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The Ghost At The Banquet

From: The Man From The Bitter Roots

T. Victor Sprudell's dinner guests were soon to arrive, and Mr.
Sprudell's pearl gray spats were twinkling up and down the corridor of
Bartlesville's best hotel, and back and forth between the private
dining-room and the Room of Mystery adjoining, where mechanics of
various kinds had been busy under his direction, for some days.

But now, so far as he could see, everything was in perfect working order
and he had only to sit back and enjoy his triumph and receive
congratulations; for once more Mr. Sprudell had demonstrated his
versatile genius!

The invited guests came, all of them--a few because they wanted to, and
the rest because they were afraid to stay away. Old Man "Gid" Rathburn,
who cherished for Sprudell the same warm feeling of regard that he had
for a rattlesnake, occupied the seat of honor, while John Z. Willetts, a
local financier, whose closet contained a skeleton that Sprudell by
industrious sleuthing had managed to unearth, was placed at his host's
left to enjoy himself as best he could. Adolph Gotts, who had the
contract for the city paving and hoped to renew it, was present for the
sole purpose, as he stated privately, of keeping the human catamount off
his back. Others in the merry party were Abram Cone and Y. Fred Smart.

The dinner was the most elaborate the chef had been able to devise, the
domestic champagne was as free as the air, and Mr. Sprudell, stimulated
by the presence of the moneyed men of Bartlesville and his private
knowledge of the importance of the occasion, was keyed up to his best.
Genial, beaming, he quoted freely from his French and Latin phrase-book
and at every turn of the conversation was ready with appropriate
verse--his own, mostly.

This was Mr. Sprudell's only essay at promoting, but he knew how it was
done. A good dinner, wine, cigars; and he had gone the ingenious guild
of money-raisers one better by an actual, uncontrovertible demonstration
of the safety and value of his scheme.

His personal friends already had an outline of the proposition, with the
promise that they should hear more, and now, after a dash through
"Spurr's Geology Applied to Mining," he was prepared to tell them all
that their restricted intelligences could comprehend.

When the right moment arrived, Mr. Sprudell arose impressively. In an
attentive silence, he gave an instructive sketch of the history of
gold-mining, beginning with the plundering expeditions of Darius and
Alexander, touching lightly on the mines of Iberia which the Roman
wrestled from the Carthagenians, and not forgetting, of course, the
conquest of Mexico and Peru inspired by the desire for gold.

When his guests were properly impressed by the wide range of his
reading, he skillfully brought the subject down to modern mines and
methods, and at last to his own incredible good fortune, after hardships
of which perhaps they already had heard, in securing one hundred and
sixty acres of valuable placer-ground in the heart of a wild and
unexplored country--a country so dangerous and inaccessible that he
doubted very much if it had ever been trod by any white foot beside his
own and old "Bill" Griswold's.

The climax came when he dramatically announced his intention of making a
stock company of his acquisition and permitting Bartlesville's leading
citizens to subscribe!

Mr. Sprudell's guests received the news of the privilege which was to be
accorded them in an unenthusiastic silence. In fact his unselfish
kindness seemed to inspire uneasiness rather than gratitude in
Bartlesville's leading citizens. They could bring themselves to swallow
his dinners, but to be coerced into buying his mining stock was a
decidedly bitter dose.

Well-meaning but tactless, Abe Cone expressed the general feeling, when
he observed:

"I been stung once, already, and I ain't lookin' for it again."

To everyone's surprise Abe got off unscathed. In fact Mr. Sprudell
laughed good-naturedly.

"Stung, Abe--that's the word. And why?" He answered himself. "Because
you were investing in something you did not understand."

"It looked all right," Abe defended. "You could see the gold stickin'
out all over the rock, but I was 'salted' so bad I never got enough to
drink since. I don't understand this placer-mining either, when it comes
to that."

Adolph Gotts, who had been a butcher, specializing in sausage, before he
became a city contractor, was about to say the same thing, when Sprudell
interrupted triumphantly:

"Ah, but you will before I'm done." It was the moment for which he had
waited. "Follow me, gentlemen."

He threw open the door of the adjoining room with a wide gesture, his
face radiant with elation.

The company stared, and well it might, for at a signal a miniature
placer mine started operation.

The hotel porter shovelled imported sand into a sluice-box through which
a stream of water ran and at the end was the gold-saving device invented
by Mr. Sprudell which was to revolutionize placer-mining!

The sand contained the gold-dust that represented half of Bruce's
laborious summer's working and when Sprudell finally removed his coat
and cleaned up the sluice boxes and the gold-saving machine, the residue
left in the gold-pan was enough to give even a "'49'er" heart failure.

His triumph was complete. There was a note of awe even in Old Man "Gid"
Rathburn's voice, while Abe Cone fairly grovelled as he inquired:

"Is it all like that? Where does it come from? How did it git into that

Mr. Sprudell removed his eyeglasses with great deliberation and pursed
his lips:

"In my opinion," he said weightily--he might have been an eminent
geologist giving his opinion of the conglomerate of the Rand banket, or
Agricola elucidating his theory of vein formation--"in my opinion the
gold found in this deposit was derived from the disintegration of
gold-bearing rocks and veins in the mountains above. Chemical and
mechanical processes are constantly freeing the gold from the rocks with
which it is associated and wind and water carry it to lower levels,
where, as in this instance, it concentrates and forms what we call

Mr. Sprudell spoke so slowly and chose his words with such care that the
company received the impression that this theory of placer deposit was
his own and in spite of their personal prejudice their admiration grew.

