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
"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 of Texas."
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 says.
"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 $2,500 for a half interest in a silver mine in