle of feet, no whisper of conversation. The building might have been empty save for himself. But he did hear outside the steady rhythmic tramp of feet.
Sheriff Scannell stood before him, the Vigilantes' written communication in his hand. Casey, looking up from the bed on which he had fallen in sudden shrinking, saw on his face an expression that made him cower. For the first time realization came to him of the straits he was in. His vivid Irish imagination leaped instantaneously from the complacence of absolute safety to the depths of terror. He sprang to his feet.
"You aren't going to betray me! You aren't going to give me up!" he cried, wringing his hands.
"James," replied' Scannell solemnly, "there are three thousand armed men coming for you, and I have not now thirty supporters around the jail."
"Not thirty!" cried. Casey, astonished. For a moment he appeared crushed; then leaped to his feet flourishing a long knife he had drawn from his boot. "I'll, not be taken from this place alive!" he shrieked, beside himself with hysteria. "Where are all you brave fellows who were going to see me through this?"
Scannell looked at him sadly. In the pause came a sharp knocking at the door of the jail. The sheriff turned away. A moment later Casey, listening intently, heard the door open and close, heard the sound of talking. He fairly darted to his table, scrawled a paper, and called to attract attention. Marshal North, answered the summons.
"Give this to them—to the Vigilantes," urged Casey, thrusting the paper into his hands. North glanced through the note.
TO THE VIGILANT COMMITTEE. Gentlemen: I am willing to go before you if you will let me speak but ten minutes. I do not wish the blood of any man upon my head.
But after North had gone to deliver this, Casey again sprang to his feet, again flourished his bowie knife, again ramped up and down, again swore he would never be taken alive. A deputy passed the door. Casey's demeanour collapsed again.
"Tell them," he begged this man earnestly; "tell them if two respectable citizens will promise me gentlemanly treatment, I'll go peaceably! I will not be dragged through the streets like a dog! If they will give me a fair trial and allow me to summon my witnesses, I'll yield!"
And the deputy left him pacing up and down, waving his knife, muttering wildly to, himself.
On entering the jail door Coleman and his companions bowed formally to the sheriff.
"We have come for the prisoner, Casey," said Coleman. "We ask that he be peaceably delivered us handcuffed, at the door, immediately."
"Under existing circumstances," replied Scannell, "I shall make no resistance. The prison and its contents are yours."
But Truett interrupted pointedly:
"We want only the man Casey, at present," he said. "For the rest we hold you strictly accountable."
Scannell bowed without reply. North and the deputy came in succession to deliver Casey's messages, and to report his apparent determination. The committee offered no comment. They penetrated to the ulterior of the jail. Many men, apparently unarmed, idling about as though merely spectators, looked at them curiously as they passed. Casey heard them, coming and sprang back from the door, holding his long knife dramatically poised. Coleman walked directly to the door, where he stopped, looking Casey coldly in the eye. The seconds, passed. Neither man stirred. At the end of a full minute Coleman said sharply:
"Lay down that knife!"
As though his incisive tones had broken the spell, Casey moved. He looked wildly to right and to left; then flung the knife from him and buried his face in his hands.
"Your requests are granted," said Coleman shortly; then to Marshal North: "Open the door and bring him out."
On the veranda of the unoccupied house above the jail Nan Keith stood rigid, her hand upon her heart. During the period of the committee's absence inside the jail she did not alter her position by a hair's breadth. She was in the hypnosis of a portentous waiting. Time fell into the abyss of eternity: whether it were ten minutes or ten hours did not matter in the least.
For this was to Nan in the nature of a revelation so sudden and so complete that it filled her whole soul. Had she known what Mrs. Sherwood was taking her to see, she would have pre-visualized a drunken, disorderly, howling, bloodthirsty mob; a huge composite of brawling antagonisms, of blind fury, of vulgar irrationalisms. Here were men filled with purpose; This was what caught at her breath—the grim silent purpose of it! The orderly progression of events, moving with the certainty of a fate, was like the steady crescendo of solemn music. And this crescendo rose in her as a tide of emotion that overflowed and drowned her. The right and wrong—as she had examined them intellectually or through, the darkened glasses of her caste prejudices—were quite lost. This was merely something primitive, wonderful, beautiful. The spectacle was at the moment of suspense, yet she felt so impatience—the wheel must turn in its own majestic circle—but only an intense expectation. And in this she felt, subconsciously, that she was one with the multitude.
The jail door swung open. The committee came out. In the middle of their compact group walked a stranger.
"Casey!" breathed a vast voice from the crowd.
An indescribable burst of grateful relief fluttered across the upturned faces as a breeze across water. It was almost timid at first, but gathered strength as it spread. It rolled up the hillside. A great, deep breath seemed to fill the lungs of the throng. The murmur swelled suddenly, was on the point of bursting into the frantic cheering of twenty thousand men.
But Coleman, his hat removed, raised his hand. In obedience to the simple gesture the cheer was stifled. In an instant all was still. The little group entered the carriages, which immediately wheeled and drove away.
Nan, standing bolt upright, her attitude still unchanged, caught her breath at the inhibition of the cheer. She did not even try to wink away the tears that rolled down her cheeks. Through them she saw the troops wheel with the precision of veterans, and march away after the carriages. The crowd melted slowly. Soon were left only the inscrutable jail, the gun still pointed at its door, the rigid ranks of Olney's Sixty, who had evidently been left on guard, and a few stragglers.
Suddenly she turned and walked away. Mrs. Sherwood followed her as rapidly as she could, but did not succeed in catching up with her. At the corner below the Keiths' house she stopped, watched until Nan had gained her own dooryard, then turned toward home, a smile sketching her lips, a light in her eyes.
Nan flung open her door and went directly to the parlour. She stood in the doorway contemplating the scene. It was very cozy. The afternoon sun slanted through the high-narrow windows of the period, gilding the dust motes floating lazily to and fro. The tea table, set with a snowy doth, glittered invitingly, its silver and porcelain, its plates of dainty sandwiches and thin waferlike cookies—Wing Sam's specialty—enticingly displayed. Two easy chairs had been drawn close, and, before the unoccupied one a low footstool had been placed. Ben Sansome sat in the other. He was, as usual, exquisitely dressed. All his little appointments were not only correct but worn easily. The varicoloured waistcoat, the sparkling studs and cravat pins, the bright, soft silk tie, were all subdued from their ordinary too-vivid effect by the grace with which they were carried. Nan saw all this, and appreciated it dispassionately, appraising him anew through clarified vision. Especially she noticed the waxed ends of his small moustache. He had, at the sound of her entrance, lighted the tea kettle; and as she came in he smiled up at her brightly.
"You see," he cried gayly, "I am doing your task for you! I have the lamp all lit!"
She paid no attention to this, but advanced two steps into the room.
"Which side are you on, anyway?" she asked abruptly and a little harshly.
Sansome raised his eyebrows in faint and fastidious surprise.
"Dear lady, what do you mean?"
"The only thing I can mean in these times: are you with the Law and Order, or with the Committee of Vigilance?"
Sansome shrugged his shoulders whimsically and sank back into his chair.
"How can you ask that, dear lady?" he begged pathetically. "You would not class me with the rabble, I hope."
But Nan did not in the slightest degree respond to the lightness of his tone. Her own was cold and detached.
"I do not know how to class you," she said. "But I asked you a question."
Sansome arose to his feet again. His manner now became sympathetic, but into it had crept the least hint of resentment,
"I don't understand your mood" he told her. "You are overwrought."
Nan's self-control slipped by ever so little. She did not actually stamp her foot, but her delivery of her next speech achieved that for her.
"Will you answer me?" she demanded. "Which side, are you on?"
