Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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!