Part 4 out of 8
nothing would have surprised Jurgis, who knew little of the laws.
Yet he had picked up gossip enough to have it occur to him that
the loud-voiced man upon the bench might be the notorious Justice
Callahan, about whom the people of Packingtown spoke with bated breath.
"Pat" Callahan--"Growler" Pat, as he had been known before he
ascended the bench--had begun life as a butcher boy and a bruiser
of local reputation; he had gone into politics almost as soon as
he had learned to talk, and had held two offices at once before
he was old enough to vote. If Scully was the thumb, Pat Callahan
was the first finger of the unseen hand whereby the packers held
down the people of the district. No politician in Chicago ranked
higher in their confidence; he had been at it a long time--had been
the business agent in the city council of old Durham, the self-made
merchant, way back in the early days, when the whole city of Chicago
had been up at auction. "Growler" Pat had given up holding city
offices very early in his career--caring only for party power,
and giving the rest of his time to superintending his dives and
brothels. Of late years, however, since his children were growing up,
he had begun to value respectability, and had had himself made a
magistrate; a position for which he was admirably fitted, because
of his strong conservatism and his contempt for "foreigners."
Jurgis sat gazing about the room for an hour or two; he was in
hopes that some one of the family would come, but in this he was
disappointed. Finally, he was led before the bar, and a lawyer for
the company appeared against him. Connor was under the doctor's care,
the lawyer explained briefly, and if his Honor would hold the prisoner
for a week--"Three hundred dollars," said his Honor, promptly.
Jurgis was staring from the judge to the lawyer in perplexity.
"Have you any one to go on your bond?" demanded the judge, and then
a clerk who stood at Jurgis' elbow explained to him what this meant.
The latter shook his head, and before he realized what had happened
the policemen were leading him away again. They took him to a room
where other prisoners were waiting and here he stayed until court
adjourned, when he had another long and bitterly cold ride in a
patrol wagon to the county jail, which is on the north side of
the city, and nine or ten miles from the stockyards.
Here they searched Jurgis, leaving him only his money, which
consisted of fifteen cents. Then they led him to a room and told
him to strip for a bath; after which he had to walk down a long
gallery, past the grated cell doors of the inmates of the jail.
This was a great event to the latter--the daily review of the new
arrivals, all stark naked, and many and diverting were the comments.
Jurgis was required to stay in the bath longer than any one, in the
vain hope of getting out of him a few of his phosphates and acids.
The prisoners roomed two in a cell, but that day there was one
left over, and he was the one.
The cells were in tiers, opening upon galleries. His cell was about
five feet by seven in size, with a stone floor and a heavy wooden
bench built into it. There was no window--the only light came from
windows near the roof at one end of the court outside. There were
two bunks, one above the other, each with a straw mattress and a pair
of gray blankets--the latter stiff as boards with filth, and alive
with fleas, bedbugs, and lice. When Jurgis lifted up the mattress
he discovered beneath it a layer of scurrying roaches, almost as
badly frightened as himself.
Here they brought him more "duffers and dope," with the addition of
a bowl of soup. Many of the prisoners had their meals brought in
from a restaurant, but Jurgis had no money for that. Some had books
to read and cards to play, with candles to burn by night, but Jurgis
was all alone in darkness and silence. He could not sleep again;
there was the same maddening procession of thoughts that lashed him
like whips upon his naked back. When night fell he was pacing up
and down his cell like a wild beast that breaks its teeth upon the
bars of its cage. Now and then in his frenzy he would fling himself
against the walls of the place, beating his hands upon them. They cut
him and bruised him--they were cold and merciless as the men who had
In the distance there was a church-tower bell that tolled the hours
one by one. When it came to midnight Jurgis was lying upon the floor
with his head in his arms, listening. Instead of falling silent at
the end, the bell broke into a sudden clangor. Jurgis raised his head;
what could that mean--a fire? God! Suppose there were to be a fire
in this jail! But then he made out a melody in the ringing;
there were chimes. And they seemed to waken the city--all around,
far and near, there were bells, ringing wild music; for fully a minute
Jurgis lay lost in wonder, before, all at once, the meaning of it
broke over him--that this was Christmas Eve!
Christmas Eve--he had forgotten it entirely! There was a breaking
of floodgates, a whirl of new memories and new griefs rushing into
his mind. In far Lithuania they had celebrated Christmas; and it
came to him as if it had been yesterday--himself a little child,
with his lost brother and his dead father in the cabin--in the deep
black forest, where the snow fell all day and all night and buried
them from the world. It was too far off for Santa Claus in Lithuania,
but it was not too far for peace and good will to men, for the
wonder-bearing vision of the Christ Child. And even in Packingtown
they had not forgotten it--some gleam of it had never failed to break
their darkness. Last Christmas Eve and all Christmas Day Jurgis
had toiled on the killing beds, and Ona at wrapping hams, and still
they had found strength enough to take the children for a walk upon
the avenue, to see the store windows all decorated with Christmas trees
and ablaze with electric lights. In one window there would be live
geese, in another marvels in sugar--pink and white canes big enough
for ogres, and cakes with cherubs upon them; in a third there would be
rows of fat yellow turkeys, decorated with rosettes, and rabbits and
squirrels hanging; in a fourth would be a fairyland of toys--lovely
dolls with pink dresses, and woolly sheep and drums and soldier hats.
Nor did they have to go without their share of all this, either.
The last time they had had a big basket with them and all their
Christmas marketing to do--a roast of pork and a cabbage and some
rye bread, and a pair of mittens for Ona, and a rubber doll that
squeaked, and a little green cornucopia full of candy to be hung
from the gas jet and gazed at by half a dozen pairs of longing eyes.
Even half a year of the sausage machines and the fertilizer mill had
not been able to kill the thought of Christmas in them; there was
a choking in Jurgis' throat as he recalled that the very night Ona
had not come home Teta Elzbieta had taken him aside and shown him
an old valentine that she had picked up in a paper store for three
cents--dingy and shopworn, but with bright colors, and figures of
angels and doves. She had wiped all the specks off this, and was
going to set it on the mantel, where the children could see it.
Great sobs shook Jurgis at this memory--they would spend their
Christmas in misery and despair, with him in prison and Ona ill
and their home in desolation. Ah, it was too cruel! Why at least
had they not left him alone--why, after they had shut him in jail,
must they be ringing Christmas chimes in his ears!
But no, their bells were not ringing for him--their Christmas was not
meant for him, they were simply not counting him at all. He was of
no consequence--he was flung aside, like a bit of trash, the carcass
of some animal. It was horrible, horrible! His wife might be dying,
his baby might be starving, his whole family might be perishing in
the cold--and all the while they were ringing their Christmas chimes!
And the bitter mockery of it--all this was punishment for him!
They put him in a place where the snow could not beat in, where the
cold could not eat through his bones; they brought him food and
drink--why, in the name of heaven, if they must punish him, did they
not put his family in jail and leave him outside--why could they find
no better way to punish him than to leave three weak women and six
helpless children to starve and freeze? That was their law, that was
Jurgis stood upright; trembling with passion, his hands clenched and
his arms upraised, his whole soul ablaze with hatred and defiance.
Ten thousand curses upon them and their law! Their justice--it was
a lie, it was a lie, a hideous, brutal lie, a thing too black and
hateful for any world but a world of nightmares. It was a sham and
a loathsome mockery. There was no justice, there was no right,
anywhere in it--it was only force, it was tyranny, the will and
the power, reckless and unrestrained! They had ground him beneath
their heel, they had devoured all his substance; they had murdered
his old father, they had broken and wrecked his wife, they had crushed
and cowed his whole family; and now they were through with him,
they had no further use for him--and because he had interfered
with them, had gotten in their way, this was what they had done
to him! They had put him behind bars, as if he had been a wild
beast, a thing without sense or reason, without rights, without
affections, without feelings. Nay, they would not even have treated
a beast as they had treated him! Would any man in his senses have
trapped a wild thing in its lair, and left its young behind to die?
These midnight hours were fateful ones to Jurgis; in them was
the beginning of his rebellion, of his outlawry and his unbelief.
He had no wit to trace back the social crime to its far sources--
he could not say that it was the thing men have called "the system"
that was crushing him to the earth that it was the packers, his masters,
who had bought up the law of the land, and had dealt out their brutal
will to him from the seat of justice. He only knew that he was wronged,
and that the world had wronged him; that the law, that society, with all
its powers, had declared itself his foe. And every hour his soul grew
blacker, every hour he dreamed new dreams of vengeance, of defiance,
of raging, frenzied hate.
The vilest deeds, like poison weeds,
Bloom well in prison air;
It is only what is good in Man
That wastes and withers there;
Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate,
And the Warder is Despair.
So wrote a poet, to whom the world had dealt its justice--
I know not whether Laws be right,
Or whether Laws be wrong;
All that we know who lie in gaol
Is that the wall is strong.
And they do well to hide their hell,
For in it things are done
That Son of God nor son of Man
Ever should look upon!
At seven o'clock the next morning Jurgis was let out to get water
to wash his cell--a duty which he performed faithfully, but which
most of the prisoners were accustomed to shirk, until their cells
became so filthy that the guards interposed. Then he had more
"duffers and dope," and afterward was allowed three hours for exercise,
in a long, cement-walked court roofed with glass. Here were all the
inmates of the jail crowded together. At one side of the court was
a place for visitors, cut off by two heavy wire screens, a foot apart,
so that nothing could be passed in to the prisoners; here Jurgis
watched anxiously, but there came no one to see him.
Soon after he went back to his cell, a keeper opened the door to let
in another prisoner. He was a dapper young fellow, with a light
brown mustache and blue eyes, and a graceful figure. He nodded
to Jurgis, and then, as the keeper closed the door upon him, began
gazing critically about him.
"Well, pal," he said, as his glance encountered Jurgis again,
"Good morning," said Jurgis.
"A rum go for Christmas, eh?" added the other.
The newcomer went to the bunks and inspected the blankets; he lifted
up the mattress, and then dropped it with an exclamation. "My God!"
he said, "that's the worst yet."
He glanced at Jurgis again. "Looks as if it hadn't been slept in
last night. Couldn't stand it, eh?"
"I didn't want to sleep last night," said Jurgis.
"When did you come in?"
The other had another look around, and then wrinkled up his nose.
"There's the devil of a stink in here," he said, suddenly. "What is it?"
"It's me," said Jurgis.
"Didn't they make you wash?"
"Yes, but this don't wash."
