THE GENTLE GRAFTER
THE GENTLE GRAFTER
THE OCTOPUS MAROONED
"A trust is its weakest point" said Jeff Peters.
"That" said I "sounds like one of those unintelligible remarks such
as 'Why is a policeman?'"
"It is not" said Jeff. "There are no relations between a trust and a
policeman. My remark was an epitogram--an axis--a kind of mulct'em in
parvo. What it means is that a trust is like an egg and it is not
like an egg. If you want to break an egg you have to do it from the
outside. The only way to break up a trust is from the inside. Keep
sitting on it until it hatches. Look at the brood of young colleges
and libraries that's chirping and peeping all over the country. Yes
sir every trust bears in its own bosom the seeds of its destruction
like a rooster that crows near a Georgia colored Methodist camp
meeting or a Republican announcing himself a candidate for governor
I asked Jeff jestingly if he had ever during his checkered
plaided mottled pied and dappled career conducted an enterprise of
the class to which the word "trust" had been applied. Somewhat to my
surprise he acknowledged the corner.
"Once" said he. "And the state seal of New Jersey never bit into a
charter that opened up a solider and safer piece of legitimate
octopusing. We had everything in our favor--wind water police
nerve and a clean monopoly of an article indispensable to the public.
There wasn't a trust buster on the globe that could have found a weak
spot in our scheme. It made Rockefeller's little kerosene speculation
look like a bucket shop. But we lost out."
"Some unforeseen opposition came up I suppose" I said.
"No sir it was just as I said. We were self-curbed. It was a case of
auto-suppression. There was a rift within the loot as Albert Tennyson
"You remember I told you that me and Andy Tucker was partners for some
years. That man was the most talented conniver at stratagems I ever
saw. Whenever he saw a dollar in another man's hands he took it as a
personal grudge if he couldn't take it any other way. Andy was
educated too besides having a lot of useful information. He had
acquired a big amount of experience out of books and could talk for
hours on any subject connected with ideas and discourse. He had been
in every line of graft from lecturing on Palestine with a lot of magic
lantern pictures of the annual Custom-made Clothiers' Association
convention at Atlantic City to flooding Connecticut with bogus wood
alcohol distilled from nutmegs.
"One Spring me and Andy had been over in Mexico on a flying trip
during which a Philadelphia capitalist had paid us $2500 for a half
interest in a silver mine in Chihuahua. Oh yes the mine was all
right. The other half interest must have been worth two or three
thousand. I often wondered who owned that mine.
"In coming back to the United States me and Andy stubbed our toes
against a little town in Texas on the bank of the Rio Grande. The name
of it was Bird City; but it wasn't. The town had about 2000
inhabitants mostly men. I figured out that their principal means of
existence was in living close to tall chaparral. Some of 'em were
stockmen and some gamblers and some horse peculators and plenty were
in the smuggling line. Me and Andy put up at a hotel that was built
like something between a roof-garden and a sectional bookcase. It
began to rain the day we got there. As the saying is Juniper Aquarius
was sure turning on the water plugs on Mount Amphibious.
"Now there were three saloons in Bird City though neither Andy nor
me drank. But we could see the townspeople making a triangular
procession from one to another all day and half the night. Everybody
seemed to know what to do with as much money as they had.
"The third day of the rain it slacked up awhile in the afternoon so
me and Andy walked out to the edge of town to view the mudscape. Bird
City was built between the Rio Grande and a deep wide arroyo that used
to be the old bed of the river. The bank between the stream and its
old bed was cracking and giving away when we saw it on account of
the high water caused by the rain. Andy looks at it a long time. That
man's intellects was never idle. And then he unfolds to me a
instantaneous idea that has occurred to him. Right there was organized
a trust; and we walked back into town and put it on the market.
"First we went to the main saloon in Bird City called the Blue Snake
and bought it. It cost us $1200. And then we dropped in casual at
Mexican Joe's place referred to the rain and bought him out for
$500. The other one came easy at $400.
