A Ward of the Golden Gate by Bret Harte
The principal parlor of the New Golden Gate Hotel in San Francisco, fairly reported by the local press as being "truly palatial" in its appointments, and unrivaled in its upholstery, was, nevertheless, on August 5, 1860, of that startling newness that checked any familiarity, and evidently had produced some embarrassment on the limbs of four visitors who had just been ushered into its glories. After hesitating before one or two gorgeous fawn-colored brocaded easy-chairs of appalling and spotless virginity, one of them seated himself despairingly on a tete-a-tete sofa in marked and painful isolation, while another sat uncomfortably upright on a sofa. The two others remained standing, vaguely gazing at the ceiling, and exchanging ostentatiously admiring but hollow remarks about the furniture in unnecessary whispers. Yet they were apparently men of a certain habit of importance and small authority, with more or less critical attitude in their speech.
To them presently entered a young man of about five-and-twenty, with remarkably bright and singularly sympathetic eyes. Having swept the group in a smiling glance, he singled out the lonely occupier of the tete-a-tete, and moved pleasantly towards him. The man rose instantly with an eager gratified look.
"Well, Paul, I didn't allow you'd remember me. It's a matter of four years since we met at Marysville. And now you're bein' a great man you've"--
No one could have known from the young man's smiling face that he really had not recognized his visitor at first, and that his greeting was only an exhibition of one of those happy instincts for which he was remarkable. But, following the clew suggested by his visitor, he was able to say promptly and gayly:--
"I don't know why I should forget Tony Shear or the Marysville boys," turning with a half-confiding smile to the other visitors, who, after the human fashion, were beginning to be resentfully impatient of this special attention.
"Well, no,--for I've allus said that you took your first start from Marysville. But I've brought a few friends of our party that I reckoned to introduce to you. Cap'n Stidger, Chairman of our Central Committee, Mr. Henry J. Hoskins, of the firm of Hoskins and Bloomer, and Joe Slate, of the 'Union Press,' one of our most promising journalists. Gentlemen," he continued, suddenly and without warning lifting his voice to an oratorical plane in startling contrast to his previous unaffected utterance, "I needn't say that this is the honorable Paul Hathaway, the youngest state senator in the Legislature. You know his record!" Then, recovering the ordinary accents of humanity, he added, "We read of your departure last night from Sacramento, and I thought we'd come early, afore the crowd."
"Proud to know you, sir," said Captain Stidger, suddenly lifting the conversation to the platform again. "I have followed your career, sir. I've read your speech, Mr. Hathaway, and, as I was telling our mutual friend, Mr. Shear, as we came along, I don't know any man that could state the real party issues as squarely. Your castigating exposition of so-called Jeffersonian principles, and your relentless indictment of the resolutions of '98, were-- were"--coughed the captain, dropping into conversation again--"were the biggest thing out. You have only to signify the day, sir, that you will address us, and I can promise you the largest audience in San Francisco."
"I'm instructed by the proprietor of the 'Union Press,'" said Mr. Slate, feeling for his notebook and pencil, "to offer you its columns for any explanations you may desire to make in the form of a personal letter or an editorial in reply to the 'Advertiser's' strictures on your speech, or to take any information you may have for the benefit of our readers and the party."
"If you are ever down my way, Mr. Hathaway," said Mr. Hoskins, placing a large business card in Hathaway's hand, "and will drop in as a friend, I can show you about the largest business in the way of canned provisions and domestic groceries in the State, and give you a look around Battery Street generally. Or if you'll name your day, I've got a pair of 2.35 Blue Grass horses that'll spin you out to the Cliff House to dinner and back. I've had Governor Fiske, and Senator Doolan, and that big English capitalist who was here last year, and they--well, sir,--they were pleased! Or if you'd like to see the town--if this is your first visit--I'm a hand to show you.
Nothing could exceed Mr. Hathaway's sympathetic acceptance of their courtesies, nor was there the least affectation in it. Thoroughly enjoying his fellowmen, even in their foibles, they found him irresistibly attractive. "I lived here seven years ago," he said, smiling, to the last speaker.
"When the water came up to Montgomery Street," interposed Mr. Shear, in a hoarse but admiring aside.
"When Mr. Hammersley was mayor," continued Hathaway.
"Had an official position--private secretary--afore he was twenty," explained Shear, in perfectly audible confidence.
