Part 2 - The Jungle Audiobook by Upton Sinclair (Chs 04-07)




Uploaded by CCProse on 06.12.2011

Transcript:
CHAPTER 4
Promptly at seven the next morning Jurgis reported for work.
He came to the door that had been pointed out to him, and there he waited for nearly
two hours.
The boss had meant for him to enter, but had not said this, and so it was only when
on his way out to hire another man that he came upon Jurgis.
He gave him a good cursing, but as Jurgis did not understand a word of it he did not
object.
He followed the boss, who showed him where to put his street clothes, and waited while
he donned the working clothes he had bought in a secondhand shop and brought with him
in a bundle; then he led him to the "killing beds."
The work which Jurgis was to do here was very simple, and it took him but a few
minutes to learn it.
He was provided with a stiff besom, such as is used by street sweepers, and it was his
place to follow down the line the man who drew out the smoking entrails from the
carcass of the steer; this mass was to be
swept into a trap, which was then closed, so that no one might slip into it.
As Jurgis came in, the first cattle of the morning were just making their appearance;
and so, with scarcely time to look about him, and none to speak to any one, he fell
to work.
It was a sweltering day in July, and the place ran with steaming hot blood--one
waded in it on the floor. The stench was almost overpowering, but to
Jurgis it was nothing.
His whole soul was dancing with joy--he was at work at last!
He was at work and earning money! All day long he was figuring to himself.
He was paid the fabulous sum of seventeen and a half cents an hour; and as it proved
a rush day and he worked until nearly seven o'clock in the evening, he went home to the
family with the tidings that he had earned
more than a dollar and a half in a single day!
At home, also, there was more good news; so much of it at once that there was quite a
celebration in Aniele's hall bedroom.
Jonas had been to have an interview with the special policeman to whom Szedvilas had
introduced him, and had been taken to see several of the bosses, with the result that
one had promised him a job the beginning of the next week.
And then there was Marija Berczynskas, who, fired with jealousy by the success of
Jurgis, had set out upon her own responsibility to get a place.
Marija had nothing to take with her save her two brawny arms and the word "job,"
laboriously learned; but with these she had marched about Packingtown all day, entering
every door where there were signs of activity.
Out of some she had been ordered with curses; but Marija was not afraid of man or
devil, and asked every one she saw-- visitors and strangers, or work-people like
herself, and once or twice even high and
lofty office personages, who stared at her as if they thought she was crazy.
In the end, however, she had reaped her reward.
In one of the smaller plants she had stumbled upon a room where scores of women
and girls were sitting at long tables preparing smoked beef in cans; and
wandering through room after room, Marija
came at last to the place where the sealed cans were being painted and labeled, and
here she had the good fortune to encounter the "forelady."
Marija did not understand then, as she was destined to understand later, what there
was attractive to a "forelady" about the combination of a face full of boundless
good nature and the muscles of a dray
horse; but the woman had told her to come the next day and she would perhaps give her
a chance to learn the trade of painting cans.
The painting of cans being skilled piecework, and paying as much as two
dollars a day, Marija burst in upon the family with the yell of a Comanche Indian,
and fell to capering about the room so as
to frighten the baby almost into convulsions.
Better luck than all this could hardly have been hoped for; there was only one of them
left to seek a place.
Jurgis was determined that Teta Elzbieta should stay at home to keep house, and that
Ona should help her.
He would not have Ona working--he was not that sort of a man, he said, and she was
not that sort of a woman.
It would be a strange thing if a man like him could not support the family, with the
help of the board of Jonas and Marija.
He would not even hear of letting the children go to work--there were schools
here in America for children, Jurgis had heard, to which they could go for nothing.
That the priest would object to these schools was something of which he had as
yet no idea, and for the present his mind was made up that the children of Teta
Elzbieta should have as fair a chance as any other children.
The oldest of them, little Stanislovas, was but thirteen, and small for his age at
that; and while the oldest son of Szedvilas was only twelve, and had worked for over a
year at Jones's, Jurgis would have it that
Stanislovas should learn to speak English, and grow up to be a skilled man.
So there was only old Dede Antanas; Jurgis would have had him rest too, but he was
forced to acknowledge that this was not possible, and, besides, the old man would
not hear it spoken of--it was his whim to insist that he was as lively as any boy.
He had come to America as full of hope as the best of them; and now he was the chief
problem that worried his son.
For every one that Jurgis spoke to assured him that it was a waste of time to seek
employment for the old man in Packingtown.
Szedvilas told him that the packers did not even keep the men who had grown old in
their own service--to say nothing of taking on new ones.
And not only was it the rule here, it was the rule everywhere in America, so far as
he knew.
To satisfy Jurgis he had asked the policeman, and brought back the message
that the thing was not to be thought of.
They had not told this to old Anthony, who had consequently spent the two days
wandering about from one part of the yards to another, and had now come home to hear
about the triumph of the others, smiling
bravely and saying that it would be his turn another day.
Their good luck, they felt, had given them the right to think about a home; and
sitting out on the doorstep that summer evening, they held consultation about it,
and Jurgis took occasion to broach a weighty subject.
Passing down the avenue to work that morning he had seen two boys leaving an
advertisement from house to house; and seeing that there were pictures upon it,
Jurgis had asked for one, and had rolled it up and tucked it into his shirt.
At noontime a man with whom he had been talking had read it to him and told him a
little about it, with the result that Jurgis had conceived a wild idea.
He brought out the placard, which was quite a work of art.
It was nearly two feet long, printed on calendered paper, with a selection of
colors so bright that they shone even in the moonlight.
The center of the placard was occupied by a house, brilliantly painted, new, and
dazzling.
The roof of it was of a purple hue, and trimmed with gold; the house itself was
silvery, and the doors and windows red.
It was a two-story building, with a porch in front, and a very fancy scrollwork
around the edges; it was complete in every tiniest detail, even the doorknob, and
there was a hammock on the porch and white lace curtains in the windows.
Underneath this, in one corner, was a picture of a husband and wife in loving
embrace; in the opposite corner was a cradle, with fluffy curtains drawn over it,
and a smiling cherub hovering upon silver- colored wings.
For fear that the significance of all this should be lost, there was a label, in
Polish, Lithuanian, and German--"Dom. Namai. Heim."
"Why pay rent?" the linguistic circular went on to demand.
"Why not own your own home? Do you know that you can buy one for less
than your rent?
We have built thousands of homes which are now occupied by happy families."--So it
became eloquent, picturing the blissfulness of married life in a house with nothing to
pay.
It even quoted "Home, Sweet Home," and made bold to translate it into Polish--though
for some reason it omitted the Lithuanian of this.
Perhaps the translator found it a difficult matter to be sentimental in a language in
which a sob is known as a gukcziojimas and a smile as a nusiszypsojimas.
Over this document the family pored long, while Ona spelled out its contents.
It appeared that this house contained four rooms, besides a basement, and that it
might be bought for fifteen hundred dollars, the lot and all.
Of this, only three hundred dollars had to be paid down, the balance being paid at the
rate of twelve dollars a month.
These were frightful sums, but then they were in America, where people talked about
such without fear.
They had learned that they would have to pay a rent of nine dollars a month for a
flat, and there was no way of doing better, unless the family of twelve was to exist in
one or two rooms, as at present.
If they paid rent, of course, they might pay forever, and be no better off; whereas,
if they could only meet the extra expense in the beginning, there would at last come
a time when they would not have any rent to pay for the rest of their lives.
They figured it up.
There was a little left of the money belonging to Teta Elzbieta, and there was a
little left to Jurgis.
Marija had about fifty dollars pinned up somewhere in her stockings, and Grandfather
Anthony had part of the money he had gotten for his farm.
If they all combined, they would have enough to make the first payment; and if
they had employment, so that they could be sure of the future, it might really prove
the best plan.
It was, of course, not a thing even to be talked of lightly; it was a thing they
would have to sift to the bottom.
And yet, on the other hand, if they were going to make the venture, the sooner they
did it the better, for were they not paying rent all the time, and living in a most
horrible way besides?
Jurgis was used to dirt--there was nothing could scare a man who had been with a
railroad gang, where one could gather up the fleas off the floor of the sleeping
room by the handful.
But that sort of thing would not do for Ona.
They must have a better place of some sort soon--Jurgis said it with all the assurance
of a man who had just made a dollar and fifty-seven cents in a single day.
Jurgis was at a loss to understand why, with wages as they were, so many of the
people of this district should live the way they did.
The next day Marija went to see her "forelady," and was told to report the
first of the week, and learn the business of can-painter.
Marija went home, singing out loud all the way, and was just in time to join Ona and
her stepmother as they were setting out to go and make inquiry concerning the house.
That evening the three made their report to the men--the thing was altogether as
represented in the circular, or at any rate so the agent had said.
The houses lay to the south, about a mile and a half from the yards; they were
wonderful bargains, the gentleman had assured them--personally, and for their own
good.
He could do this, so he explained to them, for the reason that he had himself no
interest in their sale--he was merely the agent for a company that had built them.
These were the last, and the company was going out of business, so if any one wished
to take advantage of this wonderful no-rent plan, he would have to be very quick.
As a matter of fact there was just a little uncertainty as to whether there was a
single house left; for the agent had taken so many people to see them, and for all he
knew the company might have parted with the last.
Seeing Teta Elzbieta's evident grief at this news, he added, after some hesitation,
that if they really intended to make a purchase, he would send a telephone message
at his own expense, and have one of the houses kept.
So it had finally been arranged--and they were to go and make an inspection the
following Sunday morning.
That was Thursday; and all the rest of the week the killing gang at Brown's worked at
full pressure, and Jurgis cleared a dollar seventy-five every day.
That was at the rate of ten and one-half dollars a week, or forty-five a month.
Jurgis was not able to figure, except it was a very simple sum, but Ona was like
lightning at such things, and she worked out the problem for the family.
Marija and Jonas were each to pay sixteen dollars a month board, and the old man
insisted that he could do the same as soon as he got a place--which might be any day
now.
