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THE GREEN CLOTH.
T was a common saying among us, old Californians of Forty-Nine, that there was no such light for shining through a man as that of the first great fire. In its strong glare the philosophic spectator became clairvoyant, and his subject transparent. Morally, your scrutiny pierced the heart of the San Franciscan then, and in the same glance you took in the letter, full of his mother's pious admonitions, in his breast-pocket, and the revolver in its belt at his back-as in Harlequin Faust you see, through the sad-colored waistcoat of Mephistophiles, the three redhot buttons on his coat behind. The shade was drawn back from the human dark-lantern, and flaming passions within, blazing through the bull's eye, lit up all around. Then you recognized any man by the light of his neighbor's soul. Then the cardinal virtues, like certain common necessaries of life, met with an appreciation naturally enhanced by their scarcity. Honesty was a high trump oard. Indeed, to pursue the appropriate local figure, society was as the favorite game, wherein everybody pretended to play "on the square;" when your adversary, having seen your last "brag," stopped "going better," and called your hand, if you happened to hold a single sterling trait, it was sure to be received as the four aces, which can "rake down any kind of a pile."
It was strange how soon, and how surely, the original Satan in every new arrival asserted himself. The enterprising publican who, regardless of expense, first brought a wagon-load of ice into Sacramento City, from the Sierra Nevada, and introduced his grateful fellow-citizens to a new pleasure in the shape of brandy-smashes at half a dollar a drink, had been, two years before, president of a far-reaching society of Washingtonians in Philadelphia, and out-Goughed Gough in wondrous apocalypses of cold water. The whiteneck-clothed and single-minded brother who, when the Graham House was opened, undertook, for the highest bid, the bar and coffee-stand, two billiard tables, one rondo, three roulette, two faro, and six monte ditto, had, within the twelvemonth, ridden an apostolic circuit in Alabama, dispensing pious tracts from a green bag.
This same Gossage-that was the name of the retired tract-mongerafforded, in his own character and habits, an amusing example of how a man could get imbued with the peculiar vice of the time; and that was the game of Brag-brag, and the hard old vices of its kindred, bluff and poker. Brag was in all the air, and you breathed it unwholesomely, to the tainting of your blood; its principle soaked through your very clothes, as it were, and percolated your pores. There were men, all around you, who believed in nothing but brag, who swore by brag, who lived on brag, who, if needs must, would die for brag. Of such was Gossage; and he shall serve for my representative bragger, of whom a characteristic anecdote, familiar to many Forty-Niners, may illustrate my meaning.
We old Californians hold in respectful remembrance "Moffat's Coin," as they were called-pretty five-dollar gold pieces, fac-similes of the federal half-eagles, save in the substitution, on the reverse, of the words "Moffat & Co." for "United States of America." They were a god-send in the days when the great dearth of standard money among us subjected us to all manner of inconvenience, not to mention serious losses by the discount on gold-dust as a legal tender in trade. It was said that they even exceeded in value, by one per cent., their namesakes of the national mints. At all events we were very happy in them, and had no patience with the suspicious egotism of Wall street, which ignored them altogether, bringing them into bad odor abroad, so that they were, from the first, quite useless except for the behests of our small local traffic. Vory soon they were called in from their brief hour of circulation, to be melted into ingots for home shipments; and so, utterly disappeared from the pockets of our citizens, and even from the green boards of the gamblers. Six months from the date of their brilliant apparition, a specimen was "good for sore eyes," and would command a premium as a curiosity.
One day, not many weeks before Col. Bonner and the proprietor emptied their revolvers at each other across the bar-and by the same token the City
even tied up, like Tom Carter's milk. Ready money worth twelve per cent. a month, too, and he with twelve banks in monte and faro-Hi, hi, hi!"
"All very fine, gentlemen," Gossage said, "but hi, hi, hi ain't nuther arguments nor manners. Facts is facts, and opinions as is opinons is worth backing. I'm ready to back my facts as high as any man's moderate pile, and if I'm deceived in 'em I'm willing to pay for the disapp'intment."
Fathers found the bullets sticking in the wall when they installed themselves in those premises in the name of Law and Order-a crowd of miners, mechanics, clerks, learned-professioners, and other amateur gamesters, being met in the saloon of the Graham House, the conversation among a knot of thirsty souls, who waited for brandy-smashes, turned on California currency in general and Moffat's coin in particular. Their sudden apparition and evanishment were remarked upon, and one or two had specimens to show, which they prized next to half-cents, or certain curious political coppers of the Jackson campaigns, inscribed "Not One. Central way? Especially when everybody for Tribute, Millions for Defense." The bragging ear of Gossage caught its cue, as he was toying idly at a farotable with a few red counters.
