The Jungle/Chapter 27

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The Jungle by Upton Sinclair
Chapter 27

Poor Jurgis was now an outcast and a tramp once more. He was crippled—he was as literally crippled as any wild animal which has lost its claws, or been torn out of its shell. He had been shorn, at one cut, of all those mysterious weapons whereby he had been able to make a living easily and to escape the consequences of his actions. He could no longer command a job when he wanted it; he could no longer steal with impunity—he must take his chances with the common herd. Nay worse, he dared not mingle with the herd—he must hide himself, for he was one marked out for destruction. His old companions would betray him, for the sake of the influence they would gain thereby; and he would be made to suffer, not merely for the offense he had committed, but for others which would be laid at his door, just as had been done for some poor devil on the occasion of that assault upon the "country customer" by him and Duane.

And also he labored under another handicap now. He had acquired new standards of living, which were not easily to be altered. When he had been out of work before, he had been content if he could sleep in a doorway or under a truck out of the rain, and if he could get fifteen cents a day for saloon lunches. But now he desired all sorts of other things, and suffered because he had to do without them. He must have a drink now and then, a drink for its own sake, and apart from the food that came with it. The craving for it was strong enough to master every other consideration—he would have it, though it were his last nickel and he had to starve the balance of the day in consequence.

Jurgis became once more a besieger of factory gates. But never since he had been in Chicago had he stood less chance of getting a job than just then. For one thing, there was the economic crisis, the million or two of men who had been out of work in the spring and summer, and were not yet all back, by any means. And then there was the strike, with seventy thousand men and women all over the country idle for a couple of months—twenty thousand in Chicago, and many of them now seeking work throughout the city. It did not remedy matters that a few days later the strike was given up and about half the strikers went back to work; for every one taken on, there was a "scab" who gave up and fled. The ten or fifteen thousand "green" Negroes, foreigners, and criminals were now being turned loose to shift for themselves. Everywhere Jurgis went he kept meeting them, and he was in an agony of fear lest some one of them should know that he was "wanted." He would have left Chicago, only by the time he had realized his danger he was almost penniless; and it would be better to go to jail than to be caught out in the country in the winter time.

At the end of about ten days Jurgis had only a few pennies left; and he had not yet found a job—not even a day's work at anything, not a chance to carry a satchel. Once again, as when he had come out of the hospital, he was bound hand and foot, and facing the grisly phantom of starvation. Raw, naked terror possessed him, a maddening passion that would never leave him, and that wore him down more quickly than the actual want of food. He was going to die of hunger! The fiend reached out its scaly arms for him—it touched him, its breath came into his face; and he would cry out for the awfulness of it, he would wake up in the night, shuddering, and bathed in perspiration, and start up and flee. He would walk, begging for work, until he was exhausted; he could not remain still—he would wander on, gaunt and haggard, gazing about him with restless eyes. Everywhere he went, from one end of the vast city to the other, there were hundreds of others like him; everywhere was the sight of plenty and the merciless hand of authority waving them away. There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where the things are behind the bars, and the man is outside.

When he was down to his last quarter, Jurgis learned that before the bakeshops closed at night they sold out what was left at half price, and after that he would go and get two loaves of stale bread for a nickel, and break them up and stuff his pockets with them, munching a bit from time to time. He would not spend a penny save for this; and, after two or three days more, he even became sparing of the bread, and would stop and peer into the ash barrels as he walked along the streets, and now and then rake out a bit of something, shake it free from dust, and count himself just so many minutes further from the end.

So for several days he had been going about, ravenous all the time, and growing weaker and weaker, and then one morning he had a hideous experience, that almost broke his heart. He was passing down a street lined with warehouses, and a boss offered him a job, and then, after he had started to work, turned him off because he was not strong enough. And he stood by and saw another man put into his place, and then picked up his coat, and walked off, doing all that he could to keep from breaking down and crying like a baby. He was lost! He was doomed! There was no hope for him! But then, with a sudden rush, his fear gave place to rage. He fell to cursing. He would come back there after dark, and he would show that scoundrel whether he was good for anything or not!

