From: The Man From The Bitter Roots
"Alf" Banule, the electrical genius for whom Jennings had sent to help
him rewind an armature and who therefore had taken Jennings's place as
constructing engineer, had the distinction of being the only person
Bruce had ever seen who could remove his socks without taking off his
shoes. He accomplished the feat with ease for the reason that there were
never any toes in the aforesaid shoes. As he himself said, he would have
been a tall man if there had not been so much of him turned up at the
The only way he was able to wear shoes at all, save those made to order,
was to cut out the toes; the same applied to his socks, and the exposed
portion of his bare feet had not that dimpled pinkness which moves poets
to song. From the rear, Banule's shoes looked like two bobsleds going
down hill, and from the front the effect of the loose soles was that of
two great mouths opening and closing. Yet he skimmed the river boulders
at amazing speed, seeming to find no inconvenience in the flap-flapping
of the loose leather as he leaped from rock to rock.
In contrast to his yawning shoes and a pair of trousers the original
shade of which was a matter of uncertainty, together with a black satine
shirt whose color made change unnecessary, was a stylish Tyrolese
hat--green felt--with a butterfly bow perched jauntily on one side. And
underneath this stylishness there was a prematurely bald head covered
with smudges of machine grease which it could readily be believed were
souvenirs of his apprentice days in the machine shop. If indifference to
appearance be a mark of genius it would be impossible to deny Banule's
claim to the title.
He was the direct antithesis of Jennings, harnessed lightning in
clothes, working early and late. He flew at the machinery like a madman,
yelling for wrenches, and rivets and bolts, chiselling, and soldering,
and oiling, until the fly-wheel was on its shaft in the power-house, and
the dynamos, dragged at top speed from the river-bank, no longer looked
like a pile of junk. The switchboard went up, and the pressure gauge,
and the wiring for the power-house light. But for all Bruce's relief at
seeing things moving, he had a feeling of uneasiness lest there was too
much haste. "Good enough--that's good enough!" were the words oftenest
on Banule's lips. They filled Bruce with vague forebodings, misgivings,
and he came to feel a flash of irritation each time the genius said
airily: "Oh, that's good enough."
Bruce warned him often--"Don't slight your work--do it right if it takes
twice as long."
Banule always made the same cheering answer: "Don't worry, everything is
going fine; in less than a month we'll be generating 'juice'." And Bruce
tried to find comfort in the assurance.
When Bruce pulled the lever which opened the valve, and heard the hiss
of the water when it shot from the nozzle and hit the wheel, and watched
the belt, and shaft, and big fly-wheel speed up until the spokes were a
blur and the breeze it created lifted his hair, it was the happiest
moment of his life. When he saw the thread of carbon filament in the
glass bulb turn red and grow to a bright, white light, he had something
of the feeling of ecstasy that he imagined a mother must have when she
looks at her first-born--a mixture of wonder and joy.
He had an odd, intimate feeling--a strong feeling of affection--for
every piece of machinery in the power-house. He liked to hear the squeak
of the belting and the steady chug-chug of the water-wheels; the purr of
the dynamos was music, and he kept the commutators free from dust with
But these moments alone in the power-house were high-lights in a world
of shadows. His periods of elation were brief, for so many things went
wrong, and so often, that sometimes he wondered if it was the way some
guardian angel had of warning him, of trying to prevent him from keeping
on and making a big mistake bigger; or was it only the tests that the
Fates have a way of putting humans through and, failing to break their
hearts, sometimes let them win?
Important as the power-house was it was only a small portion of the
whole. There was still the 10-inch pump in the pump-house with its 75
horse-power motor and the donkey engine with the 50 horse-power motor to
get to working right, not to mention the flume and sluice-boxes, with
their variety of riffles and every practicable device for trapping the
elusive fine gold. And not the least of Bruce's increasing anxieties was
"Alf" Banule with his constant "good enough."
It was well toward the end of October and Bruce, hurrying over the trail
with sheets of mica for Banule, who was working on the submerged motor
which had to be rewound, noticed that the willows were turning black.
What a lot had happened since he had noticed the willows turning black
last year! A lifetime of hopes and fears, and new experiences had been
crowded into twelve flying months.
His mind straying for a moment from the work and its many problems, he
fell to thinking of Helen Dunbar and her last letter. When he was not
thinking of undercurrents or expanded metal riffles or wondering
anxiously if the 10-inch and 8-inch pumps were going to raise sufficient
water, or if the foundation built on piling, instead of cement, was
"good enough," Bruce was thinking of the girl he loved.
She had written in her last letter--Bruce knew them all by heart--
I had a visitor yesterday. You will be as surprised, when I tell
you who it was, as I was to see him. Have you guessed? I'm sure
you haven't. None other than our friend Sprudell--very
apologetic--very humble and contrite, and with an explanation to
offer for his behavior that was really most ingenious. There's
no denying he has cleverness of a kind--craft, perhaps, is a
His humility was touching but so unlike him that I should have
been alarmed if he had not been so obviously sincere.
Nevertheless his visit has upset me. I've been worried ever
since. Perhaps you'll only laugh at me when I tell you that it
is because I am afraid for you. Truly I am! I don't know that
I can explain exactly so you'll understand but there was
something disturbing which I felt when he spoke quite casually
of you. It was almost too intangible to put into words but it
was like a gloating secret satisfaction, as though he had the
best of you in some way, the whip-hand.
It may be just a silly notion, one of those fears that pop into
one's head in the most inexplicable way and stick, refusing to
be driven out by any amount of logic. Tell me, is there anything
that he can do to you? Any way that he can harm you?
