Part 3 out of 8
One morning Ona stayed home, and Jurgis had the man-doctor,
according to his whim, and she was safely delivered of a fine baby.
It was an enormous big boy, and Ona was such a tiny creature herself,
that it seemed quite incredible. Jurgis would stand and gaze at the
stranger by the hour, unable to believe that it had really happened.
The coming of this boy was a decisive event with Jurgis. It made
him irrevocably a family man; it killed the last lingering impulse
that he might have had to go out in the evenings and sit and talk
with the men in the saloons. There was nothing he cared for now
so much as to sit and look at the baby. This was very curious,
for Jurgis had never been interested in babies before. But then,
this was a very unusual sort of a baby. He had the brightest
little black eyes, and little black ringlets all over his head;
he was the living image of his father, everybody said--and Jurgis
found this a fascinating circumstance. It was sufficiently perplexing
that this tiny mite of life should have come into the world at all
in the manner that it had; that it should have come with a comical
imitation of its father's nose was simply uncanny.
Perhaps, Jurgis thought, this was intended to signify that it was
his baby; that it was his and Ona's, to care for all its life.
Jurgis had never possessed anything nearly so interesting--a baby was,
when you came to think about it, assuredly a marvelous possession.
It would grow up to be a man, a human soul, with a personality all
its own, a will of its own! Such thoughts would keep haunting Jurgis,
filling him with all sorts of strange and almost painful excitements.
He was wonderfully proud of little Antanas; he was curious about all
the details of him--the washing and the dressing and the eating and
the sleeping of him, and asked all sorts of absurd questions. It took
him quite a while to get over his alarm at the incredible shortness
of the little creature's legs.
Jurgis had, alas, very little time to see his baby; he never felt
the chains about him more than just then. When he came home at night,
the baby would be asleep, and it would be the merest chance if he awoke
before Jurgis had to go to sleep himself. Then in the morning there
was no time to look at him, so really the only chance the father
had was on Sundays. This was more cruel yet for Ona, who ought
to have stayed home and nursed him, the doctor said, for her own
health as well as the baby's; but Ona had to go to work, and leave him
for Teta Elzbieta to feed upon the pale blue poison that was called
milk at the corner grocery. Ona's confinement lost her only a
week's wages--she would go to the factory the second Monday, and the
best that Jurgis could persuade her was to ride in the car, and let
him run along behind and help her to Brown's when she alighted.
After that it would be all right, said Ona, it was no strain sitting
still sewing hams all day; and if she waited longer she might find
that her dreadful forelady had put some one else in her place.
That would be a greater calamity than ever now, Ona continued,
on account of the baby. They would all have to work harder now
on his account. It was such a responsibility--they must not have
the baby grow up to suffer as they had. And this indeed had been
the first thing that Jurgis had thought of himself--he had clenched
his hands and braced himself anew for the struggle, for the sake of
that tiny mite of human possibility.
And so Ona went back to Brown's and saved her place and a week's wages;
and so she gave herself some one of the thousand ailments that women
group under the title of "womb trouble," and was never again a well
person as long as she lived. It is difficult to convey in words all
that this meant to Ona; it seemed such a slight offense, and the
punishment was so out of all proportion, that neither she nor any one
else ever connected the two. "Womb trouble" to Ona did not mean
a specialist's diagnosis, and a course of treatment, and perhaps
an operation or two; it meant simply headaches and pains in the back,
and depression and heartsickness, and neuralgia when she had to go to
work in the rain. The great majority of the women who worked in
Packingtown suffered in the same way, and from the same cause,
so it was not deemed a thing to see the doctor about; instead Ona
would try patent medicines, one after another, as her friends told
her about them. As these all contained alcohol, or some other
stimulant, she found that they all did her good while she took them;
and so she was always chasing the phantom of good health, and losing
it because she was too poor to continue.
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!"
For three weeks after his injury Jurgis never got up from bed. It was
a very obstinate sprain; the swelling would not go down, and the pain
still continued. At the end of that time, however, he could contain
himself no longer, and began trying to walk a little every day,
laboring to persuade himself that he was better. No arguments could
stop him, and three or four days later he declared that he was going
back to work. He limped to the cars and got to Brown's, where he
found that the boss had kept his place--that is, was willing to
turn out into the snow the poor devil he had hired in the meantime.
Every now and then the pain would force Jurgis to stop work, but he
stuck it out till nearly an hour before closing. Then he was forced
to acknowledge that he could not go on without fainting; it almost
broke his heart to do it, and he stood leaning against a pillar and
weeping like a child. Two of the men had to help him to the car,
and when he got out he had to sit down and wait in the snow till some
one came along.
So they put him to bed again, and sent for the doctor, as they ought
to have done in the beginning. It transpired that he had twisted a
tendon out of place, and could never have gotten well without attention.
Then he gripped the sides of the bed, and shut his teeth together,
and turned white with agony, while the doctor pulled and wrenched
away at his swollen ankle. When finally the doctor left, he told
him that he would have to lie quiet for two months, and that if he
went to work before that time he might lame himself for life.
Three days later there came another heavy snowstorm, and Jonas and
Marija and Ona and little Stanislovas all set out together, an hour
before daybreak, to try to get to the yards. About noon the last two
came back, the boy screaming with pain. His fingers were all frosted,
it seemed. They had had to give up trying to get to the yards,
and had nearly perished in a drift. All that they knew how to do
was to hold the frozen fingers near the fire, and so little Stanislovas
spent most of the day dancing about in horrible agony, till Jurgis
flew into a passion of nervous rage and swore like a madman, declaring
that he would kill him if he did not stop. All that day and night
the family was half-crazed with fear that Ona and the boy had lost
their places; and in the morning they set out earlier than ever,
after the little fellow had been beaten with a stick by Jurgis.
There could be no trifling in a case like this, it was a matter of
life and death; little Stanislovas could not be expected to realize
that he might a great deal better freeze in the snowdrift than lose
his job at the lard machine. Ona was quite certain that she would find
her place gone, and was all unnerved when she finally got to Brown's,
and found that the forelady herself had failed to come, and was therefore
compelled to be lenient.
One of the consequences of this episode was that the first joints of
three of the little boy's fingers were permanently disabled, and another
that thereafter he always had to be beaten before he set out to work,
whenever there was fresh snow on the ground. Jurgis was called upon
to do the beating, and as it hurt his foot he did it with a vengeance;
but it did not tend to add to the sweetness of his temper. They say that
the best dog will turn cross if he be kept chained all the time, and it
was the same with the man; he had not a thing to do all day but lie and
curse his fate, and the time came when he wanted to curse everything.
