As the winter settled, they snuggled back, ate three meals and more daily of bacon, beans, and baking-powder bread; playing cribbage for an appetite. They undertook no exercise more violent than seven-up, while the wood-cutting fell as a curse upon those unfortunates who lost at the game. They giggled at Captain and the big whaler who daily, snow or blow, hit the trail or wielded pick and shovel.
However, as the two maintained their practice, the camp grew to resent their industry, and, as is possible only in utterly idle communities, there sprung up a virulence totally out of proportion, and, founded without reason, most difficult to dispel. Before they knew it, the two were disliked and distrusted; their presence ignored; their society shunned.
Captain had talked to many in the camp. “You’ll get scurvy, sure, living in these dark houses. They’re damp and dirty, and you don’t exercise. Besides, there isn’t a pound of fresh grub in camp.”
Figuratively, the camp’s nose had tilted at this, and it stated pompously that it were better to preserve its classic purity of features and pro rata of toes, than to jeopardize these adjuncts through fear of a possible blood disease.
“Blood disease, eh?” George snorted like a sea-lion. “Wait till your legs get black and you spit your teeth out like plum-pits—mebbe you’ll listen then. It’ll come, see if it don’t.”
He was right. Yet when the plague did grip the camp and men died, one in five, they failed to rise to it. Instead of fighting manfully they lapsed into a frightened, stubborn coma.
There was one, and only one, who did not. Klusky the Jew; Klusky the pariah. They said he worked just to be ornery and different from the rest, he hated them so. They enjoyed baiting him to witness his fury. It sated that taint of Roman cruelty inherent in the man of ignorance. He was all the amusement they had, for it wasn’t policy to stir up the two others—they might slop over and clean up the village. So they continued to goad him as they had done since leaving ’Frisco. They gibed and jeered till he shunned them, living alone in the fringe of the pines, bitter and vicious, as an outcast from the pack will grow, whether human or lupine. He frequented only the house of Captain and George, because they were exiles like himself.
The partners did not relish this overmuch, for he was an odious being, avaricious, carping, and dirty.
“His face reminds me of a tool,” said George, once, “nose an’ chin shuts up like calipers. He’s got the forehead of a salmon trout, an’ his chin don’t retreat, it stampedes, plumb down ag’in his apple. Look out for that droop of the mouth. I’ve seen it before, an’ his eyes is bad, too. They’ve stirred him up an’ pickled all the good he ever had. Some day he’ll do a murder.”
“I wonder what he means by always saying he’ll have revenge before spring. It makes me creep to hear him cackle and gloat. I think he’s going crazy.”