"I am on the side every gentleman is on," replied Sansome, a trifle stung. "The side of the law."
"Then," she cried, with a sudden intensity, "why weren't you there—on your side—defending the jail?' Why are you here?"
Ben Sansome's knowledge of women was wide, and he therefore imagined it profound. Here he recognized the symptoms of hysteria; cause unknown. He adopted the lightly soothing.
"I thought I was asked here!" he cried with quizzical mock pathos.
She stared at him a contemplative instant so steadily that he coloured. She was not seeing him, however; she was seeing Keith, standing with his fellows in the open, under the walls of the jail and its hidden guns. With a short laugh she turned away.
"You were," said she. "Help yourself to tea. As you say, I am overwrought. I am going to lie down."
Her one compelling instinct now was to get away from him before something in her brain snapped. He became soothing.
"Won't you have a cup of tea first?" he urged. "It will do you good."
"A cup of tea!" she repeated with deadly calm. It seemed such an ending to such a day! She tried to laugh, but strangled in her throat; and she bolted wildly from the room, leaving Ben Sansome staring.
Nan's high exaltation of spirit, which still soared at the altitude to which the events of the afternoon had lifted it, next expressed itself in a characteristically feminine manner: she picked flowers in the garden, arranged them, placed them effectively, set the table herself, lighted the lamps, touched a match to the wood fire always comfortable in San Francisco evenings, slightly altered the position of the chairs, visited Wing Sam with fresh instructions. Gringo, who looked on all this as for his especial benefit, took his place luxuriously before the grate. It was a cozy, homelike scene. Then she dressed slowly and carefully in her most becoming gown—the only gown Keith had ever definitely singled out for individual praise—took especial pains with her hair, and finally descended to join Gringo. The latter, as a greeting intended to show his entire confidence, promptly rolled over to expose his vitals to her should it be her pleasure to hurt a poor defenceless dog. He was a ridiculous sight, upside down, his tongue lolling out, his eye rolled up at her adoringly. She laughed at him a little, then leaned swiftly over to confide something in his ear.
But that evening Keith was late. The clock on the mantel chimed clearly the hour, then the quarter and the half. Wing Sam came to protest aggreivedly that "him glub catchum cold—you no wait!" Nan was severe with Wing Sam and his suggestion—so unwontedly severe that Wing Sam returned to the kitchen muttering darkly. He had caught the atmosphere of celebration, somehow, and on his own-initiative had frosted with wonderful white a cake not yet cut, and on the cake had carefully traced pink legends in Chinese and English characters. The former was one of those conventional mottoes seen on every laundry, club, and temple which would have translated "Health, long life, and happiness"; the other Wing Sam had copied from a lithograph he much admired. It read "Use Rising Sun Stove Polish." Glowering with resentment, Wing Sam scraped the frosting from the cake.
At eight o'clock a small boy delivered a note at the door and scuttled back to the centre of excitement. It was a scrawl from Keith, saying that he was detained, would not be home to dinner, might not be in at all. Nan sat down to a cold, belated meal served by a loftily disapproving Chinaman. She tried to think of her pride in Keith, and the work he, in company with his fellows, was doing for the city; to recall some of her exaltation of the afternoon; but it was very difficult. Her little preparations were so much nearer. The table, the flowers, the shaded lamps, the fire on the hearth, her gown, the twist of her hair, all mocked her anticipations. In spite of herself her spirits went down to zero. She could not eat, she could not even sit at the table through the service of the various courses. Midway in the meal she threw aside her napkin and returned abruptly to the drawing- room. The fire was snapping merrily on the hearth. Gringo opened his eyes at her entrance, recognized his beloved mistress, and rolled over as usual, all four legs in the air, his tender stomach confidingly exposed, for Who could be so brutal as to hurt a poor, defenceless dog? Nan kicked him pettishly in the ribs. Gringo stopped panting, and drew in his tongue, but otherwise did not shift his posture. This was, of course, a mistake. Nan kicked him again. Gringo rose deliberately and retired with dignity to the coldest, darkest, most cheerless corner he could find, where he sat and looked dejected.
"You look such a silly fool!" Nan told him relentlessly.
Thus passed the moment of exaltation and expansion. If Keith had come home to dine, it is probable that the barrier between them—of which he was only dimly conscious—would have been broken. But by midnight Nan had, as she imagined, "thought out" the situation. She was able to see him now through eyes purged of self-pity or self-thought. She came to full realization, which she formulated to herself, that she was not now the central point of his interest—that she was "no longer" the central point, as she expressed it. She was right also in her conclusion that all day long he hardly gave her more than a perfunctory thought. So far, her facts were absolutely correct. But Nan was, in spite of her natural good mind and married experience, too ignorant of man psychology to draw the true conclusion. Indeed, very few women ever realize man's possibilities of single-minded purpose and concentration to the temporary exclusion of other things. Keith's whole being was carried by this moral movement in which he was involved. He simply took Nan for granted; and that is something a woman never gets used to, and always misinterprets.
"He no longer loves me!" she said to herself, in this hour of plain thinking. She faced it squarely; and her heart sank to the depths; for she still loved him, and the sight of him that afternoon amid the guns had told her how much.
But her next thought was not of herself, but of him, and the situation in which, he was working out his destiny. "How can I best help?" she asked herself, which showed that the spirit aroused in her that afternoon had not in reality died. And her intellect relentlessly pointed out to her that her only aid would come from her self-effacement, her standing one side. When the great work was done, then, perhaps—
So affairs in the Keith household went on exactly as before. Nobody but Gringo knew that anything had happened; and he only realized that the universe had suffered an upheaval, so that now mistresses might kick their poor defenceless dogs in the stomach.
Casey was safely in custody. Cora also had been taken on a second trip to the jail. They had been escorted into the headquarters, the doors of which had closed behind them and behind the armed men who guarded them. The streets were filled with an orderly crowd. They waited with that same absence of excitement, impatience, or tumult so characteristic of all the popular gatherings of that earnest time, save when the upholders of the law were gathered. After a long interval one of the committeemen, Dows by name, appeared at an upper window. He did not have to appeal for attention, and had barely to raise his voice.
"It is not the intention of the committee to be hasty," he announced. "Nothing more will be done to-day."
Silence greeted this statement. At last some one spoke up:
"Where are Casey and Cora?" he asked.
"The committee holds possession of the jail; all are safe," replied Dows.
With this assurance the crowd was completely satisfied, as it proved by dispersing quietly and at once.
Of the three thousand enrolled men, three hundred were retained under arms at headquarters; a hundred surrounded and watched the jail; the rest were dismissed. About midnight a dense fog descended on the city. The streets were deserted. But on the roofs of the jail and the adjacent buildings indistinct figures stalked to and fro in the misty moonlight.
All next day, which was Monday, headquarters remained inscrutable. Small activities went forward. Guards and patrols were changed. The cannon was brought from before the jail. Early in the day a huge crowd gathered, packing the adjacent streets, watching patiently far into the night to see what would happen. Nothing happened.
But about the city at large patrols of armed men moved on mysterious business. Gun shops were picketed, and their owners forbidden to sell weapons. Evidently the committee was carrying out a considered plan.
Toward evening the weather thickened and a rain came on. It turned colder. Still the crowd did not disperse. It stood in its sodden shoes, hugging its sodden cloaks to its shoulders, humped over, waiting. About eight o'clock several companies in rigid marching formation appeared. A stir of interest, shivered through the crowd, but died as it became evident that this was only a general relief for those on duty during the day. At midnight, or thereabouts, the crowd went home; but again by first daylight the streets for blocks were jammed full. Still it rained with a sullen, persistence. Still nothing happened.