This was never for very long, however, for when Ona began to cry,
Jurgis could not stay angry. The poor fellow looked like a homeless
ghost, with his cheeks sunken in and his long black hair straggling
into his eyes; he was too discouraged to cut it, or to think about
his appearance. His muscles were wasting away, and what were left
were soft and flabby. He had no appetite, and they could not afford
to tempt him with delicacies. It was better, he said, that he should
not eat, it was a saving. About the end of March he had got hold of
Ona's bankbook, and learned that there was only three dollars left
to them in the world.
But perhaps the worst of the consequences of this long siege was that
they lost another member of their family; Brother Jonas disappeared.
One Saturday night he did not come home, and thereafter all their
efforts to get trace of him were futile. It was said by the boss
at Durham's that he had gotten his week's money and left there.
That might not be true, of course, for sometimes they would say that
when a man had been killed; it was the easiest way out of it for
all concerned. When, for instance, a man had fallen into one of
the rendering tanks and had been made into pure leaf lard and peerless
fertilizer, there was no use letting the fact out and making his
family unhappy. More probable, however, was the theory that Jonas
had deserted them, and gone on the road, seeking happiness. He had
been discontented for a long time, and not without some cause.
He paid good board, and was yet obliged to live in a family where
nobody had enough to eat. And Marija would keep giving them all
her money, and of course he could not but feel that he was called
upon to do the same. Then there were crying brats, and all sorts
of misery; a man would have had to be a good deal of a hero to stand
it all without grumbling, and Jonas was not in the least a hero--he was
simply a weatherbeaten old fellow who liked to have a good supper and
sit in the corner by the fire and smoke his pipe in peace before he
went to bed. Here there was not room by the fire, and through the
winter the kitchen had seldom been warm enough for comfort. So, with
the springtime, what was more likely than that the wild idea of
escaping had come to him? Two years he had been yoked like a horse
to a half-ton truck in Durham's dark cellars, with never a rest,
save on Sundays and four holidays in the year, and with never a word
of thanks--only kicks and blows and curses, such as no decent dog
would have stood. And now the winter was over, and the spring winds
were blowing--and with a day's walk a man might put the smoke of
Packingtown behind him forever, and be where the grass was green and
the flowers all the colors of the rainbow!
But now the income of the family was cut down more than one-third,
and the food demand was cut only one-eleventh, so that they were
worse off than ever. Also they were borrowing money from Marija,
and eating up her bank account, and spoiling once again her hopes
of marriage and happiness. And they were even going into debt to
Tamoszius Kuszleika and letting him impoverish himself. Poor Tamoszius
was a man without any relatives, and with a wonderful talent besides,
and he ought to have made money and prospered; but he had fallen
in love, and so given hostages to fortune, and was doomed to be
dragged down too.
So it was finally decided that two more of the children would have
to leave school. Next to Stanislovas, who was now fifteen, there was
a girl, little Kotrina, who was two years younger, and then two boys,
Vilimas, who was eleven, and Nikalojus, who was ten. Both of these
last were bright boys, and there was no reason why their family
should starve when tens of thousands of children no older were
earning their own livings. So one morning they were given a quarter
apiece and a roll with a sausage in it, and, with their minds top-heavy
with good advice, were sent out to make their way to the city and
learn to sell newspapers. They came back late at night in tears,
having walked for the five or six miles to report that a man had
offered to take them to a place where they sold newspapers, and had
taken their money and gone into a store to get them, and nevermore
been seen. So they both received a whipping, and the next moming
set out again. This time they found the newspaper place, and procured
their stock; and after wandering about till nearly noontime, saying
"Paper?" to every one they saw, they had all their stock taken away
and received a thrashing besides from a big newsman upon whose
territory they had trespassed. Fortunately, however, they had
already sold some papers, and came back with nearly as much as they
After a week of mishaps such as these, the two little fellows began
to learn the ways of the trade--the names of the different papers,
and how many of each to get, and what sort of people to offer them to,
and where to go and where to stay away from. After this, leaving home
at four o'clock in the morning, and running about the streets, first
with morning papers and then with evening, they might come home late
at night with twenty or thirty cents apiece--possibly as much as
forty cents. From this they had to deduct their carfare, since the
distance was so great; but after a while they made friends, and learned
still more, and then they would save their carfare. They would get
on a car when the conductor was not looking, and hide in the crowd;
and three times out of four he would not ask for their fares, either
not seeing them, or thinking they had already paid; or if he did ask,
they would hunt through their pockets, and then begin to cry, and either
have their fares paid by some kind old lady, or else try the trick
again on a new car. All this was fair play, they felt. Whose fault
was it that at the hours when workingmen were going to their work
and back, the cars were so crowded that the conductors could not
collect all the fares? And besides, the companies were thieves,
people said--had stolen all their franchises with the help of
Now that the winter was by, and there was no more danger of snow,
and no more coal to buy, and another room warm enough to put the
children into when they cried, and enough money to get along from
week to week with, Jurgis was less terrible than he had been.
A man can get used to anything in the course of time, and Jurgis
had gotten used to lying about the house. Ona saw this, and was
very careful not to destroy his peace of mind, by letting him know
how very much pain she was suffering. It was now the time of the
spring rains, and Ona had often to ride to her work, in spite of
the expense; she was getting paler every day, and sometimes, in spite
of her good resolutions, it pained her that Jurgis did not notice it.
She wondered if he cared for her as much as ever, if all this misery
was not wearing out his love. She had to be away from him all the time,
and bear her own troubles while he was bearing his; and then, when she
came home, she was so worn out; and whenever they talked they had
only their worries to talk of--truly it was hard, in such a life,
to keep any sentiment alive. The woe of this would flame up in Ona
sometimes--at night she would suddenly clasp her big husband in her
arms and break into passionate weeping, demanding to know if he really
loved her. Poor Jurgis, who had in truth grown more matter-of-fact,
under the endless pressure of penury, would not know what to make of
these things, and could only try to recollect when he had last been
cross; and so Ona would have to forgive him and sob herself to sleep.
The latter part of April Jurgis went to see the doctor, and was given
a bandage to lace about his ankle, and told that he might go back
to work. It needed more than the permission of the doctor, however,
for when he showed up on the killing floor of Brown's, he was told
by the foreman that it had not been possible to keep his job for him.
Jurgis knew that this meant simply that the foreman had found some one
else to do the work as well and did not want to bother to make a change.
He stood in the doorway, looking mournfully on, seeing his friends
and companions at work, and feeling like an outcast. Then he went
out and took his place with the mob of the unemployed.
