The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
Having given this alarm. Keith, Johnny at his elbow, started toward the centre of disturbance, From it arose a dull, menacing roar, like the sound of breakers on a rocky coast. Many people, with much excitement, shouting, and vituperation, were converging toward the common centre. As this was approached, it became more difficult, at last impossible, to proceed. The streets were packed, jammed. All sorts of rumours were abroad--King, was dead--King was only slightly hurt--Casey was not in jail at all--Casey had escaped down the Peninsula--the United States warships had anchored off the foot of Market Street and were preparing to bombard the city. There was much rushing to and fro without cause. And over all the roar could be distinguished occasionally single cries, as one may catch fragments of conversation in a crowded room, and all of these were sinister: "Hang him!" "Where is he?" "Run him up on a lamp post!" "Bring him out!" "He'll get away if left to the officers!" And over all the cries, the shouts, the curses, the noise of shuffling feet, the very sound of heavy breathing-- that--the numbers of the mob magnified to a muffled, formidable undernote, pealed louder and louder the Monumental bell, which now Bert Taylor--or some one else--was ringing like mad.
Keith's eyes had become grim and inscrutable, and his mouth had settled into a hard, straight line. Johnny's interest had at first centred in the mob, but after a few curious glances at his companion he transferred it entirely to him, Johnny Fairfax was a judge of men and of crises; and now he was invaded with a great curiosity to see how the one and the other were here to work out. With a determination that would not be gainsaid, Keith thrust himself through the crowd until he had gained an elevated coping. Here he stood watching. Johnny, after a glance at his face, joined him.
Suddenly in the entrance of Dunbar Alley, next the city jail, a compact group of men with drawn pistols appeared. They made their way rapidly to a carriage standing near, jumped in, and the driver whipped up his horses. With a yell of rage the crowd charged down, but recoiled instinctively before the presented pistols. The horses reared and plunged, and before anybody had gathered his wits sufficiently to seize the bridles, the whole equipage had disappeared around the corner of Kearney Street.
"I must say that was well done," said Johnny.
"North and Charles Duane, with Casey, inside," commented Keith, as dispassionately as though reading from a catalogue. "Billy Mulligan and his deputies outside. That is to be remembered."
A great mob had surged after the disappearing vehicle, but at least fifty yards in the rear. The remainder were following at a more leisurely pace. Almost immediately the street was empty. Keith climbed slowly down from his coping.
"What do you intend doing?" asked Johnny curiously.
"But they're getting him away!"
"No," said Keith, out of his local knowledge. "They're merely taking him to the county jail; it's stronger."
They followed the crowd to the wide open space below the county jail. The latter was at that period a solidly built one-story building situated atop a low bluff. Below it the marshal had drawn up his officers. They stood coolly at ease. The mob, very excited, vociferated, surged back and forth. North and his men, busily and coolly, but emphatically, were warning them, over and over again, not to approach nearer. A single, concerted rush would have overwhelmed the few defenders; but the rush was not made. Nevertheless, it could not be doubted that this time the temper of the people was very determined. The excitement was growing with every minute. Cries again took coherence.
"Hang him!" "Arrest the officers!" "Good, that's it!" "Let's take the jail!"
A man burst through the front ranks, clambered up the low bluff on which stood the jail, turned, and attempted to harangue the crowd. He was instantly torn down by the officers. He fought like a wild cat, and the crowd, on the hair trigger as it was, howled and broke forward. But Marshal North, who really handled the situation intelligently, sharply commanded his men to desist, and instantly to release the orator. He knew better than to allow the matter to come to an issue of strength. Intensely excited, the man shouldered his way through the crowd, and, assisted by many hands, mounted the balcony of a two-story house. Thence he began to harangue, but so great was the confusion that he could not be heard.
"Who is he?" "Who is that man?" voices cried from a dozen points.
George Frank, a hotel keeper, possessed of a great voice, shouted back:
"That is Thomas King--"
An officer seized Frank hastily by the collar. "Stop or I'll arrest you!" he threatened.
"--brother of James King of William!" bellowed Frank, undaunted.
"Bully for you!" muttered Johnny Fairfax, whose eyes were shining.
Keith was watching the whole scene from beneath the brim of his hat, his eyes sombre and expressionless. Johnny glanced at him from time to time, but said nothing.
From the balcony Thomas King continued to harangue the crowd. Little of what he said could be heard, but he was at a white heat of excitement, and those nearest him were greatly aroused. An officer made a movement to arrest him, but a hasty message from the sapient North restrained that.
At that moment a great cheer burst out from the lower end of the street. Over the heads of the crowd could be distinguished the glint of file after file of bayonets.
"That's the ticket!" cried an enthusiast near Keith and Johnny. "Here come the militia boys! Now we'll soon have the jail!"
The bayonets bobbed steadily through the crowd, deployed in front of the jail, and turned to face the mob. A great groan went up.
"Sold!" cried the enthusiast.