He was still muttering this when suddenly, at the corner, he came upon a green-grocery, with a tray full of cabbages in front of it. Jurgis, after one swift glance about him, stooped and seized the biggest of them, and darted round the corner with it. There was a hue and cry, and a score of men and boys started in chase of him; but he came to an alley, and then to another branching off from it and leading him into another street, where he fell into a walk, and slipped his cabbage under his coat and went off unsuspected in the crowd. When he had gotten a safe distance away he sat down and devoured half the cabbage raw, stowing the balance away in his pockets till the next day.

Just about this time one of the Chicago newspapers, which made much of the "common people," opened a "free-soup kitchen" for the benefit of the unemployed. Some people said that they did this for the sake of the advertising it gave them, and some others said that their motive was a fear lest all their readers should be starved off; but whatever the reason, the soup was thick and hot, and there was a bowl for every man, all night long. When Jurgis heard of this, from a fellow "hobo," he vowed that he would have half a dozen bowls before morning; but, as it proved, he was lucky to get one, for there was a line of men two blocks long before the stand, and there was just as long a line when the place was finally closed up.

This depot was within the danger line for Jurgis—in the "Levee" district, where he was known; but he went there, all the same, for he was desperate, and beginning to think of even the Bridewell as a place of refuge. So far the weather had been fair, and he had slept out every night in a vacant lot; but now there fell suddenly a shadow of the advancing winter, a chill wind from the north and a driving storm of rain. That day Jurgis bought two drinks for the sake of the shelter, and at night he spent his last two pennies in a "stale-beer dive." This was a place kept by a Negro, who went out and drew off the old dregs of beer that lay in barrels set outside of the saloons; and after he had doctored it with chemicals to make it "fizz," he sold it for two cents a can, the purchase of a can including the privilege of sleeping the night through upon the floor, with a mass of degraded outcasts, men and women.

All these horrors afflicted Jurgis all the more cruelly, because he was always contrasting them with the opportunities he had lost. For instance, just now it was election time again—within five or six weeks the voters of the country would select a President; and he heard the wretches with whom he associated discussing it, and saw the streets of the city decorated with placards and banners—and what words could describe the pangs of grief and despair that shot through him?

For instance, there was a night during this cold spell. He had begged all day, for his very life, and found not a soul to heed him, until toward evening he saw an old lady getting off a streetcar and helped her down with her umbrellas and bundles and then told her his "hard-luck story," and after answering all her suspicious questions satisfactorily, was taken to a restaurant and saw a quarter paid down for a meal. And so he had soup and bread, and boiled beef and potatoes and beans, and pie and coffee, and came out with his skin stuffed tight as a football. And then, through the rain and the darkness, far down the street he saw red lights flaring and heard the thumping of a bass drum; and his heart gave a leap, and he made for the place on the run—knowing without the asking that it meant a political meeting.

The campaign had so far been characterized by what the newspapers termed "apathy." For some reason the people refused to get excited over the struggle, and it was almost impossible to get them to come to meetings, or to make any noise when they did come. Those which had been held in Chicago so far had proven most dismal failures, and tonight, the speaker being no less a personage than a candidate for the vice-presidency of the nation, the political managers had been trembling with anxiety. But a merciful providence had sent this storm of cold rain—and now all it was necessary to do was to set off a few fireworks, and thump awhile on a drum, and all the homeless wretches from a mile around would pour in and fill the hall! And then on the morrow the newspapers would have a chance to report the tremendous ovation, and to add that it had been no "silk-stocking" audience, either, proving clearly that the high tariff sentiments of the distinguished candidate were pleasing to the wage-earners of the nation.

So Jurgis found himself in a large hall, elaborately decorated with flags and bunting; and after the chairman had made his little speech, and the orator of the evening rose up, amid an uproar from the band—only fancy the emotions of Jurgis upon making the discovery that the personage was none other than the famous and eloquent Senator Spareshanks, who had addressed the "Doyle Republican Association" at the stockyards, and helped to elect Mike Scully's tenpin setter to the Chicago Board of Aldermen!

In truth, the sight of the senator almost brought the tears into Jurgis's eyes. What agony it was to him to look back upon those golden hours, when he, too, had a place beneath the shadow of the plum tree! When he, too, had been of the elect, through whom the country is governed—when he had had a bung in the campaign barrel for his own! And this was another election in which the Republicans had all the money; and but for that one hideous accident he might have had a share of it, instead of being where he was!

