The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
In the course of the next eight years Newmark and Orde floated high on that flood of apparent prosperity that attends a business well conceived and passably well managed. The Boom and Driving Company made money, of course, for with the margin of fifty per cent or thereabouts necessitated by the temporary value of the improvements, good years could hardly fail to bring good returns. This, it will be remembered, was a stock company. With the profits from that business the two men embarked on a separate copartnership. They made money at this, too, but the burden of debt necessitated by new ventures, constantly weighted by the heavy interest demanded at that time, kept affairs on the ragged edge.
In addition, both Orde and Newmark were more inclined to extension of interests than to "playing safe." The assets gained in one venture were promptly pledged to another. The ramifications of debt, property, mortgages, and expectations overlapped each other in a cobweb of interests.
Orde lived at ease in a new house of some size surrounded by grounds. He kept two servants: a blooded team of horses drew the successor to the original buckboard. Newmark owned a sail yacht of five or six tons, in which, quite solitary, he took his only pleasure. Both were considered men of substance and property, as indeed they were. Only, they risked dollars to gain thousands. A succession of bad years, a panic-contraction of money markets, any one of a dozen possible, though not probable, contingencies would render it difficult to meet the obligations which constantly came due, and which Newmark kept busy devising ways and means of meeting. If things went well--and it may be remarked that legitimately they should--Newmark and Orde would some day be rated among the millionaire firms. If things went ill, bankruptcy could not be avoided. There was no middle ground. Nor were Orde and his partner unique in this; practically every firm then developing or exploiting the natural resources of the country found itself in the same case.
Immediately after the granting of the charter to drive the river the partners had offered them an opportunity of acquiring about thirty million feet of timber remaining from Morrison and Daly's original holdings. That firm was very anxious to begin development on a large scale of its Beeson Lake properties in the Saginaw waters. Daly proposed to Orde that he take over the remnant, and having confidence in the young man's abilities, agreed to let him have it on long-time notes. After several consultations with Newmark, Orde finally completed the purchase. Below the booms they erected a mill, the machinery for which they had also bought of Daly, at Redding. The following winter Orde spent in the woods. By spring he had banked, ready to drive, about six million feet.
For some years these two sorts of activity gave the partners about all they could attend to. As soon as the drive had passed Redding, Orde left it in charge of one of his foremen while he divided his time between the booms and the mill. Late in the year his woods trips began, the tours of inspection, of surveying for new roads, the inevitable preparation for the long winter campaigns in the forest. As soon as the spring thaws began, once more the drive demanded his attention. And in marketing the lumber, manipulating the firm's financial affairs, collecting its dues, paying its bills, making its purchases, and keeping oiled the intricate bearing points of its office machinery, Newmark was busy--and invaluable.
At the end of the fifth year the opportunity came, through a combination of a bad debt and a man's death, to get possession of two lake schooners. Orde at once suggested the contract for a steam barge. Towing was then in its infancy. The bulk of lake traffic was by means of individual sailing ships--a method uncertain as to time. Orde thought that a steam barge could be built powerful enough not only to carry its own hold and deck loads, but to tow after it the two schooners. In this manner the crews could be reduced, and an approximate date of delivery could be guaranteed. Newmark agreed with him. Thus the firm, in accordance with his prophecy, went into the carrying trade, for the vessels more than sufficed for its own needs. The freighting of lumber added much to the income, and the carrying of machinery and other heavy freight on the return trip grew every year.
But by far the most important acquisition was that of the northern peninsula timber. Most operators called the white pine along and back from the river inexhaustible. Orde did not believe this. He saw the time, not far distant, when the world would be compelled to look elsewhere for its lumber supply, and he turned his eyes to the almost unknown North. After a long investigation through agents, and a month's land-looking on his own account, he located and purchased three hundred million feet. This was to be paid for, as usual, mostly by the firm's notes secured by its other property. It would become available only in the future, but Orde believed, as indeed the event justified, this future would prove to be not so distant as most people supposed.
As these interests widened, Orde became more and more immersed in them. He was forced to be away all of every day, and more than the bulk of every year. Nevertheless, his home life did not suffer for it.
To Carroll he was always the same big, hearty, whole-souled boy she had first learned to love. She had all his confidence. If this did not extend into business affairs, it was because Orde had always tried to get away from them when at home. At first Carroll had attempted to keep in the current of her husband's activities, but as the latter broadened in scope and became more complex, she perceived that their explanation wearied him. She grew out of the habit of asking him about them. Soon their rapid advance had carried them quite beyond her horizon. To her, also, as to most women, the word "business" connoted nothing but a turmoil and a mystery.
In all other things they were to each other what they had been from the first. No more children had come to them. Bobby, however; had turned out a sturdy, honest little fellow, with more than a streak of his mother's charm and intuition. His future was the subject of all Orde's plans.
"I want to give him all the chance there is," he explained to Carroll. "A boy ought to start where his father left off, and not have to do the same thing all over again. But being a rich man's son isn't much of a job."
"Why don't you let him continue your business?" smiled Carroll, secretly amused at the idea of the small person before them ever doing anything.
"By the time Bobby's grown up this business will all be closed out," replied Orde seriously.
He continued to look at his minute son with puckered brow, until Carroll smoothed out the wrinkles with the tips of her fingers.
"Of course, having only a few minutes to decide," she mocked, "perhaps we'd better make up our minds right now to have him a street-car driver."
"Yes!" agreed Bobby unexpectedly, and with emphasis.
Three years after this conversation, which would have made Bobby just eight, Orde came back before six of a summer evening, his face alight with satisfaction.
"Hullo, bub!" he cried to Bobby, tossing him to his shoulder. "How's the kid?"
They went out together, while awaiting dinner, to see the new setter puppy in the woodshed.
"Named him yet?" asked Orde.
"Duke," said Bobby.
Orde surveyed the animal gravely.
"Seems like a good name," said he.
After dinner the two adjourned to the library, where they sat together in the "big chair," and Bobby, squirmed a little sidewise in order the better to see, watched the smoke from his father's cigar as it eddied and curled in the air.
"Tell a story," he commanded finally.
"Well," acquiesced Orde, "there was once a man who had a cow--"
"Once upon a time," corrected Bobby.
He listened for a moment or so.
"I don't like that story," he then announced. "Tell the story about the bears."
"But this is a new story," protested Orde, "and you've heard about the bears so many times."
"Bears," insisted Bobby.
"Well, once upon a time there were three bears--a big bear and a middle-sized bear and a little bear--" began Orde obediently.
Bobby, with a sigh of rapture and content, curled up in a snug, warm little ball. The twilight darkened.
"Blind-man's holiday!" warned Carroll behind them so suddenly that they both jumped. "And the sand man's been at somebody, I know!"
She bore him away to bed. Orde sat smoking in the darkness, staring straight ahead of him into the future. He believed he had found the opportunity--twenty years distant--for which he had been looking so long.