"Gave half an ounce apiece for them Moffat kines, did you? Dreadful green of you I must say. Why I've got a thousand of them myself; and if any gentleman with a turn for kinefancying, would like to fill a cabinet or a cart with just such fellows as them, for a small deduction from the last price, I should be glad to accommodate him. Talk of half-cents, now; they are something like-should like to give a dollar for one myself. But eight dollars for Moffat's kine is a leetle enthusiastic, if not green."
Mr. Gossage was no stranger to most of his audience; and this new, and somewhat bolder, exhibition of his ruling passion would have elicited no more than a quiet smile from the sophisticated circle, but for the presence of two or three new arrivals, who expressed their appreciation of what they considered "high old blowing," in a burst of hilarity, wherein their astonishment was not unmixed with disrespectful incredulity. Such popular ejaculations, expressive of a good-natured doubt, as "G-a-as!" "Over the left!" "Hi, hi, hi!" etc., broke from these brusque
"Pshaw, Gossage," said some one, "what's the use your trying on that old dodge at your time of life? Why don't you take your brag in the natu
knows your game."
But Mr. Gossage began now to have a grievance; he felt hurt; "he had asserted a thing, and he thought he was good for all it would cost to prove it; it was hard if he couldn't get the chance. If he was bluffing, here was an opportunity for gents of spirit to take the conceit out of him."
A quiet young man who had remained. from the first, in the background, seemingly only an amused spectator, here came forward, and said he quite agreed with Mr. Gossage. Mr. Gossage's veracity was at stake on an interesting question, and he was in favor of Mr. Gossage's having a fair show. Gentlemen should not be too hard on Mr. Gossage. True, he would have, occasionally, his little outside game of bluff, by way of joke merely. But this time he was evidently serious and sincere. Mr. Gossage's feelings ought not to be trifled with; gentlemen were wrong to twit him with his little peculiarities. For his own part, he did not believe a word Mr. Gossage had said about the Moffats. Not that he doubted Mr. Gossage's word-oh, by no means; he only thought he saw the bluff sticking out. He wished he had as many dollars as he did not believe in those Moffats. He was ready not to believe in them-say two hundred dollars worth, which was all he had about him.
Mr. Gossage "knew his young friend was a gentleman by the remark he made-a man of spirit and disposed to do things on the square. Them 'ere obserwations of his'n was worthy of his head and heart. He would meet his little pile."
So the four hundred dollars were forthwith produced and placed in the
hands of a "mutual friend." Then with sudden gravity—for a suicide, or a murder, or a hanging match was, in those days, a less grave affair than an extraordinary bet, even for so small a sum as two hundred dollars-all turned toward the stairs by which they were to make their way to the chamber of the treasure; but, first, all took another drink at Gossage's expense, and it was agreed that the winner should treat the crowd to champagne.
To the Gossage apartments were many stairs, with their corresponding landings. At the top of the first flight Gossage stopped, and turned to his company, as one who suddenly recollects an important something. There was a "pint" on which he would like to understand the gentleman. Did the gentleman intend to avail himself of the leading maxim to which all fancy gentlemen subscribe-namely, that betting on a certainty goes for nothing-that a wager is made null and void by positive foreknowledge, with conclusive assurance of the result, on the part of either better. If yes, they need go no further, for he was betting on a certainty.
No, the gentleman unconditionally waived all that; he would take all the risks-somewhat facetiously adding that Mr. Gossage's certainties were an exception to the general rule.
Mr. Gossage, with a reproachful look, went on, only remarking that he was glad they understood each other; he presumed the gentleman knew his own business best.
Flight No. 2: Mr. Gossage stops again-stands for a moment suspended, as it were all silent; Mr. Gossage appears to be about to make a speech; he does make a short one. "True, gambling was his trade and the cards was his tools; but there was a time for everything, and at sich times as it suited him so to do, he hoped he could conduct himself as a gentleman, and a man whose heart is in the right place. He had not the honor to be personally acquainted with his young friend, whom he met on this occasion for the first time-and happy he was to find him a gent after his own heart. The brother might be a man of independent fortin, the tallest kind of a pile; and then agin he moughtn't. Howsever, he was willing to give the gentleman a fair shake, to treat him on the square. Far be it from him to poke his fingers into a
gent's pocket, as never did him no harm, and clean him out like. Gents as knew Tom Gossage knew he was oncapable of sich. The brother was apperiently a person of feeling and refinery. He hoped Tom Gossage was the same in his humble way. Therefore, he wished, in a friendly way, to exposterlate with the gentleman. Might not the brother be rushing at his puddles, rayther resky? He was agreeable to let the gentleman up."
