B1 Intermediate 15006 Folder Collection
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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!
That trap of the extra payments, the interest, and all the other charges that
they had not the means to pay, and would never have attempted to pay!
And then all the tricks of the packers, their masters, the tyrants who ruled them--
the shutdowns and the scarcity of work, the irregular hours and the cruel speeding-up,
the lowering of wages, the raising of prices!
The mercilessness of nature about them, of heat and cold, rain and snow; the
mercilessness of the city, of the country in which they lived, of its laws and
customs that they did not understand!
All of these things had worked together for the company that had marked them for its
prey and was waiting for its chance.
And now, with this last hideous injustice, its time had come, and it had turned them
out bag and baggage, and taken their house and sold it again!
And they could do nothing, they were tied hand and foot--the law was against them,
the whole machinery of society was at their oppressors' command!
If Jurgis so much as raised a hand against them, back he would go into that wild-beast
pen from which he had just escaped!
To get up and go away was to give up, to acknowledge defeat, to leave the strange
family in possession; and Jurgis might have sat shivering in the rain for hours before
he could do that, had it not been for the thought of his family.
It might be that he had worse things yet to learn--and so he got to his feet and
started away, walking on, wearily, half- dazed.
To Aniele's house, in back of the yards, was a good two miles; the distance had
never seemed longer to Jurgis, and when he saw the familiar dingy-gray shanty his
heart was beating fast.
He ran up the steps and began to hammer upon the door.
The old woman herself came to open it.
She had shrunk all up with her rheumatism since Jurgis had seen her last, and her
yellow parchment face stared up at him from a little above the level of the doorknob.
She gave a start when she saw him.
"Is Ona here?" he cried, breathlessly. "Yes," was the answer, "she's here."
"How--" Jurgis began, and then stopped short, clutching convulsively at the side
of the door.
From somewhere within the house had come a sudden cry, a wild, horrible scream of
anguish. And the voice was Ona's.
For a moment Jurgis stood half-paralyzed with fright; then he bounded past the old
woman and into the room.
It was Aniele's kitchen, and huddled round the stove were half a dozen women, pale and
frightened.
One of them started to her feet as Jurgis entered; she was haggard and frightfully
thin, with one arm tied up in bandages--he hardly realized that it was Marija.
He looked first for Ona; then, not seeing her, he stared at the women, expecting them
to speak.
But they sat dumb, gazing back at him, panic-stricken; and a second later came
another piercing scream. It was from the rear of the house, and
upstairs.
Jurgis bounded to a door of the room and flung it open; there was a ladder leading
through a trap door to the garret, and he was at the foot of it when suddenly he
heard a voice behind him, and saw Marija at his heels.
She seized him by the sleeve with her good hand, panting wildly, "No, no, Jurgis!
Stop!"
"What do you mean?" he gasped. "You mustn't go up," she cried.
Jurgis was half-crazed with bewilderment and fright.
"What's the matter?" he shouted.
"What is it?" Marija clung to him tightly; he could hear
Ona sobbing and moaning above, and he fought to get away and climb up, without
waiting for her reply.
"No, no," she rushed on. "Jurgis!
You mustn't go up! It's--it's the child!"
"The child?" he echoed in perplexity.
"Antanas?" Marija answered him, in a whisper: "The new
one!" And then Jurgis went limp, and caught
himself on the ladder.
He stared at her as if she were a ghost. "The new one!" he gasped.
"But it isn't time," he added, wildly. Marija nodded.
"I know," she said; "but it's come."
And then again came Ona's scream, smiting him like a blow in the face, making him
wince and turn white.
Her voice died away into a wail--then he heard her sobbing again, "My God--let me
die, let me die!" And Marija hung her arms about him, crying:
"Come out!
Come away!" She dragged him back into the kitchen, half
carrying him, for he had gone all to pieces.
It was as if the pillars of his soul had fallen in--he was blasted with horror.
In the room he sank into a chair, trembling like a leaf, Marija still holding him, and
the women staring at him in dumb, helpless fright.
And then again Ona cried out; he could hear it nearly as plainly here, and he staggered
to his feet. "How long has this been going on?" he
panted.
"Not very long," Marija answered, and then, at a signal from Aniele, she rushed on:
"You go away, Jurgis you can't help--go away and come back later.
It's all right--it's--"
"Who's with her?" Jurgis demanded; and then, seeing Marija
hesitating, he cried again, "Who's with her?"
"She's--she's all right," she answered.
"Elzbieta's with her." "But the doctor!" he panted.
"Some one who knows!"
He seized Marija by the arm; she trembled, and her voice sank beneath a whisper as she
replied, "We--we have no money." Then, frightened at the look on his face,
she exclaimed: "It's all right, Jurgis!
You don't understand--go away--go away! Ah, if you only had waited!"
Above her protests Jurgis heard Ona again; he was almost out of his mind.
It was all new to him, raw and horrible--it had fallen upon him like a lightning
stroke.
When little Antanas was born he had been at work, and had known nothing about it until
it was over; and now he was not to be controlled.
The frightened women were at their wits' end; one after another they tried to reason
with him, to make him understand that this was the lot of woman.
In the end they half drove him out into the rain, where he began to pace up and down,
bareheaded and frantic.
Because he could hear Ona from the street, he would first go away to escape the
sounds, and then come back because he could not help it.
At the end of a quarter of an hour he rushed up the steps again, and for fear
that he would break in the door they had to open it and let him in.
There was no arguing with him.
They could not tell him that all was going well--how could they know, he cried--why,
she was dying, she was being torn to pieces!
Listen to her--listen!
Why, it was monstrous--it could not be allowed--there must be some help for it!
Had they tried to get a doctor? They might pay him afterward--they could
promise--
"We couldn't promise, Jurgis," protested Marija.
"We had no money--we have scarcely been able to keep alive."
"But I can work," Jurgis exclaimed.
"I can earn money!" "Yes," she answered--"but we thought you
were in jail. How could we know when you would return?
They will not work for nothing."
Marija went on to tell how she had tried to find a midwife, and how they had demanded
ten, fifteen, even twenty-five dollars, and that in cash.
"And I had only a quarter," she said.
"I have spent every cent of my money--all that I had in the bank; and I owe the
doctor who has been coming to see me, and he has stopped because he thinks I don't
mean to pay him.
And we owe Aniele for two weeks' rent, and she is nearly starving, and is afraid of
being turned out.
We have been borrowing and begging to keep alive, and there is nothing more we can do-
-" "And the children?" cried Jurgis.
"The children have not been home for three days, the weather has been so bad.
They could not know what is happening--it came suddenly, two months before we
expected it."
Jurgis was standing by the table, and he caught himself with his hand; his head sank
and his arms shook--it looked as if he were going to collapse.
Then suddenly Aniele got up and came hobbling toward him, fumbling in her skirt
pocket. She drew out a dirty rag, in one corner of
which she had something tied.
"Here, Jurgis!" she said, "I have some money. Palauk! See!"
She unwrapped it and counted it out-- thirty-four cents.
"You go, now," she said, "and try and get somebody yourself.
And maybe the rest can help--give him some money, you; he will pay you back some day,
and it will do him good to have something to think about, even if he doesn't succeed.
When he comes back, maybe it will be over."
And so the other women turned out the contents of their pocketbooks; most of them
had only pennies and nickels, but they gave him all.
Mrs. Olszewski, who lived next door, and had a husband who was a skilled cattle
butcher, but a drinking man, gave nearly half a dollar, enough to raise the whole
sum to a dollar and a quarter.
Then Jurgis thrust it into his pocket, still holding it tightly in his fist, and
started away at a run.
>
CHAPTER 19
"Madame Haupt Hebamme", ran a sign, swinging from a second-story window over a
saloon on the avenue; at a side door was another sign, with a hand pointing up a
dingy flight of stairs.
Jurgis went up them, three at a time. Madame Haupt was frying pork and onions,
and had her door half open to let out the smoke.
When he tried to knock upon it, it swung open the rest of the way, and he had a
glimpse of her, with a black bottle turned up to her lips.
Then he knocked louder, and she started and put it away.
She was a Dutchwoman, enormously fat--when she walked she rolled like a small boat on
the ocean, and the dishes in the cupboard jostled each other.
She wore a filthy blue wrapper, and her teeth were black.
"Vot is it?" she said, when she saw Jurgis. He had run like mad all the way and was so
out of breath he could hardly speak.
His hair was flying and his eyes wild--he looked like a man that had risen from the
tomb. "My wife!" he panted.
"Come quickly!"
Madame Haupt set the frying pan to one side and wiped her hands on her wrapper.
"You vant me to come for a case?" she inquired.
"Yes," gasped Jurgis.
"I haf yust come back from a case," she said.
"I haf had no time to eat my dinner. Still--if it is so bad--"
"Yes--it is!" cried he.
"Vell, den, perhaps--vot you pay?" "I--I--how much do you want?"
Jurgis stammered. "Tventy-five dollars."
His face fell.
"I can't pay that," he said. The woman was watching him narrowly.
"How much do you pay?" she demanded. "Must I pay now--right away?"
"Yes; all my customers do."
"I--I haven't much money," Jurgis began in an agony of dread.
"I've been in--in trouble--and my money is gone.
But I'll pay you--every cent--just as soon as I can; I can work--"
"Vot is your work?" "I have no place now.
I must get one.
But I--" "How much haf you got now?"
He could hardly bring himself to reply. When he said "A dollar and a quarter," the
woman laughed in his face.
"I vould not put on my hat for a dollar and a quarter," she said.
"It's all I've got," he pleaded, his voice breaking.
"I must get some one--my wife will die.
I can't help it--I--" Madame Haupt had put back her pork and
onions on the stove.
She turned to him and answered, out of the steam and noise: "Git me ten dollars cash,
und so you can pay me the rest next mont'." "I can't do it--I haven't got it!"
Jurgis protested.
"I tell you I have only a dollar and a quarter."
The woman turned to her work. "I don't believe you," she said.
"Dot is all to try to sheat me.
Vot is de reason a big man like you has got only a dollar und a quarter?"
"I've just been in jail," Jurgis cried--he was ready to get down upon his knees to the
woman--"and I had no money before, and my family has almost starved."
"Vere is your friends, dot ought to help you?"
"They are all poor," he answered. "They gave me this.
