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Jurgis took the news in a peculiar way. He turned deadly pale, but he
caught himself, and for half a minute stood in the middle of the room,
clenching his hands tightly and setting his teeth. Then he pushed Aniele
aside and strode into the next room and climbed the ladder.
In the corner was a blanket, with a form half showing beneath it; and
beside it lay Elzbieta, whether crying or in a faint, Jurgis could not
tell. Marija was pacing the room, screaming and wringing her hands. He
clenched his hands tighter yet, and his voice was hard as he spoke.
"How did it happen?" he asked.
Marija scarcely heard him in her agony. He repeated the question, louder
and yet more harshly. "He fell off the sidewalk!" she wailed. The sidewalk
in front of the house was a platform made of half-rotten boards, about
five feet above the level of the sunken street.
"How did he come to be there?" he demanded.
"He went—he went out to play," Marija sobbed, her voice choking her.
"We couldn't make him stay in. He must have got caught in the mud!"
"Are you sure that he is dead?" he demanded.
"Ai! ai!" she wailed. "Yes; we had the doctor."
Then Jurgis stood a few seconds, wavering. He did not shed a tear. He took
one glance more at the blanket with the little form beneath it, and then
turned suddenly to the ladder and climbed down again. A silence fell once
more in the room as he entered. He went straight to the door, passed out,
and started down the street.
When his wife had died, Jurgis made for the nearest saloon, but he did not
do that now, though he had his week's wages in his pocket. He walked and
walked, seeing nothing, splashing through mud and water. Later on he sat
down upon a step and hid his face in his hands and for half an hour or so
he did not move. Now and then he would whisper to himself: "Dead! Dead!"
Finally, he got up and walked on again. It was about sunset, and he went
on and on until it was dark, when he was stopped by a railroad crossing.
The gates were down, and a long train of freight cars was thundering by.
He stood and watched it; and all at once a wild impulse seized him, a
thought that had been lurking within him, unspoken, unrecognized, leaped
into sudden life. He started down the track, and when he was past the
gate-keeper's shanty he sprang forward and swung himself on to one of the
By and by the train stopped again, and Jurgis sprang down and ran under
the car, and hid himself upon the truck. Here he sat, and when the train
started again, he fought a battle with his soul. He gripped his hands and
set his teeth together—he had not wept, and he would not—not a
tear! It was past and over, and he was done with it—he would fling
it off his shoulders, be free of it, the whole business, that night. It
should go like a black, hateful nightmare, and in the morning he would be
a new man. And every time that a thought of it assailed him—a tender
memory, a trace of a tear—he rose up, cursing with rage, and pounded
He was fighting for his life; he gnashed his teeth together in his
desperation. He had been a fool, a fool! He had wasted his life, he had
wrecked himself, with his accursed weakness; and now he was done with it—he
would tear it out of him, root and branch! There should be no more tears
and no more tenderness; he had had enough of them—they had sold him
into slavery! Now he was going to be free, to tear off his shackles, to
rise up and fight. He was glad that the end had come—it had to come
some time, and it was just as well now. This was no world for women and
children, and the sooner they got out of it the better for them. Whatever
Antanas might suffer where he was, he could suffer no more than he would
have had he stayed upon earth. And meantime his father had thought the
last thought about him that he meant to; he was going to think of himself,
he was going to fight for himself, against the world that had baffled him
and tortured him!
So he went on, tearing up all the flowers from the garden of his soul, and
setting his heel upon them. The train thundered deafeningly, and a storm
of dust blew in his face; but though it stopped now and then through the
night, he clung where he was—he would cling there until he was
driven off, for every mile that he got from Packingtown meant another load
from his mind.
Whenever the cars stopped a warm breeze blew upon him, a breeze laden with
the perfume of fresh fields, of honeysuckle and clover. He snuffed it, and
it made his heart beat wildly—he was out in the country again! He
was going to live in the country! When the dawn came he was peering out
with hungry eyes, getting glimpses of meadows and woods and rivers. At
last he could stand it no longer, and when the train stopped again he
crawled out. Upon the top of the car was a brakeman, who shook his fist
and swore; Jurgis waved his hand derisively, and started across the
Only think that he had been a countryman all his life; and for three long
years he had never seen a country sight nor heard a country sound!
Excepting for that one walk when he left jail, when he was too much
worried to notice anything, and for a few times that he had rested in the
city parks in the winter time when he was out of work, he had literally
never seen a tree! And now he felt like a bird lifted up and borne away
upon a gale; he stopped and stared at each new sight of wonder—at a
herd of cows, and a meadow full of daisies, at hedgerows set thick with
June roses, at little birds singing in the trees.
Then he came to a farm-house, and after getting himself a stick for
protection, he approached it. The farmer was greasing a wagon in front of
the barn, and Jurgis went to him. "I would like to get some breakfast,
please," he said.
"Do you want to work?" said the farmer.
"No," said Jurgis. "I don't."
"Then you can't get anything here," snapped the other.
"I meant to pay for it," said Jurgis.
"Oh," said the farmer; and then added sarcastically, "We don't serve
breakfast after 7 A.M."
"I am very hungry," said Jurgis gravely; "I would like to buy some food."
