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From: The Man From The Bitter Roots

Would the car never come--would it never come! Helen walked once more to
the corner from the shelter of a building in one of the outlying mill
districts where an assignment had taken her.

The day was bitterly cold with a wind blowing which went through her
coat and skirt as though they were light-weight summer clothing. She
held her muff against her cheek and she peered up the street and the
dark background accentuated the drawn whiteness of her face with the
pinched, blue look about her mouth and nostrils. The girl was really
suffering terribly. She had passed the chattering stage and was enduring
dumbly, wondering how much longer she could stand it, knowing all the
time that she must stand it as there was no place to go inside and
missing the car which ran at half hour intervals meant missing the
edition. She was paid to stand it, she told herself, as she stamped
her feet which were almost without feeling. The doctor's emphatic
warning came to her mind with each icy blast that made her shrink and
huddle closer to the wall of the big storage building. Exposure, wet
feet, were as suicidal in her condition as poison, he had told her. She
could guard against the latter but there was no escape from the former
if she would do her work conscientiously for long, cold rides and waits
on street corners were a recognized part of it.

She could not afford even to dress warmly. There was absolutely nothing
but fur that would keep out such penetrating wind and cold as this, and
anything at all presentable was beyond her means.

"And they tell us, these smug, unctuous preachers warming their shins
before their study fires, that living is a privilege, and we should be
grateful to the Almighty for being allowed to go through things like
this! I can't see it!" she declared to herself in angry rebellion. "I
haven't one thing on earth to look forward to--unless--" her hand
tightened on a letter inside her muff--"unless I take a way out which,
in the end, might be worse."

Sprudell's note had come by special delivery from the Hotel Strathmore
just as she was leaving the office, so she had not stopped to answer it.
He had made several trips from Bartlesville since their first meeting,
under the pretext of business, but it did not require any great acumen
to discover that he came chiefly to see her.

Now, thinking that it might divert her mind from her misery, Helen
turned her back to the wind and drew out his note for a second reading.
One would scarcely have gathered from her expression as she turned the
pages that she was reading a cordial dinner invitation.

Everything about it grated upon her--and the note was so eminently
characteristic. She observed critically the "My dear Miss Dunbar," which
he considered more intimate than "Dear Miss Dunbar." She disliked the
round vowels formed with such care that they looked piffling, and the
elaborately shaded consonants. The stiffness, the triteness of his
phraseology, and his utter lack of humor, made his letters dull reading
but most of all his inexact use of words irritated her--it made him seem
so hopeless--far more so than bad spelling. She even detested the
glazed note paper which she was sure was a "broken lot" bought at a
bargain in a department store.

"To-night I have a matter of supreme importance to impart," she read,
"make every effort to join me. The evening may prove as eventful to you
as to me, so do not disappoint me, Mignonne."

"Mignonne!" Her lips curled. "Idiot! Imbecile! Ignoramus!"

She leaned a shoulder against the cold bricks of the warehouse, her head
drooped and a tear slipped down her cheek to turn to frost on the dark
fur of her muff.

Helen was too analytical and she had had the opportunity of knowing and
observing men in too many walks of life not to have by this time a
fairly good insight into Sprudell's character. At least she understood
him to the extent of reading his motives and interpreting his actions
with tolerable accuracy. She tried to be charitable and endeavored not
to dwell upon the traits which, in the light of his lover's attitude,
made him ridiculous. When she received tender offering of stale
fruit-cake and glucose jam from a cut-rate grocer, large boxes of candy
from an obscure confectioner, and other gifts betraying the penurious
economy which always tempered his generosity, she endeavored to assure
herself that it came merely from the habit of saving in small ways which
many self-made men had in common. She dwelt resolutely upon his
integrity, upon the acumen which had made him a business success; yet in
her heart she could not help likening him to a garment of shoddy
material aping the style of elegance. While endeavoring to palliate
these small offenses Helen knew perfectly that they were due to the
fact that he was innately what was known in the office vernacular as a
"cheap skate," striving to give the impression of generosity at a
minimum of expense.

