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The Returned Hero

From: The Man From The Bitter Roots

It is said that no two persons see another in exactly the same light. Be
that as it may, it is extremely doubtful if Uncle Bill Griswold would
have immediately recognized in the debonair raconteur who held a circle
breathless in the Bartlesville Commercial Club the saffron-colored,
wild-eyed dude whom he had fished off the slide rock with a pair of
"galluses" attached to a stout pole.

The account of Sprudell's adventure had leaked out and even gotten into
print, but it was not until some time after that his special cronies
succeeded in getting the story from his own lips.

There was not a dry eye when he was done. That touch about thinking of
them and the Yawning Jaws, and grappling hand to hand with The White
Death--why, the man was a poet, no matter what his enemies said; and, as
though to prove it, Abe Cone sniffled so everybody looked at him.

"We're proud of you! But you musn't take such a chance again, old man."

A chorus echoed Y. Fred Smart's friendly protest. "'Tain't right to
tempt Providence."

But Sprudell laughed lightly, and they regarded him in
admiration--danger was the breath of life to some.

But this reckless, peril-courting side was only one side of the
many-sided T. Victor Sprudell. From nine in the morning until four in
the afternoon, he was the man of business, occupied with facts and
figures and the ever-interesting problem of how to extract the maximum
of labor for the minimum of wage. That "there is no sentiment in
business" is a doctrine he practised to the letter. He was hard,
uncompromising, exact.

Rather than the gratifying cortege which he pictured in his dreams, a
hansom cab or a motorcycle could quite easily have conveyed all the
sorrowing employees of the Bartlesville Tool Works who voluntarily would
have followed its president to his grave.

But when Sprudell closed his office door, he locked this adamantine,
quibbling, frankly penurious, tyrannical man of business inside, and the
chameleon does not change its color with greater ease than Sprudell took
on another and distinct personality. On the instant he became the "good
fellow," his pink face and beaming eyes radiating affability,
conviviality, an all-embracing fondness for mankind, also a susceptible
Don Juan keenly on the alert for adventure of a sentimental nature.

In appearance, too, he was a credit to the Bartlesville Commercial Club,
when, with his pink face glowing above a glimpse of crimson neck scarf,
dressed in pearl-gray spats, gray topcoat, gray business clothes
indistinctly barred with black, and suede gloves of London smoke, he
bounded up the clubhouse steps with the elasticity of well-preserved
fifty, lightly swinging a slender stick. His jauntily-placed hat was a
trifle, a mere suspicion, too small, and always he wore a dewy
boutonniere of violets, while his thick, gray hair had a slight part
behind which it pleased him to think gave the touch of distinction and
originality he coveted.

This was the lighter side of T. Victor Sprudell. The side of himself
which he took most seriously was his intellectual side. When he was the
scholar, the scientist, the philosopher, he demanded and received the
strictest attention and consideration from his immediate coterie of
friends. So long as he was merely le bon diable, the jovial clubman,
it was safe to banter and even to contradict him; but when the
conversation drifted into the higher realms of thought, it was tacitly
understood that the privileges of friendship were revoked. At such
moments it was as though the oracle of Delphi spoke.

This ambition to shine as a man of learning was the natural outcome of
his disproportionate vanity, his abnormal egotism, his craving for
prominence and power. Sprudell was a man who had had meager youthful
advantages, but through life he had observed the tremendous impression
which scholarly attainments made upon the superficially educated--which
they made upon him.

So he set about acquiring knowledge.

He dabbled in the languages, and a few useful words and phrases stuck.
He plunged into the sciences, and arose from the immersion dripping with
a smattering of astronomy, chemistry, biology, archaeology, and what not.
The occult was to him an open book, and he was wont temporarily to
paralyze the small talk of social gatherings with dissertations upon the
teachings of the ancients which he had swallowed at a gulp. He
criticised the schools of modern painting in impressive art terms, while
he himself dashed off half-column poems at a sitting for the Courier,
in which he had acquired controlling stock.

In other words, by a certain amount of industry, T. Victor Sprudell had
become a walking encyclopaedia of misinformation with small danger of
being found out so long as he stayed in Bartlesville.

Certainly Abe Cone--born Cohen--who had made his "barrel" in ready-made
clothing, felt in no position to contradict him when he stated his
belief in the theory of transmigration as expounded by Pythagoras, and
expressed the opinion that by chance the soul of Cleopatra might be
occupying the graceful body of the club cat. Abe was not acquainted with
the doctrine of Pythagoras, though he had heard somewhere that the lady
was a huzzy; so he discreetly kept his mouth closed and avoided the cat.
Intellectually Sprudell's other associates were of Abe's caliber, so he
shone among them, the one bright, particular star--too vain, too
fundamentally deficient to know how little he really knew.

Nevertheless he was the most thoroughly detested, the most hated man in
Bartlesville. And those who hated feared him as they hated and feared
the incendiary, the creeping thief, the midnight assassin; for he used
their methods to attain his ends, along with a despot's power.

No man or woman who pricked his vanity, who incurred his displeasure,
was safe from his vengeance. No person who wounded his self-esteem was
too obscure to escape his vindictive malice, and no means that he could
employ, providing it was legally safe, was too unscrupulous, too petty,
to use to punish the offender. Hounding somebody was his recreation, his
one extravagance. He exhumed the buried pasts of political candidates
who had crossed him; he rattled family skeletons in revenge for social
slights; he published musty prison records, and over night blasted
reputations which had been years in the building. His enmity cost
salaried men positions through pressure which sooner or later he always
found the way to bring to bear, and even mere "day's jobs" were not
beneath his notice. Yet his triumphs cost him dear. Merry groups had a
way of dissolving at his coming. He read dislike in many a hostess's
eye, and, save for the small coterie of inferior satellites, Sprudell in
his own club was as lonely as a leper. But so strong was this dominating
trait that he preferred the sweetness of revenge to any tie of
fellowship or hope of popularity. The ivy of friendship did not grow for

By a secret ballot, Sprudell in his own town could not have been elected
dog-catcher, yet his money and his newspaper made him dangerous and a

When he regaled his fellow members with the dramatic story of his
sufferings, he said nothing of Bruce Burt. Bruce Burt was dead, of that
he had not the faintest doubt. He intended to keep the promise he had
made to hunt the Naudain fellow's relatives, but for the present he felt
that his frosted feet were paramount.

Next: Sprudell Goes East

Previous: The Jack-pot

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