The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Orde had said nothing to Newmark concerning this purposed new investment, nor did he intend doing so.
"It is for Bobby," he told himself, "and I want Bobby, and no one else, to run it. Joe would want to take charge, naturally. Taylor won't. He knows nothing of the business."
He walked downtown next morning busily formulating his scheme. At the office he found Newmark already seated at his desk, a pile of letters in front of him. Upon Orde's boisterous greeting his nerves crisped slightly, but of this there was no outward sign beyond a tightening of his hands on the letter he was reading. Behind his eye-glasses his blue, cynical eyes twinkled like frost crystals. As always, he was immaculately dressed in neat gray clothes, and carried in one corner of his mouth an unlighted cigar.
"Joe," said Orde, spinning a chair to Newmark's roll-top desk and speaking in a low tone, "just how do we stand on that upper peninsula stumpage?"
"What do you mean? How much of it is there? You know that as well as I do--about three hundred million."
"No; I mean financially."
"We've made two payments of seventy-five thousand each, and have still two to make of the same amount."
"What could we borrow on it?"
"We don't want to borrow anything on it," returned Newmark in a flash.
"Perhaps not; but if we should?"
"We might raise fifty or seventy-five thousand, I suppose."
"Joe," said Orde, "I want to raise about seventy-five thousand dollars on my share in this concern, if it can be done."
"What's up?" inquired Newmark keenly.
"It's a private matter."
Newmark said nothing, but for some time thought busily, his light blue eyes narrowed to a slit.
"I'll have to figure on it a while," said he at last, and turned back to his mail. All day he worked hard, with only a fifteen- minute intermission for a lunch which was brought up from the hotel below. At six o'clock he slammed shut the desk. He descended the stairs with Orde, from whom he parted at their foot, and walked precisely away, his tall, thin figure held rigid and slightly askew, his pale eyes slitted behind his eye-glasses, the unlighted cigar in one corner of his straight lips. To the occasional passerby he bowed coldly and with formality. At the corner below he bore to the left, and after a short walk entered the small one-story house set well back from the sidewalk among the clumps of oleanders. Here he turned into a study, quietly and richly furnished ten years in advance of the taste then prevalent in Monrovia, where he sank into a deep-cushioned chair and lit the much-chewed cigar. For some moments he lay back with his eyes shut. Then he opened them to look with approval on the dark walnut book-cases, the framed prints and etchings, the bronzed student's lamp on the square table desk, the rugs on the polished floor. He picked up a magazine, into which he dipped for ten minutes.
The door opened noiselessly behind him.
"Mr. Newmark, sir," came a respectful voice, "it is just short of seven."
"Very well," replied Newmark, without looking around.
The man withdrew as softly as he had come. After a moment, Newmark replaced the magazine on the table, yawned, threw aside the cigar, of which he had smoked but an inch, and passed from his study into his bedroom across the hall. This contained an exquisite Colonial four-poster, with a lowboy and dresser to match, and was papered and carpeted in accordance with these, its chief ornaments. Newmark bathed in the adjoining bathroom, shaved carefully between the two wax lights which were his whim, and dressed in what were then known as "swallow-tail" clothes. Probably he was the only man in Monrovia at that moment so apparelled. Then calmly, and with all the deliberation of one under fire of a hundred eyes, he proceeded to the dining-room, where waited the man who had a short time before reminded him of the hour. He was a solemn, dignified man, whose like was not to be found elsewhere this side the city. He, too, wore the "swallow-tail," but its buttons were of gilt.
Newmark seated himself in a leather-upholstered mahogany chair before a small, round, mahogany table. The room was illuminated only by four wax candles with red shades. They threw into relief the polish of mahogany, the glitter of glass, the shine of silver, but into darkness the detail of massive sideboard, dull panelling, and the two or three dark-toned sporting prints on the wall.
"You may serve dinner, Mallock," said Newmark.
