The Blazed Trail by Stewart Edward White
Part I: The Forest
Thorpe dedicated a musing instant to the incongruity of rejoicing over a freedom gained by ceasing to be master and becoming servant.
"Radway," said he suddenly, "I need money and I need it bad. I think you ought to get something out of this job of the M. & D.--not much, but something. Will you give me a share of what I can collect from them?"
"Sure!" agreed the jobber readily, with a laugh. "Sure! But you won't get anything. I'll give you ten per cent quick."
"Good enough!" cried Thorpe.
"But don't be too sure you'll earn day wages doing it," warned the other. "I saw Daly when I was down here last week."
"My time's not valuable," replied Thorpe. "Now when we get to town I want your power of attorney and a few figures, after which I will not bother you again."
The next day the young man called for the second time at the little red-painted office under the shadow of the mill, and for the second time stood before the bulky power of the junior member of the firm.
"Well, young man, what can I do for you?" asked the latter.
"I have been informed," said Thorpe without preliminary, "that you intend to pay John Radway nothing for the work done on the Cass Branch this winter. Is that true?"
Daly studied his antagonist meditatively. "If it is true, what is it to you?" he asked at length.
"I am acting in Mr. Radway's interest."
"You are one of Radway's men?"
"In what capacity have you been working for him?"
"Cant-hook man," replied Thorpe briefly.
"I see," said Daly slowly. Then suddenly, with an intensity of energy that startled Thorpe, he cried: "Now you get out of here! Right off! Quick!"
The younger man recognized the compelling and autocratic boss addressing a member of the crew.
"I shall do nothing of the kind!" he replied with a flash of fire.
The mill-owner leaped to his feet every inch a leader of men. Thorpe did not wish to bring about an actual scene of violence. He had attained his object, which was to fluster the other out of his judicial calm.
"I have Radway's power of attorney," he added.
Daly sat down, controlled himself with an effort, and growled out, "Why didn't you say so?"
"Now I would like to know your position," went on Thorpe. "I am not here to make trouble, but as an associate of Mr. Radway, I have a right to understand the case. Of course I have his side of the story," he suggested, as though convinced that a detailing of the other side might change his views.
Daly considered carefully, fixing his flint-blue eyes unswervingly on Thorpe's face. Evidently his scrutiny advised him that the young man was a force to be reckoned with.
"It's like this," said he abruptly, "we contracted last fall with this man Radway to put in five million feet of our timber, delivered to the main drive at the mouth of the Cass Branch. In this he was to act independently except as to the matter of provisions. Those he drew from our van, and was debited with the amount of the same. Is that clear?"
"Perfectly," replied Thorpe.
"In return we were to pay him, merchantable scale, four dollars a thousand. If, however, he failed to put in the whole job, the contract was void."
"That's how I understand it," commented Thorpe. "Well?"
"Well, he didn't get in the five million. There's a million and a half hung up in the woods."
"But you have in your hands three million and a half, which under the present arrangement you get free of any charge whatever."
"And we ought to get it," cried Daly. "Great guns! Here we intend to saw this summer and quit. We want to get in every stick of timber we own so as to be able to clear out of here for good and all at the close of the season; and now this condigned jobber ties us up for a million and a half."
"It is exceedingly annoying," conceded Thorpe, "and it is a good deal of Radway's fault, I am willing to admit, but it's your fault too."
"To be sure," replied Daly with the accent of sarcasm.
"You had no business entering into any such contract. It gave him no show."
"I suppose that was mainly his lookout, wasn't it? And as I already told you, we had to protect ourselves."
"You should have demanded security for the completion of the work. Under your present agreement, if Radway got in the timber, you were to pay him a fair price. If he didn't, you appropriated everything he had already done. In other words, you made him a bet."
"I don't care what you call it," answered Daly, who had recovered his good-humor in contemplation of the security of his position. "The fact stands all right."
"It does," replied Thorpe unexpectedly, "and I'm glad of it. Now let's examine a few figures. You owned five million feet of timber, which at the price of stumpage" (standing trees) "was worth ten thousand dollars."
"You come out at the end of the season with three million and a half of saw logs, which with the four dollars' worth of logging added, are worth twenty-one thousand dollars."
"Hold on!" cried Daly, "we paid Radway four dollars; we could have done it ourselves for less."
"You could not have done it for one cent less than four-twenty in that country," replied Thorpe, "as any expert will testify."
"Why did we give it to Radway at four, then?"
