Page:The Clipper Ship Era.djvu/238

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The Clipper Ship Era

as he had incited the most dangerous set of men, perhaps, that ever existed in any seaport—ticket-of-leave from Australia, cut-throats from New Mexico, and drainings from the social gutters and cesspools of European ports.

At this moment San Francisco happened to be in one of the numerous stages of reform through which that amazing city has passed. It had recently emerged from a reign of lawlessness and mob rule under the guidance of a Vigilance Committee, and while this admirable body of citizens was not yet disbanded, it had in a measure relaxed its grasp upon public affairs. Now, a number of the newly-converted thugs, murderers, and outlaws of the town, whose necks had narrowly escaped the hangman's noose, formed themselves into a new "Vigilance Committee," to deal with Captain Waterman and the officers of the Challenge. These outcasts, crafty and unscrupulous as they were, possessed neither the courage nor the mental capacity to carry out their own plans. They accordingly called a public meeting, held somewhere among the sandhills, at which it was decided to "execute" Captain Waterman and his officers "on sight," and then burn or scuttle the vessel at her wharf. Naturally, the real Vigilance Committee were the first to learn of these proceedings, and at once took the captain and officers under their protection, holding themselves in readiness to scatter the mob should this measure become necessary.

The crowd that gathered at the sandhills consisted of two or three hundred men who had lately been hunted from one end of San Francisco to the