The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
Johnny Fairfax accompanied Keith all the way back to his office, although Talbot Ward said good-bye at the wharves. He bubbled over with conversation and enthusiasm, and seemed to have taken a great fancy to the lawyer. The theme of his glancing talk was the duel, over which he was immensely amused; but from it he diverged on the slightest occasion to comment on whatever for the moment struck his notice.
"That was certainly the rottenest shooting I ever saw!" he exclaimed over and over, and then would go off into peals of laughter. "I don't see how twelve shots at that distance could miss! After the second exchange I concluded even the side line wasn't safe, and I got behind a tree. Pays to be prompt In your decision; there were a hundred applicants for that tree a moment later, The bloodless duel as a parlour amusement! You ought to have charged that large and respectable audience an admission fee! That's a good idea; I'll present it to you! If you ever have another due, you must have a good manager! There's money in it!"
Keith laughed a trifle ruefully,
"I suppose it was funny," he acknowledged.
"Now don't get huffy," begged Johnny Fairfax. "What you ought to do is to learn to shoot. You'll probably need to know how if you keep on living around here," His eye fell on a shooting gallery. "Come in here," he urged impulsively.
The proprietor was instructed to load his pistols and for a dozen shots Keith was coached vehemently in the elementals of shooting--taught at least the theory of pulling steadily, of coordinating various muscles and psychological processes that were not at all used to cooerdination. He learned that mere steady aiming was a small part of it.
"Anybody can do wonderful shooting with an empty pistol," said Johnny contemptuously. "And anybody can hold as steady as a rock--until he pulls the trigger."
"It's interesting," conceded Keith; "mighty interesting. I didn't know there was so much to it."
"Of course it's interesting," said Johnny. "And you're only at the rudiments. Look here!"
And, to the astonishment of Keith, the worshipful adoration of the shooting-gallery proprietor, and the awe of the usual audience that gathered at the sound of the reports, he proceeded to give an exhibition of the skill that had made him famous. The shooting galleries of those days used no puny twenty-twos. Derringers, pocket revolvers, and the huge "navies" were at hand--with reduced loads, naturally--for those who in habitual life affected these weapons. Johnny shot with all of them, displaying the tricks of the gunman with all the naive enthusiasm of youth. His manner throughout was that engaging mixture of modesty afraid of being thought conceited and eager pride in showing his skill so attractive to everybody. At first he shot deliberately, splitting cards, hitting marbles, and devastating whole rows of clay pipes. Then he took to secreting the weapons in various pockets from which he produced and discharged them in lightning time. His hand darted with the speed and precision of a snake's head.
"I've just been fooling with shooting things tossed in the air," he said, exuberant with enthusiasm. "But I'm afraid we can't try that here."
"I'm afraid not," agreed the proprietor regretfully.
"It really isn't very hard, once you get the knack."
"Oh, no," said the proprietor with elaborate sarcasm. "Say," he went on earnestly, "I suppose it ain't no use trying to hire you--"
Johnny shook his head, smiling.
"I was afraid not," observed the proprietor disappointedly. "You'd be the making of this place. Drop in any time you want practice. Won't cost you a cent. Would you mind telling me your name?"
"Fairfax," replied Johnny, gruffly embarrassed.
"Not Diamond Jack?" hesitated the proprietor.
"I'm sometimes called that," conceded Johnny, still more gruffly. "How much is it?"
"Not one gosh-danged continental red cent," cried the man, "and I'm pleased to meet you."
Johnny shook his extended hand, mumbled something, and bolted for the street. Keith followed, laughing.
"It seems you're quite a celebrity," he observed.
But Johnny refused to pursue that subject.
"You come with me and buy you a pistol," he growled. "You ought not to be allowed loose. You're as helpless as a baby."
Johnny picked out a small .31 calibre revolver and a supply of ammunition.
"Now you practise!" was his final warning and advice.
Keith went home with a new glow at his heart. He was ripe for a friend.
Johnny seemed to have little to do for the moment. He never volunteered information as to his business or his plans, and Keith never inquired. But the young express rider fell into the habit of dropping in at Keith's office. He was always very apologetic and solicitous as to whether or no he was interrupting, saying that he had stopped for only ten seconds; but he invariably ended in the swivel chair with a good cigar. Keith was at this time busy; but he was never too busy for Johnny Fairfax. The latter was a luxury to which he treated himself. Johnny was not only welcome because he was practically Keith's only friend, but also his frank and engaging comments on men and things were gradually giving the harassed lawyer a new point of view on the society in which he found himself. Keith, as a newcomer in a community already established, had naturally accepted the prominent figures in that community as he would have accepted prominent figures anywhere: that is, as respectable, formidable, admirable, solid, unquestioned pillars of society. He was of a modest disposition and disinclined to question. He respected them as any modest young man respects those older and more successful than himself. For the same reason he accepted their views and their authority; or, if he questioned them, he did so sadly, almost guiltily, with many heart-searchings.
But Johnny Fairfax held no such attitude. Not he! The city's great names had scant respect from him! Not for an instant did he hesitate to criticise or analyze the most renowned. It was not long before he learned all about the Cora trial and Keith's subsequent efforts to discipline McDougall and his associates.
"I hope you get 'em!" said he; "the whole lot! I don't know much about this McDougall; but I do know his friends, and most of 'em aren't worth thinkin' about. They're big people here, but back where I came from, in old Virginia, the best of 'em wouldn't be overseers on a plantation. That's why they like it so much out here. Look at that gang! Casey has been in the penitentiary, Rowlee ran some little blackleg sheet down South until they run him out---I tell you, sir, as a Southerner I'm not proud of the Southerners out here. They're a cheap lot, most of 'em. They were a cheap lot home. The only difference is that back there everybody knew it, and out here everybody thinks they're great people because they get up on their hind legs and say so out loud. That old bluff, Major Miles, he was put out of a Richmond club, sir, for cheatin' at cards--I know that for a fact!"
Somehow, this frank criticism was like a breeze of fresh air to Keith: it put new courage into him. Johnny Fairfax had no interests in the city; he had no fear; his viewpoint was free from all sham; he was newly in from the outside. Through his eyes things fell into perspective. Suddenly San Francisco upper society became to Keith what it really was: a welter of cheap, bragging, venal, self-seeking men, with here and there an honest fine character standing high above. And he began, but dimly, to see that the real men of the place were not--as yet--well known. Probably one of the most impressive and typical figures of the time was Justice of the Supreme Court Terry. In the eyes of those too close to events to have a clear sense of proportion, he was one of the great men of his period. Courtly, handsome, with haughty manners, of aristocratic bearing, fiercely proud, touchily quarrelsome on "points of honour," generous but a bitter hater, he and his equally handsome, proud, and fiery wife were considered by many people of the time as embodying the ideal of Southern chivalry. But Johnny Fairfax would have none of it.
"He a typical Southern gentleman!" he laughed, "As being born in the South myself, I repudiate that! I know too much about Terry. Why, look here: he's a good sport, and he's got ability, and he makes friends, and he isn't afraid of anything, But then you stop. He's not a gentleman! It shows most particularly when he gets mad. Then he'll throw over anything--anything--to have his own way. He's a big man now, but he won't be knee-high to a June bug before he gets done."
Johnny's prediction was long in fulfilment, but a score of years later it came to pass, and Judge Terry's reputation has sunk almost to the level of that of his brother on the bench--Judge "Ned" McGowan.
"They're all a bad lot," Johnny finished, "and I hope you lick them! You don't know all the good folks in this town yet!"