From The Jungle
During the summer the packing houses were in full activity again,
and Jurgis made more money. He did not make so much, however, as
he had the previous summer, for the packers took on more hands.
There were new men every week, it seemed--it was a regular system;
and this number they would keep over to the next slack season,
so that every one would have less than ever. Sooner or later,
by this plan, they would have all the floating labor of Chicago
trained to do their work. And how very cunning a trick was that!
The men were to teach new hands, who would some day come and break
their strike; and meantime they were kept so poor that they could
not prepare for the trial!
But let no one suppose that this superfluity of employees meant
easier work for any one! On the contrary, the speeding-up seemed to
be growing more savage all the time; they were continually inventing
new devices to crowd the work on--it was for all the world like the
thumbscrew of the medieval torture chamber. They would get new
pacemakers and pay them more; they would drive the men on with new
machinery--it was said that in the hog-killing rooms the speed at
which the hogs moved was determined by clockwork, and that it was
increased a little every day. In piecework they would reduce the time,
requiring the same work in a shorter time, and paying the same wages;
and then, after the workers had accustomed themselves to this new speed,
they would reduce the rate of payment to correspond with the reduction
in time! They had done this so often in the canning establishments
that the girls were fairly desperate; their wages had gone down by
a full third in the past two years, and a storm of discontent was
brewing that was likely to break any day. Only a month after Marija
had become a beef-trimmer the canning factory that she had left posted
a cut that would divide the girls' earnings almost squarely in half;
and so great was the indignation at this that they marched out without
even a parley, and organized in the street outside. One of the
girls had read somewhere that a red flag was the proper symbol for
oppressed workers, and so they mounted one, and paraded all about
the yards, yelling with rage. A new union was the result of this
outburst, but the impromptu strike went to pieces in three days,
owing to the rush of new labor. At the end of it the girl who had
carried the red flag went downtown and got a position in a great
department store, at a salary of two dollars and a half a week.
Jurgis and Ona heard these stories with dismay, for there was no telling
when their own time might come. Once or twice there had been rumors
that one of the big houses was going to cut its unskilled men to fifteen
cents an hour, and Jurgis knew that if this was done, his turn would
come soon. He had learned by this time that Packingtown was really
not a number of firms at all, but one great firm, the Beef Trust.
And every week the managers of it got together and compared notes,
and there was one scale for all the workers in the yards and one
standard of efficiency. Jurgis was told that they also fixed the
price they would pay for beef on the hoof and the price of all
dressed meat in the country; but that was something he did not
understand or care about.
The only one who was not afraid of a cut was Marija, who
congratulated herself, somewhat naively, that there had been one
in her place only a short time before she came. Marija was getting
to be a skilled beef-trimmer, and was mounting to the heights again.
During the summer and fall Jurgis and Ona managed to pay her back the
last penny they owed her, and so she began to have a bank account.
Tamoszius had a bank account also, and they ran a race, and began
to figure upon household expenses once more.
The possession of vast wealth entails cares and responsibilities,
however, as poor Marija found out. She had taken the advice of a friend
and invested her savings in a bank on Ashland Avenue. Of course she
knew nothing about it, except that it was big and imposing--what
possible chance has a poor foreign working girl to understand the
banking business, as it is conducted in this land of frenzied finance?
So Marija lived in a continual dread lest something should happen
to her bank, and would go out of her way mornings to make sure that
it was still there. Her principal thought was of fire, for she had
deposited her money in bills, and was afraid that if they were burned
up the bank would not give her any others. Jurgis made fun of her
for this, for he was a man and was proud of his superior knowledge,
telling her that the bank had fireproof vaults, and all its millions
of dollars hidden safely away in them.
However, one morning Marija took her usual detour, and, to her horror
and dismay, saw a crowd of people in front of the bank, filling the
avenue solid for half a block. All the blood went out of her face
for terror. She broke into a run, shouting to the people to ask what
was the matter, but not stopping to hear what they answered, till she had
come to where the throng was so dense that she could no longer advance.
There was a "run on the bank," they told her then, but she did not
know what that was, and turned from one person to another, trying in
an agony of fear to make out what they meant. Had something gone wrong
with the bank? Nobody was sure, but they thought so. Couldn't she get
her money? There was no telling; the people were afraid not, and they
were all trying to get it. It was too early yet to tell anything--
the bank would not open for nearly three hours. So in a frenzy of
despair Marija began to claw her way toward the doors of this building,
through a throng of men, women, and children, all as excited as
herself. It was a scene of wild confusion, women shrieking and
wringing their hands and fainting, and men fighting and trampling
down everything in their way. In the midst of the melee Marija
recollected that she did not have her bankbook, and could not get
her money anyway, so she fought her way out and started on a run
for home. This was fortunate for her, for a few minutes later the
police reserves arrived.
