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The Forlorn Hope

From: The Man From The Bitter Roots

It was August. "Old Turtle-back" was showing up at the diggin's and the
river would reach low water-mark with less than half a foot.

Pole in hand, big John Johnson of the crew stood on the rocking raft
anchored below The Big Mallard and opposite the rock where the boat had
sunk and smiled his solemn smile at Bruce.

"Don't know but what we ought to name her and break a bottle of ketchup
over the bow of this here craft a'fore we la'nch her."

"The Forlorn Hope, The Last Chance, or something appropriate like that,"
Bruce suggested, although there was too much truth in the jest for him
to smile. This attempt to recover the sunken boat was literally that. If
it was gone, he was done. His work, all that he had been through, was
wasted effort; the whole an expensive fiasco proving that the majority
are sometimes right.

The suspense which Bruce had been under for more than two months would
soon be ended one way or the other. Day and night it seemed to him he
had thought of little else than the fate of the sunken boat. His brain
was tired with conjecturing as to what had happened to her when the
water had reached its flood. Had the force of it shoved her into deeper
water? Had the sand which the water carried at that period filled and
covered her? Had the current wrenched her to pieces and imbedded the
machinery deep in the sediment and mud?

Questioning his own judgment, doubtful as to whether he was right or
wrong, he had gone on with the work as though the machinery was to be
recovered, yet all the time he was filled with sickening doubts. But it
seemed as though his inborn tenacity of purpose, his mulish obstinacy,
would not let him quit, driving him on to finish the flume and trestle
40 feet high with every green log and timber snaked in and put in place
by hand; to finish the pressure box and penstock and the 200 feet of
pipe-line riveted on the broiling hillside when the metal was almost too
hot to touch with the bare hand. The foundation of the power house was
ready for the machinery and the Pelton water-wheel had been installed.
It had taken time and money and grimy sweat. Was it all in vain?

Asking himself the question for which ten minutes at most would find the
answer Bruce sprang upon the tilting raft and nodded--

"Shove off."

As Bruce balanced himself on the raft while the Swede poled slowly
toward the rock that now arose from the water the size of a small house,
he was thankful that the face can be made at times to serve as so good a
mask. Not for the world would he have had John Johnson guess how afraid
he was, how actually scared to death when the raft bumped against the
huge brown rock and he knew that he must look over the side.

Holding the raft steady, Johnson kept his eyes on Bruce's face as he
peered into the river and searched the bottom. Not a muscle of Bruce's
face moved nor an eyelid flickered in the tense silence. Then he said

"John, she's gone."

A look of sympathy softened the Swede's homely face.

Bruce straightened up.

"Gone!" he reiterated--"gone."

Johnson might guess a little but he could never guess the whole of the
despair which seemed to crush Bruce like an overwhelming weight as he
stood looking at the sun shining upon the back of the twisting green
snake of a river that he had thought he could beat; Johnson never had
risked and lost anybody's money but his own, he never had allowed a
woman he loved to build her hopes upon his judgment and success. To have
failed so quickly and so completely--oh, the mortification of it! the

Finally Johnson said gently:

"Guess we might as well go back."

Bruce winced. It reminded him what going back meant. To discharge the
crew and telegraph his failure to Helen Dunbar, Harrah and the rest,
then to watch the lumber dry out and the cracks widen in the flume, the
rust take the machinery and the water-wheel go to ruin--that's what
going back meant--taking up his lonely, pointless life where he had left
it off, growing morbid, eccentric, like the other failures sulking in
the hills.

"There were parts of two dynamos, one 50 horse-power motor, a keeper, and
a field, beside the fly-wheel in the boat." Bruce looked absently at
Johnson but he was talking to himself. "I wonder, I wonder"--a gleam of
hope lit up his face--"John, go up to Fritz Yandell's and borrow that
compass that he fished out of the river."

Johnson looked puzzled but started in a hurry. In an hour or so he was
back, still puzzled; compasses he thought were for people who were lost.

"It's only a chance, John, another forlorn hope, but there's magnetic
iron in those dynamos and the needle might show it if we can get above
the boat."

Johnson's friendly eye shone instantly with interest. Starting from the
spot of the wreck, he poled slowly down the river, keeping in line with
the rock. Ten, twenty, thirty--fifty feet below the rock they poled and
the needle did not waver from the north.

"She'd go to pieces before she ever travelled this far." The glimmer of
hope in Bruce's eyes had died. "Either the needle won't locate her or
she's drifted into the channel. If that's the case we'll never get her

Then Johnson poled back and forth, zig-zagging from bank to bank,
covering every foot of space, and still the needle hung steadfastly to
its place.

They were all of fifty feet from where the boat had sunk and some forty
feet from shore when Bruce cried sharply:

"Hold her steady! Wait!"

The needle wavered--agitated unmistakably--then the parts of the dynamos
and the motor in the boat dragged the reluctant point of steel slowly,
flutteringly, but surely, from its affinity, the magnetic North.

Bruce gulped at something in his throat before he spoke----

"John, we've GOT her!"

"I see her!" Johnson executed a kind of dance on the rocking raft.
"Lookee," he pointed into the exasperatingly dense water, "see her
there--like a shadow--her bow is shoved up four--five feet above her
stern. Got her?"

Bruce nodded, then they looked at each other joyfully, and Bruce
remembered afterward that they had giggled hysterically like two boys.

"The water'll drop a foot yet," Bruce said excitedly. "Can you dive?"

"First cousin to a musk-rat," the Swede declared.

"We'll build a raft like a hollow square, use a tripod and bring up the
chain blocks. What we can't raise with a grappling-hook, we'll go after.
John, we're going to get it--every piece!"

"Bet yer life we'll get her!" John cried responsively, "if I has to git
drunk to do it and stand to my neck in water for a week."

Next: Toy

Previous: At The Big Mallard

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