The Jungle | #15

But she did not hear him—she was still in the grip of the fiend. Jurgis could see her outstretched hands, shaking and twitching, roaming here and there over the bed at will, like living things

The winter was coming on again, more menacing and cruel than ever. It was November, and the holiday rush had begun—it was necessary for the machines to grind till late at night, to provide the millions of extra sausages that would be eaten at holiday breakfasts; and Ona, as part of the machine, began working fifteen or sixteen hours a day. There was no choice about this—whatever work there was to be done she had to do, if she wished to keep her place; besides that, it added another pittance to her income, so she staggered on with the awful load. She would start work every morning at seven, and eat her dinner at noon, and then work until ten or eleven at night without another mouthful of food. Jurgis wanted to wait for her, to help her home at night, but she would not think of this; the fertilizer-mill was not running overtime, and there was no place for him to wait save in a saloon. She would stagger out into the darkness, and make her way to the corner, where there was a chance of finding Marija, who was also working overtime. If Marija had gone, she would get into a car, and begin a painful struggle to keep awake; once or twice, in fear of failure, she asked the conductor to call out her street, and was insulted for her trouble. When she got home, she was always too tired to either eat or to undress; she would crawl into bed with she shoes on, and lie like a log. If she should fail, they would certainly be lost; if she held out, they might have enough coal for the winter.

A day or two before Thanksgiving day there came a snow-storm. It began in the afternoon, and by evening two inches had fallen. Jurgis tried to wait for his wife, but went into a saloon to get warm, and took two drinks, and came out and ran home to escape the demon; there he lay down to wait for her, and instantly fell asleep. When he opened his eyes again he was in the midst of a nightmare, and found Elzbieta shaking him and crying with fright. At first he could not realize what she was saying—Ona had not come home. What time was it, he asked. It was morning—time to be up. Ona had not been home that night! And it was bitter cold, and a foot of snow on the ground.

Jurgis sat up with a start. Marija was crying with fright and the children were wailing in sympathy—little Stanislovas in addition, because the terror of the snow was upon him. Jurgis had nothing to put on but his hoes and hit coat, and in half a minute he was out of the door. Then, however, he realized that there was no need of haste, that he had no idea where to go. It was still dark as midnight. And the thick snowflakes were sifting down—everything was so silent that he could hear the rustle of them as they fell. In the few seconds that he stood there hesitating, he was covered white.

He set off at a run for the yards, stopping by the way to inquire in the saloons that were open. Ona might have been overcome on the way; or else she might have met with an accident in the machines. When he got to the place where she worked he inquired of one of the watchmen—there had not been any accident, so far as the man had heard. At the time office, which he found already open, the clerk told him that Ona's check had been turned in the night before, showing that she had left her work.

After that there was nothing for him to do but wait, pacing back and forth in the snow, meantime, to keep from freezing. Already the yards were full of activity—cattle were being unloaded from the cars in the distance, and across the way the "beef-luggers" were toiling in the darkness, carrying two hundred pound quarters of bullocks into the refrigerator cars. Before the first streaks of daylight came the crowding throngs of workingmen, shivering, and swinging their dinner pails as they hurried by. Jurgis took up his stand by the time-office window, where alone there was light enough for him to see; the snow fell so thick that it was only by peering closely that he could make sure that Ona did not pass him.

Seven o'clock came, the hour when the great packing machine began to move. Jurgis ought to have been at his place in the fertilizer-mill; but instead he was waiting, in an agony of fear, for Ona. It was fifteen minutes after the hour when he saw a form emerge from the snow-mist, and sprang towards it with a cry. It was she, running swiftly as she saw him, she staggered forward, and half fell into his outstretched arms.

"What has been the matter?" he cried, anxiously. "Where have you been?"

It was several seconds before she could get breath to answer him. "I couldn't get home," she exclaimed. "The snow—the cars had stopped."

"But where were you then?" he demanded.

"I had to go home with a friend," she panted—"with Jadwiga."

Jurgis drew a deep breath; but then he noticed that she was sobbing and trembling—as if in one of those nervous crises that he dreaded so. "But what's the matter?" he cried. "What has happened?"

"Oh, Jurgis, I was so frightened!" she said, clinging to him wildly. "I have been so worried!"

They were near the time-station window, and people were staring at them. Jurgis led her away. "How do you mean?" he asked, in perplexity.

"I was afraid—I was just afraid!" sobbed Ona. "I knew you wouldn't know where I was, and I didn't know what you might do. I tried to get home, but I was so tired. Oh, Jurgis, Jurgis!"

