The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
The duel had now come to grapples. Orde was fighting for his very life. The notes given by Newmark and Orde would come due by the beginning of the following summer. Before that time Orde must be able to meet them personally, or, as by the agreement with Newmark, his stock in the Boom Company would be turned in to the firm. This would, of course, spell nearly a total loss of it, as far as Orde was concerned.
The chief anxiety under which the riverman laboured, however, was the imminent prospect of losing under the mortgage all the Northern Peninsula timber. He had thought that the firm would be able to step in for its redemption, even if he personally found himself unable to meet the obligation. Three hundred million feet would seem to be too important a matter to let go under so small a mortgage. Now as the time approached, he realised that if he could not pay the notes, the firm would certainly be unable to do so. What with the second mortgage, due two years later, and to be met by Newmark; with the outstanding obligations; with the new enterprise of the vessels ordered from Duncan McLeod, Newmark and Orde would be unable to raise anything like the necessary amount. To his personal anxieties Orde added a deep and bitter self-reproach at having involved his partner in what amounted to a total loss.
Spurred doubly by these considerations, then, he fell upon the woods work with unparalleled ferocity. A cut and sale of the forty million feet remaining of the firm's up-river holdings, together with the tolls to be collected for driving the river that spring would, if everything went right and no change in the situation took place, bring Orde through the venture almost literally by "the skin of his teeth." To cut forty million feet, even in these latter days of improvements then unknown, would be a task to strain to the utmost every resource of energy, pluck, equipment and organisation. In 1880-81 the operators on the river laughed good-humouredly over an evident madness.
Nevertheless Orde accomplished the task. To be sure he was largely helped by a favourable winter. The cold weather came early and continued late. Freezing preceded the snow, which was deep enough for good travoying and to assure abundant freshet water in the spring, but not too deep to interfere with the work. Orde increased his woods force; and, contrary to his custom, he drove them mercilessly. He was that winter his own walking-boss, and lived constantly in the woods. The Rough Red had charge of the banking, where his aggressive, brutal personality kept the rollways free from congestion. For congestion there means delay in unloading the sleighs; and that in turn means a drag in the woods work near the skidways at the other end of the line. Tom North and Tim Nolan and Johnny Sims and Jim Denning were foremen back in the forest. Every one had an idea, more or less vague, that the Old Fellow had his back to the wall. Late into the night the rude torches, made quite simply from brown stone jugs full of oil and with wicks in their necks, cast their flickering glare over the ice of the haul-roads. And though generally in that part of Michigan the thaws begin by the first or second week in March, this year zero weather continued even to the eighth of April. When the drive started, far up toward headwaters, the cut was banked for miles along the stream, forty million feet of it to the last timber.
The strain over, Orde slept the clock around and awoke to the further but familiar task of driving the river. He was very tired; but his spirit was at peace. As always after the event, he looked back on his anxieties with a faint amusement over their futility.
From Taylor he had several communications. The lawyer confessed himself baffled as to the purpose and basis of the Land Office investigation. The whole affair appeared to be tangled in a maze of technicalities and a snarl of red-tape which it would take some time to unravel. In the meantime Taylor was enjoying himself; and was almost extravagant in his delight over the climate and attractions of Southern California.
Orde did not much care for this delay. He saw his way clear to meeting his obligations without the necessity of hypothecating the California timber; and was the better pleased for it. With the break-up of spring he started confidently with the largest drive in the history of the river, a matter of over two hundred million feet.
This tremendous mass of timber moved practically in three sections. The first, and smallest, comprised probably thirty millions. It started from the lowermost rollways on the river, drove rapidly through the more unobstructed reaches, and was early pocketed above Monrovia in the Company's distributing booms. The second and largest section of a hundred million came from the main river and its largest tributaries. It too made a safe drive; and was brought to rest in the main booms and in a series of temporary or emergency booms built along the right bank and upstream from the main works. The third section containing a remainder of about seventy million had by the twenty-sixth of June reached the slack water above the city of Redding.