The Forlorn Hope

: 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

he 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."