That would make ninety-three dollars. Then Marija and Jonas were between them to
take a third share in the house, which would leave only eight dollars a month for
Jurgis to contribute to the payment.
So they would have eighty-five dollars a month--or, supposing that Dede Antanas did
not get work at once, seventy dollars a month--which ought surely to be sufficient
for the support of a family of twelve.
An hour before the time on Sunday morning the entire party set out.
They had the address written on a piece of paper, which they showed to some one now
and then.
It proved to be a long mile and a half, but they walked it, and half an hour or so
later the agent put in an appearance.
He was a smooth and florid personage, elegantly dressed, and he spoke their
language freely, which gave him a great advantage in dealing with them.
He escorted them to the house, which was one of a long row of the typical frame
dwellings of the neighborhood, where architecture is a luxury that is dispensed
with.
Ona's heart sank, for the house was not as it was shown in the picture; the color
scheme was different, for one thing, and then it did not seem quite so big.
Still, it was freshly painted, and made a considerable show.
It was all brand-new, so the agent told them, but he talked so incessantly that
they were quite confused, and did not have time to ask many questions.
There were all sorts of things they had made up their minds to inquire about, but
when the time came, they either forgot them or lacked the courage.
The other houses in the row did not seem to be new, and few of them seemed to be
occupied.
When they ventured to hint at this, the agent's reply was that the purchasers would
be moving in shortly.
To press the matter would have seemed to be doubting his word, and never in their lives
had any one of them ever spoken to a person of the class called "gentleman" except with
deference and humility.
The house had a basement, about two feet below the street line, and a single story,
about six feet above it, reached by a flight of steps.
In addition there was an attic, made by the peak of the roof, and having one small
window in each end.
The street in front of the house was unpaved and unlighted, and the view from it
consisted of a few exactly similar houses, scattered here and there upon lots grown up
with dingy brown weeds.
The house inside contained four rooms, plastered white; the basement was but a
frame, the walls being unplastered and the floor not laid.
The agent explained that the houses were built that way, as the purchasers generally
preferred to finish the basements to suit their own taste.
The attic was also unfinished--the family had been figuring that in case of an
emergency they could rent this attic, but they found that there was not even a floor,
nothing but joists, and beneath them the lath and plaster of the ceiling below.
All of this, however, did not chill their ardor as much as might have been expected,
because of the volubility of the agent.
There was no end to the advantages of the house, as he set them forth, and he was not
silent for an instant; he showed them everything, down to the locks on the doors
and the catches on the windows, and how to work them.
He showed them the sink in the kitchen, with running water and a faucet, something
which Teta Elzbieta had never in her wildest dreams hoped to possess.
After a discovery such as that it would have seemed ungrateful to find any fault,
and so they tried to shut their eyes to other defects.
Still, they were peasant people, and they hung on to their money by instinct; it was
quite in vain that the agent hinted at promptness--they would see, they would see,
they told him, they could not decide until they had had more time.
And so they went home again, and all day and evening there was figuring and
debating.
It was an agony to them to have to make up their minds in a matter such as this.
They never could agree all together; there were so many arguments upon each side, and
one would be obstinate, and no sooner would the rest have convinced him than it would
transpire that his arguments had caused another to waver.
Once, in the evening, when they were all in harmony, and the house was as good as
bought, Szedvilas came in and upset them again.
Szedvilas had no use for property owning.
He told them cruel stories of people who had been done to death in this "buying a
home" swindle.
They would be almost sure to get into a tight place and lose all their money; and
there was no end of expense that one could never foresee; and the house might be good-
for-nothing from top to bottom--how was a poor man to know?
Then, too, they would swindle you with the contract--and how was a poor man to
understand anything about a contract?
It was all nothing but robbery, and there was no safety but in keeping out of it.
And pay rent? asked Jurgis. Ah, yes, to be sure, the other answered,
that too was robbery.
It was all robbery, for a poor man.
After half an hour of such depressing conversation, they had their minds quite
made up that they had been saved at the brink of a precipice; but then Szedvilas
went away, and Jonas, who was a sharp
little man, reminded them that the delicatessen business was a failure,
according to its proprietor, and that this might account for his pessimistic views.
Which, of course, reopened the subject!
The controlling factor was that they could not stay where they were--they had to go
somewhere.
And when they gave up the house plan and decided to rent, the prospect of paying out
nine dollars a month forever they found just as hard to face.
All day and all night for nearly a whole week they wrestled with the problem, and
then in the end Jurgis took the responsibility.
Brother Jonas had gotten his job, and was pushing a truck in Durham's; and the
killing gang at Brown's continued to work early and late, so that Jurgis grew more
confident every hour, more certain of his mastership.
It was the kind of thing the man of the family had to decide and carry through, he
told himself.
Others might have failed at it, but he was not the failing kind--he would show them
how to do it.
He would work all day, and all night, too, if need be; he would never rest until the
house was paid for and his people had a home.
So he told them, and so in the end the decision was made.
They had talked about looking at more houses before they made the purchase; but
then they did not know where any more were, and they did not know any way of finding
out.
The one they had seen held the sway in their thoughts; whenever they thought of
themselves in a house, it was this house that they thought of.
And so they went and told the agent that they were ready to make the agreement.
They knew, as an abstract proposition, that in matters of business all men are to be
accounted liars; but they could not but have been influenced by all they had heard
from the eloquent agent, and were quite
persuaded that the house was something they had run a risk of losing by their delay.
They drew a deep breath when he told them that they were still in time.
They were to come on the morrow, and he would have the papers all drawn up.
This matter of papers was one in which Jurgis understood to the full the need of
caution; yet he could not go himself--every one told him that he could not get a
holiday, and that he might lose his job by asking.
So there was nothing to be done but to trust it to the women, with Szedvilas, who
promised to go with them.
Jurgis spent a whole evening impressing upon them the seriousness of the occasion--
and then finally, out of innumerable hiding places about their persons and in their
baggage, came forth the precious wads of
money, to be done up tightly in a little bag and sewed fast in the lining of Teta
Elzbieta's dress. Early in the morning they sallied forth.
Jurgis had given them so many instructions and warned them against so many perils,
that the women were quite pale with fright, and even the imperturbable delicatessen
vender, who prided himself upon being a businessman, was ill at ease.
The agent had the deed all ready, and invited them to sit down and read it; this
Szedvilas proceeded to do--a painful and laborious process, during which the agent
drummed upon the desk.
Teta Elzbieta was so embarrassed that the perspiration came out upon her forehead in
beads; for was not this reading as much as to say plainly to the gentleman's face that
they doubted his honesty?
Yet Jokubas Szedvilas read on and on; and presently there developed that he had good
reason for doing so.
For a horrible suspicion had begun dawning in his mind; he knitted his brows more and
more as he read.
This was not a deed of sale at all, so far as he could see--it provided only for the
renting of the property!
It was hard to tell, with all this strange legal jargon, words he had never heard
before; but was not this plain--"the party of the first part hereby covenants and
agrees to rent to the said party of the second part!"
And then again--"a monthly rental of twelve dollars, for a period of eight years and
four months!"
Then Szedvilas took off his spectacles, and looked at the agent, and stammered a
question.
The agent was most polite, and explained that that was the usual formula; that it
was always arranged that the property should be merely rented.
He kept trying to show them something in the next paragraph; but Szedvilas could not
get by the word "rental"--and when he translated it to Teta Elzbieta, she too was
thrown into a fright.
They would not own the home at all, then, for nearly nine years!
The agent, with infinite patience, began to explain again; but no explanation would do
now.
Elzbieta had firmly fixed in her mind the last solemn warning of Jurgis: "If there is
anything wrong, do not give him the money, but go out and get a lawyer."
It was an agonizing moment, but she sat in the chair, her hands clenched like death,
and made a fearful effort, summoning all her powers, and gasped out her purpose.
Jokubas translated her words.
She expected the agent to fly into a passion, but he was, to her bewilderment,
as ever imperturbable; he even offered to go and get a lawyer for her, but she
declined this.
They went a long way, on purpose to find a man who would not be a confederate.
Then let any one imagine their dismay, when, after half an hour, they came in with
a lawyer, and heard him greet the agent by his first name!
They felt that all was lost; they sat like prisoners summoned to hear the reading of
their death warrant. There was nothing more that they could do--
they were trapped!
The lawyer read over the deed, and when he had read it he informed Szedvilas that it
was all perfectly regular, that the deed was a blank deed such as was often used in
these sales.
And was the price as agreed? the old man asked--three hundred dollars down, and the
balance at twelve dollars a month, till the total of fifteen hundred dollars had been
paid?
Yes, that was correct. And it was for the sale of such and such a
house--the house and lot and everything? Yes,--and the lawyer showed him where that
was all written.
And it was all perfectly regular--there were no tricks about it of any sort?
They were poor people, and this was all they had in the world, and if there was
anything wrong they would be ruined.
And so Szedvilas went on, asking one trembling question after another, while the
eyes of the women folks were fixed upon him in mute agony.
They could not understand what he was saying, but they knew that upon it their
fate depended.
And when at last he had questioned until there was no more questioning to be done,
and the time came for them to make up their minds, and either close the bargain or
reject it, it was all that poor Teta
Elzbieta could do to keep from bursting into tears.
Jokubas had asked her if she wished to sign; he had asked her twice--and what
could she say?
How did she know if this lawyer were telling the truth--that he was not in the
conspiracy? And yet, how could she say so--what excuse
could she give?
The eyes of every one in the room were upon her, awaiting her decision; and at last,
half blind with her tears, she began fumbling in her jacket, where she had
pinned the precious money.
And she brought it out and unwrapped it before the men.
All of this Ona sat watching, from a corner of the room, twisting her hands together,
meantime, in a fever of fright.
Ona longed to cry out and tell her stepmother to stop, that it was all a trap;
but there seemed to be something clutching her by the throat, and she could not make a
sound.
