The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Orde mounted the office stairs next day with a very heavy step. The loss of the North Star and of the two schooners meant a great deal to him at that time.
"It kicks us into somewhat of a hole," he grumbled to Newmark.
"A loss is never pleasant," replied the latter, "and it puts us out of the carrying business for awhile. But we're insured."
"I can't understand why Floyd started," said Orde. "He ought to know better than to face sure prospects of a fall blow. I'll tan his soul for that, all right!"
"I'm afraid I'm partly responsible for his going," put in Newmark.
"You!" cried Orde.
"Yes. You see that Smith and Mabley shipment was important enough to strain a point for--and it's only twenty-four hours or so--and it certainly didn't look to see me as if it were going to blow very soon. Poor Floyd feels bad enough. He's about sick."
Orde for the first time began to appreciate the pressure of his circumstances. The loss on the cargo of "uppers" reached about 8,000,000 feet; which represented $20,000 in money. As for the North Star and her consorts, save for the insurance, they were simply eliminated. They had represented property. Now they were gone. The loss of $60,000 or so on them, however, did not mean a diminution of the company's present cash resources to that amount; and so did not immediately affect Orde's calculations as to the payment of the notes which were now soon to come due.
At this time the woods work increasingly demanded his attention. He disappeared for a week, his organising abilities claimed for the distribution of the road crews. When he returned to the office, Newmark, with an air of small triumph, showed him contracts for the construction of three new vessels.
"I get them for $55,000," said he, "with $30,000 of it on long time."
"Without consulting me!" cried Orde.
Newmark explained carefully that the action, seemingly so abrupt, had really been taking advantage of a lucky opportunity.
"Otherwise," he finished, "we shouldn't have been able to get the job done for another year, at least. If that big Cronin contract goes through--well, you know what that would mean in the shipyards-- nobody would get even a look-in. And McLeod is willing, in the meantime, to give us a price to keep his men busy. So you see I had to close at once. You can see what a short chance it was."
"It's a good chance, all right," admitted Orde; "but--why--that is, I thought perhaps we'd job our own freighting for awhile--it never occurred to me we'd build any more vessels until we'd recovered a little."
"Recovered," Newmark repeated coldly. "I don't see what 'recovered' has to do with it. If the mill burned down, we'd rebuild, wouldn't we? Even if we were embarrassed--which we're not--we'd hardly care to acknowledge publicly that we couldn't keep up our equipment. And as we're making twelve or fifteen thousand a year out of our freighting, it seems to me too good a business to let slip into other hands."
"I suppose so," agreed Orde, a trifle helplessly.
"Therefore I had to act without you," Newmark finished. "I knew you'd agree. That's right: isn't it?" he insisted.
"Yes, that's right," agreed Orde drearily.
"You'll find copies of the contract on your desk," Newmark closed the matter. "And there's the tax lists. I wish you'd run them over."
"Joe," replied Orde, "I--I don't think I'll stay down town this morning. I--"
Newmark glanced up keenly.
"You don't look a bit well," said he; "kind of pale around the gills. Bilious. Don't believe that camp grub quite agrees with you for a steady diet."
"Yes, that must be it," assented Orde.
He closed his desk and went out. Newmark turned back to his papers. His face was expressionless. From an inner pocket he produced a cigar which he thrust between his teeth. The corners of his mouth slowly curved in a grim smile.
Orde did not go home. Instead, he walked down Main Street to the docks where he jumped into a rowboat lying in a slip, and with a few rapid strokes shot out on the stream. In his younger days he had belonged to a boat club, and had rowed in the "four." He still loved the oar, and though his racing days were past, he maintained a clean-lined, rather unstable little craft which it was his delight to propel rapidly with long spoon-oars whenever he needed exercise. To-day, however, he was content to drift.
The morning was still and golden. The crispness of late fall had infused a wine into the air. The sky was a soft, blue-gray; the sand-hills were a dazzling yellow. Orde did not try to think; he merely faced the situation, staring it in the face until it should shrink to its true significance.
One thing he felt distinctly; yet could not without a struggle bring himself to see. The California lands must be mortgaged. If he could raise a reasonable sum of money on them, he would still be perfectly able to meet his notes. He hated fiercely to raise that money.
It was entirely a matter of sentiment. Orde realised the fact clearly, and browbeat his other self with a savage contempt. Nevertheless his dream had been to keep the western timber free and unencumbered--for Bobby. Dreams are harder to give up than realities.
He fell into the deepest reflections which were broken only when the pounding of surf warned him he had drifted almost to the open lake. After all, there was no essential difference between owing money to a man in Michigan and to a man in California. That was the net result of his struggle.
"When the time comes, we'll just borrow that money on a long-time mortgage, like sensible people," he said aloud, "and quit this everlasting scrabbling."
Back to town he pulled with long vigorous strokes, skittering his feathered spoon-oars lightly over the tops of the wavelets. At the slip he made fast the boat, and a few minutes later re-entered the office, his step springy, his face glowing. Newmark glanced up.
"Hullo!" said he. "Back again? You look better."
"Exercise," said Orde, in his hearty manner. "Exercise, old boy! You ought to try it. Greatest thing in the world. Just took a row to the end of the piers and back, and I'm as fit as a fiddle!"