"What is it?"
"Fertilizer! The deuce! What are you?"
"I work in the stockyards--at least I did until the other day.
It's in my clothes."
"That's a new one on me," said the newcomer. "I thought I'd been up
against 'em all. What are you in for?"
"I hit my boss." "Oh--that's it. What did he do?"
"He--he treated me mean."
"I see. You're what's called an honest workingman!"
"What are you?" Jurgis asked.
"I?" The other laughed. "They say I'm a cracksman," he said.
"What's that?" asked Jurgis.
"Safes, and such things," answered the other.
"Oh," said Jurgis, wonderingly, and stated at the speaker in awe.
"You mean you break into them--you--you--"
"Yes," laughed the other, "that's what they say."
He did not look to be over twenty-two or three, though, as Jurgis
found afterward, he was thirty. He spoke like a man of education,
like what the world calls a "gentleman."
"Is that what you're here for?" Jurgis inquired.
"No," was the answer. "I'm here for disorderly conduct. They were
mad because they couldn't get any evidence.
"What's your name?" the young fellow continued after a pause.
"My name's Duane--Jack Duane. I've more than a dozen, but that's my
company one." He seated himself on the floor with his back to the wall
and his legs crossed, and went on talking easily; he soon put Jurgis
on a friendly footing--he was evidently a man of the world, used to
getting on, and not too proud to hold conversation with a mere
laboring man. He drew Jurgis out, and heard all about his life all
but the one unmentionable thing; and then he told stories about his
own life. He was a great one for stories, not always of the choicest.
Being sent to jail had apparently not disturbed his cheerfulness;
he had "done time" twice before, it seemed, and he took it all with
a frolic welcome. What with women and wine and the excitement of
his vocation, a man could afford to rest now and then.
Naturally, the aspect of prison life was changed for Jurgis by the
arrival of a cell mate. He could not turn his face to the wall
and sulk, he had to speak when he was spoken to; nor could he help
being interested in the conversation of Duane--the first educated
man with whom he had ever talked. How could he help listening with
wonder while the other told of midnight ventures and perilous escapes,
of feastings and orgies, of fortunes squandered in a night? The young
fellow had an amused contempt for Jurgis, as a sort of working mule;
he, too, had felt the world's injustice, but instead of bearing it
patiently, he had struck back, and struck hard. He was striking all
the time--there was war between him and society. He was a genial
freebooter, living off the enemy, without fear or shame. He was not
always victorious, but then defeat did not mean annihilation, and need
not break his spirit.
Withal he was a goodhearted fellow--too much so, it appeared.
His story came out, not in the first day, nor the second, but in the
long hours that dragged by, in which they had nothing to do but talk
and nothing to talk of but themselves. Jack Duane was from the East;
he was a college-bred man--had been studying electrical engineering.
Then his father had met with misfortune in business and killed himself;
and there had been his mother and a younger brother and sister.
Also, there was an invention of Duane's; Jurgis could not understand
it clearly, but it had to do with telegraphing, and it was a very
important thing--there were fortunes in it, millions upon millions
of dollars. And Duane had been robbed of it by a great company,
and got tangled up in lawsuits and lost all his money. Then somebody
had given him a tip on a horse race, and he had tried to retrieve
his fortune with another person's money, and had to run away,
and all the rest had come from that. The other asked him what had
led him to safebreaking--to Jurgis a wild and appalling occupation
to think about. A man he had met, his cell mate had replied--one
thing leads to another. Didn't he ever wonder about his family,
Jurgis asked. Sometimes, the other answered, but not often--he didn't
allow it. Thinking about it would make it no better. This wasn't
a world in which a man had any business with a family; sooner or
later Jurgis would find that out also, and give up the fight and
shift for himself.
Jurgis was so transparently what he pretended to be that his cell mate
was as open with him as a child; it was pleasant to tell him adventures,
he was so full of wonder and admiration, he was so new to the ways
of the country. Duane did not even bother to keep back names and
places--he told all his triumphs and his failures, his loves and
his griefs. Also he introduced Jurgis to many of the other prisoners,
nearly half of whom he knew by name. The crowd had already given
Jurgis a name--they called him "he stinker." This was cruel,
but they meant no harm by it, and he took it with a goodnatured grin.
Our friend had caught now and then a whiff from the sewers over
which he lived, but this was the first time that he had ever been
splashed by their filth. This jail was a Noah's ark of the city's
crime--there were murderers, "hold-up men" and burglars, embezzlers,
counterfeiters and forgers, bigamists, "shoplifters," "confidence men,"
petty thieves and pickpockets, gamblers and procurers, brawlers,
beggars, tramps and drunkards; they were black and white, old and
young, Americans and natives of every nation under the sun. There were
hardened criminals and innocent men too poor to give bail; old men,
and boys literally not yet in their teens. They were the drainage
of the great festering ulcer of society; they were hideous to look
upon, sickening to talk to. All life had turned to rottenness and
stench in them--love was a beastliness, joy was a snare, and God was
an imprecation. They strolled here and there about the courtyard,
and Jurgis listened to them. He was ignorant and they were wise;
they had been everywhere and tried everything. They could tell the
whole hateful story of it, set forth the inner soul of a city in
which justice and honor, women's bodies and men's souls, were for
sale in the marketplace, and human beings writhed and fought and
fell upon each other like wolves in a pit; in which lusts were
raging fires, and men were fuel, and humanity was festering and
stewing and wallowing in its own corruption. Into this wild-beast
tangle these men had been born without their consent, they had taken
part in it because they could not help it; that they were in jail
was no disgrace to them, for the game had never been fair, the dice
were loaded. They were swindlers and thieves of pennies and dimes,
and they had been trapped and put out of the way by the swindlers
and thieves of millions of dollars.
To most of this Jurgis tried not to listen. They frightened him
with their savage mockery; and all the while his heart was far away,
where his loved ones were calling. Now and then in the midst of it
his thoughts would take flight; and then the tears would come into
his eyes--and he would be called back by the jeering laughter of
He spent a week in this company, and during all that time he had
no word from his home. He paid one of his fifteen cents for a
postal card, and his companion wrote a note to the family, telling
them where he was and when he would be tried. There came no answer
to it, however, and at last, the day before New Year's, Jurgis bade
good-by to Jack Duane. The latter gave him his address, or rather
the address of his mistress, and made Jurgis promise to look him up.
"Maybe I could help you out of a hole some day," he said, and added
that he was sorry to have him go. Jurgis rode in the patrol wagon
back to Justice Callahan's court for trial.
One of the first things he made out as he entered the room was Teta
Elzbieta and little Kotrina, looking pale and frightened, seated far
in the rear. His heart began to pound, but he did not dare to try
to signal to them, and neither did Elzbieta. He took his seat in
the prisoners' pen and sat gazing at them in helpless agony.
He saw that Ona was not with them, and was full of foreboding as to
what that might mean. He spent half an hour brooding over this--
and then suddenly he straightened up and the blood rushed into
his face. A man had come in--Jurgis could not see his features for
the bandages that swathed him, but he knew the burly figure.
It was Connor! A trembling seized him, and his limbs bent as if
for a spring. Then suddenly he felt a hand on his collar, and heard
a voice behind him: "Sit down, you son of a--!"
He subsided, but he never took his eyes off his enemy. The fellow
was still alive, which was a disappointment, in one way; and yet it
was pleasant to see him, all in penitential plasters. He and the
company lawyer, who was with him, came and took seats within the
judge's railing; and a minute later the clerk called Jurgis' name,
and the policeman jerked him to his feet and led him before the bar,
gripping him tightly by the arm, lest he should spring upon the boss.
Jurgis listened while the man entered the witness chair, took the oath,
and told his story. The wife of the prisoner had been employed in
a department near him, and had been discharged for impudence to him.
Half an hour later he had been violently attacked, knocked down,
and almost choked to death. He had brought witnesses--
"They will probably not be necessary," observed the judge and he
turned to Jurgis. "You admit attacking the plaintiff?" he asked.
"Him?" inquired Jurgis, pointing at the boss.
"Yes," said the judge. "I hit him, sir," said Jurgis.
"Say 'your Honor,'" said the officer, pinching his arm hard.
"Your Honor," said Jurgis, obediently.
"You tried to choke him?"
"Yes, sir, your Honor."
"Ever been arrested before?"
"No, sir, your Honor."
"What have you to say for yourself?"
Jurgis hesitated. What had he to say? In two years and a half he
had learned to speak English for practical purposes, but these had
never included the statement that some one had intimidated and
seduced his wife. He tried once or twice, stammering and balking,
to the annoyance of the judge, who was gasping from the odor of
fertilizer. Finally, the prisoner made it understood that his
vocabulary was inadequate, and there stepped up a dapper young man
with waxed mustaches, bidding him speak in any language he knew.
Jurgis began; supposing that he would be given time, he explained
how the boss had taken advantage of his wife's position to make
advances to her and had threatened her with the loss of her place.
When the interpreter had translated this, the judge, whose calendar
was crowded, and whose automobile was ordered for a certain hour,
interrupted with the remark: "Oh, I see. Well, if he made love to
your wife, why didn't she complain to the superintendent or leave
Jurgis hesitated, somewhat taken aback; he began to explain that
they were very poor--that work was hard to get--
"I see," said Justice Callahan; "so instead you thought you would
knock him down." He turned to the plaintiff, inquiring, "Is there
any truth in this story, Mr. Connor?"
"Not a particle, your Honor," said the boss. "It is very unpleasant--
they tell some such tale every time you have to discharge a woman--"
"Yes, I know," said the judge. "I hear it often enough. The fellow
seems to have handled you pretty roughly. Thirty days and costs.
Jurgis had been listening in perplexity. It was only when the
policeman who had him by the arm turned and started to lead him away
that he realized that sentence had been passed. He gazed round him
wildly. "Thirty days!" he panted and then he whirled upon the judge.
"What will my family do?" he cried frantically. "I have a wife and baby,
sir, and they have no money--my God, they will starve to death!"
"You would have done well to think about them before you committed
the assault," said the judge dryly, as he turned to look at the
Jurgis would have spoken again, but the policeman had seized him by
the collar and was twisting it, and a second policeman was making
for him with evidently hostile intentions. So he let them lead
him away. Far down the room he saw Elzbieta and Kotrina, risen from
their seats, staring in fright; he made one effort to go to them,
and then, brought back by another twist at his throat, he bowed his
head and gave up the struggle. They thrust him into a cell room,
where other prisoners were waiting; and as soon as court had adjourned
they led him down with them into the "Black Maria," and drove him away.
