The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
Affairs for the Keiths passed through another week of what might be called the transition stage. It took them that long to settle down in their new house and into some semblance of a routine--two days to the actual installation, and the evenings full of small matters to arrange. Nan was busy all day long playing with her new toy. The housekeeping was fascinating, and Wing Sam a mixture of delight and despair. Like most women who have led the sheltered life, she had not realized as yet that the customs of her own fraction of one per cent, were not immutable. Therefore, she tried to model the household exactly in the pattern of those to which she had been accustomed. Wing Sam blandly refused to be moulded.
Thus Nan spent all one morning drilling him in the proper etiquette of answering doors. Mindful of John McGlynn's advice, she did this by precept, ringing her own door bell, presenting a card as though calling on herself. Wing Sam's placid exterior changed not. A half hour later the door bell rang, but no Wing Sam appeared to answer it. It rang again, and again, until Nan herself opened the door. On the doorstep stood Wing Sam himself.
"I foolee you, too," he announced with huge delight.
Painstakingly Nan conveyed to him that this was neither an amusing game nor a practical joke. Later in the day the door bell rang again. Nan, hovering near to gauge the result of her training, saw Wing Sam plant himself firmly in the opening.
"You got ticket?" he demanded sternly of the deliveryman outside. "You no got ticket, you no get in!"
Which, Nan rather hysterically gathered, was what Wing Sam had gained of the calling-card idea. After that, temporarily as she thought, Nan permitted him to go back to his own method, which, had she known it, was the method of every Chinese servant in California. The visitor found his bell answered by a blandly smiling Wing Sam, who cheerfully remarked: "Hullo!" It was friendly, and it didn't matter; but at that stage of her development Nan was more or less scandalized.
Nan's sense of humour always came to her assistance by evening, and she had many amusing anecdotes to tell Keith, over which both of them laughed merrily. Gringo added somewhat to the complications in life. He was a fat, roly-poly, soft-boned, ingratiating puppy, with a tail that waved energetically but uncontrolledly. Gringo at times was very naughty, and very much in the way. But when exasperation turned to vengeance he had a way of keeling over on his back, spreading his hind legs apart in a manner to expose his stomach freely to brutal assault, and casting one calm china- blue eye upward.
"Can there anywhere exist any one so hard-hearted as to injure a poor, absolutely defenceless dog?" he inquired, with full confidence in the answer.
The iniquities of Gringo and the eccentricities of Wing Sam Nan detailed at length, and also her experiences with the natives. She as yet looked on every one as natives. Only later could she expand to the point of including them in her cosmos of people. Nan was transplanted, and her roots had not yet struck down into the soil. In her shopping peregrinations she was making casual acquaintance, and she had not yet become accustomed to it.
"I bought some darling little casseroles at Phelan's to-day," she said. "The whole Phelan family waited on me. Where do you suppose the women get their perfectly awful clothes? Mrs. Phelan offered to take me to her milliner!" or "You know Wilkins--the furniture man where we got the big armchair? I was in there to-day, and he apologized because his wife hadn't called!"
They went to bed early, because they were both very tired.
Keith also had generally passed an interesting day. Immediately after breakfast he went to his office, and conscientiously sat a while. Sometimes he wrote letters or cast up accounts; but there could not be much of this to do. About ten or eleven o'clock his impatient temperament had had enough of this, so he drifted over to the Monumental engine house. After considerable thought he had decided to join this company. It represented about the class of men with whom he wanted to affiliate himself--the influential men of the lawyer, Southern-politician, large business men type. There were many of these volunteer organizations. Their main purpose was to fight fire; but they subserved other objects as well--political, social, and financial. David Broderick, for example, already hated and feared, partly owned and financed a company of ward-heelers who were introducing and establishing the Tammany type of spoils politics. Casey, later in serious trouble, practically manipulated another.
Among the Monumentals, Keith delighted especially in Bert Taylor. Bert Taylor likewise delighted in Keith. The little chubby man's enthusiasm for the company, while recognized as most valuable to the company's welfare, had ended by boring most of the company's members. But Keith was a new listener and avid for information. He had had no notion of how complicated the whole matter could be. Bert Taylor dissertated sometimes on one phase of the subject, sometimes on another.
"It's drills we need, and the fellows won't drill enough!" was Bert Taylor's constant complaint. "What do they know about hose? They run it out any way it comes; and roll it up anyhow, instead of doing a proper job."
"How should you do it?" asked Keith.
"It ought to be laid right--so there's no bends or sharp angles in it; it should never be laid over heaps of stones, or any kind of uneven surface-- it all increases the water resistance. If there are any bends or curves they should be regular and even. The hose ought never to rest against a sharp edge or angle. And when you coil it up you ought to reverse the sides every time, so it will wear even and stretch even. Do they do it? Not unless I stand over them with a club!"
He showed Keith the hose, made of India rubber, a comparatively new thing, for heretofore hose had been made of riveted leather. Bert Taylor made him feel the inside of this hose with his forefinger to test its superlative smoothness.
"Mighty little resistance there!" he cried triumphantly.
The nozzles, all in racks, he handled with almost reverent care.
"These are the boys that cost the money," said Taylor. "If the inside isn't polished like a mirror the water doesn't come smooth. And the least little dent makes the stream ragged and broken. Nothing looks worse--and it isn't as effective on the fire. It ought to be thrown like a solid rod of water. I can't get the boys to realize that the slightest bruise, dent, or burr throws the stream in a ragged feathery foam. The result of that is that a lot of water is dissipated and lost."