And all over the city business was practically at a stand. Knots of men stood conferring on every corner. Conversation in mixed company was very wary indeed. No man dared express himself too openly. The courts were empty. Some actually closed, on one excuse or another, but most went through a form of business. Some judges took the occasion to go to White Sulphur Springs on vacations, long contemplated, they said. These things occasioned lively comment. It was generally known that the Sacramento steamer of the evening before had carried several hundred passengers, all with pressing business at the capitol, or somewhere else. As our chronicler tells it: "A good many who had things on their minds left for the country." Still it rained; still the crowd waited; still the headquarters of the Committee of Vigilance remained closed and inscrutable.
During all this time the Executive Committee sat in continuous session, for it had been agreed that no recess of more than thirty minutes should be taken until a decision had been reached. The room in which they sat was a large one, lighted by windows on one side only. Coleman sat behind a raised desk at one end. Below it stood a small table accommodating two. On either side six small tables completed three sides of a hollow square. No ornament, no especial comforts—the desk, the thirteen pine tables, the twenty-eight pine chairs, the wooden walls, the oil lamps, the four long windows—that was all.
The prisoners, who, when they had seen the thousands before the jail, had expected nothing less than instant execution by lynch law, began to take heart. After a man has faced what he thinks is the prospect of immediate and unavoidable death, such treatment as this arouses real hope. The prisoners were strictly guarded and closely confined, it is true, but they understood they were to have a fair trial "according to law." That last phrase cheered them immensely. They knew the law. Nor were they entirely cut off from the outside. Casey was allowed to see several men in regard to certain pressing business matters, and was permitted to talk to them freely, although always in the presence of a member of the committee. Cora received visits from Belle. She had spent thousands in his legal defence; now she came to see him faithfully, and tried to cheer him, but was plainly cowed. Her self-control had vanished. She clung to him passionately, weeping. He was forced to what should have been her role; and in cheering her he managed to gain a modicum of self-confidence for himself. She left him at midnight, much reassured.
But on Monday morning Cora's cell door was thrown open, and he was motioned forth by a grave man, who conducted him through echoing gloomy corridors to the committee room, where he was left facing the tables and the men who sat behind them. Cora's natural buoyancy vanished. The men before him met his gaze with rigid, unbending solemnity. The rain beat mournfully against the windows, blurring the glass, casting the high apartment in a half gloom. Nobody moved or spoke. All looked at him. The echo of his footsteps died, and the room was cast in stillness except for the soft dashing of the storm.
"Charles Cora," at last pronounced Coleman in measured tones, "you are here on trial for your life, accused with the murder of United States Marshal Richardson."
Cora, who was a plucky man, had recovered his wits. He must have realized that he was in a tight place, but he kept his head admirably. His demeanour took on alertness, his manner throughout was respectful, and his voice low.
"Do I get no counsel?" he inquired.
"Counsel will be given you."
He put in an earnest plea for counsel outside the tribunal—impartial counsel.
"Our members are impartial," Coleman told him.
Cora hesitated; locking about him.
"If Mr. Truett will act for me," he suggested; "and I beg you earnestly, gentlemen, that the excitement of the time may not be prejudicial to my interests, that I may have a chance for my life!"
"Your trial will be fair," he was assured.
"I shall undertake the defence," Truett agreed briefly; "and petition that Mr. Smiley be appointed as my assistant."
This being granted, the three men drew one side for a consultation. In a short time Truett handed to the sergeant-at-arms—the same man who had conducted Cora to the tribunal—a list of the witnesses Cora wished to summon. These were at once sought by a subcommittee outside. In the meantime, witnesses for the prosecution were one by one admitted, sworn, and examined. All ordinary forms of law were closely followed. All essential facts were separately brought out. It was the historic Cora trial over again, with one difference—gone were the technical delays. By dusk Keith, who had been called at three, had all but completed the long tale of his testimony, had finished recounting, not only what he had seen of the quarrel and the subsequent shooting, but also a detailed account of the trial, the adverse influences brought to bear on the prosecution, and his investigations into the question of "undue influence." No attempt was made to confine the investigation to the technical trial.
Keith was the last witness for the prosecution. And the witnesses for the defence, where were they? Of the list submitted by Cora not one could be found! In hiding, afraid, the perjurers would not appear!
The dusk was falling in earnest now. The corners of the room were in darkness. Beneath Coleman's desk Bluxome, the secretary, had lighted an oil lamp the better to see his notes. In the interest of Keith's testimony the general illumination had not been ordered. Outside the tiny patch of yellow light the men of Vigilance sat motionless, listening, their shadows dim and huge against the wall.
The door opened, and Charles Doane, the Grand Marshal of the Vigilantes, advanced three steps into the room.
"Mr. President," he said clearly, his voice cutting the stillness, "I am instructed to announce that James King of William is dead."
Thursday noon was set for the funeral of the man who had given his life that a city might live. In the room where he had made his brave fight against death he now lay in state. On Wednesday ten thousand people visited him there. Early Thursday morning his remains were transferred to the Unitarian Church where, early as it was, a great multitude had gathered to do him honour. Now through the long morning hours it sat with him silently. The church was soon filled to over-flowing; the streets in all directions became crowded with sober-faced men and women. They knew they would be unable to get into the church, to attend nearer his last communion with his fellowmen, but they stayed, feeling vaguely that their mere presence helped—as, indeed, perhaps it did. Marching bodies from every guild or society in the city stood in rank after rank, extending down the street as far as the eye could reach. Hundreds of horsemen, carriages, foot marchers, quietly, orderly, were already getting into line. They, too, were excluded from the funeral ceremonies by lack of room; they, too, waited to do honour to the cortege. This procession was over two miles in length. Each man wore a band of crepe around his left arm. The time set for the funeral ceremony was yet hours distant.
It seemed that all the city must be there. But those who, hurrying to the scene, had occasion to pass near the Vigilante headquarters found the vacant square guarded on all sides by a triple line of armed men. The side streets, also, were filled with them. They stood in exact alignment, rigid, bayonets fixed, their eyes straight ahead. Three thousand of them were there. Hour after hour they stood, untiring, staring at the building, which gave no sign; just as the other multitude, only a few squares away, stood hour after hour, patiently waiting in the bright sun.
At quarter before one the upper windows of the headquarters building were thrown open, and small platforms, extending about three feet, were thrust from two of them. An instant later two heavy beams were shoved out from the flat roof directly over the platforms. From the ends of the beams dangled nooses of rope. A dead wait ensued. Across the silence could be heard faintly from the open windows of the distant church the chords of an organ, the rise and fall of a hymn, then the measured cadence of oration. The funeral services had begun.
As though this were a signal, the blinds that had partly closed the window openings were swung back, and Charles Cora was conducted to the end of one of the little platforms. His face was covered with a white handkerchief, and his arms and legs were bound with cords. The attendant adjusted the noose, then left him. An instant later Casey appeared. He had petitioned not to be blindfolded, so his face was bare. Cora stood bolt upright, motionless as a stone. Casey's nerve had left him; his face was pale and his eyes bloodshot. As the attendant placed the noose, the murderer's eyes darted here and there over the square. Did he still expect that the boastful promises of his friends would be fulfilled, did he still hope for rescue? If so, that hope must have died as he looked down on those set, grim faces staring straight ahead, on that sinister ring of steel. He began to babble.
"Gentlemen!" he cried at them, "I am not a murderer! I do not feel afraid to meet my God on a charge of murder! I have done nothing but what I thought was right! To-morrow let no editor dare call me a murderer! Whenever I was injured I have resented it. It has been part of my education during twenty-nine years! Gentlemen, I forgive you this persecution! O God! My poor mother! O God!"