He ate deliberately and with enjoyment the meal, exquisitely prepared and exquisitely presented to him. With it he drank a single glass of Burgundy--a deed that would, in the eyes of Monrovia, have condemned him as certainly as driving a horse on Sunday or playing cards for a stake. Afterward he returned to the study, whither Mallock brought coffee. He lit another cigar, opened a drawer in his desk, extracted therefrom some bank-books and small personal account books. From these he figured all the evening. His cigar went out, but he did not notice that, and chewed away quite contentedly on the dead butt. When he had finished, his cold eye exhibited a gleam of satisfaction. He had resolved on a course of action. At ten o'clock he went to bed.
Next morning Mallock closed the door behind him promptly upon the stroke of eight. It was strange that not one living soul but Mallock had ever entered Newmark's abode. Curiosity had at first brought a few callers; but these were always met by the imperturbable servant with so plausible a reason for his master's absence that the visitors had departed without a suspicion that they had been deliberately excluded. And as Newmark made no friends and excited little interest, the attempts to cultivate him gradually ceased.
"Orde," said Newmark, as the former entered the office, "I think I can arrange this matter."
Orde drew up a chair.
"I talked last evening with a man from Detroit named Thayer, who thinks he may advance seventy-five thousand dollars on a mortgage on our northern peninsula stumpage. For that, of course, we will give the firm's note with interest at ten per cent. I will turn this over to you."
"That's--" began Orde.
"Hold on," interrupted Newmark. "As collateral security you will deposit for me your stock in the Boom Company, indorsed in blank. If you do not pay the full amount of the firm's note to Thayer, then the stock will be turned in to me."
"I see," said Orde.
"Now, don't misunderstand me," said Newmark drily. "This is your own affair, and I do not urge it on you. If we raise as much as seventy-five thousand dollars on that upper peninsula stumpage, it will be all it can stand, for next year we must make a third payment on it. If you take that money, it is of course proper that you pay the interest on it."
"Certainly," said Orde.
"And if there's any possibility of the foreclosure of the mortgage, it is only right that you run all the risk of loss--not myself."
"Certainly," repeated Orde.
"From another point of view," went on Newmark, "you are practically mortgaging your interest in the Boom Company for seventy-five thousand dollars. That would make, on the usual basis of a mortgage, your share worth above two hundred thousand--and four hundred thousand is a high valuation of our property."
"That looks more than decent on your part," said Orde.
"Of course, it's none of my business what you intend to do with this," went on Newmark, "but unless you're sure you can meet these notes, I should strongly advise against it."
"The same remark applies to any mortgage," rejoined Orde.
"For how long a time could I get this?" asked Orde at length.
"I couldn't promise it for longer than five years," replied Newmark.
"That would make about fifteen thousand a year?"
"Certainly--and interest. Well, I don't see why I can't carry that easily on our present showing and prospects."
"If nothing untoward happens," insisted Newmark determined to put forward all objections possible.
"It's not much risk," said Orde hopefully. "There's nothing surer than lumber. We'll pay the notes easily enough as we cut, and the Boom Company's on velvet now. What do our earnings figure, anyway?"
"We're driving one hundred and fifty million at a profit of about sixty cents a thousand," said Newmark.
"That's ninety thousand dollars--in five years, four hundred and fifty thousand," said Orde, sucking his pencil.
"We ought to clean up five dollars a thousand on our mill."
"That's about a hundred thousand on what we've got left."
"And that little barge business nets us about twelve or fifteen thousand a year."
"For the five years about sixty thousand more. Let's see--that's a total of say six hundred thousand dollars in five years."
"We will have to take up in that time," said Newmark, who seemed to have the statistics at his finger-tips, "the two payments on our timber, the note on the First National, the Commercial note, the remaining liabilities on the Boom Company--about three hundred thousand all told, counting the interest."
Orde crumpled the paper and threw it into the waste basket.
"Correct," said he. "Good enough. I ought to get along on a margin like that."
