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The Valley of the Giants (Chapter12)

2006-08-22 19:48

  Chapter XII

  The days passed swiftly, as they have a habit of passing after one has discovered one's allotted task in life and has proceeded to perform it. Following his discovery of the outrage committed on his father's sanctuary, Bryce wasted considerable valuable time and effort in a futile endeavour to gather some further hint of the identity of the vandals; but despairing at last, he dismissed the matter from his mind, resolving only that on Thursday he would go up into Pennington's woods and interview the redoubtable Jules Rondeau. Bryce's natural inclination was to wait upon M. Rondeau immediately, if not sooner, but the recollection of his dinner engagement at the Pennington home warned him to proceed cautiously; for while harbouring no apprehensions as to the outcome of a possible clash with Rondeau, Bryce was not so optimistic as to believe he would escape unscathed from an encounter. Experience had impressed upon him the fact that in a rough-and-tumble battle nobody is quite so thoroughly at home as a lumberjack; once in a clinch with such a man, even a champion gladiator of the prize ring may well feel apprehensive of the outcome.

  Wednesday evening at five o'clock Mr. Sinclair, the manager, came into Bryce's office with a handful of folded papers. “I have here,” he announced in his clerky voice with a touch of solemnity to it, “a trial balance. I have not had time to make an exact inventory; but in order to give you some idea of the condition of your father's affairs, I have used approximate figures and prepared a profit-and- loss account.”

  Bryce reached for the papers.

  “You will note the amount charged off to profit and loss under the head of 'Pensions,' Sinclair continued. ”It amounts approximately to two thousand dollars a month, and this sum represents payments to crippled employees and the dependent families of men killed in the employ of the Company.

  “In addition to these payments, your father owns thirty-two thirty- acre farms which he has cleared from his logged-over lands. These little farms are equipped with bungalows and outbuildings built by your father and represent a considerable investment. As you know, these farms are wonderfully rich, and are planted in apples and berries. Other lands contiguous to them sell readily at two hundred dollars an acre, and so you will see that your father has approximately two hundred thousand dollars tied up in these little farms.”

  “But he has given a life-lease at nothing a year for each farm to former employees who have been smashed beyond the possibility of doing the hard work of the mill and woods,” Bryce reminded the manager. “Hence you must not figure those farms among our assets.”

  “Why not?” Sinclair replied evenly. “Formal leases have never been executed, and the tenants occupy the property at your father's pleasure.”

  “I think that will be about as far as the discussion on that point need proceed,” Bryce replied smilingly. “My father's word has always been considered sufficient in this country; his verbal promise to pay has always been collateral enough for those who know him.”

  “But my dear boy,” Sinclair protested, “while that sort of philanthropy is very delightful when one can afford the luxury, it is scarcely practical when one is teetering on the verge of financial ruin. After all, Bryce, self-preservation is the first law of human nature, and the sale of those farms would go a long way toward helping the Cardigan Redwood Lumber Company out of the hole it is in at present.”

  “And we're really teetering on the edge of financial ruin, eh?” Bryce queried calmly.

  “That is expressing your condition mildly. The semi-annual payment of interest on the bonded indebtedness falls due on July first——and we're going to default on it, sure as death and taxes. Colonel Pennington holds a majority of our bonds, and that means prompt suit for foreclosure.”

  “Well, then, Sinclair,” Bryce retorted, carefully pigeon-holing the documents the manager had handed him, “I'll tell you what we'll do. For fifty years my father has played the game in this community like a sport and a gentleman, and I'll be damned if his son will dog it now, at the finish. I gather from your remarks that we could find ready sale for those thirty-two little farms?”

  “I am continually receiving offers for them.”

  “Then they were not included in the list of properties covered by our bonded indebtedness?”

  “No, your father refused to include them. He said he would take a chance on the financial future of himself and his boy, but not on his helpless dependents.”

  “Good old John Cardigan! Well, Sinclair, I'll not take a chance on them either; so to-morrow morning you will instruct our attorney to draw up formal life-leases on those farms, and to make certain they are absolutely unassailable. Colonel Pennington may have the lands sold to satisfy a deficiency judgment against us, but while those life-leases from the former owner are in force, my father's proteges cannot be dispossessed. After they are dead, of course, Pennington may take the farms——and be damned to him.”

  Sinclair stared in frank amazement at his youthful superior. “You are throwing away two hundred thousand dollars,” he said distinctly.

  “I haven't thrown it away——yet. You forget, Sinclair, that we're going to fight first——and fight like fiends; then if we lose——well, the tail goes with the hide, By the way, Sinclair, are any of those farms untenanted at the present time?”

  “Yes. Old Bill Tarpey, who lost his three boys in a forest fire over on the San Hedrin, passed out last week. The Tarpey boys died in the Cardigan employ, and so your father gave Bill the use of a farm out near Freshwater.”

  “Well, you'd better be his successor, Sinclair. You're no longer a young man, and you've been thirty years in this office. Play safe, Sinclair, and include yourself in one of those life-leases.”

  “My dear boy——”

  “Nonsense! United we stand, divided we fall, Sinclair; and let there be no moaning of the bar when a Cardigan puts out to sea.”

  Smiling, he rose from his desk, patted the bewildered Sinclair on the latter's grizzled head, and then reached for his hat. “I'm dining out to-night, Sinclair, and I wouldn't be a kill-joy at the feast, for a ripe peach. Your confounded figures might make me gloomy; so we'll just reserve discussion of them till to-morrow morning. Be a sport, Sinclair, and for once in your life beat the six o'clock whistle. In other words, I suggest that you go home and rest for once.”

  He left Sinclair staring at him rather stupidly.

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