From The Jungle
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
"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
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
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
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
"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 suppertime, 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 wagonloads 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
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,
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
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!
The Jungle Chapter 23