"The next morning Bird City woke up and found itself an island. The
river had busted through its old channel and the town was surrounded
by roaring torrents. The rain was still raining and there was heavy
clouds in the northwest that presaged about six more mean annual
rainfalls during the next two weeks. But the worst was yet to come.
"Bird City hopped out of its nest waggled its pin feathers and
strolled out for its matutinal toot. Lo! Mexican Joe's place was
closed and likewise the other little 'dobe life saving station. So
naturally the body politic emits thirsty ejaculations of surprise and
ports hellum for the Blue Snake. And what does it find there?
"Behind one end of the bar sits Jefferson Peters octopus with a
sixshooter on each side of him ready to make change or corpses as the
case may be. There are three bartenders; and on the wall is a ten foot
sign reading: 'All Drinks One Dollar.' Andy sits on the safe in his
neat blue suit and gold-banded cigar on the lookout for emergencies.
The town marshal is there with two deputies to keep order having been
promised free drinks by the trust.
"Well sir it took Bird City just ten minutes to realize that it was
in a cage. We expected trouble; but there wasn't any. The citizens saw
that we had 'em. The nearest railroad was thirty miles away; and it
would be two weeks at least before the river would be fordable. So
they began to cuss amiable and throw down dollars on the bar till it
sounded like a selection on the xylophone.
"There was about 1500 grown-up adults in Bird City that had arrived
at years of indiscretion; and the majority of 'em required from three
to twenty drinks a day to make life endurable. The Blue Snake was the
only place where they could get 'em till the flood subsided. It was
beautiful and simple as all truly great swindles are.
"About ten o'clock the silver dollars dropping on the bar slowed down
to playing two-steps and marches instead of jigs. But I looked out the
window and saw a hundred or two of our customers standing in line at
Bird City Savings and Loan Co. and I knew they were borrowing more
money to be sucked in by the clammy tendrils of the octopus.
"At the fashionable hour of noon everybody went home to dinner. We
told the bartenders to take advantage of the lull and do the same.
Then me and Andy counted the receipts. We had taken in $1300. We
calculated that if Bird City would only remain an island for two weeks
the trust would be able to endow the Chicago University with a new
dormitory of padded cells for the faculty and present every worthy
poor man in Texas with a farm provided he furnished the site for it.
"Andy was especial inroaded by self-esteem at our success the
rudiments of the scheme having originated in his own surmises and
premonitions. He got off the safe and lit the biggest cigar in the
"'Jeff' says he 'I don't suppose that anywhere in the world you
could find three cormorants with brighter ideas about down-treading
the proletariat than the firm of Peters Satan and Tucker
incorporated. We have sure handed the small consumer a giant blow in
the sole apoplectic region. No?'
"'Well' says I 'it does look as if we would have to take up
gastritis and golf or be measured for kilts in spite of ourselves.
This little turn in bug juice is verily all to the Skibo. And I can
stand it' says I 'I'd rather batten than bant any day.'
"Andy pours himself out four fingers of our best rye and does with it
as was so intended. It was the first drink I had ever known him to
"'By way of liberation' says he 'to the gods.'
"And then after thus doing umbrage to the heathen diabetes he drinks
another to our success. And then he begins to toast the trade
beginning with Raisuli and the Northern Pacific and on down the line
to the little ones like the school book combine and the oleomargarine
outrages and the Lehigh Valley and Great Scott Coal Federation.
"'It's all right Andy' says I 'to drink the health of our brother
monopolists but don't overdo the wassail. You know our most eminent
and loathed multi-corruptionists live on weak tea and dog biscuits.'
"Andy went in the back room awhile and came out dressed in his best
clothes. There was a kind of murderous and soulful look of gentle
riotousness in his eye that I didn't like. I watched him to see what
turn the whiskey was going to take in him. There are two times when
you never can tell what is going to happen. One is when a man takes
his first drink; and the other is when a woman takes her latest.
"In less than an hour Andy's skate had turned to an ice yacht. He was
outwardly decent and managed to preserve his aquarium but inside he
was impromptu and full of unexpectedness.
"'Jeff' says he 'do you know that I'm a crater--a living crater?'