He was so glad to get her back that he could not think clearly about anything else; it did not seem strange to him that she should be so very much upset; all her fright and incoherent protestations did not matter since he had her back. He let her cry away her fears; and then, because it was nearly eight o'clock, and they would lose another hour if they delayed, he left her at the packing-house door, with her ghastly white face and her haunted eyes of terror.

There was another brief interval. Christmas was almost come; and because the snow still held, and the searching cold, morning after morning Jurgis half carried his wife to her post, staggering with her through the darkness. Until at last, one night, came the end.

It lacked but three days of the holidays. About midnight Marija came home, exclaiming in alarm when she found that Ona had not come. Marija had agreed to meet her; and after waiting, had gone to the room where she worked, only to find that the sausage-hands had quit work an hour before, and left. There was no snow that night, nor was it especially cold; and still Ona had not come! Something more serious must be wrong this time.

They aroused Jurgis, and he say up and listened crossly to the story. She must have gone home again with Jadwiga, he said; Jadwiga lived only two blocks from the yards, and perhaps she had been tired. Nothing could have happened to her—and even if there had, there was nothing could be done about it until morning. Jurgis turned over in his bed, and was snoring again before the two had closed the door.

In the morning, however, he was up and out nearly an hour before the usual time. Jadwiga Marciukus lived on the other side of the yards, beyond Halsted street, with her moth and sisters, in a single basement room—for Mikolas had recently lost one hand from blood-poisoning, and their marriage had been put off forever. The door of the room was in the rear, reached by a narrow court, and Jurgis saw a light in the window and heard something frying as he passed; he knocked, half expecting that Ona would answer.

Instead there was one of Jadwiga's little sisters, who gazed at him through a crack in the door. "Where's Ona?" he demanded: and the child look at him in perplexity. "Ona?" she said.

"Yes," said Jurgis, "isn't she here?"

"No." said the child, and Jurgis gave a start. A moment later came Jadwiga, peering over the child's head. When she saw who it was, she slid around out of sight, for she was not quite dressed. Jurgis must excuse her, she began, her mother was very ill—

"Ona isn't here!" Jurgis demanded, too alarmed to wait for her to finish.

"Why, no," said Jadwiga. "What made you think she would be here? Had she said she was coming?"

"No," he answered. "But she hasn't come home—and I thought she would be here the same as before."

"As before?" echoed Jadwiga, in perplexity.

"The time she spent the night here," said Jurgis.

"There must be some mistake." she answered quickly. "Ona has never spent the night here."

He was only half able to realize her words. "Why-why-" he exclaimed. "Two weeks ago, Jadwiga! She told me so—the night it snowed, and she could not get home."

"There must be some mistake." declared the girl, again, "she didn't come here."

He steadied himself by the door-sill; and Jadwiga in her anxiety—for she was fond of Ona—opened the door wide, holding her jacket across her throat. "Are you sure you didn't misunderstand her?" She cried. "She must have meant somewhere else. She—"

"She said here," insisted Jurgis. "She told me all about you, and how you were, and what you said. Are you sure! You haven't forgotten! You weren't away!"

"No, no!" she exclaimed—and then came a peevish voice—"Jadwiga, you are giving the baby a cold. Shut the door!" Jurgis stood for half a minute more, stammering his perplexity through an eighth of an inch of crack; and then, as there was really nothing more to be said, he excused himself and went away.

He walked on half dazed, without knowing where he went. Ona had deceived him! She had lied to him! And what could it mean—where had she been? Where was she now! He could hardly grasp the thing—much less try to solve it; but a hundred wild surmises came to him, and a sense of impending calamity rushed over him.

Because there was nothing else to do, he went back to the time office to watch again. He waited until nearly an hour after seven, and then went to the room where Ona worked to make inquires of Ona's "boss." The "boss," who was named Connor, he found had not yet come; all the lines of cars that came from downtown were stalled—there had been an accident in the power-house, and no cars had been running since last night. Meantime, however, the sausage machines were grinding on with someone else in charge of them. The man who answered Jurgis was shoveling meat into a hopper, and as he talked he looked to see if he were being watched. Then another came up, wheeling a truck; he knew Jurgis for Ona's husband, and was curious about the mystery.

Maybe the cars had something to do with it, he suggested—maybe she had gone downtown. No, said Jurgis, she never went downtown. Perhaps not, said the man. Jurgis thought he saw him exchange a swift glance with the other as he spoke, and demanded quickly. "What do you know about it?"

But the man had seen that the boss was watching him; he started on again, pushing his truck. "I don't know anything about it." he said, over his shoulder. "How should I know where your wife goes?"

