Timkins’ Corner

Alan Sullivan March 1 1912

Timkins’ Corner

Alan Sullivan March 1 1912

Timkins’ Corner

Alan Sullivan

"DECEMBER wheat closes 85-78 to 86.” The boy at the ticker drawled it lazily and Timkins traced the figures on the blackboard; small, neat, modulated figures that admitted of no misreading. Then there was a noise, of shuffling feet and swinging doors, and the fat men who had been sitting with fat cigars in front of the board drifted out till ten o’clock should strike on the Chicago gong in the morning. Timkins looked after them with something of contempt. They daily filled the offices of Ward Thompson, but they were only the unavoidable fringe of humanity that every broker must suffer in silence. To them a five thousand bushel deal, which was also the minimum, was enormous, portentous. The loss of a point was disastrous and more or less eliminating. But the real clients of Ward & Thompson never appeared. When one of the partners put his head out of the private office took a swift glance at the board and vanished as swiftly, then the loafers looked wise and nodded, and Timkins knew that something was doing. Who the big men were he did not know; all he knew was that the few were making money hugely, in inconceivable amounts, and that the little fellows were ceaselessly feeding them, just as ceaselessly as the small organisms of the deep sea swim into the whale’s distended jaws.

That is what he was thinking when the office boy began to sweep up the cigar butts, and from that his mind turned to home. Timkins had very fixed ideas about home, much too fixed his wife said, for Timkins had worked it out something like this: A man may take risks if he

does not risk anything, except himself, but when there are others involved, it is an

entirely different thing. Thus, when one’s wife and two children are dependent upon one’s twenty dollars a week, risks are out of the question. Arabel did not look at it this way. She credited Timkins with unparalleled genius that only needed an opportunity to assert itself. She read the stock reports and the grain markets; she upbraided Timkins with the chances he daily lost, and was, in fact, an embryonic plunger. But her husband knew that he could not move very far without running up against his own limitations. So he just held his head and smoothed down Arabel’s ruffled plumage, and spent his Sunday afternoon with the children, instead of figuring out liabilities.

Now, it takes a mind of a certain calibre to be contented with the twenty dollars a week that had just been slipped into his upper inside pocket, and to smilingly combat marital complaints at one and the same time ; and Timkins, in spite of himself, was getting a little tired of it. So, for once in his life, instead of making for the nearest subway station the moment the office closed, he settled down in one of the big leather chairs and gave himself over to day dreams. The boy departed in a trail of dusty air which the July afternoon sun transformed pleasantly into aisles of dancing light. Ward & Thompson disappeared with a banging of doors to their waiting motor cars. The mingled sounds of traffic in the canyon street below drifted up and into the silent board room, and Timkins stretched himself with a new strange sense of unhampered and personal freedom.

Just where his mind took him, he cared not. For once he had divorced himself from the small confining strangling influences that had dominated him for years.

He was waiting—for something—he did not know what, but, he was waiting, and his eyes were heavy.

Presently he rose with a start, seized his hat and descended three flights to the street. A motor car was there, and, at the sight of him, the chauffeur touched the peak of his cap and reached back to open the panelled door. Timkins never looked at him, but stepped lightly in. “Home,” he said sharply. Then the car glided forward and Timkins looked carelessly about.

A bunch of carnations smiled from a cut-glass holder, and a box of cigars lay on the cushions beside a pile of evening financial papers. He selected a weed, and, leaning forward, picked up an electric cigar lighter and projected from a gilded socket; then he settled back in the corner and smoked thoughtfully.

The car moved majestically up Broadway, turned into Seventh Avenue, traversed that wide thoroughfare from end to end, and swung across west to Riversido Drive, and, all the time, Timkins sat back in his corner and stared straight ahead with unseeing eyes.

At the iron gateway of a big stone house that looked across at the Palisades, the motor stopped, and the little man slowly ascended. The plate glass doors opened at his approach, and a footman said respectfully: “Mrs. Timkins is in the morning room, sir,” and there Timkins found her. Arabel was radiant, and kissed him affectionately. “Had a heavy day, dear?”

