The Jungle By Upton Sinclair Chapter 15

"Connor," he gasped. "Who is Connor?"

"The boss," she answered. "The man — "

He tightened his grip, in his frenzy, and only when he saw her eyes closing did he realize that he was choking her. Then he relaxed his fingers, and crouched, waiting, until she opened her lids again. His breath beat hot into her face.

"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 when she spoke again she did not open them. "He told me — he would have me turned off. 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' 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. He used to speak to me — out on the platform. 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 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 every one 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 gray, now it was scarlet. She was beginning to breathe hard again. Jurgis made not a sound.

"That was two months 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 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 she 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 smelled as Jurgis smelled should exhibit an aspect to correspond. They began to give way before him as usual. The conductor took his nickel gingerly, with the tips of his fingers, 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 down the corridor. He knew the room where Ona worked, and he knew Connor, the boss of the loading-gang outside. He looked for the man as he sprang into the room.

The truckmen were hard at work, loading the freshly packed boxes and barrels upon the cars. Jurgis shot one swift glance up and down the platform — the man was not on it. But then suddenly he heard a voice in the corridor, and started for it with a bound. In an instant more he fronted the boss.

He was a big, red-faced Irishman, coarse-featured, and smelling of liquor. He saw Jurgis as he crossed 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 backward. 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 atremble, 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 place, 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 pulling 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.

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