And so Teta Elzbieta laid the money on the table, and the agent picked it up and
counted it, and then wrote them a receipt for it and passed them the deed.
Then he gave a sigh of satisfaction, and rose and shook hands with them all, still
as smooth and polite as at the beginning.
Ona had a dim recollection of the lawyer telling Szedvilas that his charge was a
dollar, which occasioned some debate, and more agony; and then, after they had paid
that, too, they went out into the street,
her stepmother clutching the deed in her hand.
They were so weak from fright that they could not walk, but had to sit down on the
way.
So they went home, with a deadly terror gnawing at their souls; and that evening
Jurgis came home and heard their story, and that was the end.
Jurgis was sure that they had been swindled, and were ruined; and he tore his
hair and cursed like a madman, swearing that he would kill the agent that very
night.
In the end he seized the paper and rushed out of the house, and all the way across
the yards to Halsted Street.
He dragged Szedvilas out from his supper, and together they rushed to consult another
lawyer.
When they entered his office the lawyer sprang up, for Jurgis looked like a crazy
person, with flying hair and bloodshot eyes.
His companion explained the situation, and the lawyer took the paper and began to read
it, while Jurgis stood clutching the desk with knotted hands, trembling in every
nerve.
Once or twice the lawyer looked up and asked a question of Szedvilas; the other
did not know a word that he was saying, but his eyes were fixed upon the lawyer's face,
striving in an agony of dread to read his mind.
He saw the lawyer look up and laugh, and he gave a gasp; the man said something to
Szedvilas, and Jurgis turned upon his friend, his heart almost stopping.
"Well?" he panted.
"He says it is all right," said Szedvilas. "All right!"
"Yes, he says it is just as it should be." And Jurgis, in his relief, sank down into a
chair.
"Are you sure of it?" he gasped, and made Szedvilas translate question after
question. He could not hear it often enough; he could
not ask with enough variations.
Yes, they had bought the house, they had really bought it.
It belonged to them, they had only to pay the money and it would be all right.
Then Jurgis covered his face with his hands, for there were tears in his eyes,
and he felt like a fool.
But he had had such a horrible fright; strong man as he was, it left him almost
too weak to stand up.
The lawyer explained that the rental was a form--the property was said to be merely
rented until the last payment had been made, the purpose being to make it easier
to turn the party out if he did not make the payments.
So long as they paid, however, they had nothing to fear, the house was all theirs.
Jurgis was so grateful that he paid the half dollar the lawyer asked without
winking an eyelash, and then rushed home to tell the news to the family.
He found Ona in a faint and the babies screaming, and the whole house in an
uproar--for it had been believed by all that he had gone to murder the agent.
It was hours before the excitement could be calmed; and all through that cruel night
Jurgis would wake up now and then and hear Ona and her stepmother in the next room,
sobbing softly to themselves.
>
CHAPTER 5
They had bought their home. It was hard for them to realize that the
wonderful house was theirs to move into whenever they chose.
They spent all their time thinking about it, and what they were going to put into
it. As their week with Aniele was up in three
days, they lost no time in getting ready.
They had to make some shift to furnish it, and every instant of their leisure was
given to discussing this.
A person who had such a task before him would not need to look very far in
Packingtown--he had only to walk up the avenue and read the signs, or get into a
streetcar, to obtain full information as to
pretty much everything a human creature could need.
It was quite touching, the zeal of people to see that his health and happiness were
provided for.
Did the person wish to smoke? There was a little discourse about cigars,
showing him exactly why the Thomas Jefferson Five-cent Perfecto was the only
cigar worthy of the name.
Had he, on the other hand, smoked too much? Here was a remedy for the smoking habit,
twenty-five doses for a quarter, and a cure absolutely guaranteed in ten doses.
In innumerable ways such as this, the traveler found that somebody had been
busied to make smooth his paths through the world, and to let him know what had been
done for him.
In Packingtown the advertisements had a style all of their own, adapted to the
peculiar population. One would be tenderly solicitous.
"Is your wife pale?" it would inquire.
"Is she discouraged, does she drag herself about the house and find fault with
everything? Why do you not tell her to try Dr.
Lanahan's Life Preservers?"
Another would be jocular in tone, slapping you on the back, so to speak.
"Don't be a chump!" it would exclaim. "Go and get the Goliath Bunion Cure."
"Get a move on you!" would chime in another.
"It's easy, if you wear the Eureka Two- fifty Shoe."
Among these importunate signs was one that had caught the attention of the family by
its pictures.
It showed two very pretty little birds building themselves a home; and Marija had
asked an acquaintance to read it to her, and told them that it related to the
furnishing of a house.
"Feather your nest," it ran--and went on to say that it could furnish all the necessary
feathers for a four-room nest for the ludicrously small sum of seventy-five
dollars.
The particularly important thing about this offer was that only a small part of the
money need be had at once--the rest one might pay a few dollars every month.
Our friends had to have some furniture, there was no getting away from that; but
their little fund of money had sunk so low that they could hardly get to sleep at
night, and so they fled to this as their deliverance.
There was more agony and another paper for Elzbieta to sign, and then one night when
Jurgis came home, he was told the breathless tidings that the furniture had
arrived and was safely stowed in the house:
a parlor set of four pieces, a bedroom set of three pieces, a dining room table and
four chairs, a toilet set with beautiful pink roses painted all over it, an
assortment of crockery, also with pink roses--and so on.
One of the plates in the set had been found broken when they unpacked it, and Ona was
going to the store the first thing in the morning to make them change it; also they
had promised three saucepans, and there had
only two come, and did Jurgis think that they were trying to cheat them?
The next day they went to the house; and when the men came from work they ate a few
hurried mouthfuls at Aniele's, and then set to work at the task of carrying their
belongings to their new home.
The distance was in reality over two miles, but Jurgis made two trips that night, each
time with a huge pile of mattresses and bedding on his head, with bundles of
clothing and bags and things tied up inside.
Anywhere else in Chicago he would have stood a good chance of being arrested; but
the policemen in Packingtown were apparently used to these informal movings,
and contented themselves with a cursory examination now and then.
It was quite wonderful to see how fine the house looked, with all the things in it,
even by the dim light of a lamp: it was really home, and almost as exciting as the
placard had described it.
Ona was fairly dancing, and she and Cousin Marija took Jurgis by the arm and escorted
him from room to room, sitting in each chair by turns, and then insisting that he
should do the same.
One chair squeaked with his great weight, and they screamed with fright, and woke the
baby and brought everybody running.
Altogether it was a great day; and tired as they were, Jurgis and Ona sat up late,
contented simply to hold each other and gaze in rapture about the room.
They were going to be married as soon as they could get everything settled, and a
little spare money put by; and this was to be their home--that little room yonder
would be theirs!
It was in truth a never-ending delight, the fixing up of this house.
They had no money to spend for the pleasure of spending, but there were a few
absolutely necessary things, and the buying of these was a perpetual adventure for Ona.
It must always be done at night, so that Jurgis could go along; and even if it were
only a pepper cruet, or half a dozen glasses for ten cents, that was enough for
an expedition.
On Saturday night they came home with a great basketful of things, and spread them
out on the table, while every one stood round, and the children climbed up on the
chairs, or howled to be lifted up to see.
There were sugar and salt and tea and crackers, and a can of lard and a milk
pail, and a scrubbing brush, and a pair of shoes for the second oldest boy, and a can
of oil, and a tack hammer, and a pound of nails.
These last were to be driven into the walls of the kitchen and the bedrooms, to hang
things on; and there was a family discussion as to the place where each one
was to be driven.
Then Jurgis would try to hammer, and hit his fingers because the hammer was too
small, and get mad because Ona had refused to let him pay fifteen cents more and get a
bigger hammer; and Ona would be invited to
try it herself, and hurt her thumb, and cry out, which necessitated the thumb's being
kissed by Jurgis.
Finally, after every one had had a try, the nails would be driven, and something hung
up.
Jurgis had come home with a big packing box on his head, and he sent Jonas to get
another that he had bought.
He meant to take one side out of these tomorrow, and put shelves in them, and make
them into bureaus and places to keep things for the bedrooms.
The nest which had been advertised had not included feathers for quite so many birds
as there were in this family.
They had, of course, put their dining table in the kitchen, and the dining room was
used as the bedroom of Teta Elzbieta and five of her children.
She and the two youngest slept in the only bed, and the other three had a mattress on
the floor.
Ona and her cousin dragged a mattress into the parlor and slept at night, and the
three men and the oldest boy slept in the other room, having nothing but the very
level floor to rest on for the present.
Even so, however, they slept soundly--it was necessary for Teta Elzbieta to pound
more than once on the door at a quarter past five every morning.
She would have ready a great pot full of steaming black coffee, and oatmeal and
bread and smoked sausages; and then she would fix them their dinner pails with more
thick slices of bread with lard between
them--they could not afford butter--and some onions and a piece of cheese, and so
they would tramp away to work.
This was the first time in his life that he had ever really worked, it seemed to
Jurgis; it was the first time that he had ever had anything to do which took all he
had in him.
Jurgis had stood with the rest up in the gallery and watched the men on the killing
beds, marveling at their speed and power as if they had been wonderful machines; it
somehow never occurred to one to think of
the flesh-and-blood side of it--that is, not until he actually got down into the pit
and took off his coat. Then he saw things in a different light, he
got at the inside of them.
The pace they set here, it was one that called for every faculty of a man--from the
instant the first steer fell till the sounding of the noon whistle, and again
from half-past twelve till heaven only knew
what hour in the late afternoon or evening, there was never one instant's rest for a
man, for his hand or his eye or his brain.
Jurgis saw how they managed it; there were portions of the work which determined the
pace of the rest, and for these they had picked men whom they paid high wages, and
whom they changed frequently.
You might easily pick out these pacemakers, for they worked under the eye of the
bosses, and they worked like men possessed.
This was called "speeding up the gang," and if any man could not keep up with the pace,
there were hundreds outside begging to try. Yet Jurgis did not mind it; he rather
enjoyed it.
