From The Jungle
The beginning of these perplexing things was in the summer; and each
time Ona would promise him with terror in her voice that it would not
happen again--but in vain. Each crisis would leave Jurgis more and
more frightened, more disposed to distrust Elzbieta's consolations,
and to believe that there was some terrible thing about all this
that he was not allowed to know. Once or twice in these outbreaks he
caught Ona's eye, and it seemed to him like the eye of a hunted animal;
there were broken phrases of anguish and despair now and then, amid her
frantic weeping. It was only because he was so numb and beaten himself
that Jurgis did not worry more about this. But he never thought of it,
except when he was dragged to it--he lived like a dumb beast of burden,
knowing only the moment in which he was.
The winter was coming on again, more menacing and cruel than ever.
It was October, and the holiday rush had begun. It was necessary
for the packing machines to grind till late at night to provide food
that would be eaten at Christmas breakfasts; and Marija and Elzbieta
and Ona, as part of the machine, began working fifteen or sixteen
hours a day. There was no choice about this--whatever work there
was to be done they had to do, if they wished to keep their places;
besides that, it added another pittance to their incomes. So they
staggered on with the awful load. They would start work every morning
at seven, and eat their dinners at noon, and then work until ten or
eleven at night without another mouthful of food. Jurgis wanted to
wait for them, to help them home at night, but they would not think
of this; the fertilizer mill was not running overtime, and there was
no place for him to wait save in a saloon. Each would stagger out
into the darkness, and make her way to the corner, where they met;
or if the others had already gone, would get into a car, and begin
a painful struggle to keep awake. When they got home they were always
too tired either to eat or to undress; they would crawl into bed with
their shoes on, and lie like logs. If they should fail, they would
certainly be lost; if they held out, they might have enough coal
for the winter.
A day or two before Thanksgiving Day there came a snowstorm. It began
in the afternoon, and by evening two inches had fallen. Jurgis tried
to wait for the women, but went into a saloon to get warm, and took
two drinks, and came out and ran home to escape from the demon;
there he lay down to wait for them, and instantly fell asleep.
When he opened his eyes again he was in the midst of a nightmare,
and found Elzbieta shaking him and crying out. At first he could not
realize what she was saying--Ona had not come home. What time was it,
he asked. It was morning--time to be up. Ona had not been home
that night! And it was bitter cold, and a foot of snow on the ground.
Jurgis sat up with a start. Marija was crying with fright and the
children were wailing in sympathy--little Stanislovas in addition,
because the terror of the snow was upon him. Jurgis had nothing
to put on but his shoes and his coat, and in half a minute he was
out of the door. Then, however, he realized that there was no need
of haste, that he had no idea where to go. It was still dark as
midnight, and the thick snowflakes were sifting down--everything was
so silent that he could hear the rustle of them as they fell. In the
few seconds that he stood there hesitating he was covered white.
He set off at a run for the yards, stopping by the way to inquire in
the saloons that were open. Ona might have been overcome on the way;
or else she might have met with an accident in the machines. When he
got to the place where she worked he inquired of one of the watchmen--
there had not been any accident, so far as the man had heard. At the
time office, which he found already open, the clerk told him that
Ona's check had been turned in the night before, showing that she
had left her work.
After that there was nothing for him to do but wait, pacing back and
forth in the snow, meantime, to keep from freezing. Already the yards
were full of activity; cattle were being unloaded from the cars in
the distance, and across the way the "beef-luggers" were toiling in
the darkness, carrying two-hundred-pound quarters of bullocks into
the refrigerator cars. Before the first streaks of daylight there
came the crowding throngs of workingmen, shivering, and swinging
their dinner pails as they hurried by. Jurgis took up his stand
by the time-office window, where alone there was light enough for
him to see; the snow fell so quick that it was only by peering
closely that he could make sure that Ona did not pass him.
Seven o'clock came, the hour when the great packing machine began
to move. Jurgis ought to have been at his place in the fertilizer
mill; but instead he was waiting, in an agony of fear, for Ona.
