Informational Site NetworkInformational Site Network
Privacy
 
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


His Only Asset








From: The Man From The Bitter Roots

It would be a pleasure to record that Capital found Bruce's personality
so irresistible that his need of funds met with instant response, that
the dashing picturesqueness of his appearance and charm of his
unconventional speech and manner was so fascinating that Capital
violated all the rules observed by experienced investors and handed out
its checks with the cheery "God bless you m' boy!" which warms the heart
toward Capital in fiction. Such, however, was not the case.

It took only one interview to disabuse Bruce's mind of any faint,
sneaking idea he may have had that he was doing Capital a favor for
which it would duly thank him. The person whom he honored with his first
call strongly conveyed the impression after he had stated his case that
he considered that he, Bruce, had obtained valuable time under false
pretenses. Certainly the last emotion which he seemed to entertain for
the opportunity given him was gratitude, and his refusal to be
interested amounted to a curt dismissal.

The second interview, during which Bruce was cross-examined by a
cold-eyed gentleman with a cool, impersonal voice, was sufficient to
make him realize with tolerable clearness his total unpreparedness. What
engineer of recognized standing had reported upon the ground? None! To
what extent, then, had the ground been sampled? How many test-pits had
been sunk, and how far to bed-rock? What was the yardage? Where were
his certified assay sheets, and his engineer's estimate for
hydro-electric installation? What transportation facilities?

Bruce, still dazed by the onslaught, had turned and looked at the door
which had closed behind him with a briskness which seemed to say "Good
riddance," and muttered, thinking of the clerk's one sanguine
suggestion: "Personality! I might as well be a hop-toad."

But in his chagrin he went to extremes in his contemptuous estimate of
himself, for there was that about him which generally got him a hearing
and a longer one than would have been accorded the average "promoter"
with nothing more tangible upon which to raise money than his
unsupported word. His Western phraseology and sometimes humorous
similes, his unexpected whimsicalities and a certain naivete secretly
amused many of those whom he approached, though they took the best of
care not to show it lest he mistake their interest in himself for
interest in his proposition.

One or two went so far as to pass him on by giving him the name of a
friend, but, mostly, they listened coldly, critically, and refused with
some faint excuse or none. There was no harder task that Bruce could
have set himself than applying to such men for financial help for,
underneath, he was still the sensitive boy who had bolted from the
dinner-table in tears and anger to escape his father's ridicule, and,
furthermore, he was accustomed to the friendly spirit and manner of the
far West.

The chilling stiffness, the skepticism and suspicion, the curtness which
was close to rudeness, at first bewildered, then hurt and humiliated
him, finally filling him with a resentment which was rapidly reaching a
point where it needed only an uncivil word or act too much to produce an
explosion.

But if he was like that boy of other days in his quick pride, neither
had he lost the tenacity of purpose which had kept him dragging one
sore, bare foot after the other to get to his mother when the gulches he
had to pass were black and full of ghostly, fearsome things that the
hired man had seen when staying out late o' nights. This trait now kept
him trudging grimly from one office to another, offering himself a
target for rebuffs that to him had the sting of insults.

He had come to know so well what to expect that he shrank painfully from
each interview. It required a strong effort of will to turn in at the
given number and ask for the man he had come to see, and when he saw him
it required all his courage to explain the purpose of his call. Bruce
understood fully now how he was handicapped by the lack of data and the
fact that he was utterly unknown, but so long as there was one glimmer
of hope that someone would believe him, would see the possibilities in
his proposition as he saw them, and investigate for himself Bruce would
not quit. The list of names the clerk had given him and many others had
long since been exhausted. Looking back it seemed to him that he was a
babe in swaddling clothes when he started out with his telegram and his
addresses, so full of high hopes and the roseate expectations of
inexperience.

Day after day he plodded, his dark face set in grim lines of purpose,
following up clews leading to possible investors which he obtained here
and there, and always with the one result. What credentials had he? To
what past successes could he point? None? Ah, good-day.