"Since then the city has made great strides, leaping full-grown, sir, in a single night," said Captain Stidger, hastily ascending the rostrum again with a mixed metaphor, to the apparent concern of a party of handsomely dressed young ladies who had recently entered the parlor. "Stretching from South Park to Black Point, and running back to the Mission Dolores and the Presidio, we are building up a metropolis, sir, worthy to be placed beside the Golden Gate that opens to the broad Pacific and the shores of far Cathay! When the Pacific Railroad is built we shall be the natural terminus of the Pathway of Nations!"
Mr. Hathaway's face betrayed no consciousness that he had heard something like this eight years before, and that much of it had come true, as he again sympathetically responded. Neither was his attention attracted by a singular similarity which the attitude of the group of ladies on the other side of the parlor bore to that of his own party. They were clustered around one of their own number-- a striking-looking girl--who was apparently receiving their mingled flatteries and caresses with a youthful yet critical sympathy, which, singularly enough, was not unlike his own. It was evident also that an odd sort of rivalry seemed to spring up between the two parties, and that, in proportion as Hathaway's admirers became more marked and ostentatious in their attentions, the supporters of the young girl were equally effusive and enthusiastic in their devotion. As usual in such cases, the real contest was between the partisans themselves; each successive demonstration on either side was provocative or retaliatory, and when they were apparently rendering homage to their idols they were really distracted by and listening to each other. At last, Hathaway's party being reinforced by fresh visitors, a tall brunette of the opposition remarked in a professedly confidential but perfectly audible tone:--
"Well, my dear, as I don't suppose you want to take part in a political caucus, perhaps we'd better return to the Ladies' Boudoir, unless there's a committee sitting there too."
"I know how valuable your time must be, as you are all business men," said Hathaway, turning to his party, in an equally audible tone; "but before you go, gentlemen, you must let me offer you a little refreshment in a private room," and he moved naturally towards the door. The rival fair, who had already risen at their commander's suggestion, here paused awkwardly over an embarrassing victory. Should they go or stay? The object of their devotion, however, turned curiously towards Hathaway. For an instant their eyes met. The young girl turned carelessly to her companions and said, "No; stay here--it's the public parlor;" and her followers, evidently accustomed to her authority, sat down again.
"A galaxy of young ladies from the Convent of Santa Clara, Mr. Hathaway," explained Captain Stidger, naively oblivious of any discourtesy on their part, as he followed Hathaway's glance and took his arm as they moved away. "Not the least of our treasures, sir. Most of them daughters of pioneers--and all Californian bred and educated. Connoisseurs have awarded them the palm, and declare that for Grace, Intelligence, and Woman's Highest Charms the East cannot furnish their equal!" Having delivered this Parthian compliment in an oratorical passage through the doorway, the captain descended, outside, into familiar speech. "But I suppose you will find that out for yourself if you stay here long. San Francisco might furnish a fitting bride to California's youngest senator."
"I am afraid that my stay here must be brief, and limited to business," said Hathaway, who had merely noticed that the principal girl was handsome and original-looking. "In fact, I am here partly to see an old acquaintance--Colonel Pendleton."
The three men looked at each other curiously. "Oh! Harry Pendleton," said Mr. Hoskins, incredulously "You don't know him?"
"An old pioneer--of course," interposed Shear, explanatorily and apologetically. "Why, in Paul's time the colonel was a big man here."
"I understand the colonel has been unfortunate," said Hathaway, gravely; "but in my time he was President of the El Dorado Bank."
"And the bank hasn't got through its settlement yet," said Hoskins "I hope you ain't expecting to get anything out of it?"
"No," said Hathaway, smiling; "I was a boy at that time, and lived up to my salary. I know nothing of his bank difficulties, but it always struck me that Colonel Pendleton was himself an honorable man."
"It ain't that," said Captain Stidger energetically, "but the trouble with Harry Pendleton is that he hasn't grown with the State, and never adjusted himself to it. And he won't. He thinks the Millennium was between the fall of '49 and the spring of '50, and after that everything dropped. He belongs to the old days, when a man's simple word was good for any amount if you knew him; and they say that the old bank hadn't a scrap of paper for half that was owing to it. That was all very well, sir, in '49 and '50, and--Luck; but it won't do for '59 and '60, and--Business! And the old man can't see it."
