The Jungle By Upton Sinclair Chapter 28

So he got up, and she gave him the new address of the family, a tenement over in the Ghetto district. "You go there," she said. "They'll be glad to see you."

But Jurgis stood hesitating.

"I — I don't like to," he said. "Honest, Marija, why don't you just give me a little money and let me look for work first?"

"How do you need money?" was her reply. "All you want is something to eat and a place to sleep, isn't it?"

"Yes," he said; "but then I don't like to go there after I left them — and while I have nothing to do, and while you — you — "

"Go on!" said Marija, giving him a push. "What are you talking? — I won't give you money," she added, as she followed him to the door, "because you'll drink it up, and do yourself harm. Here's a quarter for you now, and go along, and they'll be so glad to have you back, you won't have time to feel ashamed. Good-by!"

So Jurgis went out, and walked down the street to think it over. He decided that he would first try to get work, and so he put in the rest of the day wandering here and there among factories and warehouses without success. Then, when it was nearly dark, he concluded to go home, and set out; but he came to a restaurant, and went in and spent his quarter for a meal; and when he came out he changed his mind — the night was pleasant, and he would sleep somewhere outside, and put in the morrow hunting, and so have one more chance of a job. So he started away again, when suddenly he chanced to look about him, and found that he was walking down the same street and past the same hall where he had listened to the political speech the night 'before. There was no red fire and no band now, but there was a sign out, announcing a meeting, and a stream of people pouring in through the entrance. In a flash Jurgis had decided that he would chance it once more, and sit down and rest while making up his mind what to do. There was no one taking tickets, so it must be a free show again.

He entered. There were no decorations in the hall this time; but there was quite a crowd upon the platform, and almost every seat in the place was filled. He took one of the last, far in the rear, and straightway forgot all about his surroundings. Would Elzbieta think that he had come to sponge off her, or would she understand that he meant to get to work again and do his share? Would she be decent to him, or would she scold him? If only he could get some sort of a job before he went — if that last boss had only been willing to try him!

— Then suddenly Jurgis looked up. A tremendous roar had burst from the throats of the crowd, which by this time had packed the hall to the very doors. Men and women were standing up, waving handkerchiefs, shouting, yelling. Evidently the speaker had arrived, thought Jurgis; what fools they were making of themselves! What were they expecting to get out of it anyhow — what had they to do with elections, with governing the country? Jurgis had been behind the scenes in politics.

He went back to his thoughts, but with one further fact to reckon with — that he was caught here. The hall was now filled to the doors; and after the meeting it would be too late for him to go home, so he would have to make the best of it outside. Perhaps it would be better to go home in the morning, anyway, for the children would be at school, and he and Elzbieta could have a quiet explanation. She always had been a reasonable person; and he really did mean to do right. He would manage to persuade her of it — and besides, Marija was willing, and Marija was furnishing the money. If Elzbieta were ugly, he would tell her that in so many words.

So Jurgis went on meditating; until finally, when he had been an hour or two in the hall, there began to prepare itself a repetition of the dismal catastrophe of the night before. Speaking had been going on all the time, and the audience was clapping its hands and shouting, thrilling with excitement; and little by little the sounds were beginning to blur in Jurgis's ears, and his thoughts were beginning to run together, and his head to wobble and nod. He caught himself many times, as usual, and made desperate resolutions; but the hall was hot and close, and his long walk and is dinner were too much for him — in the end his head sank forward and he went off again.

And then again someone nudged him, and he sat up with his old terrified start! He had been snoring again, of course! And now what? He fixed his eyes ahead of him, with painful intensity, staring at the platform as if nothing else ever had interested him, or ever could interest him, all his life. He imagined the angry exclamations, the hostile glances; he imagined the policeman striding toward him — reaching for his neck. Or was he to have one more chance? Were they going to let him alone this time? He sat trembling; waiting —

And then suddenly came a voice in his ear, a woman's voice, gentle and sweet, "If you would try to listen, comrade, perhaps you would be interested."

Jurgis was more startled by that than he would have been by the touch of a policeman. He still kept his eyes fixed ahead, and did not stir; but his heart gave a great leap. Comrade! Who was it that called him "comrade"?

He waited long, long; and at last, when he was sure that he was no longer watched, he stole a glance out of the corner of his eyes at the woman who sat beside him. She was young and beautiful; she wore fine clothes, and was what is called a "lady." And she called him "comrade"!

He turned a little, carefully, so that he could see her better; then he began to watch her, fascinated. She had apparently forgotten all about him, and was looking toward the platform. A man was speaking there — Jurgis heard his voice vaguely; but all his thoughts were for this woman's face. A feeling of alarm stole over him as he stared at her. It made his flesh creep. What was the matter with her, what could be going on, to affect any one like that? She sat as one turned to stone, her hands clenched tightly in her lap, so tightly that he could see the cords standing out in her wrists. There was a look of excitement upon her face, of tense effort, as of one struggling mightily, or witnessing a struggle. There was a faint quivering of her nostrils; and now and then she would moisten her lips with feverish haste. Her bosom rose and fell as she breathed, and her excitement seemed to mount higher and higher, and then to sink away again, like a boat tossing upon ocean surges. What was it? What was the matter? It must be something that the man was saying, up there on the platform. What sort of a man was he? And what sort of thing was this, anyhow? — So all at once it occurred to Jurgis to look at the speaker.

It was like coming suddenly upon some wild sight of nature — a mountain forest lashed by a tempest, a ship tossed about upon a stormy sea. Jurgis had an unpleasant sensation, a sense of confusion, of disorder, of wild and meaningless uproar. The man was tall and gaunt, as haggard as his auditor himself; a thin black beard covered half of his face, and one could see only two black hollows where the eyes were. He was speaking rapidly, in great excitement; he used many gestures — he spoke he moved here and there upon the stage, reaching with his long arms as if to seize each person in his audience. His voice was deep, like an organ; it was some time, however, before Jurgis thought of the voice — he was too much occupied with his eyes to think of what the man was saying. But suddenly it seemed as if the speaker had begun pointing straight at him, as if he had singled him out particularly for his remarks; and so Jurgis became suddenly aware of his voice, trembling, vibrant with emotion, with pain and longing, with a burden of things unutterable, not to be compassed by words. To hear it was to be suddenly arrested, to be gripped, transfixed.

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