Then Jurgis went out again, and paced up and down before the building. All the morning he stayed there, with no thought of his work. About noon he went to the police-station to make inquiries, and then came back for another anxious vigil. Finally, towards the middle of the afternoon, he set out for home again.

He was walking out Ashland avenue. The street cars had began running again, and several passed him, packed to the steps with people. The sight of them set Jurgis to thinking again of the man's sarcastic remark; and half involuntarily he found himself watching the cars—with the result that he gave a sudden startled exclamation, and stopped short in his tracks.

Then he broke into a run. For a whole block he tore after the car, only a little ways behind. Then gave up, and let it go. That rusty black hat with the drooping red flower, it might not be Ona's, but there was very little likelihood of it. He would know for certain very soon, for she would get out two blocks ahead.

She got out; and as soon as she was out of sight on the side street Jurgis broke into a run. Suspicion was rife in him now, and he was not ashamed to shadow her; he saw her turn the corner near their home, and then he ran again, and saw her as she went up the porch-steps of the house. After that he turned back, and for five minutes paced up and down, his hands clenched tightly and his lips set, his mind in a turmoil. Then he went home and entered.

As he opened the door, Teta Elzbieta was coming out of one of the bed-rooms. She was on tip-toe, and had a finger on her lips. Jurgis waited until she was close to him.

"Don't make any noise," she whispered, hurriedly.

"What's the matter?" he asked.

"Ona is asleep," she panted. "She's been very ill. I'm afraid her mind's been wandering. Jurgis. She was lost on the street all night, and I've only just succeeded in getting her quiet."

"When did she come in?" he asked.

"Soon after you left this morning," said Elzbieta.

"And has she been out since?"

"No, of course not. She's so weak, Jurgis, she—"

And he set his teeth hard together. "You are lying to me," he said.

Elzbieta started, and turned pale. "Why!" she gasped. "What do you mean?"

But Jurgis did not answer. He pushed her aside and stroke to the bed-room door and opened it.

Ona was sitting on the bed. She turned a startled look upon his as he entered. He closed the door in Elzbieta's face and went towards his wife. "Where have you been?" he demanded.

She had her hands clasped tightly in her lap, and he saw that her face was as white as paper, and drawn with pain. She gasped once or twice as she tried to answer him, and then began, speaking low, and swiftly, "Jurgis, I—I think I have been out of my mind. I started to come last night, and I could not find the way. I walked—I walked all night, I think, and—and I only got home—this morning."

"You needed a rest." he said, in a hard tone. "Why did you go out again?"

He was looking her fairly in the face, and he could read the sudden fear and wild uncertainty that leaped into her eyes. "I—I had to go to—to the store." she gasped, almost in a whisper, "I had to go—"

"You are lying to me." said Jurgis.

Then he clenched his hands and took a step towards her. "Why did you lie to me?" he cried, fiercely. "What are you doing that you have to lie to me?"

"Jurgis!" she exclaimed, starting up in fright, "Oh, Jurgis, how can you?"

"You have lied to me, I say!" he cried. "You told me you had been to Jadwiga's house that other night, and you hadn't. You had been where you were last night—somewhere's downtown, for I saw you get off the car. Where were you!"

End of original July 8th, 1905 publication. This following conclusion originally published July 15th, 1905

It was as if he had struck a knife into her. She seemed to go all to pieces. For half a second she stood, reeling and swaying, staring at him with horror in her eyes; then, with a cry of anguish, she tottered forward, stretching out her arms to him.

But he stepped aside, deliberately, and let her fall. She caught herself at the side of the bed, and then sunk down, burying her face in her hands and bursting into frantic weeping.

There came one of those hysterical crises that had so often dismayed him. Ona sobbed and wept, her fear and anguish building themselves up into long climaxes. Furious gusts of emotion would come sweeping over her, shaking her as the tempest shakes the trees upon the hills; all her frame would quiver and throb with them—it was as if some dreadful thing rose up within her and took possession of her, torturing her, tearing her. This thing had been wont to set Jurgis quite beside himself with fear; but now he stood with his lips set tightly, and his hands clenched—she might weep till she killed herself, but she should not move him this time—not an inch, not an inch. Yet the sounds she made set his blood to running cold, and his lips to quivering in spite of himself, and he was glad of the diversion when Teta Elzbieta, pale with fright, opened the door and rushed in.

He turned upon her with an oath. "Go out!" he cried, "Go out!" And then, as she stood hesitating, about to speak, he seized her by the arm, and half flung her from the room, slamming the door and barring it with a table. Then he turned again and faced Ona, crying—"Now, answer me!"