I am nervous--anxious--and I cannot help it.
She was anxious about him! That fact was paramount. Somebody in the
world was worrying over him. He stopped short in the trail with fresh
wonder of it. Every time he thought of it, it gave him a thrill. His
face, that had been set in tired, harsh lines of late, softened with a
smile of happiness.
And he did so long to give her substantial evidence of his gratitude. If
that machinery ever started--if the scrapers ever got to hauling
dirt--her reward, his reward, would come quick. That was one of the
compensating features of mining; if the returns came at all they came
quick. Bruce started on, hastening his footsteps until he almost ran.
The electrical genius was driving a nail with a spirit-level when Bruce
reached the pump-house and Bruce flared up in quick wrath.
"Stop that, Banule! Isn't there a hammer on this place?"
"Didn't see one handy," Banule replied cheerfully, "took the first thing
I could reach."
"It just about keeps one pack-train on the trail supplying you with
"Guess I am a little careless." Banule seemed unruffled by the
reproach--because he had heard it so many times before, no doubt.
"Yes, you're careless," Bruce answered vigorously, "and I'm telling you
straight it worries me; I can't help wondering if your carelessness
extends to your work. There, you know, you've got me, for I can't tell.
I must trust you absolutely."
Banule shrugged a shoulder--
"This ain't the first plant I've put up, you know." He added--"I'll
guarantee that inside two weeks we'll be throwin' dirt. Eh, Smaltz?
Ain't I right?"
Smaltz, who was stooping over, did not immediately look up. Bruce saw an
odd expression cross his face--an expression that was something like
derision. When he felt Bruce looking at him it vanished instantly and he
"Why, yes," with his customary grin, "looks like we orter make a
The peculiar emphasis did not escape Bruce and he was still thinking of
the look he had caught on Smaltz's face as he asked Banule:
"Is this mica right? Is it the kind you need?"
Smaltz looked at Banule from the corner of his eye.
"'Taint exactly what I ought to have," Banule responded cheerfully. "I
forgot to specify when I ordered, but I guess I can make it do--it's
It seemed to Bruce that his over-strained nerves snapped all at once. He
did not recognize the sound of his voice when he turned on Banule:
"S'help me, I'm goin' to break every bone in your body if you don't cut
out that 'good enough'! How many hundred times have I got to tell you
that nothing's good enough on this plant until it's right?"
"I didn't mean anything," Banule mumbled, temporarily cowed.
Bruce heard Smaltz snicker as he walked away.
The sluice-boxes upon which Bruce was putting the finishing touches were
his particular pride. They were four feet wide and nearly a quarter of a
mile in length. The eight per cent grade was steep enough to carry off
boulders twice, three times, the size of a man's head when there was a
force of water behind them.
The last box was well over the river at a point where it was
sufficiently swift to take off the "tailings" and keep it free. The top
earth, which had to be removed to uncover the sand-bank, was full of
jagged rocks that had come down in snowslides from the mountain and
below this top earth was a strata of small, smooth boulders--"river
This troublesome "overburden" necessitated the use of iron instead of
wooden riffles, as the bumping and grinding of the boulders would soon
have worn the latter down to nothing. So, for many weary trips, a string
of footsore pack-horses had picked their way down the dangerous trail
from Ore City, loaded to their limit with pierced iron strips, rods,
heavy sacks of nuts and bolts.
It had been laborious, nerve-racking work and every trip had had its
accident, culminating in the loss of the best pack-horse in the string,
the horse having slipped off the trail, scattering its pack, as Smaltz
announced it, "from hell to breakfast."
But the iron strips and rods were made into riffles now, and laid. Bruce
surveyed the whole with intense satisfaction as he stood by the
sluice-boxes looking down the long grade. It was his work and he knew
that he had done it well. He had spared no labor to have it
right--nothing had been just "good enough."
There was cocoa matting under the riffles of the first six boxes.
Half-way the length of the sluice-boxes the finest gravel, yellow and
black sand, dropped through perforated sheet-iron grizzles into the
"undercurrents" while the rocks and boulders rushed on through the
sluice-boxes to the river.
At the end of the undercurrents there was a wide table having a slight
grade, and this table was covered with canton flannel over which was
placed more riffles of expanded metal. And, as a final precaution, lest
some infinitesimal amount of gold escape, there was a mercury trap below
the table. While Bruce was expecting to catch the greater part of it in
the first six sluice-boxes he was not taking a single chance.
Now, as he stood by the sluice-boxes looking their length, he allowed
himself to dream for a moment of the days when the mercury, turned to
amalgam, should be lying thick with gold behind the riffles; to
anticipate the unspeakable happiness of telegraphing his success to
Even with the tangible evidence before his eyes it was hard to realize
that after all the struggle, he was so near his goal. The ceaseless
strain and anxiety had left their marks upon his face. He looked older
by years than when he had stood by the river dipping water into his
old-fashioned cradle and watching "Slim" scramble among the rocks.
But it would be worth it all--all and more--he told himself exultingly,
if he succeeded--as he must. His eyes shone with enthusiasm and he
tingled with his joy, as he thought what success meant.
A sound behind him brought him back to earth. He turned to see Toy
picking his way gingerly over the rocks.
"You old rascal!" he cried joyfully. "Dog-gone, I'm glad to see you,
though you don't deserve it."
"I come back now," the Chinaman announced serenely. "No go way no more I
Next: The Midnight Visitor
Previous: The General Manager