This time Jurgis was bound for the "Bridewell," a petty jail where
Cook County prisoners serve their time. It was even filthier and
more crowded than the county jail; all the smaller fry out of the
latter had been sifted into it--the petty thieves and swindlers,
the brawlers and vagrants. For his cell mate Jurgis had an Italian
fruit seller who had refused to pay his graft to the policeman,
and been arrested for carrying a large pocketknife; as he did not
understand a word of English our friend was glad when he left.
He gave place to a Norwegian sailor, who had lost half an ear in
a drunken brawl, and who proved to be quarrelsome, cursing Jurgis
because he moved in his bunk and caused the roaches to drop upon
the lower one. It would have been quite intolerable, staying in
a cell with this wild beast, but for the fact that all day long
the prisoners were put at work breaking stone.
Ten days of his thirty Jurgis spent thus, without hearing a word
from his family; then one day a keeper came and informed him that
there was a visitor to see him. Jurgis turned white, and so weak
at the knees that he could hardly leave his cell.
The man led him down the corridor and a flight of steps to the
visitors' room, which was barred like a cell. Through the grating
Jurgis could see some one sitting in a chair; and as he came into the
room the person started up, and he saw that it was little Stanislovas.
At the sight of some one from home the big fellow nearly went to
pieces--he had to steady himself by a chair, and he put his other hand
to his forehead, as if to clear away a mist. "Well?" he said, weakly.
Little Stanislovas was also trembling, and all but too frightened
to speak. "They--they sent me to tell you--" he said, with a gulp.
"Well?" Jurgis repeated. He followed the boy's glance to where the
keeper was standing watching them. "Never mind that," Jurgis cried,
wildly. "How are they?"
"Ona is very sick," Stanislovas said; "and we are almost starving.
We can't get along; we thought you might be able to help us."
Jurgis gripped the chair tighter; there were beads of perspiration
on his forehead, and his hand shook. "I--can't help you," he said.
"Ona lies in her room all day," the boy went on, breathlessly.
"She won't eat anything, and she cries all the time. She won't tell
what is the matter and she won't go to work at all. Then a long time
ago the man came for the rent. He was very cross. He came again
last week. He said he would turn us out of the house. And then Marija--"
A sob choked Stanislovas, and he stopped. "What's the matter with
Marija?" cried Jurgis.
"She's cut her hand!" said the boy. "She's cut it bad, this time,
worse than before. She can't work and it's all turning green,
and the company doctor says she may--she may have to have it cut off.
And Marija cries all the time--her money is nearly all gone, too,
and we can't pay the rent and the interest on the house; and we have
no coal and nothing more to eat, and the man at the store, he says--"
The little fellow stopped again, beginning to whimper. "Go on!"
the other panted in frenzy--"Go on!"
"I--I will," sobbed Stanislovas. "It's so--so cold all the time.
And last Sunday it snowed again--a deep, deep snow--and I couldn't--
couldn't get to work."
"God!" Jurgis half shouted, and he took a step toward the child.
There was an old hatred between them because of the snow--ever since
that dreadful morning when the boy had had his fingers frozen and
Jurgis had had to beat him to send him to work. Now he clenched
his hands, looking as if he would try to break through the grating.
"You little villain," he cried, "you didn't try!"
"I did--I did!" wailed Stanislovas, shrinking from him in terror.
"I tried all day--two days. Elzbieta was with me, and she couldn't
either. We couldn't walk at all, it was so deep. And we had nothing
to eat, and oh, it was so cold! I tried, and then the third day Ona
went with me--"
"Yes. She tried to get to work, too. She had to. We were all
starving. But she had lost her place--"
Jurgis reeled, and gave a gasp. "She went back to that place?"
he screamed. "She tried to," said Stanislovas, gazing at him in
perplexity. "Why not, Jurgis?"
The man breathed hard, three or four times. "Go--on," he panted,
"I went with her," said Stanislovas, "but Miss Henderson wouldn't take
her back. And Connor saw her and cursed her. He was still bandaged
up--why did you hit him, Jurgis?" (There was some fascinating mystery
about this, the little fellow knew; but he could get no satisfaction.)
Jurgis could not speak; he could only stare, his eyes starting out.
"She has been trying to get other work," the boy went on; "but she's
so weak she can't keep up. And my boss would not take me back,
either--Ona says he knows Connor, and that's the reason; they've all
got a grudge against us now. So I've got to go downtown and sell
papers with the rest of the boys and Kotrina--"
"Yes, she's been selling papers, too. She does best, because she's
a girl. Only the cold is so bad--it's terrible coming home at night,
Jurgis. Sometimes they can't come home at all--I'm going to try to
find them tonight and sleep where they do, it's so late and it's such
a long ways home. I've had to walk, and I didn't know where it was--
I don't know how to get back, either. Only mother said I must come,
because you would want to know, and maybe somebody would help your
family when they had put you in jail so you couldn't work. And I
walked all day to get here--and I only had a piece of bread for
breakfast, Jurgis. Mother hasn't any work either, because the
sausage department is shut down; and she goes and begs at houses
with a basket, and people give her food. Only she didn't get much
yesterday; it was too cold for her fingers, and today she was crying--"
So little Stanislovas went on, sobbing as he talked; and Jurgis stood,
gripping the table tightly, saying not a word, but feeling that his
head would burst; it was like having weights piled upon him, one after
another, crushing the life out of him. He struggled and fought
within himself--as if in some terrible nightmare, in which a man
suffers an agony, and cannot lift his hand, nor cry out, but feels
that he is going mad, that his brain is on fire--
Just when it seemed to him that another turn of the screw would
kill him, little Stanislovas stopped. "You cannot help us?" he
Jurgis shook his head.
"They won't give you anything here?"
He shook it again.
"When are you coming out?"
"Three weeks yet," Jurgis answered.
And the boy gazed around him uncertainly. "Then I might as well go,"
Jurgis nodded. Then, suddenly recollecting, he put his hand into
his pocket and drew it out, shaking. "Here," he said, holding out
the fourteen cents. "Take this to them."
And Stanislovas took it, and after a little more hesitation, started
for the door. "Good-by, Jurgis," he said, and the other noticed
that he walked unsteadily as he passed out of sight.
For a minute or so Jurgis stood clinging to his chair, reeling and
swaying; then the keeper touched him on the arm, and he turned and
went back to breaking stone.
Jurgis did not get out of the Bridewell quite as soon as he had
expected. To his sentence there were added "court costs" of a dollar
and a half--he was supposed to pay for the trouble of putting him
in jail, and not having the money, was obliged to work it off by
three days more of toil. Nobody had taken the trouble to tell him
this--only after counting the days and looking forward to the end
in an agony of impatience, when the hour came that he expected to
be free he found himself still set at the stone heap, and laughed
at when he ventured to protest. Then he concluded he must have
counted wrong; but as another day passed, he gave up all hope--
and was sunk in the depths of despair, when one morning after
breakfast a keeper came to him with the word that his time was up
at last. So he doffed his prison garb, and put on his old fertilizer
clothing, and heard the door of the prison clang behind him.
He stood upon the steps, bewildered; he could hardly believe that
it was true,--that the sky was above him again and the open street
before him; that he was a free man. But then the cold began to
strike through his clothes, and he started quickly away.
There had been a heavy snow, and now a thaw had set in; fine sleety
rain was falling, driven by a wind that pierced Jurgis to the bone.
He had not stopped for his-overcoat when he set out to "do up" Connor,
and so his rides in the patrol wagons had been cruel experiences;
his clothing was old and worn thin, and it never had been very warm.
Now as he trudged on the rain soon wet it through; there were six inches
of watery slush on the sidewalks, so that his feet would soon have
been soaked, even had there been no holes in his shoes.
Jurgis had had enough to eat in the jail, and the work had been
the least trying of any that he had done since he came to Chicago;
but even so, he had not grown strong--the fear and grief that had
preyed upon his mind had worn him thin. Now he shivered and shrunk
from the rain, hiding his hands in his pockets and hunching his
shoulders together. The Bridewell grounds were on the outskirts
of the city and the country around them was unsettled and wild--
on one side was the big drainage canal, and on the other a maze of
railroad tracks, and so the wind had full sweep.
After walking a ways, Jurgis met a little ragamuffin whom he hailed:
"Hey, sonny!" The boy cocked one eye at him--he knew that Jurgis
was a "jailbird" by his shaven head. "Wot yer want?" he queried.
"How do you go to the stockyards?" Jurgis demanded.
"I don't go," replied the boy.
Jurgis hesitated a moment, nonplussed. Then he said, "I mean which
is the way?"
"Why don't yer say so then?" was the response, and the boy pointed
to the northwest, across the tracks. "That way."
"How far is it?" Jurgis asked. "I dunno," said the other.
"Mebbe twenty miles or so."
"Twenty miles!" Jurgis echoed, and his face fell. He had to walk
every foot of it, for they had turned him out of jail without a penny
in his pockets.
Yet, when he once got started, and his blood had warmed with walking,
he forgot everything in the fever of his thoughts. All the dreadful
imaginations that had haunted him in his cell now rushed into his
mind at once. The agony was almost over--he was going to find out;
and he clenched his hands in his pockets as he strode, following his
flying desire, almost at a run. Ona--the baby--the family--the house--
he would know the truth about them all! And he was coming to the
rescue--he was free again! His hands were his own, and he could
help them, he could do battle for them against the world.
For an hour or so he walked thus, and then he began to look about him.
He seemed to be leaving the city altogether. The street was turning
into a country road, leading out to the westward; there were
snow-covered fields on either side of him. Soon he met a farmer
driving a two-horse wagon loaded with straw, and he stopped him.
"Is this the way to the stockyards?" he asked.
The farmer scratched his head. "I dunno jest where they be," he said.
"But they're in the city somewhere, and you're going dead away from
Jurgis looked dazed. "I was told this was the way," he said.
"Who told you?"
"Well, mebbe he was playing a joke on ye. The best thing ye kin do
is to go back, and when ye git into town ask a policeman. I'd take
ye in, only I've come a long ways an' I'm loaded heavy. Git up!"