This time, however, Jurgis did not have the same fine confidence,
nor the same reason for it. He was no longer the finest-looking
man in the throng, and the bosses no longer made for him; he was
thin and haggard, and his clothes were seedy, and he looked miserable.
And there were hundreds who looked and felt just like him, and who
had been wandering about Packingtown for months begging for work.
This was a critical time in Jurgis' life, and if he had been a weaker
man he would have gone the way the rest did. Those out-of-work
wretches would stand about the packing houses every morning till the
police drove them away, and then they would scatter among the saloons.
Very few of them had the nerve to face the rebuffs that they would
encounter by trying to get into the buildings to interview the bosses;
if they did not get a chance in the morning, there would be nothing
to do but hang about the saloons the rest of the day and night.
Jurgis was saved from all this--partly, to be sure, because it was
pleasant weather, and there was no need to be indoors; but mainly
because he carried with him always the pitiful little face of his wife.
He must get work, he told himself, fighting the battle with despair
every hour of the day. He must get work! He must have a place again
and some money saved up, before the next winter came.
But there was no work for him. He sought out all the members of his
union--Jurgis had stuck to the union through all this--and begged them
to speak a word for him. He went to every one he knew, asking for
a chance, there or anywhere. He wandered all day through the buildings;
and in a week or two, when he had been all over the yards, and into
every room to which he had access, and learned that there was not
a job anywhere, he persuaded himself that there might have been
a change in the places he had first visited, and began the round
all over; till finally the watchmen and the "spotters" of the
companies came to know him by sight and to order him out with threats.
Then there was nothing more for him to do but go with the crowd in
the morning, and keep in the front row and look eager, and when he
failed, go back home, and play with little Kotrina and the baby.
The peculiar bitterness of all this was that Jurgis saw so plainly
the meaning of it. In the beginning he had been fresh and strong,
and he had gotten a job the first day; but now he was second-hand,
a damaged article, so to speak, and they did not want him. They had
got the best of him--they had worn him out, with their speeding-up
and their carelessness, and now they had thrown him away! And Jurgis
would make the acquaintance of others of these unemployed men and find
that they had all had the same experience. There were some, of course,
who had wandered in from other places, who had been ground up in other
mills; there were others who were out from their own fault--some,
for instance, who had not been able to stand the awful grind without
drink. The vast majority, however, were simply the worn-out parts
of the great merciless packing machine; they had toiled there, and kept
up with the pace, some of them for ten or twenty years, until finally
the time had come when they could not keep up with it any more.
Some had been frankly told that they were too old, that a sprier man
was needed; others had given occasion, by some act of carelessness
or incompetence; with most, however, the occasion had been the same
as with Jurgis. They had been overworked and underfed so long,
and finally some disease had laid them on their backs; or they had cut
themselves, and had blood poisoning, or met with some other accident.
When a man came back after that, he would get his place back only by
the courtesy of the boss. To this there was no exception, save when
the accident was one for which the firm was liable; in that case they
would send a slippery lawyer to see him, first to try to get him to
sign away his claims, but if he was too smart for that, to promise
him that he and his should always be provided with work. This promise
they would keep, strictly and to the letter--for two years. Two years
was the "statute of limitations," and after that the victim could not sue.
What happened to a man after any of these things, all depended upon
the circumstances. If he were of the highly skilled workers, he would
probably have enough saved up to tide him over. The best paid men,
the "splitters," made fifty cents an hour, which would be five or
six dollars a day in the rush seasons, and one or two in the dullest.
A man could live and save on that; but then there were only half
a dozen splitters in each place, and one of them that Jurgis knew
had a family of twenty-two children, all hoping to grow up to be
splitters like their father. For an unskilled man, who made ten
dollars a week in the rush seasons and five in the dull, it all
depended upon his age and the number he had dependent upon him.
An unmarried man could save, if he did not drink, and if he was
absolutely selfish--that is, if he paid no heed to the demands of
his old parents, or of his little brothers and sisters, or of any
other relatives he might have, as well as of the members of his union,
and his chums, and the people who might be starving to death next door.
During this time that Jurgis was looking for work occurred the
death of little Kristoforas, one of the children of Teta Elzbieta.
Both Kristoforas and his brother, Juozapas, were cripples, the latter
having lost one leg by having it run over, and Kristoforas having
congenital dislocation of the hip, which made it impossible for him
ever to walk. He was the last of Teta Elzbieta's children, and
perhaps he had been intended by nature to let her know that she had
had enough. At any rate he was wretchedly sick and undersized;
he had the rickets, and though he was over three years old, he was
no bigger than an ordinary child of one. All day long he would
crawl around the floor in a filthy little dress, whining and fretting;
because the floor was full of drafts he was always catching cold,
and snuffling because his nose ran. This made him a nuisance, and a
source of endless trouble in the family. For his mother, with
unnatural perversity, loved him best of all her children, and made
a perpetual fuss over him--would let him do anything undisturbed,
and would burst into tears when his fretting drove Jurgis wild.
And now he died. Perhaps it was the smoked sausage he had eaten that
morning--which may have been made out of some of the tubercular pork
that was condemncd as unfit for export. At any rate, an hour after
eating it, the child had begun to cry with pain, and in another hour
he was rolling about on the floor in convulsions. Little Kotrina,
who was all alone with him, ran out screaming for help, and after a
while a doctor came, but not until Kristoforas had howled his last howl.
No one was really sorry about this except poor Elzbieta, who was
inconsolable. Jurgis announced that so far as he was concerned
the child would have to be buried by the city, since they had no
money for a funeral; and at this the poor woman almost went out of
her senses, wringing her hands and screaming with grief and despair.
Her child to be buried in a pauper's grave! And her stepdaughter to
stand by and hear it said without protesting! It was enough to make
Ona's father rise up out of his grave to rebuke her! If it had come
to this, they might as well give up at once, and be buried all of
them together!. . . In the end Marija said that she would help
with ten dollars; and Jurgis being still obdurate, Elzbieta went
in tears and begged the money from the neighbors, and so little
Kristoforas had a mass and a hearse with white plumes on it, and a
tiny plot in a graveyard with a wooden cross to mark the place.