Not one word of contrition; not one word for the man who lay yonder in the church; not one syllable for the heartbroken wife kneeling at the coffin! He ceased. And his words went out into the void and found no echo against that wall of steel.
They waited. For what? Across the intervening housetops the sound of speaking ceased to carry. The last orator had given place. At the door of the sanctuary was visible a slight, commotion: the coffin was being carried out. It was placed in the hearse. Every head was bared. There ensued a slight pause; then from overhead the great bell boomed once. Another bell in the next block answered. A third, more distant, chimed in. From all parts of the city tolled the solemn requiem.
At the first stroke the long cortege moved forward toward Lone Mountain; at the first stroke the Vigilantes, as one man, presented arms; at the first stroke the platforms dropped and Casey and Cora fell into the abyss of eternity.
This execution occasioned a great storm of indignation among the adherents of law and order. Serious-minded men, like Judge Shattuck, admitted the essential justice rendered, but condemned strongly the method.
"Of course they were murderers," cried the judge, "and of course they should have been hung, and of course the city is better off without either of them. I'm not afraid of their friends, and I don't care who knows what I think! And some very worthy citizens, wrongly, are involved in this, some citizens whom otherwise I greatly respect. It is better that a hundred criminals should escape than that the whole law of California should be outraged by an act that denies at once the value and the authority of our government. The energy, the talent for organization, that this committee has displayed in the exercise of usurped authority, might have been directed in aid of the courts, consistently with the constitution and the laws, with, equal if not greater efficiency."
But very few were able to see it in this calm spirit. The ruling class, the "chivalry," the best element of the city had been slapped in the face. And by whom? By a lot of "Yankee shopkeepers," assisted by renegades like Keith, Talbot Ward, and others. The committee was a lot of stranglers; they ought to be punished as murderers; they ought to be shot down, egad, as revolutionaries! It was realized that street shooting had temporarily become unsafe; otherwise, there is no doubt that the hotheads would have gone forth deliberately abrawling. There were many threats made against individuals, many condign—and lawless—punishments promised them.
As an undercurrent, nowhere expressed or even acknowledged, was a strong feeling of relief. Any Law and Order would have fought at the mere suggestion; but every one of them felt it. After all, the law had been surprised and overpowered. It had yielded only to overwhelming odds. With the execution of Cora and Casey accomplished, the committee might be expected to disband. And, of course, when it did disband, then the law would have its innings. Its forces would be better organized and consolidated, its power assured. It could then apprehend and bring to justice the ringleaders of this unwarranted undertaking. Like dogs at the heels of a retreating foe, the hotheads became bolder as this secret conviction gained strength. They were in favour of using an armed force to take Coleman and his fellow-conspirators into the custody of the law. Calmer spirits held this scheme in check.
"Let them have rope," advised Blatchford. "I know mobs. Now that they've hung somebody, their spirit will die down. Give them a few days."
But to the surprise, and indignation of these people, the Vigilantes showed no of an intention to disband. On the contrary, their activities extended and their organization tightened. The various companies drilled daily until they went through evolutions and the manual of arms with all the perfection of regular troops. The committee's books remained open; by the last of the week over seven thousand men had signed the rolls. Vanloads of furniture and various supplies were backed up before the doors of headquarters, and were carried within by members of the organization—no non-member ever saw the inside of the building while it was occupied by the Vigilantes. The character of these furnishings and supplies would seem to argue an intention of permanence. Stoves, cooking utensils, cot beds, provisions, blankets, bulletin boards, arms, chairs, tables, field guns, ammunition, were only some items. Doorkeepers were always in attendance. Sentinels patrolled the streets and the roof. The great warehouse took on an exceedingly animated appearance.
The Executive Committee was in session all of each day. It became known that a "black list" of some sort was in preparation. On the heels of this orders came for the Vigilante police, instructing them to arrest certain men and to warn certain others to leave town immediately. It was evident that a clean sweep was contemplated.
Among the first of those arrested was the notorious Yankee Sullivan, an ex- prize fighter, ward heeler, ballot-box staffer, and shoulder striker. He had always been a pillar of strength to those engaged in corrupt practices. This man went to pieces completely. He confessed the details of many of his own crimes but, what was more important, implicated many others as well. His testimony was invaluable, not necessarily as final proof against those whom he accused, but as indications for thorough investigations. Finally, unexpectedly, he committed suicide in his cell. It seems he had been accustomed to from sixty to eighty drinks of whiskey a day, and the sudden, complete deprivation had destroyed him. Warned by this, the committee henceforward issued regular rations of whiskey to its prisoners!
Trials in due order, with counsel for defence and ample opportunity to call witnesses, went on briskly. Those who anticipated more hangings were disappointed. It became known that the committee had set for itself the rule that capital punishment would be inflicted only for crimes so punishable by the regular law. But each outgoing ship carried crowds of those on whom had been passed the sentence of banishment. The majority of these were, of course, low thugs, "Sydney ducks," hangers on; but a very large proportion were taken from what had been known as the city's best. In the law courts these men would in many cases have been declared as white as the driven snow. But they were undesirable citizens; the committee so decided them; and bade them begone. Charles Duane, Wooley Kearney, William Carr, Edward Bulger, Philander Brace, William McLean, J.D. Musgrave, and Peter Wightman were well-known and influential names found on the "black list," Peter Wightman, James White, and our old friend, Ned McGowan, ran away. Hundreds of others left the city. A terror spread among the ignorant and vicious of the underworld. Some of the minor offenders brought in by the Vigilante police were by the Executive Committee turned over to the regular law courts. Every one of such cases was promptly convicted by those courts!
This did not look much like disbanding, nor did any opportunity for wholesale arrest of the anarchists seem imminent. The leaders of the Law and Order faction were at last aroused.
"This is more than anarchy; it is revolution," said Judge Caldwell. "It is a successful revolution because it is organized. The people of this city are scattered and powerless. They in turn should be organized to combat the forces of disorder."
In pursuance of this belief—that the public at large needed only to be called together in order to defend its institutions—handbills were printed and newspaper notices published calling a meeting for June and in Portsmouth Square. Elaborate secret preparations, involving certain distributions of armed men were made to prevent what was considered certain interference. This was useless. Immediately after the appearance of the notice the Committee of Vigilance issued orders that the meeting was in no manner to be disturbed, and hung out placards reading:
"Members of the Vigilance Committee: Order must be maintained."
"Friends of the Vigilance Committee: Keep out of the Square," etc.
The meeting was well attended. Enormous crowds gathered, not only in and around the square itself, but in balconies and windows and on housetops. It was a ribald, disrespectful crowd, evidently out for a good time, calling back and forth, shouting question or comment at the men gathered about the speaker's platform.
"What kind of a circus do you call this show, anyway?" roared a huge, bare- armed miner in red shirt.
"This is the Law and Murder meeting," instantly answered some one from a balcony.
This phrase tickled the crowd hugely. The words were passed from man to man. Eventually they became the stereotyped retort. "Stranglers!" sneered one faction. "Law and Murder!" flung back the other.
On the platform stood or sat the owners of many of the city's proud names— judges, jurists, merchants, holders of high political office, men whose influence a month ago had been paramount and irresistible. Among them were famed orators, men who had never failed to hold and influence a crowd. But two hundred feet away little could be heard. It early became evident that, though there would be no interference, the sentiment of the crowd was against them. And, what was particularly maddening, the sentiment was good- humoured. Even the compliment of being taken seriously was denied them!
