The Jungle By Upton Sinclair Chapter 19

Then they escorted her to the ladder, and Jurgis heard her give an exclamation of dismay. "Gott in Himmel, vot for haf you brought me to a place like dis? I could not climb up dot ladder. I could not git troo a trap door! I vill not try it — vy, I might kill myself already. Vot sort of a place is dot for a woman to bear a child in — up in a garret, mit only a ladder to it? You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!" Jurgis stood in the doorway and listened to her scolding, half drowning out the horrible moans and screams of Ona.

At last Aniele succeeded in pacifying her, and she essayed the ascent; then, however, she had to be stopped while the old woman cautioned her about the floor of the garret. They had no real floor — they had laid old boards in one part to make a place for the family to live; it was all right and safe there, but the other part of the garret had only the joists of the floor, and the lath and plaster of the ceiling below, and if one stepped on this there would be a catastrophe. As it was half dark up above, perhaps one of the others had best go up first with a candle. Then there were more outcries and threatening, until at last Jurgis had a vision of a pair of elephantine legs disappearing through the trap door, and felt the house shake as Madame Haupt started to walk. Then suddenly Aniele came to him and took him by the arm.

"Now," she said, "you go away. Do as I tell you — you have done all you can, and you are only in the way. Go away and stay away."

"But where shall I go?" Jurgis asked, helplessly.

"I don't know where," she answered. "Go on the street, if there is no other place — only go! And stay all night!"

In the end she and Marija pushed him out of the door and shut it behind him. It was just about sundown, and it was turning cold — the rain had changed to snow, and the slush was freezing. Jurgis shivered in his thin clothing, and put his hands into his pockets and started away. He had not eaten since morning, and he felt weak and ill; with a sudden throb of hope he recollected he was only a few blocks from the saloon where he had been wont to eat his dinner. They might have mercy on him there, or he might meet a friend. He set out for the place as fast as he could walk.

"Hello, Jack," said the saloonkeeper, when he entered — they call all foreigners and unskilled men "Jack" in Packingtown. "Where've you been?"

Jurgis went straight to the bar. "I've been in jail," he said, "and I've just got out. I walked home all the way, and I've not a cent, and had nothing to eat since this morning. And I've lost my home, and my wife's ill, and I'm done up."

The saloonkeeper gazed at him, with his haggard white face and his blue trembling lips. Then he pushed a big bottle toward him. "Fill her up!" he said.

Jurgis could hardly hold the bottle, his hands shook so.

"Don't be afraid," said the saloonkeeper, "fill her up!"

So Jurgis drank a large glass of whisky, and then turned to the lunch counter, in obedience to the other's suggestion. He ate all he dared, stuffing it in as fast as he could; and then, after trying to speak his gratitude, he went and sat down by the big red stove in the middle of the room.

It was too good to last, however — like all things in this hard world. His soaked clothing began to steam, and the horrible stench of fertilizer to fill the room. In an hour or so the packing houses would be closing and the men coming in from their work; and they would not come into a place that smelt of Jurgis. Also it was Saturday night, and in a couple of hours would come a violin and a cornet, and in the rear part of the saloon the families of the neighborhood would dance and feast upon wienerwurst and lager, until two or three o'clock in the morning. The saloon-keeper coughed once or twice, and then remarked, "Say, Jack, I'm afraid you'll have to quit."

He was used to the sight of human wrecks, this saloonkeeper; he "fired" dozens of them every night, just as haggard and cold and forlorn as this one. But they were all men who had given up and been counted out, while Jurgis was still in the fight, and had reminders of decency about him. As he got up meekly, the other reflected that he had always been a steady man, and might soon be a good customer again. "You've been up against it, I see," he said. "Come this way."

In the rear of the saloon were the cellar stairs. There was a door above and another below, both safely padlocked, making the stairs an admirable place to stow away a customer who might still chance to have money, or a political light whom it was not advisable to kick out of doors.

So Jurgis spent the night. The whisky had only half warmed him, and he could not sleep, exhausted as he was; he would nod forward, and then start up, shivering with the cold, and begin to remember again. Hour after hour passed, until he could only persuade himself that it was not morning by the sounds of music and laughter and singing that were to be heard from the room. When at last these ceased, he expected that he would be turned out into the street; as this did not happen, he fell to wondering whether the man had forgotten him.

In the end, when the silence and suspense were no longer to be borne, he got up and hammered on the door; and the proprietor came, yawning and rubbing his eyes. He was keeping open all night, and dozing between customers.

"I want to go home," Jurgis said. "I'm worried about my wife — I can't wait any longer."

"Why the hell didn't you say so before?" said the man. "I thought you didn't have any home to go to." Jurgis went outside. It was four o'clock in the morning, and as black as night. There were three or four inches of fresh snow on the ground, and the flakes were falling thick and fast. He turned toward Aniele's and started at a run.

There was a light burning in the kitchen window and the blinds were drawn. The door was unlocked and Jurgis rushed in.

Aniele, Marija, and the rest of the women were huddled about the stove, exactly as before; with them were several newcomers, Jurgis noticed — also he noticed that the house was silent.

"Well?" he said.

No one answered him, they sat staring at him with their pale faces. He cried again: "Well?"

And then, by the light of the smoky lamp, he saw Marija who sat nearest him, shaking her head slowly. "Not yet," she said.

And Jurgis gave a cry of dismay. "Not yet?"

Again Marija's head shook. The poor fellow stood dumfounded. "I don't hear her," he gasped.

"She's been quiet a long time," replied the other.

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