The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Newmark did not alter his attitude nor his expression, but his face slowly went gray. For a full minute he sat absolutely motionless, his breath coming and going noisily through his contracted nostrils. Then he arose gropingly to his feet, and started toward one of the two doors leading from the room.
"Where are you going?" asked Orde quietly.
Newmark steadied himself with an effort.
"I'm going to get myself a drink in my bedroom," he snapped. "Any objections?"
"No," replied Orde. "None. After you get your drink, come back. I want to talk to you."
Newmark snarled at him: "You needn't be afraid I'll run away. How'd I get out of town?"
"I know it wouldn't pay you to run away," said Orde.
Newmark passed out through the door. Orde looked thoughtfully at Heinzman's affidavit, which, duly disinfected, had been handed him by Dr. McMullen as important; and thrust it and the other papers into his inside pocket. Then he arose to his feet and glided softly across the room to take a position close to the door through which Newmark had departed in quest of his drink. For a half minute he waited. Finally the door swung briskly inward. Like a panther, as quickly and as noiselessly, Orde sprang forward. A short but decisive struggle ensued. In less than ten seconds Orde had pinioned Newmark's arms to his side where he held them immovable with one of his own. The other hand he ran down Newmark's right arm to the pocket. There followed an instant of silent resistance. Then with a sharp cry of mingled anger and pain Newmark snatched his hand out and gazed a trifle amazedly at the half crushed fingers. Orde drew forth the revolver Newmark had grasped concealed in the coat pocket.
Without hesitation he closed and locked the bedroom door; turned the key in the lock of the other; tried and fastened the window. The revolver he opened; spilled out the cartridges into his hand; and then tossed the empty weapon to Newmark, who had sunk into the chair by the lamp.
"There's your plaything," said he. "So you wanted that affidavit, did you? Now we have the place to ourselves; and we'll thresh this matter out."
He paused, collecting his thoughts.
"I don't need to tell you that I've got you about where you live," said he finally. "Nor what I think of you. The case is open and shut; and I can send you over the road for the best part of your natural days. Also I've got these notes and the mortgage."
"Quit it," growled Newmark, "you've got me. Send me up; and be damned."
"That's the question," went on Orde slowly. "I've been at it three days, without much time off for sleep. You hurt me pretty bad, Joe. I trusted you; and I thought of you as a friend."
Newmark stirred slightly with impatience.
"I had a hard time getting over that part of it; and about three- quarters of what was left in the world looked mighty like ashes for awhile. Then I began to see this thing a little clearer. We've been together a good many years now; and as near as I can make out you've been straight as a string with me for eight of them. Then I suppose the chance came and before you knew it you were in over your neck."
He looked, half-pleading toward Newmark. Newmark made no sign.
"I know that's the way it might be. A man thinks he's mighty brave; and so he is, as long as he can see what's coming, and get ready for it. But some day an emergency just comes up and touches him on the shoulder, and he turns around and sees it all of a sudden. Then he finds he's a coward. It's pretty hard for me to understand dishonesty, or how a man can be dishonest. I've tried, but I can't do it. Crookedness isn't my particular kind of fault. But I do know this: that we every one of us have something to be forgiven for by some one. I guess I've got a temper that makes me pretty sorry sometimes. Probably you don't see how it's possible for a man to get crazy mad about little things. That isn't your particular kind of fault."
"Oh, for God's sake, drop that preaching. It makes me sick!" broke out Newmark.
Orde smiled whimsically.
"I'm not preaching," he said; "and even if I were, I've paid a good many thousands of dollars, it seems, to buy the right to say what I damn please. And if you think I'm working up to a Christian forgiveness racket, you're very much mistaken. I'm not. I don't forgive you; and I surely despise your sort. But I'm explaining to you--no, to myself--just what I've been at for three days."
"Well, turn me over to your sheriff, and let's get through with this," said Newmark sullenly. "I suppose you've got that part of it all fixed."
"Look here, Newmark, that's just what I've been coming to, just what I've had such a hard time to get hold of. I felt it, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Now I know. I'm not going to hand you over to any sheriff; I'm going to let you off. No," he continued, in response to Newmark's look of incredulous amazement, "it isn't from any fool notion of forgiveness. I told you I didn't forgive you. But I'm not going to burden my future life with you. That's just plain, ordinary selfishness. I suppose I really ought to jug you; but if I do, I'll always carry with me the thought that I've taken it on myself to judge a man. And I don't believe any man is competent to judge another. I told you why--or tried to--a minute or so ago. I've lived clean, and I've enjoyed the world as a clean open-air sort of proposition--like a windy day--and I always hope to. I'd rather drop this whole matter. In a short time I'd forget you; you'd pass out of my life entirely. But if we carry this thing through to a finish, I'd always have the thought with me that I'd put you in the pen; that you are there now. I don't like the notion. I'd rather finish this up right here and now and get it over and done with and take a fresh start." He paused and wiped his brow, wet with the unusual exertion of this self-analysis. "I think a fellow ought to act always as if he was making the world. He ought to try not to put things in it that are going to make it an unpleasant or an evil world. We don't always do it; but we ought to try. Now if I were making a world, I wouldn't put a man in a penitentiary in it. Of course there's dangerous criminals." He glanced at Newmark a little anxiously. "I don't believe you're that. You're sharp and dishonest, and need punishment; but you don't need extinction. Anyway, I'm not going to bother my future with you."
Newmark, who had listened to this long and rambling exposition with increasing curiosity and interest, broke into a short laugh.
"You've convicted me," he said. "I'm a most awful failure. I thought I knew you; but this passes all belief."
Orde brushed this speech aside as irrelevant.
"Our association, of course, comes to an end. There remain the terms of settlement. I could fire you out of this without a cent, and you'd have to git. But that wouldn't be fair. I don't give a damn for you; but it wouldn't be fair to me. Now as for the Northern Peninsula timber, you have had seventy-five thousand out of that and have lent me the same amount. Call that quits. I will take up your note when it comes due; and destroy the one given to Heinzman. For all your holdings in our common business I will give you my note without interest and without time for one hundred thousand dollars. That is not its face value, nor anything like it, but you have caused me directly and indirectly considerable loss. I don't know how soon I can pay this note; but it will be paid."
"All right," agreed Newmark.
"Does that satisfy you?"
"I suppose it's got to."
"Very well. I have the papers here all made out. They need simply to be signed and witnessed. Timbull is the nearest notary."
He unlocked the outside door.
"Come," said he.
In silence the two walked the block and a half to the notary's house. Here they were forced to wait some time while Timbull dressed himself and called the necessary witnesses. Finally the papers were executed. In the street Newmark paused significantly. But Orde did not take the hint.
"Are you coming with me?" asked Newmark.
"I am," replied Orde. "There is one thing more."
In silence once more they returned to the shadowy low library filled with its evidences of good taste. Newmark threw himself into the armchair. He was quite recovered, once again the imperturbable, coldly calculating, cynical observer. Orde relocked the door, and turned to face him.
"You have five days to leave town," he said crisply. "Don't ever show up here again. Let me have your address for the payment of this note."
He took two steps forward.
"I've let you off from the pen because I didn't want my life bothered with the thought of you. But you've treated me like a hound. I've been loyal to the firm's interests from the start; and I've done my best by it. You knifed me in the back. You're a dirty, low-lived skunk. If you think you're going to get off scot- free, you're mightily mistaken."
He advanced two steps more. Newmark half arose.
"What do you mean?" he asked in some alarm.
"I mean that I'm going to give you about the worst licking you ever heard tell of," replied Orde, buttoning his coat.