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  • CHAPTER 18

  • Jurgis did not get out of the Bridewell quite as soon as he had expected.

  • To his sentence there were added "court costs" of a dollar and a half--he was

  • supposed to pay for the trouble of putting him in jail, and not having the money, was

  • obliged to work it off by three days more of toil.

  • Nobody had taken the trouble to tell him this--only after counting the days and

  • looking forward to the end in an agony of impatience, when the hour came that he

  • expected to be free he found himself still

  • set at the stone heap, and laughed at when he ventured to protest.

  • Then he concluded he must have counted wrong; but as another day passed, he gave

  • up all hope--and was sunk in the depths of despair, when one morning after breakfast a

  • keeper came to him with the word that his time was up at last.

  • So he doffed his prison garb, and put on his old fertilizer clothing, and heard the

  • door of the prison clang behind him.

  • He stood upon the steps, bewildered; he could hardly believe that it was true,--

  • that the sky was above him again and the open street before him; that he was a free

  • man.

  • But then the cold began to strike through his clothes, and he started quickly away.

  • There had been a heavy snow, and now a thaw had set in; fine sleety rain was falling,

  • driven by a wind that pierced Jurgis to the bone.

  • He had not stopped for his-overcoat when he set out to "do up" Connor, and so his rides

  • in the patrol wagons had been cruel experiences; his clothing was old and worn

  • thin, and it never had been very warm.

  • Now as he trudged on the rain soon wet it through; there were six inches of watery

  • slush on the sidewalks, so that his feet would soon have been soaked, even had there

  • been no holes in his shoes.

  • Jurgis had had enough to eat in the jail, and the work had been the least trying of

  • any that he had done since he came to Chicago; but even so, he had not grown

  • strong--the fear and grief that had preyed upon his mind had worn him thin.

  • Now he shivered and shrunk from the rain, hiding his hands in his pockets and

  • hunching his shoulders together.

  • The Bridewell grounds were on the outskirts of the city and the country around them was

  • unsettled and wild--on one side was the big drainage canal, and on the other a maze of

  • railroad tracks, and so the wind had full sweep.

  • After walking a ways, Jurgis met a little ragamuffin whom he hailed: "Hey, sonny!"

  • The boy cocked one eye at him--he knew that Jurgis was a "jailbird" by his shaven head.

  • "Wot yer want?" he queried. "How do you go to the stockyards?"

  • Jurgis demanded.

  • "I don't go," replied the boy. Jurgis hesitated a moment, nonplussed.

  • Then he said, "I mean which is the way?"

  • "Why don't yer say so then?" was the response, and the boy pointed to the

  • northwest, across the tracks. "That way."

  • "How far is it?"

  • Jurgis asked. "I dunno," said the other.

  • "Mebbe twenty miles or so." "Twenty miles!"

  • Jurgis echoed, and his face fell.

  • He had to walk every foot of it, for they had turned him out of jail without a penny

  • in his pockets.

  • Yet, when he once got started, and his blood had warmed with walking, he forgot

  • everything in the fever of his thoughts.

  • All the dreadful imaginations that had haunted him in his cell now rushed into his

  • mind at once.

  • The agony was almost over--he was going to find out; and he clenched his hands in his

  • pockets as he strode, following his flying desire, almost at a run.

  • Ona--the baby--the family--the house--he would know the truth about them all!

  • And he was coming to the rescue--he was free again!

  • His hands were his own, and he could help them, he could do battle for them against

  • the world. For an hour or so he walked thus, and then

  • he began to look about him.

  • He seemed to be leaving the city altogether.

  • The street was turning into a country road, leading out to the westward; there were

  • snow-covered fields on either side of him.

  • Soon he met a farmer driving a two-horse wagon loaded with straw, and he stopped

  • him. "Is this the way to the stockyards?" he

  • asked.

  • The farmer scratched his head. "I dunno jest where they be," he said.

  • "But they're in the city somewhere, and you're going dead away from it now."

  • Jurgis looked dazed.

  • "I was told this was the way," he said. "Who told you?"

  • "A boy." "Well, mebbe he was playing a joke on ye.

  • The best thing ye kin do is to go back, and when ye git into town ask a policeman.

  • I'd take ye in, only I've come a long ways an' I'm loaded heavy.

  • Git up!"

  • So Jurgis turned and followed, and toward the end of the morning he began to see

  • Chicago again.

  • Past endless blocks of two-story shanties he walked, along wooden sidewalks and

  • unpaved pathways treacherous with deep slush holes.