“Not very,” said Timkins diffidently, “going out?”

“Crush at the Venderheims. Can’t very well get out of it, but I depend on you for to-night.”

“Opera?” said Timkins, thoughtfully. “Can’t do it. Too much on.”

His wife looked at him anxiously. “Fred, can’t you be content? Do you want itaH?”

“I want my end of it,” replied her husband, with a nervous decision, “and I’m going to get it. Don’t worry about me, run off and enjoy yourself.”

He watched her admiringly. Arabel had never looked so well. Prosperity was meat and drink to her nature, as much as to her plump and favored body. And the children, no less than their mother, had taken to it like ducks to the farm-yard

pond. Fred, junior, was at Princeton; Arabel, junior, was getting a continental finish in Paris. Timkins was securing all round value for his money. There was no question of that.

He strolled into the immense bronze and leather library, and reviewed the markets. The reports had begun to reflect his own preconceived opinions, those opinions on the strength of which he had mortgaged everything and plunged, even as Arabel had pleaded. By small, but gradually increasing units, he had sold stocks and bought wheat, using the profits on his sales to increase his holdings. There had, of course, been reverses. Looking back on them, he laughed that the term should have been employed—but now, the position was briefly this:

Timkins was very long on wheat, he was a big bull. In the spring his agents had been everywhere, in Russia, India, the Argentine, and all over the great wheat-bearing area of the United States. And one by one the confidential reports had drifted in. Russia had no reserves and tension on the German boundary was acute; an offensive alliance had been secretly arranged between Turkey and the great German Kingdom, involving the closing of the Black Sea in case of war, and that would tie up the Russian supplies. India was dried out, the cracked earth refused to germinate seed, and durum was selling at twice last year’s price in the bazaars. As to the Argentine, whose President was a close friend of Timkins, private advices were that the old trouble with Chile threatened to break at any moment, and Chile had sent her fleet with sealed orders eastward round the Horn; the fleet of fifteen super-dreadnoughts, on which Vickers Maxim and the Cramps had been working double time for the last three years. And for the United States, the story was—rust—with perhaps a quarter of the previous year’s crop held over, and available.

All these things, and a thousand more, moved through Timkins’ mind as he read the daily reports that had come in over his private Chicago and Winnipeg wires; for half of his business was done in Winnipeg, which now distributed the vast product of Western Canada.

December wheat—he reckoned the storm would burst before December—had opened at 1.10, declined to 1.09, risen in quick spasmodic jumps to 112% and closed, nervous and excited, at 111%. The previous month he had bought over ten million bushels, between 95 and par, and added them to millions more that had been quietly picked up before the news of European restlessness reached the sensitive nerves of the American markets. But now the omens were unmistakable.

Timkins lighted another cigar and thought hard. He had begun to recognize certain changes in his own temperament and point of view. He had decided that the world owed him personally a good deal, and he was out to get it. And, with the thought of his own power, came also the idea of absolutism, only an idea so far, but still pressing and formative enough to demand recognition and consideration. Some men would have shrunk from the thought of having myriads of others under their sway, but Timkins had proved so completely to his own satisfaction how helpless most men are that the dream of dominion over them did not seem either unnatural or unreasonable. Then and there the ambition took root. He pondered and brooded over it, deaf to Arabel’s pleadings for his company at the opera. The ego in him had found it«elf and was alive^ and it was under the domination of that ego that, he laid those gigantic plans which shortly focussed on him first, the attention and then the fear of the world at large.

The next morning the grain market was convulsed and wheat leaped skyward, but he did not buy. He sold a little at top prices instead, and within the next week foreign news took on a more amicable aspect. Then wheat settled down, and he bought silently and avidly, till the government report came out to set the pot boiling again, and simultaneously news flashed from Magellan that the Chilian fleet, had passed the straits, and was headed north. Wheat again jumped in quick chaotic spurts—but there was no wheat for sale.

That evening he received a petition from two of the largest firms in Chicago, c

They were short—would he settle—and at what terms?