But she did not hear him—she was still in the grip of the fiend. Jurgis could see her outstretched hands, shaking and twitching, roaming here and there over the bed at will, like living things; he could see convulsive shudderings start in her body, and run through her limbs. She was sobbing and choking—it was as if there were too many sounds for one throat, they came chasing each other, like waves upon the sea. Then her voice would begin to rise into screams, louder and louder, until it broke in wild, horrible peals of laughter. Jurgis bore it until he could bear it no longer, and then he sprang at her, seizing her by the shoulders and shaking her, shouting into her ear: "Stop it, I say! Stop it!"

She looked up at him, out of her agony; then she fell forward at his feet. She caught them in her hands, in spite of his efforts to step aside, and with her face upon the floor lay writhing. It made a choking in Jurgis's throat to hear her, and he cried again, more savagely than before: "Stop it, I say!"

This time, she heeded him, and caught her breath and lay silent, save for the gasping sobs that wrenched all her frame. For a long minute she lay there, perfectly motionless, until a cold fear seized her husband, thinking that she was dying. Suddenly, however, he heard her voice, faintly: "Jurgis! Jurgis!"

"What is it?" he said.

He had to bend down to her, she was so weak. She was pleading with him, in broken phrases, painfully uttered; "Have faith in me! Believe me!"

"Believe what?" he cried.

"Believe that I—that I know best—that I love you! And do not ask me—what you did. Oh Jurgis, please, please! It is for the best—it is—"

He started to speak again, but she rushed on, frantically, heading him off. "If you will only do it! If you will only—only believe me! It wasn't my fault—I couldn't help it—it will be all right—it is nothing—it is no harm. Oh Jurgis—please, please!"

She had hold of him, and was trying to raise herself to look at him; he could feel the palsied shaking of her hands, and the heaving of the bosom she pressed against him. She managed to catch one of his hands and gripped it convulsively, drawing it to her face, and bathing it in her tears. "Oh, believe me, believe me!" she wailed again; and he shouted in fury: "I will not!"

But still she clung to him, wailing aloud in despair: "Oh Jurgis, think what you are doing! It will ruin us—it will ruin us! Oh, no, you must not do it! No, don't, don't do it. You must not do it! It will drive me mad—it will kill me—no, no, Jurgis, I am crazy—it is nothing. You do not really need to know. We can be happy—we can love each other just the same. Oh, please, please, believe me!"

Her words drove him wild. He tore his hands loose, and flung her off. "Answer me," he cried, "God damn it, I say—answer me!"

She sunk down upon the floor, beginning to cry again. It was like listening to the moan of a damned soul, and Jurgis could not stand it. He smote his fists upon the table by his side, and shouted again at her. "Answer me!"

She began to scream aloud, her voice like the voice of some wild beast: "Ah! Ah! I can't! I can't do it!"

"Why can't you do it?" he shouted.

"I don't know how!"

He sprang and caught her by the arm, lifting her up, and glaring into her face. "Tell me where you were last night!" he panted. "Quick, out with it!"

Then she began to whisper, one word at a time: "I—was in—a house—downtown——"

"What house? What do you mean?"

She tried to hide her eyes away, but he held her. "Miss Henderson's house," she gasped.

He did not understand at first. "Miss Henderson's house," he echoed. Miss Henderson was the "forelady" of the ham-wrapping room, Ona's former place. And then suddenly, as in an explosion, the horrible truth burst over him, and he reeled and staggered back with a scream. He caught himself against the wall, and put his hand to his forehead, staring about him, and whispering, "Jesus! Jesus!"

Then suddenly he leaped at her, as she lay groveling at his feet. He seized her by the throat. "Tell me!" he gasped, hoarsely, "Quick! Who took you to that place?"

She tried to get away, making him furious; he thought it was fear, or the pain of his clutch—he did not understand that it was the agony of her shame. Still she answered him, "My boss."

"Tell me," he whispered, at last, "tell me about it."

She lay perfectly motionless, and he had to hold his breath to catch her words: "I did not want—to do it," she said; "I tried—I tried not to do it. I only did it—to save us. It was our only chance."

Again, for a space, there was no sound but his panting. Ona's eyes closed, and she she spoke again she did not open them. "He told me—he would discharge me. He told me he would—we would all of us lose our places. We could never get anything to do—here—again. He—he meant it—he would have ruined us."

Jurgis's arms were shaking so that he could scarcely hold himself up, and lurched forward now and then as he listened. "When—when did this begin?" he gasped.

