The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
The following morning Keith woke early, slipped to the kitchen where he was fed by Wing Sam, and was downtown before Nan, who had not so promptly fallen asleep, had yet stirred. Even at that hour the streets were crowded. Many--and the majority of these were "considerably tight," or otherwise looking the worse for wear--had been up all night, unable to tear themselves away from the fascinating centres of excitement. The majority, however, had, like Keith, snatched some repose, and now were out eager to discover what a new day might bring forth.
The morning newspapers had been issued. Each man held a copy of one of them open at the editorial column, and others tucked away under his arm. Never had there been such a circulation; and in the case of the Herald never would so many be sold again. For that ill-starred sheet, mistaking utterly the times, held boldly along the way of its sympathies. It spoke of the assassination as an "affray"; held forth violently against the mob spirit of the evening before; and stated vehemently its opinion that, now that "Justice is regularly administered" there was no excuse for even the threat of public violence. If there had been any doubt as to the depth to which public opinion was at last stirred, the reception of the Herald's editorial would have settled it. Actually, for the moment, indignation seemed to run more strongly against that sheet than against Casey himself.
Keith glanced over this editorial with a half smile, tossed the paper in the gutter, and opened the Alta for news. King, still living, had been removed from the office of the Express Company to a room in the Montgomery Block. There, attended by his wife, Dr. Beverly Cole, and a whole corps of volunteer physicians, he was making a fight for life. The bullet had penetrated his left breast. That was all that was to be reported at present. Keith glanced at the third page. His eye was caught by this notice:
THE VIGILANCE COMMITTEE
The members of the Vigilance Committee in good standing will please meet at No. 105-1/2 Sacramento Street, this day, Thursday, 15th instant, at nine o'clock A.M.
By order of the
COMMITTEE OF THIRTEEN.
While he was still gazing thoughtfully at this Johnny Fairfax, fresh as the morning, appeared at his elbow.
"Hello, wise man," he greeted him cheerily. "You were a good prophet--and you got some sleep. I hung around all night, but nothing new was done."
"Look here," said Keith, placing his finger on the notice, "do you suppose this genuine?"
Johnny read the notice.
"Because if this is actually the old Committee of '51, it means business."
"There's one way to find out."
"Go and see," advised Johnny.
Number 105-1/2 Sacramento Street proved to be a big three-storied barnlike structure that had been built by a short-lived political party called the Know Nothings. Already the hall was packed to its full capacity, the entrance ways jammed, and a big crowd had gathered in the streets.
"Fine chance we have here!" observed Johnny ruefully.
They stood well free of the press for a few moments, watching. More men were coming from all directions. But Johnny was resourceful, and likewise restless.
"Let's prowl around a little," he suggested to his companion.
They prowled to such good purpose that they discovered, at the rear of the building, opening into a blind alley, a narrow wooden stairway. It was unguarded and untenanted.
"Here we are," pronounced Johnny.
They ascended it, and immediately found themselves In a small room back of the stage or speaker's platform, It contained about a score of men. Their aspect was earnest, serious, grave. Although there was a sufficiency of chairs, they were all afoot, gathered in a loose group, in whose centre stood William Coleman, his massive shoulders squared, his large bony, hands clenched at his side, his florid complexion even more flushed than usual, his steady eye travelling slowly from one face to another, Again the strange contradictions in, his appearance struck Keith with the impact of a distinct shock--the low smoothed hair, the sweeping blue-black moustache, the vivid colour, and high cheek bones of the typical gambler--the clear eye, firm mouth, incisive, deliberate speech, the emanation of personality that inspired confidence. Next him, talking earnestly, stood Clancey Dempster, a small man, mild of manner, blue eyed, with light, smooth hair, the last man in the room one would have picked for great firmness and courage, yet destined to play one of the leading roles in this crisis. The gigantic merchant, Truett, towered above him, he who had calmly held two fighting teamsters apart by their collars; and homely, stubborn, honest Farwell, direct, uncompromising, inspired with tremendous single-minded earnestness, but tender as a girl to any under dog; and James Dows, rough and ready, humorous, blasphemous, absolutely direct, endowed with "horse sense," eccentric, but of fundamentally good judgment: Hossfros of '51; Dr. Beverly Cole, high spirited, distinguished looking, courtly; the excitable, active, nervous, talkative, but staunch Tom Smiley, Isaac Blucome whose signature as "33, Secretary" was to become terrible; fiery little George Ward, willing--but unable--to whip his weight in wild cats. As Keith recognized these men, and others of their stamp, he nodded his head contentedly.
