The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
The new partners, as soon as Orde had released himself from Daly, gave all their time to working out a schedule of tolls. Orde drew on his intimate knowledge of the river and its tributaries, and the locations of the different rollways, to estimate as closely as possible the time it would take to drive them. He also hunted up Tom North and others of the older men domiciled in the cheap boarding-houses of Hell's Half-Mile, talked with them, and verified his own impressions. Together, he and Newmark visited the supply houses, got prices, obtained lists. All the evenings they figured busily, until at last Newmark expressed himself as satisfied.
"Now, Orde," said he, "here is where you come in. It's now your job to go out and interview these men and get their contracts for driving their next winter's cut."
But Orde drew back.
"Look here, Joe," he objected, "that's more in your line. You can talk business to them better than I can."
"Not a bit," negatived Newmark. "They don't know me from Adam, and they do know you, and all about you. We've got to carry this thing through at first on our face, and they'd be more apt to entrust the matter to you personally."
"All right," agreed Orde. "I'll start in on Daly."
He did so the following morning. Daly swung his bulk around in his revolving office-chair and listened attentively.
"Well, Jack," said he, "I think you're a good riverman, and I believe you can do it. I'd be only too glad to get rid of the nuisance of it, let alone get it done cheaper. If you'll draw up your contract and bring it in here, I'll sign it. I suppose you'll break out the rollways?"
"No," said Orde; "we hadn't thought of doing more than the driving and distributing. You'll have to deliver the logs in the river. Maybe another year, after we get better organised, we'll be able to break rollways--at a price per thousand--but until we get a-going we'll have to rush her through."
Orde repeated this to his associate.
"That was smooth enough sailing," he exulted.
"Yes," pondered Newmark, removing his glasses and tapping his thumb with their edge. "Yes," he repeated, "that was smooth sailing. What was that about rollways?"
"Oh, I told him we'd expect him to break out his own," said Orde.
"Yes, but what does that mean exactly?"
"Why," explained Orde, with a slight stare of surprise, "when the logs are cut and hauled during the winter, they are banked on the river-banks, and even in the river-channel itself. Then, when the thaws come in the spring, these piles are broken down and set afloat in the river."
"I see," said Newmark. "Well, but why shouldn't we undertake that part of it? I should think that would he more the job of the river- drivers."
"It would hold back our drive too much to have to stop and break rollways," explained Orde.
The next morning they took the early train for Monrovia, where were situated the big mills and the offices of the nine other lumber companies. Within an hour they had descended at the small frame terminal station, and were walking together up the village street.
Monrovia was at that time a very spread-out little place of perhaps two thousand population. It was situated a half mile from Lake Michigan, behind the sparsely wooded sand hills of its shore. From the river, which had here grown to a great depth and width, its main street ran directly at right angles. Four brick blocks of three stories lent impressiveness to the vista. The stores in general, however, were low frame structures. All faced broad plank sidewalks raised above the street to the level of a waggon body. From this main street ran off, to right and left, other streets, rendered lovely by maple trees that fairly met across the way. In summer, over sidewalk and roadway alike rested a dense, refreshing dark shadow that seemed to throw from itself an odour of coolness. This was rendered further attractive by the warm spicy odour of damp pine that arose from the resilient surface of sawdust and shingles broken beneath the wheels of traffic. Back from these trees, in wide, well-cultivated lawns, stood the better residences. They were almost invariably built of many corners, with steep roofs meeting each other at all angles, with wide and ornamented red chimneys, numerous windows, and much scroll work adorning each apex and cornice. The ridge poles bristled in fancy foot-high palisades of wood. Chimneys were provided with lightning-rods. Occasionally an older structure, on square lines, recorded the era of a more dignified architecture. Everywhere ran broad sidewalks and picket fences. Beyond the better residence districts were the board shanties of the mill workers.
Orde and Newmark tramped up the plank walk to the farthest brick building. When they came to a cross street, they had to descend to it by a short flight of steps on one side, and ascend from it by a corresponding flight on the other. At the hotel, Newmark seated himself in a rocking-chair next the big window.
"Good luck!" said he.
Orde mounted a wide, dark flight of stairs that led from the street to a darker hall. The smell of stale cigars and cocoa matting was in the air. Down the dim length of this hall he made his way to a door, which without ceremony he pushed open.
