The new dueling law, however, did not distinguish between real and mock affrays, and the prospect of being served with a summons made a good excuse for Clemens and Gillis to go to San Francisco, which had long attracted them. They were great friends, these two, and presently were living together and working on the same paper, the "Morning Call," Clemens as a reporter and Gillis as a compositor.
Gillis, with his tendency to mischief, was a constant exasperation to his room-mate, who, goaded by some new torture, would sometimes denounce him in feverish terms. Yet they were never anything but the closest friends.
Mark Twain did not find happiness in his new position on the "Call." There was less freedom and more drudgery than he had known on the "Enterprise." His day was spent around the police court, attending fires, weddings, and funerals, with brief glimpses of the theaters at night.
Once he wrote: "It was fearful drudgery--soulless drudgery--and almost destitute of interest. It was an awful slavery for a lazy man."
It must have been so. There was little chance for original work. He had become just a part of a news machine. He saw many public abuses that he wished to expose, but the policy of the paper opposed him. Once, however, he found a policeman asleep on his beat. Going to a near-by vegetable stall, he borrowed a large cabbage-leaf, came back, and stood over the sleeper, gently fanning him. He knew the paper would not publish the policeman's negligence, but he could advertise it in his own way. A large crowd soon collected, much amused. When he thought the audience large enough, he went away. Next day the joke was all over the city.
He grew indifferent to the "Call" work, and, when an assistant was allowed him to do part of the running for items, it was clear to everybody that presently the assistant would be able to do it all.
But there was a pleasant and profitable side to the San Francisco life. There were real literary people there--among them a young man, with rooms upstairs in the "Call" office, Francis Bret Harte, editor of the "Californian," a new literary weekly which Charles Henry Webb had recently founded. Bret Harte was not yet famous, but his gifts were recognized on the Pacific slope, especially by the "Era" group of writers, the "Golden Era" being a literary monthly of considerable distinction. Joaquin Miller recalls, from his diary of that period, having seen Prentice Mulford, Bret Harte, Charles Warren Stoddard, Mark Twain, Artemus Ward, and others, all assembled there at one time--a remarkable group, certainly, to be dropped down behind the Sierras so long ago. They were a hopeful, happy lot, and sometimes received five dollars for an article, which, of course, seemed a good deal more precious than a much larger sum earned in another way.
Mark Twain had contributed to the "Era" while still in Virginia City, and now, with Bret Harte, was ranked as a leader of the group. The two were much together, and when Harte became editor of the "Californian" he engaged Clemens as a regular contributor at the very fancy rate of twelve dollars an article. Some of the brief chapters included to-day in "Sketches New and Old" were done at this time. They have humor, but are not equal to his later work, and beyond the Pacific slope they seem to have attracted little attention.
In "Roughing It" the author tells us how he finally was dismissed from the "Call" for general incompetency, and presently found himself in the depths of hard luck, debt, and poverty. But this is only his old habit of making a story on himself sound as uncomplimentary as possible. The true version is that the "Call" publisher and Mark Twain had a friendly talk and decided that it was better for both to break off the connection. Almost immediately he arranged to write a daily San Francisco letter for the "Enterprise," for which he received thirty dollars a week. This, with his earnings from the "Californian," made his total return larger than before.