It was fifteen minutes after the hour when he saw a form emerge from
the snow mist, and sprang toward it with a cry. It was she, running
swiftly; as she saw him, she staggered forward, and half fell into
his outstretched arms.
"What has been the matter?" he cried, anxiously. "Where have you been?"
It was several seconds before she could get breath to answer him.
"I couldn't get home," she exclaimed. "The snow--the cars had stopped."
"But where were you then?" he demanded.
"I had to go home with a friend," she panted--"with Jadvyga."
Jurgis drew a deep breath; but then he noticed that she was sobbing
and trembling--as if in one of those nervous crises that he dreaded so.
"But what's the matter?" he cried. "What has happened?"
"Oh, Jurgis, I was so frightened!" she said, clinging to him wildly.
"I have been so worried!"
They were near the time station window, and people were staring at them.
Jurgis led her away. "How do you mean?" he asked, in perplexity.
"I was afraid--I was just afraid!" sobbed Ona. "I knew you wouldn't
know where I was, and I didn't know what you might do. I tried to
get home, but I was so tired. Oh, Jurgis, Jurgis!"
He was so glad to get her back that he could not think clearly about
anything else. It did not seem strange to him that she should be
so very much upset; all her fright and incoherent protestations did
not matter since he had her back. He let her cry away her tears;
and then, hecause it was nearly eight o'clock, and they would lose
another hour if they delayed, he left her at the packing house door,
with her ghastly white face and her haunted eyes of terror.
There was another brief interval. Christmas was almost come; and because
the snow still held, and the searching cold, morning after morning
Jurgis hall carried his wife to her post, staggering with her through
the darkness; until at last, one night, came the end.
It lacked but three days of the holidays. About midnight Marija and
Elzbieta came home, exclaiming in alarm when they found that Ona
had not come. The two had agreed to meet her; and, after waiting,
had gone to the room where she worked; only to find that the
ham-wrapping girls had quit work an hour before, and left. There was
no snow that night, nor was it especially cold; and still Ona had
not come! Something more serious must be wrong this time.
They aroused Jurgis, and he sat up and listened crossly to the story.
She must have gone home again with Jadvyga, he said; Jadvyga lived
only two blocks from the yards, and perhaps she had been tired.
Nothing could have happened to her--and even if there had, there was
nothing could be done about it until morning. Jurgis turned over
in his bed, and was snoring again before the two had closed the door.
In the morning, however, he was up and out nearly an hour before the
usual time. Jadvyga Marcinkus lived on the other side of the yards,
beyond Halsted Street, with her mother and sisters, in a single
basement room--for Mikolas had recently lost one hand from blood
poisoning, and their marriage had been put off forever. The door
of the room was in the rear, reached by a narrow court, and Jurgis
saw a light in the window and heard something frying as he passed;
he knocked, half expecting that Ona would answer.
Instead there was one of Jadvyga's little sisters, who gazed at him
through a crack in thc door. "Where's Ona?" he demanded; and the child
looked at him in perplexity. "Ona?" she said.
"Yes," said Jurgis. isn't she here?"
"No," said the child, and Jurgis gave a start. A moment later came
Jadvyga, peering over the child's head. When she saw who it was,
she slid around out of sight, for she was not quite dressed.
Jurgis must excuse her, she began, her mother was very ill--
"Ona isn't here?" Jurgis demanded, too alarmed to wait for her to finish.
"Why, no," said Jadvyga. "What made you think she would be here?
Had she said she was coming?"
"No," he answered. "But she hasn't come home--and I thought she
would be here the same as before."
"As before?" echoed Jadvyga, in perplexity.
"The time she spent the night here," said Jurgis.
"There must be some mistake," she answered, quickly. "Ona has never
spent the night here."
He was only half able to realize the words. "Why--why--" he exclaimed.
"Two weeks ago. Jadvyga! She told me so the night it snowed, and she
could not get home."
"There must be some mistake," declared the girl, again; "she didn't
He steadied himself by the doorsill; and Jadvyga in her anxiety--for
she was fond of Ona--opened the door wide, holding her jacket across
her throat. "Are you sure you didn't misunderstand her?" she cried.