Colonel Ed Baker came forward to speak. The colonel's gift of eloquence was such that, in spite of his known principles, his lack of scruple, his insincerity, he won his way to a picturesque popularity and fame. Later he delivered a funeral oration over the remains of David Broderick that has gone far to invest the memory of that hard-headed, venal, unscrupulous politician with an aura of romance. But the crowd would have little of him this day. An almost continuous uproar drowned his efforts. Catch words such as liberty, constitution, habeas corpus, trial by jury, freedom, etc., occasionally became audible. The people were not interested.
"See Cora's defender!" cried someone, voicing the general suspicion that Baker had been one of the little gambler's hidden counsel. "Cora!" "Ed Baker!" "Ten thousand dollars!" "Out of that, you old reprobate!" jeered the audience. He spoke ten minutes against the storm, then yielded, red faced and angry. Others tried in vain. A Southerner named Benham, while deploring passionately the condition of the city which had been seized by a mob, robbed of its sacred rights, etc., happened inadvertently to throw back his coat, thus revealing the butt of a Colt's revolver. The bystanders caught the point at once.
"There's a pretty Law and Order man!" they shrieked. "Hey, Benham! Don't you know it's against the law to go armed?"
"I carry this weapon," shrieked Benham, passionately shaking his fist, "not as an instrument to overthrow the law, but to uphold it!"
A clear, steady voice from a nearby balcony made itself distinctly heard:
"In other words, sir, you break the law in order to uphold the law," it said. "What more are the Vigilantes doing?"
The crowd went wild over this repartee. The confusion became worse. Old Judge Campbell was thrust forward, in the hope that his age and his senior judgeship would command respect. He was unable to utter consecutive sentences.
"I once thought," he interrupted himself piteously, "that I was the free citizen of a free country, but recent occurrences have convinced me that I am a slave; a slave, gentlemen, more a slave than any on a Southern plantation for they know their masters, but I know not mine!"
But his auditors refused to be affected.
"Oh, yes, you do!" they informed him. "You know your masters as well as anybody—two of them were hung the other day!"
After this the meeting broke up. The most ardent Law and Order man could not deny that as a popular demonstration it had been a fizzle.
But if this attempt at home to gain coherence failed, up river the partisans had better luck. A hasty messenger with tidings for the ear of the Executive Committee only was followed by rapidly spreading rumours. Five hundred men with two pieces of artillery were coming down from Sacramento to liberate the prisoners, especially Billy Mulligan, or die in the attempt. They were reported to be men from the southeast: Texans, Carolinians, crackers from Pike County, all fire-eaters, reckless, sure to make trouble. Their numbers were not in themselves formidable, but every man knew the city still to be full of scattered warriors needing only leaders and a rallying point. The materials for a very pretty civil war were laid for the match. An uneasiness pervaded headquarters, not for the outcome, but for the unavoidable fighting and bloodshed.
Therefore, when Olney hastily entered the main hall early in the evening, and in a loud voice called for "two hundred men with side arms for especial duty," there was a veritable scramble to enlist. Olney picked out the required number, selecting, it was afterward noticed, only the big men physically. They fell in, and were marched quickly out Market Street. It was dark. Expectations were high. Just beyond Second Street, dimly visible against the sky or in the faint starlight, they saw a mysterious force opposing them, men on foot, horses, the wheels of guns. Each man gripped his revolver and set his teeth. Here, evidently, from this ordinarily deserted and distant part of town, a flanking attack was to have been delivered. As they drew nearer they made out wagons; and nearer still-bale upon bale of gunny sacks, and shovels!
The truth dawned on them, and a great laugh went up. "Sold! Sold! Sold!" they cried.
But they set to work with a will, filled the gunny sacks with sand, piled them on the wagons; and so by morning Fort Gunnybags, as headquarters was thenceforth called, came into existence. Cannon were mounted, breastworks piled, embrasures planned.
The five hundred fire-eaters were no myth. They disembarked, greeted the horde of friends who had come to meet them, marched to Fort Gunnybags, looked it over, thrust their hands in their pockets, and walked peacefully away to the nearest barrooms!
Wise men. By now the Vigilante dispositions were so complete that in the mere interest of examining so sudden yet so thorough an organization, a paragraph or so may profitably be spent on it. Behind headquarters was a long shed stable in which were to be found at all hours saddle horses and artillery horses, all saddled and bridled, ready for instant use. Twenty- six pieces of artillery, mostly sent in by captains of merchant vessels in the harbour, were here parked. Other cannon were mounted for the defence of Fort Gunnybags. Muskets, rifles, and sabres enough to arm 6,000 men had been accumulated—and there were 6,000 men to use them! A French portable barricade had been constructed in the event of possible street fighting, a sort of wheeled framework that could be transformed into litters or scaling ladders. Sutlers' offices and kitchens could feed a small army. Flags and painted signs carrying the emblematic open eye of vigilance decorated the rooms, A huge alarm bell had been mounted on the roof. The mattresses, beds, cots, blankets, and other furniture necessary to sleep four companies on the premises had been provided. A completely equipped armourer's shop and a hospital with all supplies occupied the third story. The forces were divided into four companies of artillery, one squadron and two troops of cavalry, four regiments, and thirty-two companies of infantry; besides the small but efficient police organization. A tap on the bell gathered these men in an incredibly short space of time. "As a rule," says Bancroft, "within fifteen minutes from the time the bell was tapped, on any occasion, seven-tenths of the entire Vigilante forces would be in their places armed ready for battle."
Another corps, not as heroic, but quite as necessary, it was found advisable to appoint. The sacking of which Fort Gunnybags was made was of very coarse texture. When dry, the sand filling tended to run out! Therefore, those bags had to be kept constantly wet, and somebody had to do it. Enemies sneeringly remarked that Fort Gunnybags consumed much more water without than within; but this joke lost its point when it became known that the committee, decades in advance of its period, had prohibited alcohol absolutely!
Realizing from the two lamentable fiascos just recounted that little could be accomplished by private initiative, the upholders of the law turned their attention to Sacramento. Here they had every reason to hope for success. No matter how well organized the Vigilantes might be, or how thoroughly they carried the sympathies of the local public, there could be no doubt that they were acting in defiance of the law, were, in fact, no better than rebels. It was not only within the power, it was the duty of the governor of the State to declare the city in a condition of insurrection.
This being accomplished, it followed logically that the State troops must put down the insurrection; and if they failed, there was still the immense power of the republic to call upon. After all, when you look at it that way, this handful of disturbers amounted to very little.
The first step was to win over the governor. Without him the next step could not be taken. Accordingly all the big guns of San Francisco took the Senator for Sacramento. There they met Terry, Volney Howard, and others of the same ilk. No governor of Johnson's sort could long withstand such pressure. He promised to issue the proclamation of insurrection as soon as it was "legally proved" that the committee had acted outside the law. The mere fact that it had already hanged two men and deported a great number of others meant nothing. That, apparently, was not legal proof.
In order that all things should be legal, then, Terry issued a writ of habeas corpus for the body of one William Mulligan, and gave it into the hands of Deputy-sheriff Harrison for service on the committee. Nobody expected the latter to deliver over Mulligan.
"But they'll deny the writ," said Terry, "and that will constitute a legal defiance of the State. The governor will then be legally justified in issuing his proclamation, and ordering out the State troops to enforce the writ."
If the State troops proved inadequate, the plan was then to call on the United States—as locally represented by General Wool and Captain David Farragut—for assistance. With this armed backing three times the Vigilante force could be quickly subdued. As it was all legal, it could not fail.
Harrison took the writ of habeas corpus and proceeded to San Francisco. He presented himself at headquarters, produced his writ, and had himself announced to the Executive Committee then in session.