It saved him the necessity of flinging his arms about and fidgeting as he did in most
work.
He would laugh to himself as he ran down the line, darting a glance now and then at
the man ahead of him.
It was not the pleasantest work one could think of, but it was necessary work; and
what more had a man the right to ask than a chance to do something useful, and to get
good pay for doing it?
So Jurgis thought, and so he spoke, in his bold, free way; very much to his surprise,
he found that it had a tendency to get him into trouble.
For most of the men here took a fearfully different view of the thing.
He was quite dismayed when he first began to find it out--that most of the men hated
their work.
It seemed strange, it was even terrible, when you came to find out the universality
of the sentiment; but it was certainly the fact--they hated their work.
They hated the bosses and they hated the owners; they hated the whole place, the
whole neighborhood--even the whole city, with an all-inclusive hatred, bitter and
fierce.
Women and little children would fall to cursing about it; it was rotten, rotten as
hell--everything was rotten.
When Jurgis would ask them what they meant, they would begin to get suspicious, and
content themselves with saying, "Never mind, you stay here and see for yourself."
One of the first problems that Jurgis ran upon was that of the unions.
He had had no experience with unions, and he had to have it explained to him that the
men were banded together for the purpose of fighting for their rights.
Jurgis asked them what they meant by their rights, a question in which he was quite
sincere, for he had not any idea of any rights that he had, except the right to
hunt for a job, and do as he was told when he got it.
Generally, however, this harmless question would only make his fellow workingmen lose
their tempers and call him a fool.
There was a delegate of the butcher- helpers' union who came to see Jurgis to
enroll him; and when Jurgis found that this meant that he would have to part with some
of his money, he froze up directly, and the
delegate, who was an Irishman and only knew a few words of Lithuanian, lost his temper
and began to threaten him.
In the end Jurgis got into a fine rage, and made it sufficiently plain that it would
take more than one Irishman to scare him into a union.
Little by little he gathered that the main thing the men wanted was to put a stop to
the habit of "speeding-up"; they were trying their best to force a lessening of
the pace, for there were some, they said,
who could not keep up with it, whom it was killing.
But Jurgis had no sympathy with such ideas as this--he could do the work himself, and
so could the rest of them, he declared, if they were good for anything.
If they couldn't do it, let them go somewhere else.
Jurgis had not studied the books, and he would not have known how to pronounce
"laissez faire"; but he had been round the world enough to know that a man has to
shift for himself in it, and that if he
gets the worst of it, there is nobody to listen to him holler.
Yet there have been known to be philosophers and plain men who swore by
Malthus in the books, and would, nevertheless, subscribe to a relief fund in
time of a famine.
It was the same with Jurgis, who consigned the unfit to destruction, while going about
all day sick at heart because of his poor old father, who was wandering somewhere in
the yards begging for a chance to earn his bread.
Old Antanas had been a worker ever since he was a child; he had run away from home when
he was twelve, because his father beat him for trying to learn to read.
And he was a faithful man, too; he was a man you might leave alone for a month, if
only you had made him understand what you wanted him to do in the meantime.
And now here he was, worn out in soul and body, and with no more place in the world
than a sick dog.
He had his home, as it happened, and some one who would care for him if he never got
a job; but his son could not help thinking, suppose this had not been the case.
Antanas Rudkus had been into every building in Packingtown by this time, and into
nearly every room; he had stood mornings among the crowd of applicants till the very
policemen had come to know his face and to tell him to go home and give it up.
He had been likewise to all the stores and saloons for a mile about, begging for some
little thing to do; and everywhere they had ordered him out, sometimes with curses, and
not once even stopping to ask him a question.
So, after all, there was a crack in the fine structure of Jurgis' faith in things
as they are.
The crack was wide while Dede Antanas was hunting a job--and it was yet wider when he
finally got it.
For one evening the old man came home in a great state of excitement, with the tale
that he had been approached by a man in one of the corridors of the pickle rooms of
Durham's, and asked what he would pay to get a job.
He had not known what to make of this at first; but the man had gone on with matter-
of-fact frankness to say that he could get him a job, provided that he were willing to
pay one-third of his wages for it.
Was he a boss? Antanas had asked; to which the man had
replied that that was nobody's business, but that he could do what he said.
Jurgis had made some friends by this time, and he sought one of them and asked what
this meant.
The friend, who was named Tamoszius Kuszleika, was a sharp little man who
folded hides on the killing beds, and he listened to what Jurgis had to say without
seeming at all surprised.
They were common enough, he said, such cases of petty graft.
It was simply some boss who proposed to add a little to his income.
After Jurgis had been there awhile he would know that the plants were simply
honeycombed with rottenness of that sort-- the bosses grafted off the men, and they
grafted off each other; and some day the
superintendent would find out about the boss, and then he would graft off the boss.
Warming to the subject, Tamoszius went on to explain the situation.
Here was Durham's, for instance, owned by a man who was trying to make as much money
out of it as he could, and did not care in the least how he did it; and underneath
him, ranged in ranks and grades like an
army, were managers and superintendents and foremen, each one driving the man next
below him and trying to squeeze out of him as much work as possible.
And all the men of the same rank were pitted against each other; the accounts of
each were kept separately, and every man lived in terror of losing his job, if
another made a better record than he.
So from top to bottom the place was simply a seething caldron of jealousies and
hatreds; there was no loyalty or decency anywhere about it, there was no place in it
where a man counted for anything against a dollar.
And worse than there being no decency, there was not even any honesty.
The reason for that?
Who could say? It must have been old Durham in the
beginning; it was a heritage which the self-made merchant had left to his son,
along with his millions.
Jurgis would find out these things for himself, if he stayed there long enough; it
was the men who had to do all the dirty jobs, and so there was no deceiving them;
and they caught the spirit of the place, and did like all the rest.
Jurgis had come there, and thought he was going to make himself useful, and rise and
become a skilled man; but he would soon find out his error--for nobody rose in
Packingtown by doing good work.
You could lay that down for a rule--if you met a man who was rising in Packingtown,
you met a knave.
That man who had been sent to Jurgis' father by the boss, he would rise; the man
who told tales and spied upon his fellows would rise; but the man who minded his own
business and did his work--why, they would
"speed him up" till they had worn him out, and then they would throw him into the
gutter. Jurgis went home with his head buzzing.
Yet he could not bring himself to believe such things--no, it could not be so.
Tamoszius was simply another of the grumblers.
He was a man who spent all his time fiddling; and he would go to parties at
night and not get home till sunrise, and so of course he did not feel like work.
Then, too, he was a puny little chap; and so he had been left behind in the race, and
that was why he was sore. And yet so many strange things kept coming
to Jurgis' notice every day!
He tried to persuade his father to have nothing to do with the offer.
But old Antanas had begged until he was worn out, and all his courage was gone; he
wanted a job, any sort of a job.
So the next day he went and found the man who had spoken to him, and promised to
bring him a third of all he earned; and that same day he was put to work in
Durham's cellars.
It was a "pickle room," where there was never a dry spot to stand upon, and so he
had to take nearly the whole of his first week's earnings to buy him a pair of heavy-
soled boots.
He was a "squeedgie" man; his job was to go about all day with a long-handled mop,
swabbing up the floor. Except that it was damp and dark, it was
not an unpleasant job, in summer.
Now Antanas Rudkus was the meekest man that God ever put on earth; and so Jurgis found
it a striking confirmation of what the men all said, that his father had been at work
only two days before he came home as bitter
as any of them, and cursing Durham's with all the power of his soul.
For they had set him to cleaning out the traps; and the family sat round and
listened in wonder while he told them what that meant.
It seemed that he was working in the room where the men prepared the beef for
canning, and the beef had lain in vats full of chemicals, and men with great forks
speared it out and dumped it into trucks, to be taken to the cooking room.
When they had speared out all they could reach, they emptied the vat on the floor,
and then with shovels scraped up the balance and dumped it into the truck.
This floor was filthy, yet they set Antanas with his mop slopping the "pickle" into a
hole that connected with a sink, where it was caught and used over again forever; and
if that were not enough, there was a trap
in the pipe, where all the scraps of meat and odds and ends of refuse were caught,
and every few days it was the old man's task to clean these out, and shovel their
contents into one of the trucks with the rest of the meat!
This was the experience of Antanas; and then there came also Jonas and Marija with
tales to tell.
Marija was working for one of the independent packers, and was quite beside
herself and outrageous with triumph over the sums of money she was making as a
painter of cans.
But one day she walked home with a pale- faced little woman who worked opposite to
her, Jadvyga Marcinkus by name, and Jadvyga told her how she, Marija, had chanced to
get her job.
She had taken the place of an Irishwoman who had been working in that factory ever
since any one could remember. For over fifteen years, so she declared.
Mary Dennis was her name, and a long time ago she had been seduced, and had a little
boy; he was a cripple, and an epileptic, but still he was all that she had in the
world to love, and they had lived in a
little room alone somewhere back of Halsted Street, where the Irish were.
Mary had had consumption, and all day long you might hear her coughing as she worked;
of late she had been going all to pieces, and when Marija came, the "forelady" had
suddenly decided to turn her off.
The forelady had to come up to a certain standard herself, and could not stop for
sick people, Jadvyga explained.
The fact that Mary had been there so long had not made any difference to her--it was
doubtful if she even knew that, for both the forelady and the superintendent were
new people, having only been there two or three years themselves.
Jadvyga did not know what had become of the poor creature; she would have gone to see
her, but had been sick herself.
She had pains in her back all the time, Jadvyga explained, and feared that she had
womb trouble. It was not fit work for a woman, handling
fourteen-pound cans all day.
It was a striking circumstance that Jonas, too, had gotten his job by the misfortune
of some other person.
Jonas pushed a truck loaded with hams from the smoke rooms on to an elevator, and
thence to the packing rooms.
The trucks were all of iron, and heavy, and they put about threescore hams on each of
them, a load of more than a quarter of a ton.