"She must have meant somewhere else. She--"
"She said here," insisted Jurgis. "She told me all about you, and how
you were, and what you said. Are you sure? You haven't forgotten?
You weren't away?"
"No, no!" she exclaimed--and then came a peevish voice--"Jadvyga,
you are giving the baby a cold. Shut the door!" Jurgis stood for
half a minute more, stammering his perplexity through an eighth of
an inch of crack; and then, as there was really nothing more to be said,
he excused himself and went away.
He walked on half dazed, without knowing where he went. Ona had
deceived him! She had lied to him! And what could it mean--where
had she been? Where was she now? He could hardly grasp the thing--
much less try to solve it; but a hundred wild surmises came to him,
a sense of impending calamity overwhelmed him.
Because there was nothing else to do, he went back to the time office
to watch again. He waited until nearly an hour after seven, and then
went to the room where Ona worked to make inquiries of Ona's "forelady."
The "forelady," he found, had not yet come; all the lines of cars
that came from downtown were stalled--there had been an accident
in the powerhouse, and no cars had been running since last night.
Meantime, however, the ham-wrappers were working away, with some one
else in charge of them. The girl who answered Jurgis was busy,
and as she talked she looked to see if she were being watched.
Then a man came up, wheeling a truck; he knew Jurgis for Ona's husband,
and was curious about the mystery.
"Maybe the cars had something to do with it," he suggested--"maybe she
had gone down-town."
"No," said Jurgis. "she never went down-town."
"Perhaps not," said the man. Jurgis thought he saw him exchange
a swift glance with the girl as he spoke, and he demanded quickly.
"What do you know about it?"
But the man had seen that the boss was watching him; he started on
again, pushing his truck. "I don't know anything about it," he said,
over his shoulder. "How should I know where your wife goes?"
Then Jurgis went out again and paced up and down before the building.
All the morning he stayed there, with no thought of his work.
About noon he went to the police station to make inquiries, and then
came back again for another anxious vigil. Finally, toward the middle
of the alternoon, he set out for home once more.
He was walking out Ashland Avenue. The streetcars had begun running
again, and several passed him, packed to the steps with people.
The sight of them set Jurgis to thinking again of the man's sarcastic
remark; and half involuntarily he found himself watching the cars--
with the result that he gave a sudden startled exclamation, and stopped
short in his tracks.
Then he broke into a run. For a whole block he tore after the car,
only a little ways behind. That rusty black hat with the drooping
red flower, it might not be Ona's, but there was very little likelihood
of it. He would know for certain very soon, for she would get out
two blocks ahead. He slowed down, and let the car go on.
She got out: and as soon as she was out of sight on the side street
Jurgis broke into a run. Suspicion was rife in him now, and he was
not ashamed to shadow her: he saw her turn the corner near their home,
and then he ran again, and saw her as she went up the porch steps
of the house. After that he turned back, and for five minutes paced
up and down, his hands clenched tightly and his lips set, his mind
in a turmoil. Then he went home and entered.
As he opened the door, he saw Elzbieta, who had also been looking
for Ona, and had come home again. She was now on tiptoe, and had
a finger on her lips. Jurgis waited until she was close to him.
"Don't make any noise," she whispered, hurriedly.
"What's the matter'?" he asked. "Ona is asleep," she panted.
"She's been very ill. I'm afraid her mind's been wandering, Jurgis.
She was lost on the street all night, and I've only just succeeded
in getting her quiet."
"When did she come in?" he asked.
"Soon after you left this morning," said Elzbieta.
"And has she been out since?" "No, of course not. She's so weak,
And he set his teeth hard together. "You are lying to me," he said.
Elzbieta started, and turned pale. "Why!" she gasped. "What do you mean?"
But Jurgis did not answer. He pushed her aside, and strode to the
bedroom door and opened it.
Ona was sitting on the bed. She turned a startled look upon him as
he entered. He closed the door in Elzbieta's face, and went toward
his wife. "Where have you been?" he demanded.