  • Every few blocks there would be a railroad crossing on the level with the sidewalk, a

  • deathtrap for the unwary; long freight trains would be passing, the cars clanking

  • and crashing together, and Jurgis would

  • pace about waiting, burning up with a fever of impatience.

  • Occasionally the cars would stop for some minutes, and wagons and streetcars would

  • crowd together waiting, the drivers swearing at each other, or hiding beneath

  • umbrellas out of the rain; at such times

  • Jurgis would dodge under the gates and run across the tracks and between the cars,

  • taking his life into his hands. He crossed a long bridge over a river

  • frozen solid and covered with slush.

  • Not even on the river bank was the snow white--the rain which fell was a diluted

  • solution of smoke, and Jurgis' hands and face were streaked with black.

  • Then he came into the business part of the city, where the streets were sewers of inky

  • blackness, with horses sleeping and plunging, and women and children flying

  • across in panic-stricken droves.

  • These streets were huge canyons formed by towering black buildings, echoing with the

  • clang of car gongs and the shouts of drivers; the people who swarmed in them

  • were as busy as ants--all hurrying

  • breathlessly, never stopping to look at anything nor at each other.

  • The solitary trampish-looking foreigner, with water-soaked clothing and haggard face

  • and anxious eyes, was as much alone as he hurried past them, as much unheeded and as

  • lost, as if he had been a thousand miles deep in a wilderness.

  • A policeman gave him his direction and told him that he had five miles to go.

  • He came again to the slum districts, to avenues of saloons and cheap stores, with

  • long dingy red factory buildings, and coal- yards and railroad tracks; and then Jurgis

  • lifted up his head and began to sniff the

  • air like a startled animal--scenting the far-off odor of home.

  • It was late afternoon then, and he was hungry, but the dinner invitations hung out

  • of the saloons were not for him.

  • So he came at last to the stockyards, to the black volcanoes of smoke and the lowing

  • cattle and the stench.

  • Then, seeing a crowded car, his impatience got the better of him and he jumped aboard,

  • hiding behind another man, unnoticed by the conductor.

  • In ten minutes more he had reached his street, and home.

  • He was half running as he came round the corner.

  • There was the house, at any rate--and then suddenly he stopped and stared.

  • What was the matter with the house?

  • Jurgis looked twice, bewildered; then he glanced at the house next door and at the

  • one beyond--then at the saloon on the corner.

  • Yes, it was the right place, quite certainly--he had not made any mistake.

  • But the house--the house was a different color!

  • He came a couple of steps nearer.

  • Yes; it had been gray and now it was yellow!

  • The trimmings around the windows had been red, and now they were green!

  • It was all newly painted!

  • How strange it made it seem! Jurgis went closer yet, but keeping on the

  • other side of the street. A sudden and horrible spasm of fear had

  • come over him.

  • His knees were shaking beneath him, and his mind was in a whirl.

  • New paint on the house, and new weatherboards, where the old had begun to

  • rot off, and the agent had got after them!

  • New shingles over the hole in the roof, too, the hole that had for six months been

  • the bane of his soul--he having no money to have it fixed and no time to fix it

  • himself, and the rain leaking in, and

  • overflowing the pots and pans he put to catch it, and flooding the attic and

  • loosening the plaster. And now it was fixed!

  • And the broken windowpane replaced!

  • And curtains in the windows! New, white curtains, stiff and shiny!

  • Then suddenly the front door opened. Jurgis stood, his chest heaving as he

  • struggled to catch his breath.

  • A boy had come out, a stranger to him; a big, fat, rosy-cheeked youngster, such as

  • had never been seen in his home before. Jurgis stared at the boy, fascinated.

  • He came down the steps whistling, kicking off the snow.

  • He stopped at the foot, and picked up some, and then leaned against the railing, making

  • a snowball.

  • A moment later he looked around and saw Jurgis, and their eyes met; it was a

  • hostile glance, the boy evidently thinking that the other had suspicions of the

  • snowball.

  • When Jurgis started slowly across the street toward him, he gave a quick glance

  • about, meditating retreat, but then he concluded to stand his ground.

  • Jurgis took hold of the railing of the steps, for he was a little unsteady.

  • "What--what are you doing here?" he managed to gasp.

  • "Go on!" said the boy.

  • "You--" Jurgis tried again. "What do you want here?"

  • "Me?" answered the boy, angrily. "I live here."

  • "You live here!"

  • Jurgis panted. He turned white and clung more tightly to

  • the railing. "You live here!

  • Then where's my family?"