One morning Bruce opened his eyes and the conviction that he had failed
leaped into his mind as though it had been waiting like a cat at a mouse
hole to pounce upon him the instant of his return to consciousness.

"You have failed! You have got to give up! You are done!" The words
pounding into his brain affected him like hammer blows over the heart.
He laid motionless, inert, his face grown sallow upon the pillow, and he
thought that the feelings of a condemned man listening to the building
of his gallows must be something like his own.

Those who have struggled for something, tried with all their heart and
soul, fought to the last atom of their strength, and failed, know
something of the sickening heaviness, the dull, aching depression which
takes the vitality and seems actually to slow up the beating of the
heart.

Out in the world, he told himself, where men won things by their brains,
he had failed like any pitiable weakling; that he had been handicapped
by unpreparedness was no palliation of the crime of failure. Ignorance
was no excuse. In humiliation and chagrin he attributed the mistakes of
inexperience to lack of intelligence. His mother had over-estimated him,
he had over-estimated himself. It was presumption to have supposed he
was fitted for anything but manual labor. Sprudell had been right, he
thought bitterly, when he had sneered that muscle was his only asset.

He could see himself loading his belongings into Slim's old boat, his
blankets and the tattered soogan and bobbing through the rapids with the
blackened coffee-pot, the frying pan, and lard cans jingling in the
bottom, while Sprudell, with his hateful, womanish smile, watched his
ignominious departure. Bruce drew his sleeve across his damp forehead.
If there was any one thing which could goad him to further action it was
this picture.

He arose and dressed slowly. Bruce had known fatigue, the weakness of
hunger, but never anything like the leaden, heavy-footed depression
which comes from intense despondency and hopelessness.

As his finances had gone down he had gone up, until he was now located
permanently on the top floor of the hotel where the hall carpets and
furniture were given their final try-out before going into the discards.
The only thing which stopped him from going further was the roof. He had
no means of judging what the original colors in his rug had been save by
an inch or two close to the wall, and every brass handle on the drawers
of his dresser came out at the touch. The lone faucet of cold water
dripped constantly and he had to stand on a chair each time he raised
the split green shade. When he wiped his face he fell through the hole
in the towel; he could never get over a feeling of surprise at meeting
his hands in the middle, and the patched sheets on his bed looked like
city plots laid out in squares.

He loathed the shabbiness of it, and the suggestion of germs, decay,
down-at-the-heel poverty added to his depression. He never had any such
feelings about his rough bunk filled with cedar boughs and his pine
table as he had about this iron bed, with its scratched enamel and tin
knobs, which deceived nobody into thinking them brass, or the wobbly
dresser that he swore at heartily each time he turned back a fingernail
trying to claw a drawer open.

Bruce had vowed that so long as a stone remained unturned he would stay
and turn it, but--he had run out of stones. Three untried addresses were
left in his note-book and he looked at them as he ate his frugal
breakfast speculating as to which was nearest.

"If I'd eaten as much beef as I have crow since I came to this man's
town," he meditated as he dragged his unwilling feet up the street, "I'd
be a 'shipper' in prime A1 condition. I've a notion I haven't put on
much weight since it became the chief article of my diet. If thirty days
of quail will stall a man what will six weeks of crow do to him? I doubt
if I will ever entirely get my self-respect back unless," he added with
the glimmer of a smile, "I go around and lick some of them before I
leave."

"I suppose," his thoughts ran on, "that it's a part of the scheme of
life that a person must eat his share of crow before he gets in a
position to make some one else eat it, but dog-gone!" with a wry face,
"I've sure swallowed a double portion." Then he fell to wondering if--he
consulted his note-book--J. Winfield Harrah had specialized at all upon
his method of serving up this game-bird which knows no closed season?

