Chapter LVII

Now a new element was injected into the situation in the person of the governor of the State, one J. Neely Johnson, a politician who would long since have been utterly forgotten had not his unlucky star risen just at this unlucky time. A more unfortunate man for a crisis it would have been difficult to find. His whole life had been one of trimming; he had made his way by trimming; he had gained the governor's chair by yielding to the opinions of others. This training combined perfectly with the natural disposition of a chameleon. He was, or became, a sincere trimmer, taking his colour and his temporary beliefs from those with whom he happened to be. His judgment often stuck at trifles, and his opinions were quickly heated but as quickly cooled. His private morals were none of the best, which gave certain men an added hold.

On receipt of the message sent by the Law and Order party--but not, be it noted, by the proper authorities--requesting the State militia, Governor Johnson came down post-haste from Sacramento. Immediately on arriving in the city he sent word to Coleman requesting an interview. Coleman at once followed the messenger to the Continental Hotel. He was shown to a private room where he found Johnson pacing up and down alone. Coleman bowed gravely in response to the governor's airy greeting. Johnson sat down, offered cigars, made every effort to appear amiable and conciliatory.

"This is bad; this is bad, Coleman," he began the interview. "What is it you want?"

"Peace," replied Coleman, "and if possible without a struggle."

"That's all very well," said Johnson pettishly, "to talk about peace with an army of insurrection newly raised. But what is it you actually wish to accomplish?"

Coleman looked at him steadily, then leaned forward.

"The law is crippled," he told the governor in measured tones. "We want merely to accomplish what the crippled law should do but cannot. This done, we will gladly retire. Now, Governor, you have been asked by the mayor, and certain others, to bring out the militia and crush this movement. I assure you, it cannot be done; and if you attempt it, it will cause you and us great trouble. Do as Governor McDougall did in '51. See in this movement what he saw in that: a local movement for a local reform, in which the State is not concerned. We are not a mob; we demand no overthrow of institutions. We ask not a single court to adjourn; we ask not a single officer to vacate his position; we demand only the enforcement of the law-- which, after all, we have made!" He extended his strong fist and laid it on the table. "If you deem it the conscientious duty of your office to discountenance these proceedings--as perhaps you well may--then let your opposition be in appearance only. In your heart you must know the necessity of this measure; you know the standing of the men managing it, You know that this is no mob, no distempered faction. It is San Francisco herself who speaks! Let California stand aside; let her leave us to our shame and sorrow; for, as God lives, we will cleanse this city of her corruption or perish with her! So we have sworn!"

This long speech, delivered with the solemnity of absolute conviction, profoundly impressed Johnson's volatile nature.

"But," he objected uncertainly, "Coleman, you must understand! This is against the law--and I have sworn to uphold the law!"

"That is a matter for your own conscience," rejoined Coleman a little impatiently. "Issue your proclamation, if you feel that the dignity of the law may be best maintained by frowning on justice--but confine yourself to that! Leave us alone in our righteous purposes!"

Johnson, his chameleon soul aglow with enthusiasm, leaped to his feet and seized Coleman's two hands. In his eye stood a tear.

"Sir," he cried, "go on with your work! Let it be done as speedily as possible! You have my best wishes!"

Coleman did not relax his formal gravity.

"I am glad you feel that way, and that we understand each other," he contented himself with saying.

The heroic moment past, Johnson's restless mind began to glance among anxieties.

"But hasten the undertaking as much as you can," he begged. "The opposition is stronger than you suppose. The pressure on me is going to be terrible. What about the prisoners in the jail?" asked Johnson anxiously. "What is your immediate plan?"

"That is in the hands of the committee," evaded Coleman.

He left the governor, again pacing up and down.