The eloquent senator was explaining the system of protection; an ingenious device whereby the workingman permitted the manufacturer to charge him higher prices, in order that he might receive higher wages; thus taking his money out of his pocket with one hand, and putting a part of it back with the other. To the senator this unique arrangement had somehow become identified with the higher verities of the universe. It was because of it that Columbia was the gem of the ocean; and all her future triumphs, her power and good repute among the nations, depended upon the zeal and fidelity with which each citizen held up the hands of those who were toiling to maintain it. The name of this heroic company was "the Grand Old Party"—

And here the band began to play, and Jurgis sat up with a violent start. Singular as it may seem, Jurgis was making a desperate effort to understand what the senator was saying—to comprehend the extent of American prosperity, the enormous expansion of American commerce, and the Republic's future in the Pacific and in South America, and wherever else the oppressed were groaning. The reason for it was that he wanted to keep awake. He knew that if he allowed himself to fall asleep he would begin to snore loudly; and so he must listen—he must be interested! But he had eaten such a big dinner, and he was so exhausted, and the hall was so warm, and his seat was so comfortable! The senator's gaunt form began to grow dim and hazy, to tower before him and dance about, with figures of exports and imports. Once his neighbor gave him a savage poke in the ribs, and he sat up with a start and tried to look innocent; but then he was at it again, and men began to stare at him with annoyance, and to call out in vexation. Finally one of them called a policeman, who came and grabbed Jurgis by the collar, and jerked him to his feet, bewildered and terrified. Some of the audience turned to see the commotion, and Senator Spareshanks faltered in his speech; but a voice shouted cheerily: "We're just firing a bum! Go ahead, old sport!" And so the crowd roared, and the senator smiled genially, and went on; and in a few seconds poor Jurgis found himself landed out in the rain, with a kick and a string of curses.

He got into the shelter of a doorway and took stock of himself. He was not hurt, and he was not arrested—more than he had any right to expect. He swore at himself and his luck for a while, and then turned his thoughts to practical matters. He had no money, and no place to sleep; he must begin begging again.

He went out, hunching his shoulders together and shivering at the touch of the icy rain. Coming down the street toward him was a lady, well dressed, and protected by an umbrella; and he turned and walked beside her. "Please, ma'am," he began, "could you lend me the price of a night's lodging? I'm a poor working- man—"

Then, suddenly, he stopped short. By the light of a street lamp he had caught sight of the lady's face. He knew her.

It was Alena Jasaityte, who had been the belle of his wedding feast! Alena Jasaityte, who had looked so beautiful, and danced with such a queenly air, with Juozas Raczius, the teamster! Jurgis had only seen her once or twice afterward, for Juozas had thrown her over for another girl, and Alena had gone away from Packingtown, no one knew where. And now he met her here!

She was as much surprised as he was. "Jurgis Rudkus!" she gasped. "And what in the world is the matter with you?"

"I—I've had hard luck," he stammered. "I'm out of work, and I've no home and no money. And you, Alena—are you married?"

"No," she answered, "I'm not married, but I've got a good place."

They stood staring at each other for a few moments longer. Finally Alena spoke again. "Jurgis," she said, "I'd help you if I could, upon my word I would, but it happens that I've come out without my purse, and I honestly haven't a penny with me: I can do something better for you, though—I can tell you how to get help. I can tell you where Marija is."

Jurgis gave a start. "Marija!" he exclaimed.

"Yes," said Alena; "and she'll help you. She's got a place, and she's doing well; she'll be glad to see you."

It was not much more than a year since Jurgis had left Packingtown, feeling like one escaped from jail; and it had been from Marija and Elzbieta that he was escaping. But now, at the mere mention of them, his whole being cried out with joy. He wanted to see them; he wanted to go home! They would help him—they would be kind to him. In a flash he had thought over the situation. He had a good excuse for running away—his grief at the death of his son; and also he had a good excuse for not returning—the fact that they had left Packingtown. "All right," he said, "I'll go."

So she gave him a number on Clark Street, adding, "There's no need to give you my address, because Marija knows it." And Jurgis set out, without further ado. He found a large brownstone house of aristocratic appearance, and rang the basement bell. A young colored girl came to the door, opening it about an inch, and gazing at him suspiciously.