"As undoubtedly you know," continued Mr. Sprudell, tapping his glasses
judicially upon the edge of the sluice-box, "the richest gold in all
alluvial deposits--"

"What is an alluvial deposit?" inquired Abe Cone, eagerly.

Mr. Sprudell looked hard at Abram but did not answer, one reason being
that he wished to rebuke the interruption, and another that he did not
know. He reiterated: "The richest gold in all alluvial deposits is found
upon bed-rock. This placer, gentlemen, is no exception and while it is
pay-dirt from the grass roots and the intermediate sand and gravel
abundantly rich to justify their exploitation by Capital, it is upon
bed-rock that will be uncovered a fortune to dazzle the mind of man!

"Like myself, you are practical men--you want facts and figures, and
when you invest your money you want to be more than reasonably sure of
its return. Gentlemen, I have in the hands of a printer a prospectus
giving the values of the ground per cubic yard, and from this data I
have conservatively, very conservatively, calculated the profits which
we might reasonably anticipate. You will be startled, amazed, bewildered
by the magnitude of the returns upon the investment which I am giving
you the opportunity to make.

"I shall say no more at present, gentlemen, but when my prospectus is
off the press I shall place it in your hands--"

"Gemman to see you, suh."

"I'm engaged."

"Said it was important." The bell boy lingered.

Sprudell frowned.

"Did he give no name?"

"Yes, suh; he said to tell you Burt--Bruce Burt."

Sprudell grew a curious, chalky white and stood quite still. He felt his
color going and turned quickly lest it be observed.

Apologetically, to his guests:

"One moment, if you please."

He remembered that Bruce Burt had warned him that he would come back and
haunt him--he wished the corridor was one mile long.

There was nothing of the wraith, or phantom, however, in the
broad-shouldered figure in a wide-brimmed Stetson sitting in the office
watching Sprudell's approach with ominous intentness.

With a fair semblance of cordiality Sprudell hastened forward with
outstretched hand.

"I'm amazed! Astonished--"

"I thought you would be," Bruce answered grimly, ignoring Sprudell's
hand. "I came to see about that letter--what you've done."

"Everything within my power, my friend--they're gone."

"Gone! You could not find them?"

"Not a trace." Sprudell looked him squarely in the eye.

"You did your best?"

"Yes, Burt, I did my best."

"Well," Bruce got up slowly, "I guess I'll register." His voice and
face showed his disappointment. "You live here, they said, so I'll see
you in the morning and get the picture and the 'dust'."

"In the morning, then. You'll excuse me now, won't you? I have a little
dinner on."

He lingered a moment to watch Bruce walk across the office and he
noticed how he towered almost head and shoulders above the clerk at the
desk: and he saw also, how, in spite of his ill-fitting clothes so
obviously ready-made, he commanded, without effort, the attention and

consideration for which, in his heart, Sprudell knew that he himself had
to pay and pose and scheme.

A thought which was so strong, so like a conviction that it turned him
cold, flashed into his mind as he looked. If, by any whim of Fate, Helen
Dunbar and Bruce Burt should ever meet, all the material advantages
which he had to offer would not count a straw's weight with the girl he
had determined to marry.

But such a meeting was the most remote thing possible. There were nearer
bridges to be crossed, and Sprudell was anxious to be rid of his guests
that he might think.

When Bruce stepped out of the elevator the next morning, Sprudell
greeted him effusively and this time Bruce, though with no great
enthusiasm, took his plump, soft hand. From the first he had a feeling
which grew stronger, as the forenoon waned, that Sprudell was "riding
herd on him," guarding him, warding off chance acquaintances. It amused
him, when he was sure of it, for he thought that it was due to
Sprudell's fear lest he betray him in his role of hero, though it seemed
to Bruce that short as was their acquaintance Sprudell should know him
better than that. When he had the young man corralled in his office at
the Tool Works, he seemed distinctly relieved and his vigilance relaxed.
He handed Bruce his own letter and a roll of notes, saying with a smile
which was uncommonly gracious considering that the money was his own:

"I suppose it won't make any difference to you that your gold-dust has
taken on a different form."

"Why, no," Bruce answered. "It's all the same." Yet he felt a little
surprise. "But the letter from 'Slim's' sister, and the picture--I want
them, too."

"I'm sorry," Sprudell frowned in perplexity, "but they've been mislaid.
I can't think where I put them, to save my soul."

"How could you misplace them?" Bruce demanded sharply. "You kept them
all together, didn't you? I wanted that picture."

"It'll turn up, of course," Sprudell replied soothingly. "And when it
does I'll get it to you by the first mail."