Helen had grown sensitive about her cough and shrank from comment upon
it. She did her best to stifle it and she herself spoke of it lightly;
but to-day, when she came into the warm air of the office after the
nightmare of a wait on the corner and the long, cold ride afterward, it
set her coughing violently, so violently that it attracted the attention
of her neighbor, who called over the partition jocularly but with a note
of seriousness in his voice--

"We'll have to ship you to Colorado, Miss Dunbar, if you go on like

Helen caught her clasped hands quickly to her breast, a trick she had
when startled.

"Yes?" she answered lightly but her expression was frightened.

People were noticing! It was the last straw needed. When she laid out
her most becoming frock that evening it was the white flag of
capitulation. The odds were too heavy--she felt she must surrender
before it was too late. While she dressed her hair with more than usual
care she scrutinized her face closely for that indefinable look which
conveys to the initiated a hint of something deeper-seated than the
languor of fatigue.

If Helen had cared at all for Sprudell's approbation she would have had
the reward for her pains in the pleased, self-satisfied air of
proprietorship with which he followed her to the table he had reserved
in the fashionable restaurant of the Hotel Strathmore. He missed none of
the interested looks directed at her as she passed, and glowed with

"If they notice her like this in a city," he thought triumphantly,
"she'll make 'em sit up in Bartlesville!" Sprudell's cup of happiness
seemed running full.

"You're looking great to-night," he whispered as they sat down.

"Fine feathers--" she smiled slightly--"my one good gown."

"My dear, you can have a hundred--a thousand!" he cried extravagantly.
"It's up to you!"

She studied him curiously, wondering what had happened. He was tremulous
with suppressed excitement; his high spirits were like the elation of
intoxication and he ordered with a lavishness which made him

But Sprudell was indifferent to appearances, seeming to survey the world
at large from the height of omnipotence and it seemed to Helen that
every objectionable trait he had was exaggerated, twice enlarged under
the stimulus of this mysterious, exalted mood. His egotism loomed
colossal, he was oblivious to everything and everybody but himself, else
he could not have failed to see the growing coldness in her eyes.

Helen herself had little appetite, so while Sprudell partook of the
numerous dishes with relish she inspected him anew from the critical
viewpoint of the woman who intends to marry without love. As she
dissected him it occurred to her that Sprudell exemplified every petty
feminine prejudice she had. She disliked his small, red mouth, which had
a way of fixing itself in an expression of mawkish sentimentality when
he looked at her, and there was that in the amorous, significant light
in his infantile blue eyes which sickened her very soul. She
disapproved of his toddling walk, his fat, stooped shoulders, his spats
and general appearance of over-emphasized dapperness. The excessive
politeness, the elaborate deference which he showed her upon occasions,
exasperated her, and it was incredible, she thought, that a part in a
man's back hair should be able to arouse such violence of feeling. But
it did. She hated it. She loathed it. It was one of her very strongest
aversions. She had always hoped never even to know a man who parted his
back hair and now she was going to marry one.

She tried to imagine herself going through life making a pretense of
taking his learning and his talents seriously, of refraining carefully
from calling attention to his errors or correcting his misstatements, of
shielding him from the ridicule which his pedantry must bring upon him
when he mingled with his superiors, smoothing over smarts when he
bullied and "talked down," without convincing his adversaries--as Helen
had seen other women do. But could she do it? When it came right down
to brass tacks, she asked herself, could she exchange herself, her
freedom, her individuality, all the years to come if many were spared
her, for the chance to get well and for relief from anxiety about food
and clothes and shelter?

To marry Sprudell meant immunity from freezing on street corners, from
mental and physical exhaustion, from the rebuffs which were a part of
her work and which hurt far worse than anyone guessed because she could
never regard them as impersonal. Women were making such exchanges every
day and with less excuse--for luxury or position merely--but could she
do it?

Must she grow into an old woman without a single romance in her life?
That much seemed every woman's right. What had she done that the Fates
should "have it in for her" like this? She clenched her hands under the
shelter of the tablecloth. This thing she had made up her mind to do
seemed such a horrid, sordid, vulgar end to youth and sentiment.