"But he is ready to fight for it now, as in the old time," said Mr. Slate, "and that's another trouble with his chronology. He's done more to keep up dueling than any other man in the State, and don't know the whole spirit of progress and civilization is against it."
It was impossible to tell from Paul Hathaway's face whether his sympathy with Colonel Pendleton's foibles or his assent to the criticisms of his visitors was the truer. Both were no doubt equally sincere. But the party was presently engaged in the absorption of refreshment, which, being of a purely, spirituous and exhilarating quality, tended to increase their good humor with the host till they parted. Even then a gratuitous advertisement of his virtues and their own intentions in calling upon him was oratorically voiced from available platforms and landings, in the halls and stairways, until it was pretty well known throughout the Golden Gate Hotel that the Hon. Mr. Paul Hathaway had arrived from Sacramento and had received a "spontaneous ovation."
Meantime the object of it had dropped into an easy-chair by the window of his room, and was endeavoring to recall a less profitable memory. The process of human forgetfulness is not a difficult one between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six, and Paul Hathaway had not only fulfilled the Mayor's request by forgetting the particulars of a certain transfer that he had witnessed in the Mayor's office, but in the year succeeding that request, being about to try his fortunes in the mountains, he had formally constituted Colonel Pendleton to act as his proxy in the administration of Mrs. Howard's singular Trust, in which, however, he had never participated except yearly to sign his name. He was, consequently, somewhat astonished to have received a letter a few days before from Colonel Pendleton, asking him to call and see him regarding it.
He vaguely remembered that it was eight years ago, and eight years had worked considerable change in the original trustees, greatest of all in his superior officer, the Mayor, who had died the year following, leaving his trusteeship to his successor in office, whom Paul Hathaway had never seen. The Bank of El Dorado, despite Mrs. Howard's sanguine belief, had long been in bankruptcy, and, although Colonel Pendleton still survived it, it was certain that no other president would succeed to his office as trustee, and that the function would lapse with him. Paul himself, a soldier of fortune, although habitually lucky, had only lately succeeded to a profession--if his political functions could be so described. Even with his luck, energy, and ambition, while everything was possible, nothing was secure. It seemed, therefore, as if the soulless official must eventually assume the duties of the two sympathizing friends who had originated them, and had stood in loco parentis to the constructive orphan. The mother, Mrs. Howard, had disappeared a year after the Trust had been made--it was charitably presumed in order to prevent any complications that might arise from her presence in the country. With these facts before him, Paul Hathaway was more concerned in wondering what Pendleton could want with him than, I fear, any direct sympathy with the situation. On the contrary, it appeared to him more favorable for keeping the secret of Mrs. Howard's relationship, which would now die with Colonel Pendleton and himself; and there was no danger of any emotional betrayal of it in the cold official administration of a man who had received the Trust through the formal hands of successive predecessors. He had forgotten the time limited for the guardianship, but the girl must soon be of age and off their hands. If there had ever been any romantic or chivalrous impression left upon his memory by the scene in the mayor's office, I fear he had put it away with various other foolish illusions of his youth, to which he now believed he was superior.
Nevertheless, he would see the colonel, and at once, and settle the question. He looked at the address, "St. Charles Hotel." He remembered an old hostelry of that name, near the Plaza. Could it be possible that it had survived the alterations and improvements of the city? It was an easy walk through remembered streets, yet with changed shops and houses and faces. When he reached the Plaza, scarce recognizable in its later frontages of brick and stone, he found the old wooden building still intact, with its villa-like galleries and verandas incongruously and ostentatiously overlooked by two new and aspiring erections on either side. For an instant he tried to recall the glamour of old days. He remembered when his boyish eyes regarded it as the crowning work of opulence and distinction; he remembered a ball given there on some public occasion, which was to him the acme of social brilliancy and display. How tawdry and trivial it looked beside those later and more solid structures! How inconsistent were those long latticed verandas and balconies, pathetic record of that first illusion of the pioneers that their climate was a tropical one! A restaurant and billiard-saloon had aggrandized all of the lower story; but there was still the fanlight, over which the remembered title of "St. Charles," in gilded letters, was now reinforced by the too demonstrative legend, "Apartments and Board, by the Day or Week." Was it possible that this narrow, creaking staircase had once seemed to him the broad steps of Fame and Fortune? On the first landing, a preoccupied Irish servant-girl, with a mop, directed him to a door at the end of the passage, at which he knocked. The door was opened by a grizzled negro servant, who was still holding a piece of oily chamois-leather in his hand; and the contents of a dueling-case, scattered upon a table in the centre of the room, showed what had been his occupation. Admitting Hathaway with great courtesy, he said:--
"Marse Harry bin havin' his ole trubble, sah, and bin engaged just dis momen' on his toylet; ef yo'll accommodate yo'self on de sofa, I inform him yo' is heah."