I have done everything I can--"
"Haven't you got notting you can sell?" "I have nothing, I tell you--I have
nothing," he cried, frantically. "Can't you borrow it, den?
Don't your store people trust you?"
Then, as he shook his head, she went on: "Listen to me--if you git me you vill be
glad of it.
I vill save your wife und baby for you, and it vill not seem like mooch to you in de
end. If you loose dem now how you tink you feel
den?
Und here is a lady dot knows her business-- I could send you to people in dis block,
und dey vould tell you--"
Madame Haupt was pointing her cooking-fork at Jurgis persuasively; but her words were
more than he could bear. He flung up his hands with a gesture of
despair and turned and started away.
"It's no use," he exclaimed--but suddenly he heard the woman's voice behind him
again-- "I vill make it five dollars for you."
She followed behind him, arguing with him.
"You vill be foolish not to take such an offer," she said.
"You von't find nobody go out on a rainy day like dis for less.
Vy, I haf never took a case in my life so sheap as dot.
I couldn't pay mine room rent--" Jurgis interrupted her with an oath of
rage.
"If I haven't got it," he shouted, "how can I pay it?
Damn it, I would pay you if I could, but I tell you I haven't got it.
I haven't got it!
Do you hear me I haven't got it!" He turned and started away again.
He was halfway down the stairs before Madame Haupt could shout to him: "Vait!
I vill go mit you!
Come back!" He went back into the room again.
"It is not goot to tink of anybody suffering," she said, in a melancholy
voice.
"I might as vell go mit you for noffing as vot you offer me, but I vill try to help
you. How far is it?"
"Three or four blocks from here."
"Tree or four! Und so I shall get soaked!
Gott in Himmel, it ought to be vorth more!
Vun dollar und a quarter, und a day like dis!--But you understand now--you vill pay
me de rest of twenty-five dollars soon?" "As soon as I can."
"Some time dis mont'?"
"Yes, within a month," said poor Jurgis. "Anything!
Hurry up!" "Vere is de dollar und a quarter?"
persisted Madame Haupt, relentlessly.
Jurgis put the money on the table and the woman counted it and stowed it away.
Then she wiped her greasy hands again and proceeded to get ready, complaining all the
time; she was so fat that it was painful for her to move, and she grunted and gasped
at every step.
She took off her wrapper without even taking the trouble to turn her back to
Jurgis, and put on her corsets and dress.
Then there was a black bonnet which had to be adjusted carefully, and an umbrella
which was mislaid, and a bag full of necessaries which had to be collected from
here and there--the man being nearly crazy with anxiety in the meantime.
When they were on the street he kept about four paces ahead of her, turning now and
then, as if he could hurry her on by the force of his desire.
But Madame Haupt could only go so far at a step, and it took all her attention to get
the needed breath for that. They came at last to the house, and to the
group of frightened women in the kitchen.
It was not over yet, Jurgis learned--he heard Ona crying still; and meantime Madame
Haupt removed her bonnet and laid it on the mantelpiece, and got out of her bag, first
an old dress and then a saucer of goose
grease, which she proceeded to rub upon her hands.
The more cases this goose grease is used in, the better luck it brings to the
midwife, and so she keeps it upon her kitchen mantelpiece or stowed away in a
cupboard with her dirty clothes, for months, and sometimes even for years.
Then they escorted her to the ladder, and Jurgis heard her give an exclamation of
dismay.
"Gott in Himmel, vot for haf you brought me to a place like dis?
I could not climb up dot ladder. I could not git troo a trap door!
I vill not try it--vy, I might kill myself already.
Vot sort of a place is dot for a woman to bear a child in--up in a garret, mit only a
ladder to it?
You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" Jurgis stood in the doorway and listened to
her scolding, half drowning out the horrible moans and screams of Ona.
At last Aniele succeeded in pacifying her, and she essayed the ascent; then, however,
she had to be stopped while the old woman cautioned her about the floor of the
garret.
They had no real floor--they had laid old boards in one part to make a place for the
family to live; it was all right and safe there, but the other part of the garret had
only the joists of the floor, and the lath
and plaster of the ceiling below, and if one stepped on this there would be a
catastrophe.
As it was half dark up above, perhaps one of the others had best go up first with a
candle.
Then there were more outcries and threatening, until at last Jurgis had a
vision of a pair of elephantine legs disappearing through the trap door, and
felt the house shake as Madame Haupt started to walk.
Then suddenly Aniele came to him and took him by the arm.
"Now," she said, "you go away.
Do as I tell you--you have done all you can, and you are only in the way.
Go away and stay away." "But where shall I go?"
Jurgis asked, helplessly.
"I don't know where," she answered. "Go on the street, if there is no other
place--only go! And stay all night!"
In the end she and Marija pushed him out of the door and shut it behind him.
It was just about sundown, and it was turning cold--the rain had changed to snow,
and the slush was freezing.
Jurgis shivered in his thin clothing, and put his hands into his pockets and started
away.
He had not eaten since morning, and he felt weak and ill; with a sudden throb of hope
he recollected he was only a few blocks from the saloon where he had been wont to
eat his dinner.
They might have mercy on him there, or he might meet a friend.
He set out for the place as fast as he could walk.
"Hello, Jack," said the saloon-keeper, when he entered--they call all foreigners and
unskilled men "Jack" in Packingtown. "Where've you been?"
Jurgis went straight to the bar.
"I've been in jail," he said, "and I've just got out.
I walked home all the way, and I've not a cent, and had nothing to eat since this
morning.
And I've lost my home, and my wife's ill, and I'm done up."
The saloon-keeper gazed at him, with his haggard white face and his blue trembling
lips.
Then he pushed a big bottle toward him. "Fill her up!" he said.
Jurgis could hardly hold the bottle, his hands shook so.
"Don't be afraid," said the saloon-keeper, "fill her up!"
So Jurgis drank a large glass of whisky, and then turned to the lunch counter, in
obedience to the other's suggestion.
He ate all he dared, stuffing it in as fast as he could; and then, after trying to
speak his gratitude, he went and sat down by the big red stove in the middle of the
room.
It was too good to last, however--like all things in this hard world.
His soaked clothing began to steam, and the horrible stench of fertilizer to fill the
room.
In an hour or so the packing houses would be closing and the men coming in from their
work; and they would not come into a place that smelt of Jurgis.
Also it was Saturday night, and in a couple of hours would come a violin and a cornet,
and in the rear part of the saloon the families of the neighborhood would dance
and feast upon wienerwurst and lager, until two or three o'clock in the morning.
The saloon-keeper coughed once or twice, and then remarked, "Say, Jack, I'm afraid
you'll have to quit."
He was used to the sight of human wrecks, this saloon-keeper; he "fired" dozens of
them every night, just as haggard and cold and forlorn as this one.
But they were all men who had given up and been counted out, while Jurgis was still in
the fight, and had reminders of decency about him.
As he got up meekly, the other reflected that he had always been a steady man, and
might soon be a good customer again. "You've been up against it, I see," he
said.
"Come this way." In the rear of the saloon were the cellar
stairs.
There was a door above and another below, both safely padlocked, making the stairs an
admirable place to stow away a customer who might still chance to have money, or a
political light whom it was not advisable to kick out of doors.
So Jurgis spent the night.
The whisky had only half warmed him, and he could not sleep, exhausted as he was; he
would nod forward, and then start up, shivering with the cold, and begin to
remember again.
Hour after hour passed, until he could only persuade himself that it was not morning by
the sounds of music and laughter and singing that were to be heard from the
room.
When at last these ceased, he expected that he would be turned out into the street; as
this did not happen, he fell to wondering whether the man had forgotten him.
In the end, when the silence and suspense were no longer to be borne, he got up and
hammered on the door; and the proprietor came, yawning and rubbing his eyes.
He was keeping open all night, and dozing between customers.
"I want to go home," Jurgis said. "I'm worried about my wife--I can't wait
any longer."
"Why the hell didn't you say so before?" said the man.
"I thought you didn't have any home to go to."
Jurgis went outside.
It was four o'clock in the morning, and as black as night.
There were three or four inches of fresh snow on the ground, and the flakes were
falling thick and fast.
He turned toward Aniele's and started at a run.
There was a light burning in the kitchen window and the blinds were drawn.
The door was unlocked and Jurgis rushed in.
Aniele, Marija, and the rest of the women were huddled about the stove, exactly as
before; with them were several newcomers, Jurgis noticed--also he noticed that the
house was silent.
"Well?" he said. No one answered him, they sat staring at
him with their pale faces. He cried again: "Well?"
And then, by the light of the smoky lamp, he saw Marija who sat nearest him, shaking
her head slowly. "Not yet," she said.
And Jurgis gave a cry of dismay.
"Not yet?" Again Marija's head shook.
The poor fellow stood dumfounded. "I don't hear her," he gasped.
"She's been quiet a long time," replied the other.
There was another pause--broken suddenly by a voice from the attic: "Hello, there!"
Several of the women ran into the next room, while Marija sprang toward Jurgis.
"Wait here!" she cried, and the two stood, pale and trembling, listening.
In a few moments it became clear that Madame Haupt was engaged in descending the
ladder, scolding and exhorting again, while the ladder creaked in protest.
In a moment or two she reached the ground, angry and breathless, and they heard her
coming into the room. Jurgis gave one glance at her, and then
turned white and reeled.
She had her jacket off, like one of the workers on the killing beds.
Her hands and arms were smeared with blood, and blood was splashed upon her clothing
and her face.
She stood breathing hard, and gazing about her; no one made a sound.
"I haf done my best," she began suddenly. "I can do noffing more--dere is no use to
try."
Again there was silence. "It ain't my fault," she said.
"You had ought to haf had a doctor, und not vaited so long--it vas too late already ven
I come."
Once more there was deathlike stillness. Marija was clutching Jurgis with all the
power of her one well arm. Then suddenly Madame Haupt turned to
Aniele.
"You haf not got something to drink, hey?" she queried.
"Some brandy?" Aniele shook her head.
"Herr Gott!" exclaimed Madame Haupt.
"Such people! Perhaps you vill give me someting to eat
den--I haf had noffing since yesterday morning, und I haf vorked myself near to
death here.
If I could haf known it vas like dis, I vould never haf come for such money as you
gif me."
At this moment she chanced to look round, and saw Jurgis: She shook her finger at
him. "You understand me," she said, "you pays me
dot money yust de same!