As he sat in Harrah's outer office on a high-backed settee of teak-wood
ornate with dragons and Chinese devils, with his feet on a rug which
would have gone a long way toward installing a power-plant, looking at
pictures of Jake Kilrain in pugilistic garb and pose, the racing yacht
Shamrock under full sail, and Heatherbloom taking a record smashing
jump, the spider-legged office boy came from inside endeavoring to hide
some pleasurable excitement under a semblance of dignity and office
reticence.

"Mr. Harrah has been detained and won't be here for perhaps an hour."

"I'll wait," Bruce replied laconically.

The office boy lingered. He fancied Bruce because of his size and his
hat and a resemblance that he thought he saw between him and his
favorite western hero of the movies; besides, he was bursting with a
proud secret. He hunched his shoulders and looked cautiously behind
toward the inner offices. Between his palms he whispered:

"He's been arrested."

It delighted him that Bruce's eyes widened.

"Third time in a month--speedin' in Jersey--his new machine is 80
horse-power--! A farmer put tacks in the road and tried to kill him wit'
a pitchfork. Say! my boss et him. I bet he'll get fined the limit."
His red necktie swelled palpably and he swaggered proudly. "Pooh! he
don't care. My boss, he--"

"Willie!"

"Yes ma'am." The stenographer's call interrupted further confidences
from Willie and he scuttled away, leaving Bruce with the impression that
the boy's admiration for his boss was not unmixed with apprehension.

The hour had gone when the door opened and a huge, fiery-bearded,
dynamic sort of person went swinging past Bruce without a glance and on
to the inner offices. The office boy's husky "That's him!" was not
needed to tell him that J. Winfield Harrah had arrived. The air suddenly
seemed charged electrically. The stenographer speeded up and dapper
young clerks and accountants bent to their work with a zeal and
assiduity which merited immediate promotion, while "Willie," Bruce
noticed, came from a brief session in the private office with the dazed
look of one who has just been through an experience.

When Bruce's turn came Harrah sat at his desk like an expectant ogre;
there was that in his attitude which seemed to say: "Enter; I eat
promoters." His eyes measured Bruce from head to foot in a glance of
appraisement, and Bruce on his part subjected Harrah to the same swift
scrutiny.

Without at all being able to explain it Bruce felt instantly at his
ease, he experienced a kind of relief as does a stranger in a strange
land when he discovers someone who speaks his tongue.

Harrah appeared about Bruce's age, perhaps a year or two older, and he
was as tall, though lacking Bruce's thickness and breadth of shoulder.
His arms were long as a gorilla's and he had huge white fists with
freckles on the back that looked like ginger-snaps. Fiery red eyebrows
as stiff as two toothbrushes bristled above a pair of vivid blue eyes,
while his short beard resembled nothing so much as a neatly trimmed
whisk broom, flaming in color. His skin was florid and his hair, which
was of a darker shade than his beard, was brushed straight back from a
high, white forehead. A tuft of hair stood up on his crown like the
crest on a game-cock. Everything about him indicated volcanic
temperament, virility, and impulsiveness which amounted to eccentricity.

Harrah represented to Bruce practically his last chance, but there was
nothing in Harrah's veiled, non-committal eyes as he motioned Bruce to a
chair and inquired brusquely: "Well--what kind of a wild-cat have you
got?" which would have led an observer to wager any large amount that
his last chance was a good one.

Bruce's eyes opened and he stared for the fraction of a second at the
rudeness of the question, then they flashed as he answered shortly.

"I'm not peddling wild-cats, or selling mining stock to widows and
orphans--if you happen to be either."

Capital is not accustomed to tart answers to its humor caustic, from
persons in need of financial assistance for their enterprises. Harrah
raised his toothbrush eyebrows and once more he favored Bruce with a
sweeping glance of interest, which Bruce, in his sensitive pride,
resented.

"Who sent you?" Harrah demanded roughly.

"Never mind who sent me," Bruce answered in the same tone, reaching for
his hat which he had laid on the floor beside him, "but he had his
dog-gone nerve directing me to an ill-mannered four-flusher like you."

