"Madame Haupt Hebamme", ran a sign, swinging from a second-story window over a saloon on the avenue; at a side door was another sign, with a hand pointing up a dingy flight of stairs. Jurgis went up them, three at a time.
Madame Haupt was frying pork and onions, and had her door half open to let out the smoke. When he tried to knock upon it, it swung open the rest of the way, and he had a glimpse of her, with a black bottle turned up to her lips. Then he knocked louder, and she started and put it away. She was a Dutchwoman, enormously fat — when she walked she rolled like a small boat on the ocean, and the dishes in the cupboard jostled each other. She wore a filthy blue wrapper, and her teeth were black.
"Vot is it?" she said, when she saw Jurgis.
He had run like mad all the way and was so out of breath he could hardly speak. His hair was flying and his eyes wild — he looked like a man that had risen from the tomb. "My wife!" he panted. "Come quickly!" Madame Haupt set the frying pan to one side and wiped her hands on her wrapper.
"You vant me to come for a case?" she inquired.
"Yes," gasped Jurgis.
"I haf yust come back from a case," she said. "I haf had no time to eat my dinner. Still — if it is so bad — "
"Yes — it is!" cried he. "Vell, den, perhaps — vot you pay?"
"I — I — how much do you want?" Jurgis stammered.
"Tventy-five dollars." His face fell. "I can't pay that," he said.
The woman was watching him narrowly. "How much do you pay?" she demanded.
"Must I pay now — right away?"
"Yes; all my customers do."
"I — I haven't much money," Jurgis began in an agony of dread. "I've been in — in trouble — and my money is gone. But I'll pay you — every cent — just as soon as I can; I can work — "
"Vot is your work?"
"I have no place now. I must get one. But I — "
"How much haf you got now?"
He could hardly bring himself to reply. When he said "A dollar and a quarter," the woman laughed in his face.
"I vould not put on my hat for a dollar and a quarter," she said.
"It's all I've got," he pleaded, his voice breaking. "I must get some one — my wife will die. I can't help it — I — "
Madame Haupt had put back her pork and onions on the stove. She turned to him and answered, out of the steam and noise: "Git me ten dollars cash, und so you can pay me the rest next mont'."
"I can't do it — I haven't got it!" Jurgis protested. "I tell you I have only a dollar and a quarter."
The woman turned to her work. "I don't believe you," she said. "Dot is all to try to sheat me. Vot is de reason a big man like you has got only a dollar und a quarter?"
"I've just been in jail," Jurgis cried — he was ready to get down upon his knees to the woman — "and I had no money before, and my family has almost starved."
"Vere is your friends, dot ought to help you?"
"They are all poor," he answered. "They gave me this. I have done everything I can — "
"Haven't you got notting you can sell?"
"I have nothing, I tell you — I have nothing," he cried, frantically.
"Can't you borrow it, den? Don't your store people trust you?" Then, as he shook his head, she went on: "Listen to me — if you git me you vill be glad of it. I vill save your wife und baby for you, and it vill not seem like mooch to you in de end. If you loose dem now how you tink you feel den? Und here is a lady dot knows her business — I could send you to people in dis block, und dey vould tell you — "
Madame Haupt was pointing her cooking-fork at Jurgis persuasively; but her words were more than he could bear. He flung up his hands with a gesture of despair and turned and started away. "It's no use," he exclaimed — but suddenly he heard the woman's voice behind him again —
"I vill make it five dollars for you."
She followed behind him, arguing with him. "You vill be foolish not to take such an offer," she said. "You von't find nobody go out on a rainy day like dis for less. Vy, I haf never took a case in my life so sheap as dot. I couldn't pay mine room rent — "
Jurgis interrupted her with an oath of rage. "If I haven't got it," he shouted, "how can I pay it? Damn it, I would pay you if I could, but I tell you I haven't got it. I haven't got it! Do you hear me I haven't got it!"
He turned and started away again. He was halfway down the stairs before Madame Haupt could shout to him: "Vait! I vill go mit you! Come back!"
He went back into the room again.
"It is not goot to tink of anybody suffering," she said, in a melancholy voice. "I might as vell go mit you for noffing as vot you offer me, but I vill try to help you. How far is it?"
"Three or four blocks from here."
"Tree or four! Und so I shall get soaked! Gott in Himmel, it ought to be vorth more! Vun dollar und a quarter, und a day like dis! — But you understand now — you vill pay me de rest of twenty-five dollars soon?"
"As soon as I can."
"Some time dis mont'?"
"Yes, within a month," said poor Jurgis. "Anything! Hurry up!"
"Vere is de dollar und a quarter?" persisted Madame Haupt, relentlessly.
Jurgis put the money on the table and the woman counted it and stowed it away. Then she wiped her greasy hands again and proceeded to get ready, complaining all the time; she was so fat that it was painful for her to move, and she grunted and gasped at every step. She took off her wrapper without even taking the trouble to turn her back to Jurgis, and put on her corsets and dress. Then there was a black bonnet which had to be adjusted carefully, and an umbrella which was mislaid, and a bag full of necessaries which had to be collected from here and there — the man being nearly crazy with anxiety in the meantime. When they were on the street he kept about four paces ahead of her, turning now and then, as if he could hurry her on by the force of his desire. But Madame Haupt could only go so far at a step, and it took all her attention to get the needed breath for that.
They came at last to the house, and to the group of frightened women in the kitchen. It was not over yet, Jurgis learned — he heard Ona crying still; and meantime Madame Haupt removed her bonnet and laid it on the mantelpiece, and got out of her bag, first an old dress and then a saucer of goose grease, which she proceeded to rub upon her hands. The more cases this goose grease is used in, the better luck it brings to the midwife, and so she keeps it upon her kitchen mantelpiece or stowed away in a cupboard with her dirty clothes, for months, and sometimes even for years.