It is not my fault dat you send for me so late I can't help your vife.
It is not my fault if der baby comes mit one arm first, so dot I can't save it.
I haf tried all night, und in dot place vere it is not fit for dogs to be born, und
mit notting to eat only vot I brings in mine own pockets."
Here Madame Haupt paused for a moment to get her breath; and Marija, seeing the
beads of sweat on Jurgis's forehead, and feeling the quivering of his frame, broke
out in a low voice: "How is Ona?"
"How is she?" echoed Madame Haupt. "How do you tink she can be ven you leave
her to kill herself so? I told dem dot ven they send for de priest.
She is young, und she might haf got over it, und been vell und strong, if she had
been treated right. She fight hard, dot girl--she is not yet
quite dead."
And Jurgis gave a frantic scream. "Dead!"
"She vill die, of course," said the other angrily.
"Der baby is dead now."
The garret was lighted by a candle stuck upon a board; it had almost burned itself
out, and was sputtering and smoking as Jurgis rushed up the ladder.
He could make out dimly in one corner a pallet of rags and old blankets, spread
upon the floor; at the foot of it was a crucifix, and near it a priest muttering a
prayer.
In a far corner crouched Elzbieta, moaning and wailing.
Upon the pallet lay Ona.
She was covered with a blanket, but he could see her shoulders and one arm lying
bare; she was so shrunken he would scarcely have known her--she was all but a skeleton,
and as white as a piece of chalk.
Her eyelids were closed, and she lay still as death.
He staggered toward her and fell upon his knees with a cry of anguish: "Ona! Ona!"
She did not stir.
He caught her hand in his, and began to clasp it frantically, calling: "Look at me!
Answer me! It is Jurgis come back--don't you hear me?"
There was the faintest quivering of the eyelids, and he called again in frenzy:
"Ona! Ona!" Then suddenly her eyes opened one instant.
One instant she looked at him--there was a flash of recognition between them, he saw
her afar off, as through a dim vista, standing forlorn.
He stretched out his arms to her, he called her in wild despair; a fearful yearning
surged up in him, hunger for her that was agony, desire that was a new being born
within him, tearing his heartstrings, torturing him.
But it was all in vain--she faded from him, she slipped back and was gone.
And a wail of anguish burst from him, great sobs shook all his frame, and hot tears ran
down his cheeks and fell upon her.
He clutched her hands, he shook her, he caught her in his arms and pressed her to
him but she lay cold and still--she was gone--she was gone!
The word rang through him like the sound of a bell, echoing in the far depths of him,
making forgotten chords to vibrate, old shadowy fears to stir--fears of the dark,
fears of the void, fears of annihilation.
She was dead! She was dead!
He would never see her again, never hear her again!
An icy horror of loneliness seized him; he saw himself standing apart and watching all
the world fade away from him--a world of shadows, of fickle dreams.
He was like a little child, in his fright and grief; he called and called, and got no
answer, and his cries of despair echoed through the house, making the women
downstairs draw nearer to each other in fear.
He was inconsolable, beside himself--the priest came and laid his hand upon his
shoulder and whispered to him, but he heard not a sound.
He was gone away himself, stumbling through the shadows, and groping after the soul
that had fled. So he lay.
The gray dawn came up and crept into the attic.
The priest left, the women left, and he was alone with the still, white figure--quieter
now, but moaning and shuddering, wrestling with the grisly fiend.
Now and then he would raise himself and stare at the white mask before him, then
hide his eyes because he could not bear it. Dead! dead!
And she was only a girl, she was barely eighteen!
Her life had hardly begun--and here she lay murdered--mangled, tortured to death!
It was morning when he rose up and came down into the kitchen--haggard and ashen
gray, reeling and dazed.
More of the neighbors had come in, and they stared at him in silence as he sank down
upon a chair by the table and buried his face in his arms.
A few minutes later the front door opened; a blast of cold and snow rushed in, and
behind it little Kotrina, breathless from running, and blue with the cold.
"I'm home again!" she exclaimed.
"I could hardly--" And then, seeing Jurgis, she stopped with
an exclamation.
Looking from one to another she saw that something had happened, and she asked, in a
lower voice: "What's the matter?" Before anyone could reply, Jurgis started
up; he went toward her, walking unsteadily.
"Where have you been?" he demanded. "Selling papers with the boys," she said.
"The snow--" "Have you any money?" he demanded.
"Yes."
"How much?" "Nearly three dollars, Jurgis."
"Give it to me." Kotrina, frightened by his manner, glanced
at the others.
"Give it to me!" he commanded again, and she put her hand into her pocket and pulled
out a lump of coins tied in a bit of rag. Jurgis took it without a word, and went out
of the door and down the street.
Three doors away was a saloon. "Whisky," he said, as he entered, and as
the man pushed him some, he tore at the rag with his teeth and pulled out half a
dollar.
"How much is the bottle?" he said. "I want to get drunk."
>
CHAPTER 20
But a big man cannot stay drunk very long on three dollars.
That was Sunday morning, and Monday night Jurgis came home, sober and sick, realizing
that he had spent every cent the family owned, and had not bought a single
instant's forgetfulness with it.
Ona was not yet buried; but the police had been notified, and on the morrow they would
put the body in a pine coffin and take it to the potter's field.
Elzbieta was out begging now, a few pennies from each of the neighbors, to get enough
to pay for a mass for her; and the children were upstairs starving to death, while he,
good-for-nothing rascal, had been spending their money on drink.
So spoke Aniele, scornfully, and when he started toward the fire she added the
information that her kitchen was no longer for him to fill with his phosphate stinks.
She had crowded all her boarders into one room on Ona's account, but now he could go
up in the garret where he belonged--and not there much longer, either, if he did not
pay her some rent.
Jurgis went without a word, and, stepping over half a dozen sleeping boarders in the
next room, ascended the ladder.
It was dark up above; they could not afford any light; also it was nearly as cold as
outdoors.
In a corner, as far away from the corpse as possible, sat Marija, holding little
Antanas in her one good arm and trying to soothe him to sleep.
In another corner crouched poor little Juozapas, wailing because he had had
nothing to eat all day.
Marija said not a word to Jurgis; he crept in like a whipped cur, and went and sat
down by the body.
Perhaps he ought to have meditated upon the hunger of the children, and upon his own
baseness; but he thought only of Ona, he gave himself up again to the luxury of
grief.
He shed no tears, being ashamed to make a sound; he sat motionless and shuddering
with his anguish.
He had never dreamed how much he loved Ona, until now that she was gone; until now that
he sat here, knowing that on the morrow they would take her away, and that he would
never lay eyes upon her again--never all the days of his life.
His old love, which had been starved to death, beaten to death, awoke in him again;
the floodgates of memory were lifted--he saw all their life together, saw her as he
had seen her in Lithuania, the first day at
the fair, beautiful as the flowers, singing like a bird.
He saw her as he had married her, with all her tenderness, with her heart of wonder;
the very words she had spoken seemed to ring now in his ears, the tears she had
shed to be wet upon his cheek.
The long, cruel battle with misery and hunger had hardened and embittered him, but
it had not changed her--she had been the same hungry soul to the end, stretching out
her arms to him, pleading with him, begging him for love and tenderness.
And she had suffered--so cruelly she had suffered, such agonies, such infamies--ah,
God, the memory of them was not to be borne.
What a monster of wickedness, of heartlessness, he had been!
Every angry word that he had ever spoken came back to him and cut him like a knife;
every selfish act that he had done--with what torments he paid for them now!
And such devotion and awe as welled up in his soul--now that it could never be
spoken, now that it was too late, too late!
His bosom-was choking with it, bursting with it; he crouched here in the darkness
beside her, stretching out his arms to her- -and she was gone forever, she was dead!
He could have screamed aloud with the horror and despair of it; a sweat of agony
beaded his forehead, yet he dared not make a sound--he scarcely dared to breathe,
because of his shame and loathing of himself.
Late at night came Elzbieta, having gotten the money for a mass, and paid for it in
advance, lest she should be tempted too sorely at home.
She brought also a bit of stale rye bread that some one had given her, and with that
they quieted the children and got them to sleep.
Then she came over to Jurgis and sat down beside him.
She said not a word of reproach--she and Marija had chosen that course before; she
would only plead with him, here by the corpse of his dead wife.
Already Elzbieta had choked down her tears, grief being crowded out of her soul by
fear.
She had to bury one of her children--but then she had done it three times before,
and each time risen up and gone back to take up the battle for the rest.
Elzbieta was one of the primitive creatures: like the angleworm, which goes
on living though cut in half; like a hen, which, deprived of her chickens one by one,
will mother the last that is left her.
She did this because it was her nature--she asked no questions about the justice of it,
nor the worth-whileness of life in which destruction and death ran riot.
And this old common-sense view she labored to impress upon Jurgis, pleading with him
with tears in her eyes. Ona was dead, but the others were left and
they must be saved.
She did not ask for her own children. She and Marija could care for them somehow,
but there was Antanas, his own son.
Ona had given Antanas to him--the little fellow was the only remembrance of her that
he had; he must treasure it and protect it, he must show himself a man.
He knew what Ona would have had him do, what she would ask of him at this moment,
if she could speak to him.
It was a terrible thing that she should have died as she had; but the life had been
too hard for her, and she had to go.
It was terrible that they were not able to bury her, that he could not even have a day
to mourn her--but so it was.
Their fate was pressing; they had not a cent, and the children would perish--some
money must be had. Could he not be a man for Ona's sake, and
pull himself together?
In a little while they would be out of danger--now that they had given up the
house they could live more cheaply, and with all the children working they could
get along, if only he would not go to pieces.
So Elzbieta went on, with feverish intensity.
It was a struggle for life with her; she was not afraid that Jurgis would go on
drinking, for he had no money for that, but she was wild with dread at the thought that
he might desert them, might take to the road, as Jonas had done.
But with Ona's dead body beneath his eyes, Jurgis could not well think of treason to
his child.
Yes, he said, he would try, for the sake of Antanas.
He would give the little fellow his chance- -would get to work at once, yes, tomorrow,
without even waiting for Ona to be buried.
They might trust him, he would keep his word, come what might.
And so he was out before daylight the next morning, headache, heartache, and all.
He went straight to Graham's fertilizer mill, to see if he could get back his job.
