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Romance of California Life

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He suited the natives exactly. What they would have done had he not been available, they shuddered to contemplate. The county was so new a one that but three men had occupied the sheriff's office before Charley Mansell was elected. Of the three, the first had not collected taxes with proper vigor; the second was so steadily drunk that aggrieved farmers had to take the law in their own hands regarding horse-thieves; the third was, while a terrible man on the chase or in a fight, so good-natured and lazy at other times, that the county came to be overrun with rascals. But Charley Mansell fulfilled every duty of his office with promptness and thoroughness. He was not very well known, to be sure, but neither was any one else among the four or five thousand inhabitants of the new county. He had arrived about a year before election-day, and established himself as repairer of clocks and watches—an occupation which was so unprofitable at Bunkerville, the county town, that Charley had an immense amount of leisure time at his disposal. He never hung about the stores or liquor-shop after dark; he never told doubtful stories, or displayed unusual ability with cards; neither did he, on the other hand, identify himself with either of the Bunkerville churches, and yet every one liked him. Perhaps it was because, although short, he was straight and plump, whereas the other inhabitants were thin and bent from many discouraging tussles with ague; perhaps it was because he was always the first to see the actual merits and demerits of any subject of conversation; perhaps it was because he was more eloquent in defense of what he believed to be right than the village pastors were in defense of the holy truths to which they were committed; perhaps it was because he argued Squire Backett out of foreclosing a mortgage on the Widow Worth when every one else feared to approach the squire on the subject; but, no matter what the reason was, Charley Mansell became every one's favorite, and gave no one an excuse to call him enemy. He took no interest in politics, but one day when a brutal ruffian, who had assaulted a lame native, escaped because the easy-going sheriff was too slow in pursuing, Charley was heard to exclaim, "Oh, if I were sheriff!" The man who heard him was both impressionable and practical. He said that Charley's face, when he made that remark, looked like Christ's might have looked when he was angry, but the hearer also remembered that the sheriff-incumbent's term of office had nearly expired, and he quietly gathered a few leading spirits of each political party, with the result that Charley was nominated and elected on a "fusion" ticket. When elected, Charley properly declined, on the ground that he could not file security bonds; but, within half an hour of the time the county clerk received the letter of declination, at least a dozen of the most solid citizens of the county waited upon the sheriff-elect and volunteered to go upon his bond, so Charley became sheriff in spite of himself....