These were volunteers from the Law and Order party, hastily armed from the militia armouries, and thrown in front of the jail for its protection.
Immediately they had taken position the jail door opened, and there appeared a rather short, carefully dressed man, with side whiskers, carrying his hat in his hand. He stood for a moment, appealing for attention, one arm upraised. Little by little the noise died down.
"Who is that?" inquired Johnny.
He received no reply from Keith, but the enthusiast informed him:
"That's our beloved mayor--Van Ness," said he.
When quiet had at length been restored, Van Ness addressed them:
"You are here creating an excitement," he said, "which may lead to occurrences this night which will require years to wipe out. You are now labouring under great excitement, and I advise you quietly to disperse. I assure you the prisoner is safe. Let the law have its course and justice will be done."
Up to this point Van Ness had been listened to with respect, but at the last word he received such a chorus of jeers and cat calls that he retired hastily.
"How about Richardson?" they demanded of him. "Where's the law in Cora's case?" "To hell with such justice!"
"Not the popular orator," observed Johnny Fairfax.
More soldiers came, and then more, at short intervals, until the square was filled with shining bayonets. Johnny was frankly disgusted. As a man of action he too well understood that this particular crisis was practically over. From this mob the jail was safe.
"They lost their chance talking," he said. "They ought to have rushed the jail first pop. Now the whole thing will fizzle out slowly. Let's go get supper."
Without reply Keith descended from his perch. They hunted some time for a restaurant. All were closed for the sufficient reason that their staffs were on the streets. Finally they discovered a Chinese chop house prepared to serve them, and here they ate. Johnny was voluble in his scorn for the manner in which a golden opportunity had been allowed to slip by. Keith was very taciturn.
"Let's get out of here," he said abruptly at last. "Let's get some news."
They learned that King was still alive, though badly wounded in the left breast; that he could not be moved; that he was attended by Dr. Beverly Cole and a half score of the best surgeons of the city; that a mass meeting had been called at the Plaza. Indeed, there could be no doubt that the centre of excitement had been shifted to the Plaza. Men by thousands, all armed, were marching in that direction. Johnny and Keith found the square jammed, but the latter led the way by devious alleys to the rear of the Monumental headquarters, and so out to a little second-story balcony.
Below them the faces of the packed mass of humanity showed white in the dim light from the street lamps and the buildings. Arms gleamed. Every roof top, every window, every balcony was crowded. From the latter vehement orators held forth. All wanted to talk at once. Some of these people were, as our chronicler of the time quaintly expresses it, "considerably tight." Keith looked them all over with an appraising eye, listening at the same time to incendiary speeches advising the battering down of the jail and the hanging of all its inmates. Occasionally one of the cooler headed would get in a few words, but invariably was interrupted by some well-meaning hot head.
There seemed to be a great diversity of opinion both among the people on the balcony and those below. Keith listened attentively for a time, then, with the abruptness that had characterized his movements and decisions since the moment he had heard the news of King's assassination, he turned away.
"Let's go," he said briefly.
"Oh, hold on!" cried Johnny, aghast. "It's just the shank of the evening! We'll miss all the fun."
"There'll be nothing done," said Keith with decision.
"I'm more in hopes," persisted Johnny. "I'll bet there are ten thousand men here, armed and angry, and getting angrier every minute. They could fairly eat up that lot at the jail."
"They won't," said Keith.
"I'll bet one good man could turn them loose in a minute."
Suddenly Keith's dour taciturnity broke. "You're perfectly right," he conceded; "but the point is that good men won't lead a rabble. If we're to have good leaders we must have something for them to lead. If we're to cure these conditions, we must do things in due order. This cannot be remedied by mere excitement nor by deeds done under excitement. I have not yet seen anything that promises either satisfaction or reform."
"What do you propose doing, then?" asked Johnny, his intuitions again satisfying him that here was the man to tie to.
"Walk about," replied Keith.
They walked about. In the course of the evening they looked in on a dozen meetings of which they had news--in the Pioneer Club, in rooms over the old Bella Union, in a saloon off Montgomery Street, at the offices of various merchants. Keith looked carefully over the personnel of each of these various meetings, listened a minute or so, and went out. By some of the men so gathered Johnny was quite impressed, but Keith shook his head.
"These meetings are being held by clubs or cliques," he explained his disbelief in them. "They influence a certain following, but not a general following. This must be a general movement or none at all. The right people haven't taken hold."
About midnight he unexpectedly announced that he was going home and to bed. Johnny was frankly scandalized,
"I think nothing will happen in this matter," said Keith,
"The time for mob violence has passed. If an attack were now to be made, I should consider it unfortunate, and should not want to be mixed up in it, anyway. A mob attack is nothing but a manifestation of sheer lawlessness."
"And you're keen for the dear law, of course," said Johnny with sarcasm.
"There is a difference between mere laws and the law. There is a time-- either here or coming soon--when laws may be broken that justice may be done. But no popular movement will succeed unless it has behind it the solemn, essential human law. Good-night."