Merrell Shale is a mean looking but warm spirited man in his late thirties. At present, he is a gambler, but his outward appearance deliberately reflects his more humble beginnings. He is the son of a miner, his mother died from cholera at a young age. His father worked very hard to provide for his children, and Merrell, the oldest of three, sought very early to assist his father in that endeavor.
His younger siblings were both educated, a lawyer and a banker’s wife, respectively, but he was always the sharpest of the bunch. He was never afraid of hard work, and, as soon as his father consented, he went to work with him in the mines. The long years of hard work took a brutal toll on his father, however, and he is very ill, near death. Merrell, resolving to accomplish more with himself was always looking for a better way, and when his younger siblings were off living their own lives, he starting looking for one.
He had always been able to read people well, there was little more concerning than going into a hole in the ground on the word of a man who told you that the mine was safe. And even outside that, it was a natural talent of his. As a youth, he was fond of finding ways to ruffle the feathers of his teachers and such, and maybe it was that as much as it was anything else that prevented him from following the path his sisters chose. While he was considering his alternatives, he used to play quite a bit of cards at the local saloon. He was always reluctant to take his coworkers’ money, however, so he brought home very little.
One particular evening, a sharp dressed man was in the saloon and had gathered quite a crowd taking the money of men who had come for a game of poker. Having noticed the solemn look on the faces of the men with him he worked, he bought his way onto the table to play a game. Unchained from the moral conviction that usually restrained him, he played the man, and won quite handsomely. The anxiety that one might experience from spending so much of his life in a death trap had given him meant that no game of cards would ever shake him so that his face might reveal whatever lay concealed there.
The winnings, after returning some to his friends who had squandered their pay, were enough to get his father out of the mine for a time, and get him started in becoming a gambler himself. He would never dress like the man whom he had beat, lest he make a target of himself or tip his hand. There was no money at home gambling though, unless he wanted to take it from his friends. So, he set out on the road. He would take any bet he knew he could win, although he lost a few in places he could have never seen it, but playing cards always held a special place for the man.