As the negro passed into the next room, Paul cast a hasty glance around the apartment. The furniture, originally rich and elegant, was now worn threadbare and lustreless. A book-case, containing, among other volumes, a few law books--there being a vague tradition, as Paul remembered, that Colonel Pendleton had once been connected with the law--a few French chairs of tarnished gilt, a rifle in the corner, a presentation sword in a mahogany case, a few classical prints on the walls, and one or two iron deed-boxes marked "El Dorado Bank," were the principal objects. A mild flavor of dry decay and methylated spirits pervaded the apartment. Yet it was scrupulously clean and well kept, and a few clothes neatly brushed and folded on a chair bore witness to the servant's care. As Paul, however, glanced behind the sofa, he was concerned to see a coat, which had evidently been thrust hurriedly in a corner, with the sleeve lining inside out, and a needle and thread still sticking in the seam. It struck him instantly that this had been the negro's occupation, and that the pistol-cleaning was a polite fiction.
"Yo' 'll have to skuse Marse Harry seein' yo in bed, but his laig's pow'ful bad to-day, and he can't stand," said the servant reentering the room. "Skuse me, sah," he added in a dignified confidential whisper, half closing the door with his hand, "but if yo' wouldn't mind avoidin' 'xcitin' or controversical topics in yo' conversation, it would be de better fo' him."
Paul smilingly assented, and the black retainer, with even more than the usual solemn ceremonious exaggeration of his race, ushered him into the bedroom. It was furnished in the same faded glory as the sitting-room, with the exception of a low, iron camp-bedstead, in which the tall, soldierly figure of Colonel Pendleton, clad in threadbare silk dressing-gown, was stretched. He had changed in eight years: his hair had become gray, and was thinned over the sunken temples, but his iron-gray moustache was still particularly long and well pointed. His face bore marks of illness and care; there were deep lines down the angle of the nostril that spoke of alternate savage outbreak and repression, and gave his smile a sardonic rigidity. His dark eyes, that shone with the exaltation of fever, fixed Paul's on entering, and with the tyranny of an invalid never left them.
With the sound of that voice Paul felt the years slip away, and he was again a boy, looking up admiringly to the strong man, who now lay helpless before him. He had entered the room with a faint sense of sympathizing superiority and a consciousness of having had experience in controlling men. But all this fled before Colonel Pendleton's authoritative voice; even its broken tones carried the old dominant spirit of the man, and Paul found himself admiring a quality in his old acquaintance that he missed in his newer friends.
"I haven't seen you for eight years, Hathaway. Come here and let me look at you."
Paul approached the bedside with boyish obedience. Pendleton took his hand and gazed at him critically.
"I should have recognized you, sir, for all your moustache and your inches. The last time I saw you was in Jack Hammersley's office. Well, Jack's dead, and here I am, little better, I reckon. You remember Hammersley's house?"
"Yes," said Paul, albeit wondering at the question.
"Something like this, Swiss villa style. I remember when Jack put it up. Well, the last time I was out, I passed there. And what do you think they've done to it?"
Paul could not imagine.
"Well, sir," said the colonel gravely, "they've changed it into a church missionary shop and young men's Christian reading-room! But that's 'progress' and 'improvement'!" He paused, and, slowly withdrawing his hand from Paul's, added with grim apology, "You're young, and belong to the new school, perhaps. Well, sir, I've read your speech; I don't belong to your party--mine died ten years ago-- but I congratulate you. George! Confound it where's that boy gone?"
The negro indicated by this youthful title, although he must have been ten years older than his master, after a hurried shuffling in the sitting-room eventually appeared at the door.
"George, champagne and materials for cocktails for the gentleman. The best, you understand. No new-fangled notions from that new barkeeper."
Paul, who thought he observed a troubled blinking in George's eyelid, and referred it to a fear of possible excitement for his patient, here begged his host not to trouble himself--that he seldom took anything in the morning.