"You saved the expense of a salaried overseer, and yourselves some bother," replied Thorpe. "Radway could do it for less, because, for some strange reason which you yourself do not understand, a jobber can always log for less than a company."
"We could have done it for four," insisted Daly stubbornly, "but get on. What are you driving at? My time's valuable."
"Well, put her at four, then," agreed Thorpe. "That makes your saw logs worth over twenty thousand dollars. Of this value Radway added thirteen thousand. You have appropriated that much of his without paying him one cent."
Daly seemed amused. "How about the million and a half feet of ours he appropriated?" he asked quietly.
"I'm coming to that. Now for your losses. At the stumpage rate your million and a half which Radway 'appropriated' would be only three thousand. But for the sake of argument, we'll take the actual sum you'd have received for saw logs. Even then the million and a half would only have been worth between eight and nine thousand. Deducting this purely theoretical loss Radway has occasioned you, from the amount he has gained for you, you are still some four or five thousand ahead of the game. For that you paid him nothing."
"That's Radway's lookout."
"In justice you should pay him that amount. He is a poor man. He has sunk all he owned in this venture, some twelve thousand dollars, and he has nothing to live on. Even if you pay him five thousand, he has lost considerable, while you have gained."
"How have we gained by this bit of philanthropy?"
"Because you originally paid in cash for all that timber on the stump just ten thousand dollars and you get from Radway saw logs to the value of twenty," replied Thorpe sharply. "Besides you still own the million and a half which, if you do not care to put them in yourself, you can sell for something on the skids."
"Don't you know, young man, that white pine logs on skids will spoil utterly in a summer? Worms get into em."
"I do," replied Thorpe, "unless you bark them; which process will cost you about one dollar a thousand. You can find any amount of small purchasers at reduced price. You can sell them easily at three dollars. That nets you for your million and a half a little over four thousand dollars more. Under the circumstances, I do not think that my request for five thousand is at all exorbitant."
Daly laughed. "You are a shrewd figurer, and your remarks are interesting," said he.
"Will you give five thousand dollars?" asked Thorpe.
"I will not," replied Daly, then with a sudden change of humor, "and now I'll do a little talking. I've listened to you just as long as I'm going to. I have Radway's contract in that safe and I live up to it. I'll thank you to go plumb to hell!"
"That's your last word, is it?" asked Thorpe, rising.
"Then," said he slowly and distinctly, "I'll tell you what I'll do. I intend to collect in full the four dollars a thousand for the three million and a half Mr. Radway has delivered to you. In return Mr. Radway will purchase of you at the stumpage rates of two dollars a thousand the million and a half he failed to put in. That makes a bill against you, if my figuring is correct, of just eleven thousand dollars. You will pay that bill, and I will tell you why: your contract will be classed in any court as a gambling contract for lack of consideration. You have no legal standing in the world. I call your bluff, Mr. Daly, and I'll fight you from the drop of the hat through every court in Christendom."
"Fight ahead," advised Daly sweetly, who knew perfectly well that Thorpe's law was faulty. As a matter of fact the young man could have collected on other grounds, but neither was aware of that.
"Furthermore," pursued Thorpe in addition, "I'll repeat my offer before witnesses; and if I win the first suit, I'll sue you for the money we could have made by purchasing the extra million and a half before it had a chance to spoil."
This statement had its effect, for it forced an immediate settlement before the pine on the skids should deteriorate. Daly lounged back with a little more deadly carelessness.
"And, lastly," concluded Thorpe, playing his trump card, "the suit from start to finish will be published in every important paper in this country. If you do not believe I have the influence to do this, you are at liberty to doubt the fact."
Daly was cogitating many things. He knew that publicity was the last thing to be desired. Thorpe's statement had been made in view of the fact that much of the business of a lumber firm is done on credit. He thought that perhaps a rumor of a big suit going against the firm might weaken confidence. As a matter of fact, this consideration had no weight whatever with the older man, although the threat of publicity actually gained for Thorpe what he demanded. The lumberman feared the noise of an investigation solely and simply because his firm, like so many others, was engaged at the time in stealing government timber in the upper peninsula. He did not call it stealing; but that was what it amounted to. Thorpe's shot in the air hit full.
"I think we can arrange a basis of settlement," he said finally. "Be here to-morrow morning at ten with Radway."
"Very well," said Thorpe.
"By the way," remarked Daly, "I don't believe I know your name?"
"Thorpe," was the reply.
"Well, Mr. Thorpe," said the lumberman with cold anger, "if at any time there is anything within my power or influence that you want--I'll see that you don't get it."