The "brother" returned thanks. He was touched by Mr. Gossage's kind consideration. Those who knew Mr. Gossage better than he did, would no doubt say that it was all quite natural, just like Tom Gossage; but he confessed he was touched. Nevertheless, he preferred not to be let up. The bet was a good bet, and he thought it would keep-it was, indeed. a delightful bet, if only in having been the means of introducing him to his honorable friend. He would rather not part with it.
Mr. Gossage was touched, in his turn; there was a trace of sadness in his air, as he resumed the ascent.
Flight No. 3: Once for all, Mr. Gossage wished to know how far the gentleman meant to carry this joke, if it were a joke. If the gentleman was in earnest, the gentleman must excuse him, but he considered the gentleman a fool. The brother must recollect that his, the speaker's, character, as a man of honor, was at stake. If he took the gentleman's pile, other brethren, outsiders, would say he hadn't done the clean thing by the gentleman. He would like to hear any gent say that; any gent would oblige him by putting in that insinerwation; he would be happy to bet any brother fifty, or a hundred, or a hundred and fifty, or two hundred dollars, that no man in the crowd had the cheek to put in that insinerwation.
The gentleman hoped not. Did Mr. Gossage live inside the house, or out on the roof?
Mr. Gossage walks straight to a door and, with indignant resolution depicted on his countenance, lays his hand on the knob, takes from his pocket a key, applies it to the lock, turns it.
"You'd better not."
"No don't. Upon my soul I don't like to. Say you think better of it, in time. Then I'll just show you the kine, to amuse you, stand the cham
pagne myself, and say nothing about and he put his own life into the chase. it."
Omnes: " Hi, hi, hi!”
Mr. Gossage throws open the door violently; leaps to the side of a narrow iron bedstead; drags from underneath it a scurvy hair trunk, rather easy to handle; goes down on his knees and opens it with a small key, fished out from the profound of his breeches pocket.
You will, will you?"
In truth, the Gossages were the "remarkable men" of the day. They constituted a controlling class, with whom was all the moral, physical and financial force. Abounding in ready resources of no particular nature, and unscrupulous in the application of them-themselves well stocked with the adventurer's courage, and their courage imposingly backed up with six-shooters; numbering in their society, whether as professionals or amateurs, many of the "first men of the city;" having the largest show of "smartness," if not of a purer intellectuality and culture-of sophisticated observation, reckless enterprise, and, best of all, cash; paying the highest rents, monopolizing the most desirable business sites, prompt in applying every new and admirable improvement, commanding every comfort that invention or expensive labor could supplyevery luxury that fine raiment, and pictures, and shows, and music, and wine, and a motley "world of ladies" could stand for-no wonder that they swayed the city, and carried the day with a high hand. No wonder, indeed, for they paid twelve per cent. a month for money, and were ready to take all they could get at that price, offering securities in faro furniture, the good-will and fixtures of a hell of decanters and ivory eounters, a lease, a house, a water-lot, a mine.
Moreover, the gambler of Forty-Nine was no vulgar rogue, or villain of the homely stripe; he had his aspirations; it was fat and proud game he hunted,
He had his sentiments, more or less exalted, according to the location of his tables and the quality of his friends. The fifty-cent roulette-twirler or thimble rigger, of Pacific street or Little Sidney, might not be so sublime and imposing in his definitions of honor as the thousand-dollar faro-dealer of the Parker House or El Dorado; but he was sure to be twice as noisy and exacting. Gentlemen," he would say-no word half so often on his lips as that—“ Gentlemen, we plays on the square; if we doesn't play on the square, difficulties, and onpleasantnesses, and six-shooters is liable. Gentlemen, I hope we are all honorable men; we'll have our little game peaceable and on the square if we can, but we will have it any how, by thunder!"
