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The Valley of the Giants (Chapter4)

2006-08-22 19:42

  Chapter IV

  The succeeding years of Bryce Cardigan's life, until he completed his high-school studies and went East to Princeton, were those of the ordinary youth in a small and somewhat primitive country town. He made frequent trips to San Francisco with his father, taking passage on the steamer that made bi-weekly trips between Sequoia and the metropolis——as The Sequoia Sentinel always referred to San Francisco. He was an expert fisherman, and the best shot with rifle or shot-gun in the county; he delighted in sports and, greatly to the secret delight of his father showed a profound interest in the latter's business.

  Throughout the happy years of Bryce's boyhood his father continued to enlarge and improve his sawmill, to build more schooners, and to acquire more redwood timber. Lands, the purchase of which by Cardigan a decade before had caused his neighbours to impugn his judgment, now developed strategical importance. As a result those lands necessary to consolidate his own holdings came to him at his own price, while his adverse holdings that blocked the logging operations of his competitors went from him——also at his own price. In fact, all well- laid plans matured satisfactorily with the exception of one, and since it has a very definite bearing on the story, the necessity for explaining it is paramount.

  Contiguous to Cardigan's logging operations to the east and north of Sequoia, and comparatively close in, lay a block of two thousand acres of splendid timber, the natural, feasible, and inexpensive outlet for which, when it should be logged, was the Valley of the Giants. For thirty years John Cardigan had played a waiting game with the owner of that timber, for the latter was as fully obsessed with the belief that he was going to sell it to John Cardigan at a dollar and a half per thousand feet stumpage as Cardigan was certain he was going to buy it for a dollar a thousand——when he should be ready to do so and not one second sooner. He calculated, as did the owner of the timber, that the time to do business would be a year or two before the last of Cardigan's timber in that section should be gone.

  Eventually the time for acquiring more timber arrived. John Cardigan, meeting his neighbour on the street, accosted him thus:

  “Look here, Bill: isn't it time we got together on that timber of yours? You know you've been holding it to block me and force me to buy at your figure.”

  “That's why I bought it,” the other admitted smilingly. “Then, before I realized my position, you checkmated me with that quarter-section in the valley, and we've been deadlocked ever since.”

  “I'll give you a dollar a thousand stumpage for your timber, Bill.”

  “I want a dollar and a half.”

  “A dollar is my absolute limit.”

  “Then I'll keep my timber.”

  “And I'll keep my money. When I finish logging in my present holdings, I'm going to pull out of that country and log twenty miles south of Sequoia. I have ten thousand acres in the San Hedrin watershed. Remember, Bill, the man who buys your timber will have to log it through my land——and I'm not going to log that quarter-section in the valley. Hence there will be no outlet for your timber in back.”

  “Not going to log it? Why, what are you going to do with it?”

  “I'm just going to let it stay there until I die. When my will is filed for probate, your curiosity will be satisfied——but not until then.”

  The other laughed. “John,” he declared, “you just haven't got the courage to pull out when your timber adjoining mine is gone, and move twenty miles south to the San Hedrin watershed. That will be too expensive a move, and you'll only be biting off your nose to spite your face. Come through with a dollar and a half, John.”

  “I never bluff, Bill. Remember, if I pull out for the San Hedrin, I'll not abandon my logging-camps there to come back and log your timber. One expensive move is enough for me. Better take a dollar, Bill. It's a good, fair price, as the market on redwood timber is now, and you'll be making an even hundred per cent, on your investment. Remember, Bill, if I don't buy your timber, you'll never log it yourself and neither will anybody else. You'll be stuck with it for the next forty years——and taxes aren't getting any lower. Besides, there's a good deal of pine and fir in there, and you know what a forest fire will do to that.”

  “I'll hang on a little longer, I think.”

  “I think so, too,” John Cardigan replied. And that night, as was his wont, even though he realized that it was not possible for Bryce to gain a profound understanding of the business problems to which he was heir, John Cardigan discussed the Squaw Creek timber with his son, relating to him the details of his conversation with the owner.

  “I suppose he thinks you're bluffing,” Bryce commented.

  “I'm not, Bryce. I never bluff——that is, I never permit a bluff of mine to be called, and don't you ever do it, either. Remember that, boy. Any time you deliver a verdict, be sure you're in such a position you won't have to reverse yourself. I'm going to finish logging in that district this fall, so if I'm to keep the mill running, I'll have to establish my camps on the San Hedrin watershed right away.”

  Bryce pondered. “But isn't it cheaper to give him his price on Squaw Creek timber than go logging in the San Hedrin and have to build twenty miles of logging railroad to get your logs to the mill?”

