The Riverman by Stewart Edward White
Orde heard no more of Newmark--and hardly thought of him--until over two weeks later.
In the meantime the riverman, assuming the more conventional garments of civilisation, lived with his parents in the old Orde homestead at the edge of town. This was a rather pretentious two- story brick structure, in the old solid, square architecture, surrounded by a small orchard, some hickories, and a garden. Orde's father had built it when he arrived in the pioneer country from New England forty years before. At that time it was considered well out in the country. Since then the town had crept to it, so that the row of grand old maples in front shaded a stone-guttered street. A little patch of corn opposite, and many still vacant lots above, placed it, however, as about the present limit of growth.
Jack Orde was the youngest and most energetic of a large family that had long since scattered to diverse cities and industries. He and Grandpa and Grandma Orde dwelt now in the big, echoing, old- fashioned house alone, save for the one girl who called herself the "help" rather than the servant. Grandpa Orde, now above sixty, was tall, straight, slender. His hair was quite white, and worn a little long. His features were finely chiselled and aquiline. From them looked a pair of piercing, young, black eyes. In his time, Grandpa Orde had been a mighty breaker of the wilderness; but his time had passed, and with the advent of a more intensive civilisation he had fallen upon somewhat straitened ways. Grandma Orde, on the other hand, was a very small, spry old lady, with a small face, a small figure, small hands and feet. She dressed in the then usual cap and black silk of old ladies. Half her time she spent at her housekeeping, which she loved, jingling about from cellar to attic store-room, seeing that Amanda, the "help," had everything in order. The other half she sat in a wooden "Dutch" rocking-chair by a window overlooking the garden. Her silk-shod feet rested neatly side by side on a carpet-covered hassock, her back against a gay tapestried cushion. Near her purred big Jim, a maltese rumoured to weigh fifteen pounds. Above her twittered a canary.
And the interior of the house itself was in keeping. The low ceilings, the slight irregularities of structure peculiar to the rather rule-of-thumb methods of the earlier builders, the deep window embrasures due to the thickness of the walls, the unexpected passages leading to unsuspected rooms, and the fact that many of these apartments were approached by a step or so up or a step or so down--these lent to it a quaint, old-fashioned atmosphere enhanced further by the steel engravings, the antique furnishings, the many- paned windows, and all the belongings of old people who have passed from a previous generation untouched by modern ideas.
To this house and these people Orde came direct from the greatness of the wilderness and the ferocity of Hell's Half-Mile. Such contrasts were possible even ten or fifteen years ago. The untamed country lay at the doors of the most modern civilisation.
Newmark, reappearing one Sunday afternoon at the end of the two weeks, was apparently bothered. He examined the Orde place for some moments; walked on beyond it; finding nothing there, he returned, and after some hesitation turned in up the tar sidewalk and pulled at the old-fashioned wire bell-pull. Grandma Orde herself answered the door.
At sight of her fine features, her dainty lace cap and mitts, and the stiffness of her rustling black silks, Newmark took off his gray felt hat.
"Good-afternoon," said he. "Will you kindly tell me where Mr. Orde lives?"
"This is Mr. Orde's," replied the little old lady.
"Pardon me," persisted Newmark, "I am looking for Mr. Jack Orde, and I was directed here. I am sorry to have troubled you."
"Mr. Jack Orde lives here," returned Grandma Orde. "He is my son. Would you like to see him?"
"If you please," assented Newmark gravely, his thin, shrewd face masking itself with its usual expression of quizzical cynicism.
"Step this way, please, and I'll call him," requested his interlocutor, standing aside from the doorway.
Newmark entered the cool, dusky interior, and was shown to the left into a dim, long room. He perched on a mahogany chair, and had time to notice the bookcases with the white owl atop, the old piano with the yellowing keys, the haircloth sofa and chairs, the steel engravings, and the two oil portraits, when Orde's large figure darkened the door.
For an instant the young man, who must just have come in from the outside sunshine, blinked into the dimness. Newmark, too, blinked back, although he could by this time see perfectly well.
Newmark had known Orde only as a riverman. Like most Easterners, then and now, he was unable to imagine a man in rough clothes as being anything but essentially a rough man. The figure he saw before him was decently and correctly dressed in what was then the proper Sunday costume. His big figure set off the cloth to advantage, and even his wind-reddened face seemed toned down and refined by the change in costume and surroundings.