"At the very first," she said. She spoke as if in a trance. "It was all—it was their plot—Miss Henderson's plot. She hated me. And he—he wanted me. She discharged me, so that he could give me a place. Then he began to—to make love to me. He offered me money. He begged me—he said he loved me. Then he threatened me. He knew all about us, he knew we would starve. He knew your boss—he knew Marija's. He would hound us all to death he said—then he said if I would—if I—we would all of us be sure of work—always. Then one day he caught hold of me—he would not let go—he—he——"

"Where was this?"

"In the hallway—at night—after everyone had gone. I could not help it—I thought of you—of the baby—of mother and the children. I was afraid of him—afraid to cry out."

A moment ago her face had been ashen grey, now it was scarlet. She was beginning to breathe hard again. Jurgis made not a sound.

"That was a month ago. Then he wanted me to come—to that house. He wanted me to stay there. He said all of us—that we would not have to work. He made me come there—in the evenings. I told you—you thought I was at the factory. Then—one night it snowed, and I couldn't get back. And then—last night—the cars were stopped. It was such a little thing—to ruin us all. I tried to walk, but I couldn't. I didn't want you to know. It would have—it would have been all right. We could have gone on—just the same—you need never have known about it. He was getting tired of me—he would have let me alone soon. I am going to have a baby—I am getting ugly. He told me that—twice, he told me, last night. He kicked me—last night—too. And now you will kill him—you—you will kill him—and we shall die."

All this he had said without a quiver; she lay still as death—not an eyelid moving. And Jurgis too, said not a word. He lifted himself by the bed, and stood up. He did not stop for another glance at her, but went to the door and opened it. He did not see Elzbieta, crouching terrified in the corner; he went out, hatless, leaving the street door open behind him. The instant his feet were on the sidewalk he broke into a run.

He ran like one possessed, blindly, furiously, looking neither to the right nor left. he was on Ashland Avenue before exhaustion compelled him to slow down, and then, noticing a car, he made a dart for it, and drew himself aboard. His eyes were wild and his hair flying, and he was breathing hoarsely, like a wounded bull; but the people on the car did not notice this particularly—perhaps it seemed natural to them that a man who smelt as Jurgis smelt should exhibit an aspect to correspond. They began to give way before him, as usual. The conductor took his nickle gingerly, with the tips of his finder, and then left him with the platform to himself. Jurgis did not even notice it—his thoughts were far away. Within his soul it was like a roaring furnace; he stood waiting, waiting, crouching as if for a spring.

He had some of his breath back when the car came to the entrance of the yards, and so he leaped off and started again, racing at full speed. People turned and stared at him, but he saw no one—there was the factory, and he bounded through the doorway, and up the stairs, three at a time. He knew the room where Ona worked—he had been there once, at night, out of curiosity. He knew Connor—he looked for him as he sprang into the room.

The machines were racing at full speed, and men and women were toiling busily. He shot one swift glance about the room—the man was not in it. But then suddenly he heard a voice in the corridor and started for it with a bound. In an instant he fronted the boss.

He was a big, red-faced Irishman, coase-featured, and smelling of liquor. He saw Jurgis as he cross the threshold, and turned white. He hesitated one second, as if meaning to run; and in the next his assailant was upon him. He put up his hands to protect his face, but Jurgis, lunging with all the power of his arm and body, struck him fairly between the eyes and knocked him backwards. The next moment he was on top of him, burying his fingers in his throat.

To Jurgis this man's whole presence reeked of the crime he had committed; the touch of his body was madness to him—it set every nerve of him a-tremble, it aroused all the demon in his soul. It had worked its will upon Ona, this great beast—and now he had it, he had it! It was his turn now! Things swam blood before him, and he screamed aloud in his fury, lifting his victim and smashing his head upon the floor.

The room, of course, was in an uproar; women fainting and shrieking, and men rushing in. Jurgis was so bent upon his task that he knew nothing of this, and scarcely realized that people were trying to interfere with him; it was only when half a dozen men had seized him by the legs and shoulders and were pilling at him, that he understood that he was losing his prey. In a flash he had bent down and sunk his teeth into the man's cheek; and when they tore him away he was dripping with blood, and little ribbons of skin were hanging in his mouth.

They got him down upon the floor, clinging to him by his arms and legs, and still they could hardly hold him. He fought like a tiger, writhing and twisting, half flinging them off, and starting toward his unconscious enemy. But yet others rushed in, until there was a little mountain of twisted limbs and bodies, heaving and tossing, and working its way about the room. In the end, by their sheer weight they choked the breath out of him, and then they carried him to the company police station, where he lay still until they had summoned a patrol wagon to take him away.