  “It would be, son, if I had to build the railroad. Fortunately, I do not. I'll just shoot the logs down the hillside to the San Hedrin River and drive them down the stream to a log-boom on tidewater.”

  “But there isn't enough water in the San Hedrin to float a redwood log, Dad. I've fished there, and I know.”

  “Quite true——in the summer and fall. But when the winter freshets come on and the snow begins to melt in the spring up in the Yola Bolas, where the San Hedrin has its source, we'll have plenty of water for driving the river. Once we get the logs down to tide-water, we'll raft them and tow them up to the mill. So you see, Bryce, we won't be bothered with the expense of maintaining a logging railroad, as at present.”

  Bryce looked at his father admiringly. “I guess Dan Keyes is right, Dad,” he said. “Dan says you're crazy——like a fox. Now I know why you've been picking up claims in the San Hedrin watershed.”

  “No, you don't, Bryce. I've never told you, but I'll tell you now the real reason. Humboldt County has no rail connection with the outside world, so we are forced to ship our lumber by water. But some day a railroad will be built in from the south——from San Francisco; and when it comes, the only route for it to travel is through our timber in the San Hedrin Valley. I've accumulated that ten thousand acres for you, my son, for the railroad will never be built in my day. It may come in yours, but I have grown weary waiting for it, and now that my hand is forced, I'm going to start logging there. It doesn't matter, son. You will still be logging there fifty years from now. And when the railroad people come to you for a right of way, my boy, give it to them. Don't charge them a cent. It has always been my policy to encourage the development of this county, and I want you to be a forward-looking, public-spirited citizen. That's why I'm sending you East to college. You've been born and raised in this town, and you must see more of the world. You mustn't be narrow or provincial, because I'm saving up for you, my son, a great many responsibilities, and I want to educate you to meet them bravely and sensibly.”

  He paused, regarding the boy gravely and tenderly. “Bryce, lad,” he said presently, “do you ever wonder why I work so hard and barely manage to spare the time to go camping with you in vacation time?”

  “Why don't you take it easy, Dad? You do work awfully hard, and I have wondered about it.”

  “I have to work hard, my son, because I started something a long time ago, when work was fun. And now I can't let go. I employ too many people who are dependent on me for their bread and butter. When they plan a marriage or the building of a home or the purchase of a cottage organ, they have to figure me in on the proposition. I didn't have a name for the part I played in these people's lives until the other night when I was helping you with your algebra. I'm the unknown quantity.”

  “Oh, no,” Bryce protested. “You're the known quantity.”

  Cardigan smiled. “Well, maybe I am,” he admitted. “I've always tried to be. And if I have succeeded, then you're the unknown quantity, Bryce, because some day you'll have to take my place; they will have to depend upon you when I am gone. Listen to me, son. You're only a boy, and you can't understand everything I tell you now, but I want you to remember what I tell you, and some day understanding will come to you. You mustn't fail the people who work for you——who are dependent upon your strength and brains and enterprises to furnish them with an opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When you are the boss of Cardigan's mill, you must keep the wheels turning; you must never shut down the mill or the logging- camps in dull times just to avoid a loss you can stand better than your employees.”

  His hard, trembling old hand closed over the boy's. “I want you to be a brave and honourable man,” he concluded.

  True to his word, when John Cardigan finished his logging in his old, original holdings adjacent to Sequoia and Bill Henderson's Squaw Creek timber, he quietly moved south with his Squaw Creek woods-gang and joined the crew already getting out logs in the San Hedrin watershed. Not until then did Bill Henderson realize that John Cardigan had called his bluff——whereat he cursed himself for a fool and a poor judge of human nature. He had tried a hold-up game and had failed; a dollar a thousand feet stumpage was a fair price; for years he had needed the money; and now, when it was too late, he realized his error. Luck was with Henderson, however; for shortly thereafter there came again to Sequoia one Colonel Seth Pennington, a millionaire white-pine operator from Michigan. The Colonel's Michigan lands had been logged off, and since he had had one taste of cheap timber, having seen fifty-cent stumpage go to five dollars, the Colonel, like Oliver Twist, desired some more of the same. On his previous visit to Sequoia he had seen his chance awaiting him in the gradually decreasing market for redwood lumber and the corresponding increase of melancholia in the redwood operators; hence he had returned to Michigan, closed out his business interests there, and returned to Sequoia on the alert for an investment in redwood timber. From a chair-warmer on the porch of the Hotel Sequoia, the Colonel had heard the tale of how stiff-necked old John Cardigan had called the bluff of equally stiff-necked old Bill Henderson; so for the next few weeks the Colonel, under pretense of going hunting or fishing on Squaw Creek, managed to make a fairly accurate cursory cruise of the Henderson timber——following which he purchased it from the delighted Bill for a dollar and a quarter per thousand feet stumpage and paid for it with a certified check. With his check in his hand, Henderson queried:

  “Colonel, how do you purpose logging that timber?”

