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After parting with Ben Gibson, James Martin crossed the street to the City Hall Park, and sat down on one of the wooden benches placed there for the public accommodation. Neither his present circumstances nor his future prospects were very brilliant. He was trying to solve the great problem which has troubled so many lazy people, of how best to live without work. There are plenty of men, not only in our cities, but in country villages, who are at work upon this same problem, but few solve it to their satisfaction. Martin was a good carpenter, and might have earned a respectable and comfortable livelihood, instead of wandering about the streets in ragged attire, without a roof to shelter him, or money to pay for a decent meal.
As he sat on the bench, a cigar-boy passed him, with a box of cigars under his arm.
"Cigars," he cried, "four for ten cents!"
"Come here, boy," said Martin. The boy approached.
"I want a cigar."
"I don't sell one. Four for ten cents."
Martin would willingly have bought four, but as his available funds amounted only to four cents, this was impossible.
"I don't want but one; I've only got four cents in change, unless you can change a ten-dollar bill."
"I can't do that."
"Here, take three cents, and give me a prime cigar."
"I'll sell you one for four cents."
"Hand over, then."
So Martin found himself penniless, but the possessor of a cigar, which he proceeded to smoke with as much apparent enjoyment as if he had a large balance to his credit at the bank.
He remained in the Park till his cigar was entirely smoked, and then sauntered out with no definite object in view. It occurred to him, however, that he might as well call on the keeper of a liquor saloon on Baxter Street, which he had frequently patronized.
"How are you, Martin?" asked "Jim," that being the name by which the proprietor was generally known.
"Dry as a fish," was the suggestive reply.
"Then you've come to the right shop. What'll you have?"
Martin expressed his desire for a glass of whiskey, which was poured out, and hastily gulped down.
"I'm out of stamps," said Martin, coolly. "I s'pose you'll trust me till to-morrow."
"Why didn't you say you hadn't any money?" demanded Jim, angrily.
"Come," said Martin, "don't be hard on an old friend. I'll pay you to-morrow."
"Where'll the money come from?" demanded Jim, suspiciously.
This was a question which Martin was quite unable to answer satisfactorily to himself.
"I'll get it some way," he answered.
"You'd better, or else you needn't come into this shop again."
Martin left the saloon rather disappointed. He had had a little idea of asking a small loan from his friend "Jim;" but he judged that such an application would hardly be successful under present circumstances. "Jim's" friendship evidently was not strong enough to justify such a draft upon it.
Martin began to think that it might have been as well, on the whole, to seek employment at his trade in Brooklyn, for a time at least, until he could have accumulated a few dollars. It was rather uncomfortable being entirely without money, and that was precisely his present condition. Even if he had wanted to go back to Brooklyn, he had not even the two cents needed to pay the boat fare. Matters had come to a crisis with Martin financially, and a suspension of specie payments was forced upon him.
He continued to walk about the streets in that aimless way which results from absence of occupation, and found it, on the whole, rather cheerless work. Besides, he was beginning to get hungry. He had eaten a hearty breakfast at his boarding-house in Brooklyn, but it was now one o'clock, and the stomach began to assert its claims once more. He had no money. Still there were places where food, at least, could be had for nothing. He descended into a subterranean apartment, over the door of which was a sign bearing the words Free Lunch.
As many of my readers know, these establishments are to be found in most of our cities. A supply of sandwiches, or similar food, is provided free for the use of those who enter, but visitors are expected to call and pay for one or more glasses of liquor, which are sold at such prices that the proprietor may, on the whole, realize a profit.
It was into one of those places that James Martin entered. He went up to the counter, and was about to help himself to the food supplied. After partaking of this, he intended to slip out without the drink, having no money to pay for it. But, unfortunately for the success of his plans, the keeper at the saloon had been taken in two or three times already that day by similar impostors. Still, had James Martin been well-dressed, he could have helped himself unquestioned to the provisions he desired. But his appearance was suspicious. His ragged and dirty attire betokened extreme poverty, and the man in charge saw, at a glance, that his patronage was not likely to be desirable.
"Look here, my friend," he said, abruptly, as Martin was about to help himself, "what'll you take to drink?"
