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CHAPTER 18
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 it now."
Jurgis looked dazed.
"I was told this was the way," he said. "Who told you?"
"A boy." "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 coal- yards 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?" she demanded. 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!" she echoed.
"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, racking
sobs.
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, wearily, half- dazed.
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?" he
panted.
"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 could
promise--
"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.
>
CHAPTER 19
"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 almost starved."
"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, frantically. "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 tell you--"
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!
Come back!" 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 dollars soon?" "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 saloon-keeper, 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 saloon-keeper 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 saloon-keeper, "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 to quit."
He was used to the sight of human wrecks, this saloon-keeper; 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 between customers.
"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: "Hello, there!"
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 dead now."
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 hardly--" 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.
"Yes."
"How much?" "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."
>
CHAPTER 20
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 saloon-keepers 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. "Jurgis Rudkus."
"Worked in the yards before?" "Yes."
"Whereabouts?"
"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