Sprudell meanwhile was revolving in his mind the best method of
imparting effectively and dramatically the news which was burdening him.
He considered beginning with a Latin quotation from his Vest-Pocket
Manual--"Labor omnia vincit"--or something like that--but ended, when
he felt the right moment had arrived, by stating the fact bluntly and

"I'm going to be as rich as Croesus."

Helen looked up, to see his red lower lip trembling with excitement.

"My dear," solemnly, "I shall have fabulous wealth."

Undoubtedly he was in earnest. She could see that from the intensity
shining in his eyes. Wonderingly she took the pamphlet which he withdrew
from its envelope and passed to her, watching her face eagerly as she


proclaimed the outside page, and the frontispiece contained a picture of
seven large mules staggering up a mountain trail under a load of bullion
protected by guards carrying rifles with eight-foot barrels.

"That illustration is my idea," he said proudly.

"It's very--very alluring," Helen conceded. "And you are interested?"

"Interested!" gleefully, "it's all mine! Wait till you go on."

The first paragraph of the text read:

We have, with infinite hardship and difficulties and a large
personal expense, secured absolute legal ownership, and physical
possession, of eight placer claims, making 160 acres of the
richest, unworked placer ground in the United States.


Queen of Sheba No. 1:--Area about 15 acres.

Section 1--600 x 300 feet. Examined by the best obtainable
placer experts and under the most favorable conditions money
could afford. Prospect Shaft No. L:--Through natural, clean sand
and fine river gravel. Depth of pit 10 feet. Every foot showed
gold in paying quantities. A four foot streak, extremely rich,
passes through this section. Red-rock was not reached but the
values increase with depth, as is usually true.

Average workable depth of this section 60 ft.
Average assay .6235 per cubic yard.
600 x 300 x 60----400,000 cu. yds. @ .6235 $249,400
Estimated cost of working 5 cents per cu. yd. 20,000
Estimated Net Profit $229,000

"That's one of the poor claims," he explained carelessly, "we probably
won't bother with it."

"The yardage of 'The Pot of Gold' and claims 'Eureka' 1 and 2 totalled
millions, while the leanest next to 'The Queen of Sheba,' yielded a net
profit of $700,000."

Then the monotony of facts and figures was varied by another
illustration showing a miner in hip-boots and a sou'wester blithely
handling a giant which threw a ten-inch stream into a sand-bank.

"I drew the rough sketch for that and the artist carried out my ideas."
Sprudell wished to convey the impression that along with his many other
gifts he possessed artistic talent, had he only chosen to develop it.

Helen read at random:

Numerous prospect holes, cuts and trenches fully corroborate the
value of the ground. There are rich streaks and spots yielding
25 cts. to 50 cts. to the pan of what area the Giant alone will
tell. Every surface foot yields gold in paying quantities. It is
pay-dirt from the grass-roots. While we confine our estimates to
the actual ground examined, nevertheless we are certain the real
wealth lies on bed-rock.

The home claim with its rustic log cabin provides a delightful
home for those interested in the enterprise, supplying comforts
and luxuries which money cannot purchase in large cities. Game
and fish in greatest abundance infest its door-yard. We have
seen fifty grouse and twenty mountain sheep within three hundred
feet of the doorway. Bear may be had at any time for the going

It must be borne in mind, all of these placers are the ancient
beds of a least two separate periods of a great river,
consequently, bed-rock will undoubtedly reveal fabulous wealth
which cannot be uncovered in an examination. It would be useless
to attempt to exaggerate the possibilities of these properties.
The plain, simple facts are far more potent than unestablished
fiction could possibly be.

All the claims we have described represent virgin ground,
something seldom found, now, anywhere in the U. S. There is not
a wagon track in the whole valley. It has heretofore been too
difficult of access to tempt capital to come in here. We have
changed the whole situation. Our Saw-mill, which we now have in
operation, is the wonder of the place, and is, of course, our
salvation, for without that, of course, we could not construct
flumes to put water upon our placer ground.

We have partially constructed a wagon road to shorten and make
less arduous the difficult trip into this paradise.
Nevertheless, it is a paradise, when once within its charmed
environments. Gold is the commonest product there.

This is quite sufficient.

The confidential details which accompany this prospectus will
make known our financial requirements.