The poor mother was not the same for months after that; the mere
sight of the floor where little Kristoforas had crawled about would
make her weep. He had never had a fair chance, poor little fellow,
she would say. He had been handicapped from his birth. If only she
had heard about it in time, so that she might have had that great
doctor to cure him of his lameness!. . . Some time ago, Elzbieta
was told, a Chicago billionaire had paid a fortune to bring a great
European surgeon over to cure his little daughter of the same disease
from which Kristoforas had suffered. And because this surgeon had
to have bodies to demonstrate upon, he announced that he would treat
the children of the poor, a piece of magnanimity over which the papers
became quite eloquent. Elzbieta, alas, did not read the papers,
and no one had told her; but perhaps it was as well, for just then they
would not have had the carfare to spare to go every day to wait upon
the surgeon, nor for that matter anybody with the time to take the child.
All this while that he was seeking for work, there was a dark shadow
hanging over Jurgis; as if a savage beast were lurking somewhere in the
pathway of his life, and he knew it, and yet could not help approaching
the place. There are all stages of being out of work in Packingtown,
and he faced in dread the prospect of reaching the lowest. There is
a place that waits for the lowest man--the fertilizer plant!
The men would talk about it in awe-stricken whispers. Not more than
one in ten had ever really tried it; the other nine had contented
themselves with hearsay evidence and a peep through the door.
There were some things worse than even starving to death. They would
ask Jurgis if he had worked there yet, and if he meant to; and Jurgis
would debate the matter with himself. As poor as they were, and making
all the sacrifices that they were, would he dare to refuse any sort
of work that was offered to him, be it as horrible as ever it could?
Would he dare to go home and eat bread that had been earned by Ona,
weak and complaining as she was, knowing that he had been given
a chance, and had not had the nerve to take it?--And yet he might
argue that way with himself all day, and one glimpse into the
fertilizer works would send him away again shuddering. He was a man,
and he would do his duty; he went and made application--but surely
he was not also required to hope for success!
The fertilizer works of Durham's lay away from the rest of the plant.
Few visitors ever saw them, and the few who did would come out
looking like Dante, of whom the peasants declared that he had been
into hell. To this part of the yards came all the "tankage" and
the waste products of all sorts; here they dried out the bones,--and
in suffocating cellars where the daylight never came you might see
men and women and children bending over whirling machines and sawing
bits of bone into all sorts of shapes, breathing their lungs full
of the fine dust, and doomed to die, every one of them, within a
certain definite time. Here they made the blood into albumen,
and made other foul-smelling things into things still more foul-smelling.
In the corridors and caverns where it was done you might lose yourself
as in the great caves of Kentucky. In the dust and the steam the
electric lights would shine like far-off twinkling stars--red and
blue-green and purple stars, according to the color of the mist and
the brew from which it came. For the odors of these ghastly charnel
houses there may be words in Lithuanian, but there are none in English.
The person entering would have to summon his courage as for a
cold-water plunge. He would go in like a man swimming under water;
he would put his handkerchief over his face, and begin to cough and
choke; and then, if he were still obstinate, he would find his head
beginning to ring, and the veins in his forehead to throb, until
finally he would be assailed by an overpowering blast of ammonia fumes,
and would turn and run for his life, and come out half-dazed.
On top of this were the rooms where they dried the "tankage," the mass
of brown stringy stuff that was left after the waste portions of the
carcasses had had the lard and tallow dried out of them. This dried
material they would then grind to a fine powder, and after they had
mixed it up well with a mysterious but inoffensive brown rock which
they brought in and ground up by the hundreds of carloads for that
purpose, the substance was ready to be put into bags and sent out
to the world as any one of a hundred different brands of standard
bone phosphate. And then the farmer in Maine or California or Texas
would buy this, at say twenty-five dollars a ton, and plant it with
his corn; and for several days after the operation the fields would
have a strong odor, and the farmer and his wagon and the very horses
that had hauled it would all have it too. In Packingtown the fertilizer
is pure, instead of being a flavoring, and instead of a ton or so
spread out on several acres under the open sky, there are hundreds
and thousands of tons of it in one building, heaped here and there
in haystack piles, covering the floor several inches deep, and filling
the air with a choking dust that becomes a blinding sandstorm when
the wind stirs.
It was to this building that Jurgis came daily, as if dragged by
an unseen hand. The month of May was an exceptionally cool one,
and his secret prayers were granted; but early in June there came
a record-breaking hot spell, and after that there were men wanted
in the fertilizer mill.
The boss of the grinding room had come to know Jurgis by this time,
and had marked him for a likely man; and so when he came to the door
about two o'clock this breathless hot day, he felt a sudden spasm
of pain shoot through him--the boss beckoned to him! In ten minutes
more Jurgis had pulled off his coat and overshirt, and set his teeth
together and gone to work. Here was one more difficulty for him to
meet and conquer!
His labor took him about one minute to learn. Before him was one
of the vents of the mill in which the fertilizer was being ground--
rushing forth in a great brown river, with a spray of the finest
dust flung forth in clouds. Jurgis was given a shovel, and along
with half a dozen others it was his task to shovel this fertilizer
into carts. That others were at work he knew by the sound, and by
the fact that he sometimes collided with them; otherwise they might
as well not have been there, for in the blinding dust storm a man
could not see six feet in front of his face. When he had filled
one cart he had to grope around him until another came, and if there
was none on hand he continued to grope till one arrived. In five
minutes he was, of course, a mass of fertilizer from head to feet;
they gave him a sponge to tie over his mouth, so that he could breathe,
but the sponge did not prevent his lips and eyelids from caking up
with it and his ears from filling solid. He looked like a brown ghost
at twilight--from hair to shoes he became the color of the building and
of everything in it, and for that matter a hundred yards outside it.
The building had to be left open, and when the wind blew Durham and
Company lost a great deal of fertilizer.
Working in his shirt sleeves, and with the thermometer at over
a hundred, the phosphates soaked in through every pore of Jurgis'
skin, and in five minutes he had a headache, and in fifteen was
almost dazed. The blood was pounding in his brain like an engine's
throbbing; there was a frightful pain in the top of his skull,
and he could hardly control his hands. Still, with the memory of
his four months' siege behind him, he fought on, in a frenzy of
determination; and half an hour later he began to vomit--he vomited
until it seemed as if his inwards must be torn into shreds. A man
could get used to the fertilizer mill, the boss had said, if he would
make up his mind to it; but Jurgis now began to see that it was
a question of making up his stomach.
At the end of that day of horror, he could scarcely stand. He had
to catch himself now and then, and lean against a building and get
his bearings. Most of the men, when they came out, made straight
for a saloon--they seemed to place fertilizer and rattlesnake poison
in one class. But Jurgis was too ill to think of drinking--he could
only make his way to the street and stagger on to a car. He had a
sense of humor, and later on, when he became an old hand, he used to
think it fun to board a streetcar and see what happened. Now, however,
he was too ill to notice it--how the people in the car began to gasp
and sputter, to put their handkerchiefs to their noses, and transfix
him with furious glances. Jurgis only knew that a man in front of
him immediately got up and gave him a seat; and that half a minute
later the two people on each side of him got up; and that in a full
minute the crowded car was nearly empty--those passengers who could
not get room on the platform having gotten out to walk.