"Tell him to go to hell!" growled someone.
But a half-dozen members saw through the ruse, and interposed vigorous objections.
"I move," said Dempster solemnly, "that our police be permitted to remove all prisoners for a few hours."
This was carried, and put into immediate effect. Deputy Harrison was then politely received, his writ fully acknowledged, and he was allowed to search the premises. Of course he found nothing, and departed much crestfallen. The scheme had failed. The committee had in no way denied his authority or his writ. Harrison was no fool. He saw clearly what he had been expected to do. On his way back to Sacramento he did some thinking. To Terry he unblushingly returned the writ endorsed: "Prevented from service by armed men." For the sake of the cause Harrison had lied!
Johnson immediately issued his proclamation. The leaders turned with confidence to the Federal authorities for assistance. To their blank dismay General Wool refused to furnish arms. His position was that he had no authority to do so without orders from Washington. The sympathies of this doughty old soldier were not with this attempt. Colonel Baker and Volney Howard waited on him, and after considerable conversation made the mistake of threatening to report him to Washington for refusing to uphold the law.
"I think, gentlemen," flashed back the veteran, "I know my duty, and in its performance dread no responsibility."
So saying he bowed them from the room. Farragut equally could not clearly see why he should train the guns of his ship on the city. With this fiasco the opposition for the moment died. The Executive Committee went on patiently working down through its black list. It announced that after June 24th no new cases would be taken, A few days later it proclaimed an "adjournment parade" on July 5th. It considered its work done. The city had become safe.
But this peaceful outcome did not suit the aristocratic wing of the Law and Order party in the least. The haughty, supremely individualistic, bold, forceful, often charming coterie of fire-eaters had, in their opinion, been insulted, and they wanted reprisal, punishment, blood. Terry, Baker, Bennett, Miles, Webb, Nugent, Blatchford, Rowlee, Caldwell, Broderick, Ware, Volney Howard, Black—to mention only a few—chafed intolerably. Such men were accustomed to have their own way, to cherish an ultra-sensitive "honour," to be looked up to; had come to consider themselves as especially privileged, to look upon themselves as direct representatives of the only proper government and administration of law. This revolt of the "lower classes," the "smug, psalm-singing Yankees," the "shopkeepers," was intolerable impudence. Because of a series of accidents, proper resentment of such impudence, due punishment of such denial of the law had been postponed. It was not, therefore, abrogated.
When, therefore, the committee announced July 5th as a definite date for disbanding, the lawful authorities and their upholders, blinded by their passions, were distinctly disappointed. Where the common citizen perceived only the welcome end of a necessary job well done, they saw slipping away the last chance for a clash of arms that should teach these rebels their place. It was all very well to talk of arresting the ringleaders and bringing them to justice. In the present lamentable demoralization of the courts it might not work; and even if it did work, the punishment of ringleaders was small satisfaction as compared to triumphant vindication in pitched battle.
Sherman had resigned command of the military in disgust when he found that General Wool and Captain Farragut had no intention of supplying him Federal arms, thus closing—save for later inaccurate writing in his "Memoirs"—an unfortunate phase of his career. In his stead had been chosen General Volney Howard. Howard was a rather fat, very pompous, wholly conceited bombastes furioso with apparently remarkable lack of judgment or grasp of a situation. In the committee's action looking toward adjournment he actually thought he saw a sign of weakening!
"Now is the moment for us to show our power!" he said.
In this he gained the zealous support of Judge Terry and Major Marmaduke Miles, two others with more zeal than discretion. These three managed to persuade Governor Johnson to order a parade of State troops in the streets of San Francisco. Their argument was that such a parade—of legally organized forces—would overawe the citizens; their secret hope, however, was that such a show would provoke the desired conflict. This hope they shared with Howard, after the governor's order had been obtained. Howard's vanity and inclinations jumped together. He consented. Altogether, it was a very pretty little plot.
By now the Law and Order forces had become numerically formidable. The bobtail and rag-tag, ejected either by force or by fright, flocked to the colours. A certain proportion of the militia remained in the ranks, though a majority had resigned. A large contingent of reckless, wild young men, without a care or a tie in the world, with no interest in the rights of the case, or, indeed, in themselves, avid only for adventure, offered themselves as soon as the prospects for a real fight became good. And there were always the five hundred discomfited Texans.
Nor were arms now lacking. Contrary to all expectation, the committee had scrupulously refrained from meddling with the State armouries. All militia muskets were available. In addition the State had now the right to a certain quota of Federal arms, stored in the arsenal at Benicia. These could be requisitioned.
At this point in the planning weasly little Jimmy Ware had a bright idea.
"Look here!" he cried, "how many of those Benicia muskets are there?"
"About a hundred and fifty stand, sir," Howard told him.
"Now they can't help us a whole lot," propounded Ware. "They are too few. But why can't we use them for bait, to get those people on the wrong side of the fence?"
"What do you mean?" asked Terry, who knew Ware intimately.
"Suppose they are shipped from Benicia to the armouries in the city; they are legally Federal property until they are delivered, aren't they?"
"Well, if the Stranglers should happen to seize them while they're still Federal property, they've committed a definite offence against the United States, haven't they?"
"What do we care about that now?" asked Major Marmaduke Miles, to whom this seemed irrelevant.
But Judge Terry's legal mind was struck with the beauty and simplicity of this ruse.
"Hold on!" he cried. "If we ship them in a boat, the seizure will be piracy. If they intercept those arms, they're pirates, and we can legally call on the Federal forces—and they'll be compelled to respond, egad!"
"They're pretty smart; suppose they smell a rat?" asked Miles doubtfully.
"Then we'll have the muskets where we want them, anyway. It's worth trying," replied Ware.
"I know just the man," put in Terry. "I'll send for him."
Shortly appeared a saturnine, lank, bibulous individual known as Rube Maloney. To him Terry explained. He was to charter a sloop, take the muskets aboard—and get caught.
"No resistance, mind you!" warned Terry.
"Trust me for that," grinned Rube. "I ain't anxious for no punctured skin, nor yit a stretched neck."
"Pick your men carefully."
"I'll take Jack Phillips and Jim McNab," said Rube, after a moment's thought, "and possibly a few refreshments?" he suggested.
Terry reached into his pocket.
"Certainly, certainly," said he. "Treat yourself well."
There remained only to see that the accurate details should get to the Committee of Vigilance, but in such a manner as to avoid suspicion that the information had been "planted."
"Is there anybody we can trust on their rolls?" asked Terry.
But it was reluctantly conceded that the Vigilantes had pretty well cleaned out the doubtful ones. Here again, the resourceful Jimmy Ware came to the rescue.
"I know your man—Morrell. He'll get it to them. As far as anybody knows, he hasn't taken sides at all."
"Will you see him?" asked Terry.
"I'll see him," promised Jimmy Ware.
By this time the Vigilante organization had pretty well succeeded in eliminating the few Law and Order sympathizers who had been bold enough to attempt to play the part of spy by signing the rolls. These had not been many, and their warning had been sufficient. But Morrell had, in a measure, escaped distrust even if he had not gained confidence. He had had the sense not to join the organization; and his attitude of the slightly supercilious, veiledly contemptuous Britisher, scorning all things about him, was sufficient guarantee of his neutrality. This breed was then very common. He left his conference with Jimmy Ware thoroughly instructed, quite acquiescent, but revolving matters in his own mind to see if somehow he could not turn them to his advantage. For Morrell was, as always, in need of money. In addition, he had a personal score to settle with Keith for, although he had apparently forgotten their last interview regarding "loans," the memory rankled. And Morrell had not forgotten that before all this Vigilante business broke he had been made a good offer by Cora's counsel to get Keith out of the way. Cora was now very dead, to be sure; but on sounding Jimmy Ware, Morrell learned that Keith's removal would still be pleasant to the powers that pay.