But the boss shook his head when he saw him--no, his place had been filled long
ago, and there was no room for him.
"Do you think there will be?" Jurgis asked.
"I may have to wait."
"No," said the other, "it will not be worth your while to wait--there will be nothing
for you here." Jurgis stood gazing at him in perplexity.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Didn't I do my work?" The other met his look with one of cold
indifference, and answered, "There will be nothing for you here, I said."
Jurgis had his suspicions as to the dreadful meaning of that incident, and he
went away with a sinking at the heart.
He went and took his stand with the mob of hungry wretches who were standing about in
the snow before the time station.
Here he stayed, breakfastless, for two hours, until the throng was driven away by
the clubs of the police. There was no work for him that day.
Jurgis had made a good many acquaintances in his long services at the yards--there
were saloon-keepers who would trust him for a drink and a sandwich, and members of his
old union who would lend him a dime at a pinch.
It was not a question of life and death for him, therefore; he might hunt all day, and
come again on the morrow, and try hanging on thus for weeks, like hundreds and
thousands of others.
Meantime, Teta Elzbieta would go and beg, over in the Hyde Park district, and the
children would bring home enough to pacify Aniele, and keep them all alive.
It was at the end of a week of this sort of waiting, roaming about in the bitter winds
or loafing in saloons, that Jurgis stumbled on a chance in one of the cellars of
Jones's big packing plant.
He saw a foreman passing the open doorway, and hailed him for a job.
"Push a truck?" inquired the man, and Jurgis answered, "Yes, sir!" before the
words were well out of his mouth.
"What's your name?" demanded the other. "Jurgis Rudkus."
"Worked in the yards before?" "Yes."
"Whereabouts?"
"Two places--Brown's killing beds and Durham's fertilizer mill."
"Why did you leave there?" "The first time I had an accident, and the
last time I was sent up for a month."
"I see. Well, I'll give you a trial.
Come early tomorrow and ask for Mr. Thomas."
So Jurgis rushed home with the wild tidings that he had a job--that the terrible siege
was over.
The remnants of the family had quite a celebration that night; and in the morning
Jurgis was at the place half an hour before the time of opening.
The foreman came in shortly afterward, and when he saw Jurgis he frowned.
"Oh," he said, "I promised you a job, didn't I?"
"Yes, sir," said Jurgis.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I made a mistake. I can't use you."
Jurgis stared, dumfounded. "What's the matter?" he gasped.
"Nothing," said the man, "only I can't use you."
There was the same cold, hostile stare that he had had from the boss of the fertilizer
mill.
He knew that there was no use in saying a word, and he turned and went away.
Out in the saloons the men could tell him all about the meaning of it; they gazed at
him with pitying eyes--poor devil, he was blacklisted!
What had he done? they asked--knocked down his boss?
Good heavens, then he might have known!
Why, he stood as much chance of getting a job in Packingtown as of being chosen mayor
of Chicago. Why had he wasted his time hunting?
They had him on a secret list in every office, big and little, in the place.
They had his name by this time in St. Louis and New York, in Omaha and Boston, in
Kansas City and St. Joseph.
He was condemned and sentenced, without trial and without appeal; he could never
work for the packers again--he could not even clean cattle pens or drive a truck in
any place where they controlled.
He might try it, if he chose, as hundreds had tried it, and found out for themselves.
He would never be told anything about it; he would never get any more satisfaction
than he had gotten just now; but he would always find when the time came that he was
not needed.
It would not do for him to give any other name, either--they had company "spotters"
for just that purpose, and he wouldn't keep a job in Packingtown three days.
It was worth a fortune to the packers to keep their blacklist effective, as a
warning to the men and a means of keeping down union agitation and political
discontent.
Jurgis went home, carrying these new tidings to the family council.
It was a most cruel thing; here in this district was his home, such as it was, the
place he was used to and the friends he knew--and now every possibility of
employment in it was closed to him.
There was nothing in Packingtown but packing houses; and so it was the same
thing as evicting him from his home. He and the two women spent all day and half
the night discussing it.
It would be convenient, downtown, to the children's place of work; but then Marija
was on the road to recovery, and had hopes of getting a job in the yards; and though
she did not see her old-time lover once a
month, because of the misery of their state, yet she could not make up her mind
to go away and give him up forever.
Then, too, Elzbieta had heard something about a chance to scrub floors in Durham's
offices and was waiting every day for word.
In the end it was decided that Jurgis should go downtown to strike out for
himself, and they would decide after he got a job.
As there was no one from whom he could borrow there, and he dared not beg for fear
of being arrested, it was arranged that every day he should meet one of the
children and be given fifteen cents of
their earnings, upon which he could keep going.
Then all day he was to pace the streets with hundreds and thousands of other
homeless wretches inquiring at stores, warehouses, and factories for a chance; and
at night he was to crawl into some doorway
or underneath a truck, and hide there until midnight, when he might get into one of the
station houses, and spread a newspaper upon the floor, and lie down in the midst of a
throng of "bums" and beggars, reeking with
alcohol and tobacco, and filthy with vermin and disease.
So for two weeks more Jurgis fought with the demon of despair.
Once he got a chance to load a truck for half a day, and again he carried an old
woman's valise and was given a quarter.
This let him into a lodging-house on several nights when he might otherwise have
frozen to death; and it also gave him a chance now and then to buy a newspaper in
the morning and hunt up jobs while his
rivals were watching and waiting for a paper to be thrown away.
This, however, was really not the advantage it seemed, for the newspaper advertisements
were a cause of much loss of precious time and of many weary journeys.
A full half of these were "fakes," put in by the endless variety of establishments
which preyed upon the helpless ignorance of the unemployed.
If Jurgis lost only his time, it was because he had nothing else to lose;
whenever a smooth-tongued agent would tell him of the wonderful positions he had on
hand, he could only shake his head
sorrowfully and say that he had not the necessary dollar to deposit; when it was
explained to him what "big money" he and all his family could make by coloring
photographs, he could only promise to come
in again when he had two dollars to invest in the outfit.
In the end Jurgis got a chance through an accidental meeting with an old-time
acquaintance of his union days.
He met this man on his way to work in the giant factories of the Harvester Trust; and
his friend told him to come along and he would speak a good word for him to his
boss, whom he knew well.
So Jurgis trudged four or five miles, and passed through a waiting throng of
unemployed at the gate under the escort of his friend.
His knees nearly gave way beneath him when the foreman, after looking him over and
questioning him, told him that he could find an opening for him.
How much this accident meant to Jurgis he realized only by stages; for he found that
the harvester works were the sort of place to which philanthropists and reformers
pointed with pride.
It had some thought for its employees; its workshops were big and roomy, it provided a
restaurant where the workmen could buy good food at cost, it had even a reading room,
and decent places where its girl-hands
could rest; also the work was free from many of the elements of filth and
repulsiveness that prevailed at the stockyards.
Day after day Jurgis discovered these things--things never expected nor dreamed
of by him--until this new place came to seem a kind of a heaven to him.
It was an enormous establishment, covering a hundred and sixty acres of ground,
employing five thousand people, and turning out over three hundred thousand machines
every year--a good part of all the
harvesting and mowing machines used in the country.
Jurgis saw very little of it, of course--it was all specialized work, the same as at
the stockyards; each one of the hundreds of parts of a mowing machine was made
separately, and sometimes handled by hundreds of men.
Where Jurgis worked there was a machine which cut and stamped a certain piece of
steel about two square inches in size; the pieces came tumbling out upon a tray, and
all that human hands had to do was to pile
them in regular rows, and change the trays at intervals.
This was done by a single boy, who stood with eyes and thought centered upon it, and
fingers flying so fast that the sounds of the bits of steel striking upon each other
was like the music of an express train as one hears it in a sleeping car at night.
This was "piece-work," of course; and besides it was made certain that the boy
did not idle, by setting the machine to match the highest possible speed of human
hands.
Thirty thousand of these pieces he handled every day, nine or ten million every year--
how many in a lifetime it rested with the gods to say.
Near by him men sat bending over whirling grindstones, putting the finishing touches
to the steel knives of the reaper; picking them out of a basket with the right hand,
pressing first one side and then the other
against the stone and finally dropping them with the left hand into another basket.
One of these men told Jurgis that he had sharpened three thousand pieces of steel a
day for thirteen years.
In the next room were wonderful machines that ate up long steel rods by slow stages,
cutting them off, seizing the pieces, stamping heads upon them, grinding them and
polishing them, threading them, and finally
dropping them into a basket, all ready to bolt the harvesters together.
From yet another machine came tens of thousands of steel burs to fit upon these
bolts.
In other places all these various parts were dipped into troughs of paint and hung
up to dry, and then slid along on trolleys to a room where men streaked them with red
and yellow, so that they might look cheerful in the harvest fields.
Jurgis's friend worked upstairs in the casting rooms, and his task was to make the
molds of a certain part.
He shoveled black sand into an iron receptacle and pounded it tight and set it
aside to harden; then it would be taken out, and molten iron poured into it.
This man, too, was paid by the mold--or rather for perfect castings, nearly half
his work going for naught.
You might see him, along with dozens of others, toiling like one possessed by a
whole community of demons; his arms working like the driving rods of an engine, his
long, black hair flying wild, his eyes
starting out, the sweat rolling in rivers down his face.
When he had shoveled the mold full of sand, and reached for the pounder to pound it
with, it was after the manner of a canoeist running rapids and seizing a pole at sight
of a submerged rock.
All day long this man would toil thus, his whole being centered upon the purpose of
making twenty-three instead of twenty-two and a half cents an hour; and then his
product would be reckoned up by the census
taker, and jubilant captains of industry would boast of it in their banquet halls,
telling how our workers are nearly twice as efficient as those of any other country.
If we are the greatest nation the sun ever shone upon, it would seem to be mainly
because we have been able to goad our wage- earners to this pitch of frenzy; though
there are a few other things that are great
among us including our drink-bill, which is a billion and a quarter of dollars a year,
and doubling itself every decade.
There was a machine which stamped out the iron plates, and then another which, with a
mighty thud, mashed them to the shape of the sitting-down portion of the American
farmer.
Then they were piled upon a truck, and it was Jurgis's task to wheel them to the room
where the machines were "assembled."