"What do you want?" she demanded.

"Does Marija Berczynskas live here?" he inquired.

"I dunno," said the girl. "What you want wid her?"

"I want to see her," said he; "she's a relative of mine."

The girl hesitated a moment. Then she opened the door and said, "Come in." Jurgis came and stood in the hall, and she continued: "I'll go see. What's yo' name?"

"Tell her it's Jurgis," he answered, and the girl went upstairs. She came back at the end of a minute or two, and replied, "Dey ain't no sich person here."

Jurgis's heart went down into his boots. "I was told this was where she lived!" he cried. But the girl only shook her head. "De lady says dey ain't no sich person here," she said.

And he stood for a moment, hesitating, helpless with dismay. Then he turned to go to the door. At the same instant, however, there came a knock upon it, and the girl went to open it. Jurgis heard the shuffling of feet, and then heard her give a cry; and the next moment she sprang back, and past him, her eyes shining white with terror, and bounded up the stairway, screaming at the top of her lungs: "Police! Police! We're pinched!"

Jurgis stood for a second, bewildered. Then, seeing blue-coated forms rushing upon him, he sprang after the Negress. Her cries had been the signal for a wild uproar above; the house was full of people, and as he entered the hallway he saw them rushing hither and thither, crying and screaming with alarm. There were men and women, the latter clad for the most part in wrappers, the former in all stages of dishabille. At one side Jurgis caught a glimpse of a big apartment with plush-covered chairs, and tables covered with trays and glasses. There were playing cards scattered all over the floor—one of the tables had been upset, and bottles of wine were rolling about, their contents running out upon the carpet. There was a young girl who had fainted, and two men who were supporting her; and there were a dozen others crowding toward the front door.

Suddenly, however, there came a series of resounding blows upon it, causing the crowd to give back. At the same instant a stout woman, with painted cheeks and diamonds in her ears, came running down the stairs, panting breathlessly: "To the rear! Quick!"

She led the way to a back staircase, Jurgis following; in the kitchen she pressed a spring, and a cupboard gave way and opened, disclosing a dark passageway. "Go in!" she cried to the crowd, which now amounted to twenty or thirty, and they began to pass through. Scarcely had the last one disappeared, however, before there were cries from in front, and then the panic-stricken throng poured out again, exclaiming: "They're there too! We're trapped!"

"Upstairs!" cried the woman, and there was another rush of the mob, women and men cursing and screaming and fighting to be first. One flight, two, three—and then there was a ladder to the roof, with a crowd packed at the foot of it, and one man at the top, straining and struggling to lift the trap door. It was not to be stirred, however, and when the woman shouted up to unhook it, he answered: "It's already unhooked. There's somebody sitting on it!"

And a moment later came a voice from downstairs: "You might as well quit, you people. We mean business, this time."

So the crowd subsided; and a few moments later several policemen came up, staring here and there, and leering at their victims. Of the latter the men were for the most part frightened and sheepish-looking. The women took it as a joke, as if they were used to it—though if they had been pale, one could not have told, for the paint on their cheeks. One black-eyed young girl perched herself upon the top of the balustrade, and began to kick with her slippered foot at the helmets of the policemen, until one of them caught her by the ankle and pulled her down. On the floor below four or five other girls sat upon trunks in the hall, making fun of the procession which filed by them. They were noisy and hilarious, and had evidently been drinking; one of them, who wore a bright red kimono, shouted and screamed in a voice that drowned out all the other sounds in the hall—and Jurgis took a glance at her, and then gave a start, and a cry, "Marija!"

She heard him, and glanced around; then she shrank back and half sprang to her feet in amazement. "Jurgis!" she gasped.

For a second or two they stood staring at each other. "How did you come here?" Marija exclaimed.

"I came to see you," he answered.

"When?"

"Just now."

"But how did you know—who told you I was here?"

"Alena Jasaityte. I met her on the street."

Again there was a silence, while they gazed at each other. The rest of the crowd was watching them, and so Marija got up and came closer to him. "And you?" Jurgis asked. "You live here?"

"Yes," said Marija, "I live here." Then suddenly came a hail from below: "Get your clothes on now, girls, and come along. You'd best begin, or you'll be sorry—it's raining outside."

