The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
There exists the legend of an eastern despot who, wishing to rid himself of a courtier, armed the man and shut him in a dark room. The victim knew he was to fight something, but whence it was to come, when, or of what nature he was unable to guess. In the event, while groping tense for an enemy, he fell under the fatal fumes of noxious gases.
From the moment Orde completed the secret purchase of the California timber lands from Trace, he became an unwitting participant in one of the strangest duels known to business history. Newmark opposed to him all the subtleties, all the ruses and expedients to which his position lent itself. Orde, sublimely unconscious, deployed the magnificent resources of strength, energy, organisation, and combative spirit that animated his pioneer's soul. The occult manoeuverings of Newmark called out fresh exertions on the part of Orde.
Newmark worked under this disadvantage: he had carefully to avoid the slightest appearance of an attitude inimical to the firm's very best prosperity. A breath of suspicion would destroy his plans. If the smallest untoward incident should ever bring it clearly before Orde that Newmark might have an interest in reducing profits, he could not fail to tread out the logic of the latter's devious ways. For this reason Newmark could not as yet fight even in the twilight. He did not dare make bad sales, awkward transactions. In spite of his best efforts, he could not succeed, without the aid of chance, in striking a blow from which Orde could not recover. The profits of the first year were not quite up to the usual standard, but they sufficed. Newmark's finesse cut in two the firm's income of the second year. Orde roused himself. With his old-time energy of resource, he hurried the woods work until an especially big cut gave promise of recouping the losses of the year before. Newmark found himself struggling against a force greater than he had imagined it to be. Blinded and bound, it nevertheless made head against his policy. Newmark was forced to a temporary quiescence. He held himself watchful, intent, awaiting the opportunity which chance should bring.
Chance seemed by no means in haste. The end of the fourth year found Newmark puzzled. Orde had paid regularly the interest on his notes. How much he had been able to save toward the redemption of the notes themselves his partner was unable to decide. It depended entirely on how much the Ordes had disbursed in living expenses, whether or not Orde had any private debts, and whether or not he had private resources. In the meantime Newmark contented himself with tying up the firm's assets in such a manner as to render it impossible to raise money on its property when the time should come.
What Orde regarded as a series of petty annoyances had made the problem of paying for the California timber a matter of greater difficulty than he had supposed it would be. A pressure whose points of support he could not place was closing slowly on him. Against this pressure he exerted himself. It made him a trifle uneasy, but it did not worry him. The margin of safety was not as broad as he had reckoned, but it existed. And in any case, if worse came to worst, he could always mortgage the California timber for enough to make up the difference--and more. Against this expedient, however, he opposed a sentimental obstinacy. It was Bobby's, and he objected to encumbering it. In fact, Orde was capable of a prolonged and bitter struggle to avoid doing so. Nevertheless, it was there--an asset. A loan on its security would, with what he had set aside, more than pay the notes on the northern peninsula stumpage. Orde felt perfectly easy in his mind. He was in the position of many of our rich men's sons who, quite sincerely and earnestly, go penniless to the city to make their way. They live on their nine dollars a week, and go hungry when they lose their jobs. They stand on their own feet, and yet--in case of severe illness or actual starvation--the old man is there! It gives them a courage to be contented on nothing. So Orde would have gone to almost any lengths to keep free "Bobby's tract," but it stood always between himself and disaster. And a loan on western timber could be paid off just as easily as a loan on eastern timber; when you came right down to that. Even could he have known his partner's intentions, they would, on this account, have caused him no uneasiness, however angry they would have made him, or however determined to break the partnership. Even though Newmark destroyed utterly the firm's profits for the remaining year and a half the notes had to run, he could not thereby ruin Orde's chances. A loan on the California timber would solve all problems now. In this reasoning Orde would have committed the mistake of all large and generous temperaments when called upon to measure natures more subtle than their own. He would have underestimated both Newmark's resources and his own grasp of situations.*
* The author has considered it useless to burden the course of the narrative with a detailed account of Newmark's financial manoeuvres. Realising, however, that a large class of his readers might be interested in the exact particulars, he herewith gives a sketch of the transactions.