Timkins smiled grimly as the strings began to tighten. He settled, for wheat, that is for the wheat itself, to be delivered at a given point on the Atlantic coast; and for weeks the burdened cars dumped it into his warehouses by trainload and trainload.

Then a word sped to Winnipeg, and there arose at Brandon storehouse after storehouse, and soon their floors were deep in the tribute of the prairie farms.

Just about this time things began to happen in Europe; and, at the suggestion of the German Ambassador to Constantinople, mines were sown across the Bosphorus, and the Prussian North, Atlantic squadron was ordered to patrol the Baltic. Thus, you will see, Russian wheat was as completely locked up as though it were all in the safest of deposit vaults. But it is not to be supposed that Timkins himself was lost sight of in the turmoil. The papers took care of that, and, such is the power of power itself, the very overwhelming strength of the man’s position invested his small insignificant personality with strange and portentous qualities. By this time also he had so guarded his position that he was an international personage, a citizen no longer of one republic, but one who had sent out tentacles and filaments of influence that began to be felt in every great community.

On the Grain Exchange there was hardly an appreciable business. Timkins occasionally sold—a little—but it was a drop out of the vast resources he had collected. Stocks dropped, as he knew they must drop, and he covered his short sales and built more storehouses. ' The season for planting fall wheat came around, and such as was planted was by his mercy, for so completely had the rust, destroyed the western grain that only from Alberta and Saskatchewan were any considerable supplies available, and Timkins had cornered those. Then came that hour, that great hour, when strive as he might, the despot was born in him. Up to this time he had been a latent, a potential, despot.

One evening, alone in his big library, he received a joint deputation from the English and American Governments;

wise, grave men who carried the burden of the well-being of nations on their shoulders. Their mission was unfolded with diplomatic delicacy, and, listening to it, Timkins was divided between a bursting pride and a ghastly desire to laugh aloud at their helplessness. The two spokesmen were the American Secretary of the Interior and the English Minister for foreign affairs. When they had finished and told him the things he knew they were going to tell him, he broke out:

“I won’t do it. Why should I? Who put me where I am? Myself. I owe no man anything.”

“Humanity would suggest”—put in the Secretary.,

“Curse humanity ! What did it ever do for me, except try to grind my life out for a pittance. Humanity is going to learn something now, and learn it from me.”

He walked up and down the long room with quick, jerky strides: “You talk

about the remedy of legislation. Do you remember a speech you made this last summer when you pointed out to the labor unions what you called ‘the sacred right of property?’ I heard that speech, and it was a darn good one. Now I want to point out to you the sacred rights of my property, and tell you that no legislation can ever take it out of my hands.”

“You propose to visit the sins of the unjust upon the just,” said the English diplomat, soberly, “I can hardly believe that.”

“Visit nothing,” snarled Timkins. “When I want to give wheat away, I’ll give it—when I don’t, I won’t—that’s all there is to it.”

The Secretary of the Interior was thinking very hard. “Mr. Timkins, put it this way: You have attained an extraordin-

ary—an unparalleled position. You are in a sense a dictator of the civilized world, and, as such, you have enormous responsibilities. It lies with you to make the name of American revered or loathed. “What—” he said earnestly—“what are you going to do about that?”

The chest of Timkins expanded and his eyes flashed. That was it. From the mouth of a statesman the word had come. The dictator of the world. Suddenly he felt akin with the great ones of history, and through his veins sped something

divinely strange. Now he would show that he was indeed a dictator.

“Gentlemen,” he replied, “at this time to-morrow and here, I will dictate my

terms.”

The two glanced at each other. “At this time to-morrow,’ they repeated, and, bowing, left him alone in the big bronze and leather room.

Timkins, plunged in meditation, sat for hours staring into the fire. The great house had subsided into slumber till only its omnipotent master moved within it, and even he, dazed with the fruition of all his desires, moved but seldom. The facts as he reviewed them were briefly these: Russia was at war on the German frontier ; so far as wheat was concerned she had enough, but none could pass the inflexible mines of the Bosphorous. As for Vladivostock, he had agents there to pick up anything that came in over the Transiberian. India was hungry. Riots had commenced at Bengal and Nepal, and the English administration was importing rice from China, and people generally were at their wit’s end. Down at Argentina the Chilian fleet was pouring shells into Buenos Ayres, whose capitulation was daily expected. In the interior the wheat was locked up, much of it hidden from the expected hosts of the invader.

