It certainly was hard. What was the freedom of a country in which the voice of the original founders was spent in vain? Had not they, the “Forty” miners of Bottle Flat, really started the place? Hadn’t they located claims there? Hadn’t they contributed three ounces each, ostensibly to set up in business a brother miner who unfortunately lost an arm, but really that a saloon might be opened, and the genuineness and stability of the camp be assured? Hadn’t they promptly killed or scared away every Chinaman who had ever trailed his celestial pig-tail into the Flat? Hadn’t they cut and beaten a trail to Placerville, so that miners could take a run to that city when the Flat became too quiet? Hadn’t they framed the squarest betting code in the whole diggings? And when a ’Frisco man basely attempted to break up the camp by starting a gorgeous saloon a few miles up the creek, hadn’t they gone up in a body and cleared him out, giving him only ten minutes in which to leave the creek for ever? All this they had done, actuated only by a stern sense of duty, and in the patient anticipation of the reward which traditionally crowns virtuous action. But now—oh, ingratitude of republics!—a schoolteacher was to be forced upon Bottle Flat in spite of all the protest which they, the oldest inhabitants, had made!
Such had been their plaint for days, but the sad excitement had not been productive of any fights, for the few married men in the camp prudently absented themselves at night from “The Nugget” saloon, where the matter was fiercely discussed every evening. There was, therefore, such an utter absence of diversity of opinion, that the most quarrelsome searched in vain for provocation.
On the afternoon of the day on which the opening events of this story occurred, the boys, by agreement, stopped work two hours earlier than usual, for the stage usually reached Bottle Flat about two hours before sundown, and the one of that day was to bring the hated teacher. The boys had wellnigh given up the idea of further resistance, yet curiosity has a small place even in manly bosoms, and they could at least look hatred at the detested pedagogue. So about four o’clock they gathered at The Nugget so suddenly, that several fathers; who were calmly drinking inside, had barely time to escape through the back windows.
The boys drank several times before composing themselves into their accustomed seats and leaning-places; but it was afterward asserted and Southpaw—the one-armed bar-keeper—cited as evidence, that none of them took sugar in their liquor. They subjected their sorrow to homeopathic treatment by drinking only the most raw and rasping fluids that the bar afforded.
The preliminary drinking over, they moodily whittled, chewed, and expectorated; a stranger would have imagined them a batch of miserable criminals awaiting transportation.