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Sprudell Goes East

From: The Man From The Bitter Roots

With an air of being late for many important engagements, T. Victor
Sprudell bustled into the Hotel Strathmore in the Eastern city that had
been Slim's home and inscribed his artistic signature upon the register;
and as a consequence Peters, city editor of the Evening Dispatch,
while glancing casually over the proofs that had just come from the
composing room, some hours later, paused at the name of T. Victor
Sprudell, Bartlesville, Indiana, among the list of hotel arrivals.

Mr. Peters shoved back his green shade, closed one eye, and with the
other stared fixedly at the ceiling. One of the chief reasons why he
occupied the particular chair in which he sat was because he had a
memory like an Edison record, and now he asked himself where and in what
connection he had seen this name in print before.

Who was this Sprudell? What had he done? Had he run away with somebody,
embezzled, explored--explored, that was more like it! Ah, now he
remembered--Sprudell was a hero. Two "sticks" in the Associated Press
had informed the world how nobly he had saved somebody from something.

Peters scanned the city room. The bright young cub who leaps to fame in
a single story was not present. The city editor had no hallucinations
regarding such members of his staff as he saw at leisure, but thought
again, as he had often thought before, that the world had lost some good
plumbers and gasfitters when they turned to newspaper work. He said
abruptly to the office boy:

"Tell Miss Dunbar to come here."

In a general way, Mr. Peters did not approve of women in journalism, but
he did disapprove very particularly of making any distinction between
the sexes in the office. Yet frequently he found himself gripping the
chair arm to prevent himself from rising when she entered; and in his
secret soul he knew that he looked out of the window to note the weather
before giving her an out-of-town assignment. When she came into the city
room now he conquered this annoying impulse of politeness by not
immediately looking up.

"You sent for me?"

"Go up to the hotel and see this man" (he underscored the name and
handed her the proof); "there might be a story in him. He saved
somebody's life out West--his guide's, as I recall it. Noble-hero
story--brave tenderfoot rescuing seasoned Westerner--reversal of the
usual picture. Might use his photograph."

"I'll try," as she took the slip. It was characteristic of her not to
ask questions, which was one of the several reasons why the city editor
approved of her.

"In that event I know we can count on it." Mr. Peters waited expectantly
and was not disappointed.

She was walking away but turned her head and looked back at him over her
shoulder. The sudden, sparkling smile changed her face like some
wizard's magic from that of a sober young woman very much in earnest to
a laughing, rather mischievous looking little girl of ten or twelve.

There are a few women who even at middle-age have moments when it seems
as though the inexorable hand of Time were forced back to childhood by
the youthfulness of their spirit. For a minute, or perhaps a second
merely, the observer receives a vivid impression of them as they looked
before the anxieties and sorrows which come with living had left their

Helen Dunbar had this trick of expression to a marked degree and for a
fleeting second she always looked like a little girl in shoe-top frocks
and pigtails. Mr. Peters had noticed it often, and as a student of
physiognomy he had found the transformation so fascinating that he had
not only watched for it but sometimes endeavored to provoke it. He also
reflected now as he looked after her, that her appearance was a credit
to the sheet--a comment he was not always able to make upon the
transitory ladies of his staff.

The unconscious object of the newspaper's attention was seated at a desk
in the sitting-room of his suite in the Hotel Strathmore, alternately
frowning and smiling in the effort of composition.

Mr. Sprudell had a jaunty, colloquial style when he stooped to prose.

"Easy of access, pay dirt from the grass roots, and a cinch to save," he
was writing, when a knock upon the door interrupted him.

"Come in!" He scowled at the uniformed intruder.

"A card, sir." It was Miss Dunbar's, of the Evening Dispatch.

"What the dickens!" Mr. Sprudell looked puzzled. "Ah yes, of course!"
For a second, an instant merely, Mr. Sprudell had quite forgotten that
he was a hero.

"These people will find you out." His tone was bored. "Tell her I'll
be down presently."

When the door closed, he walked to the glass.

He twitched at his crimson neck scarf and whisked his pearl-gray spats;
he made a pass or two with his military brushes at his cherished part,
and took his violets from a glass of water to squeeze them dry on a
towel. While he adjusted his boutonniere, he gazed at his smiling image
and twisted his neck to look for wrinkles in his coat. "T. Victor
Sprudell, Wealthy Sportsman and Hero, Reluctantly Consents to Be
Interviewed" was a headline which occurred to him as he went down in the

The girl from the Dispatch awaited him in the parlor. Mr. Sprudell's
genial countenance glowed as he advanced with outstretched hand.

Miss Dunbar noted that the hand was warm and soft and chubby; nor was
this dapper, middle-aged beau exactly the man she had pictured as the
hero of a thrilling rescue. He looked too self-satisfied and fat.