This was child's play for him, and he got a dollar and seventy-five cents a day for it;
on Saturday he paid Aniele the seventy-five cents a week he owed her for the use of her
garret, and also redeemed his overcoat,
which Elzbieta had put in pawn when he was in jail.
This last was a great blessing.
A man cannot go about in midwinter in Chicago with no overcoat and not pay for
it, and Jurgis had to walk or ride five or six miles back and forth to his work.
It so happened that half of this was in one direction and half in another,
necessitating a change of cars; the law required that transfers be given at all
intersecting points, but the railway
corporation had gotten round this by arranging a pretense at separate ownership.
So whenever he wished to ride, he had to pay ten cents each way, or over ten per
cent of his income to this power, which had gotten its franchises long ago by buying up
the city council, in the face of popular clamor amounting almost to a rebellion.
Tired as he felt at night, and dark and bitter cold as it was in the morning,
Jurgis generally chose to walk; at the hours other workmen were traveling, the
streetcar monopoly saw fit to put on so few
cars that there would be men hanging to every foot of the backs of them and often
crouching upon the snow-covered roof.
Of course the doors could never be closed, and so the cars were as cold as outdoors;
Jurgis, like many others, found it better to spend his fare for a drink and a free
lunch, to give him strength to walk.
These, however, were all slight matters to a man who had escaped from Durham's
fertilizer mill. Jurgis began to pick up heart again and to
make plans.
He had lost his house but then the awful load of the rent and interest was off his
shoulders, and when Marija was well again they could start over and save.
In the shop where he worked was a man, a Lithuanian like himself, whom the others
spoke of in admiring whispers, because of the mighty feats he was performing.
All day he sat at a machine turning bolts; and then in the evening he went to the
public school to study English and learn to read.
In addition, because he had a family of eight children to support and his earnings
were not enough, on Saturdays and Sundays he served as a watchman; he was required to
press two buttons at opposite ends of a
building every five minutes, and as the walk only took him two minutes, he had
three minutes to study between each trip.
Jurgis felt jealous of this fellow; for that was the sort of thing he himself had
dreamed of, two or three years ago.
He might do it even yet, if he had a fair chance--he might attract attention and
become a skilled man or a boss, as some had done in this place.
Suppose that Marija could get a job in the big mill where they made binder twine--then
they would move into this neighborhood, and he would really have a chance.
With a hope like that, there was some use in living; to find a place where you were
treated like a human being--by God! he would show them how he could appreciate it.
He laughed to himself as he thought how he would hang on to this job!
And then one afternoon, the ninth of his work in the place, when he went to get his
overcoat he saw a group of men crowded before a placard on the door, and when he
went over and asked what it was, they told
him that beginning with the morrow his department of the harvester works would be
closed until further notice!
>
CHAPTER 21
That was the way they did it! There was not half an hour's warning--the
works were closed! It had happened that way before, said the
men, and it would happen that way forever.
They had made all the harvesting machines that the world needed, and now they had to
wait till some wore out!
It was nobody's fault--that was the way of it; and thousands of men and women were
turned out in the dead of winter, to live upon their savings if they had any, and
otherwise to die.
So many tens of thousands already in the city, homeless and begging for work, and
now several thousand more added to them! Jurgis walked home-with his pittance of pay
in his pocket, heartbroken, overwhelmed.
One more bandage had been torn from his eyes, one more pitfall was revealed to him!
Of what help was kindness and decency on the part of employers--when they could not
keep a job for him, when there were more harvesting machines made than the world was
able to buy!
What a hellish mockery it was, anyway, that a man should slave to make harvesting
machines for the country, only to be turned out to starve for doing his duty too well!
It took him two days to get over this heart-sickening disappointment.
He did not drink anything, because Elzbieta got his money for safekeeping, and knew him
too well to be in the least frightened by his angry demands.
He stayed up in the garret however, and sulked--what was the use of a man's hunting
a job when it was taken from him before he had time to learn the work?
But then their money was going again, and little Antanas was hungry, and crying with
the bitter cold of the garret. Also Madame Haupt, the midwife, was after
him for some money.
So he went out once more. For another ten days he roamed the streets
and alleys of the huge city, sick and hungry, begging for any work.
He tried in stores and offices, in restaurants and hotels, along the docks and
in the railroad yards, in warehouses and mills and factories where they made
products that went to every corner of the world.
There were often one or two chances--but there were always a hundred men for every
chance, and his turn would not come.
At night he crept into sheds and cellars and doorways--until there came a spell of
belated winter weather, with a raging gale, and the thermometer five degrees below zero
at sundown and falling all night.
Then Jurgis fought like a wild beast to get into the big Harrison Street police
station, and slept down in a corridor, crowded with two other men upon a single
step.
He had to fight often in these days to fight for a place near the factory gates,
and now and again with gangs on the street.
He found, for instance, that the business of carrying satchels for railroad
passengers was a pre-empted one--whenever he essayed it, eight or ten men and boys
would fall upon him and force him to run for his life.
They always had the policeman "squared," and so there was no use in expecting
protection.
That Jurgis did not starve to death was due solely to the pittance the children brought
him. And even this was never certain.
For one thing the cold was almost more than the children could bear; and then they,
too, were in perpetual peril from rivals who plundered and beat them.
The law was against them, too--little Vilimas, who was really eleven, but did not
look to be eight, was stopped on the streets by a severe old lady in spectacles,
who told him that he was too young to be
working and that if he did not stop selling papers she would send a truant officer
after him.
Also one night a strange man caught little Kotrina by the arm and tried to persuade
her into a dark cellar-way, an experience which filled her with such terror that she
was hardly to be kept at work.
At last, on a Sunday, as there was no use looking for work, Jurgis went home by
stealing rides on the cars.
He found that they had been waiting for him for three days--there was a chance of a job
for him. It was quite a story.
Little Juozapas, who was near crazy with hunger these days, had gone out on the
street to beg for himself.
Juozapas had only one leg, having been run over by a wagon when a little child, but he
had got himself a broomstick, which he put under his arm for a crutch.
He had fallen in with some other children and found the way to Mike Scully's dump,
which lay three or four blocks away.
To this place there came every day many hundreds of wagon-loads of garbage and
trash from the lake front, where the rich people lived; and in the heaps the children
raked for food--there were hunks of bread
and potato peelings and apple cores and meat bones, all of it half frozen and quite
unspoiled.
Little Juozapas gorged himself, and came home with a newspaper full, which he was
feeding to Antanas when his mother came in.
Elzbieta was horrified, for she did not believe that the food out of the dumps was
fit to eat.
The next day, however, when no harm came of it and Juozapas began to cry with hunger,
she gave in and said that he might go again.
And that afternoon he came home with a story of how while he had been digging away
with a stick, a lady upon the street had called him.
A real fine lady, the little boy explained, a beautiful lady; and she wanted to know
all about him, and whether he got the garbage for chickens, and why he walked
with a broomstick, and why Ona had died,
and how Jurgis had come to go to jail, and what was the matter with Marija, and
everything.
In the end she had asked where he lived, and said that she was coming to see him,
and bring him a new crutch to walk with.
She had on a hat with a bird upon it, Juozapas added, and a long fur snake around
her neck.
She really came, the very next morning, and climbed the ladder to the garret, and stood
and stared about her, turning pale at the sight of the blood stains on the floor
where Ona had died.
She was a "settlement worker," she explained to Elzbieta--she lived around on
Ashland Avenue.
Elzbieta knew the place, over a feed store; somebody had wanted her to go there, but
she had not cared to, for she thought that it must have something to do with religion,
and the priest did not like her to have anything to do with strange religions.
They were rich people who came to live there to find out about the poor people;
but what good they expected it would do them to know, one could not imagine.
So spoke Elzbieta, naively, and the young lady laughed and was rather at a loss for
an answer--she stood and gazed about her, and thought of a cynical remark that had
been made to her, that she was standing
upon the brink of the pit of hell and throwing in snowballs to lower the
temperature.
Elzbieta was glad to have somebody to listen, and she told all their woes--what
had happened to Ona, and the jail, and the loss of their home, and Marija's accident,
and how Ona had died, and how Jurgis could get no work.
As she listened the pretty young lady's eyes filled with tears, and in the midst of
it she burst into weeping and hid her face on Elzbieta's shoulder, quite regardless of
the fact that the woman had on a dirty old
wrapper and that the garret was full of fleas.
Poor Elzbieta was ashamed of herself for having told so woeful a tale, and the other
had to beg and plead with her to get her to go on.
The end of it was that the young lady sent them a basket of things to eat, and left a
letter that Jurgis was to take to a gentleman who was superintendent in one of
the mills of the great steelworks in South Chicago.
"He will get Jurgis something to do," the young lady had said, and added, smiling
through her tears--"If he doesn't, he will never marry me."
The steel-works were fifteen miles away, and as usual it was so contrived that one
had to pay two fares to get there.
Far and wide the sky was flaring with the red glare that leaped from rows of towering
chimneys--for it was pitch dark when Jurgis arrived.
The vast works, a city in themselves, were surrounded by a stockade; and already a
full hundred men were waiting at the gate where new hands were taken on.
Soon after daybreak whistles began to blow, and then suddenly thousands of men
appeared, streaming from saloons and boardinghouses across the way, leaping from
trolley cars that passed--it seemed as if
they rose out of the ground, in the dim gray light.
A river of them poured in through the gate- -and then gradually ebbed away again, until
there were only a few late ones running, and the watchman pacing up and down, and
the hungry strangers stamping and shivering.
Jurgis presented his precious letter.
The gatekeeper was surly, and put him through a catechism, but he insisted that
he knew nothing, and as he had taken the precaution to seal his letter, there was
nothing for the gatekeeper to do but send it to the person to whom it was addressed.
A messenger came back to say that Jurgis should wait, and so he came inside of the
gate, perhaps not sorry enough that there were others less fortunate watching him
with greedy eyes.
The great mills were getting under way--one could hear a vast stirring, a rolling and
rumbling and hammering.
Little by little the scene grew plain: towering, black buildings here and there,
long rows of shops and sheds, little railways branching everywhere, bare gray
cinders underfoot and oceans of billowing black smoke above.
On one side of the grounds ran a railroad with a dozen tracks, and on the other side
lay the lake, where steamers came to load.
Jurgis had time enough to stare and speculate, for it was two hours before he
was summoned. He went into the office building, where a
company timekeeper interviewed him.