On the uneven floor it was a task for a man to start one of these trucks, unless he was
a giant; and when it was once started he naturally tried his best to keep it going.
There was always the boss prowling about, and if there was a second's delay he would
fall to cursing; Lithuanians and Slovaks and such, who could not understand what was
said to them, the bosses were wont to kick about the place like so many dogs.
Therefore these trucks went for the most part on the run; and the predecessor of
Jonas had been jammed against the wall by one and crushed in a horrible and nameless
manner.
All of these were sinister incidents; but they were trifles compared to what Jurgis
saw with his own eyes before long.
One curious thing he had noticed, the very first day, in his profession of shoveler of
guts; which was the sharp trick of the floor bosses whenever there chanced to come
a "slunk" calf.
Any man who knows anything about butchering knows that the flesh of a cow that is about
to calve, or has just calved, is not fit for food.
A good many of these came every day to the packing houses--and, of course, if they had
chosen, it would have been an easy matter for the packers to keep them till they were
fit for food.
But for the saving of time and fodder, it was the law that cows of that sort came
along with the others, and whoever noticed it would tell the boss, and the boss would
start up a conversation with the government inspector, and the two would stroll away.
So in a trice the carcass of the cow would be cleaned out, and entrails would have
vanished; it was Jurgis' task to slide them into the trap, calves and all, and on the
floor below they took out these "slunk"
calves, and butchered them for meat, and used even the skins of them.
One day a man slipped and hurt his leg; and that afternoon, when the last of the cattle
had been disposed of, and the men were leaving, Jurgis was ordered to remain and
do some special work which this injured man had usually done.
It was late, almost dark, and the government inspectors had all gone, and
there were only a dozen or two of men on the floor.
That day they had killed about four thousand cattle, and these cattle had come
in freight trains from far states, and some of them had got hurt.
There were some with broken legs, and some with gored sides; there were some that had
died, from what cause no one could say; and they were all to be disposed of, here in
darkness and silence.
"Downers," the men called them; and the packing house had a special elevator upon
which they were raised to the killing beds, where the gang proceeded to handle them,
with an air of businesslike nonchalance
which said plainer than any words that it was a matter of everyday routine.
It took a couple of hours to get them out of the way, and in the end Jurgis saw them
go into the chilling rooms with the rest of the meat, being carefully scattered here
and there so that they could not be identified.
When he came home that night he was in a very somber mood, having begun to see at
last how those might be right who had laughed at him for his faith in America.
>
CHAPTER 6
Jurgis and Ona were very much in love; they had waited a long time--it was now well
into the second year, and Jurgis judged everything by the criterion of its helping
or hindering their union.
All his thoughts were there; he accepted the family because it was a part of Ona.
And he was interested in the house because it was to be Ona's home.
Even the tricks and cruelties he saw at Durham's had little meaning for him just
then, save as they might happen to affect his future with Ona.
The marriage would have been at once, if they had had their way; but this would mean
that they would have to do without any wedding feast, and when they suggested this
they came into conflict with the old people.
To Teta Elzbieta especially the very suggestion was an affliction.
What! she would cry.
To be married on the roadside like a parcel of beggars!
No! No!--Elzbieta had some traditions behind her; she had been a person of
importance in her girlhood--had lived on a big estate and had servants, and might have
married well and been a lady, but for the
fact that there had been nine daughters and no sons in the family.
Even so, however, she knew what was decent, and clung to her traditions with
desperation.
They were not going to lose all caste, even if they had come to be unskilled laborers
in Packingtown; and that Ona had even talked of omitting a veselija was enough to
keep her stepmother lying awake all night.
It was in vain for them to say that they had so few friends; they were bound to have
friends in time, and then the friends would talk about it.
They must not give up what was right for a little money--if they did, the money would
never do them any good, they could depend upon that.
And Elzbieta would call upon Dede Antanas to support her; there was a fear in the
souls of these two, lest this journey to a new country might somehow undermine the old
home virtues of their children.
The very first Sunday they had all been taken to mass; and poor as they were,
Elzbieta had felt it advisable to invest a little of her resources in a representation
of the babe of Bethlehem, made in plaster, and painted in brilliant colors.
Though it was only a foot high, there was a shrine with four snow-white steeples, and
the Virgin standing with her child in her arms, and the kings and shepherds and wise
men bowing down before him.
It had cost fifty cents; but Elzbieta had a feeling that money spent for such things
was not to be counted too closely, it would come back in hidden ways.
The piece was beautiful on the parlor mantel, and one could not have a home
without some sort of ornament.
The cost of the wedding feast would, of course, be returned to them; but the
problem was to raise it even temporarily.
They had been in the neighborhood so short a time that they could not get much credit,
and there was no one except Szedvilas from whom they could borrow even a little.
Evening after evening Jurgis and Ona would sit and figure the expenses, calculating
the term of their separation.
They could not possibly manage it decently for less than two hundred dollars, and even
though they were welcome to count in the whole of the earnings of Marija and Jonas,
as a loan, they could not hope to raise this sum in less than four or five months.
So Ona began thinking of seeking employment herself, saying that if she had even
ordinarily good luck, she might be able to take two months off the time.
They were just beginning to adjust themselves to this necessity, when out of
the clear sky there fell a thunderbolt upon them--a calamity that scattered all their
hopes to the four winds.
About a block away from them there lived another Lithuanian family, consisting of an
elderly widow and one grown son; their name was Majauszkis, and our friends struck up
an acquaintance with them before long.
One evening they came over for a visit, and naturally the first subject upon which the
conversation turned was the neighborhood and its history; and then Grandmother
Majauszkiene, as the old lady was called,
proceeded to recite to them a string of horrors that fairly froze their blood.
She was a wrinkled-up and wizened personage--she must have been eighty--and
as she mumbled the grim story through her toothless gums, she seemed a very old witch
to them.
Grandmother Majauszkiene had lived in the midst of misfortune so long that it had
come to be her element, and she talked about starvation, sickness, and death as
other people might about weddings and holidays.
The thing came gradually.
In the first place as to the house they had bought, it was not new at all, as they had
supposed; it was about fifteen years old, and there was nothing new upon it but the
paint, which was so bad that it needed to be put on new every year or two.
The house was one of a whole row that was built by a company which existed to make
money by swindling poor people.
The family had paid fifteen hundred dollars for it, and it had not cost the builders
five hundred, when it was new.
Grandmother Majauszkiene knew that because her son belonged to a political
organization with a contractor who put up exactly such houses.
They used the very flimsiest and cheapest material; they built the houses a dozen at
a time, and they cared about nothing at all except the outside shine.
The family could take her word as to the trouble they would have, for she had been
through it all--she and her son had bought their house in exactly the same way.
They had fooled the company, however, for her son was a skilled man, who made as high
as a hundred dollars a month, and as he had had sense enough not to marry, they had
been able to pay for the house.
Grandmother Majauszkiene saw that her friends were puzzled at this remark; they
did not quite see how paying for the house was "fooling the company."
Evidently they were very inexperienced.
Cheap as the houses were, they were sold with the idea that the people who bought
them would not be able to pay for them.
When they failed--if it were only by a single month--they would lose the house and
all that they had paid on it, and then the company would sell it over again.
And did they often get a chance to do that?
Dieve! (Grandmother Majauszkiene raised her
hands.) They did it--how often no one could say,
but certainly more than half of the time.
They might ask any one who knew anything at all about Packingtown as to that; she had
been living here ever since this house was built, and she could tell them all about
it.
And had it ever been sold before? Susimilkie!
Why, since it had been built, no less than four families that their informant could
name had tried to buy it and failed.
She would tell them a little about it. The first family had been Germans.
The families had all been of different nationalities--there had been a
representative of several races that had displaced each other in the stockyards.
Grandmother Majauszkiene had come to America with her son at a time when so far
as she knew there was only one other Lithuanian family in the district; the
workers had all been Germans then--skilled
cattle butchers that the packers had brought from abroad to start the business.
Afterward, as cheaper labor had come, these Germans had moved away.
The next were the Irish--there had been six or eight years when Packingtown had been a
regular Irish city.
There were a few colonies of them still here, enough to run all the unions and the
police force and get all the graft; but most of those who were working in the
packing houses had gone away at the next drop in wages--after the big strike.
The Bohemians had come then, and after them the Poles.
People said that old man Durham himself was responsible for these immigrations; he had
sworn that he would fix the people of Packingtown so that they would never again
call a strike on him, and so he had sent
his agents into every city and village in Europe to spread the tale of the chances of
work and high wages at the stockyards.
The people had come in hordes; and old Durham had squeezed them tighter and
tighter, speeding them up and grinding them to pieces and sending for new ones.
The Poles, who had come by tens of thousands, had been driven to the wall by
the Lithuanians, and now the Lithuanians were giving way to the Slovaks.
Who there was poorer and more miserable than the Slovaks, Grandmother Majauszkiene
had no idea, but the packers would find them, never fear.
It was easy to bring them, for wages were really much higher, and it was only when it
was too late that the poor people found out that everything else was higher too.
They were like rats in a trap, that was the truth; and more of them were piling in
every day.
By and by they would have their revenge, though, for the thing was getting beyond
human endurance, and the people would rise and murder the packers.
Grandmother Majauszkiene was a socialist, or some such strange thing; another son of
hers was working in the mines of Siberia, and the old lady herself had made speeches
in her time--which made her seem all the more terrible to her present auditors.
They called her back to the story of the house.
The German family had been a good sort.
To be sure there had been a great many of them, which was a common failing in
Packingtown; but they had worked hard, and the father had been a steady man, and they
had a good deal more than half paid for the house.
But he had been killed in an elevator accident in Durham's.
Then there had come the Irish, and there had been lots of them, too; the husband
drank and beat the children--the neighbors could hear them shrieking any night.
They were behind with their rent all the time, but the company was good to them;
there was some politics back of that, Grandmother Majauszkiene could not say just
what, but the Laffertys had belonged to the
"War Whoop League," which was a sort of political club of all the thugs and rowdies
in the district; and if you belonged to that, you could never be arrested for
anything.
