One of the first things that Jurgis had done after he got a job was to go and see Marija. She came down into the basement of the house to meet him, and he stood by the door with his hat in his hand, saying, "I've got work now, and so you can leave here."
But Marija only shook her head. There was nothing else for her to do, she said, and nobody to employ her. She could not keep her past a secret — girls had tried it, and they were always found out. There were thousands of men who came to this place, and sooner or later she would meet one of them. "And besides," Marija added, "I can't do anything. I'm no good — I take dope. What could you do with me?"
"Can't you stop?" Jurgis cried.
"No," she answered, "I'll never stop. What's the use of talking about it — I'll stay here till I die, I guess. It's all I'm fit for." And that was all that he could get her to say — there was no use trying. When he told her he would not let Elzbieta take her money, she answered indifferently: "Then it'll be wasted here — that's all." Her eyelids looked heavy and her face was red and swollen; he saw that he was annoying her, that she only wanted him to go away. So he went, disappointed and sad.
Poor Jurgis was not very happy in his home-life. Elzbieta was sick a good deal now, and the boys were wild and unruly, and very much the worse for their life upon the streets. But he stuck by the family nevertheless, for they reminded him of his old happiness; and when things went wrong he could solace himself with a plunge into the Socialist movement. Since his life had been caught up into the current of this great stream, things which had before been the whole of life to him came to seem of relatively slight importance; his interests were elsewhere, in the world of ideas. His outward life was commonplace and uninteresting; he was just a hotel-porter, and expected to remain one while he lived; but meantime, in the realm of thought, his life was a perpetual adventure. There was so much to know — so many wonders to be discovered! Never in all his life did Jurgis forget the day before election, when there came a telephone message from a friend of Harry Adams, asking him to bring Jurgis to see him that night; and Jurgis went, and met one of the minds of the movement.
The invitation was from a man named Fisher, a Chicago millionaire who had given up his life to settlement work, and had a little home in the heart of the city's slums. He did not belong to the party, but he was in sympathy with it; and he said that he was to have as his guest that night the editor of a big Eastern magazine, who wrote against Socialism, but really did not know what it was. The millionaire suggested that Adams bring Jurgis along, and then start up the subject of "pure food," in which the editor was interested.
Young Fisher's home was a little two-story brick house, dingy and weather-beaten outside, but attractive within. The room that Jurgis saw was half lined with books, and upon the walls were many pictures, dimly visible in the soft, yellow light; it was a cold, rainy night, so a log fire was crackling in the open hearth. Seven or eight people were gathered about it when Adams and his friend arrived, and Jurgis saw to his dismay that three of them were ladies. He had never talked to people of this sort before, and he fell into an agony of embarrassment. He stood in the doorway clutching his hat tightly in his hands, and made a deep bow to each of the persons as he was introduced; then, when he was asked to have a seat, he took a chair in a dark corner, and sat down upon the edge of it, and wiped the perspiration off his forehead with his sleeve. He was terrified lest they should expect him to talk.
There was the host himself, a tall, athletic young man, clad in evening dress, as also was the editor, a dyspeptic-looking gentleman named Maynard. There was the former's frail young wife, and also an elderly lady, who taught kindergarten in the settlement, and a young college student, a beautiful girl with an intense and earnest face. She only spoke once or twice while Jurgis was there — the rest of the time she sat by the table in the center of the room, resting her chin in her hands and drinking in the conversation. There were two other men, whom young Fisher had introduced to Jurgis as Mr. Lucas and Mr. Schliemann; he heard them address Adams as "Comrade," and so he knew that they were Socialists.
The one called Lucas was a mild and meek-looking little gentleman of clerical aspect; he had been an itinerant evangelist, it transpired, and had seen the light and become a prophet of the new dispensation. He traveled all over the country, living like the apostles of old, upon hospitality, and preaching upon street-corners when there was no hall. The other man had been in the midst of a discussion with the editor when Adams and Jurgis came in; and at the suggestion of the host they resumed it after the interruption. Jurgis was soon sitting spellbound, thinking that here was surely the strangest man that had ever lived in the world.
Nicholas Schliemann was a Swede, a tall, gaunt person, with hairy hands and bristling yellow beard; he was a university man, and had been a professor of philosophy — until, as he said, he had found that he was selling his character as well as his time. Instead he had come to America, where he lived in a garret room in this slum district, and made volcanic energy take the place of fire. He studied the composition of food-stuffs, and knew exactly how many proteids and carbohydrates his body needed; and by scientific chewing he said that he tripled the value of all he ate, so that it cost him eleven cents a day. About the first of July he would leave Chicago for his vacation, on foot; and when he struck the harvest fields he would set to work for two dollars and a half a day, and come home when he had another year's supply — a hundred and twenty-five dollars. That was the nearest approach to independence a man could make "under capitalism," he explained; he would never marry, for no sane man would allow himself to fall in love until after the revolution.
He sat in a big arm-chair, with his legs crossed, and his head so far in the shadow that one saw only two glowing lights, reflected from the fire on the hearth. He spoke simply, and utterly without emotion; with the manner of a teacher setting forth to a group of scholars an axiom in geometry, he would enunciate such propositions as made the hair of an ordinary person rise on end. And when the auditor had asserted his non-comprehension, he would proceed to elucidate by some new proposition, yet more appalling. To Jurgis the Herr Dr. Schliemann assumed the proportions of a thunderstorm or an earthquake. And yet, strange as it might seem, there was a subtle bond between them, and he could follow the argument nearly all the time. He was carried over the difficult places in spite of himself; and he went plunging away in mad career — a very Mazeppa-ride upon the wild horse Speculation.
Nicholas Schliemann was familiar with all the universe, and with man as a small part of it. He understood human institutions, and blew them about like soap bubbles. It was surprising that so much destructiveness could be contained in one human mind. Was it government? The purpose of government was the guarding of property-rights, the perpetuation of ancient force and modern fraud. Or was it marriage? Marriage and prostitution were two sides of one shield, the predatory man's exploitation of the sex-pleasure. The difference between them was a difference of class. If a woman had money she might dictate her own terms: equality, a life contract, and the legitimacy — that is, the property-rights — of her children. If she had no money, she was a proletarian, and sold herself for an existence. And then the subject became Religion, which was the Archfiend's deadliest weapon. Government oppressed the body of the wage-slave, but Religion oppressed his mind, and poisoned the stream of progress at its source. The working-man was to fix his hopes upon a future life, while his pockets were picked in this one; he was brought up to frugality, humility, obedience — in short to all the pseudo-virtues of capitalism. The destiny of civilization would be decided in one final death struggle between the Red International and the Black, between Socialism and the Roman Catholic Church; while here at home, "the stygian midnight of American evangelicalism — "