There remained then, Canada and the United States. As to Canada, limited supplies were being forwarded to England by Timkins’ wish, but so limited were they that the transcontinental lines were ribbed with miles of empty box cars, and rushing locomotives. (Timkins had leanings toward England, for his father had been a Yorkshire tyke, and worked in the woolen mills of Huddersfield).

Last of all, the great republic was swept bare of wheat, except that doled out for farmers’ seed. The big mills at Minneapolis were running quarter time on Timkins’ allowance, and flour was retailing at ten cents a pound. His storehouses, bursting with grain, were surrounded by armed guards, themselves jealously watched by lean militia and State troops. The world was on edge, and, in spite of himself, in spite of all the fortifications of his vast power, Timkins began to wonder. Then through the silence of the vast house, past his own private detectives that paced the

grounds, faint suggestive sounds began tc drift in ; sounds that he knew could nevei reach him there, but that somehow did reach him. There was the sound of a child crying, a weak plaintive note that brought back uncertain snatches of memory of the months that followed the birth of Arabel, junior. Then the sound of women weeping, that seemed almost to perpetuate the hunger and suffering of women all the world over; and, beneath that, a deeper, stronger tone, the tone of curses and groans and horrible muttered threats and imprecations of men whose souls were turning them to death and destruction. He listened for a while, pushing his hands out into the air; but the faint noises seemed to slip his fingers and assail his ears again. Then he walked uncertainly over to a cabinet and poured out a glass of whisky: “Till

to-morrow,” he said nervously, “just till to-morrow,” but that night the detectives were doubled.

Within the next twenty-four hours the Black Sea squadron of the Russian fleet was blown to pieces in the Bosphorous, and there had been a severe naval engagement in the Baltic with honors even and much loss of life. Rioting had started amongst the foreign laborers in Pittsburg, suppressed also with many casualities, and the United States War Department had organized a militia patrol in most of the larger cities. Timkins knew it all as soon as it happened, but he was too busy working out his terms to be much affected. Then, promptly at half past eight, his visitors were announced.

He had spent some time in considering how his terms Should be delivered, there was enough of the dramatic in him for that, but, when the two statesmen faced him, there was something in their grave demeanour that banished everything elocutionary, and he became, as ever, his brisk unmodulated self.

“Gentlemen, my terms,” he said, and 'handed them a single sheet scrawled with four paragraphs of his own methodical handwriting.

The Secretary received it and glanced at the Englishman with lifted brows.

“Please,” said the latter.

“I require that Chile and the Argentine shall at once sign a treaty of peace for the

next one hundred years, and that war be terminated forthwith.

“'Also that Germany and Russia come to similar terms.

“I require that the United States immediately pass legislation that no individual shall in the future buy or possess more than five million bushels of wheat.

“In consideration of which, I make over to the United States Government all my present holdings of wheat at a price of ten per cent, above the cost price to me.”

The committee of two stared hard at Timkins. He met it defiantly: “My

terms, gentlemen; those are my terms.”

The statesmen exchanged glances and the Secretary, spoke, “Your terms are impossible, sir.”

“Why?” said Timkins doggedly.

“In the first place, we have no rights over the powers at present at war. Their affairs are their own. International amenities make our interference impossible.

“In the second place, such legislation as you demand is equally impossible. _ No government can determine what a private individual shall buy or in what amount.” He looked at the English Minister: “I think we are agreed on this.”

The latter bowed. “Is there no alternative?” he said shortly.

Timkins’ eyes, brilliant with excitement, darted from one to the other, then he addressed the Secretary.

“You say you have no right over tinpowers at war. Do you believe that if England and the United States demanded the stopping of these wars they would go on?”

•“They hardly could go on,’.’ the Secretary said with the ghost of a smile, “but”—

“Would it engage England and the United States in war to demand it?” snapped Timkins.