Bruce did not answer--there seemed nothing more to say--but there was
something in Sprudell's voice and eyes that was not convincing. Bruce
had the feeling strongly that he was holding back the letter and the
picture, but why? What could they possibly mean to a stranger? He was
wrong in his suspicions, of course, but nevertheless, he was intensely
irritated by the carelessness.

He arose, and Sprudell did likewise.

"You are going West from here?"

Bruce answered shortly:

"On the first train."

Sprudell lowered his lids that Bruce should not see the satisfaction in
his eyes.

"Good luck to you, and once more, congratulations on your safe return."

Bruce reluctantly took the hand he offered, wondering why it was that
Sprudell repelled him so.

"Good-bye," he answered indifferently, as he turned to go.

Abe Cone in his comparatively short career had done many impulsive and
ill-considered things but he never committed a worse faux pas than
when he dashed unannounced into Sprudell's office, at this moment,
dragging an out-of-town customer by the arm.

"Excuse me for intrudin'," he apologized breathlessly, "but my friend
here, Mr. Herman Florsheim--shake hands with Mr. Sprudell, Herman--wants
to catch a train and he's interested in what I been tellin' him of that
placer ground you stumbled on this fall. He's got friends in that
country and wanted to know just where it is. I remember you said
something about Ore City bein' the nearest post-office, but what
railroad is it on? If we need any outside money, why, Herman here--"

Bruce's hand was on the door-knob, but he lingered, ignoring the most
urgent invitation to go that he ever had seen in any face.

"I'm busy, Abe," Sprudell said so sharply that his old friend stared.
"You are intruding. You should have sent your name."

Bruce closed the door which he had partially opened and came back.

"Don't mind me," he said slowly, looking at Sprudell. "I'd like to hear
about that placer--the one you stumbled on last fall."

"We'll come another time," Abe said, crestfallen.

Bruce turned to him:

"No, don't go. I've just come from Ore City and I may be able to tell
your friend something that he wants to know. Where is your placer
ground, Sprudell?"

Sprudell sat down in his office chair, toying with a desk-fixture, while
Bruce shoved both hands in his trousers' pockets and waited for him to

"Burt," he said finally, "I regret this unpleasantness, but the fact is
you did not comply with the law--you have never recorded and you are
located out."

"So you've taken advantage of the information with which I trusted you
to jump my ground?" Bruce's eyes blazed into Sprudell's.

"The heirs could not be found, you were given up for dead, and in any
event I've not exceeded my rights."

"You have no rights upon that ground!" Bruce answered hotly, "My
locations were properly made in 'Slim's' name and my own. The sampling
and the cabin and the tunnel count for assessment work. I had not
abandoned the claim."

"Nevertheless, my engineer informs me----"

"Your engineer?" A light dawned.

"Wilburt Dill--pity you did not meet him, a bright young chap--"

"I met him," Bruce answered grimly. "I shall hope to meet him again."

"No doubt you will," Sprudell taunted, "if you happen to be there when
we're putting up the plant. As I was saying, Mr. Dill's telegram, which
came last night, informs me that he has carried out my instructions, and
therefore, individually, and as the President of the Bitter Root Placer
Mining Company, I now control one hundred and sixty acres of ground up
and down the river, including the bar upon which your cabin stands."
Sprudell's small, red mouth curved in its tantalizing smile.

"You'll never hold it!" Bruce said furiously.

"The days of gun-plays have gone by," Sprudell reminded him. "And you
haven't got the price to fight me in the courts. You'd better lay down
before you start and save yourself the worry. What can you do? You have
no money, no influence, no brains to speak of," he sneered insultingly,
"or you wouldn't be down there doing what you are. You haven't a single
asset but your muscle, and in the open market that's worth about
three-fifty a day."

Bruce stood like a mute, the blood burning in his face. Even toward
"Slim" he never had felt such choking, speechless rage as this.

"You Judas Iscariot!" he said when he could speak. "You betrayed my
hospitality--my trust. Next to a cache robber you're the meanest kind of
a thief I've ever known. I've read your story in the newspaper, and so
has the old man who saved your rotten life. We know you for the lying
braggart that you are. You made yourself out a hero when you were a
weakling and a coward.

"You're right--you tell the truth when you twit me with the fact that I
have no money no influence, perhaps no brains--not a single asset, as
you say, but brute strength; yet somehow, I'll beat you!" He stepped
closer and looking deep into the infantile blue eyes that had grown as
hard as granite, reiterated--"Somehow I'm going to win!"

To say that Abe Cone and Mr. Herman Florsheim departed is not
enough--they faded, vanished, without a sound.

Sprudell's eyes quailed a little beneath the fierce intensity of Bruce's
gaze, but for a moment only.

"I've heard men talk like that before." He shrugged a shoulder and
looked Bruce up and down--at his coat too tight across the chest, at his
sleeves, too short for his length of arm, at his clumsy miner's shoes,
as though to emphasize the gulf which lay between Bruce's condition and
his own. Then with his eyes bright with vindictiveness and his hateful
smile of confidence upon his lips, he stood in his setting of affluence
and power waiting for Bruce to go, that he might close the door.

Next: Thorns And A Few Roses

Previous: Capital Takes Holt

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