O'henry — the octopus marooned
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 $2,500 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 2,000
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