"Possibly not, sir; possibly not," returned the colonel, hastily. "I know the new ideas are prohibitive, and some other blank thing, but you're safe here from your constituents, and by gad, sir, I shan't force you to take it! It's my custom, Hathaway--an old one-- played out, perhaps, like all the others, but a custom nevertheless, and I'm only surprised that George, who knows it, should have forgotten it."
"Fack is, Marse Harry," said George, with feverish apology, "it bin gone 'scaped my mind dis mo'nin' in de prerogation ob business, but I'm goin' now, shuah!" and he disappeared.
"A good boy, sir, but beginning to be contaminated. Brought him here from Nashville over ten years ago. Eight years ago they proved to him that he was no longer a slave, and made him d--d unhappy until I promised him it should make no difference to him and he could stay. I had to send for his wife and child--of course, a dead loss of eighteen hundred dollars when they set foot in the State--but I'm blanked if he isn't just as miserable with them here, for he has to take two hours in the morning and three in the afternoon every day to be with 'em. I tried to get him to take his family to the mines and make his fortune, like those fellows they call bankers and operators and stockbrokers nowadays; or to go to Oregon where they'll make him some kind of a mayor or sheriff-- but he won't. He collects my rents on some little property I have left, and pays my bills, sir, and, if this blank civilization would only leave him alone, he'd be a good enough boy."
Paul couldn't help thinking that the rents George collected were somewhat inconsistent with those he was evidently mending when he arrived, but at that moment the jingle of glasses was heard in the sitting-room, and the old negro reappeared at the door. Drawing himself up with ceremonious courtesy, he addressed Paul. "Wo'd yo' mind, sah, taking a glance at de wine for yo' choice?" Paul rose, and followed him into the sitting-room, when George carefully closed the door. To his surprise Hathaway beheld a tray with two glasses of whiskey and bitters, but no wine. "Skuse me, sah," said the old man with dignified apology, "but de Kernel won't have any but de best champagne for hono'ble gemmen like yo'self, and I'se despaired to say it can't be got in de house or de subburbs. De best champagne dat we gives visitors is de Widder Glencoe. Wo'd yo' mind, sah, for de sake o' not 'xcitin' de Kernel wid triflin' culinary matter, to say dat yo' don' take but de one brand?"
"Certainly," said Paul, smiling. "I really don't care for anything so early;" then, returning to the bedroom, he said carelessly, "You'll excuse me taking the liberty, colonel, of sending away the champagne and contenting myself with whiskey. Even the best brand-- the Widow Cliquot"--with a glance at the gratified George--"I find rather trying so early in the morning."
"As you please, Hathaway," said the colonel, somewhat stiffly. "I dare say there's a new fashion in drinks now, and a gentleman's stomach is a thing of the past. Then, I suppose, we can spare the boy, as this is his time for going home. Put that tin box with the Trust papers on the bed, George, and Mr. Hathaway will excuse your waiting." As the old servant made an exaggerated obeisance to each, Paul remarked, as the door closed upon him, "George certainly keeps his style, colonel, in the face of the progress you deplore."
"He was always a 'dandy nigger,'" returned Pendleton, his face slightly relaxing as he glanced after his grizzled henchman, "but his exaggeration of courtesy is a blank sight more natural and manly than the exaggeration of discourtesy which your superior civilized 'helps' think is self-respect. The excuse of servitude of any kind is its spontaneity and affection. When you know a man hates you and serves you from interest, you know he's a cur and you're a tyrant. It's your blank progress that's made menial service degrading by teaching men to avoid it. Why, sir, when I first arrived here, Jack Hammersley and myself took turns as cook to the party. I didn't consider myself any the worse master for it. But enough of this." He paused, and, raising himself on his elbow, gazed for some seconds half cautiously, half doubtfully, upon his companion. "I've got something to tell you, Hathaway," he said, slowly. "You've had an easy time with this Trust; your share of the work hasn't worried you, kept you awake nights, or interfered with your career. I understand perfectly," he continued, in reply to Hathaway's deprecating gesture. "I accepted to act as your proxy, and I have. I'm not complaining. But it is time that you should know what I've done, and what you may still have to do. Here is the record. On the day after that interview in the Mayor's office, the El Dorado Bank, of which I was, and still am, president, received seventy-five thousand dollars in trust from Mrs. Howard. Two years afterwards, on that same day, the bank had, by lucky speculations, increased that sum to the credit of the trust one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, or double the original capital. In the following year the bank suspended payment."