Johnny Fairfax must have caught the same impression, for he leaned across to whisper to Keith, his eyes shining:
"We've hit it!"
Their entrance had passed unnoticed in the absorption of discussion. Coleman was speaking, evidently in final decision.
"It is a serious business," said he. "It is no child's play. It may prove very serious. We may get through quickly, so safely, or we may so involve ourselves as never to get through."
"The issue is not of choice, but of expediency," urged Dempster. "Shall we have vigilance with order or a mob with anarchy?"
Coleman pondered a moment, then threw up his head.
"On two conditions I will accept the responsibility--absolute obedience, absolute secrecy."
Without waiting for a reply to this he threw open a door, and followed by the others, stepped out on the platform. A roar greeted their appearance. Johnny and Keith, remaining modestly in the background, lingered near the open door.
The hall was filled to its utmost capacity. Every inch of floor space was occupied, and men perched on sills, clung to beams. Coleman raised his hand and obtained an immediate dead silence.
"In view of the miscarriage of justice in the courts," he announced briefly, "it has been thought expedient to revive the Vigilance Committee. An Executive Council was chosen by a representative of the whole body. I have been asked to take charge. I will do so, but must stipulate that I am to be free to choose the first council myself. Is that agreed?"
A roar of assent answered him.
"Very well, gentlemen. I shall request you to vacate the hall. In a short time the books will be open for enrollment."
He turned and reentered the anteroom followed by the others. In so doing he came face to face with the intruders.
"This is not your place, gentlemen," he told them courteously.
They retired down the narrow back stairs and joined the huge throng that filled the streets, waiting patiently and quietly, its eyes fixed on the closed doors of the hall. In a remarkably short time these doors were thrown open. Those nearest surged forward. Inside the passage were twelve men, later to be known as the Executive Committee. These held back the rush, admitting but one man at a time. The crowd immediately caught the idea. There was absolutely no excitement. Every man was grimly in earnest. Cries of "Order! Order! Line up!" came from different parts of the throng. A rough quadruple queue was formed extending down the street. There was no talk nor smiles, none of the usual rough joking. Each waited his turn without impatience.
Johnny Fairfax and Keith, owing to the chance that they had, entered the crowd from the nearby alley and found themselves close to the head of the line. As they neared the entrance, and so could hear what was there going on, they found that each applicant was being closely scrutinized and interrogated. The great majority passed this ordeal, but several men were peremtorily turned back with a warning not to try again.
Keith's turn came. He was conscious of the scrutiny of many eyes; he heard the word "pass" pronounced by some one in the background, and climbed the stairs. At the top he was directed to an anteroom at the left. Here behind a table sat Coleman, Dempster, and a third man unknown to him. To them he repeated the words of an oath of secrecy, and then was passed into another room where Isaac Bluxome sat behind a ledger. In this he wrote his name.
"Your number is 178," said Bluxome to him, "By that number, and not by your name, you are henceforth to be known here. Never use names, always their numbers, in referring to other members."
Thence Keith was directed to the main hall where were those already admitted. These were gathered in groups discussing the situation. In a moment Johnny Fairfax joined him.
"179, I am," said Johnny. His eyes swept the hall. "Not much mob spirit about this; it looks like business."
They hung around for an hour. The hall slowly filled. Finally, learning that nothing further was to be done until the enrollment had finished, they wandered out again into the street. The unbroken lines of applicants extended as far down the street as the eye could see.
