The Jungle By Upton Sinclair Chapter 27

Chapter 27

Poor Jurgis was now an outcast and a tramp once more. He was crippled — he was as literally crippled as any wild animal which has lost its claws, or been torn out of its shell. He had been shorn, at one cut, of all those mysterious weapons whereby he had been able to make a living easily and to escape the consequences of his actions. He could no longer command a job when he wanted it; he could no longer steal with impunity — he must take his chances with the common herd. Nay worse, he dared not mingle with the herd — he must hide himself, for he was one marked out for destruction. His old companions would betray him, for the sake of the influence they would gain thereby; and he would be made to suffer, not merely for the offense he had committed, but for others which would be laid at his door, just as had been done for some poor devil on the occasion of that assault upon the "country customer" by him and Duane.

And also he labored under another handicap now. He had acquired new standards of living, which were not easily to be altered. When he had been out of work before, he had been content if he could sleep in a doorway or under a truck out of the rain, and if he could get fifteen cents a day for saloon lunches. But now he desired all sorts of other things, and suffered because he had to do without them. He must have a drink now and then, a drink for its own sake, and apart from the food that came with it. The craving for it was strong enough to master every other consideration — he would have it, though it were his last nickel and he had to starve the balance of the day in consequence.

Jurgis became once more a besieger of factory gates. But never since he had been in Chicago had he stood less chance of getting a job than just then. For one thing, there was the economic crisis, the million or two of men who had been out of work in the spring and summer, and were not yet all back, by any means. And then there was the strike, with seventy thousand men and women all over the country idle for a couple of months — twenty thousand in Chicago, and many of them now seeking work throughout the city. It did not remedy matters that a few days later the strike was given up and about half the strikers went back to work; for every one taken on, there was a "scab" who gave up and fled. The ten or fifteen thousand "green" Negroes, foreigners, and criminals were now being turned loose to shift for themselves. Everywhere Jurgis went he kept meeting them, and he was in an agony of fear lest some one of them should know that he was "wanted." He would have left Chicago, only by the time he had realized his danger he was almost penniless; and it would be better to go to jail than to be caught out in the country in the winter time.

At the end of about ten days Jurgis had only a few pennies left; and he had not yet found a job — not even a day's work at anything, not a chance to carry a satchel. Once again, as when he had come out of the hospital, he was bound hand and foot, and facing the grisly phantom of starvation. Raw, naked terror possessed him, a maddening passion that would never leave him, and that wore him down more quickly than the actual want of food. He was going to die of hunger! The fiend reached out its scaly arms for him — it touched him, its breath came into his face; and he would cry out for the awfulness of it, he would wake up in the night, shuddering, and bathed in perspiration, and start up and flee. He would walk, begging for work, until he was exhausted; he could not remain still — he would wander on, gaunt and haggard, gazing about him with restless eyes. Everywhere he went, from one end of the vast city to the other, there were hundreds of others like him; everywhere was the sight of plenty and the merciless hand of authority waving them away. There is one kind of prison where the man is behind bars, and everything that he desires is outside; and there is another kind where the things are behind the bars, and the man is outside.

When he was down to his last quarter, Jurgis learned that before the bakeshops closed at night they sold out what was left at half price, and after that he would go and get two loaves of stale bread for a nickel, and break them up and stuff his pockets with them, munching a bit from time to time. He would not spend a penny save for this; and, after two or three days more, he even became sparing of the bread, and would stop and peer into the ash barrels as he walked along the streets, and now and then rake out a bit of something, shake it free from dust, and count himself just so many minutes further from the end.

So for several days he had been going about, ravenous all the time, and growing weaker and weaker, and then one morning he had a hideous experience, that almost broke his heart. He was passing down a street lined with warehouses, and a boss offered him a job, and then, after he had started to work, turned him off because he was not strong enough. And he stood by and saw another man put into his place, and then picked up his coat, and walked off, doing all that he could to keep from breaking down and crying like a baby. He was lost! He was doomed! There was no hope for him! But then, with a sudden rush, his fear gave place to rage. He fell to cursing. He would come back there after dark, and he would show that scoundrel whether he was good for anything or not!

He was still muttering this when suddenly, at the corner, he came upon a green-grocery, with a tray full of cabbages in front of it. Jurgis, after one swift glance about him, stooped and seized the biggest of them, and darted round the corner with it. There was a hue and cry, and a score of men and boys started in chase of him; but he came to an alley, and then to another branching off from it and leading him into another street, where he fell into a walk, and slipped his cabbage under his coat and went off unsuspected in the crowd. When he had gotten a safe distance away he sat down and devoured half the cabbage raw, stowing the balance away in his pockets till the next day.

Just about this time one of the Chicago newspapers, which made much of the "common people," opened a "free-soup kitchen" for the benefit of the unemployed. Some people said that they did this for the sake of the advertising it gave them, and some others said that their motive was a fear lest all their readers should be starved off; but whatever the reason, the soup was thick and hot, and there was a bowl for every man, all night long. When Jurgis heard of this, from a fellow "hobo," he vowed that he would have half a dozen bowls before morning; but, as it proved, he was lucky to get one, for there was a line of men two blocks long before the stand, and there was just as long a line when the place was finally closed up.

This depot was within the danger line for Jurgis — in the "Levee" district, where he was known; but he went there, all the same, for he was desperate, and beginning to think of even the Bridewell as a place of refuge. So far the weather had been fair, and he had slept out every night in a vacant lot; but now there fell suddenly a shadow of the advancing winter, a chill wind from the north and a driving storm of rain. That day Jurgis bought two drinks for the sake of the shelter, and at night he spent his last two pennies in a "stale-beer dive." This was a place kept by a Negro, who went out and drew off the old dregs of beer that lay in barrels set outside of the saloons; and after he had doctored it with chemicals to make it "fizz," he sold it for two cents a can, the purchase of a can including the privilege of sleeping the night through upon the floor, with a mass of degraded outcasts, men and women.

All these horrors afflicted Jurgis all the more cruelly, because he was always contrasting them with the opportunities he had lost. For instance, just now it was election time again — within five or six weeks the voters of the country would select a President; and he heard the wretches with whom he associated discussing it, and saw the streets of the city decorated with placards and banners — and what words could describe the pangs of grief and despair that shot through him?

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