Of course Jurgis had made his home a miniature fertilizer mill a
minute after entering. The stuff was half an inch deep in his skin--
his whole system was full of it, and it would have taken a week not
merely of scrubbing, but of vigorous exercise, to get it out of him.
As it was, he could be compared with nothing known to men, save that
newest discovery of the savants, a substance which emits energy for
an unlimited time, without being itself in the least diminished
in power. He smelled so that he made all the food at the table taste,
and set the whole family to vomiting; for himself it was three days
before he could keep anything upon his stomach--he might wash his hands,
and use a knife and fork, but were not his mouth and throat filled
with the poison?
And still Jurgis stuck it out! In spite of splitting headaches he
would stagger down to the plant and take up his stand once more,
and begin to shovel in the blinding clouds of dust. And so at the
end of the week he was a fertilizer man for life--he was able to
eat again, and though his head never stopped aching, it ceased to
be so bad that he could not work.
So there passed another summer. It was a summer of prosperity,
all over the country, and the country ate generously of packing
house products, and there was plenty of work for all the family,
in spite of the packers' efforts to keep a superfluity of labor.
They were again able to pay their debts and to begin to save a
little sum; but there were one or two sacrifices they considered
too heavy to be made for long--it was too bad that the boys should
have to sell papers at their age. It was utterly useless to caution
them and plead with them; quite without knowing it, they were taking
on the tone of their new environment. They were learning to swear
in voluble English; they were learning to pick up cigar stumps and
smoke them, to pass hours of their time gambling with pennies and
dice and cigarette cards; they were learning the location of all
the houses of prostitution on the "Levee," and the names of the
"madames" who kept them, and the days when they gave their state
banquets, which the police captains and the big politicians all
attended. If a visiting "country customer" were to ask them,
they could show him which was "Hinkydink's" famous saloon, and could
even point out to him by name the different gamblers and thugs and
"hold-up men" who made the place their headquarters. And worse yet,
the boys were getting out of the habit of coming home at night.
What was the use, they would ask, of wasting time and energy and
a possible carfare riding out to the stockyards every night when
the weather was pleasant and they could crawl under a truck or into
an empty doorway and sleep exactly as well? So long as they brought
home a half dollar for each day, what mattered it when they brought it?
But Jurgis declared that from this to ceasing to come at all would
not be a very long step, and so it was decided that Vilimas and
Nikalojus should return to school in the fall, and that instead
Elzbieta should go out and get some work, her place at home being
taken by her younger daughter.
Little Kotrina was like most children of the poor, prematurely made old;
she had to take care of her little brother, who was a cripple, and also
of the baby; she had to cook the meals and wash the dishes and
clean house, and have supper ready when the workers came home in
the evening. She was only thirteen, and small for her age, but she
did all this without a murmur; and her mother went out, and after
trudging a couple of days about the yards, settled down as a servant
of a "sausage machine."
Elzbieta was used to working, but she found this change a hard one,
for the reason that she had to stand motionless upon her feet from
seven o'clock in the morning till half-past twelve, and again from
one till half-past five. For the first few days it seemed to her
that she could not stand it--she suffered almost as much as Jurgis
had from the fertilizer, and would come out at sundown with her head
fairly reeling. Besides this, she was working in one of the dark holes,
by electric light, and the dampness, too, was deadly--there were
always puddles of water on the floor, and a sickening odor of moist
flesh in the room. The people who worked here followed the ancient
custom of nature, whereby the ptarmigan is the color of dead leaves
in the fall and of snow in the winter, and the chameleon, who is black
when he lies upon a stump and turns green when he moves to a leaf.
The men and women who worked in this department were precisely the
color of the "fresh country sausage" they made.
The sausage-room was an interesting place to visit, for two or
three minutes, and provided that you did not look at the people;
the machines were perhaps the most wonderful things in the entire plant.
Presumably sausages were once chopped and stuffed by hand, and if so
it would be interesting to know how many workers had been displaced
by these inventions. On one side of the room were the hoppers,
into which men shoveled loads of meat and wheelbarrows full of spices;
in these great bowls were whirling knives that made two thousand
revolutions a minute, and when the meat was ground fine and adulterated
with potato flour, and well mixed with water, it was forced to the
stuffing machines on the other side of the room. The latter were
tended by women; there was a sort of spout, like the nozzle of a hose,
and one of the women would take a long string of "casing" and put
the end over the nozzle and then work the whole thing on, as one
works on the finger of a tight glove. This string would be twenty
or thirty feet long, but the woman would have it all on in a jiffy;
and when she had several on, she would press a lever, and a stream
of sausage meat would be shot out, taking the casing with it as it came.
Thus one might stand and see appear, miraculously born from the
machine, a wriggling snake of sausage of incredible length. In front
was a big pan which caught these creatures, and two more women who
seized them as fast as they appeared and twisted them into links.
This was for the uninitiated the most perplexing work of all; for all
that the woman had to give was a single turn of the wrist; and in
some way she contrived to give it so that instead of an endless chain
of sausages, one after another, there grew under her hands a bunch
of strings, all dangling from a single center. It was quite like
the feat of a prestidigitator--for the woman worked so fast that
the eye could literally not follow her, and there was only a mist
of motion, and tangle after tangle of sausages appearing. In the
midst of the mist, however, the visitor would suddenly notice the
tense set face, with the two wrinkles graven in the forehead, and the
ghastly pallor of the cheeks; and then he would suddenly recollect
that it was time he was going on. The woman did not go on; she stayed
right there--hour after hour, day after day, year after year, twisting
sausage links and racing with death. It was piecework, and she was apt
to have a family to keep alive; and stern and ruthless economic laws
had arranged it that she could only do this by working just as she did,
with all her soul upon her work, and with never an instant for a glance
at the well-dressed ladies and gentlemen who came to stare at her,
as at some wild beast in a menagerie.
With one member trimming beef in a cannery, and another working in
a sausage factory, the family had a first-hand knowledge of the
great majority of Packingtown swindles. For it was the custom,
as they found, whenever meat was so spoiled that it could not be
used for anything else, either to can it or else to chop it up
into sausage. With what had been told them by Jonas, who had worked
in the pickle rooms, they could now study the whole of the spoiled-meat
industry on the inside, and read a new and grim meaning into that old
Packingtown jest--that they use everything of the pig except the squeal.