Once upon a time old Lafferty had been caught with a gang that had stolen cows
from several of the poor people of the neighborhood and butchered them in an old
shanty back of the yards and sold them.
He had been in jail only three days for it, and had come out laughing, and had not even
lost his place in the packing house.
He had gone all to ruin with the drink, however, and lost his power; one of his
sons, who was a good man, had kept him and the family up for a year or two, but then
he had got sick with consumption.
That was another thing, Grandmother Majauszkiene interrupted herself--this
house was unlucky. Every family that lived in it, some one was
sure to get consumption.
Nobody could tell why that was; there must be something about the house, or the way it
was built--some folks said it was because the building had been begun in the dark of
the moon.
There were dozens of houses that way in Packingtown.
Sometimes there would be a particular room that you could point out--if anybody slept
in that room he was just as good as dead.
With this house it had been the Irish first; and then a Bohemian family had lost
a child of it--though, to be sure, that was uncertain, since it was hard to tell what
was the matter with children who worked in the yards.
In those days there had been no law about the age of children--the packers had worked
all but the babies.
At this remark the family looked puzzled, and Grandmother Majauszkiene again had to
make an explanation--that it was against the law for children to work before they
were sixteen.
What was the sense of that? they asked. They had been thinking of letting little
Stanislovas go to work.
Well, there was no need to worry, Grandmother Majauszkiene said--the law made
no difference except that it forced people to lie about the ages of their children.
One would like to know what the lawmakers expected them to do; there were families
that had no possible means of support except the children, and the law provided
them no other way of getting a living.
Very often a man could get no work in Packingtown for months, while a child could
go and get a place easily; there was always some new machine, by which the packers
could get as much work out of a child as
they had been able to get out of a man, and for a third of the pay.
To come back to the house again, it was the woman of the next family that had died.
That was after they had been there nearly four years, and this woman had had twins
regularly every year--and there had been more than you could count when they moved
in.
After she died the man would go to work all day and leave them to shift for themselves-
-the neighbors would help them now and then, for they would almost freeze to
death.
At the end there were three days that they were alone, before it was found out that
the father was dead.
He was a "floorsman" at Jones's, and a wounded steer had broken loose and mashed
him against a pillar.
Then the children had been taken away, and the company had sold the house that very
same week to a party of emigrants. So this grim old women went on with her
tale of horrors.
How much of it was exaggeration--who could tell?
It was only too plausible. There was that about consumption, for
instance.
They knew nothing about consumption whatever, except that it made people cough;
and for two weeks they had been worrying about a coughing-spell of Antanas.
It seemed to shake him all over, and it never stopped; you could see a red stain
wherever he had spit upon the floor. And yet all these things were as nothing to
what came a little later.
They had begun to question the old lady as to why one family had been unable to pay,
trying to show her by figures that it ought to have been possible; and Grandmother
Majauszkiene had disputed their figures--
"You say twelve dollars a month; but that does not include the interest."
Then they stared at her. "Interest!" they cried.
"Interest on the money you still owe," she answered.
"But we don't have to pay any interest!" they exclaimed, three or four at once.
"We only have to pay twelve dollars each month."
And for this she laughed at them. "You are like all the rest," she said;
"they trick you and eat you alive.
They never sell the houses without interest.
Get your deed, and see."
Then, with a horrible sinking of the heart, Teta Elzbieta unlocked her bureau and
brought out the paper that had already caused them so many agonies.
Now they sat round, scarcely breathing, while the old lady, who could read English,
ran over it.
"Yes," she said, finally, "here it is, of course: 'With interest thereon monthly, at
the rate of seven per cent per annum.'" And there followed a dead silence.
"What does that mean?" asked Jurgis finally, almost in a whisper.
"That means," replied the other, "that you have to pay them seven dollars next month,
as well as the twelve dollars."
Then again there was not a sound. It was sickening, like a nightmare, in
which suddenly something gives way beneath you, and you feel yourself sinking,
sinking, down into bottomless abysses.
As if in a flash of lightning they saw themselves--victims of a relentless fate,
cornered, trapped, in the grip of destruction.
All the fair structure of their hopes came crashing about their ears.--And all the
time the old woman was going on talking.
They wished that she would be still; her voice sounded like the croaking of some
dismal raven.
Jurgis sat with his hands clenched and beads of perspiration on his forehead, and
there was a great lump in Ona's throat, choking her.
Then suddenly Teta Elzbieta broke the silence with a wail, and Marija began to
wring her hands and sob, "Ai! Ai! Beda man!"
All their outcry did them no good, of course.
There sat Grandmother Majauszkiene, unrelenting, typifying fate.
No, of course it was not fair, but then fairness had nothing to do with it.
And of course they had not known it. They had not been intended to know it.
But it was in the deed, and that was all that was necessary, as they would find when
the time came.
Somehow or other they got rid of their guest, and then they passed a night of
lamentation.
The children woke up and found out that something was wrong, and they wailed and
would not be comforted.
In the morning, of course, most of them had to go to work, the packing houses would not
stop for their sorrows; but by seven o'clock Ona and her stepmother were
standing at the door of the office of the agent.
Yes, he told them, when he came, it was quite true that they would have to pay
interest.
And then Teta Elzbieta broke forth into protestations and reproaches, so that the
people outside stopped and peered in at the window.
The agent was as bland as ever.
He was deeply pained, he said. He had not told them, simply because he had
supposed they would understand that they had to pay interest upon their debt, as a
matter of course.
So they came away, and Ona went down to the yards, and at noontime saw Jurgis and told
him. Jurgis took it stolidly--he had made up his
mind to it by this time.
It was part of fate; they would manage it somehow--he made his usual answer, "I will
work harder."
It would upset their plans for a time; and it would perhaps be necessary for Ona to
get work after all.
Then Ona added that Teta Elzbieta had decided that little Stanislovas would have
to work too.
It was not fair to let Jurgis and her support the family--the family would have
to help as it could.
Previously Jurgis had scouted this idea, but now knit his brows and nodded his head
slowly--yes, perhaps it would be best; they would all have to make some sacrifices now.
So Ona set out that day to hunt for work; and at night Marija came home saying that
she had met a girl named Jasaityte who had a friend that worked in one of the wrapping
rooms in Brown's, and might get a place for
Ona there; only the forelady was the kind that takes presents--it was no use for any
one to ask her for a place unless at the same time they slipped a ten-dollar bill
into her hand.
Jurgis was not in the least surprised at this now--he merely asked what the wages of
the place would be.
So negotiations were opened, and after an interview Ona came home and reported that
the forelady seemed to like her, and had said that, while she was not sure, she
thought she might be able to put her at
work sewing covers on hams, a job at which she would earn as much as eight or ten
dollars a week.
That was a bid, so Marija reported, after consulting her friend; and then there was
an anxious conference at home.
The work was done in one of the cellars, and Jurgis did not want Ona to work in such
a place; but then it was easy work, and one could not have everything.
So in the end Ona, with a ten-dollar bill burning a hole in her palm, had another
interview with the forelady.
Meantime Teta Elzbieta had taken Stanislovas to the priest and gotten a
certificate to the effect that he was two years older than he was; and with it the
little boy now sallied forth to make his fortune in the world.
It chanced that Durham had just put in a wonderful new lard machine, and when the
special policeman in front of the time station saw Stanislovas and his document,
he smiled to himself and told him to go-- "Czia!
Czia!" pointing.
And so Stanislovas went down a long stone corridor, and up a flight of stairs, which
took him into a room lighted by electricity, with the new machines for
filling lard cans at work in it.
The lard was finished on the floor above, and it came in little jets, like beautiful,
wriggling, snow-white snakes of unpleasant odor.
There were several kinds and sizes of jets, and after a certain precise quantity had
come out, each stopped automatically, and the wonderful machine made a turn, and took
the can under another jet, and so on, until
it was filled neatly to the brim, and pressed tightly, and smoothed off.
To attend to all this and fill several hundred cans of lard per hour, there were
necessary two human creatures, one of whom knew how to place an empty lard can on a
certain spot every few seconds, and the
other of whom knew how to take a full lard can off a certain spot every few seconds
and set it upon a tray.
And so, after little Stanislovas had stood gazing timidly about him for a few minutes,
a man approached him, and asked what he wanted, to which Stanislovas said, "Job."
Then the man said "How old?" and Stanislovas answered, "Sixtin."
Once or twice every year a state inspector would come wandering through the packing
plants, asking a child here and there how old he was; and so the packers were very
careful to comply with the law, which cost
them as much trouble as was now involved in the boss's taking the document from the
little boy, and glancing at it, and then sending it to the office to be filed away.
Then he set some one else at a different job, and showed the lad how to place a lard
can every time the empty arm of the remorseless machine came to him; and so was
decided the place in the universe of little
Stanislovas, and his destiny till the end of his days.
Hour after hour, day after day, year after year, it was fated that he should stand
upon a certain square foot of floor from seven in the morning until noon, and again
from half-past twelve till half-past five,
making never a motion and thinking never a thought, save for the setting of lard cans.
In summer the stench of the warm lard would be nauseating, and in winter the cans would
all but freeze to his naked little fingers in the unheated cellar.
Half the year it would be dark as night when he went in to work, and dark as night
again when he came out, and so he would never know what the sun looked like on
weekdays.
And for this, at the end of the week, he would carry home three dollars to his
family, being his pay at the rate of five cents per hour--just about his proper share
of the total earnings of the million and
three-quarters of children who are now engaged in earning their livings in the
United States.
And meantime, because they were young, and hope is not to be stifled before its time,
Jurgis and Ona were again calculating; for they had discovered that the wages of
Stanislovas would a little more than pay
the interest, which left them just about as they had been before!
It would be but fair to them to say that the little boy was delighted with his work,
and at the idea of earning a lot of money; and also that the two were very much in
love with each other.