So Jurgis turned and followed, and toward the end of the morning
he began to see Chicago again. Past endless blocks of two-story
shanties he walked, along wooden sidewalks and unpaved pathways
treacherous with deep slush holes. Every few blocks there would be
a railroad crossing on the level with the sidewalk, a deathtrap for
the unwary; long freight trains would be passing, the cars clanking
and crashing together, and Jurgis would pace about waiting, burning up
with a fever of impatience. Occasionally the cars would stop for
some minutes, and wagons and streetcars would crowd together waiting,
the drivers swearing at each other, or hiding beneath umbrellas out
of the rain; at such times Jurgis would dodge under the gates and run
across the tracks and between the cars, taking his life into his hands.
He crossed a long bridge over a river frozen solid and covered
with slush. Not even on the river bank was the snow white--the rain
which fell was a diluted solution of smoke, and Jurgis' hands and
face were streaked with black. Then he came into the business
part of the city, where the streets were sewers of inky blackness,
with horses sleeping and plunging, and women and children flying
across in panic-stricken droves. These streets were huge canyons
formed by towering black buildings, echoing with the clang of car
gongs and the shouts of drivers; the people who swarmed in them were
as busy as ants--all hurrying breathlessly, never stopping to look at
anything nor at each other. The solitary trampish-looking foreigner,
with water-soaked clothing and haggard face and anxious eyes, was as
much alone as he hurried past them, as much unheeded and as lost,
as if he had been a thousand miles deep in a wilderness.
A policeman gave him his direction and told him that he had five miles
to go. He came again to the slum districts, to avenues of saloons
and cheap stores, with long dingy red factory buildings, and coalyards
and railroad tracks; and then Jurgis lifted up his head and began
to sniff the air like a startled animal--scenting the far-off odor
of home. It was late afternoon then, and he was hungry, but the dinner
invitations hung out of the saloons were not for him.
So he came at last to the stockyards, to the black volcanoes of smoke
and the lowing cattle and the stench. Then, seeing a crowded car,
his impatience got the better of him and he jumped aboard, hiding
behind another man, unnoticed by the conductor. In ten minutes more
he had reached his street, and home.
He was half running as he came round the corner. There was the house,
at any rate--and then suddenly he stopped and stared. What was the
matter with the house?
Jurgis looked twice, bewildered; then he glanced at the house next
door and at the one beyond--then at the saloon on the corner.
Yes, it was the right place, quite certainly--he had not made
any mistake. But the house--the house was a different color!
He came a couple of steps nearer. Yes; it had been gray and now it
was yellow! The trimmings around the windows had been red, and now
they were green! It was all newly painted! How strange it made it seem!
Jurgis went closer yet, but keeping on the other side of the street.
A sudden and horrible spasm of fear had come over him. His knees
were shaking beneath him, and his mind was in a whirl. New paint on
the house, and new weatherboards, where the old had begun to rot off,
and the agent had got after them! New shingles over the hole in
the roof, too, the hole that had for six months been the bane of his
soul--he having no money to have it fixed and no time to fix it himself,
and the rain leaking in, and overflowing the pots and pans he put to
catch it, and flooding the attic and loosening the plaster. And now
it was fixed! And the broken windowpane replaced! And curtains in
the windows! New, white curtains, stiff and shiny!
Then suddenly the front door opened. Jurgis stood, his chest heaving
as he struggled to catch his breath. A boy had come out, a stranger
to him; a big, fat, rosy-cheeked youngster, such as had never been
seen in his home before.
Jurgis stared at the boy, fascinated. He came down the steps
whistling, kicking off the snow. He stopped at the foot, and picked
up some, and then leaned against the railing, making a snowball.
A moment later he looked around and saw Jurgis, and their eyes met;
it was a hostile glance, the boy evidently thinking that the other
had suspicions of the snowball. When Jurgis started slowly across
the street toward him, he gave a quick glance about, meditating
retreat, but then he concluded to stand his ground.
Jurgis took hold of the railing of the steps, for he was a little
unsteady. "What--what are you doing here?" he managed to gasp.
"Go on!" said the boy.
"You--" Jurgis tried again. "What do you want here?"
"Me?" answered the boy, angrily. "I live here."
"You live here!" Jurgis panted. He turned white and clung more
tightly to the railing. "You live here! Then where's my family?"
The boy looked surprised. "Your family!" he echoed.
And Jurgis started toward him. "I--this is my house!" he cried.
"Come off!" said the boy; then suddenly the door upstairs opened,
and he called: "Hey, ma! Here's a fellow says he owns this house."
A stout Irishwoman came to the top of the steps. "What's that?"
Jurgis turned toward her. "Where is my family?" he cried, wildly.
"I left them here! This is my home! What are you doing in my home?"
The woman stared at him in frightened wonder, she must have thought
she was dealing with a maniac--Jurgis looked like one. "Your home!"
"My home!" he half shrieked. "I lived here, I tell you."
"You must be mistaken," she answered him. "No one ever lived here.
This is a new house. They told us so. They--"
"What have they done with my family?" shouted Jurgis, frantically.
A light had begun to break upon the woman; perhaps she had had doubts
of what "they" had told her. "I don't know where your family is,"
she said. "I bought the house only three days ago, and there was
nobody here, and they told me it was all new. Do you really mean
you had ever rented it?"
"Rented it!" panted Jurgis. "I bought it! I paid for it! I own it!
And they--my God, can't you tell me where my people went?"
She made him understand at last that she knew nothing. Jurgis' brain
was so confused that he could not grasp the situation. It was as if
his family had been wiped out of existence; as if they were proving
to be dream people, who never had existed at all. He was quite
lost--but then suddenly he thought of Grandmother Majauszkiene,
who lived in the next block. She would know! He turned and
started at a run.
Grandmother Majauszkiene came to the door herself. She cried out when
she saw Jurgis, wild-eyed and shaking. Yes, yes, she could tell him.
The family had moved; they had not been able to pay the rent and they
had been turned out into the snow, and the house had been repainted
and sold again the next week. No, she had not heard how they were,
but she could tell him that they had gone back to Aniele Jukniene,
with whom they had stayed when they first came to the yards.
Wouldn't Jurgis come in and rest? It was certainly too bad--if only
he had not got into jail--
And so Jurgis turned and staggered away. He did not go very far
round the corner he gave out completely, and sat down on the steps
of a saloon, and hid his face in his hands, and shook all over with dry,
Their home! Their home! They had lost it! Grief, despair, rage,
overwhelmed him--what was any imagination of the thing to this
heartbreaking, crushing reality of it--to the sight of strange people
living in his house, hanging their curtains to his windows, staring
at him with hostile eyes! It was monstrous, it was unthinkable--
they could not do it--it could not be true! Only think what he
had suffered for that house--what miseries they had all suffered
for it--the price they had paid for it!
The whole long agony came back to him. Their sacrifices in the
beginning, their three hundred dollars that they had scraped
together, all they owned in the world, all that stood between them
and starvation! And then their toil, month by month, to get together
the twelve dollars, and the interest as well, and now and then the
taxes, and the other charges, and the repairs, and what not! Why,
they had put their very souls into their payments on that house,
they had paid for it with their sweat and tears--yes, more, with their
very lifeblood. Dede Antanas had died of the struggle to earn that
money--he would have been alive and strong today if he had not had
to work in Durham's dark cellars to earn his share. And Ona, too,
had given her health and strength to pay for it--she was wrecked and
ruined because of it; and so was he, who had been a big, strong man
three years ago, and now sat here shivering, broken, cowed, weeping
like a hysterical child. Ah! they had cast their all into the fight;
and they had lost, they had lost! All that they had paid was gone--
every cent of it. And their house was gone--they were back where
they had started from, flung out into the cold to starve and freeze!
Jurgis could see all the truth now--could see himself, through the
whole long course of events, the victim of ravenous vultures that
had torn into his vitals and devoured him; of fiends that had
racked and tortured him, mocking him, meantime, jeering in his face.
Ah, God, the horror of it, the monstrous, hideous, demoniacal
wickedness of it! He and his family, helpless women and children,
struggling to live, ignorant and defenseless and forlorn as they
were--and the enemies that had been lurking for them, crouching upon
their trail and thirsting for their blood! That first lying circular,
that smooth-tongued slippery agent! That trap of the extra payments,
the interest, and all the other charges that they had not the means
to pay, and would never have attempted to pay! And then all the
tricks of the packers, their masters, the tyrants who ruled them--
the shutdowns and the scarcity of work, the irregular hours and
the cruel speeding-up, the lowering of wages, the raising of prices!
The mercilessness of nature about them, of heat and cold, rain and snow;
the mercilessness of the city, of the country in which they lived,
of its laws and customs that they did not understand! All of these
things had worked together for the company that had marked them for
its prey and was waiting for its chance. And now, with this last
hideous injustice, its time had come, and it had turned them out
bag and baggage, and taken their house and sold it again! And they
could do nothing, they were tied hand and foot--the law was against
them, the whole machinery of society was at their oppressors' command!
If Jurgis so much as raised a hand against them, back he would go
into that wild-beast pen from which he had just escaped!
To get up and go away was to give up, to acknowledge defeat, to leave
the strange family in possession; and Jurgis might have sat shivering
in the rain for hours before he could do that, had it not been for
the thought of his family. It might be that he had worse things yet
to learn--and so he got to his feet and started away, walking on,
To Aniele's house, in back of the yards, was a good two miles;
the distance had never seemed longer to Jurgis, and when he saw
the familiar dingy-gray shanty his heart was beating fast. He ran
up the steps and began to hammer upon the door.
The old woman herself came to open it. She had shrunk all up with
her rheumatism since Jurgis had seen her last, and her yellow
parchment face stared up at him from a little above the level of
the doorknob. She gave a start when she saw him. "Is Ona here?"
he cried, breathlessly.
"Yes," was the answer, "she's here."
"How--" Jurgis began, and then stopped short, clutching convulsively
at the side of the door. From somewhere within the house had come
a sudden cry, a wild, horrible scream of anguish. And the voice
was Ona's. For a moment Jurgis stood half-paralyzed with fright;
then he bounded past the old woman and into the room.
It was Aniele's kitchen, and huddled round the stove were half a
dozen women, pale and frightened. One of them started to her feet
as Jurgis entered; she was haggard and frightfully thin, with one
arm tied up in bandages--he hardly realized that it was Marija.
He looked first for Ona; then, not seeing her, he stared at the women,
expecting them to speak. But they sat dumb, gazing back at him,
panic-stricken; and a second later came another piercing scream.
It was from the rear of the house, and upstairs. Jurgis bounded to
a door of the room and flung it open; there was a ladder leading
through a trap door to the garret, and he was at the foot of it when
suddenly he heard a voice behind him, and saw Marija at his heels.