He found himself in a railed-off space, separated from the main part of the room by a high walnut grill.
"Mr. Heinzman in?" he asked of a clerk.
"I think so," replied the clerk, to whom evidently Orde was known.
Orde spent the rest of the morning with Heinzman, a very rotund, cautious person of German extraction and accent. Heinzman occupied the time in asking questions of all sorts about the new enterprise. At twelve he had not in any way committed himself nor expressed an opinion. He, however, instructed Orde to return the afternoon of the following day.
"I vill see Proctor," said he.
Orde, rather exhausted, returned to find Newmark still sitting in the rocking-chair with his unlighted cigar. The two had lunch together, after which Orde, somewhat refreshed, started out. He succeeded in getting two more promises of contracts and two more deferred interviews.
"That's going a little faster," he told Newmark cheerfully.
The following morning, also, he was much encouraged by the reception his plan gained from the other lumbermen. At lunch he recapitulated to Newmark.
"That's four contracts already," said he, "and three more practically a sure thing. Proctor and Heinzman are slower than molasses about everything, and mean as pusley, and Johnson's up in the air, the way he always is, for fear some one's going to do him."
"It isn't a bad outlook," admitted Newmark.
But Heinzman offered a new problem for Orde's consideration.
"I haf talked with Proctor," said he, "and ve like your scheme. If you can deliffer our logs here for two dollars and a quarter, why, that is better as ve can do it; but how do ve know you vill do it?"
"I'll guarantee to get them here all right," laughed Orde.
"But what is your guarantee good for?" persisted Heinzman blandly, locking his fingers over his rotund little stomach. "Suppose the logs are not deliffered--what then? How responsible are you financially?"
"Well, we're investing seventy-five thousand dollars or so."
Heinzman rubbed his thumb and forefinger together and wafted the imaginary pulverisation away.
"Worth that for a judgment," said he.
He allowed a pause to ensue.
"If you vill give a bond for the performance of your contract," pursued Heinzman, "that vould be satisfactory."
Orde's mind was struck chaotic by the reasonableness of this request, and the utter impossibility of acceding to it.
"How much of a bond?" he asked.
"Twenty-fife thousand vould satisfy us," said Heinzman. "Bring us a suitable bond for that amount and ve vill sign your contract."
Orde ran down the stairs to find Newmark. "Heinzman won't sign unless we give him a bond for performance," he said in a low tone, as he dropped into the chair next to Newmark.
Newmark removed his unlighted cigar, looked at the chewed end, and returned it to the corner of his mouth.
"Heinzman has sense," said he drily. "I was wondering if ordinary business caution was unknown out here."
"Can we get such a bond? Nobody would go on my bond for that amount."
"Mine either," said Newmark. "We'll just have to let them go and drive ahead without them. I only hope they won't spread the idea. Better get those other contracts signed up as soon as we can."
With this object in view, Orde started out early the next morning, carrying with him the duplicate contracts on which Newmark had been busy.
"Rope 'em in," advised Newmark. "It's Saturday, and we don't want to let things simmer over Sunday, if we can help it."
About eleven o'clock a clerk of the Welton Lumber Co. entered Mr. Welton's private office to deliver to Orde a note.
"This just came by special messenger," he explained.
Orde, with an apology, tore it open. It was from Heinzman, and requested an immediate interview. Orde delayed only long enough to get Mr. Welton's signature, then hastened as fast as his horse could take him across the drawbridge to the village.
Heinzman he found awaiting him. The little German, with his round, rosy cheeks, his dot of a nose, his big spectacles, and his rotund body, looked even more than usual like a spider or a Santa Clause-- Orde could not decide which.
"I haf been thinking of that bond," he began, waving a pudgy hand toward a seat, "and I haf been talking with Proctor."
"Yes," said Orde hopefully.
"I suppose you would not be prepared to gif a bond?"
"I hardly think so."
"Vell, suppose ve fix him this way," went on Heinzman, clasping his hands over his stomach and beaming through his spectacles. "Proctor and I haf talked it ofer, and ve are agreet that the probosition is a good one. Also ve think it is vell to help the young fellers along." He laughed silently in such a manner as to shake himself all over. "Ve do not vish to be too severe, and yet ve must be assured that ve get our logs on time. Now, I unterstood you to say that this new concern is a stock company."