If he could work these things all in together—Cogitating absorbedly, he glanced up to see Ben Sansome sauntering down the street, his malacca cane at the proper angle, his cylindrical hat resting lightly on his sleek locks, his whole person spick with the indescribably complete appointment of the dandy. Sansome was mixed up with the Keiths—perhaps he could be used—On impulse Morrell hailed him genially, and invited him to take a drink. The exquisite brightened, and perceptibly hastened his step. Morrell's rather ultra-Anglicism always fascinated him. They turned in at the El Dorado, and there seated themselves at the most remote of the small tables.
"Well," said Morrell cheerfully, after preliminary small talk had been disposed of, "how goes the fair Nancy?"
Sansome's effeminately handsome face darkened. Things had in reality gone very badly with the fair Nancy. Her revulsion against Sansome at the time of the capture of the jail had been complete; and as is the case with real revulsions, she had not attempted to conceal it. Sansome's careful structure, which had gained so lofty an elevation, had collapsed like the proverbial house of cards. His vanity had been cruelly rasped. And what had been more or less merely a dilettante's attraction had been thereby changed into a thwarted passion.
"Damn the fair Nancy!" he cried, in answer to Morrell's question.
Morrell's eyes narrowed, and he motioned quietly to the waiting black to replenish the glasses.
"With all my heart, damn her!" said he. "I agree with you; she's a snippy, cold little piece. Not my style at all. Not worth the serious attention of a man like yourself. Who is it now, you sly dog?"
Sansome sipped at his drink; sighed sentimentally.
"Cold—yes—but if the right man could awaken her—" he murmured.
"Look here, Sansome, do you want that woman?"
Sansome looked at his companion haughtily; his eye fell; he drew circles with the bottom of his glass.
"By gad!" he cried with a sudden queer burst of fire; "I've got to have her!"
And then he turned slowly red, actually started to wriggle, concealed his embarrassment under cover of his cigar.
"H'm," observed Morrell speculatively, without looking across at Sansome. "Tell me, Ben, does she still care for her husband?"
"No; that I'll swear!" replied Sansome eagerly.
"If you're sure of that one essential little fact, and you really want her, why don't you take her?"
"Damn it, ain't I telling you? She won't see me."
"Tell me about it," urged Morrell, settling back, and again motioning for fresh drinks.
Sansome, whose soul was ripe for sympathy, needed little more urging. He poured out his tale, sometimes rushingly and passionately, again, as his submerged but still conventional self-consciousness straggled to the surface, with shamefaced bravado. "By Gad!" he finished. "You know, I feel like a raw schoolboy, talkin' like this!"
Morrell leaned forward, his reserve of manner laid aside, his whole being radiating sympathetic charm.
"My dear chap, don't," he begged, laying his hand on Sansome's forearm. "A genuine passion is the most glorious thing on earth even in callow youth! But when we old men of the world—" The pause was eloquent. "She's a headstrong filly," he went on in a more matter-of-fact tone, after a moment, "takes a bit of handling. You'll pardon me, old chap, if I suggest that you've gone about things a bit wrong."
"How is that?" asked Sansome. Under the influence of drinks, confession, and sympathy, he was in a glow of fellow-feeling.
"Believe me, I know women and horses! You've ridden this one too much on the snaffle. Try the curb. That high-spirited sort takes a bit of handling. They like to feel themselves dominated. You've been too gentle, too refined. She's gentle and refined for two. What she wants is the brute— 'Rape of the Sabines' principle. Savage her a bit, and she'll come to heel like a dog. Not at once, perhaps. Give her a week."
"That's all very well," objected Sansome, whose eyes were shining, "but how about that week? She'll run to that beast of a husband with her story—"
"And be sorry for it afterward—"
Morrell appeared to think.
"There's something in that. But suppose we arranged to get the husband out of the way, where she couldn't run to him at once—" he suggested.
They had more drinks. At first Morrell was only sardonically amused; but as his imagination got to working and the creative power awoke, his interest became more genuine. It was all too wildly improbable for words—and yet, was anything improbable in this impossible place? At least it was amusing, the whole thing was amusing—this super-refined exquisite awakened, to an emotion so genuine that what judgment he had was now obscured by the eagerness of his passion; the situation apparently so easily malleable; the beautiful safety of it all for himself. And it did not really matter if the whole fantastic plot failed!
"I tell you, no," he broke his thoughts to reply to some ill-considered suggestion, "The good old simple methods are the best—they're all laid out for us by the Drury Lane melodramas. You leave it to me to get rid of him. Then we'll send the usual message to her that he is lying wounded somewhere—say at Jake's road house—"
"Won't that get her to thinking too much of him?" interrupted Sansome anxiously.
Morrell, momentarily taken aback, gained time for a reply by pouring Sansome another drink, "He's more sense left than I thought," he said to himself; and aloud: "All you want is to get her out to Jake's. She'll go simply as a matter of wifely duty, and all that. Don't worry. Once she's there, it's your affair; and unless I mistake my man, I believe you'll know how to manage the situation"—he winked slyly—"she's really mad about you, but, like most women, she's hemmed in by convention. Boldly break through the convention, and she'll come around."
Sansome was plainly fascinated by the idea, but in a trepidation of doubt, nevertheless.
"But suppose she doesn't come around?" he objected vaguely.
Morrell threw aside his cigarette and arose with an air of decision.
"I thought you were so crazy mad about her?" he said in tones that cut. "What are you wasting my time for?"
"No, no! Hold on!" cried Sansome, at once all fire again. "I'll do it—hold on!"
"As a matter of fact," observed Morrell, reseating himself, and speaking as though there had been no interruption, "I imagine you have little to fear from that."
He went into the street a little later, his vision somewhat blurred, but his mind clear. Sansome, by now very pot-valiant, swaggered alongside.
"By the way, Ben," said Morrell suddenly, "I hope you go armed—these are bad times."
"I have always carried a derringer—and I can use it, too!" boasted Sansome, swinging his cane.
Morrell, left alone, stood on the corner for some time diligently engaged in getting control of himself. He laughed a little.
"Regular bally melodrama, conspiracy and all, right off the blood-and- thunder stage," said he. "Wonder if it works in real life? We'll see."
After his head had cleared, he set to work methodically to find Keith, but when he finally met that individual it was most casually. Morrell was apparently in a hurry, but as he saw Keith he appeared to hesitate, then, making up his mind, he approached the young lawyer.
"Look here, Keith, a word with you," he said. "I have stumbled on some information which may be important. I was on my way to the committee with it, but I'm in a hurry. The governor is shipping arms into the city to- morrow night from Benicia, by a small sloop."
"Are you sure of this?" asked Keith.
"Where did you get the information?"
"That I cannot tell you."
Keith still hesitated; Morrell turned on his heel.
"Well, I've told you. You can do as you please, but you'd better let the committee decide whether to take the tip or not." He walked away without once looking back, certain that Keith would end by reporting the information,
"Chances are he'll go with the capturing party," ran the trend of his thoughts, "and so he'll be out of reach of this little abduction. But I don't care much. If he follows them out to Jake's by any chance, Sansome will shoot him—or he'll shoot Sansome. Doesn't matter which. Shootin's none too healthy these days for either side! Oh, Lord, most amusin'!"
He thought a while, then turned up the hill toward his own house. A new refinement of the plot had occurred to the artist's soul too much drink had released in him.