"Oh, it's you, Mr. Newmark!" cried Orde in his hearty way, and holding out his hand. "I'm glad to see you. Where you been? Come on out of there. This is the 'company place.'" Without awaiting a reply, he led the way into the narrow hall, whence the two entered another, brighter room, in which Grandma Orde sat, the canary singing above her head.
"Mother," said Orde, "this is Mr. Newmark, who was with us on the drive this spring."
Grandma Orde laid her gold-bowed glasses and her black leather Bible on the stand beside her.
"Mr. Newmark and I spoke at the door," said she, extending her frail hand with dignity. "If you were on the drive, Mr. Newmark, you must have been one of the High Privates in this dreadful war we all read about."
Newmark laughed and made some appropriate reply. A few moments later, at Orde's suggestion, the two passed out a side door and back into the remains of the old orchard.
"It's pretty nice here under the trees," said Orde. "Sit down and light up. Where you been for the last couple of weeks?"
"I caught Johnson's drive and went on down river with him to the lake," replied Newmark, thrusting the offered cigar in one corner of his mouth and shaking his head at Orde's proffer of a light.
"You must like camp life."
"I do not like it at all," negatived Newmark emphatically, "but the drive interested me. It interested me so much that I've come back to talk to you about it."
"Fire ahead," acquiesced Orde.
"I'm going to ask you a few questions about yourself, and you can answer them or not, just as you please."
"Oh, I'm not bashful about my career," laughed Orde.
"How old are you?" inquired Newmark abruptly.
"How long have you been doing that sort of thing--driving, I mean?"
"Off and on, about six years."
"Why did you go into that particular sort of thing?"
Orde selected a twig and carefully threw it at a lump in the turf.
"Because there's nothing ahead of shovelling but dirt," he replied with a quaint grin.
"I see," said Newmark, after a pause. "Then you think there's more future to that sort of thing than the sort of thing the rest of your friends go in for--law, and wholesale groceries, and banking and the rest of it?"
"There is for me," replied Orde simply.
"Yet you're merely river-driving on a salary at thirty."
Orde flushed slowly, and shifted his position.
"Exactly so--Mr. District Attorney," he said drily.
Newmark started from his absorption in his questioning and shifted his unlighted cigar.
"Does sound like it," he admitted; "but I'm not asking all this out of idle curiosity. I've got a scheme in my head that I think may work out big for us both."
"Well," assented Orde reservedly, "in that case--I'm foreman on this drive because my outfit went kerplunk two years ago, and I'm making a fresh go at it."
"Failed?" inquired Newmark.
"Partner skedaddled," replied Orde. "Now, if you're satisfied with my family history, suppose you tell me what the devil you're driving at."
He was plainly restive under the cross-examination to which he had been subjected.
"Look here," said Newmark, abruptly changing the subject, "you know that rapids up river flanked by shallows, where the logs are always going aground?"
"I do," replied Orde, still grim.
"Well, why wouldn't it help to put a string of piers down both sides, with booms between them to hold the logs in the deeper water?"
"It would," said Orde.
"Why isn't it done, then?"
"Who would do it?" countered Orde, leaning back more easily in the interest of this new discussion. "If Daly did it, for instance, then all the rest of the drivers would get the advantage of it for nothing."
"Get them to pay their share."
Orde grinned. "I'd like to see you get any three men to agree to anything on this river."
"And a sort of dam would help at that Spruce Rapids?"
"Sure! If you improved the river for driving, she'd be easier to drive. That goes without saying."
"How many firms drive logs on this stream?"
"Ten," replied Orde, without hesitation.
"How many men do they employ?"
"Driving?" asked Orde.
"About five hundred; a few more or less."
"Now suppose," Newmark leaned forward impressively, "suppose a firm should be organised to drive all the logs on the river. Suppose it improved the river with necessary piers, dams, and all the rest of it, so that the driving would be easier. Couldn't it drive with less than five hundred men, and couldn't it save money on the cost of driving?"
"It might," agreed Orde.
"You know the conditions here. If such a firm should be organised and should offer to drive the logs for these ten firmsaat so much a thousand, do you suppose it would get the business?"
"It would depend on the driving firm," said Orde. "You see, mill men have got to have their logs. They can't afford to take chances. It wouldn't pay."