  • The boy looked surprised. "Your family!" he echoed.

  • And Jurgis started toward him. "I--this is my house!" he cried.

  • "Come off!" said the boy; then suddenly the door upstairs opened, and he called: "Hey,

  • ma! Here's a fellow says he owns this house."

  • A stout Irishwoman came to the top of the steps.

  • "What's that?" she demanded. Jurgis turned toward her.

  • "Where is my family?" he cried, wildly.

  • "I left them here! This is my home!

  • What are you doing in my home?"

  • The woman stared at him in frightened wonder, she must have thought she was

  • dealing with a maniac--Jurgis looked like one.

  • "Your home!" she echoed.

  • "My home!" he half shrieked. "I lived here, I tell you."

  • "You must be mistaken," she answered him. "No one ever lived here.

  • This is a new house.

  • They told us so. They--"

  • "What have they done with my family?" shouted Jurgis, frantically.

  • A light had begun to break upon the woman; perhaps she had had doubts of what "they"

  • had told her. "I don't know where your family is," she

  • said.

  • "I bought the house only three days ago, and there was nobody here, and they told me

  • it was all new. Do you really mean you had ever rented it?"

  • "Rented it!" panted Jurgis.

  • "I bought it! I paid for it!

  • I own it! And they--my God, can't you tell me where

  • my people went?"

  • She made him understand at last that she knew nothing.

  • Jurgis' brain was so confused that he could not grasp the situation.

  • It was as if his family had been wiped out of existence; as if they were proving to be

  • dream people, who never had existed at all.

  • He was quite lost--but then suddenly he thought of Grandmother Majauszkiene, who

  • lived in the next block. She would know!

  • He turned and started at a run.

  • Grandmother Majauszkiene came to the door herself.

  • She cried out when she saw Jurgis, wild- eyed and shaking.

  • Yes, yes, she could tell him.

  • The family had moved; they had not been able to pay the rent and they had been

  • turned out into the snow, and the house had been repainted and sold again the next

  • week.

  • No, she had not heard how they were, but she could tell him that they had gone back

  • to Aniele Jukniene, with whom they had stayed when they first came to the yards.

  • Wouldn't Jurgis come in and rest?

  • It was certainly too bad--if only he had not got into jail--

  • And so Jurgis turned and staggered away.

  • He did not go very far round the corner he gave out completely, and sat down on the

  • steps of a saloon, and hid his face in his hands, and shook all over with dry, racking

  • sobs.

  • Their home! Their home!

  • They had lost it!

  • Grief, despair, rage, overwhelmed him--what was any imagination of the thing to this

  • heartbreaking, crushing reality of it--to the sight of strange people living in his

  • house, hanging their curtains to his windows, staring at him with hostile eyes!

  • It was monstrous, it was unthinkable--they could not do it--it could not be true!

  • Only think what he had suffered for that house--what miseries they had all suffered

  • for it--the price they had paid for it! The whole long agony came back to him.

  • Their sacrifices in the beginning, their three hundred dollars that they had scraped

  • together, all they owned in the world, all that stood between them and starvation!

  • And then their toil, month by month, to get together the twelve dollars, and the

  • interest as well, and now and then the taxes, and the other charges, and the

  • repairs, and what not!

  • Why, they had put their very souls into their payments on that house, they had paid

  • for it with their sweat and tears--yes, more, with their very lifeblood.

  • Dede Antanas had died of the struggle to earn that money--he would have been alive

  • and strong today if he had not had to work in Durham's dark cellars to earn his share.

  • And Ona, too, had given her health and strength to pay for it--she was wrecked and

  • ruined because of it; and so was he, who had been a big, strong man three years ago,

  • and now sat here shivering, broken, cowed, weeping like a hysterical child.

  • Ah! they had cast their all into the fight; and they had lost, they had lost!

  • All that they had paid was gone--every cent of it.

  • And their house was gone--they were back where they had started from, flung out into

  • the cold to starve and freeze!

  • Jurgis could see all the truth now--could see himself, through the whole long course

  • of events, the victim of ravenous vultures that had torn into his vitals and devoured

  • him; of fiends that had racked and tortured

  • him, mocking him, meantime, jeering in his face.

  • Ah, God, the horror of it, the monstrous, hideous, demoniacal wickedness of it!

  • He and his family, helpless women and children, struggling to live, ignorant and

  • defenseless and forlorn as they were--and the enemies that had been lurking for them,

  • crouching upon their trail and thirsting for their blood!

  • That first lying circular, that smooth- tongued slippery agent!