Even half a year of the sausage machines and the fertilizer mill had not been able to kill the thought of Christmas in them; there was a choking in Jurgis' throat as he recalled that the very night Ona had not come home Teta Elzbieta had taken him aside and shown him an old valentine that she had picked up in a paper store for three cents — dingy and shopworn, but with bright colors, and figures of angels and doves. She had wiped all the specks off this, and was going to set it on the mantel, where the children could see it. Great sobs shook Jurgis at this memory — they would spend their Christmas in misery and despair, with him in prison and Ona ill and their home in desolation. Ah, it was too cruel! Why at least had they not left him alone — why, after they had shut him in jail, must they be ringing Christmas chimes in his ears!
But no, their bells were not ringing for him — their Christmas was not meant for him, they were simply not counting him at all. He was of no consequence — he was flung aside, like a bit of trash, the carcass of some animal. It was horrible, horrible! His wife might be dying, his baby might be starving, his whole family might be perishing in the cold — and all the while they were ringing their Christmas chimes! And the bitter mockery of it — all this was punishment for him! They put him in a place where the snow could not beat in, where the cold could not eat through his bones; they brought him food and drink — why, in the name of heaven, if they must punish him, did they not put his family in jail and leave him outside — why could they find no better way to punish him than to leave three weak women and six helpless children to starve and freeze? That was their law, that was their justice!
Jurgis stood upright; trembling with passion, his hands clenched and his arms upraised, his whole soul ablaze with hatred and defiance. Ten thousand curses upon them and their law! Their justice — it was a lie, it was a lie, a hideous, brutal lie, a thing too black and hateful for any world but a world of nightmares. It was a sham and a loathsome mockery. There was no justice, there was no right, anywhere in it — it was only force, it was tyranny, the will and the power, reckless and unrestrained! They had ground him beneath their heel, they had devoured all his substance; they had murdered his old father, they had broken and wrecked his wife, they had crushed and cowed his whole family; and now they were through with him, they had no further use for him — and because he had interfered with them, had gotten in their way, this was what they had done to him! They had put him behind bars, as if he had been a wild beast, a thing without sense or reason, without rights, without affections, without feelings. Nay, they would not even have treated a beast as they had treated him! Would any man in his senses have trapped a wild thing in its lair, and left its young behind to die?
These midnight hours were fateful ones to Jurgis; in them was the beginning of his rebellion, of his outlawry and his unbelief. He had no wit to trace back the social crime to its far sources — he could not say that it was the thing men have called "the system" that was crushing him to the earth that it was the packers, his masters, who had bought up the law of the land, and had dealt out their brutal will to him from the seat of justice. He only knew that he was wronged, and that the world had wronged him; that the law, that society, with all its powers, had declared itself his foe. And every hour his soul grew blacker, every hour he dreamed new dreams of vengeance, of defiance, of raging, frenzied hate.
The vilest deeds, like poison weeds, Bloom well in prison air; It is only what is good in Man That wastes and withers there; Pale Anguish keeps the heavy gate, And the Warder is Despair.
So wrote a poet, to whom the world had dealt its justice —
I know not whether Laws be right, Or whether Laws be wrong; All that we know who lie in gaol Is that the wall is strong. And they do well to hide their hell, For in it things are done That Son of God nor son of Man Ever should look upon!