She seized him by the sleeve with her good hand, panting wildly,
"No, no, Jurgis! Stop!"
"What do you mean?" he gasped.
"You mustn't go up," she cried.
Jurgis was half-crazed with bewilderment and fright. "What's the
matter?" he shouted. "What is it?"
Marija clung to him tightly; he could hear Ona sobbing and moaning
above, and he fought to get away and climb up, without waiting for
her reply. "No, no," she rushed on. "Jurgis! You mustn't go up!
It's--it's the child!"
"The child?" he echoed in perplexity. "Antanas?"
Marija answered him, in a whisper: "The new one!"
And then Jurgis went limp, and caught himself on the ladder. He stared
at her as if she were a ghost. "The new one!" he gasped. "But it
isn't time," he added, wildly.
Marija nodded. "I know," she said; "but it's come."
And then again came Ona's scream, smiting him like a blow in the face,
making him wince and turn white. Her voice died away into a wail--
then he heard her sobbing again, "My God--let me die, let me die!"
And Marija hung her arms about him, crying: "Come out! Come away!"
She dragged him back into the kitchen, half carrying him, for he had
gone all to pieces. It was as if the pillars of his soul had fallen
in--he was blasted with horror. In the room he sank into a chair,
trembling like a leaf, Marija still holding him, and the women staring
at him in dumb, helpless fright.
And then again Ona cried out; he could hear it nearly as plainly here,
and he staggered to his feet. "How long has this been going on?"
"Not very long," Marija answered, and then, at a signal from Aniele,
she rushed on: "You go away, Jurgis you can't help--go away and come
back later. It's all right--it's--"
"Who's with her?" Jurgis demanded; and then, seeing Marija hesitating,
he cried again, "Who's with her?"
"She's--she's all right," she answered. "Elzbieta's with her."
"But the doctor!" he panted. "Some one who knows!"
He seized Marija by the arm; she trembled, and her voice sank beneath
a whisper as she replied, "We--we have no money." Then, frightened
at the look on his face, she exclaimed: "It's all right, Jurgis!
You don't understand--go away--go away! Ah, if you only had waited!"
Above her protests Jurgis heard Ona again; he was almost out of
his mind. It was all new to him, raw and horrible--it had fallen
upon him like a lightning stroke. When little Antanas was born he
had been at work, and had known nothing about it until it was over;
and now he was not to be controlled. The frightened women were at
their wits' end; one after another they tried to reason with him,
to make him understand that this was the lot of woman. In the end
they half drove him out into the rain, where he began to pace up
and down, bareheaded and frantic. Because he could hear Ona from
the street, he would first go away to escape the sounds, and then
come back because he could not help it. At the end of a quarter
of an hour he rushed up the steps again, and for fear that he would
break in the door they had to open it and let him in.
There was no arguing with him. They could not tell him that all
was going well--how could they know, he cried--why, she was dying,
she was being torn to pieces! Listen to her--listen! Why, it was
monstrous--it could not be allowed--there must be some help for it!
Had they tried to get a doctor? They might pay him afterward--they
"We couldn't promise, Jurgis," protested Marija. "We had no money--
we have scarcely been able to keep alive."
"But I can work," Jurgis exclaimed. "I can earn money!"
"Yes," she answered--"but we thought you were in jail. How could we
know when you would return? They will not work for nothing."
Marija went on to tell how she had tried to find a midwife, and how
they had demanded ten, fifteen, even twenty-five dollars, and that
in cash. "And I had only a quarter," she said. "I have spent every
cent of my money--all that I had in the bank; and I owe the doctor
who has been coming to see me, and he has stopped because he thinks
I don't mean to pay him. And we owe Aniele for two weeks' rent,
and she is nearly starving, and is afraid of being turned out.
We have been borrowing and begging to keep alive, and there is nothing
more we can do--"
"And the children?" cried Jurgis.
"The children have not been home for three days, the weather has been
so bad. They could not know what is happening--it came suddenly,
two months before we expected it."
Jurgis was standing by the table, and he caught himself with his hand;
his head sank and his arms shook--it looked as if he were going to
collapse. Then suddenly Aniele got up and came hobbling toward him,
fumbling in her skirt pocket. She drew out a dirty rag, in one corner
of which she had something tied.
"Here, Jurgis!" she said, "I have some money. Palauk! See!"
She unwrapped it and counted it out--thirty-four cents. "You go, now,"
she said, "and try and get somebody yourself. And maybe the rest can
help--give him some money, you; he will pay you back some day, and it
will do him good to have something to think about, even if he doesn't
succeed. When he comes back, maybe it will be over."
And so the other women turned out the contents of their pocketbooks;
most of them had only pennies and nickels, but they gave him all.
Mrs. Olszewski, who lived next door, and had a husband who was a
skilled cattle butcher, but a drinking man, gave nearly half a dollar,
enough to raise the whole sum to a dollar and a quarter. Then Jurgis
thrust it into his pocket, still holding it tightly in his fist,
and started away at a run.
"Madame Haupt, Hebamme, ran a sign, swinging from a second-story
window over a saloon on the avenue; at a side door was another sign,
with a hand pointing up a dingy flight of stairs. Jurgis went up them,
three at a time.
Madame Haupt was frying pork and onions, and had her door half open
to let out the smoke. When he tried to knock upon it, it swung open
the rest of the way, and he had a glimpse of her, with a black bottle
turned up to her lips. Then he knocked louder, and she started and
put it away. She was a Dutchwoman, enormously fat--when she walked
she rolled like a small boat on the ocean, and the dishes in the
cupboard jostled each other. She wore a filthy blue wrapper, and her
teeth were black.
"Vot is it?" she said, when she saw Jurgis.
He had run like mad all the way and was so out of breath he could
hardly speak. His hair was flying and his eyes wild--he looked
like a man that had risen from the tomb. "My wife!" he panted.
"Come quickly!" Madame Haupt set the frying pan to one side and
wiped her hands on her wrapper.
"You vant me to come for a case?" she inquired.
"Yes," gasped Jurgis.
"I haf yust come back from a case," she said. "I haf had no time to
eat my dinner. Still--if it is so bad--"
"Yes--it is!" cried he. "Vell, den, perhaps--vot you pay?"
"I--I--how much do you want?" Jurgis stammered.
"Tventy-five dollars." His face fell. "I can't pay that," he said.
The woman was watching him narrowly. "How much do you pay?" she demanded.
"Must I pay now--right away?"
"Yes; all my customers do."
"I--I haven't much money," Jurgis began in an agony of dread.
"I've been in--in trouble--and my money is gone. But I'll pay you--
every cent--just as soon as I can; I can work--"
"Vot is your work?"
"I have no place now. I must get one. But I--"
"How much haf you got now?"
He could hardly bring himself to reply. When he said "A dollar and
a quarter," the woman laughed in his face.
"I vould not put on my hat for a dollar and a quarter," she said.
"It's all I've got," he pleaded, his voice breaking. "I must get
some one--my wife will die. I can't help it--I--"
Madame Haupt had put back her pork and onions on the stove. She turned
to him and answered, out of the steam and noise: "Git me ten dollars
cash, und so you can pay me the rest next mont'."
"I can't do it--I haven't got it!" Jurgis protested. "I tell you I
have only a dollar and a quarter."
The woman turned to her work. "I don't believe you," she said.
"Dot is all to try to sheat me. Vot is de reason a big man like
you has got only a dollar und a quarter?"
"I've just been in jail," Jurgis cried--he was ready to get down upon
his knees to the woman--"and I had no money before, and my family has
"Vere is your friends, dot ought to help you?"
"They are all poor," he answered. "They gave me this. I have done
everything I can--"
"Haven't you got notting you can sell?"
"I have nothing, I tell you--I have nothing," he cried,
"Can't you borrow it, den? Don't your store people trust you?"
Then, as he shook his head, she went on: "Listen to me--if you git
me you vill be glad of it. I vill save your wife und baby for you,
and it vill not seem like mooch to you in de end. If you loose dem
now how you tink you feel den? Und here is a lady dot knows her
business--I could send you to people in dis block, und dey vould
Madame Haupt was pointing her cooking-fork at Jurgis persuasively;
but her words were more than he could bear. He flung up his hands
with a gesture of despair and turned and started away. "It's no use,"
he exclaimed--but suddenly he heard the woman's voice behind him again--
"I vill make it five dollars for you."
She followed behind him, arguing with him. "You vill be foolish not
to take such an offer," she said. "You von't find nobody go out on
a rainy day like dis for less. Vy, I haf never took a case in my life
so sheap as dot. I couldn't pay mine room rent--"
Jurgis interrupted her with an oath of rage. "If I haven't got it,"
he shouted, "how can I pay it? Damn it, I would pay you if I could,
but I tell you I haven't got it. I haven't got it! Do you hear me
I haven't got it!"
He turned and started away again. He was halfway down the stairs
before Madame Haupt could shout to him: "Vait! I vill go mit you!
He went back into the room again.
"It is not goot to tink of anybody suffering," she said, in a
melancholy voice. "I might as vell go mit you for noffing as vot
you offer me, but I vill try to help you. How far is it?"
"Three or four blocks from here."
"Tree or four! Und so I shall get soaked! Gott in Himmel, it ought
to be vorth more! Vun dollar und a quarter, und a day like dis!--
But you understand now--you vill pay me de rest of twenty-five
"As soon as I can."
"Some time dis mont'?"
"Yes, within a month," said poor Jurgis. "Anything! Hurry up!"
"Vere is de dollar und a quarter?" persisted Madame Haupt, relentlessly.
Jurgis put the money on the table and the woman counted it and stowed
it away. Then she wiped her greasy hands again and proceeded to
get ready, complaining all the time; she was so fat that it was
painful for her to move, and she grunted and gasped at every step.
She took off her wrapper without even taking the trouble to turn her
back to Jurgis, and put on her corsets and dress. Then there was
a black bonnet which had to be adjusted carefully, and an umbrella
which was mislaid, and a bag full of necessaries which had to be
collected from here and there--the man being nearly crazy with
anxiety in the meantime. When they were on the street he kept about
four paces ahead of her, turning now and then, as if he could hurry
her on by the force of his desire. But Madame Haupt could only go
so far at a step, and it took all her attention to get the needed
breath for that.