"A glass of ale," said Martin, hesitatingly.
"All right! Pass over the money."
"The fact is," said Martin, "I left my pocket-book at home this morning, and that's why I'm obliged to come in here."
"Very good! Then you needn't trouble yourself to take anything. We don't care about visitors that leave their pocket-books at home."
"I'll pay you double to-morrow," said Martin, who had no hesitation in making promises he hadn't the least intention of fulfilling.
"That won't go down," said the other. "I don't care about seeing such fellows as you at any time. There's the door."
"Do you want to fight?" demanded Martin, angrily.
"No, I don't; but I may kick you out if you don't go peaceably. We don't want customers of your sort."
"I'll smash your head!" said Martin, becoming pugnacious.
"Here, Mike, run up and see if you can't find a policeman."
This hint was not lost upon Martin. He had no great love for the Metropolitan police, and kept out of their way as much as possible. He felt that it would be prudent to evacuate the premises, and did so, muttering threats meanwhile, and not without a lingering glance at the lunch which was not free to him.
This last failure rather disgusted Martin. According to his theory, the world owed him a living; but it seemed as if the world were disposed to repudiate the debt. Fasting is apt to lead to serious reflection, and by this time he was decidedly hungry. How to provide himself with a dinner was a subject that required immediate attention.
He walked about for an hour or two without finding himself at the end of that time any nearer the solution of the question than before. To work all day may be hard; but to do nothing all day on an empty stomach is still harder.
About four o'clock, Martin found himself at the junction of Wall Street and Nassau. I hardly know what drew this penniless man to the street through which flows daily a mighty tide of wealth, but I suspect that he was hoping to meet Rufus, who, as he had learned from Ben Gibson, was employed somewhere on the street. Rufus might, in spite of the manner in which he had treated him, prove a truer friend in need than the worthless companions of his hours of dissipation.
All at once a sharp cry of pain was heard.
A passing vehicle had run over the leg of a boy who had imprudently tried to cross the street just in front of it. The wheels passed over the poor boy's legs, both of which appeared to be broken. Of course, as is always the case under such circumstances, there was a rush to the spot where the casualty took place, and a throng of men and boys gathered about the persons who were lifting the boy from the ground.
"The boy seems to be poor," said a humane by-stander; "let us raise a little fund for his benefit."
A humane suggestion like this is pretty sure to be acted upon by those whose hearts are made tender by the sight of suffering. So most of those present drew out their pocket-books, and quite a little sum was placed in the hands of the original proposer of the contribution.
Among those who had wedged themselves into the crowd was James Martin. Having nothing to do, he had been eager to have his share in the excitement. He saw the collection taken up with an envious wish that it was for his own benefit. Beside him was a banker, who, from a plethoric pocket-book, had drawn a five-dollar bill, which he had contributed to the fund. Closing the pocket-book, he carelessly placed it in an outside pocket. James Martin stood in such a position that the contents of the pocket-book were revealed to him, and the demon of cupidity entered his heart. How much good this money would do him! There were probably several hundred dollars in all, perhaps more. He saw the banker put the money in his pocket,—the one nearest to him. He might easily take it without observation,—so he thought.
In an evil moment he obeyed the impulse which had come to him. He plunged his hand into the pocket; but at this moment the banker turned, and detected him.
"I've caught you, you rascal!" he exclaimed, seizing Martin with a vigorous grip. "Police!"
Martin made a desperate effort to get free, but another man seized him on the other side, and he was held, despite his resistance, till a policeman, who by a singular chance happened to be near when wanted, came up.
Martin's ragged coat was rent asunder from the violence of his efforts, his hat fell off, and he might well have been taken for a desperate character, as in this condition he was marched off by the guardian of the city's peace.
There was another humiliation in store for him. He had gone but a few steps when he met Rufus, who gazed in astonishment at his step-father's plight. Martin naturally supposed that Rufus would exult in his humiliation; but he did him injustice.
"I'm sorry for him," thought our hero, compassionately; "he's done me harm enough, but I'm sorry."
He learned from one of the crowd for what Martin had been arrested, and started for Franklin Street to carry the news to Miss Manning and Rose.
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