We know we have a great fortune in sight, but, hidden away in
the greater depths are unknown possibilities of fabulous riches,
for this great river is noted for its richness on bed-rock.
Millions have been taken out of its sand with the crudest

We have demonstrated our good faith and our confidence in the
worth of these properties by a personal expenditure
approximating fifty thousand dollars in cash.

We have taken every legal precaution and necessary physical step
to insure an absolutely safe and profitable investment.

We are now ready, and desire, to finance a close corporation,
with a limited capital, to operate this property on a scale

Helen closed the pamphlet and passed it back. She knew nothing of mining
and had no reason to doubt its truth or Sprudell's honesty. Not only the
facts but the magnitude of the possibilities as he had outlined them
were bewildering. He might, indeed, become as rich as Croesus and, she
thought, how like a tyrant he would use his power!

"Well?" He looked at her, exultant, gloating. For the moment he had the
appearance of a person whose every wish had been granted. His eyes
blazed with excitement, his face was crimson. Dazzled, intoxicated by
the prospect of his great wealth, he felt himself omnipotent, immune
from the consequences of rude manners and shameless selfishness, safe
from criticism among the very rich. He felt a wild, reckless impulse to
throw the cut-glass rose-vase on the floor--and pay for it.

"Well?" he repeated arrogantly. He felt so sure of her, for what woman
who earned her own living would refuse what he now could offer! He was
impatient for her to say something that would show how much she was

And still Helen did not answer. Looking at him as he bared himself in
his transport, the realization came swiftly, unexpectedly that she could
not marry him if to refuse meant the beginning of sure starvation on the
morrow! Not because she was too honorable, too conscientious, to marry
without love in her present circumstances, but because it would be an
actual impossibility for her to marry Sprudell.

It was not a question of honor or conscience, of mental uncongeniality,
temperamental differences, or even the part in his back hair; it was, as
she realized, a case of physical repulsion pure and simple.

From her first acquaintance with him she had shrunk involuntarily from
the touch of his hand, the slightest contact; when he sat beside her in
taxicabs and at the theatre she invariably had been unpleasantly
conscious of his nearness. She was convinced now that her reluctant feet
would have refused to carry her to the altar, and her tongue to answer
according to her bidding.

If she had been less strong in her likes and dislikes, less violent in
her prejudices, she might have forced herself to dwell upon the
advantages over her present position and come to accept the situation
with something like serenity. But she was too strong a character to
adapt herself complacently to a livelong, intimate association with a
person so genuinely, so uncontrollably, physically repugnant to her as
was Sprudell.

Psychologically, it was curious--no doubt there were women in the world
who had, or did, or might, adore Sprudell; but for herself she
understood clearly now that the single kindly feeling she had for him
was the gratitude she felt she owed him.

"I congratulate you," she said finally. "It is a remarkable story--most
romantic! Money is power--there never was anything truer--Listen!" She
raised a finger. "Isn't that your name? Yes; the boy is paging you."

Sprudell ostentatiously opened the telegram which was brought to him,
secretly pleased at seeming to be thus pursued by the requirements of
his large business interests; but his frown of importance and air of a
man with weighty matters to decide was wasted upon Helen, who was
watching a lively party of men making its way to a nearby table reserved
for six.

Sprudell read:

The original locator has beat us to the water-right. Applied by
wire while I was snowed up. Advise making best terms possible
with him. Letter follows.

He looked as if some one had struck him in the face.

Helen was still watching the advancing party. She murmured, with a smile
of amusement, as Sprudell laid the telegram down:

"Here, coming in the lead, is our unfailing news supply--Winfield
Harrah. You've heard of him no doubt. Behind him, the big one--that huge
chap with the black eyes, is the mysterious Samson from the West who
whipped the 'Spanish Bull-dog.' 'The Man from the Bitter Roots' I think
they call him."

Subconsciously, Sprudell heard what she was saying and his eyes followed
hers. The start he gave caused her to turn her head quickly. His face
was more than colorless, it was chalky even to the lips.

"Burt!" He exclaimed involuntarily, "Bruce Burt!" He could have bitten
his tongue out the instant after.

Next: Slim's Sister

Previous: His Only Asset

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