“Hello, Billy! Where did you drop from—”
“Pardon me, you have made a mistake.” Garrison stared coldly, blankly at Drake, shook free his arm, and passed on.
“Gee, what a cut!” mused the book-maker, staring after the rapidly retreating figure of Garrison. “The frozen mitt for sure. What’s happened now? Where’s he been the past six months? Wearing the same clothes, too! Well, somehow I’ve queered myself for good. I don’t know what I did or didn’t. But I’ll keep my eye on him, anyway.” To cheer his philosophy, Drake passed into the Fifth Avenue for a drink.
A ready-made heir.
Garrison had flattered himself that he had known adversity in his time, but in the months succeeding his dismissal from the hospital he qualified for a post-graduate course in privation. He was cursed with the curse of the age; it was an age of specialties, and he had none. His only one, the knowledge of the track, had been buried in him, and nothing tended to awaken it.
He had no commercial education; nothing but the savoir-faire which wealth had given to him, and an inherent breeding inherited from his mother. By reason of his physique he was disbarred from mere manual labor, and that haven of the failure—the army.
So Garrison joined the ranks of the Unemployed Grand Army of the Republic. He knew what it was to sleep in Madison Square Park with a newspaper blanket, and to be awakened by the carol of the touring policemen. He came to know what it meant to stand in the bread-line, to go the rounds of the homeless “one-night stands.”
He came perilously near reaching the level of the sodden. His morality had suffered with it all. Where in his former days of hardship he had health, ambition, a goal to strive for, friends to keep him honest with himself, now he had nothing. He was alone; no one cared.
If he had only taken to the track, his passion—legitimate passion—for horse-flesh would have pulled him through. But the thought that he ever could ride never suggested itself to him.
He had no opportunity of inhaling the track’s atmosphere. Sometimes he wondered idly why he liked to stop and caress every stray horse. He could not know that those same hands had once coaxed thoroughbreds down the stretch to victory. His haunts necessarily kept him from meeting with those whom he had once known. The few he did happen to meet he cut unconsciously as he had once cut Jimmy Drake.
And so day by day Garrison’s morality suffered. It is so easy for the well-fed to be honest. But when there is the hunger cancer gnawing at one’s vitals, not for one day, but for many, then honesty and dishonesty cease to be concrete realities. It is not a question of piling up luxuries, but of supplying mere necessity.
And day by day as the hunger cancer gnawed at Garrison’s vitals it encroached on his original stock of honesty. He fought every minute of the day, but he grimly foresaw that there would come a time when he would steal the first time opportunity afforded.