The superintendent was busy, he said, but he (the timekeeper) would try to find
Jurgis a job. He had never worked in a steel mill before?
But he was ready for anything?
Well, then, they would go and see. So they began a tour, among sights that
made Jurgis stare amazed.
He wondered if ever he could get used to working in a place like this, where the air
shook with deafening thunder, and whistles shrieked warnings on all sides of him at
once; where miniature steam engines came
rushing upon him, and sizzling, quivering, white-hot masses of metal sped past him,
and explosions of fire and flaming sparks dazzled him and scorched his face.
The men in these mills were all black with soot, and hollow-eyed and gaunt; they
worked with fierce intensity, rushing here and there, and never lifting their eyes
from their tasks.
Jurgis clung to his guide like a scared child to its nurse, and while the latter
hailed one foreman after another to ask if they could use another unskilled man, he
stared about him and marveled.
He was taken to the Bessemer furnace, where they made billets of steel--a dome-like
building, the size of a big theater.
Jurgis stood where the balcony of the theater would have been, and opposite, by
the stage, he saw three giant caldrons, big enough for all the devils of hell to brew
their broth in, full of something white and
blinding, bubbling and splashing, roaring as if volcanoes were blowing through it--
one had to shout to be heard in the place.
Liquid fire would leap from these caldrons and scatter like bombs below--and men were
working there, seeming careless, so that Jurgis caught his breath with fright.
Then a whistle would toot, and across the curtain of the theater would come a little
engine with a carload of something to be dumped into one of the receptacles; and
then another whistle would toot, down by
the stage, and another train would back up- -and suddenly, without an instant's
warning, one of the giant kettles began to tilt and topple, flinging out a jet of
hissing, roaring flame.
Jurgis shrank back appalled, for he thought it was an accident; there fell a pillar of
white flame, dazzling as the sun, swishing like a huge tree falling in the forest.
A torrent of sparks swept all the way across the building, overwhelming
everything, hiding it from sight; and then Jurgis looked through the fingers of his
hands, and saw pouring out of the caldron a
cascade of living, leaping fire, white with a whiteness not of earth, scorching the
eyeballs.
Incandescent rainbows shone above it, blue, red, and golden lights played about it; but
the stream itself was white, ineffable.
Out of regions of wonder it streamed, the very river of life; and the soul leaped up
at the sight of it, fled back upon it, swift and resistless, back into far-off
lands, where beauty and terror dwell.
Then the great caldron tilted back again, empty, and Jurgis saw to his relief that no
one was hurt, and turned and followed his guide out into the sunlight.
They went through the blast furnaces, through rolling mills where bars of steel
were tossed about and chopped like bits of cheese.
All around and above giant machine arms were flying, giant wheels were turning,
great hammers crashing; traveling cranes creaked and groaned overhead, reaching down
iron hands and seizing iron prey--it was
like standing in the center of the earth, where the machinery of time was revolving.
By and by they came to the place where steel rails were made; and Jurgis heard a
toot behind him, and jumped out of the way of a car with a white-hot ingot upon it,
the size of a man's body.
There was a sudden crash and the car came to a halt, and the ingot toppled out upon a
moving platform, where steel fingers and arms seized hold of it, punching it and
prodding it into place, and hurrying it into the grip of huge rollers.
Then it came out upon the other side, and there were more crashings and clatterings,
and over it was flopped, like a pancake on a gridiron, and seized again and rushed
back at you through another squeezer.
So amid deafening uproar it clattered to and fro, growing thinner and flatter and
longer.
The ingot seemed almost a living thing; it did not want to run this mad course, but it
was in the grip of fate, it was tumbled on, screeching and clanking and shivering in
protest.
By and by it was long and thin, a great red snake escaped from purgatory; and then, as
it slid through the rollers, you would have sworn that it was alive--it writhed and
squirmed, and wriggles and shudders passed
out through its tail, all but flinging it off by their violence.
There was no rest for it until it was cold and black--and then it needed only to be
cut and straightened to be ready for a railroad.
It was at the end of this rail's progress that Jurgis got his chance.
They had to be moved by men with crowbars, and the boss here could use another man.
So he took off his coat and set to work on the spot.
It took him two hours to get to this place every day and cost him a dollar and twenty
cents a week.
As this was out of the question, he wrapped his bedding in a bundle and took it with
him, and one of his fellow workingmen introduced him to a Polish lodging-house,
where he might have the privilege of
sleeping upon the floor for ten cents a night.
He got his meals at free-lunch counters, and every Saturday night he went home--
bedding and all--and took the greater part of his money to the family.
Elzbieta was sorry for this arrangement, for she feared that it would get him into
the habit of living without them, and once a week was not very often for him to see
his baby; but there was no other way of arranging it.
There was no chance for a woman at the steelworks, and Marija was now ready for
work again, and lured on from day to day by the hope of finding it at the yards.
In a week Jurgis got over his sense of helplessness and bewilderment in the rail
mill.
He learned to find his way about and to take all the miracles and terrors for
granted, to work without hearing the rumbling and crashing.
From blind fear he went to the other extreme; he became reckless and
indifferent, like all the rest of the men, who took but little thought of themselves
in the ardor of their work.
It was wonderful, when one came to think of it, that these men should have taken an
interest in the work they did--they had no share in it--they were paid by the hour,
and paid no more for being interested.
Also they knew that if they were hurt they would be flung aside and forgotten--and
still they would hurry to their task by dangerous short cuts, would use methods
that were quicker and more effective in
spite of the fact that they were also risky.
His fourth day at his work Jurgis saw a man stumble while running in front of a car,
and have his foot mashed off, and before he had been there three weeks he was witness
of a yet more dreadful accident.
There was a row of brick furnaces, shining white through every crack with the molten
steel inside.
Some of these were bulging dangerously, yet men worked before them, wearing blue
glasses when they opened and shut the doors.
One morning as Jurgis was passing, a furnace blew out, spraying two men with a
shower of liquid fire.
As they lay screaming and rolling upon the ground in agony, Jurgis rushed to help
them, and as a result he lost a good part of the skin from the inside of one of his
hands.
The company doctor bandaged it up, but he got no other thanks from any one, and was
laid up for eight working days without any pay.
Most fortunately, at this juncture, Elzbieta got the long-awaited chance to go
at five o'clock in the morning and help scrub the office floors of one of the
packers.
Jurgis came home and covered himself with blankets to keep warm, and divided his time
between sleeping and playing with little Antanas.
Juozapas was away raking in the dump a good part of the time, and Elzbieta and Marija
were hunting for more work. Antanas was now over a year and a half old,
and was a perfect talking machine.
He learned so fast that every week when Jurgis came home it seemed to him as if he
had a new child.
He would sit down and listen and stare at him, and give vent to delighted
exclamations--"Palauk! Muma!
Tu mano szirdele!"
The little fellow was now really the one delight that Jurgis had in the world--his
one hope, his one victory. Thank God, Antanas was a boy!
And he was as tough as a pine knot, and with the appetite of a wolf.
Nothing had hurt him, and nothing could hurt him; he had come through all the
suffering and deprivation unscathed--only shriller-voiced and more determined in his
grip upon life.
He was a terrible child to manage, was Antanas, but his father did not mind that--
he would watch him and smile to himself with satisfaction.
The more of a fighter he was the better--he would need to fight before he got through.
Jurgis had got the habit of buying the Sunday paper whenever he had the money; a
most wonderful paper could be had for only five cents, a whole armful, with all the
news of the world set forth in big
headlines, that Jurgis could spell out slowly, with the children to help him at
the long words.
There was battle and murder and sudden death--it was marvelous how they ever heard
about so many entertaining and thrilling happenings; the stories must be all true,
for surely no man could have made such
things up, and besides, there were pictures of them all, as real as life.
One of these papers was as good as a circus, and nearly as good as a spree--
certainly a most wonderful treat for a workingman, who was tired out and
stupefied, and had never had any education,
and whose work was one dull, sordid grind, day after day, and year after year, with
never a sight of a green field nor an hour's entertainment, nor anything but
liquor to stimulate his imagination.
Among other things, these papers had pages full of comical pictures, and these were
the main joy in life to little Antanas.
He treasured them up, and would drag them out and make his father tell him about
them; there were all sorts of animals among them, and Antanas could tell the names of
all of them, lying upon the floor for hours
and pointing them out with his chubby little fingers.
Whenever the story was plain enough for Jurgis to make out, Antanas would have it
repeated to him, and then he would remember it, prattling funny little sentences and
mixing it up with other stories in an irresistible fashion.
Also his quaint pronunciation of words was such a delight--and the phrases he would
pick up and remember, the most outlandish and impossible things!
The first time that the little rascal burst out with "God damn," his father nearly
rolled off the chair with glee; but in the end he was sorry for this, for Antanas was
soon "God-damning" everything and everybody.
And then, when he was able to use his hands, Jurgis took his bedding again and
went back to his task of shifting rails.
It was now April, and the snow had given place to cold rains, and the unpaved street
in front of Aniele's house was turned into a canal.
Jurgis would have to wade through it to get home, and if it was late he might easily
get stuck to his waist in the mire. But he did not mind this much--it was a
promise that summer was coming.
Marija had now gotten a place as beef- trimmer in one of the smaller packing
plants; and he told himself that he had learned his lesson now, and would meet with
no more accidents--so that at last there was prospect of an end to their long agony.
They could save money again, and when another winter came they would have a
comfortable place; and the children would be off the streets and in school again, and
they might set to work to nurse back into life their habits of decency and kindness.
So once more Jurgis began to make plans and dream dreams.
And then one Saturday night he jumped off the car and started home, with the sun
shining low under the edge of a bank of clouds that had been pouring floods of
water into the mud-soaked street.
There was a rainbow in the sky, and another in his breast--for he had thirty-six hours'
rest before him, and a chance to see his family.
Then suddenly he came in sight of the house, and noticed that there was a crowd
before the door.
He ran up the steps and pushed his way in, and saw Aniele's kitchen crowded with
excited women.
It reminded him so vividly of the time when he had come home from jail and found Ona
dying, that his heart almost stood still. "What's the matter?" he cried.
A dead silence had fallen in the room, and he saw that every one was staring at him.
"What's the matter?" he exclaimed again. And then, up in the garret, he heard sounds
of wailing, in Marija's voice.
He started for the ladder--and Aniele seized him by the arm.