Mrs. Morrell was vastly surprised to see him. She was clad in a formless pink silk wrapper, was reclining on a sofa, and was settling down to relaxation of mind and body by means of French novels and cigarettes,
"Well, what are you doing here at this time of day?" was her greeting.
"Came to bask in the light of your smiles, my dear," he replied with elephantine irony.
"Nonsense!" she rejoined sharply, "You've been drinking again!"
"To be sure; but not enough to hurt." His manner suddenly became businesslike, "Look here," he asked her, "are you game to make a tidy bit of money?"
"Always!" she replied promptly, also becoming businesslike.
He explained in detail. She listened in silence at first with a slight smile of contempt on her lips. As he progressed, however, the smile faded.
"Where do I come in?" she asked finally.
"You must be there when the message comes to her. She might not go out to Jake's alone—probably wouldn't. I don't know her well enough to judge. Hurry her into it."
"I see." She laughed suddenly. "Lord, she'll be surprised when I call on her! Take some doing, that!" She thought a few moments. "My appearance will connect us with it. Won't do."
"If the thing goes through we won't be here," he pointed out. "If it doesn't go through all right, we'll arrange a little comedy. Have you bound and gagged—before her eyes—or something like that."
"Thanks," she replied to this.
Morrell was not entirely open. He did not tell her that money or no money, plot or no plot, he had resolved to flee the city, at least for a time. Investigations were getting too close to some of his past activities. He did not offer in words what he nevertheless knew to be the most potent of his arguments—namely, the implacable hate Mrs. Morrell bore Keith. Morrell's knowledge of this hate was accurate, though his analysis of its cause was faulty. He thought his wife to be Keith's discarded mistress, and did not greatly care. Nor did he mention the possibility which, however, Mrs. Morrell now voiced.
"Suppose Keith follows them out to Jake's?" she suggested.
"One of them will kill, and the Stranglers will hang the other," he said briefly.
She looked up.
"I don't care for that!"
"In that event, you will not be present. Your job will be to duck out." He paused, then went on slowly: "Would you grieve at the demise of either—or all three?"
Her face hardened.
"But," he went on slowly, "the chances of it are very remote. If there is any killing, it will come later. Keith will be kept out of the way."
"You hint of an assignation. I will arrange for witnesses."
"Where does the money come in?" she demanded. Morrell floundered for a moment. He had lost sight of the money.
"It comes from certain parties who want Keith put out of the way," he said.
"And suppose Keith is not put out of the way?" she began, her facile mind pouncing on the weakness of this statement. "Never mind," she interrupted herself. "I'll do it!" Her face had hardened again, "Can you depend on Sansome to go through with it?"
"Only if he's fairly drunk."
"I'll attend to that. That is my job. You may not see me to-morrow; but go in the evening to call on her."
"It looks absolutely preposterous," she said at last, "but it may work. And, if any part of it works, that'll be enough."
"Yes," said he.
They had both forgotten the money.
As Morrell had surmised, Keith decided to pass on the news for what it was worth. The committee believed it, and was filled with consternation at the incredible folly of the projected show of armed force.
"This is not peace, but war," said Coleman, "which we are trying to avert!"
The Executive Committee went into immediate session. It was now evident that the disbanding would have to be indefinitely postponed. An extraordinary program to meet the emergency was discussed piecemeal. One of its details had to do with the shipment of arms from Benicia. The committee here fell neatly into the trap prepared for it. In all probability no one clearly realized the legal status of the muskets, but all supposed them already to belong to the State that was threatening to use them. Charles Doane, instructed to take the steps necessary to their capture, called to him the chief of the harbour police.
"Have you a small vessel ready for immediate service?" he asked this man.
"Yes, a sloop, at the foot of this street."
"Be ready to sail in half an hour."
Doane then turned the job over to a trustworthy, quick-witted man named John Durkee. The latter selected twelve to assist him, among whom was Keith, at the latter's especial request. Morrell, loitering near, saw this band depart for the water front, and followed them far enough to watch them embark, to witness the hoisting of the sloop's sails, and to see the craft heel to the evening breeze and slip away around the point. All things were going well. The committee suspected nothing of the plot to fasten the crime of piracy on it; Keith was out of the way. Morrell turned on his heel and walked rapidly to his rendezvous with Sansome.
Durkee and his sloop beat for some hours against wind and tide; but finally, so strong were both, he was forced to anchor in San Pablo Bay until conditions had somewhat modified. Finally, he was able to get under way again, A number of craft were sailing about, and one by one these were overhauled, commanded to lay to, and boarded in true piratical style. It was fun for everybody. The breeze blew in strongly from the Golden Gate, the waves chopped and danced merrily, the little sloop dipped her rail and flew along at a speed that justified her reputation as a racer, gulls followed curiously. But there were no practical results. Every sailing craft they overhauled proved innocent, and either indignant or sarcastic. The sun dipped, and the short twilight of this latitude was almost immediately succeeded by a brilliant night. Slowly the breeze died, until the little sloop could just crawl along. It grew chilly, and there was no food aboard. A less persistent man than John Durkee would have felt justified in giving it up and heading for home; but John had been instructed to cruise until he captured the arms; and he profanely announced his intention of so doing.
In this he was more faithful to his superiors than the notorious Rube Maloney to his employers. It was to the interest of the Law and Order party that Rube and his precious crew should be promptly and easily captured. They had been instructed to carry boldly and flagrantly, in full daylight, down the middle of the bay. But Terry's permission, to lay in "refreshments" at cost of the conspirators had been liberally interpreted. By six o'clock Rube had just sense enough left to drop anchor off Pueblo Point. There the three jolly mariners proceeded to celebrate; and there they would probably have lain undiscovered had less of a bulldog than Durkee been sent after them.
As it was, midnight had passed before Durkee's keen eyes caught the loom of some object in the black mist close under the point. Quietly he eased off the sheet and bore down on it. As soon as he ascertained definitely that the object was indeed a boat, he ran alongside. The twelve men boarded with a rush: they found themselves in possession of an empty deck. From the hatch came the reek of alcohol and the sound of hearty snoring. The capture was made.
In a half hour the transfer of the muskets and the three prisoners was accomplished. The latter offered no resistance, but seemed cross at being awakened. Leaving the vessel anchored off the point, the little sloop stood away again for San Francisco, reaching the California Street wharf shortly after daylight. Here she was moored, and one of the crew was dispatched to the committee for further instructions and grub. He returned after an hour, but was preceded somewhat by the grub.
"They say to deliver the muskets at headquarters," he reported, "but to turn the prisoners loose."
"Turn them loose!" cried Durkee, astonished.
"That's what they said," repeated the messenger. "And here's written orders," and he displayed a paper signed by the well-known "33, Secretary," and bearing the Vigilante seal of the open eye.
"All right," acquiesced Durkee. "Now, you mangy hounds, you've got just about twenty-eight seconds to make yourselves as scarce as your virtues. Scat!"
Rube and his two companions had several of the twenty-eight seconds to spare; but once they had lost sight of their captors, they moderated their pace. They had been much depressed, but now they cheered up and swaggered. A few drinks restored them to normal, and they were able to put a good face on the report they now made to their employers, all of whom, including Terry, had gathered thus early to receive them. After all, things had gone well: they had been actually captured, which was the essential thing, and it did not seem necessary to go into extraneous details.
"Good!" cried Terry, who had come down from Sacramento personally to superintend the working out of this latest ruse.
He was illegally absent from his court, meddling illegally with matters not in his jurisdiction. "Now we must get a warrant for piracy into the hands of the United States Marshal. Send him alone, with no deputies. When he makes his deposition of resistance, then we shall see!"