The Jungle By Upton Sinclair Chapter 17

Jurgis would have spoken again, but the policeman had seized him by the collar and was twisting it, and a second policeman was making for him with evidently hostile intentions. So he let them lead him away. Far down the room he saw Elzbieta and Kotrina, risen from their seats, staring in fright; he made one effort to go to them, and then, brought back by another twist at his throat, he bowed his head and gave up the struggle. They thrust him into a cell room, where other prisoners were waiting; and as soon as court had adjourned they led him down with them into the "Black Maria," and drove him away.

This time Jurgis was bound for the "Bridewell," a petty jail where Cook County prisoners serve their time. It was even filthier and more crowded than the county jail; all the smaller fry out of the latter had been sifted into it — the petty thieves and swindlers, the brawlers and vagrants. For his cell mate Jurgis had an Italian fruit seller who had refused to pay his graft to the policeman, and been arrested for carrying a large pocketknife; as he did not understand a word of English our friend was glad when he left. He gave place to a Norwegian sailor, who had lost half an ear in a drunken brawl, and who proved to be quarrelsome, cursing Jurgis because he moved in his bunk and caused the roaches to drop upon the lower one. It would have been quite intolerable, staying in a cell with this wild beast, but for the fact that all day long the prisoners were put at work breaking stone.

Ten days of his thirty Jurgis spent thus, without hearing a word from his family; then one day a keeper came and informed him that there was a visitor to see him. Jurgis turned white, and so weak at the knees that he could hardly leave his cell.

The man led him down the corridor and a flight of steps to the visitors' room, which was barred like a cell. Through the grating Jurgis could see some one sitting in a chair; and as he came into the room the person started up, and he saw that it was little Stanislovas. At the sight of some one from home the big fellow nearly went to pieces — he had to steady himself by a chair, and he put his other hand to his forehead, as if to clear away a mist. "Well?" he said, weakly.

Little Stanislovas was also trembling, and all but too frightened to speak. "They — they sent me to tell you — " he said, with a gulp.

"Well?" Jurgis repeated. He followed the boy's glance to where the keeper was standing watching them. "Never mind that," Jurgis cried, wildly. "How are they?"

"Ona is very sick," Stanislovas said; "and we are almost starving. We can't get along; we thought you might be able to help us."

Jurgis gripped the chair tighter; there were beads of perspiration on his forehead, and his hand shook. "I — can't help you," he said.

"Ona lies in her room all day," the boy went on, breathlessly. "She won't eat anything, and she cries all the time. She won't tell what is the matter and she won't go to work at all. Then a long time ago the man came for the rent. He was very cross. He came again last week. He said he would turn us out of the house. And then Marija — "

A sob choked Stanislovas, and he stopped. "What's the matter with Marija?" cried Jurgis.

"She's cut her hand!" said the boy. "She's cut it bad, this time, worse than before. She can't work and it's all turning green, and the company doctor says she may — she may have to have it cut off. And Marija cries all the time — her money is nearly all gone, too, and we can't pay the rent and the interest on the house; and we have no coal and nothing more to eat, and the man at the store, he says — "

The little fellow stopped again, beginning to whimper. "Go on!" the other panted in frenzy — "Go on!"

"I — I will," sobbed Stanislovas. "It's so — so cold all the time. And last Sunday it snowed again — a deep, deep snow — and I couldn't — couldn't get to work."

"God!" Jurgis half shouted, and he took a step toward the child. There was an old hatred between them because of the snow — ever since that dreadful morning when the boy had had his fingers frozen and Jurgis had had to beat him to send him to work. Now he clenched his hands, looking as if he would try to break through the grating. "You little villain," he cried, "you didn't try!"

"I did — I did!" wailed Stanislovas, shrinking from him in terror. "I tried all day — two days. Elzbieta was with me, and she couldn't either. We couldn't walk at all, it was so deep. And we had nothing to eat, and oh, it was so cold! I tried, and then the third day Ona went with me — "

"Ona!"

"Yes. She tried to get to work, too. She had to. We were all starving. But she had lost her place — "

Jurgis reeled, and gave a gasp. "She went back to that place?" he screamed. "She tried to," said Stanislovas, gazing at him in perplexity. "Why not, Jurgis?"

The man breathed hard, three or four times. "Go — on," he panted, finally.

"I went with her," said Stanislovas, "but Miss Henderson wouldn't take her back. And Connor saw her and cursed her. He was still bandaged up — why did you hit him, Jurgis?" (There was some fascinating mystery about this, the little fellow knew; but he could get no satisfaction.)

Jurgis could not speak; he could only stare, his eyes starting out. "She has been trying to get other work," the boy went on; "but she's so weak she can't keep up. And my boss would not take me back, either — Ona says he knows Connor, and that's the reason; they've all got a grudge against us now. So I've got to go downtown and sell papers with the rest of the boys and Kotrina — "

"Kotrina!"

"Yes, she's been selling papers, too. She does best, because she's a girl. Only the cold is so bad — it's terrible coming home at night, Jurgis. Sometimes they can't come home at all — I'm going to try to find them tonight and sleep where they do, it's so late and it's such a long ways home. I've had to walk, and I didn't know where it was — I don't know how to get back, either. Only mother said I must come, because you would want to know, and maybe somebody would help your family when they had put you in jail so you couldn't work. And I walked all day to get here — and I only had a piece of bread for breakfast, Jurgis. Mother hasn't any work either, because the sausage department is shut down; and she goes and begs at houses with a basket, and people give her food. Only she didn't get much yesterday; it was too cold for her fingers, and today she was crying — "

So little Stanislovas went on, sobbing as he talked; and Jurgis stood, gripping the table tightly, saying not a word, but feeling that his head would burst; it was like having weights piled upon him, one after another, crushing the life out of him. He struggled and fought within himself — as if in some terrible nightmare, in which a man suffers an agony, and cannot lift his hand, nor cry out, but feels that he is going mad, that his brain is on fire —

Just when it seemed to him that another turn of the screw would kill him, little Stanislovas stopped. "You cannot help us?" he said weakly.

Jurgis shook his head.

"They won't give you anything here?"

He shook it again.

"When are you coming out?"

"Three weeks yet," Jurgis answered.

And the boy gazed around him uncertainly. "Then I might as well go," he said.

Jurgis nodded. Then, suddenly recollecting, he put his hand into his pocket and drew it out, shaking. "Here," he said, holding out the fourteen cents. "Take this to them."

And Stanislovas took it, and after a little more hesitation, started for the door. "Good-by, Jurgis," he said, and the other noticed that he walked unsteadily as he passed out of sight.

For a minute or so Jurgis stood clinging to his chair, reeling and swaying; then the keeper touched him on the arm, and he turned and went back to breaking stone.

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