>
CHAPTER 7
All summer long the family toiled, and in the fall they had money enough for Jurgis
and Ona to be married according to home traditions of decency.
In the latter part of November they hired a hall, and invited all their new
acquaintances, who came and left them over a hundred dollars in debt.
It was a bitter and cruel experience, and it plunged them into an agony of despair.
Such a time, of all times, for them to have it, when their hearts were made tender!
Such a pitiful beginning it was for their married life; they loved each other so, and
they could not have the briefest respite!
It was a time when everything cried out to them that they ought to be happy; when
wonder burned in their hearts, and leaped into flame at the slightest breath.
They were shaken to the depths of them, with the awe of love realized--and was it
so very weak of them that they cried out for a little peace?
They had opened their hearts, like flowers to the springtime, and the merciless winter
had fallen upon them.
They wondered if ever any love that had blossomed in the world had been so crushed
and trampled!
Over them, relentless and savage, there cracked the lash of want; the morning after
the wedding it sought them as they slept, and drove them out before daybreak to work.
Ona was scarcely able to stand with exhaustion; but if she were to lose her
place they would be ruined, and she would surely lose it if she were not on time that
day.
They all had to go, even little Stanislovas, who was ill from
overindulgence in sausages and sarsaparilla.
All that day he stood at his lard machine, rocking unsteadily, his eyes closing in
spite of him; and he all but lost his place even so, for the foreman booted him twice
to waken him.
It was fully a week before they were all normal again, and meantime, with whining
children and cross adults, the house was not a pleasant place to live in.
Jurgis lost his temper very little, however, all things considered.
It was because of Ona; the least glance at her was always enough to make him control
himself.
She was so sensitive--she was not fitted for such a life as this; and a hundred
times a day, when he thought of her, he would clench his hands and fling himself
again at the task before him.
She was too good for him, he told himself, and he was afraid, because she was his.
So long he had hungered to possess her, but now that the time had come he knew that he
had not earned the right; that she trusted him so was all her own simple goodness, and
no virtue of his.
But he was resolved that she should never find this out, and so was always on the
watch to see that he did not betray any of his ugly self; he would take care even in
little matters, such as his manners, and
his habit of swearing when things went wrong.
The tears came so easily into Ona's eyes, and she would look at him so appealingly--
it kept Jurgis quite busy making resolutions, in addition to all the other
things he had on his mind.
It was true that more things were going on at this time in the mind of Jurgis than
ever had in all his life before. He had to protect her, to do battle for her
against the horror he saw about them.
He was all that she had to look to, and if he failed she would be lost; he would wrap
his arms about her, and try to hide her from the world.
He had learned the ways of things about him now.
It was a war of each against all, and the devil take the hindmost.
You did not give feasts to other people, you waited for them to give feasts to you.
You went about with your soul full of suspicion and hatred; you understood that
you were environed by hostile powers that were trying to get your money, and who used
all the virtues to bait their traps with.
The store-keepers plastered up their windows with all sorts of lies to entice
you; the very fences by the wayside, the lampposts and telegraph poles, were pasted
over with lies.
The great corporation which employed you lied to you, and lied to the whole country-
-from top to bottom it was nothing but one gigantic lie.
So Jurgis said that he understood it; and yet it was really pitiful, for the struggle
was so unfair--some had so much the advantage!
Here he was, for instance, vowing upon his knees that he would save Ona from harm, and
only a week later she was suffering atrociously, and from the blow of an enemy
that he could not possibly have thwarted.
There came a day when the rain fell in torrents; and it being December, to be wet
with it and have to sit all day long in one of the cold cellars of Brown's was no
laughing matter.
Ona was a working girl, and did not own waterproofs and such things, and so Jurgis
took her and put her on the streetcar. Now it chanced that this car line was owned
by gentlemen who were trying to make money.
And the city having passed an ordinance requiring them to give transfers, they had
fallen into a rage; and first they had made a rule that transfers could be had only
when the fare was paid; and later, growing
still uglier, they had made another--that the passenger must ask for the transfer,
the conductor was not allowed to offer it.
Now Ona had been told that she was to get a transfer; but it was not her way to speak
up, and so she merely waited, following the conductor about with her eyes, wondering
when he would think of her.
When at last the time came for her to get out, she asked for the transfer, and was
refused.
Not knowing what to make of this, she began to argue with the conductor, in a language
of which he did not understand a word.
After warning her several times, he pulled the bell and the car went on--at which Ona
burst into tears.
At the next corner she got out, of course; and as she had no more money, she had to
walk the rest of the way to the yards in the pouring rain.
And so all day long she sat shivering, and came home at night with her teeth
chattering and pains in her head and back.
For two weeks afterward she suffered cruelly--and yet every day she had to drag
herself to her work.
The forewoman was especially severe with Ona, because she believed that she was
obstinate on account of having been refused a holiday the day after her wedding.
Ona had an idea that her "forelady" did not like to have her girls marry--perhaps
because she was old and ugly and unmarried herself.
There were many such dangers, in which the odds were all against them.
Their children were not as well as they had been at home; but how could they know that
there was no sewer to their house, and that the drainage of fifteen years was in a
cesspool under it?
How could they know that the pale-blue milk that they bought around the corner was
watered, and doctored with formaldehyde besides?
When the children were not well at home, Teta Elzbieta would gather herbs and cure
them; now she was obliged to go to the drugstore and buy extracts--and how was she
to know that they were all adulterated?
How could they find out that their tea and coffee, their sugar and flour, had been
doctored; that their canned peas had been colored with copper salts, and their fruit
jams with aniline dyes?
And even if they had known it, what good would it have done them, since there was no
place within miles of them where any other sort was to be had?
The bitter winter was coming, and they had to save money to get more clothing and
bedding; but it would not matter in the least how much they saved, they could not
get anything to keep them warm.
All the clothing that was to be had in the stores was made of cotton and shoddy, which
is made by tearing old clothes to pieces and weaving the fiber again.
If they paid higher prices, they might get frills and fanciness, or be cheated; but
genuine quality they could not obtain for love nor money.
A young friend of Szedvilas', recently come from abroad, had become a clerk in a store
on Ashland Avenue, and he narrated with glee a trick that had been played upon an
unsuspecting countryman by his boss.
The customer had desired to purchase an alarm clock, and the boss had shown him two
exactly similar, telling him that the price of one was a dollar and of the other a
dollar seventy-five.
Upon being asked what the difference was, the man had wound up the first halfway and
the second all the way, and showed the customer how the latter made twice as much
noise; upon which the customer remarked
that he was a sound sleeper, and had better take the more expensive clock!
There is a poet who sings that "Deeper their heart grows
and nobler their bearing, Whose youth in the fires
of anguish hath died."
But it was not likely that he had reference to the kind of anguish that comes with
destitution, that is so endlessly bitter and cruel, and yet so sordid and petty, so
ugly, so humiliating--unredeemed by the
slightest touch of dignity or even of pathos.
It is a kind of anguish that poets have not commonly dealt with; its very words are not
admitted into the vocabulary of poets--the details of it cannot be told in polite
society at all.
How, for instance, could any one expect to excite sympathy among lovers of good
literature by telling how a family found their home alive with vermin, and of all
the suffering and inconvenience and
humiliation they were put to, and the hard- earned money they spent, in efforts to get
rid of them?
After long hesitation and uncertainty they paid twenty-five cents for a big package of
insect powder--a patent preparation which chanced to be ninety-five per cent gypsum,
a harmless earth which had cost about two cents to prepare.
Of course it had not the least effect, except upon a few roaches which had the
misfortune to drink water after eating it, and so got their inwards set in a coating
of plaster of Paris.
The family, having no idea of this, and no more money to throw away, had nothing to do
but give up and submit to one more misery for the rest of their days.
Then there was old Antanas.
The winter came, and the place where he worked was a dark, unheated cellar, where
you could see your breath all day, and where your fingers sometimes tried to
freeze.
So the old man's cough grew every day worse, until there came a time when it
hardly ever stopped, and he had become a nuisance about the place.
Then, too, a still more dreadful thing happened to him; he worked in a place where
his feet were soaked in chemicals, and it was not long before they had eaten through
his new boots.
Then sores began to break out on his feet, and grow worse and worse.
Whether it was that his blood was bad, or there had been a cut, he could not say; but
he asked the men about it, and learned that it was a regular thing--it was the
saltpeter.
Every one felt it, sooner or later, and then it was all up with him, at least for
that sort of work. The sores would never heal--in the end his
toes would drop off, if he did not quit.
Yet old Antanas would not quit; he saw the suffering of his family, and he remembered
what it had cost him to get a job.
So he tied up his feet, and went on limping about and coughing, until at last he fell
to pieces, all at once and in a heap, like the One-Horse Shay.
They carried him to a dry place and laid him on the floor, and that night two of the
men helped him home.
The poor old man was put to bed, and though he tried it every morning until the end, he
never could get up again. He would lie there and cough and cough, day
and night, wasting away to a mere skeleton.
There came a time when there was so little flesh on him that the bones began to poke
through--which was a horrible thing to see or even to think of.
And one night he had a choking fit, and a little river of blood came out of his
mouth.
The family, wild with terror, sent for a doctor, and paid half a dollar to be told
that there was nothing to be done.
Mercifully the doctor did not say this so that the old man could hear, for he was
still clinging to the faith that tomorrow or next day he would be better, and could
go back to his job.
The company had sent word to him that they would keep it for him--or rather Jurgis had
bribed one of the men to come one Sunday afternoon and say they had.
Dede Antanas continued to believe it, while three more hemorrhages came; and then at
last one morning they found him stiff and cold.
Things were not going well with them then, and though it nearly broke Teta Elzbieta's
heart, they were forced to dispense with nearly all the decencies of a funeral; they
had only a hearse, and one hack for the
women and children; and Jurgis, who was learning things fast, spent all Sunday
making a bargain for these, and he made it in the presence of witnesses, so that when
the man tried to charge him for all sorts of incidentals, he did not have to pay.