"No, no!" she exclaimed. "Don't go up there!"
"What is it?" he shouted.
And the old woman answered him weakly: "It's Antanas.
He's dead. He was drowned out in the street!"
>
CHAPTER 22
Jurgis took the news in a peculiar way. He turned deadly pale, but he caught
himself, and for half a minute stood in the middle of the room, clenching his hands
tightly and setting his teeth.
Then he pushed Aniele aside and strode into the next room and climbed the ladder.
In the corner was a blanket, with a form half showing beneath it; and beside it lay
Elzbieta, whether crying or in a faint, Jurgis could not tell.
Marija was pacing the room, screaming and wringing her hands.
He clenched his hands tighter yet, and his voice was hard as he spoke.
"How did it happen?" he asked.
Marija scarcely heard him in her agony. He repeated the question, louder and yet
more harshly. "He fell off the sidewalk!" she wailed.
The sidewalk in front of the house was a platform made of half-rotten boards, about
five feet above the level of the sunken street.
"How did he come to be there?" he demanded.
"He went--he went out to play," Marija sobbed, her voice choking her.
"We couldn't make him stay in. He must have got caught in the mud!"
"Are you sure that he is dead?" he demanded.
"Ai! ai!" she wailed. "Yes; we had the doctor."
Then Jurgis stood a few seconds, wavering.
He did not shed a tear. He took one glance more at the blanket with
the little form beneath it, and then turned suddenly to the ladder and climbed down
again.
A silence fell once more in the room as he entered.
He went straight to the door, passed out, and started down the street.
When his wife had died, Jurgis made for the nearest saloon, but he did not do that now,
though he had his week's wages in his pocket.
He walked and walked, seeing nothing, splashing through mud and water.
Later on he sat down upon a step and hid his face in his hands and for half an hour
or so he did not move.
Now and then he would whisper to himself: "Dead!
Dead!" Finally, he got up and walked on again.
It was about sunset, and he went on and on until it was dark, when he was stopped by a
railroad crossing. The gates were down, and a long train of
freight cars was thundering by.
He stood and watched it; and all at once a wild impulse seized him, a thought that had
been lurking within him, unspoken, unrecognized, leaped into sudden life.
He started down the track, and when he was past the gate-keeper's shanty he sprang
forward and swung himself on to one of the cars.
By and by the train stopped again, and Jurgis sprang down and ran under the car,
and hid himself upon the truck. Here he sat, and when the train started
again, he fought a battle with his soul.
He gripped his hands and set his teeth together--he had not wept, and he would
not--not a tear!
It was past and over, and he was done with it--he would fling it off his shoulders, be
free of it, the whole business, that night.
It should go like a black, hateful nightmare, and in the morning he would be a
new man.
And every time that a thought of it assailed him--a tender memory, a trace of a
tear--he rose up, cursing with rage, and pounded it down.
He was fighting for his life; he gnashed his teeth together in his desperation.
He had been a fool, a fool!
He had wasted his life, he had wrecked himself, with his accursed weakness; and
now he was done with it--he would tear it out of him, root and branch!
There should be no more tears and no more tenderness; he had had enough of them--they
had sold him into slavery! Now he was going to be free, to tear off
his shackles, to rise up and fight.
He was glad that the end had come--it had to come some time, and it was just as well
now.
This was no world for women and children, and the sooner they got out of it the
better for them.
Whatever Antanas might suffer where he was, he could suffer no more than he would have
had he stayed upon earth.
And meantime his father had thought the last thought about him that he meant to; he
was going to think of himself, he was going to fight for himself, against the world
that had baffled him and tortured him!
So he went on, tearing up all the flowers from the garden of his soul, and setting
his heel upon them.
The train thundered deafeningly, and a storm of dust blew in his face; but though
it stopped now and then through the night, he clung where he was--he would cling there
until he was driven off, for every mile
that he got from Packingtown meant another load from his mind.
Whenever the cars stopped a warm breeze blew upon him, a breeze laden with the
perfume of fresh fields, of honeysuckle and clover.
He snuffed it, and it made his heart beat wildly--he was out in the country again!
He was going to live in the country!
When the dawn came he was peering out with hungry eyes, getting glimpses of meadows
and woods and rivers.
At last he could stand it no longer, and when the train stopped again he crawled
out.
Upon the top of the car was a brakeman, who shook his fist and swore; Jurgis waved his
hand derisively, and started across the country.
Only think that he had been a countryman all his life; and for three long years he
had never seen a country sight nor heard a country sound!
Excepting for that one walk when he left jail, when he was too much worried to
notice anything, and for a few times that he had rested in the city parks in the
winter time when he was out of work, he had literally never seen a tree!
And now he felt like a bird lifted up and borne away upon a gale; he stopped and
stared at each new sight of wonder--at a herd of cows, and a meadow full of daisies,
at hedgerows set thick with June roses, at little birds singing in the trees.
Then he came to a farm-house, and after getting himself a stick for protection, he
approached it.
The farmer was greasing a wagon in front of the barn, and Jurgis went to him.
"I would like to get some breakfast, please," he said.
"Do you want to work?" said the farmer.
"No," said Jurgis. "I don't."
"Then you can't get anything here," snapped the other.
"I meant to pay for it," said Jurgis.
"Oh," said the farmer; and then added sarcastically, "We don't serve breakfast
after 7 A.M." "I am very hungry," said Jurgis gravely; "I
would like to buy some food."
"Ask the woman," said the farmer, nodding over his shoulder.
The "woman" was more tractable, and for a dime Jurgis secured two thick sandwiches
and a piece of pie and two apples.
He walked off eating the pie, as the least convenient thing to carry.
In a few minutes he came to a stream, and he climbed a fence and walked down the
bank, along a woodland path.
By and by he found a comfortable spot, and there he devoured his meal, slaking his
thirst at the stream.
Then he lay for hours, just gazing and drinking in joy; until at last he felt
sleepy, and lay down in the shade of a bush.
When he awoke the sun was shining hot in his face.
He sat up and stretched his arms, and then gazed at the water sliding by.
There was a deep pool, sheltered and silent, below him, and a sudden wonderful
idea rushed upon him. He might have a bath!
The water was free, and he might get into it--all the way into it!
It would be the first time that he had been all the way into the water since he left
Lithuania!
When Jurgis had first come to the stockyards he had been as clean as any
workingman could well be.
But later on, what with sickness and cold and hunger and discouragement, and the
filthiness of his work, and the vermin in his home, he had given up washing in
winter, and in summer only as much of him as would go into a basin.
He had had a shower bath in jail, but nothing since--and now he would have a
swim!
The water was warm, and he splashed about like a very boy in his glee.
Afterward he sat down in the water near the bank, and proceeded to scrub himself--
soberly and methodically, scouring every inch of him with sand.
While he was doing it he would do it thoroughly, and see how it felt to be
clean.
He even scrubbed his head with sand, and combed what the men called "crumbs" out of
his long, black hair, holding his head under water as long as he could, to see if
he could not kill them all.
Then, seeing that the sun was still hot, he took his clothes from the bank and
proceeded to wash them, piece by piece; as the dirt and grease went floating off
downstream he grunted with satisfaction and
soused the clothes again, venturing even to dream that he might get rid of the
fertilizer.
He hung them all up, and while they were drying he lay down in the sun and had
another long sleep.
They were hot and stiff as boards on top, and a little damp on the underside, when he
awakened; but being hungry, he put them on and set out again.
He had no knife, but with some labor he broke himself a good stout club, and, armed
with this, he marched down the road again. Before long he came to a big farmhouse, and
turned up the lane that led to it.
It was just supper-time, and the farmer was washing his hands at the kitchen door.
"Please, sir," said Jurgis, "can I have something to eat?
I can pay."
To which the farmer responded promptly, "We don't feed tramps here.
Get out!"
Jurgis went without a word; but as he passed round the barn he came to a freshly
ploughed and harrowed field, in which the farmer had set out some young peach trees;
and as he walked he jerked up a row of them
by the roots, more than a hundred trees in all, before he reached the end of the
field.
That was his answer, and it showed his mood; from now on he was fighting, and the
man who hit him would get all that he gave, every time.
Beyond the orchard Jurgis struck through a patch of woods, and then a field of winter
grain, and came at last to another road.
Before long he saw another farmhouse, and, as it was beginning to cloud over a little,
he asked here for shelter as well as food. Seeing the farmer eying him dubiously, he
added, "I'll be glad to sleep in the barn."
"Well, I dunno," said the other. "Do you smoke?"
"Sometimes," said Jurgis, "but I'll do it out of doors."
When the man had assented, he inquired, "How much will it cost me?
I haven't very much money." "I reckon about twenty cents for supper,"
replied the farmer.
"I won't charge ye for the barn." So Jurgis went in, and sat down at the
table with the farmer's wife and half a dozen children.
It was a bountiful meal--there were baked beans and mashed potatoes and asparagus
chopped and stewed, and a dish of strawberries, and great, thick slices of
bread, and a pitcher of milk.
Jurgis had not had such a feast since his wedding day, and he made a mighty effort to
put in his twenty cents' worth.
They were all of them too hungry to talk; but afterward they sat upon the steps and
smoked, and the farmer questioned his guest.
When Jurgis had explained that he was a workingman from Chicago, and that he did
not know just whither he was bound, the other said, "Why don't you stay here and
work for me?"
"I'm not looking for work just now," Jurgis answered.
"I'll pay ye good," said the other, eying his big form--"a dollar a day and board ye.
Help's terrible scarce round here."
"Is that winter as well as summer?" Jurgis demanded quickly.
"N--no," said the farmer; "I couldn't keep ye after November--I ain't got a big enough
place for that."
"I see," said the other, "that's what I thought.
When you get through working your horses this fall, will you turn them out in the
snow?"
(Jurgis was beginning to think for himself nowadays.)
"It ain't quite the same," the farmer answered, seeing the point.
"There ought to be work a strong fellow like you can find to do, in the cities, or
some place, in the winter time."
"Yes," said Jurgis, "that's what they all think; and so they crowd into the cities,
and when they have to beg or steal to live, then people ask 'em why they don't go into
the country, where help is scarce."
The farmer meditated awhile. "How about when your money's gone?" he
inquired, finally. "You'll have to, then, won't you?"
"Wait till she's gone," said Jurgis; "then I'll see."