Jonas had told them how the meat that was taken out of pickle would
often be found sour, and how they would rub it up with soda to take
away the smell, and sell it to be eaten on free-lunch counters;
also of all the miracles of chemistry which they performed, giving
to any sort of meat, fresh or salted, whole or chopped, any color
and any flavor and any odor they chose. In the pickling of hams
they had an ingenious apparatus, by which they saved time and
increased the capacity of the plant--a machine consisting of a hollow
needle attached to a pump; by plunging this needle into the meat
and working with his foot, a man could fill a ham with pickle in
a few seconds. And yet, in spite of this, there would be hams
found spoiled, some of them with an odor so bad that a man could
hardly bear to be in the room with them. To pump into these the
packers had a second and much stronger pickle which destroyed the
odor--a process known to the workers as "giving them thirty per cent."
Also, after the hams had been smoked, there would be found some that had
gone to the bad. Formerly these had been sold as "Number Three Grade,"
but later on some ingenious person had hit upon a new device, and now
they would extract the bone, about which the bad part generally lay,
and insert in the hole a white-hot iron. After this invention there
was no longer Number One, Two, and Three Grade--there was only Number
One Grade. The packers were always originating such schemes--they had
what they called "boneless hams," which were all the odds and ends of
pork stuffed into casings; and "California hams," which were the
shoulders, with big knuckle joints, and nearly all the meat cut out;
and fancy "skinned hams," which were made of the oldest hogs, whose
skins were so heavy and coarse that no one would buy them--that is,
until they had been cooked and chopped fine and labeled "head cheese!"
It was only when the whole ham was spoiled that it came into the
department of Elzbieta. Cut up by the two-thousand-revolutions-
a-minute flyers, and mixed with half a ton of other meat, no odor
that ever was in a ham could make any difference. There was never
the least attention paid to what was cut up for sausage; there would
come all the way back from Europe old sausage that had been rejected,
and that was moldy and white--it would be dosed with borax and
glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers, and made over again for home
consumption. There would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor,
in the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped and spit
uncounted billions of consumption germs. There would be meat stored
in great piles in rooms; and the water from leaky roofs would drip
over it, and thousands of rats would race about on it. It was too dark
in these storage places to see well, but a man could run his hand over
these piles of meat and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats.
These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put poisoned bread
out for them; they would die, and then rats, bread, and meat would
go into the hoppers together. This is no fairy story and no joke;
the meat would be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the
shoveling would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw one--
there were things that went into the sausage in comparison with which
a poisoned rat was a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash
their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they made a practice
of washing them in the water that was to be ladled into the sausage.
There were the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned beef,
and all the odds and ends of the waste of the plants, that would be
dumped into old barrels in the cellar and left there. Under the
system of rigid economy which the packers enforced, there were some
jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time, and among these
was the cleaning out of the waste barrels. Every spring they did it;
and in the barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale
water--and cartload after cartload of it would be taken up and dumped
into the hoppers with fresh meat, and sent out to the public's breakfast.
Some of it they would make into "smoked" sausage--but as the smoking
took time, and was therefore expensive, they would call upon their
chemistry department, and preserve it with borax and color it with
gelatine to make it brown. All of their sausage came out of the
same bowl, but when they came to wrap it they would stamp some of
it "special," and for this they would charge two cents more a pound.
Such were the new surroundings in which Elzbieta was placed, and such was
the work she was compelled to do. It was stupefying, brutalizing work;
it left her no time to think, no strength for anything. She was part
of the machine she tended, and every faculty that was not needed for
the machine was doomed to be crushed out of existence. There was
only one mercy about the cruel grind--that it gave her the gift of
insensibility. Little by little she sank into a torpor--she fell
silent. She would meet Jurgis and Ona in the evening, and the three
would walk home together, often without saying a word. Ona, too,
was falling into a habit of silence--Ona, who had once gone about
singing like a bird. She was sick and miserable, and often she would
barely have strength enough to drag herself home. And there they
would eat what they had to eat, and afterward, because there was
only their misery to talk of, they would crawl into bed and fall into
a stupor and never stir until it was time to get up again, and dress
by candlelight, and go back to the machines. They were so numbed
that they did not even suffer much from hunger, now; only the children
continued to fret when the food ran short.
Yet the soul of Ona was not dead--the souls of none of them were dead,
but only sleeping; and now and then they would waken, and these were
cruel times. The gates of memory would roll open--old joys would
stretch out their arms to them, old hopes and dreams would call to them,
and they would stir beneath the burden that lay upon them, and feel its
forever immeasurable weight. They could not even cry out beneath it;
but anguish would seize them, more dreadful than the agony of death.
It was a thing scarcely to be spoken--a thing never spoken by all
the world, that will not know its own defeat.
They were beaten; they had lost the game, they were swept aside.
It was not less tragic because it was so sordid, because it had to do
with wages and grocery bills and rents. They had dreamed of freedom;
of a chance to look about them and learn something; to be decent
and clean, to see their child grow up to be strong. And now it was all
gone--it would never be! They had played the game and they had lost.
Six years more of toil they had to face before they could expect the
least respite, the cessation of the payments upon the house; and how
cruelly certain it was that they could never stand six years of such
a life as they were living! They were lost, they were going down--
and there was no deliverance for them, no hope; for all the help it
gave them the vast city in which they lived might have been an ocean
waste, a wilderness, a desert, a tomb. So often this mood would come
to Ona, in the nighttime, when something wakened her; she would lie,
afraid of the beating of her own heart, fronting the blood-red eyes
of the old primeval terror of life. Once she cried aloud, and woke
Jurgis, who was tired and cross. After that she learned to weep
silently--their moods so seldom came together now! It was as if
their hopes were buried in separate graves.
Jurgis, being a man, had troubles of his own. There was another
specter following him. He had never spoken of it, nor would he allow
any one else to speak of it--he had never acknowledged its existence
to himself. Yet the battle with it took all the manhood that he had--
and once or twice, alas, a little more. Jurgis had discovered drink.
He was working in the steaming pit of hell; day after day, week after
week--until now, there was not an organ of his body that did its
work without pain, until the sound of ocean breakers echoed in his
head day and night, and the buildings swayed and danced before him
as he went down the street. And from all the unending horror of
this there was a respite, a deliverance--he could drink! He could
forget the pain, he could slip off the burden; he would see clearly
again, he would be master of his brain, of his thoughts, of his will.