In the Bella Union, or the California Exchange, aristocratically pitched on the Plaza, the style of conversation across the green cloth, in cases of "difficulty," was different, being more debonair, not so broad:
"A moment, if you please," quietly remarks an almost beardless desperado, covering his pile with a firm hand, and fixing dangerous eyes on the burly dealer of monte whom he addresses"You can stop there."
"Well, sir?" "Well-excuse me, but I think you drew two cards."
"I believe not. I'll take your pile, if you please; the kerwaiyo takes it." "Two cards!"
And in each case the words are accompanied by a quick but quiet movement which discloses a revolver. With the appearance of these two new disputants-polished, curt, of brief but sharp downright speech-there is a quick but fussless stir among the spectators around the table. In a moment a clear space is formed in the midst of a still circle of flashing eyes, compressed lips, and clenched hands. You may count twenty deliberately ere you hear a breath drawn, or see the slightest movement. "Well, sir?"
customed to the crack, no pistol-shot alarms.
"Gentlemen," says he, "try arbitration first."
Another quick exchange of inquiring and responsive glances between the disputants. Not a word; but the eyes of each plainly say Agreed." Both throw themselves back in their chairs, and withdraw their hands from the table, with the air of men inviting examination, and resolute to abide the result. The veteran calls up two brothers of the green cloth, competent to act as umpires; and three minutes, fraught with mortal danger, are passed in deliberately counting the cards as they lie on the cloth, and naming them slowly-like the tolling of a bell, or the measured pronunciation of a death sentence. Except that, there has been no noise but the simultaneous clicking of two pistol locks. The dealer and his young vis-à-vis are seemingly strangely unconcerned for the event.
"You are wrong, my friend," says Veteran, no double card was drawn here. Mistakes will happen to the most careful gentlemen."
From that decision there is no appeal. His finger on the trigger, after that, would have cost the young fellow his life. So pistols go back to their sleeping places, hands are shaken across the table, drinks to the company, at the expense of the "bucker"-as he who plays against the bank is called; and the game proceeds with a better understanding.
Had the result of the examination been otherwise, a man or two would have been killed presently.
Thus, the law being to play fair or die, and the finest distinctions of the meum and tuum defined by the pistol, it is easy to understand that there were honest gamblers in San Francisco in Forty-Nine. Indeed, I will go so far as to assert that, as a class, none were so strict and punctual in all their dealings. The signature of a Gossage, in good standing, passed at par for the sum it was responsible for. No investment safer or more profitable than a loan to him-no claim easier of collection. I have seen our young friend of the "Old Adobe," Mr. John Coit, when he had just been "cleaned out," borrow a thousand dollars from the nearest table, giving no more formal bond than a quarter of a dollar with a few mysterious
scratches on its face; yet, among his fraternity, that curious I. O. U. would pass current for a month-the mystic coin good as the best paper on Wall street for the thousand dollars it stood for, until it suited Mr. Coit to redeem it, perhaps from fourth or fifth hands.
Nor were these men, though most dangerous on certain professional points, by any means habitually quarrelsome. On the contrary, they were often the peace-makers of a fierce crowd whose explosive passions were stirred-constituting themselves an extemporaneous vigilance committee in the name of the Law and Order they had themselves set up for the occasion; and then woe to the refractory!
At one of the monte-tables in a saloon on Kearney street, the game was dealt by a slender, pale, young man, almost a stripling, and with seemingly the delicate organization of a girl-his lips soft, his eyes gentle, his hands small and fair, his hair fine, no beard save a slight moustache-his attire well fitting and scrupulously neat, his air pensive, his ways always quiet. One evening an ugly brute, of the Pike County breed, burly and blustering, his naturally vicious temper heated to hideous fierceness by rum, seated himself at this young man's table and called for a "lay out" of the cards. His manner, provoking from the first, soon became intolerably insulting, and he assailed the dealer with outrageous taunts and menaces, accusing him of cheating, and with abusive oaths refusing to pay over the stakes the bank had
The dealer, patient and long-suffering, and soft-spoken to the last, gently remonstrated with the bully, as with one irresponsible, and whose ugly manners were his misfortune. At last the fellow, deceived by the gracious demeanor of his reluctant antagonist, demanded the refunding of his losses, which were of mean amount-for he had been playing rather for a quarrel than for money-and threatened to cut the dealer's heart out, if he did not instantly "fork over." To this the young man replied by leaping nimbly across the table, and dragging him by the hair from his seat. In an instant the bully drew a formidable bowie; but before he could make a lunge, a quick, sharp, shot-like blow from the lady-like fist, delivered with scientific