The Jungle | #12

Little Kotrina was like most children of the poor, prematurely made old; she had to take care of her little brother and sister, both of them cripples, and also of the baby, and of Jurgis.

For three weeks after his injury Jurgis never got up from bed. It was a very obstinate sprain; the swelling would not go down, and the pain still continued. At the end of that time, however, he could contain himself no longer, and began trying to walk a little every day, laboring to persuade himself that he was better. No arguments could stop him, and three or four days later he declared that he was going back to work. He limped to the cars and got to Smith's, where he found that the boss had kept his place—that is, he was willing to turn out in the snow the poor devil he had hired in the meantime. Every now and then the pain would force Jurgis to stop work, but he stuck it out till nearly an hour before closing. Then he was forced to acknowledge that he could no go on without fainting; it almost broke his heart to do it, and he stood leaning against a pillar and weeping like a child. Two of the men had to help him to to the car, and when he got out he had to sit and wait in the snow till some one came along.

So they put him to bed again, and sent for the doctor, as they ought to have done in the beginning. It transpired that he had twisted a tendon out of place, and could never have gotten well without attention. Then he gripped the sides of the bed and shut his teeth together and turned white with agony, while the doctor pulled and wrenched away at his swollen ankle. When finally the doctor left, he told him that he would have to lie quiet for two months, and that if he went to work before that time he might lame himself for life.
Three days later there came another heavy snow-storm, and Jonas and Marija and Ona and little Stanislovas all set out together, and hour before day-break, to try to get to the yards. About noon the last two came back, the boy screaming with pain. His fingers were all frosted, it seemed. They had to give up trying to get to the yards, and had nearly perished in a drift. All that they knew how to do was to hold the frozen fingers near the fire, and so little Stanislovas spent most of the day dancing about in horrible agony, till Jurgis flew into a passion of nervous rage and swore like a madman, declaring that he would kill him if he did not stop. All that day and night the family was half-crazed with fear that Ona and the boy had lost their places; and in the morning they set out earlier than ever, after the little fellow had been beaten with a stick by Jurgis. There could be no trifling in a case like this, it was a matter of life and death; little Stanislovas could not be expected to realize that he might a great deal freeze in the snow-drift than lose his place at the lard-machine. Ona was quite certain that she should find her place gone, and was all unnerved when she finally got to Smith's, and found that the forelady herself had failed to come, and was therefore compelled to be lenient.

One of the consequences of this episode was that the first joints of three of the little boy's fingers were permanently disabled, and another that there-after he always had to be beaten before he set out to work, whenever there was fresh snow on the ground. Jurgis was called upon to do the beating, and as it hurt his foot he did it with a vengeance; but it did not tend to add to the sweetness of his temper. They say that the best dog will turn cross if he be kept chained all the time, and it was the same with our friend; he had not a thing to do all day but lie and curse his fate, and the time came when he wanted to curse everything. This was never for very long, however, for when Ona began to cry Jurgis could not stay angry. The poor fellow looked like a homeless ghost, with his cheeks sunken in and his long black hair straggling into his eyes; he was too discouraged to cut it, or to think about his appearance. His muscles were wasting away, and what there was left was soft and flabby; he would feel of them and moan with anguish. He had no appetite—and they could not afford to tempt him with delicacies. It was better, he said, that he should not eat, it was a saving. About the end of March he had got hold of Ona's bank-book, and had been able to read enough to understand that there was only three dollars left to them in the world.