She had her hands clasped tightly in her lap, and he saw that her
face was as white as paper, and drawn with pain. She gasped once or
twice as she tried to answer him, and then began, speaking low,
and swiftly. "Jurgis, I--I think I have been out of my mind. I started
to come last night, and I could not find the way. I walked--I walked
all night, I think, and--and I only got home--this morning."
"You needed a rest," he said, in a hard tone. "Why did you go out again?"
He was looking her fairly in the face, and he could read the sudden
fear and wild uncertainty that leaped into her eyes. "I--I had to
go to--to the store," she gasped, almost in a whisper, "I had to go--"
"You are lying to me," said Jurgis. Then he clenched his hands and
took a step toward her. "Why do you lie to me?" he cried, fiercely.
"What are you doing that you have to lie to me?"
"Jurgis!" she exclaimed, starting up in fright. "Oh, Jurgis, how
"You have lied to me, I say!" he cried. "You told me you had been
to Jadvyga's house that other night, and you hadn't. You had been
where you were last night--somewheres downtown, for I saw you get
off the car. Where were you?"
It was as if he had struck a knife into her. She seemed to go all
to pieces. For half a second she stood, reeling and swaying,
staring at him with horror in her eyes; then, with a cry of anguish,
she tottered forward, stretching out her arms to him. But he stepped
aside, deliberately, and let her fall. She caught herself at the
side of the bed, and then sank down, burying her face in her hands
and bursting into frantic weeping.
There came one of those hysterical crises that had so often
dismayed him. Ona sobbed and wept, her fear and anguish building
themselves up into long climaxes. Furious gusts of emotion would
come sweeping over her, shaking her as the tempest shakes the trees
upon the hills; all her frame would quiver and throb with them--it was
as if some dreadful thing rose up within her and took possession of her,
torturing her, tearing her. This thing had been wont to set Jurgis
quite beside himself; but now he stood with his lips set tightly and
his hands clenched--she might weep till she killed herself, but she
should not move him this time--not an inch, not an inch. Because the
sounds she made set his blood to running cold and his lips to quivering
in spite of himself, he was glad of the diversion when Teta Elzbieta,
pale with fright, opened the door and rushed in; yet he turned upon
her with an oath. "Go out!" he cried, "go out!" And then, as she
stood hesitating, about to speak, he seized her by the arm, and half
flung her from the room, slamming the door and barring it with a table.
Then he turned again and faced Ona, crying--"Now, answer me!"
Yet she did not hear him--she was still in the grip of the fiend.
Jurgis could see her outstretched hands, shaking and twitching,
roaming here and there over the bed at will, like living things;
he could see convulsive shudderings start in her body and run through
her limbs. She was sobbing and choking--it was as if there were too
many sounds for one throat, they came chasing each other, like waves
upon the sea. Then her voice would begin to rise into screams,
louder and louder until it broke in wild, horrible peals of laughter.
Jurgis bore it until he could bear it no longer, and then he sprang
at her, seizing her by the shoulders and shaking her, shouting into
her ear: "Stop it, I say! Stop it!"
She looked up at him, out of her agony; then she fell forward at
his feet. She caught them in her hands, in spite of his efforts
to step aside, and with her face upon the floor lay writhing. It
made a choking in Jurgis' throat to hear her, and he cried again,
more savagely than before: "Stop it, I say!"
This time she heeded him, and caught her breath and lay silent,
save for the gasping sobs that wrenched all her frame. For a long
minute she lay there, perfectly motionless, until a cold fear seized
her husband, thinking that she was dying. Suddenly, however,
he heard her voice, faintly: "Jurgis! Jurgis!"
"What is it?" he said.
He had to bend down to her, she was so weak. She was pleading
with him, in broken phrases, painfully uttered: "Have faith in me!
"Believe what?" he cried.
"Believe that I--that I know best--that I love you! And do not
ask me--what you did. Oh, Jurgis, please, please! It is for the
He started to speak again, but she rushed on frantically, heading
him off. "If you will only do it! If you will only--only believe me!