Orde did not remember having said so, but he nodded.
"Vell, if you gif us a bond secured with stock in the new company, that would be satisfactory to us."
Orde's face cleared.
"Do you mean that, Mr. Heinzman?"
"Sure. Ve must haf some security, but ve do not vish to be too hard on you boys."
"Now, I call that a mighty good way out!" cried Orde.
"Make your contract out according to these terms, then," said Heinzman, handing him a paper, "and bring it in Monday."
Orde glanced over the slip. It recited two and a quarter as the agreed price; specified the date of delivery at Heinzman and Proctor's booms; named twenty-five thousand dollars as the amount of the bond, to be secured by fifty thousand dollars' worth of stock in the new company. This looked satisfactery. Orde arose.
"I'm much obliged to you, Mr. Heinzman," said he. "I'll bring it around Monday."
He had reached the gate to the grill before Heinzman called him back.
"By the vay," the little German beamed up at him, swinging his fat legs as the office-chair tipped back on its springs, "if it is to be a stock company, you vill be selling some of the stock to raise money, is it not so?"
"Yes," agreed Orde, "I expect so."
"How much vill you capitalise for?"
"We expect a hundred thousand ought to do the trick," replied Orde.
"Vell," said Heinzman, "ven you put it on the market, come and see me." He nodded paternally at Orde, beaming through his thick spectacles.
That evening, well after six, Orde returned to the hotel. After freshening up in the marbled and boarded washroom, he hunted up Newmark.
"Well, Joe," said he, "I'm as hungry as a bear. Come on, eat, and I'll tell you all about it."
They deposited their hats on the racks and pushed open the swinging screen doors that led into the dining-room. There they were taken in charge by a marvellously haughty and redundant head-waitress, who signalled them to follow down through ranks of small tables watched by more stately damsels. Newmark, reserved and precise, irreproachably correct in his neat gray, seemed enveloped in an aloofness as impenetrable as that of the head-waitress herself. Orde, however, was as breezy as ever. He hastened his stride to overtake the head-waitress.
"Annie, be good!" he said in his jolly way. "We've got business to talk. Put us somewhere alone."
Newmark nodded approval, and thrust his hand in his pocket. But Annie looked up into Orde's frank, laughing face, and her lips curved ever so faintly in the condescension of a smile.
"Sure, sorr," said she, in a most unexpected brogue.
"Well, I've got 'em all," said Orde, as soon as the waitress had gone with the order. "But the best stroke of business you'd never guess. I roped in Heinzman."
"Good!" approved Newmark briefly.
"It was really pretty decent of the little Dutchman. He agreed to let us put up our stock as security. Of course, that security is good only if we win out; and if we win out, why, then he'll get his logs, so he won't have any use for security. So it's just one way of beating the devil around the bush. He evidently wanted to give us the business, but he hated like the devil to pass up his rules-- you know how those old shellbacks are."
"H'm, yes," said Newmark.
The waitress sailed in through a violently kicked swinging door, bearing aloft a tin tray heaped perilously. She slanted around a corner in graceful opposition to the centrifugal, brought the tray to port on a sort of landing stage by a pillar, and began energetically to distribute small "iron-ware" dishes, each containing a dab of something. When the clash of arrival had died, Orde went on:
"I got into your department a little, too."
"How's that?" asked Newmark, spearing a baked potato. "Heinzman said he'd buy some of our stock. He seems to think we have a pretty good show."
Newmark paused, his potato half-way to his plate.
"Kind of him," said he after a moment. "Did he sign a contract?"
"It wasn't made out," Orde reminded him. "I've the memoranda here. We'll make it out to-night. I am to bring it in Monday."
"I see we're hung up here over Sunday," observed Newmark. "No Sunday trains to Redding."
Orde became grave.
"I know it. I tried to hurry matters to catch the six o'clock, but couldn't make it." His round, jolly face fell sombre, as though a light within had been extinguished. After a moment the light returned. "Can't be helped," said he philosophically.
They ate hungrily, then drifted out into the office again, where Orde lit a cigar.
"Now, let's see your memoranda," said Newmark.
He frowned over the three simple items for some time.
"It's got me," he confessed at last.
"What?" inquired Orde.