"Now what can I do for you, my dear young lady?" Mr. Sprudell drew up a
chair with amiable alacrity.

"We have heard of you, you know," she began smilingly.

"Oh, really!" Mr. Sprudell lifted one astonished brow. "I cannot
imagine----" He was thinking that Miss Dunbar had remarkably good teeth.

"And we want you to tell us something of your adventure in the West."

"Which one?"

"Er--the last one."

"Oh, that little affair of the blizzard?" Mr. Sprudell laughed
inconsequently. "Tut, tut! There's really nothing to tell."

"We know better than that." She looked at him archly.

It was then he discovered that she had especially fine eyes.

"I couldn't have done less than I did, under the circumstances." Mr.
Sprudell closed a hand and regarded the polished nails modestly.
"But--er--frankly, I would rather not talk for publication."

"People who have actually done something worth telling will never talk,"
declared Miss Dunbar, in mock despair, "while those----"

"But you can understand," interrupted Mr. Sprudell, with a gesture of
depreciation, "how a man feels to seem to"--he all but achieved a
blush--"to toot his own horn."

"I can understand your reluctance perfectly" Miss Dunbar admitted
sympathetically, and it was then he noticed how low and pleasant her
voice was. She felt that she did understand perfectly--she had a notion
that nothing short of total paralysis of the vocal cords would stop him
after he had gone through the "modest hero's" usual preamble.

"But," she urged, "there is so much crime and cowardice, so many
dreadful things, printed, that I think stories of self-sacrifice and
brave deeds like yours should be given the widest publicity--a kind of
antidote--you know what I mean?"

"Exactly," Mr. Sprudell acquiesced eagerly. "Moral effect upon the youth
of the land. Establishes standards of conduct, raises high ideals in the
mind of the reader. Of course, looking at it from that point of
view----" Obviously Mr. Sprudell was weakening.

"That's the view you must take of it," insisted Miss Dunbar sweetly.

Mr. Sprudell regarded his toe. Charming as she was, he wondered if she
could do the interview--him--justice. A hint of his interesting
personality would make an effective preface, he thought, and a short
sketch of his childhood culminating in his successful business career.

"Out there in the silences, where the peaks pierce the blue----" began
Mr. Sprudell dreamily.

"Where?" Miss Dunbar felt for a pencil.

"Er--Bitter Root Mountains." The business-like question and tone
disconcerted him slightly.

Mr. Sprudell backed up and started again:

"Out there in the silence, where the peaks pierce the blue, we pitched
our tents in the wilderness--in the forest primeval. We pillowed our
heads upon nature's heart, and lay at night watching the cold stars
shivering in their firmament." That was good! Mr. Sprudell wondered if
it was original or had he read it somewhere? "By day, like primordial

man, we crept around beetling crags and scaled inaccessible peaks in
pursuit of the wild things----"

"Who crept with you?" inquired Miss Dunbar prosaically. "How far were
you from a railroad?"

A shade of irritation replaced the look of poetic exaltation upon
Sprudell's face. It would have been far better if they had sent a man. A
man would undoubtedly have taken the interview verbatim.

"An old prospector and mountain man named Griswold--Uncle Bill they call
him--was my guide, and we were--let me see--yes, all of a hundred miles
from a railroad."

"What you were saying was--a--beautiful," declared Miss Dunbar, noting
his injured tone, "but, you see, unfortunately in a newspaper we must
have facts. Besides"--she glanced at the wrist watch beneath the frill
of her coat sleeve--"the first edition goes to press at
eleven-forty-five, and I would like to have time to do your story

Mr. Sprudell reluctantly folded his oratorical pinions and dived to

Beginning with the moment when he had emerged from the canyon where he
had done some remarkable shooting at a band of mountain sheep--he
doubted if ever he would be able to repeat the performance--and first
sensed danger in the leaden clouds, to the last desperate struggle
through the snowdrifts in the paralyzing cold of forty below, with poor
old Uncle Bill Griswold on his back, he told the story graphically, with
great minuteness of detail. And when divine Providence led him at last
to the lonely miner's cabin on the wild tributary of the Snake, and he
had sunk, fainting and exhausted, to the floor with his inert burden on
his back, Mr. Sprudell's eyes filled, touched to tears by the story of
his own bravery.

Miss Dunbar's wide, intent eyes and parted lips inspired him to go
further. Under the stimulus of her flattering attention and the thought
that through her he was talking to an audience of at least two hundred
thousand people, he forgot the caution which was always stronger than
any rash impulse. The circulation of the Dispatch was local; and
besides, Bruce Burt was dead, he reasoned swiftly.