That perhaps the worst of the consequences of this long siege was that they lost another member of their family; Brother Jonas disappeared. One Saturday night he did not come home, and thereafter all their efforts to get trace of him were futile. It was said by the boss at Anderson's that he had gotten his week's money and left there. That might not be true, of course, for sometimes when a man had been killed; it was the easiest way out of it for all concerned—when, for instance, a man had fallen into one of the rendering tanks and had been made into pure leaf lard and peerless fertilizer, what was the use of letting the fact out, and making his family unhappy, and perhaps getting the story into the papers, and stirring up those pests who call themselves reformers? Also it might possible be that Jonas had been robbed and murdered, a thing that happened often in the Jungle. Most probable, however, was the theory that he had deserted them, and this was the one the family adopted in the end. Jonas had been discontented for a long time, and it is true, also, that he had cause to be. He paid good board and was yet obliged to live in a family where nobody had enough to eat. And Marija would keep giving them all her money, and of course he could not but feel that he was called upon to do the same. Then there were crying brats and all sorts of misery—and they were not his children, it was not his fault that anything was as it was. A man would have to be a good deal of a hero to have stood all this without grumbling, and Jonas was not in the least a hero—he was simply a weather-beaten old fellow who like to have a good supper and sit in the corner by the fire and smoke his pipe in peace before he went to bed. Here there was not room enough for all by the fire, and through the winter the kitchen had seldom been warm enough for comfort. So, with the springtime, what was more likely than the wild idea of escaping had come to him? Two years he had been yoked like a horse to a half-ton truck in Anderson's dark cellars, with never a rest, save on Sundays, and four holidays in the year, and with never a word of thank—only kicks and blows and curses, such as no decent dog would have stood. And now the winter was over, and the spring winds were blowing—and with a day's walk a man might put the smoke of Packingtown behind him forever, and be where the grass was green and the flowers all the colors of the rainbow!

The men all knew about this, there were few of them who had not "hoboed it" a few times in their lives, and had no dreamed the wild dream of freedom. Out of the yards every single day there were hundreds of freight cars, and all a man had to do was to hide in one of these, or underneath on the trucks, and the next day he would be in the country. There would be streams where he could wash the stench of Packingtown out of him; there would be barns and hay-stacks in which he could sleep, and hen-roosts which he could rob. If the worst came, he could always earn a square meal by half an hour's work. The only drawback about it all was that the ruthless winter could be coming on again, and then he would have to make his way back to some city, one of a vast throng of hapless wretches joining the already overcrowded ranks of the unemployed. But the winter was a long way off—and if Jonas had stayed, likely as not he might lose his place by that time, or be killed in one of the elevators.

One of the first things the family thought of, that Saturday night when Jonas did not show up, was of Anderson's elevators; when they understood that he had run away, they said to themselves, "Ah, he was afraid of the elevators!" Two men had been killed there on the floor where he worked within the last two months, and Jonas had lost his nerve because of it. The law says that all elevators shall have gates; but probably the law-makers did not realize what an inconvenient law this would be. There were not always gates at Anderson's; and because a man who ran an elevator was paid a little more than a man who pushed a truck, he felt that he had a right to swear at a poor devil who did not make speed to suit him. He would slam over the lever of the elevator the instant the rear wheels of the truck were on, and leave it for the man to follow as best he could. The man's boots would be slippery, coming out of the pickle-rooms, and perhaps he would be out of breath and half dazed from a long run with a truck. At any rate, every now and then there was a sickening accident. The first time it happened where Jonas worked, the man was mashed right in half, and they got the body out of the way and started things up again, so that two or three minutes later, when Jonas came along, there was only the blood to show that anything had happened. But the second time he was right behind the man, who was a friend of his—and who missed his leap into the moving car, and had one of his feet cut off. It was blood-curdling even to hear Jonas tell about this thing; his eyes would pop wide open with horror. The injured man, a poor Slovak, did not faint, but instead rolled round on the floor, shrieking with agony. They sent in haste for the company doctor, and also for the company lawyer. Jonas did not understand what was going on; but he saw the latter kneel down besides the frantic wretch, and heard him ask him if he would not like to go to the hospital, if the company would pay his expenses. The man signified yes, and then the lawyer pulled out a paper and told him to sign it, giving him a pencil, and holding him while he wrote his name, with a hand that shook like a leaf. It was only afterwards that Jonas had it explained to him that what the man had really signed was a statement that he accepted ten dollars as satisfaction of all his damaged claims against Anderson's and Company. As for the hospital, Jonas's informant explained, that was all a damned lie—the city paid for the hospital, and took there all the men that Anderson and Company chose to slaughter. Jonas happened to know that this particular man had a wife and eight children, and he wondered if the city would take them to the hospital too.

