From The Jungle
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
Jurgis looked dazed. "I was told this was the way," he said.
"Who told you?"
"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 coalyards
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?"
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!"
"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,
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,
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?"
"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
"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.
The Jungle Chapter 19