His dead self would stir in him, and he would find himself laughing
and cracking jokes with his companions--he would be a man again,
and master of his life.
It was not an easy thing for Jurgis to take more than two or three drinks.
With the first drink he could eat a meal, and he could persuade himself
that that was economy; with the second he could eat another meal--but
there would come a time when he could eat no more, and then to pay
for a drink was an unthinkable extravagance, a defiance of the agelong
instincts of his hunger-haunted class. One day, however, he took
the plunge, and drank up all that he had in his pockets, and went
home half "piped," as the men phrase it. He was happier than he
had been in a year; and yet, because he knew that the happiness would
not last, he was savage, too with those who would wreck it, and with
the world, and with his life; and then again, beneath this, he was
sick with the shame of himself. Afterward, when he saw the despair
of his family, and reckoned up the money he had spent, the tears came
into his eyes, and he began the long battle with the specter.
It was a battle that had no end, that never could have one. But Jurgis
did not realize that very clearly; he was not given much time for
reflection. He simply knew that he was always fighting. Steeped in
misery and despair as he was, merely to walk down the street was
to be put upon the rack. There was surely a saloon on the corner--
perhaps on all four corners, and some in the middle of the block
as well; and each one stretched out a hand to him each one had a
personality of its own, allurements unlike any other. Going and
coming--before sunrise and after dark--there was warmth and a glow
of light, and the steam of hot food,and perhaps music, or a friendly
face, and a word of good cheer. Jurgis developed a fondness for
having Ona on his arm whenever he went out on the street, and he would
hold her tightly, and walk fast. It was pitiful to have Ona know
of this--it drove him wild to think of it; the thing was not fair,
for Ona had never tasted drink, and so could not understand.
Sometimes, in despeate hours, he would find himself wishing that
she might learn what it was, so that he need not be ashamed in
her presence. They might drink together, and escape from the horror--
escape for a while, come what would.
So there came a time when nearly all the conscious life of Jurgis
consisted of a struggle with the craving for liquor. He would have
ugly moods, when he hated Ona and the whole family, because they
stood in his way. He was a fool to have married; he had tied
himself down, had made himself a slave. It was all because he was
a married man that he was compelled to stay in the yards; if it had
not been for that he might have gone off like Jonas, and to hell
with the packers. There were few single men in the fertilizer mill--
and those few were working only for a chance to escape. Meantime, too,
they had something to think about while they worked,--they had the
memory of the last time they had been drunk, and the hope of the time
when they would be drunk again. As for Jurgis, he was expected to bring
home every penny; he could not even go with the men at noontime--he was
supposed to sit down and eat his dinner on a pile of fertilizer dust.
This was not always his mood, of course; he still loved his family.
But just now was a time of trial. Poor little Antanas, for instance--
who had never failed to win him with a smile--little Antanas was
not smiling just now, being a mass of fiery red pimples. He had
had all the diseases that babies are heir to, in quick succession,
scarlet fever, mumps, and whooping cough in the first year, and now
he was down with the measles. There was no one to attend him but
Kotrina; there was no doctor to help him, because they were too poor,
and children did not die of the measles--at least not often. Now and
then Kotrina would find time to sob over his woes, but for the greater
part of the time he had to be left alone, barricaded upon the bed.
The floor was full of drafts, and if he caught cold he would die.
At night he was tied down, lest he should kick the covers off him,
while the family lay in their stupor of exhaustion. He would lie
and scream for hours, almost in convulsions; and then, when he was
worn out, he would lie whimpering and wailing in his torment. He was
burning up with fever, and his eyes were running sores; in the daytime
he was a thing uncanny and impish to behold, a plaster of pimples
and sweat, a great purple lump of misery.
Yet all this was not really as cruel as it sounds, for, sick as he was,
little Antanas was the least unfortunate member of that family.
He was quite able to bear his sufferings--it was as if he had all
these complaints to show what a prodigy of health he was. He was
the child of his parents' youth and joy; he grew up like the conjurer's
rosebush, and all the world was his oyster. In general, he toddled
around the kitchen all day with a lean and hungry look--the portion
of the family's allowance that fell to him was not enough, and he was
unrestrainable in his demand for more. Antanas was but little over
a year old, and already no one but his father could manage him.
It seemed as if he had taken all of his mother's strength--had left
nothing for those that might come after him. Ona was with child
again now, and it was a dreadful thing to contemplate; even Jurgis,
dumb and despairing as he was, could not but understand that yet
other agonies were on the way, and shudder at the thought of them.
For Ona was visibly going to pieces. In the first place she was
developing a cough, like the one that had killed old Dede Antanas.
She had had a trace of it ever since that fatal morning when the greedy
streetcar corporation had turned her out into the rain; but now it was
beginning to grow serious, and to wake her up at night. Even worse
than that was the fearful nervousness from which she suffered;
she would have frightful headaches and fits of aimless weeping;
and sometimes she would come home at night shuddering and moaning,
and would fling herself down upon the bed and burst into tears.
Several times she was quite beside herself and hysterical; and then
Jurgis would go half-mad with fright. Elzbieta would explain to him
that it could not be helped, that a woman was subject to such things
when she was pregnant; but he was hardly to be persuaded, and would
beg and plead to know what had happened. She had never been like
this before, he would argue--it was monstrous and unthinkable.
It was the life she had to live, the accursed work she had to do,
that was killing her by inches. She was not fitted for it--no woman
was fitted for it, no woman ought to be allowed to do such work;
if the world could not keep them alive any other way it ought to kill
them at once and be done with it. They ought not to marry, to have
children; no workingman ought to marry--if he, Jurgis, had known what
a woman was like, he would have had his eyes torn out first. So he
would carry on, becoming half hysterical himself, which was an
unbearable thing to see in a big man; Ona would pull herself together
and fling herself into his arms, begging him to stop, to be still,
that she would be better, it would be all right. So she would lie
and sob out her grief upon his shoulder, while he gazed at her,
as helpless as a wounded animal, the target of unseen enemies.
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 scconds 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.
When Jurgis got up again he went quietly enough. He was exhausted
and half-dazed, and besides he saw the blue uniforms of the policemen.
He drove in a patrol wagon with half a dozen of them watching him;
keeping as far away as possible, however, on account of the fertilizer.
