The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Morning found Orde still seated in the library chair. His head was sunk forward on his chest; his hands were extended listless, palms up, along the arms of the chair; his eyes were vacant and troubled. Hardly once in the long hours had he shifted by a hair's breadth his position. His body was suspended in an absolute inaction while his spirit battered at the walls of an impasse. For, strangely enough, Orde did not once, even for a single instant, give a thought to the business aspects of the situation--what it meant to him and his prospects or what he could do about it. Hurt to the soul he stared at the wreck of a friendship. Nothing will more deeply sicken the heart of a naturally loyal man than to discover baseless his faith in some one he has thoroughly trusted.
Orde had liked Newmark. He had admired heartily his clearness of vision, his financial skill, his knowledge of business intricacies, his imperturbable coolness, all the abilities that had brought him to success. With a man of Orde's temperament, to admire is to like; and to like is to invest with all good qualities. He had constructed his ideal of a friend, with Newmark as a basis; and now that this, which had seemed to him as solid a reality as a brick block, had dissolved into nothing, he found himself in the necessity of refashioning his whole world. He was not angry at Newmark. But he was grieved down to the depths of his being.
When the full sun shone into the library, he aroused himself to change his clothes. Then, carrying those he had just discarded, he slipped out of the house and down the street. Duke, the black and white setter dog, begged to follow him. Orde welcomed the animal's company. He paused only long enough to telephone from the office telling Carroll he would be out of town all day. Then he set out at a long swinging gait over the hills. By the time the sun grew hot, he was some miles from the village and in the high beech woods. There he sat down, his back to a monster tree. All day long he gazed steadily on the shifting shadows and splotches of sunlight; on the patches of blue sky, the dazzling white clouds that sailed across them; on the waving, whispering frond that over-arched him, and the deep cool shadows beneath. The woods creatures soon became accustomed to his presence. Squirrels of the several varieties that abounded in the Michigan forests scampered madly after each other in spirals around the tree trunks, or bounded across the ground in long undulating leaps. Birds flashed and called and disappeared mysteriously. A chewink, brave in his black and white and tan uniform, scratched mightily with great two-footed swoops that threw the vegetable mould over Orde's very feet. Blazoned butterflies-- the yellow and black turnus, the dark troilus, the shade-loving nymphalis--flickered in and out of the patches of sunlight. Orde paid them no attention. The noon heat poured down through the forest isles like an incense. Overhead swung the sun, and down the slope until the long shafts of its light lifted wand-like across the tree trunks.
At this hint of evening Orde shook himself and arose. He was little nearer the readjustment he sought than he had been the previous night.
He reached home a little before six o'clock. To his surprise he found Taylor awaiting him. The lawyer had written nothing as to his return.
"I had things pretty well in shape," he said, after the first greetings had been exchanged, "and it would do no good to stay away any longer."
"Then the trouble is over?" asked Orde.
"I wouldn't say that," replied Taylor; "but you can rest easy as to the title to your lands. The investigation had no real basis to it. There may have been some small individual cases of false entry; but nothing on which to ground a ???? attack."
"When can I borrow on it?"
"Not for a year or two, I should say. There's an awful lot of red- tape to unwind, as there always is in such cases."
"Oh," said Orde in some disappointment.
Taylor hesitated, removed his eye-glasses, wiped them carefully, and replaced them. He glanced at Orde sidelong through his keen, shrewd eyes.
"I have something more to tell you; something that will be painful," said he.
Orde looked up quickly.
"Well; what is it?" he asked.
"The general cussedness of all this investigation business had me puzzled, until at last I made up my mind to do a little investigating on my own account. It all looked foolish to me. Somebody or something must be back of all this performance. I was at it all the time I was West, between times on regular business, of course. I didn't make much out of my direct efforts--they cover things up well in those matters--but at last I got on a clue by sheer accident. There was one man behind all this. He was--"
"Joe Newmark," said Orde quietly.
"How did you know that?" cried Taylor in astonishment.
"I didn't know, Frank; I just guessed."
"Well, you made a good guess. It was Newmark. He'd tied up the land in this trumped-up investigation so you could not borrow on it."
"How did he find out I owned any land?" asked Orde.
"That I couldn't tell you. Must have been a leak somewhere."
"Quite likely," said Orde calmly.
Taylor looked at his principal in some wonder.
"Well, I must say you take it coolly enough," said he at last.
"Do I?" said he.
"Of course," went on Taylor after a moment, "we have a strong presumption of conspiracy to get hold of your Boom Company stock, which I believe you put up as security. But I don't see how we have any incontestable proof of it."
"Proof? What more do we want?"
"We'd have no witness to any of these transactions; nor have we documentary proofs. It's merely moral certainty; and moral certainty isn't much in a court of law. I'll see him, if you say so, though, and scare him into some sort of an arrangement."
Orde shook his head.
"No," said he decidedly. "Rather not. I'll run this. Please say nothing."
"Of course not!" interjected Taylor, a trifle indignantly.
"And I'll figure out what I want to do."
Orde pressed Taylor to stay to supper; but the latter declined. After a few moments' conversation on general topics the lawyer took his departure, secretly marvelling over the phlegmatic way in which Orde had taken what had been to Taylor, when he first stumbled against it, a shocking piece of news.