The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Orde did not wish to return to the office until he had worked his problem out; so, to lend his absence the colour of naturalness, he drove back next morning to the booms. There he found enough to keep him occupied all that day and the next. As in those times the long distance telephone had not yet been attempted, he was cut off from casual communication with the village. Late in the afternoon he returned home.
A telephone to Carroll apprised him that all was well with her. A few moments later the call sounded, and Orde took a message that caused him to look grave and to whistle gently with surprise. He ate supper with Bobby. About star-time he took his hat and walked slowly down the street beneath the velvet darkness of the maples. At Newmark's he turned in between the oleanders.
Mallock answered his ring.
"No, sir, Mr. Newmark is out, sir," said Mallock. "I'll tell him you called, sir," and started respectfully but firmly to close the door.
But Orde thrust his foot and knee in the opening.
"I'll come in and wait," said he quietly.
"Yes, sir, this way, sir," said Mallock, trying to indicate the dining-room, where he wished Orde to sit until he could come at his master's wishes in the matter.
Orde caught the aroma of tobacco and the glimmer of light to the left. Without reply he turned the knob of the door and entered the library.
There he found Newmark in evening dress, seated in a low easy chair beneath a lamp, smoking, and reading a magazine. At Orde's appearance in the doorway, he looked up calmly, his paper knife poised, keeping the place.
"Oh, it's you, Orde," said he.
"Your man told me you were not in," said Orde.
"He was mistaken. Won't you sit down?"
Orde entered the room and mechanically obeyed Newmark's suggestion, his manner preoccupied. For some time he stared with wrinkled brow at a point above the illumination of the lamp. Newmark, over the end of his cigar, poised a foot from his lips, watched the riverman with a cool calculation.
"Newmark," Orde began abruptly at last, "I know all about this deal."
"What deal?" asked Newmark, after a barely perceptible pause.
"This arrangement you made with Heinzman."
"I borrowed some money from Heinzman for the firm."
"Yes; and you supplied that money yourself."
Newmark's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. Orde glanced toward him, then away again, as though ashamed.
"Well," said Newmark at last, "what of it?"
"If you had the money to lend why didn't you lend it direct?"
"Because it looks better to mortgage to an outside holder."
An expression of profound disgust flitted across Orde's countenance. Newmark smiled covertly, and puffed once or twice strongly on his nearly extinct cigar.
"That was not the reason," went on Orde. "You agreed with Heinzman to divide when you succeeded in foreclosing me out of the timber lands given as security. Furthermore you instructed Floyd to go out on the eve of that blow in spite of his warnings; and you contracted with McLeod for the new vessels; and you've tied us up right and left for the sole purpose of pinching us down where we couldn't meet those notes. That's the only reason you borrowed the seventy-five thousand on your own account; so we couldn't borrow it to save ourselves."
"It strikes me you are interesting but inconclusive," said Newmark, as Orde paused again.
"That sort of thing is somewhat of a facer," went on Orde without the slightest attention to the interjection. "It took me some days to work it out in all its details; but I believe I understand it all now. I don't quite understand how you discovered about my California timber. That 'investigation' was a very pretty move."
"How the devil did you get onto that?" cried Newmark, startled for a moment out of his cool attitude of cynical aloofness.
"Then you acknowledge it?" shot in Orde quick as a flash.
Newmark laughed in amusement.
"Why shouldn't I? Of course Heinzman blabbed. You couldn't have got it all anywhere else."
Orde arose to his feet, and half sat again on the arm of his chair.
"Now I'll tell you what we will do in this matter," said he crisply.
But Newmark unexpectedly took the aggressive.
"We'll follow," said he, "the original programme, as laid down by myself. I'm tired of dealing with blundering fools. Heinzman's mortgage will be foreclosed; and you will hand over as per the agreement your Boom Company stock."
Orde stared at him in amazement.
"I must say you have good nerve," he said; "you don't seem to realise that you are pretty well tangled up. I don't know what they call it: criminal conspiracy, or something of that sort, I suppose. So far from handing over to you the bulk of my property, I can send you to the penitentiary."