He went over to his own desk, where he again set to figuring on his pad. The results he eyed a little doubtfully. Each year he must pay in interest the sum of seven thousand five hundred dollars. Each year he would have to count on a proportionate saving of fifteen thousand dollars toward payment of the notes. In addition, he must live.
"The Orde family is going to be mighty hard up," said he, whistling humorously.
But Orde was by nature and training sanguine and fond of big risks.
"Never mind; it's for Bobby," said he to himself. "And maybe the rate of interest will go down. And I'll be able to borrow on the California tract if anything does go wrong."
He put on his hat, thrust a bundle of papers into his pocket, and stepped across the hall into Taylor's office.
The lawyer he found tipped back in his revolving chair, reading a printed brief.
"Frank," began Orde immediately, "I came to see you about that California timber matter."
Taylor laid down the brief and removed his eye-glasses, with which he began immediately to tap the fingers of his left hand.
"Sit down, Jack," said he. "I'm glad you came in. I was going to try to see you some time to-day. I've been thinking the matter over very carefully since the other day, and I've come to the conclusion that it is too steep for me. I don't doubt the investment a bit, but the returns are too far off. Fifteen thousand means a lot more to me than it does to you, and I've got to think of the immediate future. I hope you weren't counting on me--"
"Oh, that's all right," broke in Orde. "As I told you, I can swing the thing myself, and only mentioned it to you on the off chance you might want to invest. Now, what I want is this--" he proceeded to outline carefully the agreement between himself and Newmark while the lawyer took notes and occasionally interjected a question.
"All right," said the latter, when the details had been mastered. "I'll draw the necessary notes and papers."
"Now," went on Orde, producing the bundle of papers from his pocket, "here's the abstract of title. I wish you'd look it over. It's a long one, but not complicated, as near as I can make out. Trace seems to have acquired this tract mostly from the original homesteaders and the like, who, of course, take title direct from the government. But naturally there are a heap of them, and I want you to look it over to be sure everything's shipshape."
"All right," agreed Taylor, reaching for the papers.
"One other thing," concluded Orde, uncrossing his legs. "I want this investment to get no further than the office door. You see, this is for Bobby, and I've given a lot of thought to that sort of thing; and nothing spoils a man sooner than to imagine the thing's all cut and dried for him, and nothing keeps him going like the thought that he's got to rustle his own opportunities. You and I know that. Bobby's going to have the best education possible; he's going to learn to be a lumberman by practical experience, and that practical experience he'll get with other people. No working for his dad in Bobby's, I can tell you. When he gets through college, I'll get him a little job clerking with some good firm, and he'll have a chance to show what is in him and to learn the business from the ground up, the way a man ought to. Of course, I'll make arrangements that he has a real chance. Then, when he's worked into the harness a little, the old man will take him out and show him the fine big sugar pine and say to him, 'There, my boy, there's your opportunity, and you've earned it. How does Orde and Son sound to you?' What do you think of it, Frank?"
Taylor nodded several times.
"I believe you're on the right track, and I'll help you all I can," said he briefly.
"So, of course, I want to keep the thing dead secret," continued Orde. "You're the only man who knows anything about it. I'm not even going to buy directly under my own name. I'm going to incorporate myself," he said, with a grin. "You know how those things will get out, and how they always get back to the wrong people."
"Count on me," Taylor assured him.
As Orde walked home that evening, after a hot day, his mind was full of speculation as to the immediate future. He had a local reputation for wealth, and no one knew better than himself how important it is for a man in debt to keep up appearances. Nevertheless, decided retrenchment would be necessary. After Bobby had gone to bed, he explained this to his wife.
"What's the matter?" she asked quickly. "Is the firm losing money?"
"No," replied Orde, "it's a matter of reinvestment." He hesitated. "It's a dead secret, which I don't want to get out, but I'm thinking of buying some western timber for Bobby when he grows up."
Carroll laughed softly.
"You so relieve my mind," she smiled at him. "I was afraid you'd decided on the street-car-driver idea. Why, sweetheart, you know perfectly well we could go back to the little house next the church and be as happy as larks."