The color flamed to Harrah's cheek bones and over his high, white
forehead.

"You've got a curious way of trying to raise money," he observed. "I
suppose," dryly, "that's what you're here for?"

"You suppose right," Bruce answered hotly as he stood up, "but I'm no
damn pauper. And get it out of your head," he went on as the accumulated
wrath of weeks swept over him, "that you're talking to the office boy.
I've found somebody at last that's big enough to stand up to and tell
'em to go to hell! Sabe? You needn't touch my proposition, you needn't
even listen to it, but, hear me, you talk civil!"

As Harrah arose Bruce took a step closer and looked at him squarely.

A lurking imp sprang to life in Harrah's vivid eyes, a dare-devil look
which found its counterpart in Bruce's own.

"I believe you think you're a better man than I am."

"I can lick you any jump in the road," Bruce answered promptly.

Harrah looked at him speculatively, without resentment, then his lips
parted in a grin which showed two sharp, white, prominent front teeth.

"On the square," eagerly, "do you think you can down me?"

"I know it," curtly--"any old time or place. Now, if it suits you."

To Bruce's amazement Harrah took his hand and shook it joyfully.

"I wouldn't be surprised if you could! You look as hard as nails. Do you
box or wrestle?"

Bruce wondered if he was crazy.

He answered shortly: "Some."

"Bully!" excitedly. "The best luck ever! We'll have a try-out in private
and if you're the moose I think you are you can break him in two!"

"Break who in two?"

"The Spanish Bull-dog! Eureka!" he chuckled gleefully. "I'll back you to
the limit!"

"What's the matter with you?" Bruce demanded. "Are you loco?"

"Close to it!" the eccentric capitalist cried gaily,--"with joy! He
bested me proper the other night at the Athletic Club--he dusted the mat
with me--and I want to play even." Seeing that Bruce's face did not
lose its look of mystification he curbed his exuberance: "You see I've
got some little reputation as a wrestler so when Billy Harper ran across
this fellow in Central America he imported him on purpose to reduce the
swelling in my head, he said, and he did it, for while the chap hasn't
much science he's so powerful I couldn't hold him. But you, by George!
wait till I spring you on him!"

"Say," Bruce answered resentfully, "I came East to raise money for a
hydro-electric power plant, not to go into the ring. It looks as if
you're taking a good deal for granted."

"That's all right," Harrah answered easily. "How much do you want? What
you got? Where is it?"

Bruce told him briefly.

Harrah heard him through attentively and when he was done Harrah said
candidly:

"Perhaps you've been told before that without a qualified engineer's
report it isn't much of a business proposition to appeal to a business
man."

"Once or twice," Bruce answered dryly.

"Nevertheless," Harrah continued, "I'm willing to take a chance on
you--not on the proposition as you've put it up to me but on you
personally, because I like you. I'll head your inscription list with
$5000 and introduce you to some men that will probably take a 'flyer' on
my say-so. If you're still short of what you think you'll need I'll make
up the remainder, all providing"--with a quick grin--"that you go in and
wallop that Greaser!"

Bruce's expression was a mixture of many.

Finally he replied slowly:

"Well, it isn't just the way I'd figured out to interest Capital and I
reckon the method is unique in mine promotion, but as I'm at the end of
my rope and have no choice, one more meal of 'crow' won't kill me." He
went on with a tinge of bitterness, thinking of Sprudell: "Since muscle
is my only asset I'll have to realize on it." Then his dark face lighted
with one of the slow, whimsical smiles that transformed it--"Unchain the
'Spanish Bull-dog,' feller!"

Harrah rang for the office boy and reached for his hat.

"William," he said sternly when the quaking youth stood before him,
"tell those people outside not to wait. I'm called away on
business--urgent, important business and I can't say when I'll be
back."





Next: Millions!

Previous: Off His Range



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 415