"Nonsense," rejoined Newmark, leaning forward in his turn. "I know you too well, Jack Orde. You're a fool of more kinds than I care to count, and this is one of the kinds. Do you seriously mean to say that you dare try to prosecute me? Just as sure as you do, I'll put Heinzman in the pen too. I've got it on him, cold. He's a bribe giver--and somewhat of a criminal conspirator himself."
"Well," said Orde.
Newmark leaned back with an amused little chuckle. "If the man hadn't come to you and given the whole show away, you'd have lost every cent you owned. He did you the biggest favour in his power. And for your benefit I'll tell you what you can easily substantiate; I forced him into this deal with me. I had this bribery case on him; and in addition his own affairs were all tied up."
"I knew that," replied Orde.
"What had the man to gain by telling you?" pursued Newmark. "Nothing at all. What had he to lose? Everything: his property, his social position, his daughter's esteem, which the old fool holds higher than any of them. You could put me in the pen, perhaps--with Heinzman's testimony. But the minute Heinzman appears on the stand, I'll land him high and dry and gasping, without a chance to flop."
He paused a moment to puff at his cigar. Finding it had gone out, he laid the butt carefully on the ash tray at his elbow.
"I'm not much used to giving advice," he went on, "least of all when it is at all likely to be taken. But I'll offer you some. Throw Heinzman over. Let him go to the pen. He's been crooked, and a fool."
"That's what you'd do, I suppose," said Orde.
"Exactly that. You owe nothing to Heinzman; but something to what you would probably call repentance, but which is in reality a mawkish sentimentality of weakness. However, I know you, Jack Orde, from top to bottom; and I know you're fool enough not to do it. I'm so sure of it that I dare put it to you straight; you could never bring yourself to the point of destroying a man who had sacrificed himself for you."
"You seem to have this game all figured out," said Orde with contempt.
Newmark leaned back in his chair. Two bright red spots burned in his ordinarily sallow cheeks. He half closed his eyes.
"You're right," said he with an ill-concealed satisfaction. "If you play a game, play it through. Each man is different; for each a different treatment is required. The game is infinite, wonderful, fascinating to the skilful." He opened his eyes and looked over at Orde with a mild curiosity. "I suppose men are about all of one kind to you."
"Two," said Orde grimly; "the honest men and the scoundrels."
"Well," said the other, "let's settle this thing. The fact remains that the firm owes a note to Heinzman, which it cannot pay. You owe a note to the firm which you cannot pay. All this may be slightly irregular; but for private reasons you do not care to make public the irregularity. Am I right so far?"
Orde, who had been watching him with a slightly sardonic smile, nodded.
"Well, what I want out of this--"
"You might hear the other side," interrupted Orde. "In the first place," said he, producing a bundle of papers, "I have the note and the mortgage in my possession."
"Whence Heinzman will shortly rescue them, as soon as I get to see him," countered Newmark. "You acknowledge that I can force Heinzman; and you can hardly refuse him."
"If you force Heinzman, he'll land you," Orde pointed out.
"There is Canada for me, with no extradition. He travels with heavier baggage. I have the better trumps."
"You'd lose everything."
"Not quite," smiled Newmark. "And, as usual, you are forgetting the personal equation. Heinzman is--Heinzman. And I am I."
"Then I suppose this affidavit from Heinzman as to the details of all this is useless for the same reason?"
Newmark's thin lips parted in another smile.
"Correct," said he.
"But you're ready to compromise below the face of the note?"
"I'll tell you," said he; "because I know you well enough to realise that there is a point where your loyalty to Heinzman would step aside in favour of your loyalty to your family."
"And you think you know where that point is?"
"It's the basis of my compromise."
Orde began softly to laugh. "Newmark, you're as clever as the devil," said he. "But aren't you afraid to lay out your cards this way?"
"Not with you," replied Newmark, boldly; "with anybody else on earth, yes. With you, no."
Orde continued to laugh, still in the low undertone.
"The worst of it is, I believe you're right," said he at last. "You have the thing sized up; and there isn't a flaw in your reasoning. I always said that you were the brains of this concern. If it were not for one thing, I'd compromise sure; and that one thing was beyond your power to foresee."
He paused. Newmark's eyes half-closed again, in a quick darting effort of his brain to run back over all the elements of the game he was playing. Orde waited in patience for him to speak.
"What is it?" asked Newmark at last. "Heinzman died of smallpox at four o'clock this afternoon," said Orde.