All that day the applicants, orderly and grim with purpose, were passed through in line. By mid-day it was seen that the Know-Nothing Hall was going to be too small for the meeting that would later take place. Therefore, a move was made to the Turnverein Hall. After enrolling, no man departed from the vicinity for long. Short absences for hastily snatched meals were followed by hurried returns lest something be missed. From time to time reports were circulated as to the activities of the Executive Committee, which had been in continuous session since its appointment. Thus it was said that an Examining Committee had been appointed to scrutinize the applicants; that the members of the Executive Committee had been raised to twenty-six, that Oscar Smith had been appointed chief of police. The latter rumour was immediately verified by the energetic activities of that able citizen. He, or his messengers, darted here and there searching for individuals wanted as doorkeepers, guards, or police officers. His regulations also began to be felt. By evening only registered members of the committee were allowed on the floor of the hall, even the expostulating reporters being gently but firmly ejected.
Nobody manifested the least excitement or impatience. At eight o'clock Coleman came out of one of the side rooms, and, mounting a table, called for order.
"A military organization is deemed necessary," he said crisply. "Numbers one to one hundred will please assemble in the southwest corner of the room; numbers one hundred and one to two hundred will take the first window; numbers two hundred and one to three hundred the second window, and so on." He hesitated and looked over the assembly. "Que les Francais, se mettent au centre," he ended.
This command in a foreign language was made necessary by the extraordinary number of Frenchmen who had first answered the call of gold in the El Dorado of '49; and then with equal enthusiasm responded to this demand for essential justice.
Coleman waited while the multitude shifted here and there. When the component parts had again come to rest he made his next announcement:
"Now each company will elect its own officers, but those officers are subject to the orders of the Executive Committee."
Numbers one hundred and one to two hundred inclusive, the company in which Keith and Johnny Fairfax found themselves, were for the most part strangers to one another, They exchanged glances, hesitating as to how to begin. Then a small, spectacled, man spoke up.
"Gentlemen," said he, "we must get organized as rapidly as possible, Mr, Coleman is waiting. We need for a leader a man who is experienced in active life. I nominate John Fairfax as captain of this company."
Johnny gasped and turned red.
"Who's your little friend?" Keith whispered.
"Never saw him before in my life," replied Johnny.
The announcement was received with indecision. Nobody immediately replied or commented aloud on the nomination, but men were asking each other in undertones. The little spectacled man saw this, and spoke up again:
"Perhaps I should say that Mr. Fairfax is better known as Diamond Jack."
Faces cleared, heads nodded. A murmur of recognition replaced the puzzled frowning, "Good man," "The express rider," "Danny Randall's man," they told each other.
"I do not know Mr. Fairfax," the spectacled man was saying, "but I saw his name just before mine on the register."
"This is Fairfax," said Keith, thrusting the reluctant Johnny forward.
He was elected to the post by acclamation.
"Nominations for a lieutenant?" suggested the spectacled man, but Keith interrupted.
"If you all have as much confidence in Mr. Fairfax as I have," said he, "perhaps you'll give him free hand and let him pick his own officers."
This seemed a good idea, and was instantly adopted.
"Well, I thank you, gentlemen," said Johnny, "and we'll do our best to become efficient. Report your names and addresses to this gentleman here--"
"Willey," supplied the little man.
"We shall drill to-morrow at eight sharp. Bring whatever weapons----"
But Coleman was again speaking and on this very subject:
"The committee have arranged with George Law," he was saying, "to supply or hire muskets to the number of several thousands. These weapons will be at this hall to-morrow morning early. Company captains can then make their requisitions."
A murmur of inquiry swept the hall. "George Law? Where did he get several thousand muskets?" And the counter current of information making its way slowly--they were only flintlocks, perfectly efficient though, had bayonets--superseded government arms--brought out some time ago by Law to arm some mysterious filibustering expedition that had fizzled.
In this manner, without confusion, an organization of two thousand men was formed, sixteen military companies officered and armed.
Shortly after Coleman dismissed the meeting. Its members dispersed to their homes. Absolute quiet descended on the city, which slept under the moon.