"Br-r-r!" shivered some one, and the women got up and entered the various doors which lined the hallway.

"Come," said Marija, and took Jurgis into her room, which was a tiny place about eight by six, with a cot and a chair and a dressing stand and some dresses hanging behind the door. There were clothes scattered about on the floor, and hopeless confusion everywhere—boxes of rouge and bottles of perfume mixed with hats and soiled dishes on the dresser, and a pair of slippers and a clock and a whisky bottle on a chair.

Marija had nothing on but a kimono and a pair of stockings; yet she proceeded to dress before Jurgis, and without even taking the trouble to close the door. He had by this time divined what sort of a place he was in; and he had seen a great deal of the world since he had left home, and was not easy to shock—and yet it gave him a painful start that Marija should do this. They had always been decent people at home, and it seemed to him that the memory of old times ought to have ruled her. But then he laughed at himself for a fool. What was he, to be pretending to decency!

"How long have you been living here?" he asked.

"Nearly a year," she answered.

"Why did you come?"

"I had to live," she said; "and I couldn't see the children starve."

He paused for a moment, watching her. "You were out of work?" he asked, finally.

"I got sick," she replied. "and after that I had no money. And then Stanislovas died—"

"Stanislovas dead!"

"Yes," said Marija, "I forgot. You didn't know about it."

"How did he die?"

"Rats killed him," she answered.

Jurgis gave a gasp. "Rats killed him!"

"Yes," said the other; she was bending over, lacing her shoes as she spoke. "He was working in an oil factory—at least he was hired by the men to get their beer. He used to carry cans on a long pole; and he'd drink a little out of each can, and one day he drank too much, and fell asleep in a corner, and got locked up in the place all night. When they found him the rats had killed him and eaten him nearly all up."

Jurgis sat, frozen with horror. Marija went on lacing up her shoes. There was a long silence.

Suddenly a big policeman came to the door. "Hurry up, there," he said.

"As quick as I can," said Marija, and she stood up and began putting on her corsets with feverish haste.

"Are the rest of the people alive?" asked Jurgis, finally.

"Yes," she said.

"Where are they?"

"They live not far from here. They're all right now."

"They are working?" he inquired.

"Elzbieta is," said Marija, "when she can. I take care of them most of the time—I'm making plenty of money now."

Jurgis was silent for a moment. "Do they know you live here—how you live?" he asked.

"Elzbieta knows," answered Marija. "I couldn't lie to her. And maybe the children have found out by this time. It's nothing to be ashamed of—we can't help it."

"And Tamoszius?" he asked. "Does he know?"

Marija shrugged her shoulders. "How do I know?" she said. "I haven't seen him for over a year. He got blood poisoning and lost one finger, and couldn't play the violin any more; and then he went away."

Marija was standing in front of the glass fastening her dress. Jurgis sat staring at her. He could hardly believe that she was the same woman he had known in the old days; she was so quiet—so hard! It struck fear to his heart to watch her.

Then suddenly she gave a glance at him. "You look as if you had been having a rough time of it yourself," she said.

"I have," he answered. "I haven't a cent in my pockets, and nothing to do."

"Where have you been?"

"All over. I've been hoboing it. Then I went back to the yards—just before the strike." He paused for a moment, hesitating. "I asked for you," he added. "I found you had gone away, no one knew where. Perhaps you think I did you a dirty trick, running away as I did, Marija—"

"No," she answered, "I don't blame you. We never have—any of us. You did your best—the job was too much for us." She paused a moment, then added: "We were too ignorant—that was the trouble. We didn't stand any chance. If I'd known what I know now we'd have won out."

"You'd have come here?" said Jurgis.

"Yes," she answered; "but that's not what I meant. I meant you—how differently you would have behaved—about Ona."

Jurgis was silent; he had never thought of that aspect of it.

"When people are starving," the other continued, "and they have anything with a price, they ought to sell it, I say. I guess you realize it now when it's too late. Ona could have taken care of us all, in the beginning." Marija spoke without emotion, as one who had come to regard things from the business point of view.

"I—yes, I guess so," Jurgis answered hesitatingly. He did not add that he had paid three hundred dollars, and a foreman's job, for the satisfaction of knocking down "Phil" Connor a second time.

The policeman came to the door again just then. "Come on, now," he said. "Lively!"