"Then that's all right," agreed Newmark, with a gleam of satisfaction across his thin face. "Would you form a partnership with me having such an object in view?"
Orde threw back his head and laughed with genuine amusement.
"I guess you don't realise the situation," said he. "We'd have to have a few little things like distributing booms, and tugs, and a lot of tools and supplies and works of various kinds."
"Well, we'd get them."
It was now Orde's turn to ask questions.
"How much are you worth?" he inquired bluntly.
"About twenty thousand dollars," replied Newmark.
"Well, if I raise very much more than twenty thousand cents, I'm lucky just now."
"How much capital would we have to have?" asked Newmark.
Orde thought for several minutes, twisting the petal of an old apple-blossom between his strong, blunt fingers.
"Somewhere near seventy-five thousand dollars," he estimated at last.
"That's easy," cried Newmark. "We'll make a stock company--say a hundred thousand shares. We'll keep just enough between us to control the company--say fifty-one thousand. I'll put in my pile, and you can pay for yours out of the earnings of the company."
"That doesn't sound fair," objected Orde.
"You pay interest," explained Newmark. "Then we'll sell the rest of the stock to raise the rest of the money."
"If we can," interjected Orde.
"I think we can," asserted Newmark.
Orde fell into a brown study, occasionally throwing a twig or a particle of earth at the offending lump in the turf. Overhead the migratory warblers balanced right-side up or up-side down, searching busily among the new leaves, uttering their simple calls. The air was warm and soft and still, the sky bright. Fat hens clucked among the grasses. A feel of Sunday was in the air.
"I must have something to live on," said he thoughtfully at last.
"So must I," said Newmark. "We'll have to pay ourselves salaries, of course, but the smaller the better at first. You'll have to take charge of the men and the work and all the rest of it--I don't know anything about that. I'll attend to the incorporating and the routine, and I'll try to place the stock. You'll have to see, first of all, whether you can get contracts from the logging firms to drive the logs."
"How can I tell what to charge them?"
"We'll have to figure that very closely. You know where these different drives would start from, and how long each of them would take?"
"Oh, yes; I know the river pretty well."
"Well, then we'll figure how many days' driving there is for each, and how many men there are, and what it costs for wages, grub, tools--we'll just have to figure as near as we can to the actual cost, and then add a margin for profit and for interest on our investment."
"It might work out all right," admitted Orde.
"I'm confident it would," asserted Newmark. "And there'd be no harm figuring it all out, would there?"
"No," agreed Orde, "that would be fun all right."
At this moment Amanda appeared at the back door and waved an apron.
"Mr. Jack!" she called. "Come in to dinner."
Newmark looked puzzled, and, as he arose, glanced surreptitiously at his watch. Orde seemed to take the summons as one to be expected, however. In fact, the strange hour was the usual Sunday custom in the Redding of that day, and had to do with the late-church freedom of Amanda and her like.
"Come in and eat with us," invited Orde. "We'd be glad to have you."
But Newmark declined.
"Come up to-morrow night, then, at half-past six, for supper," Orde urged him. "We can figure on these things a little. I'm in Daly's all day, and hardly have time except evenings."
To this Newmark assented. Orde walked with him down the deep-shaded driveway with the clipped privet hedge on one side, to the iron gate that swung open when one drove over a projecting lever. There he said good-bye.
A moment later he entered the long dining-room, where Grandpa and Grandma Orde were already seated. An old-fashioned service of smooth silver and ivory-handled steel knives gave distinction to the plain white linen. A tea-pot smothered in a "cosey" stood at Grandma Orde's right. A sirloin roast on a noble platter awaited Grandpa Orde's knife.
Orde dropped into his place with satisfaction.
"Shut up, Cheep!" he remarked to a frantic canary hanging in the sunshine.
"Your friend seems a nice-appearing young man," said Grandma Orde. "Wouldn't he stay to dinner?"
"I asked him," replied Orde, "but he couldn't. He and I have a scheme for making our everlasting fortunes."
"Who is he?" asked grandma.
Orde dropped his napkin into his lap with a comical chuckle of dismay.
"Blest if I have the slightest idea, mother," he said. "Newmark joined us on the drive. Said he was a lawyer, and was out in the woods for his health. He's been with us, studying and watching the work, ever since."