It wasn't my fault--I couldn't help it--it will be all right--it is
nothing--it is no harm. Oh, Jurgis--please, please!"
She had hold of him, and was trying to raise herself to look at him;
he could feel the palsied shaking of her hands and the heaving of the
bosom she pressed against him. She managed to catch one of his hands
and gripped it convulsively, drawing it to her face, and bathing it
in her tears. "Oh, believe me, believe me!" she wailed again; and he
shouted in fury, "I will not!"
But still she clung to him, wailing aloud in her despair: "Oh, Jurgis,
think what you are doing! It will ruin us--it will ruin us! Oh, no,
you must not do it! No, don't, don't do it. You must not do it!
It will drive me mad--it will kill me--no, no, Jurgis, I am crazy--
it is nothing. You do not really need to know. We can be happy--
we can love each other just the same. Oh, please, please, believe me!"
Her words fairly drove him wild. He tore his hands loose, and flung
her off. "Answer me," he cried. "God damn it, I say--answer me!"
She sank down upon the floor, beginning to cry again. It was like
listening to the moan of a damned soul, and Jurgis could not stand it.
He smote his fist upon the table by his side, and shouted again at her,
She began to scream aloud, her voice like the voice of some wild beast:
"Ah! Ah! I can't! I can't do it!"
"Why can't you do it?" he shouted.
"I don't know how!"
He sprang and caught her by the arm, lifting her up, and glaring
into her face. "Tell me where you were last night!" he panted.
"Quick, out with it!"
Then she began to whisper, one word at a time: "I--was in--a house--
"What house? What do you mean?"
She tried to hide her eyes away, but he held her. "Miss Henderson's
house," she gasped. He did not understand at first. "Miss Henderson's
house," he echoed. And then suddenly, as in an explosion, the horrible
truth burst over him, and he reeled and staggered back with a scream.
He caught himself against the wall, and put his hand to his forehead,
staring about him, and whispering, "Jesus! Jesus!"
An instant later he leaped at her, as she lay groveling at his feet.
He seized her by the throat. "Tell me!" he gasped, hoarsely.
Quick! Who took you to that place?"
She tried to get away, making him furious; he thought it was fear,
of the pain of his clutch--he did not understand that it was the agony
of her shame. Still she answered him, "Connor."
"Connor," he gasped. "Who is Connor?"
"The boss," she answered. "The man--"
He tightened his grip, in his frenzy, and only when he saw her eyes
closing did he realize that he was choking her. Then he relaxed his
fingers, and crouched, waiting, until she opened her lids again.
His breath beat hot into her face.
"Tell me," he whispered, at last, "tell me about it."
She lay perfectly motionless, and he had to hold his breath to catch
her words. "I did not want--to do it," she said; "I tried--I tried
not to do it. I only did it--to save us. It was our only chance."
Again, for a space, there was no sound but his panting. Ona's eyes
closed and when she spoke again she did not open them. "He told me--
he would have me turned off. He told me he would--we would all of us
lose our places. We could never get anything to do--here--again.
He--he meant it--he would have ruined us."
Jurgis' arms were shaking so that he could scarcely hold himself up,
and lurched forward now and then as he listened. "When--when did
this begin?" he gasped.
"At the very first," she said. She spoke as if in a trance. "It was
all--it was their plot--Miss Henderson's plot. She hated me.
And he--he wanted me. He used to speak to me--out on the platform.
Then he began to--to make love to me. He offered me money. He begged
me--he said he loved me. Then he threatened me. He knew all about us,
he knew we would starve. He knew your boss--he knew Marija's.
He would hound us to death, he said--then he said if I would--if
I--we would all of us be sure of work--always. Then one day he
caught hold of me--he would not let go--he--he--"
"Where was this?"
"In the hallway--at night--after every one had gone. I could not
help it. I thought of you--of the baby--of mother and the children.
I was afraid of him--afraid to cry out."
A moment ago her face had been ashen gray, now it was scarlet.
She was beginning to breathe hard again. Jurgis made not a sound.
"That was two months ago. Then he wanted me to come--to that house.
