In the face of all his handicaps, Jurgis was obliged to make the price of a lodging, and of a drink every hour or two, under penalty of freezing to death. Day after day he roamed about in the arctic cold, his soul filled full of bitterness and despair. He saw the world of civilization then more plainly than ever he had seen it before; a world in which nothing counted but brutal might, an order devised by those who possessed it for the subjugation of those who did not. He was one of the latter; and all outdoors, all life, was to him one colossal prison, which he paced like a pent-up tiger, trying one bar after another, and finding them all beyond his power. He had lost in the fierce battle of greed, and so was doomed to be exterminated; and all society was busied to see that he did not escape the sentence. Everywhere that he turned were prison bars, and hostile eyes following him; the well-fed, sleek policemen, from whose glances he shrank, and who seemed to grip their clubs more tightly when they saw him; the saloon-keepers, who never ceased to watch him while he was in their places, who were jealous of every moment he lingered after he had paid his money; the hurrying throngs upon the streets, who were deaf to his entreaties, oblivious of his very existence — and savage and contemptuous when he forced himself upon them. They had their own affairs, and there was no place for him among them. There was no place for him anywhere — every direction he turned his gaze, this fact was forced upon him: Everything was built to express it to him: the residences, with their heavy walls and bolted doors, and basement windows barred with iron; the great warehouses filled with the products of the whole world, and guarded by iron shutters and heavy gates; the banks with their unthinkable billions of wealth, all buried in safes and vaults of steel.
And then one day there befell Jurgis the one adventure of his life. It was late at night, and he had failed to get the price of a lodging. Snow was falling, and he had been out so long that he was covered with it, and was chilled to the bone. He was working among the theater crowds, flitting here and there, taking large chances with the police, in his desperation half hoping to be arrested. When he saw a bluecoat start toward him, however, his heart failed him, and he dashed down a side street and fled a couple of blocks. When he stopped again he saw a man coming toward him, and placed himself in his path.
"Please, sir," he began, in the usual formula, "will you give me the price of a lodging? I've had a broken arm, and I can't work, and I've not a cent in my pocket. I'm an honest working-man, sir, and I never begged before! It's not my fault, sir — "
Jurgis usually went on until he was interrupted, but this man did not interrupt, and so at last he came to a breathless stop. The other had halted, and Jurgis suddenly noticed that he stood a little unsteadily. "Whuzzat you say?" he queried suddenly, in a thick voice.
Jurgis began again, speaking more slowly and distinctly; before he was half through the other put out his hand and rested it upon his shoulder. "Poor ole chappie!" he said. "Been up — hic — up — against it, hey?"
Then he lurched toward Jurgis, and the hand upon his shoulder became an arm about his neck. "Up against it myself, ole sport," he said. "She's a hard ole world."
They were close to a lamppost, and Jurgis got a glimpse of the other. He was a young fellow — not much over eighteen, with a handsome boyish face. He wore a silk hat and a rich soft overcoat with a fur collar; and he smiled at Jurgis with benignant sympathy. "I'm hard up, too, my goo' fren'," he said. "I've got cruel parents, or I'd set you up. Whuzzamatter whizyer?"
"I've been in the hospital."
"Hospital!" exclaimed the young fellow, still smiling sweetly, "thass too bad! Same's my Aunt Polly — hic — my Aunt Polly's in the hospital, too — ole auntie's been havin' twins! Whuzzamatter whiz you?"
"I've got a broken arm — " Jurgis began.
"So," said the other, sympathetically. "That ain't so bad — you get over that. I wish somebody'd break my arm, ole chappie — damfidon't! Then they'd treat me better — hic — hole me up, ole sport! Whuzzit you wammme do?"
"I'm hungry, sir," said Jurgis.
"Hungry! Why don't you hassome supper?"
"I've got no money, sir."
"No money! Ho, ho — less be chums, ole boy — jess like me! No money, either — a'most busted! Why don't you go home, then, same's me?"
"I haven't any home," said Jurgis.
"No home! Stranger in the city, hey? Goo' God, thass bad! Better come home wiz me — yes, by Harry, thass the trick, you'll come home an' hassome supper — hic — wiz me! Awful lonesome — nobody home! Guv'ner gone abroad — Bubby on's honeymoon — Polly havin' twins — every damn soul gone away! Nuff — hic — nuff to drive a feller to drink, I say! Only ole Ham standin' by, passin' plates — damfican eat like that, no sir! The club for me every time, my boy, I say. But then they won't lemme sleep there — guv'ner's orders, by Harry — home every night, sir! Ever hear anythin' like that? 'Every mornin' do?' I asked him. 'No, sir, every night, or no allowance at all, sir.' Thass my guv'ner — 'nice as nails, by Harry! Tole ole Ham to watch me, too — servants spyin' on me — whuzyer think that, my fren'? A nice, quiet — hic — goodhearted young feller like me, an' his daddy can't go to Europe — hup! — an' leave him in peace! Ain't that a shame, sir? An' I gotter go home every evenin' an' miss all the fun, by Harry! Thass whuzzamatter now — thass why I'm here! Hadda come away an' leave Kitty — hic — left her cryin', too — whujja think of that, ole sport? 'Lemme go, Kittens,' says I — 'come early an' often — I go where duty — hic — calls me. Farewell, farewell, my own true love — farewell, farewehell, my — own true — love!'"
This last was a song, and the young gentleman's voice rose mournful and wailing, while he swung upon Jurgis's neck. The latter was glancing about nervously, lest some one should approach. They were still alone, however.
"But I came all right, all right," continued the youngster, aggressively, "I can — hic — I can have my own way when I want it, by Harry — Freddie Jones is a hard man to handle when he gets goin'! 'No, sir,' says I, 'by thunder, and I don't need anybody goin' home with me, either — whujja take me for, hey? Think I'm drunk, dontcha, hey? — I know you! But I'm no more drunk than you are, Kittens,' says I to her. And then says she, 'Thass true, Freddie dear' (she's a smart one, is Kitty), 'but I'm stayin' in the flat, an' you're goin' out into the cold, cold night!' 'Put it in a pome, lovely Kitty,' says I. 'No jokin', Freddie, my boy,' says she. 'Lemme call a cab now, like a good dear' — but I can call my own cabs, dontcha fool yourself — and I know what I'm a-doin', you bet! Say, my fren', whatcha say — willye come home an' see me, an' hassome supper? Come 'long like a good feller — don't be haughty! You're up against it, same as me, an' you can unerstan' a feller; your heart's in the right place, by Harry — come 'long, ole chappie, an' we'll light up the house, an' have some fizz, an' we'll raise hell, we will — whoop-la! S'long's I'm inside the house I can do as I please — the guv'ner's own very orders, b'God! Hip! hip!"
They had started down the street, arm in arm, the young man pushing Jurgis along, half dazed. Jurgis was trying to think what to do — he knew he could not pass any crowded place with his new acquaintance without attracting attention and being stopped. It was only because of the falling snow that people who passed here did not notice anything wrong.
Suddenly, therefore, Jurgis stopped. "Is it very far?" he inquired.
"Not very," said the other, "Tired, are you, though? Well, we'll ride — whatcha say? Good! Call a cab!"
And then, gripping Jurgis tight with one hand, the young fellow began searching his pockets with the other. "You call, ole sport, an' I'll pay," he suggested. "How's that, hey?"