They came at last to the house, and to the group of frightened women
in the kitchen. It was not over yet, Jurgis learned--he heard Ona
crying still; and meantime Madame Haupt removed her bonnet and laid
it on the mantelpiece, and got out of her bag, first an old dress
and then a saucer of goose grease, which she proceeded to rub upon
her hands. The more cases this goose grease is used in, the better
luck it brings to the midwife, and so she keeps it upon her kitchen
mantelpiece or stowed away in a cupboard with her dirty clothes,
for months, and sometimes even for years.
Then they escorted her to the ladder, and Jurgis heard her give an
exclamation of dismay. "Gott in Himmel, vot for haf you brought me
to a place like dis? I could not climb up dot ladder. I could not
git troo a trap door! I vill not try it--vy, I might kill myself
already. Vot sort of a place is dot for a woman to bear a child in--
up in a garret, mit only a ladder to it? You ought to be ashamed of
yourselves!" Jurgis stood in the doorway and listened to her scolding,
half drowning out the horrible moans and screams of Ona.
At last Aniele succeeded in pacifying her, and she essayed the ascent;
then, however, she had to be stopped while the old woman cautioned
her about the floor of the garret. They had no real floor--they had
laid old boards in one part to make a place for the family to live;
it was all right and safe there, but the other part of the garret had
only the joists of the floor, and the lath and plaster of the ceiling
below, and if one stepped on this there would be a catastrophe.
As it was half dark up above, perhaps one of the others had best go up
first with a candle. Then there were more outcries and threatening,
until at last Jurgis had a vision of a pair of elephantine legs
disappearing through the trap door, and felt the house shake as
Madame Haupt started to walk. Then suddenly Aniele came to him and
took him by the arm.
"Now," she said, "you go away. Do as I tell you--you have done all
you can, and you are only in the way. Go away and stay away."
"But where shall I go?" Jurgis asked, helplessly.
"I don't know where," she answered. "Go on the street, if there is
no other place--only go! And stay all night!"
In the end she and Marija pushed him out of the door and shut it
behind him. It was just about sundown, and it was turning cold--
the rain had changed to snow, and the slush was freezing. Jurgis
shivered in his thin clothing, and put his hands into his pockets
and started away. He had not eaten since morning, and he felt weak
and ill; with a sudden throb of hope he recollected he was only a few
blocks from the saloon where he had been wont to eat his dinner.
They might have mercy on him there, or he might meet a friend. He set
out for the place as fast as he could walk.
"Hello, Jack," said the saloonkeeper, when he entered--they call all
foreigners and unskilled men "Jack" in Packingtown. "Where've you been?"
Jurgis went straight to the bar. "I've been in jail," he said,
"and I've just got out. I walked home all the way, and I've not
a cent, and had nothing to eat since this morning. And I've lost
my home, and my wife's ill, and I'm done up."
The saloonkeeper gazed at him, with his haggard white face and
his blue trembling lips. Then he pushed a big bottle toward him.
"Fill her up!" he said.
Jurgis could hardly hold the bottle, his hands shook so.
"Don't be afraid," said the saloonkeeper, "fill her up!"
So Jurgis drank a large glass of whisky, and then turned to the
lunch counter, in obedience to the other's suggestion. He ate all
he dared, stuffing it in as fast as he could; and then, after trying
to speak his gratitude, he went and sat down by the big red stove
in the middle of the room.
It was too good to last, however--like all things in this hard world.
His soaked clothing began to steam, and the horrible stench of
fertilizer to fill the room. In an hour or so the packing houses
would be closing and the men coming in from their work; and they
would not come into a place that smelt of Jurgis. Also it was
Saturday night, and in a couple of hours would come a violin and
a cornet, and in the rear part of the saloon the families of the
neighborhood would dance and feast upon wienerwurst and lager,
until two or three o'clock in the morning. The saloon-keeper coughed
once or twice, and then remarked, "Say, Jack, I'm afraid you'll have
He was used to the sight of human wrecks, this saloonkeeper; he "fired"
dozens of them every night, just as haggard and cold and forlorn as
this one. But they were all men who had given up and been counted out,
while Jurgis was still in the fight, and had reminders of decency
about him. As he got up meekly, the other reflected that he had
always been a steady man, and might soon be a good customer again.
"You've been up against it, I see," he said. "Come this way."
In the rear of the saloon were the cellar stairs. There was a door
above and another below, both safely padlocked, making the stairs
an admirable place to stow away a customer who might still chance
to have money, or a political light whom it was not advisable to
kick out of doors.
So Jurgis spent the night. The whisky had only half warmed him,
and he could not sleep, exhausted as he was; he would nod forward,
and then start up, shivering with the cold, and begin to remember
again. Hour after hour passed, until he could only persuade himself
that it was not morning by the sounds of music and laughter and singing
that were to be heard from the room. When at last these ceased,
he expected that he would be turned out into the street; as this did
not happen, he fell to wondering whether the man had forgotten him.
In the end, when the silence and suspense were no longer to be borne,
he got up and hammered on the door; and the proprietor came, yawning
and rubbing his eyes. He was keeping open all night, and dozing
"I want to go home," Jurgis said. "I'm worried about my wife--I can't
wait any longer."
"Why the hell didn't you say so before?" said the man. "I thought
you didn't have any home to go to." Jurgis went outside. It was
four o'clock in the morning, and as black as night. There were three
or four inches of fresh snow on the ground, and the flakes were falling
thick and fast. He turned toward Aniele's and started at a run.
There was a light burning in the kitchen window and the blinds
were drawn. The door was unlocked and Jurgis rushed in.
Aniele, Marija, and the rest of the women were huddled about the stove,
exactly as before; with them were several newcomers, Jurgis noticed--
also he noticed that the house was silent.
"Well?" he said.
No one answered him, they sat staring at him with their pale faces.
He cried again: "Well?"
And then, by the light of the smoky lamp, he saw Marija who sat
nearest him, shaking her head slowly. "Not yet," she said.
And Jurgis gave a cry of dismay. "Not yet?"
Again Marija's head shook. The poor fellow stood dumfounded. "I don't
hear her," he gasped.
"She's been quiet a long time," replied the other.
There was another pause--broken suddenly by a voice from the attic:
Several of the women ran into the next room, while Marija sprang
toward Jurgis. "Wait here!" she cried, and the two stood, pale and
trembling, listening. In a few moments it became clear that Madame
Haupt was engaged in descending the ladder, scolding and exhorting
again, while the ladder creaked in protest. In a moment or two she
reached the ground, angry and breathless, and they heard her coming
into the room. Jurgis gave one glance at her, and then turned white
and reeled. She had her jacket off, like one of the workers on the
killing beds. Her hands and arms were smeared with blood, and blood
was splashed upon her clothing and her face.
She stood breathing hard, and gazing about her; no one made a sound.
"I haf done my best," she began suddenly. "I can do noffing more--
dere is no use to try."
Again there was silence.
"It ain't my fault," she said. "You had ought to haf had a doctor,
und not vaited so long--it vas too late already ven I come." Once more
there was deathlike stillness. Marija was clutching Jurgis with all
the power of her one well arm.
Then suddenly Madame Haupt turned to Aniele. "You haf not got
something to drink, hey?" she queried. "Some brandy?"
Aniele shook her head.
"Herr Gott!" exclaimed Madame Haupt. "Such people! Perhaps you vill
give me someting to eat den--I haf had noffing since yesterday morning,
und I haf vorked myself near to death here. If I could haf known it
vas like dis, I vould never haf come for such money as you gif me."
At this moment she chanced to look round, and saw Jurgis: She shook
her finger at him. "You understand me," she said, "you pays me dot
money yust de same! It is not my fault dat you send for me so late
I can't help your vife. It is not my fault if der baby comes mit
one arm first, so dot I can't save it. I haf tried all night,
und in dot place vere it is not fit for dogs to be born, und mit
notting to eat only vot I brings in mine own pockets."
Here Madame Haupt paused for a moment to get her breath; and Marija,
seeing the beads of sweat on Jurgis's forehead, and feeling the
quivering of his frame, broke out in a low voice: "How is Ona?"
"How is she?" echoed Madame Haupt. "How do you tink she can be ven
you leave her to kill herself so? I told dem dot ven they send for
de priest. She is young, und she might haf got over it, und been
vell und strong, if she had been treated right. She fight hard,
dot girl--she is not yet quite dead."
And Jurgis gave a frantic scream. "Dead!"
"She vill die, of course," said the other angrily. "Der baby is
The garret was lighted by a candle stuck upon a board; it had almost
burned itself out, and was sputtering and smoking as Jurgis rushed
up the ladder. He could make out dimly in one corner a pallet of
rags and old blankets, spread upon the floor; at the foot of it was
a crucifix, and near it a priest muttering a prayer. In a far corner
crouched Elzbieta, moaning and wailing. Upon the pallet lay Ona.
She was covered with a blanket, but he could see her shoulders and
one arm lying bare; she was so shrunken he would scarcely have known
her--she was all but a skeleton, and as white as a piece of chalk.
Her eyelids were closed, and she lay still as death. He staggered
toward her and fell upon his knees with a cry of anguish: "Ona! Ona!"
She did not stir. He caught her hand in his, and began to clasp it
frantically, calling: "Look at me! Answer me! It is Jurgis come
back--don't you hear me?"
There was the faintest quivering of the eyelids, and he called again
in frenzy: "Ona! Ona!"
Then suddenly her eyes opened one instant. One instant she looked
at him--there was a flash of recognition between them, he saw her
afar off, as through a dim vista, standing forlorn. He stretched out
his arms to her, he called her in wild despair; a fearful yearning
surged up in him, hunger for her that was agony, desire that was a
new being born within him, tearing his heartstrings, torturing him.
But it was all in vain--she faded from him, she slipped back and
was gone. And a wail of anguish burst from him, great sobs shook
all his frame, and hot tears ran down his cheeks and fell upon her.
He clutched her hands, he shook her, he caught her in his arms and
pressed her to him but she lay cold and still--she was gone--she was gone!
The word rang through him like the sound of a bell, echoing in the far
depths of him, making forgotten chords to vibrate, old shadowy fears
to stir--fears of the dark, fears of the void, fears of annihilation.
She was dead! She was dead! He would never see her again, never hear
her again! An icy horror of loneliness seized him; he saw himself
standing apart and watching all the world fade away from him--a world
of shadows, of fickle dreams. He was like a little child, in his
fright and grief; he called and called, and got no answer, and his
cries of despair echoed through the house, making the women downstairs
draw nearer to each other in fear. He was inconsolable, beside
himself--the priest came and laid his hand upon his shoulder and
whispered to him, but he heard not a sound. He was gone away himself,
stumbling through the shadows, and groping after the soul that had fled.
