The Blazed Trail by Stewart Edward White
Part II: The Landlooker
Next day the articles of partnership were drawn; and Carpenter gave his note for the necessary expenses. Then in answer to a pencilled card which Mr. Morrison had evidently left at Thorpe's hotel in person, both young men called at the lumberman's place of business. They were ushered immediately into the private office.
Mr. Morrison was a smart little man with an ingratiating manner and a fishy eye. He greeted Thorpe with marked geniality.
"My opponent of yesterday!" he cried jocularly. "Sit down, Mr. Thorpe! Although you did me out of some land I had made every preparation to purchase, I can't but admire your grit and resourcefulness. How did you get here ahead of us?"
"I walked across the upper peninsula, and caught a boat," replied Thorpe briefly.
"Indeed, indeed!" replied Mr. Morrison, placing the tips of his fingers together. "Extraordinary! Well, Mr. Thorpe, you overreached us nicely; and I suppose we must pay for our carelessness. We must have that pine, even though we pay stumpage on it. Now what would you consider a fair price for it?"
"It is not for sale," answered Thorpe.
"We'll waive all that. Of course it is to your interest to make difficulties and run the price up as high as you can. But my time is somewhat occupied just at present, so I would be very glad to hear your top price--we will come to an agreement afterwards."
"You do not understand me, Mr. Morrison. I told you the pine is not for sale, and I mean it."
"But surely--What did you buy it for, then?" cried Mr. Morrison, with evidences of a growing excitement.
"We intend to manufacture it."
Mr. Morrison's fishy eyes nearly popped out of his head. He controlled himself with an effort.
"Mr. Thorpe," said he, "let us try to be reasonable. Our case stands this way. We have gone to a great deal of expense on the Ossawinamakee in expectation of undertaking very extensive operations there. To that end we have cleared the stream, built three dams, and have laid the foundations of a harbor and boom. This has been very expensive. Now your purchase includes most of what we had meant to log. You have, roughly speaking, about three hundred millions in your holding, in addition to which there are several millions scattering near it, which would pay nobody but yourself to get in. Our holdings are further up stream, and comprise only about the equal of yours."
"Three hundred millions are not to be sneezed at," replied Thorpe.
"Certainly not," agreed Morrison, suavely, gaining confidence from the sound of his own voice. "Not in this country. But you must remember that a man goes into the northern peninsula only because he can get something better there than here. When the firm of Morrison & Daly establishes itself now, it must be for the last time. We want enough timber to do us for the rest of the time we are in business."
"In that case, you will have to hunt up another locality," replied Thorpe calmly.
Morrison's eyes flashed. But he retained his appearance of geniality, and appealed to Wallace Carpenter.
"Then you will retain the advantage of our dams and improvements," said he. "Is that fair?"
"No, not on the face of it," admitted Thorpe. "But you did your work in a navigable stream for private purposes, without the consent of the Board of Control. Your presence on the river is illegal. You should have taken out a charter as an Improvement Company. Then as long as you 'tended to business and kept the concern in repair, we'd have paid you a toll per thousand feet. As soon as you let it slide, however, the works would revert to the State. I won't hinder your doing that yet; although I might. Take out your charter and fix your rate of toll."
"In other words, you force us to stay there and run a little two-by- four Improvement Company for your benefit, or else lose the value of our improvements?"
"Suit yourself," answered Thorpe carelessly. "You can always log your present holdings."
"Very well," cried Morrison, so suddenly in a passion that Wallace started back. "It's war! And let me tell you this, young man; you're a new concern and we're an old one. We'll crush you like that!" He crisped an envelope vindictively, and threw it in the waste-basket.
"Crush ahead," replied Thorpe with great good humor. "Good-day, Mr. Morrison," and the two went out.
Wallace was sputtering and trembling with nervous excitement. His was one of those temperaments which require action to relieve the stress of a stormy interview. He was brave enough, but he would always tremble in the presence of danger until the moment for striking arrived. He wanted to do something at once.
"Hadn't we better see a lawyer?" he asked. "Oughtn't we to look out that they don't take some of our pine? Oughtn't we---"
"You just leave all that to me," replied Thorpe. "The first thing we want to do is to rustle some money."
"And you can leave that to me," echoed Wallace. "I know a little of such things, and I have business connections who know more. You just get the camp running."
"I'll start for Bay City to-night," submitted Thorpe. "There ought to be a good lot of lumber-jacks lying around idle at this time of year; and it's a good place to outfit from because we can probably get freight rates direct by boat. We'll be a little late in starting, but we'll get in some logs this winter, anyway."