"What Heinzman is up to."
"What do you mean?" asked Orde, turning in his chair with an air of slow surprise.
"It all looks queer to me. He's got something up his sleeve. Why should he take a bond with that security from us? If we can't deliver the logs, our company fails; that makes the stock worthless; that makes the bond worthless--just when it is needed. Of course, it's as plain as the nose on your face that he thinks the proposition a good one and is trying to get control."
"Oh, no!" cried Orde, astounded.
"Orde, you're all right on the river," said Newmark, with a dry little laugh, "but you're a babe in the woods at this game."
"But Heinzman is honest," cried Orde. "Why, he is a church member, and has a class in Sunday-school."
Newmark selected a cigar from his case, examined it from end to end, finally put it between his lips. The corners of his mouth were twitching quietly with amusement.
"Besides, he is going to buy some stock," added Orde, after a moment.
"Heinzman has not the slightest intention of buying a dollar's worth of stock," asserted Newmark.
"--Did he make that bluff?" finished Newmark. "Because he wanted to find out how much stock would be issued. You told him it would be a hundred thousand dollars, didn't you?"
"Why--yes, I believe I did," said Orde, pondering. Newmark threw back his head and laughed noiselessly.
"So now he knows that if we forfeit the bond he'll have controlling interest," he pointed out.
Orde smoked rapidly, his brow troubled.
"But what I can't make out," reflected Newmark, "is why he's so sure we'll have to forfeit."
"I think he's just taking a long shot at it," suggested Orde, who seemed finally to have decided against Newmark's opinion. "I believe you're shying at mare's nests."
"Not he. He has some good reason for thinking we won't deliver the logs. Why does he insist on putting in a date for delivery? None of the others does."
"I don't know," replied Orde. "Just to put some sort of a time limit on the thing, I suppose."
"You say you surely can get the drive through by then?"
"Sure? Why, it gives me two weeks' leeway over the worst possible luck I could have. You're too almighty suspicious, Joe."
Newmark shook his head.
"You let me figure this out," said he.
But bedtime found him without a solution. He retired to his room under fire of Orde's good-natured raillery. Orde himself shut his door, the smile still on his lips. As he began removing his coat, however, the smile died. The week had been a busy one. Hardly had he exchanged a dozen words with his parents, for he had even been forced to eat his dinner and supper away from home. This Sunday he had promised himself to make his deferred but much-desired call on Jane Hubbard--and her guest. He turned out the gas with a shrug of resignation. For the first time his brain cleared of its turmoil of calculations, of guesses, of estimates, and of men. He saw clearly the limited illumination cast downward by the lamp beneath its wide shade, the graceful, white figure against the shadow of the easy chair, the oval face cut in half by the lamplight to show plainly the red lips with the quaint upward quirks at the corners, and dimly the inscrutable eyes and the hair with the soft shadows. With a sigh he fell asleep.
Some time in the night he was awakened by a persistent tapping on the door. In the woodsman's manner, he was instantly broad awake. He lit the gas and opened the door to admit Newmark, partially dressed over his night gown.
"Orde," said he briefly and without preliminary, "didn't you tell me the other day that rollways were piled both on the banks and IN the river?"
"Yes, sometimes," said Orde. "Why?
"Then they might obstruct the river?"
"I thought so!" cried Newmark, with as near an approach to exultation as he ever permitted himself. "Now, just one other thing: aren't Heinzman's rollways below most of the others?"
"Yes, I believe they are," said Orde.
"And, of course, it was agreed, as usual, that Heinzman was to break out his own rollways?"
"I see," said Orde slowly. "You think he intends to delay things enough so we can't deliver on the date agreed on."
"I know it," stated Newmark positively.
"But if he refuses to deliver the logs, no court of law will--"
"Law!" cried Newmark. "Refuse to deliver! You don't know that kind. He won't refuse to deliver. There'll just be a lot of inevitable delays, and his foreman will misunderstand, and all that. You ought to know more about that than I do."
Orde nodded, his eye abstracted.
"It's a child-like scheme," commented Newmark. "If I'd had more knowledge of the business, I'd have seen it sooner."
"I'd never have seen it at all," said Orde humbly. "You seem to be the valuable member of this firm, Joe."
"In my way," said Newmark, "you in yours. We ought to make a good team."