There was another pause — broken suddenly by a voice from the attic: "Hello, there!"
Several of the women ran into the next room, while Marija sprang toward Jurgis. "Wait here!" she cried, and the two stood, pale and trembling, listening. In a few moments it became clear that Madame Haupt was engaged in descending the ladder, scolding and exhorting again, while the ladder creaked in protest. In a moment or two she reached the ground, angry and breathless, and they heard her coming into the room. Jurgis gave one glance at her, and then turned white and reeled. She had her jacket off, like one of the workers on the killing beds. Her hands and arms were smeared with blood, and blood was splashed upon her clothing and her face.
She stood breathing hard, and gazing about her; no one made a sound. "I haf done my best," she began suddenly. "I can do noffing more — dere is no use to try."
Again there was silence.
"It ain't my fault," she said. "You had ought to haf had a doctor, und not vaited so long — it vas too late already ven I come." Once more there was deathlike stillness. Marija was clutching Jurgis with all the power of her one well arm.
Then suddenly Madame Haupt turned to Aniele. "You haf not got something to drink, hey?" she queried. "Some brandy?"
Aniele shook her head.
"Herr Gott!" exclaimed Madame Haupt. "Such people! Perhaps you vill give me someting to eat den — I haf had noffing since yesterday morning, und I haf vorked myself near to death here. If I could haf known it vas like dis, I vould never haf come for such money as you gif me." At this moment she chanced to look round, and saw Jurgis: She shook her finger at him. "You understand me," she said, "you pays me dot money yust de same! It is not my fault dat you send for me so late I can't help your vife. It is not my fault if der baby comes mit one arm first, so dot I can't save it. I haf tried all night, und in dot place vere it is not fit for dogs to be born, und mit notting to eat only vot I brings in mine own pockets."
Here Madame Haupt paused for a moment to get her breath; and Marija, seeing the beads of sweat on Jurgis's forehead, and feeling the quivering of his frame, broke out in a low voice: "How is Ona?"
"How is she?" echoed Madame Haupt. "How do you tink she can be ven you leave her to kill herself so? I told dem dot ven they send for de priest. She is young, und she might haf got over it, und been vell und strong, if she had been treated right. She fight hard, dot girl — she is not yet quite dead."
And Jurgis gave a frantic scream. "Dead!"
"She vill die, of course," said the other angrily. "Der baby is dead now."
The garret was lighted by a candle stuck upon a board; it had almost burned itself out, and was sputtering and smoking as Jurgis rushed up the ladder. He could make out dimly in one corner a pallet of rags and old blankets, spread upon the floor; at the foot of it was a crucifix, and near it a priest muttering a prayer. In a far corner crouched Elzbieta, moaning and wailing. Upon the pallet lay Ona.
She was covered with a blanket, but he could see her shoulders and one arm lying bare; she was so shrunken he would scarcely have known her — she was all but a skeleton, and as white as a piece of chalk. Her eyelids were closed, and she lay still as death. He staggered toward her and fell upon his knees with a cry of anguish: "Ona! Ona!"
She did not stir. He caught her hand in his, and began to clasp it frantically, calling: "Look at me! Answer me! It is Jurgis come back — don't you hear me?"
There was the faintest quivering of the eyelids, and he called again in frenzy: "Ona! Ona!"
Then suddenly her eyes opened one instant. One instant she looked at him — there was a flash of recognition between them, he saw her afar off, as through a dim vista, standing forlorn. He stretched out his arms to her, he called her in wild despair; a fearful yearning surged up in him, hunger for her that was agony, desire that was a new being born within him, tearing his heartstrings, torturing him. But it was all in vain — she faded from him, she slipped back and was gone. And a wail of anguish burst from him, great sobs shook all his frame, and hot tears ran down his cheeks and fell upon her. He clutched her hands, he shook her, he caught her in his arms and pressed her to him but she lay cold and still — she was gone — she was gone!
The word rang through him like the sound of a bell, echoing in the far depths of him, making forgotten chords to vibrate, old shadowy fears to stir — fears of the dark, fears of the void, fears of annihilation. She was dead! She was dead! He would never see her again, never hear her again! An icy horror of loneliness seized him; he saw himself standing apart and watching all the world fade away from him — a world of shadows, of fickle dreams. He was like a little child, in his fright and grief; he called and called, and got no answer, and his cries of despair echoed through the house, making the women downstairs draw nearer to each other in fear. He was inconsolable, beside himself — the priest came and laid his hand upon his shoulder and whispered to him, but he heard not a sound. He was gone away himself, stumbling through the shadows, and groping after the soul that had fled.
So he lay. The gray dawn came up and crept into the attic. The priest left, the women left, and he was alone with the still, white figure — quieter now, but moaning and shuddering, wrestling with the grisly fiend. Now and then he would raise himself and stare at the white mask before him, then hide his eyes because he could not bear it. Dead! dead! And she was only a girl, she was barely eighteen! Her life had hardly begun — and here she lay murdered — mangled, tortured to death!
It was morning when he rose up and came down into the kitchen — haggard and ashen gray, reeling and dazed. More of the neighbors had come in, and they stared at him in silence as he sank down upon a chair by the table and buried his face in his arms.
A few minutes later the front door opened; a blast of cold and snow rushed in, and behind it little Kotrina, breathless from running, and blue with the cold. "I'm home again!" she exclaimed. "I could hardly — "
And then, seeing Jurgis, she stopped with an exclamation. Looking from one to another she saw that something had happened, and she asked, in a lower voice: "What's the matter?"
Before anyone could reply, Jurgis started up; he went toward her, walking unsteadily. "Where have you been?" he demanded.
"Selling papers with the boys," she said. "The snow — "
"Have you any money?" he demanded.
"Nearly three dollars, Jurgis."
"Give it to me."
Kotrina, frightened by his manner, glanced at the others. "Give it to me!" he commanded again, and she put her hand into her pocket and pulled out a lump of coins tied in a bit of rag. Jurgis took it without a word, and went out of the door and down the street.
Three doors away was a saloon. "Whisky," he said, as he entered, and as the man pushed him some, he tore at the rag with his teeth and pulled out half a dollar. "How much is the bottle?" he said. "I want to get drunk."