To miners, whose gold-fever had not reached a ridiculous degree of heat, Blugsey’s was certainly a very satisfactory location. The dirt was rich, the river ran dry, there was plenty of standing-room on the banks, which were devoid of rocks, the storekeeper dealt strictly on the square, and the saloon contained a pleasing variety of consolatory fluids, which were dispensed by Stumpy Flukes, ex-sailor, and as hearty a fellow as any one would ask to see.
All thieves and claim-jumpers had been shot as fast as discovered, and the men who remained had taken each other’s measures with such accuracy, that genuine fights were about as unfrequent as prayer-meetings.
The miners dug and washed, ate, drank, swore and gambled with that delightful freedom which exists only in localities where society is established on a firm and well-settled basis.
Such being the condition of affairs at Blugsey’s, it seemed rather strange one morning, hours after breakfast, to see, sprinkled in every direction, a great number of idle picks, shovels and pans; in fact, the only mining implements in use that morning were those handled by a single miner, who was digging and carrying and washing dirt with an industry which seemed to indicate that he was working as a substitute for each and every man in the camp.
He was anything but a type of gold-hunters in general; he was short and thin, and slight and stooping, and greatly round-shouldered; his eyes were of a painfully uncertain gray, and one of them displayed a cast which was his only striking feature; his nose had started as a very retiring nose, but had changed its mind half-way down; his lips were thin, and seemed to yearn for a close acquaintance with his large ears; his face was sallow and thin, and thickly seamed, and his chin appeared to be only one of Nature’s hasty afterthoughts. Long, thin gray hair hung about his face, and imparted the only relief to the monotonous dinginess of his features and clothing.
Such being the appearance of the man, it was scarcely natural to expect that miners in general would regard him as a special ornament to the profession.
In fact, he had been dubbed “Old Scrabblegrab” on the second day of his occupancy of Claim No. 32, and such of his neighbors as possessed the gift of tongues had, after more intimate acquaintance with him, expressed themselves doubtful of the ability of language to properly embody Scrabblegrab’s character in a single name.
The principal trouble was, that they were unable to make anything at all of his character; there was nothing about him which they could understand, so they first suspected him, and then hated him violently, after the usual manner of society toward the incomprehensible.
And on the particular morning which saw Scrabblegrab the only worker at Blugsey’s, the remaining miners were assembled in solemn conclave at Stumpy Fluke’s saloon, to determine what was to be done with the detested man.