Now the income of the family was cut down more than one-third, and the food demand was cut only one-eleventh, so they were worse off than ever. By this time they were borrowing money from Marija, and eating up her bank account; and so immediately it was decided that two more of the children would have to leave school.

Next to Stanislovas, who was now fifteen, there was a girl, little Kotrina, who was two years younger, and then two boys, Vilimui, who was eleven, and Nikalojus, who was ten. Both of these last were bright boys, and there was no reason why their family should starve when tens of thousands of boys no older were earning their own livings and more. So one morning they were given a quarter apiece and a roll with sausages in it, and with their minds top-heavy with good advice, were sent out to make their way to the city and learn to sell newspapers. They came back late at night in tears, having walked the five or six miles, to report that a man had offered to take them to a place where they sold newspapers, and had taken their money and hone into a store to get them, and nevermore been seen. So they both received a whipping, and the next morning set out again. This time they found the newspaper place, and procured their stock; and after wandering about till nearly noontime, saying "Paper?" to everyone they saw, they had all their stock taken away and received a thrashing besides from a big newsman upon who territory they had trespassed. Fortunately, however, they had already sold some papers, and came back with nearly as much as they started with.

After a week of mishaps such as these, the two little fellows began to learn the ways of the Jungle—the names of the different papers that are sold there, and how many of each to get and what sort of people to offer them to, and where to do and where to stay away from. After this, leaving home at four o'clock in the morning and running about the streets, first with morning papers and then with evening, they might come home late at night with twenty or thirty cents apiece—possibly as much as forty cents—in their pockets. From this they had to deduct their car-fare, since the distance was so great; but after awhile they made friends, and learned still more, and then they would save their car-fare. They would get on a car when the conductor was not looking, and hide in the crowd. Three times out of four he would not ask for their fares, either not seeing them, or thinking they had already paid; and if he did not ask, they would hunt through their pockets, and then begin to cry, and either have their fares paid by some kind old lady, or else try the trick again on a new car. All this was fair play in the Jungle; they felt it dimly and instinctively, but had they known the facts they might have justified their arguments—saying that the street-car companies were as much entitled to just dealing as the crews of so many pirate-ships. Not a franchise or a right that they had not stolen, with the help of scoundrelly politicians, and whose fault was it that at the hours when workingmen were going to their work and back, the cars were so crowded that the conductors could not collect all the fares? Not only would the people inside be jammed like rats in a trap, but the platforms would be packed, and men would be hanging to the steps and windows, and even riding upon the roof in the bitterest winter weather.

End of original June 3rd, 1905 publication. This following conclusion to Chapter 12 was published June 10th, 1905.

Now the family finances were about as they had been before Jonas left. This meant that they still had to live on Marija, and so about the same time Teta Elzbieta accepted with joy an opportunity that came to her. It had always been intended that Teta Elzbieta should have the care of the house; but then it had also been intended that the children should go to school, and learn to read English, instead of picking up all the vices of the "Levee"; it had been intended that Ona should stay at home and take care of her child, instead of dragging herself to Smith's to sew hams. All of these fine intentions had been abandoned one by one, and now they abandoned the last. The son of Grandmother Majauskis belonged to a club with a man who worked as a coachman over in Hyde Park, the swell district near the lake-front; and there a woman was wanted to do the dirty work of the kitchen and would get her board and fifteen dollars a month. That would about make things even, and so little Kotrina also left school and came home while her mother went away. It was humiliating to Teta Elzbieta, who had once considered herself a lady, to have to serve as a kitchen-wench; but she took it as a penance, to try to retrieve the disgrace of the brother's desertion. Elzbieta took this much to heart, for to her it meant one more victory of America over Lithuania. Little Kotrina was like most children of the poor, prematurely made old; she had to take care of her little brother and sister, both of them cripples, and also of the baby, and of Jurgis. She had to cook all the meals, and wash the dishes and clean house, and then have supper ready when the workers came home in the evening. She was only thirteen, and small for her age, but she did all this without a murmur, and did it beautifully. She and Jurgis would get on famously, for Kotrina had learned things in school and could borrow games and picture books from her former teacher.