  The Colonel smiled. “Oh, I don't intend to log it. When I log timber, it has to be more accessible. I'm just going to hold on and outgame your former prospect, John Cardigan. He needs that timber; he has to have it——and one of these days he'll pay me two dollars for it.”

  Bill Henderson raised an admonitory finger and shook it under the Colonel's nose. “Hear me, stranger,” he warned. “When you know John Cardigan as well as I do, you'll change your tune. He doesn't bluff.”

  “He doesn't?” The Colonel laughed derisively. “Why, that move of his over to the San Hedrin was the most monumental bluff ever pulled off in this country.”

  “All right, sir. You wait and see.”

  “I've seen already. I know.”

  “How do you know?”

  “Well, for one thing, Henderson, I noticed Cardigan has carefully housed his rolling-stock——and he hasn't scrapped his five miles of logging railroad and three miles of spurs.”

  Old Bill Henderson chewed his quid of tobacco reflectively and spat at a crack in the sidewalk. “No,” he replied, “I'll admit he ain't started scrappin' it yet, but I happen to know he's sold the rollin'- stock an' rails to the Freshwater Lumber Company, so I reckon they'll be scrappin' that railroad for him before long.”

  The Colonel was visibly moved. “If your information is authentic,” he said slowly, “I suppose I'll have to build a mill on tidewater and log the timber.”

  “'Twon't pay you to do that at the present price of redwood lumber.”

  “I'm in no hurry. I can wait for better times.”

  “Well, when better times arrive, you'll find that John Cardigan owns the only water-front property on this side of the bay where the water's deep enough to let a ship lie at low tide and load in safety.”

  “There is deep water across the bay and plenty of water-front property for sale. I'll find a mill-site there and tow my logs across.”

  “But you've got to dump 'em in the water on this side. Everything north of Cardigan's mill is tide-flat; he owns all the deep-water frontage for a mile south of Sequoia, and after that come more tide- flats. If you dump your logs on these tide-flats, they'll bog down in the mud, and there isn't water enough at high tide to float 'em off or let a tug go in an' snake 'em off.”

  “You're a discouraging sort of person,” the Colonel declared irritably. “I suppose you'll tell me now that I can't log my timber without permission from Cardigan.”

  Old Bill spat at another crack; his faded blue eyes twinkled mischievously. “No, that's where you've got the bulge on John, Colonel. You can build a logging railroad from the southern fringe of your timber north and up a ten per cent. grade on the far side of the Squaw Creek watershed, then west three miles around a spur of low hills, and then south eleven miles through the level country along the bay shore. If you want to reduce your Squaw Creek grade to say two per cent., figure on ten additional miles of railroad and a couple extra locomotives. You understand, of course, Colonel, that no Locomotive can haul a long trainload of redwood logs up a long, crooked, two per cent. grade. You have to have an extry in back to push.”

  “Nonsense! I'll build my road from Squaw Creek gulch south through that valley where those whopping big trees grow. That's the natural outlet for the timber. See here:” [graphic]

  Colonel Pennington took from his pocket the rough sketch-map of the region which we have reproduced herewith and pointed to the spot numbered “11.”

  “But that valley ain't logged yet,” explained Henderson.

  “Don't worry. Cardigan will sell that valley to me——also a right of way down his old railroad grade and through his logged-over lands to tidewater.”

  “Bet you a chaw o' tobacco he won't. Those big trees in that valley ain't goin' to be cut for no railroad right o' way. That valley's John Cardigan's private park; his wife's buried up there. Why, Colonel, that's the biggest grove of the biggest sequoia sempervirens in the world, an' many's the time I've heard John say he'd almost as lief cut off his right hand as fell one o' his giants, as he calls 'em. I tell you, Colonel, John Cardigan's mighty peculiar about them big trees. Any time he can get a day off he goes up an' looks 'em over.”

  “But, my very dear sir,” the Colonel protested, “if the man will not listen to reason, the courts will make him. I can condemn a right of way, you know.”

  “We-ll,” said old Bill, wagging his head sagely, “mebbe you can, an' then again mebbe you can't. It took me a long time to figger out just where I stood, but mebbe you're quicker at figgers than I am. Anyhow, Colonel, good luck to you, whichever way the cat jumps.”

  This illuminating conversation had one effect on Colonel Seth Pennington. It decided him to make haste slowly; so without taking the trouble to make the acquaintance of John Cardigan, he returned to Detroit, there to await the next move in this gigantic game of chess.

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