In half an hour Marija was back, Teta Elzbieta with her, both of them
breathless with running and sick with fear. The crowd was now formed
in a line, extending for several blocks, with half a hundred policemen
keeping guard, and so there was nothing for them to do but to take
their places at the end of it. At nine o'clock the bank opened and
began to pay the waiting throng; but then, what good did that do
Marija, who saw three thousand people before her--enough to take out
the last penny of a dozen banks?
To make matters worse a drizzling rain came up, and soaked them
to the skin; yet all the morning they stood there, creeping slowly
toward the goal--all the afternoon they stood there, heartsick,
seeing that the hour of closing was coming, and that they were going
to be left out. Marija made up her mind that, come what might,
she would stay there and keep her place; but as nearly all did
the same, all through the long, cold night, she got very little
closer to the bank for that. Toward evening Jurgis came; he had
heard the story from the children, and he brought some food and
dry wraps, which made it a little easier.
The next morning, before daybreak, came a bigger crowd than ever,
and more policemen from downtown. Marija held on like grim death,
and toward afternoon she got into the bank and got her money--all in
big silver dollars, a handkerchief full. When she had once got her
hands on them her fear vanished, and she wanted to put them back again;
but the man at the window was savage, and said that the bank would
receive no more deposits from those who had taken part in the run.
So Marija was forced to take her dollars home with her, watching to
right and left, expecting every instant that some one would try to
rob her; and when she got home she was not much better off. Until she
could find another bank there was nothing to do but sew them up in her
clothes, and so Marija went about for a week or more, loaded down with
bullion, and afraid to cross the street in front of the house, because
Jurgis told her she would sink out of sight in the mud. Weighted this
way she made her way to the yards, again in fear, this time to see
if she had lost her place; but fortunately about ten per cent of the
working people of Packingtown had been depositors in that bank,
and it was not convenient to discharge that many at once. The cause
of the panic had been the attempt of a policeman to arrest a drunken
man in a saloon next door, which had drawn a crowd at the hour the people
were on their way to work, and so started the "run."
About this time Jurgis and Ona also began a bank account. Besides
having paid Jonas and Marija, they had almost paid for their furniture,
and could have that little sum to count on. So long as each of them
could bring home nine or ten dollars a week, they were able to get
along finely. Also election day came round again, and Jurgis made half
a week's wages out of that, all net profit. It was a very close election
that year, and the echoes of the battle reached even to Packingtown.
The two rival sets of grafters hired halls and set off fireworks and
made speeches, to try to get the people interested in the matter.
Although Jurgis did not understand it all, he knew enough by this time
to realize that it was not supposed to be right to sell your vote.
However, as every one did it, and his refusal to join would not have
made the slightest difference in the results, the idea of refusing would
have seemed absurd, had it ever come into his head.
Now chill winds and shortening days began to warn them that the winter
was coming again. It seemed as if the respite had been too short--
they had not had time enough to get ready for it; but still it came,
inexorably, and the hunted look began to come back into the eyes
of little Stanislovas. The prospect struck fear to the heart of
Jurgis also, for he knew that Ona was not fit to face the cold and
the snowdrifts this year. And suppose that some day when a blizzard
struck them and the cars were not running, Ona should have to give up,
and should come the next day to find that her place had been given to
some one who lived nearer and could be depended on?
It was the week before Christmas that the first storm came, and then
the soul of Jurgis rose up within him like a sleeping lion. There were
four days that the Ashland Avenue cars were stalled, and in those days,
for the first time in his life, Jurgis knew what it was to be really
opposed. He had faced difficulties before, but they had been
child's play; now there was a death struggle, and all the furies
were unchained within him. The first morning they set out two hours
before dawn, Ona wrapped all in blankets and tossed upon his shoulder
like a sack of meal, and the little boy, bundled nearly out of sight,
hanging by his coat-tails. There was a raging blast beating in his face,
and the thermometer stood below zero; the snow was never short of his
knees, and in some of the drifts it was nearly up to his armpits.
It would catch his feet and try to trip him; it would build itself
into a wall before him to beat him back; and he would fling himself
into it, plunging like a wounded buffalo, puffing and snorting in rage.