Now that the winter was by, and there was no more danger of snow, and no more coal to buy, and another room warm enough to put the children into when they cried, and enough money to get along from week to week with, Jurgis was less terrible than he had been. A man can get used to anything in the course of time, and Jurgis had gotten used to lying about the house. Ona saw this, and was very careful not to destroy his peace of mind, by letting him know how very much pain she was suffering. It was now the time of the spring rains, and Ona had often to ride to her work, in spite of the expense; she was getting paler every day, and sometimes in spite of her good resolution, it pained her that Jurgis did not notice it. She wondered if he cared for her as much as ever, if all this misery was not wearing out his love. She had to be away from him all the time, and bear her own troubles while he was bearing his; and then, when she came home, she was so worn out; and whenever they talked, they had only their worries to talk of—truly it is hard, in such a life, to keep any sentiment alive. The woe of this would flame up in Ona sometimes—at night she would suddenly clasp her big husband in her arms and break into passionate weeping, demanding to know if he really loved her. Poor Jurgis, who had in truth grown more matter-of-fact, under the endless pressure of penury, would not know what to make of these things, and could only try to recollect when he had last been cross; and so Ona would have to forgive him and sob herself to sleep.

The latter part of April Jurgis went to see the doctor, and was given a bandage to lace about his ankle, and told that he might go back to work. It needed more than the permission of the doctor, however, for when he showed up on the killing-floor of Smith's he was told but the foreman that it had not been possible to keep his job for him. Jurgis knew that this meant simply that the foreman had found some one else to do the work as well, and did not want to bother to make a change. He stood in the doorway looking mournfully on, seeing his friends and companions at work, and feeling like an outcast. Then he went out and took his place with the mob of the unemployed.

This time, however, Jurgis did not have the same fine confidence, nor the same reason for it. He was no longer the finest-looking man in the throng, and the bosses no longer made for him; he was thin and haggard, and his clothes were seedy, and he looked miserable. And there were hundreds who looked and felt just like him, and who had been wandering about Packingtown for months begging for work. This was a critical time in Jurgis's life, and if he had been a weaker man he would have gone the way the rest did. Those out-of-work wretches would stand about the packing-houses every morning till the police drove them away, and then they would scatter among the saloons. Very few of them had the nerve to face the rebuffs that they would encounter by trying to get into the buildings to interview the bosses; if they did not get a chance in the morning, there would be nothing to do but hand about the saloons the rest of the day and night. Jurgis was saved from all this—partly, to be sure, because it was pleasant weather, and there was no need to be indoors—but mainly because he carried with him always the pitiful little face of Ona. He must get work, he told himself, fighting the battle with despair every hour of the day. He must get work. He must have a place again and some money saved up before the next winter came.

But there was no work for him. He sought out all the members of his union—Jurgis had stuck to the union through all this—and begged them to speak a word for him. He went to every one he knew, asking for a chance there or anywhere. He wandered all day through the buildings, asking everyone; and in a week or two, when he had been all over the yards, and into every room to which he had access, and learned that there was not a job anywhere—he persuaded himself that there might have been a change in the places he had first visited, and began the round all over, till finally the watchmen and the "spotters" of the companies came to know him by sight, and to order him out with threats. Then there was nothing more for him to do but go with the crowd in the morning, and look eager, and when he failed, go back home and play with little Kotrina and the baby.