It will be remembered that at the time--1878--Orde first came in need of money for the purpose of buying the California timber, the firm, Newmark and Orde, owned in the northern peninsula 300,000,000 feet of pine. On this they had paid $150,000, and owed still a like amount. They borrowed $75,000 on it, giving a note secured by mortgage due in 1883. Orde took this, giving in return his note secured by the Boom Company's stock. In 1879 and 1880 they made the two final payments on the timber; so that by the latter date they owned the land free of encumbrance save for the mortgage of $75,000. Since Newmark's plan had always contemplated the eventual foreclosure of this mortgage, it now became necessary further to encumber the property. Otherwise, since a property worth considerably above $300,000 carried only a $75,000 mortgage, it would be possible, when the latter came due, to borrow a further sum on a second mortgage with which to meet the obligations of the first. Therefore Newmark, in 1881, approached Orde with the request that the firm raise $70,000 by means of a second mortgage on the timber. This $70,000 he proposed to borrow personally, giving his note due in 1885 and putting up the same collateral as Orde had-- that is to say, his stock in the Boom Company. To this Orde could hardly in reason oppose an objection, as it nearly duplicated his own transaction of 1878. Newmark therefore, through Heinzman, lent this sum to himself.
It may now be permitted to forecast events in the line of Newmark's reasoning.
If his plans should work out, this is what would happen: in 1883 the firm's note for $75,000 would come due. Orde would be unable to pay it. Therefore at once his stock in the Boom Company would become the property of Newmark and Orde. Newmark would profess himself unable to raise enough from the firm to pay the mortgage. The second mortgage from which he had drawn his personal loan would render it impossible for the firm to raise more money on the land. A foreclosure would follow. Through Heinzman, Newmark would buy in. As he had himself loaned the money to himself--again through Heinzman--on the second mortgage, the latter would occasion him no loss.
The net results of the whole transaction would be: first, that Newmark would have acquired personally the 300,000,000 feet of northern peninsula timber; and, second, that Orde's personal share in the stock company would flow be held in partnership by the two. Thus, in order to gain so large a stake, it would pay Newmark to suffer considerable loss jointly with Orde in the induced misfortunes of the firm.
Incidentally it might be remarked that Newmark, of course, purposed paying his own note to the firm when it should fall due in 1885, thus saving for himself the Boom Company stock which he had put up as collateral.
Affairs stood thus in the autumn before the year the notes would come due. The weather had been beautiful. A perpetual summer seemed to have embalmed the world in its forgetfulness of times and seasons. Navigation remained open through October and into November. No severe storms had as yet swept the lakes. The barge and her two tows had made one more trip than had been thought possible. It had been the intention to lay them up for the winter, but the weather continued so mild that Orde suggested they be laden with a consignment for Jones and Mabley, of Chicago.
"Did intend to ship by rail," said he. "They're all 'uppers,' so it would pay all right. But we can save all kinds of money by water, and they ought to skip over there in twelve to fifteen hours."
Accordingly, the three vessels were laid alongside the wharves at the mill, and as fast as possible the selected lumber was passed into their holds. Orde departed for the woods to start the cutting as soon as the first belated snow should fall.
This condition seemed, however, to delay. During each night it grew cold. The leaves, after their blaze and riot of colour, turned crisp and crackly and brown. Some of the little, still puddles were filmed with what was almost, but not quite ice. A sheen of frost whitened the house roofs and silvered each separate blade of grass on the lawns. But by noon the sun, rising red in the veil of smoke that hung low in the snappy air, had mellowed the atmosphere until it lay on the cheek like a caress. No breath of wind stirred. Sounds came clearly from a distance. Long V-shaped flights of geese swept athwart the sky, very high up, but their honking came faintly to the ear. And yet, when the sun, swollen to the great dimensions of the rising moon, dipped blood-red through the haze; the first premonitory tingle of cold warned one that the grateful warmth of the day had been but an illusion of a season that had gone. This was not summer, but, in the quaint old phrase, Indian summer, and its end would be as though the necromancer had waved his wand.
To Newmark, sitting at his desk, reported Captain Floyd of the steam barge North Star.
"All loaded by noon, sir," he said.
Newmark looked up in surprise.
"Well, why do you tell me?" he inquired.
"I want your orders."
"My orders? Why?"
"This is a bad time of year," explained Captain Floyd, "and the storm signal's up. All the signs are right for a blow."
Newmark whirled in his chair.
"A blow!" he cried. "What of it? You don't come in every time it blows, do you?"
"You don't know the lakes, sir, at this time of year," insisted Captain Floyd.
"Are you afraid?" sneered Newmark.
Captain Floyd's countenance burned a dark red.
"I only want your orders," was all he said. "I thought we might wait to see."
"Then go," snapped Newmark. "That lumber must get to the market. You heard Mr. Orde's orders to sail as soon as you were loaded."
Captain Floyd nodded curtly and went out without further comment.
Newmark arose and looked out of the window. The sun shone as balmily soft as ever. English sparrows twittered and fought outside. The warm smell of pine shingles rose from the street. Only close down to the horizon lurked cold, flat, greasy-looking clouds; and in the direction of the Government flag-pole he caught the flash of red from the lazily floating signal. He was little weatherwise, and he shook his head sceptically. Nevertheless it was a chance, and he took it, as he had taken a great many others.