He told her of the tragedy in the lonely cabin, and described to her
the scene into which he had stumbled, getting into the telling something
of his own feeling of shock. In imagination she could see the big,
silent, black-browed miner cooking, baking, deftly doing a woman's work,
scrubbing at the stains on logs and flooring, wiping away the black
splashes like a tidy housewife. "This is my story," she thought.

"Why did they quarrel?"

"It began with a row over pancakes, and wound up with a fight over

She stared incredulously.

"Fact--he said so."

"And what was the brute's name?"

He answered, not too readily:

"Why--Bruce Burt."

"And the man he murdered?"

"They called him Slim Naudain."

"Naudain!" Her startled cry made him look at her in wonder. "Naudain!
What did they call him beside Slim?"

"Frederick was his given name."

"Freddie!" she whispered, aghast.

Sprudell stared at her, puzzled.

"It must be! The name is too uncommon."

"I don't understand."

"He must have been my brother--my half-brother--my mother was married
twice. It is too dreadful!" She stared at Sprudell with wide, shocked

Sprudell was staring, too, but he seemed more disconcerted than amazed.

"It's hardly likely," he said, reassuringly. "When did you hear from him

"It has been all of twelve years since we heard from him even
indirectly. I wrote to him in Silver City, New Mexico, where we were
told he was working in a mine. Perhaps he did not get my letter; at
least I've tried to think so, for he did not answer."

Indecision, uncertainty, were uppermost among the expressions on
Sprudell's face, but the girl did not see them, for her downcast eyes
were filled with tears. Finally he said slowly and in a voice curiously

"Yes, he did receive it and I have it here. It's a very strange
coincidence, Miss Dunbar, the most remarkable I have ever known; you
will agree when I tell you that my object in coming East was to find you
and your mother for the purpose of turning over his belongings--this
letter you mention, an old photograph of you and some five hundred
dollars in money he left."

"It's something to remember, that at least he kept my letter and my
picture." She swallowed hard and bit her lips for self-control. "He was
not a good son or a good brother, Mr. Sprudell," she continued with an
effort, "but since my father and mother died he's been all I had. And
I've made myself believe that at heart he was all right and that when he
was older he would think enough of us some time to come home. I've
counted on it--on him--more than I realized until now. It is"--she
clenched her hands tightly and swallowed hard again--"a blow."

Sprudell replied soothingly

"This fellow Burt said his partner thought a lot of you."

"It's strange," Helen looked up reflectively, "that a cold-blooded
murderer like that would have turned over my brother's things--would
have sent anything back at all."

"I made him," said Sprudell.

"I'm too shocked yet to thank you properly," she said, rising and giving
him her hand, "but, believe me, I do appreciate your disinterested
kindness in making this long trip from Bartlesville, and for total
strangers, too."

"Tut! tut!" Mr. Sprudell interrupted. "It's nothing--nothing at all; and
now I wish you'd promise to dine with me this evening. I'll call for you
if I may and bring the money and the letter and picture. From now on I
want you to feel that I am a friend who is always at your service. Tut!
tut! don't embarrass me with thanks."

He accompanied her to the door, then stepped back into the parlor to
watch her pass the window and cross the street. He liked her brisk,
alert step, her erect carriage, and the straight lines of the dark
clothes she wore mightily became her slender figure. "Wouldn't a girl
like that"--his full, red lips puckered in a whistle--"wouldn't she
make a stir in Bartlesville!"

Sprudell returned to his task, but with abated enthusiasm. A vague
uneasiness, which may have been his conscience, disturbed him. He would
write furiously, then stop and read what he had written with an
expression of dissatisfaction.

"Hang it all." He threw his work down finally, and, thrusting his hands
in the pockets of his trousers, paced up and down the floor to "have it
out." What could the girl do with the place if she had it? It was a
property which required money and experience and brains to handle.
Besides, he had committed himself to his friends, talked of it,
promoted it partially, and they shared his enthusiasm. It was something
which appealed intensely to the strong vein of sensationalism in him.
What a pill it would be for his enemies to swallow if he went West and
made another fortune! They might hate him, but they would have to admit
his brains. To emerge, Midaslike, from the romantic West with bags of
yellow gold was the one touch needed to make him an envied, a unique and
picturesque, figure. He could not give it up. He meant to be
honest--he would be honest--but in his own way.

He would see that the girl profited by the development of the ground. He
would find a way. Already there was a hazy purpose in his head which, if
it crystallized, would prove a most satisfactory way. Sprudell sat down
again and wrote until the prospectus of the Bitter Root Placer Mining
Company was ready for the printer.

Next: Uncle Bill Finds News In The Try-bune

Previous: The Returned Hero

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