For twenty-five years old Antanas Rudkus and his son had dwelt in the forest
together, and it was hard to part in this way; perhaps it was just as well that
Jurgis had to give all his attention to the
task of having a funeral without being bankrupted, and so had no time to indulge
in memories and grief. Now the dreadful winter was come upon them.
In the forests, all summer long, the branches of the trees do battle for light,
and some of them lose and die; and then come the raging blasts, and the storms of
snow and hail, and strew the ground with these weaker branches.
Just so it was in Packingtown; the whole district braced itself for the struggle
that was an agony, and those whose time was come died off in hordes.
All the year round they had been serving as cogs in the great packing machine; and now
was the time for the renovating of it, and the replacing of damaged parts.
There came pneumonia and grippe, stalking among them, seeking for weakened
constitutions; there was the annual harvest of those whom tuberculosis had been
dragging down.
There came cruel, cold, and biting winds, and blizzards of snow, all testing
relentlessly for failing muscles and impoverished blood.
Sooner or later came the day when the unfit one did not report for work; and then, with
no time lost in waiting, and no inquiries or regrets, there was a chance for a new
hand.
The new hands were here by the thousands.
All day long the gates of the packing houses were besieged by starving and
penniless men; they came, literally, by the thousands every single morning, fighting
with each other for a chance for life.
Blizzards and cold made no difference to them, they were always on hand; they were
on hand two hours before the sun rose, an hour before the work began.
Sometimes their faces froze, sometimes their feet and their hands; sometimes they
froze all together--but still they came, for they had no other place to go.
One day Durham advertised in the paper for two hundred men to cut ice; and all that
day the homeless and starving of the city came trudging through the snow from all
over its two hundred square miles.
That night forty score of them crowded into the station house of the stockyards
district--they filled the rooms, sleeping in each other's laps, toboggan fashion, and
they piled on top of each other in the
corridors, till the police shut the doors and left some to freeze outside.
On the morrow, before daybreak, there were three thousand at Durham's, and the police
reserves had to be sent for to quell the riot.
Then Durham's bosses picked out twenty of the biggest; the "two hundred" proved to
have been a printer's error.
Four or five miles to the eastward lay the lake, and over this the bitter winds came
raging.
Sometimes the thermometer would fall to ten or twenty degrees below zero at night, and
in the morning the streets would be piled with snowdrifts up to the first-floor
windows.
The streets through which our friends had to go to their work were all unpaved and
full of deep holes and gullies; in summer, when it rained hard, a man might have to
wade to his waist to get to his house; and
now in winter it was no joke getting through these places, before light in the
morning and after dark at night.
They would wrap up in all they owned, but they could not wrap up against exhaustion;
and many a man gave out in these battles with the snowdrifts, and lay down and fell
asleep.
And if it was bad for the men, one may imagine how the women and children fared.
Some would ride in the cars, if the cars were running; but when you are making only
five cents an hour, as was little Stanislovas, you do not like to spend that
much to ride two miles.
The children would come to the yards with great shawls about their ears, and so tied
up that you could hardly find them--and still there would be accidents.
One bitter morning in February the little boy who worked at the lard machine with
Stanislovas came about an hour late, and screaming with pain.
They unwrapped him, and a man began vigorously rubbing his ears; and as they
were frozen stiff, it took only two or three rubs to break them short off.
As a result of this, little Stanislovas conceived a terror of the cold that was
almost a mania.
Every morning, when it came time to start for the yards, he would begin to cry and
protest.
Nobody knew quite how to manage him, for threats did no good--it seemed to be
something that he could not control, and they feared sometimes that he would go into
convulsions.
In the end it had to be arranged that he always went with Jurgis, and came home with
him again; and often, when the snow was deep, the man would carry him the whole way
on his shoulders.
Sometimes Jurgis would be working until late at night, and then it was pitiful, for
there was no place for the little fellow to wait, save in the doorways or in a corner
of the killing beds, and he would all but fall asleep there, and freeze to death.
There was no heat upon the killing beds; the men might exactly as well have worked
out of doors all winter.
For that matter, there was very little heat anywhere in the building, except in the
cooking rooms and such places--and it was the men who worked in these who ran the
most risk of all, because whenever they had
to pass to another room they had to go through ice-cold corridors, and sometimes
with nothing on above the waist except a sleeveless undershirt.
On the killing beds you were apt to be covered with blood, and it would freeze
solid; if you leaned against a pillar, you would freeze to that, and if you put your
hand upon the blade of your knife, you
would run a chance of leaving your skin on it.
The men would tie up their feet in newspapers and old sacks, and these would
be soaked in blood and frozen, and then soaked again, and so on, until by nighttime
a man would be walking on great lumps the size of the feet of an elephant.
Now and then, when the bosses were not looking, you would see them plunging their
feet and ankles into the steaming hot carcass of the steer, or darting across the
room to the hot-water jets.
The cruelest thing of all was that nearly all of them--all of those who used knives--
were unable to wear gloves, and their arms would be white with frost and their hands
would grow numb, and then of course there would be accidents.
Also the air would be full of steam, from the hot water and the hot blood, so that
you could not see five feet before you; and then, with men rushing about at the speed
they kept up on the killing beds, and all
with butcher knives, like razors, in their hands--well, it was to be counted as a
wonder that there were not more men slaughtered than cattle.
And yet all this inconvenience they might have put up with, if only it had not been
for one thing--if only there had been some place where they might eat.
Jurgis had either to eat his dinner amid the stench in which he had worked, or else
to rush, as did all his companions, to any one of the hundreds of liquor stores which
stretched out their arms to him.
To the west of the yards ran Ashland Avenue, and here was an unbroken line of
saloons--"Whiskey Row," they called it; to the north was Forty-seventh Street, where
there were half a dozen to the block, and
at the angle of the two was "Whiskey Point," a space of fifteen or twenty acres,
and containing one glue factory and about two hundred saloons.
One might walk among these and take his choice: "Hot pea-soup and boiled cabbage
today." "Sauerkraut and hot frankfurters.
Walk in."
"Bean soup and stewed lamb. Welcome."
All of these things were printed in many languages, as were also the names of the
resorts, which were infinite in their variety and appeal.
There was the "Home Circle" and the "Cosey Corner"; there were "Firesides" and
"Hearthstones" and "Pleasure Palaces" and "Wonderlands" and "Dream Castles" and
"Love's Delights."
Whatever else they were called, they were sure to be called "Union Headquarters," and
to hold out a welcome to workingmen; and there was always a warm stove, and a chair
near it, and some friends to laugh and talk with.
There was only one condition attached,--you must drink.
If you went in not intending to drink, you would be put out in no time, and if you
were slow about going, like as not you would get your head split open with a beer
bottle in the bargain.
But all of the men understood the convention and drank; they believed that by
it they were getting something for nothing- -for they did not need to take more than
one drink, and upon the strength of it they
might fill themselves up with a good hot dinner.
This did not always work out in practice, however, for there was pretty sure to be a
friend who would treat you, and then you would have to treat him.
Then some one else would come in--and, anyhow, a few drinks were good for a man
who worked hard.
As he went back he did not shiver so, he had more courage for his task; the deadly
brutalizing monotony of it did not afflict him so,--he had ideas while he worked, and
took a more cheerful view of his circumstances.
On the way home, however, the shivering was apt to come on him again; and so he would
have to stop once or twice to warm up against the cruel cold.
As there were hot things to eat in this saloon too, he might get home late to his
supper, or he might not get home at all.
And then his wife might set out to look for him, and she too would feel the cold; and
perhaps she would have some of the children with her--and so a whole family would drift
into drinking, as the current of a river drifts downstream.
As if to complete the chain, the packers all paid their men in checks, refusing all
requests to pay in coin; and where in Packingtown could a man go to have his
check cashed but to a saloon, where he
could pay for the favor by spending a part of the money?
From all of these things Jurgis was saved because of Ona.
He never would take but the one drink at noontime; and so he got the reputation of
being a surly fellow, and was not quite welcome at the saloons, and had to drift
about from one to another.
Then at night he would go straight home, helping Ona and Stanislovas, or often
putting the former on a car.
And when he got home perhaps he would have to trudge several blocks, and come
staggering back through the snowdrifts with a bag of coal upon his shoulder.
Home was not a very attractive place--at least not this winter.
They had only been able to buy one stove, and this was a small one, and proved not
big enough to warm even the kitchen in the bitterest weather.
This made it hard for Teta Elzbieta all day, and for the children when they could
not get to school.
At night they would sit huddled round this stove, while they ate their supper off
their laps; and then Jurgis and Jonas would smoke a pipe, after which they would all
crawl into their beds to get warm, after putting out the fire to save the coal.
Then they would have some frightful experiences with the cold.
They would sleep with all their clothes on, including their overcoats, and put over
them all the bedding and spare clothing they owned; the children would sleep all
crowded into one bed, and yet even so they could not keep warm.
The outside ones would be shivering and sobbing, crawling over the others and
trying to get down into the center, and causing a fight.
This old house with the leaky weatherboards was a very different thing from their
cabins at home, with great thick walls plastered inside and outside with mud; and
the cold which came upon them was a living thing, a demon-presence in the room.
They would waken in the midnight hours, when everything was black; perhaps they
would hear it yelling outside, or perhaps there would be deathlike stillness--and
that would be worse yet.
They could feel the cold as it crept in through the cracks, reaching out for them
with its icy, death-dealing fingers; and they would crouch and cower, and try to
hide from it, all in vain.
It would come, and it would come; a grisly thing, a specter born in the black caverns
of terror; a power primeval, cosmic, shadowing the tortures of the lost souls
flung out to chaos and destruction.
It was cruel iron-hard; and hour after hour they would cringe in its grasp, alone,
alone.
There would be no one to hear them if they cried out; there would be no help, no
mercy.
And so on until morning--when they would go out to another day of toil, a little
weaker, a little nearer to the time when it would be their turn to be shaken from the
tree.
>