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