So he lay. The gray dawn came up and crept into the attic.
The priest left, the women left, and he was alone with the still,
white figure--quieter now, but moaning and shuddering, wrestling with
the grisly fiend. Now and then he would raise himself and stare at
the white mask before him, then hide his eyes because he could not
bear it. Dead! dead! And she was only a girl, she was barely
eighteen! Her life had hardly begun--and here she lay murdered--
mangled, tortured to death!
It was morning when he rose up and came down into the kitchen--
haggard and ashen gray, reeling and dazed. More of the neighbors
had come in, and they stared at him in silence as he sank down upon
a chair by the table and buried his face in his arms.
A few minutes later the front door opened; a blast of cold and snow
rushed in, and behind it little Kotrina, breathless from running,
and blue with the cold. "I'm home again!" she exclaimed. "I could
And then, seeing Jurgis, she stopped with an exclamation. Looking
from one to another she saw that something had happened, and she asked,
in a lower voice: "What's the matter?"
Before anyone could reply, Jurgis started up; he went toward her,
walking unsteadily. "Where have you been?" he demanded.
"Selling papers with the boys," she said. "The snow--"
"Have you any money?" he demanded.
"Nearly three dollars, Jurgis."
"Give it to me."
Kotrina, frightened by his manner, glanced at the others. "Give it
to me!" he commanded again, and she put her hand into her pocket and
pulled out a lump of coins tied in a bit of rag. Jurgis took it
without a word, and went out of the door and down the street.
Three doors away was a saloon. "Whisky," he said, as he entered,
and as the man pushed him some, he tore at the rag with his teeth
and pulled out half a dollar. "How much is the bottle?" he said.
"I want to get drunk."
But a big man cannot stay drunk very long on three dollars. That was
Sunday morning, and Monday night Jurgis came home, sober and sick,
realizing that he had spent every cent the family owned, and had not
bought a single instant's forgetfulness with it.
Ona was not yet buried; but the police had been notified, and on the
morrow they would put the body in a pine coffin and take it to the
potter's field. Elzbieta was out begging now, a few pennies from
each of the neighbors, to get enough to pay for a mass for her;
and the children were upstairs starving to death, while he,
good-for-nothing rascal, had been spending their money on drink.
So spoke Aniele, scornfully, and when he started toward the fire
she added the information that her kitchen was no longer for him
to fill with his phosphate stinks. She had crowded all her boarders
into one room on Ona's account, but now he could go up in the garret
where he belonged--and not there much longer, either, if he did not
pay her some rent.
Jurgis went without a word, and, stepping over half a dozen sleeping
boarders in the next room, ascended the ladder. It was dark up above;
they could not afford any light; also it was nearly as cold as outdoors.
In a corner, as far away from the corpse as possible, sat Marija,
holding little Antanas in her one good arm and trying to soothe him
to sleep. In another corner crouched poor little Juozapas, wailing
because he had had nothing to eat all day. Marija said not a word
to Jurgis; he crept in like a whipped cur, and went and sat down
by the body.
Perhaps he ought to have meditated upon the hunger of the children,
and upon his own baseness; but he thought only of Ona, he gave himself
up again to the luxury of grief. He shed no tears, being ashamed
to make a sound; he sat motionless and shuddering with his anguish.
He had never dreamed how much he loved Ona, until now that she was gone;
until now that he sat here, knowing that on the morrow they would
take her away, and that he would never lay eyes upon her again--never
all the days of his life. His old love, which had been starved
to death, beaten to death, awoke in him again; the floodgates of
memory were lifted--he saw all their life together, saw her as he
had seen her in Lithuania, the first day at the fair, beautiful as
the flowers, singing like a bird. He saw her as he had married her,
with all her tenderness, with her heart of wonder; the very words
she had spoken seemed to ring now in his ears, the tears she had shed
to be wet upon his cheek. The long, cruel battle with misery and
hunger had hardened and embittered him, but it had not changed her--
she had been the same hungry soul to the end, stretching out her arms
to him, pleading with him, begging him for love and tenderness.
And she had suffered--so cruelly she had suffered, such agonies,
such infamies--ah, God, the memory of them was not to be borne.
What a monster of wickedness, of heartlessness, he had been!
Every angry word that he had ever spoken came back to him and cut
him like a knife; every selfish act that he had done--with what
torments he paid for them now! And such devotion and awe as welled
up in his soul--now that it could never be spoken, now that it was
too late, too late! His bosom-was choking with it, bursting with it;
he crouched here in the darkness beside her, stretching out his arms
to her--and she was gone forever, she was dead! He could have
screamed aloud with the horror and despair of it; a sweat of agony
beaded his forehead, yet he dared not make a sound--he scarcely dared
to breathe, because of his shame and loathing of himself.
Late at night came Elzbieta, having gotten the money for a mass,
and paid for it in advance, lest she should be tempted too sorely
at home. She brought also a bit of stale rye bread that some one
had given her, and with that they quieted the children and got them
to sleep. Then she came over to Jurgis and sat down beside him.
She said not a word of reproach--she and Marija had chosen that
course before; she would only plead with him, here by the corpse of
his dead wife. Already Elzbieta had choked down her tears, grief
being crowded out of her soul by fear. She had to bury one of her
children--but then she had done it three times before, and each time
risen up and gone back to take up the battle for the rest. Elzbieta
was one of the primitive creatures: like the angleworm, which goes
on living though cut in half; like a hen, which, deprived of her
chickens one by one, will mother the last that is left her. She did
this because it was her nature--she asked no questions about the
justice of it, nor the worth-whileness of life in which destruction
and death ran riot.
And this old common-sense view she labored to impress upon Jurgis,
pleading with him with tears in her eyes. Ona was dead, but the
others were left and they must be saved. She did not ask for her
own children. She and Marija could care for them somehow, but there
was Antanas, his own son. Ona had given Antanas to him--the little
fellow was the only remembrance of her that he had; he must treasure
it and protect it, he must show himself a man. He knew what Ona would
have had him do, what she would ask of him at this moment, if she
could speak to him. It was a terrible thing that she should have
died as she had; but the life had been too hard for her, and she
had to go. It was terrible that they were not able to bury her,
that he could not even have a day to mourn her--but so it was.
Their fate was pressing; they had not a cent, and the children would
perish--some money must be had. Could he not be a man for Ona's sake,
and pull himself together? In a little while they would be out of
danger--now that they had given up the house they could live more
cheaply, and with all the children working they could get along,
if only he would not go to pieces. So Elzbieta went on, with feverish
intensity. It was a struggle for life with her; she was not afraid
that Jurgis would go on drinking, for he had no money for that,
but she was wild with dread at the thought that he might desert them,
might take to the road, as Jonas had done.
But with Ona's dead body beneath his eyes, Jurgis could not well
think of treason to his child. Yes, he said, he would try, for the
sake of Antanas. He would give the little fellow his chance--would
get to work at once, yes, tomorrow, without even waiting for Ona to be
buried. They might trust him, he would keep his word, come what might.
And so he was out before daylight the next morning, headache,
heartache, and all. He went straight to Graham's fertilizer mill,
to see if he could get back his job. But the boss shook his head
when he saw him--no, his place had been filled long ago, and there
was no room for him.
"Do you think there will be?" Jurgis asked. "I may have to wait."
"No," said the other, "it will not be worth your while to wait--there
will be nothing for you here."
Jurgis stood gazing at him in perplexity. "What is the matter?"
he asked. "Didn't I do my work?"
The other met his look with one of cold indifference, and answered,
"There will be nothing for you here, I said."
Jurgis had his suspicions as to the dreadful meaning of that incident,
and he went away with a sinking at the heart. He went and took his
stand with the mob of hungry wretches who were standing about in
the snow before the time station. Here he stayed, breakfastless,
for two hours, until the throng was driven away by the clubs of
the police. There was no work for him that day.
Jurgis had made a good many acquaintances in his long services at the
yards--there were saloonkeepers who would trust him for a drink and a
sandwich, and members of his old union who would lend him a dime at
a pinch. It was not a question of life and death for him, therefore;
he might hunt all day, and come again on the morrow, and try hanging
on thus for weeks, like hundreds and thousands of others. Meantime,
Teta Elzbieta would go and beg, over in the Hyde Park district,
and the children would bring home enough to pacify Aniele, and keep
them all alive.
It was at the end of a week of this sort of waiting, roaming about
in the bitter winds or loafing in saloons, that Jurgis stumbled on
a chance in one of the cellars of Jones's big packing plant. He saw
a foreman passing the open doorway, and hailed him for a job.
"Push a truck?" inquired the man, and Jurgis answered, "Yes, sir!"
before the words were well out of his mouth.
"What's your name?" demanded the other.
"Worked in the yards before?"
"Two places--Brown's killing beds and Durham's fertilizer mill."
"Why did you leave there?"
"The first time I had an accident, and the last time I was sent up
for a month."
"I see. Well, I'll give you a trial. Come early tomorrow and ask
for Mr. Thomas."
So Jurgis rushed home with the wild tidings that he had a job--that
the terrible siege was over. The remnants of the family had quite
a celebration that night; and in the morning Jurgis was at the place
half an hour before the time of opening. The foreman came in shortly
afterward, and when he saw Jurgis he frowned.
"Oh," he said, "I promised you a job, didn't I?"
"Yes, sir," said Jurgis.
"Well, I'm sorry, but I made a mistake. I can't use you."
Jurgis stared, dumfounded. "What's the matter?" he gasped.
"Nothing," said the man, "only I can't use you."
There was the same cold, hostile stare that he had had from the boss
of the fertilizer mill. He knew that there was no use in saying
a word, and he turned and went away.
Out in the saloons the men could tell him all about the meaning of it;
they gazed at him with pitying eyes--poor devil, he was blacklisted!
What had he done? they asked--knocked down his boss? Good heavens,
then he might have known! Why, he stood as much chance of getting
a job in Packingtown as of being chosen mayor of Chicago. Why had
he wasted his time hunting? They had him on a secret list in every
office, big and little, in the place. They had his name by this time
in St. Louis and New York, in Omaha and Boston, in Kansas City and
St. Joseph. He was condemned and sentenced, without trial and
without appeal; he could never work for the packers again--he could
not even clean cattle pens or drive a truck in any place where they
controlled. He might try it, if he chose, as hundreds had tried it,
and found out for themselves. He would never be told anything about it;
he would never get any more satisfaction than he had gotten just now;
but he would always find when the time came that he was not needed.