“We don’t think so, as matters armament stand at present,” said the Englishman with a touch of pride.

“These wars are killing more people than I am,” said Timkins savagely. You can stop them, but you don’t. Why don’t you?” he burst out. “You can rule the world for peace, just as I rule it for wheat. Why don’t you?”

For a moment neither spoke, then the Secretary asked: “And as for the rest?”

“As for that I’ll tell you. I’ve cornered wheat, and, I don’t want anyone else to corner it—ever. I’ve done it; I just had to do it; but it’s bad, it’s rotten. Just the same, I want the Timkins corner to be the last of them all. You don’t know what brokers are. We take a sort of pride in a corner, and mine is a big one, as you’ll both admit. Now, do you see? Just patch up peace and do a little legislating and I’ll drop out. I’ve had enough. I’m tired— I’m—what’s that!”

Two rifle shots barked outside in quick succession, and the big plate glass window at the end of the room flew into splinters. On the instant the 'three men ducked and a bullet sang overhead and buried itself with a cough in the third volume of Carlyle’s French Revolution.

Through the shattered glass came the tound of shouting and factory whistles and the sharp clatter of racing feet on the stone pavement. Behind and beneath all this was a dull turbulent murmur, through which a loud shouting broke sharply and grew momentarily louder. Then came the unmistakable multitudinous roaring of thousands of men, a roaring that was terrible with threats and imprecations of death and destruction.

“What is it, gentlemen?” said Timkins, piteously. “What is it?”

“Your terms have come a little too late, that is all,” said the Englishman quietly; then he crooked his finger toward the street. “They will make the terms now— not you.”

A quick word of command sounded in front of the house, followed by a lull, in which Timkins shivered as he heard the snapping of breech locks, then another word, more terrible still, and the rifles cracked.

“Stop it,” he shouted racing toward the window. “Stop it. Give them everything. For God’s sake stop it.”

He turned to the two statesmen. Both were standing very still, their faces pale, their hands folded, and somehow he thought they looked as if they were praying. . “Save me,” he fdirieked in terror, “they’re coming! they’re coming!”

The Secretary’s eyes rested on him for a moment. “This is the end of the Timkins’ corner.” he said gravely.

A rush of feet swept along the hall, then came a sharp hammering at the door. The two men did not move, but Timkins jumped in a vain effort to hold it. He felt a fierce pressure, and suddenly it burst into splinters at his face. He fell back dazed with the shock, and, rubbing his eyes, could see nothing but blackness.

Rub as he would, everything seemed black, and then, slowly, small white spots began to flicker, and gradually steadied down into figures; neat modulated figures that admitted of no misreading. “December wheat closes 85% to 86,” that was it. His head was on the floor of Ward Thompson’s office, his bruised face turned toward the black expanse of the quotation board. Lying motionless, slowly winning back to conscious existence, his eyes shifted to the clock. The hands were on the stroke of seven. “Good Lord!” he said soberly, “where have I been? Good Lord!”

The hour sounded and he scrambled to his feet, seized his hat and wobbled unsteadily toward the door, “What will Arabel say?” And all the way home, as the brilliant subway train bore him northward, that was the question, “What would Arabel say?”

A little later he knew. Still dazed, still fumbling mentally to find and hold himself, he felt Arabel’s arms about his neck. “I have been so anxious, dear. What kept you?”

It was too hard to say what had kept him. “I was tired, Arabel, and tried to rest, but,” his words lost themselves, and he could only look about and see with enormous relief that all the old accustomed things were as he had left them.

“You tried to rest in the office and could not. so you came home. Was that it?” she said, with a sudden rush of motherhood.

“That was it. my dear,” said Timkins. “I could not. So I came home.” He fumbled in his pocket and held out a small yellow envelope with two figures marked in the ton left hand., and his name in the top right-hand corner.

“As usual?” a deed Arabel with a lift of her eyebrows.

“Yes, my dear.” he said cheerfully, almost thankfully: then, hesitating a moment, added with much decision, “As usual.”