So foot by foot he drove his way, and when at last he came to Durham's
he was staggering and almost blind, and leaned against a pillar,
gasping, and thanking God that the cattle came late to the killing
beds that day. In the evening the same thing had to be done again;
and because Jurgis could not tell what hour of the night he would
get off, he got a saloon-keeper to let Ona sit and wait for him in
a corner. Once it was eleven o'clock at night, and black as the pit,
but still they got home.
That blizzard knocked many a man out, for the crowd outside begging
for work was never greater, and the packers would not wait long for
any one. When it was over, the soul of Jurgis was a song, for he
had met the enemy and conquered, and felt himself the master of
his fate.--So it might be with some monarch of the forest that has
vanquished his foes in fair fight, and then falls into some cowardly
trap in the night-time.
A time of peril on the killing beds was when a steer broke loose.
Sometimes, in the haste of speeding-up, they would dump one of
the animals out on the floor before it was fully stunned, and it
would get upon its feet and run amuck. Then there would be a yell
of warning--the men would drop everything and dash for the nearest
pillar, slipping here and there on the floor, and tumbling over
each other. This was bad enough in the summer, when a man could see;
in wintertime it was enough to make your hair stand up, for the room
would be so full of steam that you could not make anything out five
feet in front of you. To be sure, the steer was generally blind and
frantic, and not especially bent on hurting any one; but think of
the chances of running upon a knife, while nearly every man had one
in his hand! And then, to cap the climax, the floor boss would come
rushing up with a rifle and begin blazing away!
It was in one of these melees that Jurgis fell into his trap. That is
the only word to describe it; it was so cruel, and so utterly not to
be foreseen. At first he hardly noticed it, it was such a slight
accident--simply that in leaping out of the way he turned his ankle.
There was a twinge of pain, but Jurgis was used to pain, and did not
coddle himself. When he came to walk home, however, he realized that
it was hurting him a great deal; and in the morning his ankle was
swollen out nearly double its size, and he could not get his foot into
his shoe. Still, even then, he did nothing more than swear a little,
and wrapped his foot in old rags, and hobbled out to take the car.
It chanced to be a rush day at Durham's, and all the long morning
he limped about with his aching foot; by noontime the pain was so great
that it made him faint, and after a couple of hours in the afternoon
he was fairly beaten, and had to tell the boss. They sent for the
company doctor, and he examined the foot and told Jurgis to go home
to bed, adding that he had probably laid himself up for months by
his folly. The injury was not one that Durham and Company could be
held responsible for, and so that was all there was to it, so far as
the doctor was concerned.
Jurgis got home somehow, scarcely able to see for the pain, and with
an awful terror in his soul, Elzbieta helped him into bed and bandaged
his injured foot with cold water and tried hard not to let him see
her dismay; when the rest came home at night she met them outside and
told them, and they, too, put on a cheerful face, saying it would only
be for a week or two, and that they would pull him through.
When they had gotten him to sleep, however, they sat by the kitchen fire
and talked it over in frightened whispers. They were in for a siege,
that was plainly to be seen. Jurgis had only about sixty dollars in
the bank, and the slack season was upon them. Both Jonas and Marija
might soon be earning no more than enough to pay their board, and besides
that there were only the wages of Ona and the pittance of the little boy.
There was the rent to pay, and still some on the furniture; there was
the insurance just due, and every month there was sack after sack of coal.
It was January, midwinter, an awful time to have to face privation.
Deep snows would come again, and who would carry Ona to her work now?
She might lose her place--she was almost certain to lose it. And then
little Stanislovas began to whimper--who would take care of him?
It was dreadful that an accident of this sort, that no man can help,
should have meant such suffering. The bitterness of it was the daily
food and drink of Jurgis. It was of no use for them to try to
deceive him; he knew as much about the situation as they did, and he
knew that the family might literally starve to death. The worry of it
fairly ate him up--he began to look haggard the first two or three
days of it. In truth, it was almost maddening for a strong man
like him, a fighter, to have to lie there helpless on his back.
It was for all the world the old story of Prometheus bound. As Jurgis
lay on his bed, hour after hour there came to him emotions that he
had never known before. Before this he had met life with a welcome--
it had its trials, but none that a man could not face. But now,
in the nighttime, when he lay tossing about, there would come stalking
into his chamber a grisly phantom, the sight of which made his flesh
curl and his hair to bristle up. It was like seeing the world fall
away from underneath his feet; like plunging down into a bottomless
abyss into yawning caverns of despair. It might be true, then,
after all, what others had told him about life, that the best powers
of a man might not be equal to it! It might be true that, strive as
he would, toil as he would, he might fail, and go down and be destroyed!
