The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
After a time Carroll descended the stairs, chuckling. "Jack," she called into the sitting-room, "come out on the porch. What do you suppose the young man did to-night?"
"Give it up," replied Orde promptly. "No good guessing when it's a question of that youngster's performances. What was it?"
"He said his 'Now I lay me,' and asked blessings on you and me, and the grandpas and grandmas, and Auntie Kate, as usual. Then he stopped. 'What else?' I reminded him. 'And,' he finished with a rush, 'make-Bobby-a-good-boy-and-give-him-plenty-of-bread-'n-butter- 'n-apple-sauce!'"
They laughed delightedly over this, clinging together like two children. Then they stepped out on the little porch and looked into the fathomless night. The sky was full of stars, aloof and calm, but waiting breathless on the edge of action, attending the word of command or the celestial vision, or whatever it is for which stars seem to wait. Along the street the dense velvet shade of the maples threw the sidewalks into impenetrable blackness. Sounds carried clearly. From the Welton's, down the street, came the tinkle of a mandolin and an occasional low laugh from the group of young people that nightly frequented the front steps. Tree toads chirped in unison or fell abruptly silent as though by signal. All up and down the rows of houses whirred the low monotone of the lawn sprinklers, and the aroma of their wetness was borne cool and refreshing through the tepid air.
Orde and his wife sat together on the top step. He slipped his arm about her. They said nothing, but breathed deep of the quiet happiness that filled their lives.
The gate latch clicked and two shadowy figures defined themselves approaching up the concrete walk.
"Hullo!" called Orde cheerfully into the darkness.
"Hullo!" a man's voice instantly responded.
"Taylor and Clara," said Orde to Carroll with satisfaction. "Just the man I wanted to see."
The lawyer and his wife mounted the steps. He was a quick, energetic, spare man, with lean cheeks, a bristling, clipped moustache, and a slight stoop to his shoulders. She was small, piquant, almost child-like, with a dainty up-turned nose, a large and lustrous eye, a constant, bird-like animation of manner--the Folly of artists, the adorable, lovable, harmless Folly standing tiptoe on a complaisant world.
"Just the man I wanted to see," repeated Orde, as the two approached.
Clara Taylor stopped short and considered him for a moment.
"Let us away," she said seriously to Carroll. "My prophetic soul tells me they are going to talk business, and if any more business is talked in my presence, I shall expire!"
Both men laughed, but Orde explained apologetically:
"Well, you know, Mrs. Taylor, these are my especially busy days for the firm, and I have to work my private affairs in when I can."
"I thought Frank was very solicitous about my getting out in the air," cried Clara. "Come, Carroll, let's wander down the street and see Mina Heinzman."
The two interlocked arms and sauntered along the walk. Both men lit cigars and sat on the top step of the porch.
"Look here, Taylor," broke in Orde abruptly, "you told me the other day you had fifteen or twenty thousand you wanted to place somewhere."
"Yes," replied Taylor.
"Well, I believe I have just the proposition."
"What is it?"
"California pine," replied Orde.
"California pine?" repeated Taylor, after a slight pause. "Why California? That's a long way off. And there's no market, is there? Why way out there?"
"It's cheap," replied Orde succinctly. "I don't say it will be good for immediate returns, nor even for returns in the near future, but in twenty or thirty years it ought to pay big on a small investment made now."
Taylor shook his head doubtfully.
"I don't see how you figure it," he objected. "We have more timber than we can use in the East. Why should we go several thousand miles west for the same thing?"
"When our timber gives out, then we'll have to go west," said Orde.
"Laugh all you please," rejoined Orde, "but I tell you Michigan and Wisconsin pine is doomed. Twenty or thirty years from now there won't be any white pine for sale."
"Nonsense!" objected Taylor. "You're talking wild. We haven't even begun on the upper peninsula. After that there's Minnesota. And I haven't observed that we're quite out of timber on the river, or the Muskegon, or the Saginaw, or the Grand, or the Cheboygan--why, Great Scott! man, our children's children's children may be thinking of investing in California timber, but that's about soon enough."
"All tight," said Orde quietly. "Well, what do you think of Indiana as a good field for timber investment?"
"Indiana!" cried Taylor, amazed. "Why, there's no timber there; it's a prairie."
"There used to be. And all the southern Michigan farm belt was timbered, and around here. We have our stumps to show for it, but there are no evidences at all farther south. You'd have hard work, for instance, to persuade a stranger that Van Buren County was once forest."
"Was it?" asked Taylor doubtfully.
"It was. You take your map and see how much area has been cut already, and how much remains. That'll open your eyes. And remember all that has been done by crude methods for a relatively small demand. The demand increases as the country grows and methods improve. It would not surprise me if some day thirty or forty millions would constitute an average cut.* 'Michigan pine exhaustless!'--those fellows make me sick!"
* At the present day some firms cut as high as 150,000,000 feet.
"Sounds a little more reasonable," said Taylor slowly.
"It'll sound a lot more reasonable in five or ten years," insisted Orde, "and then you'll see the big men rushing out into that Oregon and California country. But now a man can get practically the pick of the coast. There are only a few big concerns out there."
"Why is it that no one--"
"Because," Orde cut him short, "the big things are for the fellow who can see far enough ahead."
"What kind of a proposition have you?" asked Taylor after a pause.
"I can get ten thousand acres at an average price of eight dollars an acre," replied Orde.
"Acres? What does that mean in timber?"
"On this particular tract it means about four hundred million feet."
"That's about twenty cents a thousand."
"And of course you couldn't operate for a long time?"
"Not for twenty, maybe thirty, years," replied Orde calmly.
"There's your interest on your money, and taxes, and the risk of fire and--"
"Of course, of course," agreed Orde impatiently, "but you're getting your stumpage for twenty cents or a little more, and in thirty years it will be worth as high as a dollar and a half." *
* At the present time (1908) sugar pine such as Orde described would cost $3.50 to $4.
"What!" cried Taylor.
"That is my opinion," said Orde.
Taylor relapsed into thought.
"Look here, Orde," he broke cut finally, "how old are you?"
"How much timber have you in Michigan?"
"About ten million that we've picked up on the river since the Daly purchase and three hundred million in the northern peninsula."
"Which will take you twenty years to cut, and make you a million dollars or so?"
"Then why this investment thirty years ahead?"
"It's for Bobby," explained Orde simply. "A man likes to have his son continue on in his business. I can't do it here, but there I can. It would take fifty years to cut that pine, and that will give Bobby a steady income and a steady business."
"Bobby will be well enough off, anyway. He won't have to go into business."
Orde's brow puckered.
"I know a man--Bobby is going to work. A man is not a success in life unless he does something, and Bobby is going to be a success. Why, Taylor," he chuckled, "the little rascal fills the wood-box for a cent a time, and that's all the pocket-money he gets. He's saving now to buy a thousand-dollar boat. I've agreed to pool in half. At his present rate of income, I'm safe for about sixty years yet."
"How soon are you going to close this deal?" asked Taylor, rising as he caught sight of two figures coming up the walk.
"I have an option until November 1," replied Orde. "If you can't make it, I guess I can swing it myself. By the way, keep this dark."
Taylor nodded, and the two turned to defend themselves as best they could against Clara's laughing attack.