He had a long sleep in the barn and then a big breakfast of coffee and bread and
oatmeal and stewed cherries, for which the man charged him only fifteen cents, perhaps
having been influenced by his arguments.
Then Jurgis bade farewell, and went on his way.
Such was the beginning of his life as a tramp.
It was seldom he got as fair treatment as from this last farmer, and so as time went
on he learned to shun the houses and to prefer sleeping in the fields.
When it rained he would find a deserted building, if he could, and if not, he would
wait until after dark and then, with his stick ready, begin a stealthy approach upon
a barn.
Generally he could get in before the dog got scent of him, and then he would hide in
the hay and be safe until morning; if not, and the dog attacked him, he would rise up
and make a retreat in battle order.
Jurgis was not the mighty man he had once been, but his arms were still good, and
there were few farm dogs he needed to hit more than once.
Before long there came raspberries, and then blackberries, to help him save his
money; and there were apples in the orchards and potatoes in the ground--he
learned to note the places and fill his pockets after dark.
Twice he even managed to capture a chicken, and had a feast, once in a deserted barn
and the other time in a lonely spot alongside of a stream.
When all of these things failed him he used his money carefully, but without worry--for
he saw that he could earn more whenever he chose.
Half an hour's chopping wood in his lively fashion was enough to bring him a meal, and
when the farmer had seen him working he would sometimes try to bribe him to stay.
But Jurgis was not staying.
He was a free man now, a buccaneer. The old wanderlust had got into his blood,
the joy of the unbound life, the joy of seeking, of hoping without limit.
There were mishaps and discomforts--but at least there was always something new; and
only think what it meant to a man who for years had been penned up in one place,
seeing nothing but one dreary prospect of
shanties and factories, to be suddenly set loose beneath the open sky, to behold new
landscapes, new places, and new people every hour!
To a man whose whole life had consisted of doing one certain thing all day, until he
was so exhausted that he could only lie down and sleep until the next day--and to
be now his own master, working as he
pleased and when he pleased, and facing a new adventure every hour!
Then, too, his health came back to him, all his lost youthful vigor, his joy and power
that he had mourned and forgotten!
It came with a sudden rush, bewildering him, startling him; it was as if his dead
childhood had come back to him, laughing and calling!
What with plenty to eat and fresh air and exercise that was taken as it pleased him,
he would waken from his sleep and start off not knowing what to do with his energy,
stretching his arms, laughing, singing old songs of home that came back to him.
Now and then, of course, he could not help but think of little Antanas, whom he should
never see again, whose little voice he should never hear; and then he would have
to battle with himself.
Sometimes at night he would waken dreaming of Ona, and stretch out his arms to her,
and wet the ground with his tears.
But in the morning he would get up and shake himself, and stride away again to
battle with the world.
He never asked where he was nor where he was going; the country was big enough, he
knew, and there was no danger of his coming to the end of it.
And of course he could always have company for the asking--everywhere he went there
were men living just as he lived, and whom he was welcome to join.
He was a stranger at the business, but they were not clannish, and they taught him all
their tricks--what towns and villages it was best to keep away from, and how to read
the secret signs upon the fences, and when
to beg and when to steal, and just how to do both.
They laughed at his ideas of paying for anything with money or with work--for they
got all they wanted without either.
Now and then Jurgis camped out with a gang of them in some woodland haunt, and foraged
with them in the neighborhood at night.
And then among them some one would "take a shine" to him, and they would go off
together and travel for a week, exchanging reminiscences.
Of these professional tramps a great many had, of course, been shiftless and vicious
all their lives.
But the vast majority of them had been workingmen, had fought the long fight as
Jurgis had, and found that it was a losing fight, and given up.
Later on he encountered yet another sort of men, those from whose ranks the tramps were
recruited, men who were homeless and wandering, but still seeking work--seeking
it in the harvest fields.
Of these there was an army, the huge surplus labor army of society; called into
being under the stern system of nature, to do the casual work of the world, the tasks
which were transient and irregular, and yet which had to be done.
They did not know that they were such, of course; they only knew that they sought the
job, and that the job was fleeting.
In the early summer they would be in Texas, and as the crops were ready they would
follow north with the season, ending with the fall in Manitoba.
Then they would seek out the big lumber camps, where there was winter work; or
failing in this, would drift to the cities, and live upon what they had managed to
save, with the help of such transient work
as was there the loading and unloading of steamships and drays, the digging of
ditches and the shoveling of snow.
If there were more of them on hand than chanced to be needed, the weaker ones died
off of cold and hunger, again according to the stern system of nature.
It was in the latter part of July, when Jurgis was in Missouri, that he came upon
the harvest work.
Here were crops that men had worked for three or four months to prepare, and of
which they would lose nearly all unless they could find others to help them for a
week or two.
So all over the land there was a cry for labor--agencies were set up and all the
cities were drained of men, even college boys were brought by the carload, and
hordes of frantic farmers would hold up
trains and carry off wagon-loads of men by main force.
Not that they did not pay them well--any man could get two dollars a day and his
board, and the best men could get two dollars and a half or three.
The harvest-fever was in the very air, and no man with any spirit in him could be in
that region and not catch it.
Jurgis joined a gang and worked from dawn till dark, eighteen hours a day, for two
weeks without a break.
Then he had a sum of money that would have been a fortune to him in the old days of
misery--but what could he do with it now?
To be sure he might have put it in a bank, and, if he were fortunate, get it back
again when he wanted it.
But Jurgis was now a homeless man, wandering over a continent; and what did he
know about banking and drafts and letters of credit?
If he carried the money about with him, he would surely be robbed in the end; and so
what was there for him to do but enjoy it while he could?
On a Saturday night he drifted into a town with his fellows; and because it was
raining, and there was no other place provided for him, he went to a saloon.
And there were some who treated him and whom he had to treat, and there was
laughter and singing and good cheer; and then out of the rear part of the saloon a
girl's face, red-cheeked and merry, smiled
at Jurgis, and his heart thumped suddenly in his throat.
He nodded to her, and she came and sat by him, and they had more drink, and then he
went upstairs into a room with her, and the wild beast rose up within him and screamed,
as it has screamed in the Jungle from the dawn of time.
And then because of his memories and his shame, he was glad when others joined them,
men and women; and they had more drink and spent the night in wild rioting and
debauchery.
In the van of the surplus-labor army, there followed another, an army of women, they
also struggling for life under the stern system of nature.
Because there were rich men who sought pleasure, there had been ease and plenty
for them so long as they were young and beautiful; and later on, when they were
crowded out by others younger and more
beautiful, they went out to follow upon the trail of the workingmen.
Sometimes they came of themselves, and the saloon-keepers shared with them; or
sometimes they were handled by agencies, the same as the labor army.
They were in the towns in harvest time, near the lumber camps in the winter, in the
cities when the men came there; if a regiment were encamped, or a railroad or
canal being made, or a great exposition
getting ready, the crowd of women were on hand, living in shanties or saloons or
tenement rooms, sometimes eight or ten of them together.
In the morning Jurgis had not a cent, and he went out upon the road again.
He was sick and disgusted, but after the new plan of his life, he crushed his
feelings down.
He had made a fool of himself, but he could not help it now--all he could do was to see
that it did not happen again.
So he tramped on until exercise and fresh air banished his headache, and his strength
and joy returned.
This happened to him every time, for Jurgis was still a creature of impulse, and his
pleasures had not yet become business.
It would be a long time before he could be like the majority of these men of the road,
who roamed until the hunger for drink and for women mastered them, and then went to
work with a purpose in mind, and stopped when they had the price of a spree.
On the contrary, try as he would, Jurgis could not help being made miserable by his
conscience.
It was the ghost that would not down. It would come upon him in the most
unexpected places--sometimes it fairly drove him to drink.
One night he was caught by a thunderstorm, and he sought shelter in a little house
just outside of a town.
It was a working-man's home, and the owner was a Slav like himself, a new emigrant
from White Russia; he bade Jurgis welcome in his home language, and told him to come
to the kitchen-fire and dry himself.
He had no bed for him, but there was straw in the garret, and he could make out.
The man's wife was cooking the supper, and their children were playing about on the
floor.
Jurgis sat and exchanged thoughts with him about the old country, and the places where
they had been and the work they had done.
Then they ate, and afterward sat and smoked and talked more about America, and how they
found it.
In the middle of a sentence, however, Jurgis stopped, seeing that the woman had
brought a big basin of water and was proceeding to undress her youngest baby.
The rest had crawled into the closet where they slept, but the baby was to have a
bath, the workingman explained.
The nights had begun to be chilly, and his mother, ignorant as to the climate in
America, had sewed him up for the winter; then it had turned warm again, and some
kind of a rash had broken out on the child.
The doctor had said she must bathe him every night, and she, foolish woman,
believed him. Jurgis scarcely heard the explanation; he
was watching the baby.
He was about a year old, and a sturdy little fellow, with soft fat legs, and a
round ball of a stomach, and eyes as black as coals.
His pimples did not seem to bother him much, and he was wild with glee over the
bath, kicking and squirming and chuckling with delight, pulling at his mother's face
and then at his own little toes.
When she put him into the basin he sat in the midst of it and grinned, splashing the
water over himself and squealing like a little pig.
He spoke in Russian, of which Jurgis knew some; he spoke it with the quaintest of
baby accents--and every word of it brought back to Jurgis some word of his own dead
little one, and stabbed him like a knife.
He sat perfectly motionless, silent, but gripping his hands tightly, while a storm
gathered in his bosom and a flood heaped itself up behind his eyes.
And in the end he could bear it no more, but buried his face in his hands and burst
into tears, to the alarm and amazement of his hosts.
Between the shame of this and his woe Jurgis could not stand it, and got up and
rushed out into the rain.
He went on and on down the road, finally coming to a black woods, where he hid and
wept as if his heart would break.
Ah, what agony was that, what despair, when the tomb of memory was rent open and the
ghosts of his old life came forth to scourge him!
What terror to see what he had been and now could never be--to see Ona and his child
and his own dead self stretching out their arms to him, calling to him across a
bottomless abyss--and to know that they
were gone from him forever, and he writhing and suffocating in the mire of his own
vileness!
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Part 5 - The Jungle Audiobook by Upton Sinclair (Chs 18-22)

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Hhart Budha published on June 17, 2014
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