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The Gray Dawn

by Stewart Edward White

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On the veranda of the Bella Union Hotel, San Francisco, a man sat enjoying his morning pipe. The Bella Union overlooked the Plaza of that day, a dusty, unkempt, open space, later to be swept and graded and dignified into Portsmouth Square. The man was at the younger fringe of middle life. He was dressed neatly and carefully in the fashionable costume of the time, which was the year of grace 1852. As to countenance, he was square and solid; as to physique, he was the same; as to expression, he inclined toward the quietly humorous; in general he would strike the observer as deliberately, philosophically competent. A large pair of steel bound spectacles sat halfway down his nose. Sometimes he read his paper through their lenses; and sometimes, forgetting, he read over the tops of their bows. The newspaper he held was an extraordinary document. It consisted of four large pages. The outside page was filled solidly with short eight or ten line advertisements; the second page grudgingly vouchsafed a single column of news items; the third page warmed to a column of editorial and another of news; all the rest of the space on these and the entire fourth page was again crowded close with the short advertisements. They told of the arrival of ships, the consignment of goods, the movements of real estate, the sales of stock, but mainly of auctions. The man paid little attention to the scanty news, and none at all to the editorials. His name was John Sherwood, and he was a powerful and respected public gambler.

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He hastily pulled on some clothes and ran down the front stairs, stumbling over Gringo, who uttered an outraged yelp. From the street he could see a red glow in the sky. At top speed he ran down the street in the direction of the Monumental. In the half darkness he could make out other figures running. The deep tones of the bells continued to smite his ear, but now in addition he heard the tinkling and clinking of innumerable smaller bells-- those on the machines. He dashed around a corner to encounter a double line of men, running at full speed, hauling on a long rope attached to an engine. Their mouths were open, and they were all yelling. The light engine careened and swayed and bumped.



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