He wanted me to stay there. He said all of us--that we would not
have to work. He made me come there--in the evenings. I told you--
you thought I was at the factory. Then--one night it snowed,
and I couldn't get back. And last night--the cars were stopped.
It was such a little thing--to ruin us all. I tried to walk, but I
couldn't. I didn't want you to know. It would have--it would have
been all right. We could have gone on--just the same--you need never
have known about it. He was getting tired of me--he would have let
me alone soon. I am going to have a baby--I am getting ugly. He told
me that--twice, he told me, last night. He kicked me--last night--too.
And now you will kill him--you--you will kill him--and we shall die."
All this she had said without a quiver; she lay still as death,
not an eyelid moving. And Jurgis, too, said not a word. He lifted
himself by the bed, and stood up. He did not stop for another glance
at her, but went to the door and opened it. He did not see Elzbieta,
crouching terrified in the corner. He went out, hatless, leaving
the street door open behind him. The instant his feet were on the
sidewalk he broke into a run.
He ran like one possessed, blindly, furiously, looking neither to the
right nor left. He was on Ashland Avenue before exhaustion compelled
him to slow down, and then, noticing a car, he made a dart for it
and drew himself aboard. His eyes were wild and his hair flying,
and he was breathing hoarsely, like a wounded bull; but the people
on the car did not notice this particularly--perhaps it seemed natural
to them that a man who smelled as Jurgis smelled should exhibit an
aspect to correspond. They began to give way before him as usual.
The conductor took his nickel gingerly, with the tips of his fingers,
and then left him with the platform to himself. Jurgis did not even
notice it--his thoughts were far away. Within his soul it was like a
roaring furnace; he stood waiting, waiting, crouching as if for a spring.
He had some of his breath back when the car came to the entrance of
the yards, and so he leaped off and started again, racing at full speed.
People turned and stared at him, but he saw no one--there was the
factory, and he bounded through the doorway and down the corridor.
He knew the room where Ona worked, and he knew Connor, the boss of the
loading-gang outside. He looked for the man as he sprang into the room.
The truckmen were hard at work, loading the freshly packed boxes and
barrels upon the cars. Jurgis shot one swift glance up and down the
platform--the man was not on it. But then suddenly he heard a voice
in the corridor, and started for it with a bound. In an instant more
he fronted the boss.
He was a big, red-faced Irishman, coarse-featured, and smelling of
liquor. He saw Jurgis as he crossed the threshold, and turned white.
He hesitated one second, as if meaning to run; and in the next his
assailant was upon him. He put up his hands to protect his face,
but Jurgis, lunging with all the power of his arm and body, struck him
fairly between the eyes and knocked him backward. The next moment he
was on top of him, burying his fingers in his throat.
To Jurgis this man's whole presence reeked of the crime he had committed;
the touch of his body was madness to him--it set every nerve of him
atremble, it aroused all the demon in his soul. It had worked its
will upon Ona, this great beast--and now he had it, he had it! It was
his turn now! Things swam blood before him, and he screamed aloud
in his fury, lifting his victim and smashing his head upon the floor.
The place, of course, was in an uproar; women fainting and shrieking,
and men rushing in. Jurgis was so bent upon his task that he knew
nothing of this, and scarcely realized that people were trying to
interfere with him; it was only when half a dozen men had seized him
by the legs and shoulders and were pulling at him, that he understood
that he was losing his prey. In a flash he had bent down and sunk his
teeth into the man's cheek; and when they tore him away he was dripping
with blood, and little ribbons of skin were hanging in his mouth.
They got him down upon the floor, clinging to him by his arms and legs,
and still they could hardly hold him. He fought like a tiger, writhing
and twisting, half flinging them off, and starting toward his
unconscious enemy. But yet others rushed in, until there was a
little mountain of twisted limbs and bodies, heaving and tossing,
and working its way about the room. In the end, by their sheer weight,
they choked the breath out of him, and then they carried him to the
company police station, where he lay still until they had summoned
a patrol wagon to take him away.
The Jungle Chapter 16