"All right," said Marija, reaching for her hat, which was big enough to be a drum major's, and full of ostrich feathers. She went out into the hall and Jurgis followed, the policeman remaining to look under the bed and behind the door

"What's going to come of this?" Jurgis asked, as they started down the steps.

"The raid, you mean? Oh, nothing—it happens to us every now and then. The madame's having some sort of time with the police; I don't know what it is, but maybe they'll come to terms before morning. Anyhow, they won't do anything to you. They always let the men off."

"Maybe so," he responded, "but not me—I'm afraid I'm in for it."

"How do you mean?"

"I'm wanted by the police," he said, lowering his voice, though of course their conversation was in Lithuanian. "They'll send me up for a year or two, I'm afraid."

"Hell!" said Marija. "That's too bad. I'll see if I can't get you off."

Downstairs, where the greater part of the prisoners were now massed, she sought out the stout personage with the diamond earrings, and had a few whispered words with her. The latter then approached the police sergeant who was in charge of the raid. "Billy," she said, pointing to Jurgis, "there's a fellow who came in to see his sister. He'd just got in the door when you knocked. You aren't taking hoboes, are you?"

The sergeant laughed as he looked at Jurgis. "Sorry," he said, "but the orders are every one but the servants."

So Jurgis slunk in among the rest of the men, who kept dodging behind each other like sheep that have smelled a wolf. There were old men and young men, college boys and gray-beards old enough to be their grandfathers; some of them wore evening dress—there was no one among them save Jurgis who showed any signs of poverty.

When the roundup was completed, the doors were opened and the party marched out. Three patrol wagons were drawn up at the curb, and the whole neighborhood had turned out to see the sport; there was much chaffing, and a universal craning of necks. The women stared about them with defiant eyes, or laughed and joked, while the men kept their heads bowed, and their hats pulled over their faces. They were crowded into the patrol wagons as if into streetcars, and then off they went amid a din of cheers. At the station house Jurgis gave a Polish name and was put into a cell with half a dozen others; and while these sat and talked in whispers, he lay down in a corner and gave himself up to his thoughts.

Jurgis had looked into the deepest reaches of the social pit, and grown used to the sights in them. Yet when he had thought of all humanity as vile and hideous, he had somehow always excepted his own family that he had loved; and now this sudden horrible discovery—Marija a whore, and Elzbieta and the children living off her shame! Jurgis might argue with himself all he chose, that he had done worse, and was a fool for caring—but still he could not get over the shock of that sudden unveiling, he could not help being sunk in grief because of it. The depths of him were troubled and shaken, memories were stirred in him that had been sleeping so long he had counted them dead. Memories of the old life—his old hopes and his old yearnings, his old dreams of decency and independence! He saw Ona again, he heard her gentle voice pleading with him. He saw little Antanas, whom he had meant to make a man. He saw his trembling old father, who had blessed them all with his wonderful love. He lived again through that day of horror when he had discovered Ona's shame—God, how he had suffered, what a madman he had been! How dreadful it had all seemed to him; and now, today, he had sat and listened, and half agreed when Marija told him he had been a fool! Yes—told him that he ought to have sold his wife's honor and lived by it!—And then there was Stanislovas and his awful fate—that brief story which Marija had narrated so calmly, with such dull indifference! The poor little fellow, with his frostbitten fingers and his terror of the snow—his wailing voice rang in Jurgis's ears, as he lay there in the darkness, until the sweat started on his forehead. Now and then he would quiver with a sudden spasm of horror, at the picture of little Stanislovas shut up in the deserted building and fighting for his life with the rats!

All these emotions had become strangers to the soul of Jurgis; it was so long since they had troubled him that he had ceased to think they might ever trouble him again. Helpless, trapped, as he was, what good did they do him—why should he ever have allowed them to torment him? It had been the task of his recent life to fight them down, to crush them out of him, never in his life would he have suffered from them again, save that they had caught him unawares, and overwhelmed him before he could protect himself. He heard the old voices of his soul, he saw its old ghosts beckoning to him, stretching out their arms to him! But they were far-off and shadowy, and the gulf between them was black and bottomless; they would fade away into the mists of the past once more. Their voices would die, and never again would he hear them—and so the last faint spark of manhood in his soul would flicker out.