The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
The first season of the Boom Company was most successful. Its prospects for the future were bright. The drive had been delivered to its various owners at a price below what it had cost them severally, and without the necessary attendant bother. Therefore, the loggers were only too willing to renew their contracts for another year. This did not satisfy Newmark, however.
"What we want," he told Orde, "is a charter giving us exclusive rights on the river, and authorising us to ask toll. I'm going to try and get one out of the legislature."
He departed for Lansing as soon as the Assembly opened, and almost immediately became lost in one of those fierce struggles of politics not less bitter because concealed. Heinzman was already on the ground.
Newmark had the shadow of right on his side, for he applied for the charter on the basis of the river improvements already put in by his firm. Heinzman, however, possessed much political influence, a deep knowledge of the subterranean workings of plot and counterplot, and a "barrel." Although armed with an apparently incontestable legal right, Newmark soon found himself fighting on the defensive. Heinzman wanted the improvements already existing condemned and sold as a public utility to the highest bidder. He offered further guarantees as to future improvements. In addition were other and more potent arguments proffered behind closed doors. Many cases resolved themselves into a bald question of cash. Others demanded diplomacy. Jobs, fat contracts, business favours, influence were all flung out freely--bribes as absolute as though stamped with the dollar mark. Newspapers all over the State were pressed into service. These, bought up by Heinzman and his prospective partners in a lucrative business, spoke virtuously of private piracy of what are now called public utilities, the exploiting of the people's natural wealths, and all the rest of a specious reasoning the more convincing in that it was in many other cases only too true. The independent journals, uninformed of the rights of the case, either remained silent on the matter, or groped in a puzzled and undecided manner on both sides.
Against this secret but effective organisation Newmark most unexpectedly found himself pitted. He had anticipated being absent but a week; he became involved in an affair of months.
With decision he applied himself to the problem. He took rooms at the hotel, sent for Orde, and began at once to set in motion the machinery of opposition. The refreshed resources of the company were strained to the breaking point in order to raise money for this new campaign opening before it. Orde, returning to Lansing after a trip devoted to the carrying out of Newmark's directions as to finances, was dismayed at the tangle of strategy and cross-strategy, innuendo, vague and formless cobweb forces by which he was surrounded. He could make nothing of them. They brushed his face, he felt their influence, yet he could place his finger on no tangible and comprehensible solidity. Among these delicate and complicated cross-currents Newmark moved silent, cold, secret. He seemed to understand them, to play with them, to manipulate them as elements of the game. Above them was the hollow shock of the ostensible battle--the speeches, the loud talk in lobbies, the newspaper virtue, indignation, accusations; but the real struggle was here in the furtive ways, in whispered words delivered hastily aside, in hotel halls on the way to and from the stairs, behind closed doors of rooms without open transoms.
Orde in comic despair acknowledged that it was all "too deep for him." Nevertheless, it was soon borne in on him that the new company was struggling for its very right to existence. It had been doing that from the first; but now, to Orde the fight, the existence, had a new importance. The company up to this point had been a scheme merely, an experiment that might win or lose. Now, with the history of a drive behind it, it had become a living entity. Orde would have fought against its dissolution as he would have fought against a murder. Yet he had practically to stand one side, watching Newmark's slender, gray-clad, tense figure gliding here and there, more silent, more reserved, more watchful every day.
The fight endured through most of the first half of the session. When finally it became evident to Heinzman that Newmark would win, he made the issue of toll rates the ditch of his last resistance, trying to force legal charges so low as to eat up the profits. At the last, however, the bill passed the board. The company had its charter.
At what price only Newmark could have told. He had fought with the tense earnestness of the nervous temperament that fights to win without count of the cost. The firm was established, but it was as heavily in debt as its credit would stand. Newmark himself, though as calm and reserved and precise as ever, seemed to have turned gray, and one of his eyelids had acquired a slight nervous twitch which persisted for some months. He took his seat at the desk, however, as calmly as ever. In three days the scandalised howls of bribery and corruption had given place in the newspapers to some other sensation.
"Joe," said Orde to his partner, "how about all this talk? Is there really anything in it? You haven't gone in for that business, have you?"
Newmark stretched his arms wearily.
"Press bought up," he replied. "I know for a fact that old Stanford got five hundred dollars from some of the Heinzman interests. I could have swung him back for an extra hundred, but it wasn't worth while. They howl bribery at us to distract attention from their own performances."
With this evasive reply Orde contented himself. Whether it satisfied him or whether he was loath to pursue the subject further it would be impossible to say.
"It's cost us plenty, anyway," he said, after a moment. "The proposition's got a load on it. It will take us a long time to get out of debt. The river driving won't pay quite so big as we thought it would," he concluded, with a rueful little laugh.
"It will pay plenty well enough," replied Newmark decidedly, "and it gives us a vantage point to work from. You don't suppose we are going to quit at river driving, do you? We want to look around for some timber of our own; there's where the big money is. And perhaps we can buy a schooner or two and go into the carrying trade--the country's alive with opportunity. Newmark and Orde means something to these fellows now. We can have anything we want, if we just reach out for it."
His thin figure, ordinarily slightly askew, had straightened; his steel-gray, impersonal eyes had lit up behind the bowed glasses and were seeing things beyond the wall at which they gazed. Orde looked up at him with a sudden admiration.
"You're the brains of this concern," said he.
"We'll get on," replied Newmark, the fire dying from his eyes.