The peculiar bitterness of all this was that Jurgis saw so plainly the meaning of it. In the beginning he had been fresh and strong, and he had gotten a job the first day; but now he was second-hand, so to speak, and they did not want him. He was a damaged article, to put it exactly. And yet it was in their service that he had been damaged! They had got the best out of him, there was the truth—they had worn him out, with their speeding up and their damned carelessness, and now they had thrown him away! And Jurgis would make the acquaintance of some of these unemployed men; he would stroll away with them, and perhaps sit in a saloon and talk a while with them; and he found that they had all the same experience. The packers had gotten the best out of them all. There were some, of course, who had wandered in from other places, who had been ground up in other mills; there were others, who were out from their own fault—some, for instance, who had not been able to stand the awful grind without drink. The vast majority, however, were simply the worn-out parts of the great merciless packing-machine; they had toiled there, and kept up with the pace, some of them for ten or twenty years, until finally the time had come when they could not keep up with it any more. Some had been frankly told that they were too old, that a spryer man was needed; others had given occasion, by some act of carelessness or incompetence; with most, however, the occasion had been the same as with Jurgis. They had been overworked and underfed so long, and finally some disease laid them on their backs; or they had cut themselves, and had blood-poisoning, or met with some other accident. When a man came back after that, he would get his place back only by the courtesy of the boss. The only exception to this was when the accident was one for which the firm was liable; in that case they would send a slippery lawyer to see him, first to try to get him to sign away his claims, but if he was too smart for that, to promise him that he and his should always be provided with work. This promise they would keep, strictly, and to the letter—for two years. Two years was the "statute of limitations" and after that a man could not sue.

What happened to a man after any of these things all depended upon circumstances. If a man were of the highly-skilled workers, he would probably have enough saved up to tide him over. The best-paid men, the "splitters," made fifty cents an hour, which would be five or six dollars a day in the rush seasons, and one or two in the dullest. A man could live and save on that; but then there were only half a dozen splitters in each place, and one of them that Jurgis knew had a family of twenty-two children, all hoping to grow up to be splitters like their father. For an unskilled man, who made ten dollars a week in the rush seasons and five in the dull, it all depended upon his age and the number he had dependent upon him. An unmarried man could save, if he did not drink, and if he was absolutely selfish—that is, if he paid no heed to the demands of his old parents, or of his little brothers and sisters, or of any other relatives he might have, as well as of the members of his union, and his chums, and the people who might be starving to death next door. For a man with a family, there were periods when a brief accident would not be apt to wreck him, and others when almost certainly it would. The ups and downs of it might have been shown on a chart. The first year both he and his wife would be at work, and saving; but then the babies would begin to come, one at a time, or possible two or three at a time—and then the man's chances would go steadily downward, and stay down till the children began to reach an age where they could sell papers or pass for sixteen at the yards. Then the line of his fate would rise again, until the man had a number of grown children, when it would be highest of all. Finally, however, his children would begin to marry and incur responsibilities of their own, and then the line would sink again, to the lowest point of all, and never to rise.

The most striking single fact about Packingtown is the large number of the children, and the next most striking fact is the small number of old people. This is in accordance with two well known laws of nature, the first that those creatures whose order is the lowest and whose existence is the most precarious, cast out into the world the largest number of offspring; and the other—which has been mentioned before—that the creatures of the Jungle never die a natural death. The age at which they began to die an unnatural death in Packingtown could have been ascertained by taking a census of the unemployed who thronged the yards. The number that was there now, in a time of the fullest "prosperity," was appalling; and yet they represented but a small part of those who were thrown out into the packers' scrap-heap every year. Of those who fell sick, or met with accident, a good many never came back to ask for work; and of those who did, the vast majority had given up in despair, and either were living upon others, or dying of starvation and exposure, and the diseases to which these made them liable. Or else they had wandered off to beg for work in some other place; or had gone down into the heart of the city and became prostitutes and beggars and criminals; or had gone out into the country and became tramps and vagrants—all of them certain to perish in the end, of the same cold, the same hunger, and the same diseases, as if they had stayed at home. For the place which is here called the Jungle is not Packingtown, nor is it Chicago, nor is it Illinois, nor is it the United States—it is Civilization.