The Jungle By Upton Sinclair Chapter 25

Chapter 25

Jurgis got up, wild with rage, but the door was shut and the great castle was dark and impregnable. Then the icy teeth of the blast bit into him, and he turned and went away at a run.

When he stopped again it was because he was coming to frequented streets and did not wish to attract attention. In spite of that last humiliation, his heart was thumping fast with triumph. He had come out ahead on that deal! He put his hand into his trousers' pocket every now and then, to make sure that the precious hundred-dollar bill was still there.

Yet he was in a plight — a curious and even dreadful plight, when he came to realize it. He had not a single cent but that one bill! And he had to find some shelter that night he had to change it!

Jurgis spent half an hour walking and debating the problem. There was no one he could go to for help — he had to manage it all alone. To get it changed in a lodging-house would be to take his life in his hands — he would almost certainly be robbed, and perhaps murdered, before morning. He might go to some hotel or railroad depot and ask to have it changed; but what would they think, seeing a "bum" like him with a hundred dollars? He would probably be arrested if he tried it; and what story could he tell? On the morrow Freddie Jones would discover his loss, and there would be a hunt for him, and he would lose his money. The only other plan he could think of was to try in a saloon. He might pay them to change it, if it could not be done otherwise.

He began peering into places as he walked; he passed several as being too crowded — then finally, chancing upon one where the bartender was all alone, he gripped his hands in sudden resolution and went in.

"Can you change me a hundred-dollar bill?" he demanded.

The bartender was a big, husky fellow, with the jaw of a prize fighter, and a three weeks' stubble of hair upon it. He stared at Jurgis. "What's that youse say?" he demanded.

"I said, could you change me a hundred-dollar bill?"

"Where'd youse get it?" he inquired incredulously.

"Never mind," said Jurgis; "I've got it, and I want it changed. I'll pay you if you'll do it."

The other stared at him hard. "Lemme see it," he said.

"Will you change it?" Jurgis demanded, gripping it tightly in his pocket.

"How the hell can I know if it's good or not?" retorted the bartender. "Whatcher take me for, hey?"

Then Jurgis slowly and warily approached him; he took out the bill, and fumbled it for a moment, while the man stared at him with hostile eyes across the counter. Then finally he handed it over.

The other took it, and began to examine it; he smoothed it between his fingers, and held it up to the light; he turned it over, and upside down, and edgeways. It was new and rather stiff, and that made him dubious. Jurgis was watching him like a cat all the time.

"Humph," he said, finally, and gazed at the stranger, sizing him up — a ragged, ill-smelling tramp, with no overcoat and one arm in a sling — and a hundred-dollar bill! "Want to buy anything?" he demanded.

"Yes," said Jurgis, "I'll take a glass of beer."

"All right," said the other, "I'll change it." And he put the bill in his pocket, and poured Jurgis out a glass of beer, and set it on the counter. Then he turned to the cash register, and punched up five cents, and began to pull money out of the drawer. Finally, he faced Jurgis, counting it out — two dimes, a quarter, and fifty cents. "There," he said.

For a second Jurgis waited, expecting to see him turn again. "My ninety-nine dollars," he said.

"What ninety-nine dollars?" demanded the bartender.

"My change!" he cried — "the rest of my hundred!"

"Go on," said the bartender, "you're nutty!"

And Jurgis stared at him with wild eyes. For an instant horror reigned in him — black, paralyzing, awful horror, clutching him at the heart; and then came rage, in surging, blinding floods — he screamed aloud, and seized the glass and hurled it at the other's head. The man ducked, and it missed him by half an inch; he rose again and faced Jurgis, who was vaulting over the bar with his one well arm, and dealt him a smashing blow in the face, hurling him backward upon the floor. Then, as Jurgis scrambled to his feet again and started round the counter after him, he shouted at the top of his voice, "Help! help!"

Jurgis seized a bottle off the counter as he ran; and as the bartender made a leap he hurled the missile at him with all his force. It just grazed his head, and shivered into a thousand pieces against the post of the door. Then Jurgis started back, rushing at the man again in the middle of the room. This time, in his blind frenzy, he came without a bottle, and that was all the bartender wanted — he met him halfway and floored him with a sledgehammer drive between the eyes. An instant later the screen doors flew open, and two men rushed in — just as Jurgis was getting to his feet again, foaming at the mouth with rage, and trying to tear his broken arm out of its bandages.

"Look out!" shouted the bartender. "He's got a knife!" Then, seeing that the two were disposed to join the fray, he made another rush at Jurgis, and knocked aside his feeble defense and sent him tumbling again; and the three flung themselves upon him, rolling and kicking about the place.

A second later a policeman dashed in, and the bartender yelled once more — "Look out for his knife!" Jurgis had fought himself half to his knees, when the policeman made a leap at him, and cracked him across the face with his club. Though the blow staggered him, the wild-beast frenzy still blazed in him, and he got to his feet, lunging into the air. Then again the club descended, full upon his head, and he dropped like a log to the floor.

The policeman crouched over him, clutching his stick, waiting for him to try to rise again; and meantime the barkeeper got up, and put his hand to his head. "Christ!" he said, "I thought I was done for that time. Did he cut me?"

"Don't see anything, Jake," said the policeman. "What's the matter with him?"

"Just crazy drunk," said the other. "A lame duck, too — but he 'most got me under the bar. Youse had better call the wagon, Billy."

"No," said the officer. "He's got no more fight in him, I guess — and he's only got a block to go." He twisted his hand in Jurgis's collar and jerked at him. "Git up here, you!" he commanded.

But Jurgis did not move, and the bartender went behind the bar, and after stowing the hundred-dollar bill away in a safe hiding place, came and poured a glass of water over Jurgis. Then, as the latter began to moan feebly, the policeman got him to his feet and dragged him out of the place. The station house was just around the corner, and so in a few minutes Jurgis was in a cell.

He spent half the night lying unconscious, and the balance moaning in torment, with a blinding headache and a racking thirst. Now and then he cried aloud for a drink of water, but there was no one to hear him. There were others in that same station house with split heads and a fever; there were hundreds of them in the great city, and tens of thousands of them in the great land, and there was no one to hear any of them.

In the morning Jurgis was given a cup of water and a piece of bread, and then hustled into a patrol wagon and driven to the nearest police court. He sat in the pen with a score of others until his turn came.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

At the end of The Jungle, Marija is working as a




Quiz