Keith, who had taken hold of the nozzle rather negligently, returned it with the reverent care due crown jewels.
"How long a stream will it throw?" he asked.
"With thirty men on a side she's done a hundred and twelve feet high, and two hundred and eighteen for distance," said Bert with simple pride.
He picked up the nozzle again.
"See here. Here's an invention of my own. Cost money to put it in, too, because every other nozzle on earth is made wrong."
He explained that other nozzles are made so that the thread of the hose screwed into the nozzle; while in his, the thread of the nozzle screwed into the hose.
"If there's a leak or a bad connection," explained Bert, "with the old type, the water is blown back into the fireman's face, and he is blinded. His whole efficiency depends on a close joint. But with my scheme the leak is blown forward, away from the lineman. It's a perfectly sound scheme, but I can't make them see it."
"Sounds reasonable," observed Keith, examining perfunctorily a device to which later he was to owe his life.
Item by item they went over the details of equipment--the scaling ladders, the jumping sheets, the branch pipes, the suction pipes, the flat roses, standcocks, goose necks, the dogtails, dam boards, shovels, saws, poleaxes, hooks, and ropes. From a consideration of them the two branched off to the generalities of fire fighting. Keith learned that the combating of a fire, the driving it into a corner, outflanking it, was a fine art.
"I say always, get in close," said Taylor. "A fire can be put out as well as just drowned out."
It struck Keith as interesting that in a room a stream should always be directed at the top of a fire, so that the water running down helps extinguish the flames below, whereas in attack at the bottom or centre merely puts out the immediate blaze, leaving the rest to spread upward or sideways. Taylor put himself on record against fighting fire from the street.
"Don't want a whole lot of water and row," he maintained. "Get in close quarters and make every drop count."
When Bert's enthusiasm palled, Keith always found men in the reading-room. The engine house was a sort of clearing house for politics, business schemes, personal affairs, or differences.
Once a day, also, as part of his job in his profession, Keith went to the courthouse. There he sat in the enclosure reserved for lawyers and listened to the proceedings, his legal mind alert and interested in the technical battles. At no time in the world's history has sheer technicality unleavened by common sense been carried further than in the early California courts. Even in the most law-ridden times elsewhere a certain check has been exercised by public opinion or the presence of business interests. But here was as yet no public opinion; and business interests, their energies fully taxed by the necessities of a new country, were willing to pay heavily to be let alone. Consequently, lawyers were permitted to play out their fascinating game to their hearts' content, and totally without reference to expedience or to the justice of the case. The battles were indeed intensely technical and shadowy. Points within points were fought bitterly. Often for days the real case at issue was forgotten.
Only one of the more obvious instances of technical triumph need be cited. One man killed another, on a public street, before many witnesses. The indictment was, however, thrown out and he released because it stated only that the victim was killed by a pistol, and failed to specify that his death was due to the discharge of said pistol. The lawyer who evolved this brilliant idea was greatly admired and warmly congratulated.
The wheels of the law ground very slowly. One of the simplest and most effective expedients of defence was delay. A case could be postponed and remanded, often until the witnesses were scattered or influenced. But there were infinite numbers of legal expedients, all most interesting to a man of Keith's profession. His sense of justice was naturally strong and warm, and an appeal to it outside a courtroom or a law office always got an immediate and commonsense response. But inside the law his mind automatically closed, and a "case" could have only legal aspects. Which is true of the majority of lawyers to-day.
On the adjournment of court Keith generally drifted over to the El Dorado or the Empire, where he spent an hour or so loafing with some of his numerous acquaintances. He was of the temperament that makes itself quickly popular, the laughing, hearty sort, full of badinage, and genuinely liking most men with whom he came in contact. There was always much joking in the air, but back of it was a certain reserve, a certain wariness, for every second man was a professed "fire-eater," given to feeling insulted on the slightest grounds, and flying to the duel or the street fight instanter.
This hour was always most pleasant to Keith; nevertheless, he went home about five o'clock in order to enjoy an hour or so of daylight about the place. He performed prodigies of digging in the new garden: constructing terraces, flower beds, walks, and the like. While the actual construction work was under way he was greatly interested, but cared nothing for the finished product or the mere growing of the flowers.
Gringo received his share of training, at first to his intense disgust. Twice he refused obedience, and the matter being pressed, resorted to the simple expedient of retiring from the scene. Keith dropped everything and pursued. Gringo crawled under things, but was followed even to the dustiest and cob-webbiest farthest corner under the porch; he tried swiftness and dodging, but was trailed in all his doublings and twistings at top speed; he tried running straight away over the sand hills, and at first left his horrible master behind, but the horrible master possessed a horrible persistence. Finally he shut his eyes and squatted, expecting instant annihilation, but instead was haled back to the exact scene of his disobedience, and the command repeated. Nan laughed until the tears came, over the large, warm, red-faced man after the small, obstinate, scared pup, but Keith refused to joke.
"If he finds he can't get away, no matter what happens, I'll never have to do it again," he panted. "But if he wins out, even once, it'll be an awful job."
Gringo tried twice. Then, his faith in his ability to escape completely shattered, he gave up. After that he adored Keith and was always under his feet.
Keith saw nothing of any of the women. Mrs. Sherwood seemed to have dropped from their ken when they left the hotel. Once Keith inquired casually about Mrs. Morrell.
"She's been over twice to see the place," replied Nan.
"We ought to go over there to call," proffered Keith vaguely; but there the matter rested.