The thought of this was like an icy hand at his heart; the thought
that here, in this ghastly home of all horror, he and all those who
were dear to him might lie and perish of starvation and cold,
and there would be no ear to hear their cry, no hand to help them!
It was true, it was true,--that here in this huge city, with its
stores of heaped-up wealth, human creatures might be hunted down and
destroyed by the wild-beast powers of nature, just as truly as ever
they were in the days of the cave men!
Ona was now making about thirty dollars a month, and Stanislovas
about thirteen. To add to this there was the board of Jonas and
Marija, about forty-five dollars. Deducting from this the rent,
interest, and installments on the furniture, they had left sixty
dollars, and deducting the coal, they had fifty. They did without
everything that human beings could do without; they went in old and
ragged clothing, that left them at the mercy of the cold, and when the
children's shoes wore out, they tied them up with string. Half invalid
as she was, Ona would do herself harm by walking in the rain and cold
when she ought to have ridden; they bought literally nothing but
food--and still they could not keep alive on fifty dollars a month.
They might have done it, if only they could have gotten pure food,
and at fair prices; or if only they had known what to get--if they
had not been so pitifully ignorant! But they had come to a new country,
where everything was different, including the food. They had always
been accustomed to eat a great deal of smoked sausage, and how could
they know that what they bought in America was not the same--that its
color was made by chemicals, and its smoky flavor by more chemicals,
and that it was full of "potato flour" besides? Potato flour is the
waste of potato after the starch and alcohol have been extracted;
it has no more food value than so much wood, and as its use as a food
adulterant is a penal offense in Europe, thousands of tons of it are
shipped to America every year. It was amazing what quantities of
food such as this were needed every day, by eleven hungry persons.
A dollar sixty-five a day was simply not enough to feed them, and there
was no use trying; and so each week they made an inroad upon the pitiful
little bank account that Ona had begun. Because the account was in
her name, it was possible for her to keep this a secret from her
husband, and to keep the heartsickness of it for her own.
It would have been better if Jurgis had been really ill; if he had
not been able to think. For he had no resources such as most
invalids have; all he could do was to lie there and toss about from
side to side. Now and then he would break into cursing, regardless
of everything; and now and then his impatience would get the better
of him, and he would try to get up, and poor Teta Elzbieta would
have to plead with him in a frenzy. Elzbieta was all alone with him
the greater part of the time. She would sit and smooth his forehead
by the hour, and talk to him and try to make him forget. Sometimes it
would be too cold for the children to go to school, and they would
have to play in the kitchen, where Jurgis was, because it was the
only room that was half warm. These were dreadful times, for Jurgis
would get as cross as any bear; he was scarcely to be blamed, for he
had enough to worry him, and it was hard when he was trying to take
a nap to be kept awake by noisy and peevish children.
Elzbieta's only resource in those times was little Antanas; indeed,
it would be hard to say how they could have gotten along at all if
it had not been for little Antanas. It was the one consolation of
Jurgis' long imprisonment that now he had time to look at his baby.
Teta Elzbieta would put the clothesbasket in which the baby slept
alongside of his mattress, and Jurgis would lie upon one elbow and
watch him by the hour, imagining things. Then little Antanas would
open his eyes--he was beginning to take notice of things now; and he
would smile--how he would smile! So Jurgis would begin to forget
and be happy because he was in a world where there was a thing so
beautiful as the smile of little Antanas, and because such a world
could not but be good at the heart of it. He looked more like his
father every hour, Elzbieta would say, and said it many times a day,
because she saw that it pleased Jurgis; the poor little terror-stricken
woman was planning all day and all night to soothe the prisoned giant
who was intrusted to her care. Jurgis, who knew nothing about the
agelong and everlasting hypocrisy of woman, would take the bait and
grin with delight; and then he would hold his finger in front of
little Antanas' eyes, and move it this way and that, and laugh with
glee to see the baby follow it. There is no pet quite so fascinating
as a baby; he would look into Jurgis' face with such uncanny seriousness,
and Jurgis would start and cry: "Palauk! Look, Muma, he knows his papa!
He does, he does! Tu mano szirdele, the little rascal!"
The Jungle Chapter 12