It would not do for him to give any other name, either--they had
company "spotters" for just that purpose, and he wouldn't keep a job
in Packingtown three days. It was worth a fortune to the packers to
keep their blacklist effective, as a warning to the men and a means
of keeping down union agitation and political discontent.
Jurgis went home, carrying these new tidings to the family council.
It was a most cruel thing; here in this district was his home,
such as it was, the place he was used to and the friends he knew--
and now every possibility of employment in it was closed to him.
There was nothing in Packingtown but packing houses; and so it was
the same thing as evicting him from his home.
He and the two women spent all day and half the night discussing it.
It would be convenient, downtown, to the children's place of work;
but then Marija was on the road to recovery, and had hopes of getting
a job in the yards; and though she did not see her old-time lover
once a month, because of the misery of their state, yet she could
not make up her mind to go away and give him up forever. Then, too,
Elzbieta had heard something about a chance to scrub floors in
Durham's offices and was waiting every day for word. In the end
it was decided that Jurgis should go downtown to strike out for
himself, and they would decide after he got a job. As there was
no one from whom he could borrow there, and he dared not beg for
fear of being arrested, it was arranged that every day he should
meet one of the children and be given fifteen cents of their earnings,
upon which he could keep going. Then all day he was to pace the
streets with hundreds and thousands of other homeless wretches
inquiring at stores, warehouses, and factories for a chance; and at
night he was to crawl into some doorway or underneath a truck,
and hide there until midnight, when he might get into one of the
station houses, and spread a newspaper upon the floor, and lie down
in the midst of a throng of "bums" and beggars, reeking with alcohol
and tobacco, and filthy with vermin and disease.
So for two weeks more Jurgis fought with the demon of despair.
Once he got a chance to load a truck for half a day, and again he
carried an old woman's valise and was given a quarter. This let
him into a lodginghouse on several nights when he might otherwise
have frozen to death; and it also gave him a chance now and then
to buy a newspaper in the morning and hunt up jobs while his rivals
were watching and waiting for a paper to be thrown away. This, however,
was really not the advantage it seemed, for the newspaper advertisements
were a cause of much loss of precious time and of many weary journeys.
A full half of these were "fakes," put in by the endless variety of
establishments which preyed upon the helpless ignorance of the
unemployed. If Jurgis lost only his time, it was because he had
nothing else to lose; whenever a smooth-tongued agent would tell
him of the wonderful positions he had on hand, he could only shake
his head sorrowfully and say that he had not the necessary dollar
to deposit; when it was explained to him what "big money" he and all
his family could make by coloring photographs, he could only promise
to come in again when he had two dollars to invest in the outfit.
In the end Jurgis got a chance through an accidental meeting with
an old-time acquaintance of his union days. He met this man on his
way to work in the giant factories of the Harvester Trust; and his
friend told him to come along and he would speak a good word for him
to his boss, whom he knew well. So Jurgis trudged four or five miles,
and passed through a waiting throng of unemployed at the gate under
the escort of his friend. His knees nearly gave way beneath him when
the foreman, after looking him over and questioning him, told him
that he could find an opening for him.
How much this accident meant to Jurgis he realized only by stages;
for he found that the harvester works were the sort of place to
which philanthropists and reformers pointed with pride. It had
some thought for its employees; its workshops were big and roomy,
it provided a restaurant where the workmen could buy good food
at cost, it had even a reading room, and decent places where its
girl-hands could rest; also the work was free from many of the
elements of filth and repulsiveness that prevailed at the stockyards.
Day after day Jurgis discovered these things--things never expected
nor dreamed of by him--until this new place came to seem a kind of
a heaven to him.
It was an enormous establishment, covering a hundred and sixty acres
of ground, employing five thousand people, and turning out over
three hundred thousand machines every year--a good part of all the
harvesting and mowing machines used in the country. Jurgis saw very
little of it, of course--it was all specialized work, the same as at
the stockyards; each one of the hundreds of parts of a mowing machine
was made separately, and sometimes handled by hundreds of men.
Where Jurgis worked there was a machine which cut and stamped a
certain piece of steel about two square inches in size; the pieces
came tumbling out upon a tray, and all that human hands had to do
was to pile them in regular rows, and change the trays at intervals.
This was done by a single boy, who stood with eyes and thought
centered upon it, and fingers flying so fast that the sounds of the
bits of steel striking upon each other was like the music of an
express train as one hears it in a sleeping car at night. This was
"piece-work," of course; and besides it was made certain that the boy
did not idle, by setting the machine to match the highest possible
speed of human hands. Thirty thousand of these pieces he handled
every day, nine or ten million every year--how many in a lifetime
it rested with the gods to say. Near by him men sat bending over
whirling grindstones, putting the finishing touches to the steel
knives of the reaper; picking them out of a basket with the right
hand, pressing first one side and then the other against the stone
and finally dropping them with the left hand into another basket.
One of these men told Jurgis that he had sharpened three thousand
pieces of steel a day for thirteen years. In the next room were
wonderful machines that ate up long steel rods by slow stages,
cutting them off, seizing the pieces, stamping heads upon them,
grinding them and polishing them, threading them, and finally
dropping them into a basket, all ready to bolt the harvesters
together. From yet another machine came tens of thousands of steel
burs to fit upon these bolts. In other places all these various
parts were dipped into troughs of paint and hung up to dry, and then
slid along on trolleys to a room where men streaked them with red
and yellow, so that they might look cheerful in the harvest fields.
Jurgis's friend worked upstairs in the casting rooms, and his task
was to make the molds of a certain part. He shoveled black sand
into an iron receptacle and pounded it tight and set it aside to
harden; then it would be taken out, and molten iron poured into it.
This man, too, was paid by the mold--or rather for perfect castings,
nearly half his work going for naught. You might see him, along with
dozens of others, toiling like one possessed by a whole community
of demons; his arms working like the driving rods of an engine,
his long, black hair flying wild, his eyes starting out, the sweat
rolling in rivers down his face. When he had shoveled the mold full
of sand, and reached for the pounder to pound it with, it was after
the manner of a canoeist running rapids and seizing a pole at sight
of a submerged rock. All day long this man would toil thus, his whole
being centered upon the purpose of making twenty-three instead of
twenty-two and a half cents an hour; and then his product would be
reckoned up by the census taker, and jubilant captains of industry
would boast of it in their banquet halls, telling how our workers
are nearly twice as efficient as those of any other country. If we
are the greatest nation the sun ever shone upon, it would seem to be
mainly because we have been able to goad our wage-earners to this
pitch of frenzy; though there are a few other things that are great
among us including our drink-bill, which is a billion and a quarter
of dollars a year, and doubling itself every decade.
There was a machine which stamped out the iron plates, and then
another which, with a mighty thud, mashed them to the shape of the
sitting-down portion of the American farmer. Then they were piled
upon a truck, and it was Jurgis's task to wheel them to the room
where the machines were "assembled." This was child's play for him,
and he got a dollar and seventy-five cents a day for it; on Saturday
he paid Aniele the seventy-five cents a week he owed her for the use
of her garret, and also redeemed his overcoat, which Elzbieta had
put in pawn when he was in jail.
This last was a great blessing. A man cannot go about in midwinter
in Chicago with no overcoat and not pay for it, and Jurgis had to
walk or ride five or six miles back and forth to his work. lt so
happened that half of this was in one direction and half in another,
necessitating a change of cars; the law required that transfers be
given at all intersecting points, but the railway corporation had
gotten round this by arranging a pretense at separate ownership.
So whenever he wished to ride, he had to pay ten cents each way,
or over ten per cent of his income to this power, which had gotten
its franchises long ago by buying up the city council, in the face
of popular clamor amounting almost to a rebellion. Tired as he felt
at night, and dark and bitter cold as it was in the morning, Jurgis
generally chose to walk; at the hours other workmen were traveling,
the streetcar monopoly saw fit to put on so few cars that there
would be men hanging to every foot of the backs of them and often
crouching upon the snow-covered roof. Of course the doors could
never be closed, and so the cars were as cold as outdoors; Jurgis,
like many others, found it better to spend his fare for a drink and
a free lunch, to give him strength to walk.
These, however, were all slight matters to a man who had escaped from
Durham's fertilizer mill. Jurgis began to pick up heart again and
to make plans. He had lost his house but then the awful load of
the rent and interest was off his shoulders, and when Marija was
well again they could start over and save. In the shop where he
worked was a man, a Lithuanian like himself, whom the others spoke
of in admiring whispers, because of the mighty feats he was performing.
All day he sat at a machine turning bolts; and then in the evening
he went to the public school to study English and learn to read.
In addition, because he had a family of eight children to support
and his earnings were not enough, on Saturdays and Sundays he served
as a watchman; he was required to press two buttons at opposite ends
of a building every five minutes, and as the walk only took him two
minutes, he had three minutes to study between each trip. Jurgis felt
jealous of this fellow; for that was the sort of thing he himself
had dreamed of, two or three years ago. He might do it even yet,
if he had a fair chance--he might attract attention and become
a skilled man or a boss, as some had done in this place. Suppose
that Marija could get a job in the big mill where they made binder
twine--then they would move into this neighborhood, and he would
really have a chance. With a hope like that, there was some use
in living; to find a place where you were treated like a human being--
by God! he would show them how he could appreciate it. He laughed
to himself as he thought how he would hang on to this job!
And then one afternoon, the ninth of his work in the place, when he
went to get his overcoat he saw a group of men crowded before a
placard on the door, and when he went over and asked what it was,
they told him that beginning with the morrow his department of the
harvester works would be closed until further notice!
That was the way they did it! There was not half an hour's
warning--the works were closed! It had happened that way before,
said the men, and it would happen that way forever. They had
made all the harvesting machines that the world needed, and now
they had to wait till some wore out! It was nobody's fault--
that was the way of it; and thousands of men and women were turned out
in the dead of winter, to live upon their savings if they had
any, and otherwise to die. So many tens of thousands already in
the city, homeless and begging for work, and now several thousand
more added to them!
Jurgis walked home-with his pittance of pay in his pocket,
heartbroken, overwhelmed. One more bandage had been torn from
his eyes, one more pitfall was revealed to him! Of what help was
kindness and decency on the part of employers--when they could
not keep a job for him, when there were more harvesting machines
made than the world was able to buy! What a hellish mockery it