The Jungle By Upton Sinclair Chapter 18

Chapter 18

Jurgis did not get out of the Bridewell quite as soon as he had expected. To his sentence there were added "court costs" of a dollar and a half — he was supposed to pay for the trouble of putting him in jail, and not having the money, was obliged to work it off by three days more of toil. Nobody had taken the trouble to tell him this — only after counting the days and looking forward to the end in an agony of impatience, when the hour came that he expected to be free he found himself still set at the stone heap, and laughed at when he ventured to protest. Then he concluded he must have counted wrong; but as another day passed, he gave up all hope — and was sunk in the depths of despair, when one morning after breakfast a keeper came to him with the word that his time was up at last. So he doffed his prison garb, and put on his old fertilizer clothing, and heard the door of the prison clang behind him.

He stood upon the steps, bewildered; he could hardly believe that it was true, — that the sky was above him again and the open street before him; that he was a free man. But then the cold began to strike through his clothes, and he started quickly away.

There had been a heavy snow, and now a thaw had set in; fine sleety rain was falling, driven by a wind that pierced Jurgis to the bone. He had not stopped for his-overcoat when he set out to "do up" Connor, and so his rides in the patrol wagons had been cruel experiences; his clothing was old and worn thin, and it never had been very warm. Now as he trudged on the rain soon wet it through; there were six inches of watery slush on the sidewalks, so that his feet would soon have been soaked, even had there been no holes in his shoes.

Jurgis had had enough to eat in the jail, and the work had been the least trying of any that he had done since he came to Chicago; but even so, he had not grown strong — the fear and grief that had preyed upon his mind had worn him thin. Now he shivered and shrunk from the rain, hiding his hands in his pockets and hunching his shoulders together. The Bridewell grounds were on the outskirts of the city and the country around them was unsettled and wild — on one side was the big drainage canal, and on the other a maze of railroad tracks, and so the wind had full sweep.

After walking a ways, Jurgis met a little ragamuffin whom he hailed: "Hey, sonny!" The boy cocked one eye at him — he knew that Jurgis was a "jailbird" by his shaven head. "Wot yer want?" he queried.

"How do you go to the stockyards?" Jurgis demanded.

"I don't go," replied the boy.

Jurgis hesitated a moment, nonplussed. Then he said, "I mean which is the way?"

"Why don't yer say so then?" was the response, and the boy pointed to the northwest, across the tracks. "That way."

"How far is it?" Jurgis asked. "I dunno," said the other. "Mebbe twenty miles or so."

"Twenty miles!" Jurgis echoed, and his face fell. He had to walk every foot of it, for they had turned him out of jail without a penny in his pockets.

Yet, when he once got started, and his blood had warmed with walking, he forgot everything in the fever of his thoughts. All the dreadful imaginations that had haunted him in his cell now rushed into his mind at once. The agony was almost over — he was going to find out; and he clenched his hands in his pockets as he strode, following his flying desire, almost at a run. Ona — the baby — the family — the house — he would know the truth about them all! And he was coming to the rescue — he was free again! His hands were his own, and he could help them, he could do battle for them against the world.

For an hour or so he walked thus, and then he began to look about him. He seemed to be leaving the city altogether. The street was turning into a country road, leading out to the westward; there were snow-covered fields on either side of him. Soon he met a farmer driving a two-horse wagon loaded with straw, and he stopped him.

"Is this the way to the stockyards?" he asked.

The farmer scratched his head. "I dunno jest where they be," he said. "But they're in the city somewhere, and you're going dead away from it now."

Jurgis looked dazed. "I was told this was the way," he said.

"Who told you?"

"A boy."

"Well, mebbe he was playing a joke on ye. The best thing ye kin do is to go back, and when ye git into town ask a policeman. I'd take ye in, only I've come a long ways an' I'm loaded heavy. Git up!"

So Jurgis turned and followed, and toward the end of the morning he began to see Chicago again. Past endless blocks of two-story shanties he walked, along wooden sidewalks and unpaved pathways treacherous with deep slush holes. Every few blocks there would be a railroad crossing on the level with the sidewalk, a deathtrap for the unwary; long freight trains would be passing, the cars clanking and crashing together, and Jurgis would pace about waiting, burning up with a fever of impatience. Occasionally the cars would stop for some minutes, and wagons and streetcars would crowd together waiting, the drivers swearing at each other, or hiding beneath umbrellas out of the rain; at such times Jurgis would dodge under the gates and run across the tracks and between the cars, taking his life into his hands.

He crossed a long bridge over a river frozen solid and covered with slush. Not even on the river bank was the snow white — the rain which fell was a diluted solution of smoke, and Jurgis' hands and face were streaked with black. Then he came into the business part of the city, where the streets were sewers of inky blackness, with horses sleeping and plunging, and women and children flying across in panic-stricken droves. These streets were huge canyons formed by towering black buildings, echoing with the clang of car gongs and the shouts of drivers; the people who swarmed in them were as busy as ants — all hurrying breathlessly, never stopping to look at anything nor at each other. The solitary trampish-looking foreigner, with water-soaked clothing and haggard face and anxious eyes, was as much alone as he hurried past them, as much unheeded and as lost, as if he had been a thousand miles deep in a wilderness.

A policeman gave him his direction and told him that he had five miles to go. He came again to the slum districts, to avenues of saloons and cheap stores, with long dingy red factory buildings, and coalyards and railroad tracks; and then Jurgis lifted up his head and began to sniff the air like a startled animal — scenting the far-off odor of home. It was late afternoon then, and he was hungry, but the dinner invitations hung out of the saloons were not for him.

So he came at last to the stockyards, to the black volcanoes of smoke and the lowing cattle and the stench. Then, seeing a crowded car, his impatience got the better of him and he jumped aboard, hiding behind another man, unnoticed by the conductor. In ten minutes more he had reached his street, and home.

He was half running as he came round the corner. There was the house, at any rate — and then suddenly he stopped and stared. What was the matter with the house?

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