Then he stood before the sergeant's desk and gave his name and address,
and saw a charge of assault and battery entered against him. On his
way to his cell a burly policeman cursed him because he started down
the wrong corridor, and then added a kick when he was not quick enough;
nevertheless, Jurgis did not even lift his eyes--he had lived two years
and a half in Packingtown, and he knew what the police were. It was
as much as a man's very life was worth to anger them, here in their
inmost lair; like as not a dozen would pile on to him at once, and pound
his face into a pulp. It would be nothing unusual if he got his skull
cracked in the melee--in which case they would report that he had been
drunk and had fallen down, and there would be no one to know the
difference or to care.
So a barred door clanged upon Jurgis and he sat down upon a bench and
buried his face in his hands. He was alone; he had the afternoon and
all of the night to himself.
At first he was like a wild beast that has glutted itself; he was in
a dull stupor of satisfaction. He had done up the scoundrel pretty
well--not as well as he would have if they had given him a minute more,
but pretty well, all the same; the ends of his fingers were still
tingling from their contact with the fellow's throat. But then,
little by little, as his strength came back and his senses cleared,
he began to see beyond his momentary gratification; that he had nearly
killed the boss would not help Ona--not the horrors that she had borne,
nor the memory that would haunt her all her days. It would not help
to feed her and her child; she would certainly lose her place, while
he--what was to happen to him God only knew.
Half the night he paced the floor, wrestling with this nightmare;
and when he was exhausted he lay down, trying to sleep, but finding
instead, for the first time in his life, that his brain was too much
for him. In the cell next to him was a drunken wife-beater and in
the one beyond a yelling maniac. At midnight they opened the station
house to the homeless wanderers who were crowded about the door,
shivering in the winter blast, and they thronged into the corridor
outside of the cells. Some of them stretched themselves out on the
bare stone floor and fell to snoring, others sat up, laughing and
talking, cursing and quarreling. The air was fetid with their breath,
yet in spite of this some of them smelled Jurgis and called down the
torments of hell upon him, while he lay in a far corner of his cell,
counting the throbbings of the blood in his forehead.
They had brought him his supper, which was "duffers and dope"--being
hunks of dry bread on a tin plate, and coffee, called "dope" because
it was drugged to keep the prisoners quiet. Jurgis had not known this,
or he would have swallowed the stuff in desperation; as it was,
every nerve of him was aquiver with shame and rage. Toward morning
the place fell silent, and he got up and began to pace his cell;
and then within the soul of him there rose up a fiend, red-eyed and
cruel, and tore out the strings of his heart.
It was not for himself that he suffered--what did a man who worked
in Durham's fertilizer mill care about anything that the world might
do to him! What was any tyranny of prison compared with the tyranny
of the past, of the thing that had happened and could not be recalled,
of the memory that could never be effaced! The horror of it drove
him mad; he stretched out his arms to heaven, crying out for deliverance
from it--and there was no deliverance, there was no power even in
heaven that could undo the past. It was a ghost that would not drown;
it followed him, it seized upon him and beat him to the ground.
Ah, if only he could have foreseen it--but then, he would have
foreseen it, if he had not been a fool! He smote his hands upon
his forehead, cursing himself because he had ever allowed Ona to work
where she had, because he had not stood between her and a fate which
every one knew to be so common. He should have taken her away, even if
it were to lie down and die of starvation in the gutters of Chicago's
streets! And now--oh, it could not be true; it was too monstrous,
It was a thing that could not be faced; a new shuddering seized him
every time he tried to think of it. No, there was no bearing the
load of it, there was no living under it. There would be none for
her--he knew that he might pardon her, might plead with her on his
knees, but she would never look him in the face again, she would
never be his wife again. The shame of it would kill her--there
could be no other deliverance, and it was best that she should die.
This was simple and clear, and yet, with cruel inconsistency,
whenever he escaped from this nightmare it was to suffer and cry out
at the vision of Ona starving. They had put him in jail, and they
would keep him here a long time, years maybe. And Ona would surely
not go to work again, broken and crushed as she was. And Elzbieta
and Marija, too, might lose their places--if that hell fiend Connor
chose to set to work to ruin them, they would all be turned out.
And even if he did not, they could not live--even if the boys left
school again, they could surely not pay all the bills without him
and Ona. They had only a few dollars now--they had just paid the rent
of the house a week ago, and that after it was two weeks overdue.
So it would be due again in a week! They would have no money to pay
it then--and they would lose the house, after all their long,
heartbreaking struggle. Three times now the agent had warned him
that he would not tolerate another delay. Perhaps it was very base
of Jurgis to be thinking about the house when he had the other
unspeakable thing to fill his mind; yet, how much he had suffered
for this house, how much they had all of them suffered! It was their
one hope of respite, as long as they lived; they had put all their
money into it--and they were working people, poor people, whose money
was their strength, the very substance of them, body and soul,
the thing by which they lived and for lack of which they died.
And they would lose it all; they would be turned out into the streets,
and have to hide in some icy garret, and live or die as best they could!
Jurgis had all the night--and all of many more nights--to think about
this, and he saw the thing in its details; he lived it all, as if he
were there. They would sell their furniture, and then run into debt
at the stores, and then be refused credit; they would borrow a little
from the Szedvilases, whose delicatessen store was tottering on the
brink of ruin; the neighbors would come and help them a little--poor,
sick Jadvyga would bring a few spare pennies, as she always did when
people were starving, and Tamoszius Kuszleika would bring them the
proceeds of a night's fiddling. So they would struggle to hang on
until he got out of jail--or would they know that he was in jail,
would they be able to find out anything about him? Would they be
allowed to see him--or was it to be part of his punishment to be kept
in ignorance about their fate?
His mind would hang upon the worst possibilities; he saw Ona ill and
tortured, Marija out of her place, little Stanislovas unable to get
to work for the snow, the whole family turned out on the street.
God Almighty! would they actually let them lie down in the street
and die? Would there be no help even then--would they wander about
in the snow till they froze? Jurgis had never seen any dead bodies
in the streets, but he had seen people evicted and disappear, no one
knew where; and though the city had a relief bureau, though there
was a charity organization society in the stockyards district, in all
his life there he had never heard of either of them. They did not
advertise their activities, having more calls than they could attend
to without that.
--So on until morning. Then he had another ride in the patrol
wagon, along with the drunken wife-beater and the maniac, several
"plain drunks" and "saloon fighters," a burglar, and two men who had
been arrested for stealing meat from the packing houses. Along with
them he was driven into a large, white-walled room, stale-smelling
and crowded. In front, upon a raised platform behind a rail, sat a
stout, florid-faced personage, with a nose broken out in purple blotches.
Our friend realized vaguely that he was about to be tried. He wondered
what for--whether or not his victim might be dead, and if so, what
they would do with him. Hang him, perhaps, or beat him to death--