"Ask the woman," said the farmer, nodding over his shoulder. The "woman"
was more tractable, and for a dime Jurgis secured two thick sandwiches and
a piece of pie and two apples. He walked off eating the pie, as the least
convenient thing to carry. In a few minutes he came to a stream, and he
climbed a fence and walked down the bank, along a woodland path. By and by
he found a comfortable spot, and there he devoured his meal, slaking his
thirst at the stream. Then he lay for hours, just gazing and drinking in
joy; until at last he felt sleepy, and lay down in the shade of a bush.
When he awoke the sun was shining hot in his face. He sat up and stretched
his arms, and then gazed at the water sliding by. There was a deep pool,
sheltered and silent, below him, and a sudden wonderful idea rushed upon
him. He might have a bath! The water was free, and he might get into it—all
the way into it! It would be the first time that he had been all the way
into the water since he left Lithuania!
When Jurgis had first come to the stockyards he had been as clean as any
workingman could well be. But later on, what with sickness and cold and
hunger and discouragement, and the filthiness of his work, and the vermin
in his home, he had given up washing in winter, and in summer only as much
of him as would go into a basin. He had had a shower bath in jail, but
nothing since—and now he would have a swim!
The water was warm, and he splashed about like a very boy in his glee.
Afterward he sat down in the water near the bank, and proceeded to scrub
himself—soberly and methodically, scouring every inch of him with
sand. While he was doing it he would do it thoroughly, and see how it felt
to be clean. He even scrubbed his head with sand, and combed what the men
called "crumbs" out of his long, black hair, holding his head under water
as long as he could, to see if he could not kill them all. Then, seeing
that the sun was still hot, he took his clothes from the bank and
proceeded to wash them, piece by piece; as the dirt and grease went
floating off downstream he grunted with satisfaction and soused the
clothes again, venturing even to dream that he might get rid of the
He hung them all up, and while they were drying he lay down in the sun and
had another long sleep. They were hot and stiff as boards on top, and a
little damp on the underside, when he awakened; but being hungry, he put
them on and set out again. He had no knife, but with some labor he broke
himself a good stout club, and, armed with this, he marched down the road
Before long he came to a big farmhouse, and turned up the lane that led to
it. It was just supper-time, and the farmer was washing his hands at the
kitchen door. "Please, sir," said Jurgis, "can I have something to eat? I
can pay." To which the farmer responded promptly, "We don't feed tramps
here. Get out!"
Jurgis went without a word; but as he passed round the barn he came to a
freshly ploughed and harrowed field, in which the farmer had set out some
young peach trees; and as he walked he jerked up a row of them by the
roots, more than a hundred trees in all, before he reached the end of the
field. That was his answer, and it showed his mood; from now on he was
fighting, and the man who hit him would get all that he gave, every time.
Beyond the orchard Jurgis struck through a patch of woods, and then a
field of winter grain, and came at last to another road. Before long he
saw another farmhouse, and, as it was beginning to cloud over a little, he
asked here for shelter as well as food. Seeing the farmer eying him
dubiously, he added, "I'll be glad to sleep in the barn."
"Well, I dunno," said the other. "Do you smoke?"
"Sometimes," said Jurgis, "but I'll do it out of doors." When the man had
assented, he inquired, "How much will it cost me? I haven't very much
"I reckon about twenty cents for supper," replied the farmer. "I won't
charge ye for the barn."
So Jurgis went in, and sat down at the table with the farmer's wife and
half a dozen children. It was a bountiful meal—there were baked
beans and mashed potatoes and asparagus chopped and stewed, and a dish of
strawberries, and great, thick slices of bread, and a pitcher of milk.
Jurgis had not had such a feast since his wedding day, and he made a
mighty effort to put in his twenty cents' worth.
They were all of them too hungry to talk; but afterward they sat upon the
steps and smoked, and the farmer questioned his guest. When Jurgis had
explained that he was a workingman from Chicago, and that he did not know
just whither he was bound, the other said, "Why don't you stay here and
work for me?"
"I'm not looking for work just now," Jurgis answered.
"I'll pay ye good," said the other, eying his big form—"a dollar a
day and board ye. Help's terrible scarce round here."
"Is that winter as well as summer?" Jurgis demanded quickly.
"N—no," said the farmer; "I couldn't keep ye after November—I
ain't got a big enough place for that."
"I see," said the other, "that's what I thought. When you get through
working your horses this fall, will you turn them out in the snow?"
(Jurgis was beginning to think for himself nowadays.)
"It ain't quite the same," the farmer answered, seeing the point. "There
ought to be work a strong fellow like you can find to do, in the cities,
or some place, in the winter time."
"Yes," said Jurgis, "that's what they all think; and so they crowd into
the cities, and when they have to beg or steal to live, then people ask
'em why they don't go into the country, where help is scarce." The farmer
"How about when your money's gone?" he inquired, finally. "You'll have to,
then, won't you?"
"Wait till she's gone," said Jurgis; "then I'll see."
He had a long sleep in the barn and then a big breakfast of coffee and
bread and oatmeal and stewed cherries, for which the man charged him only
fifteen cents, perhaps having been influenced by his arguments. Then
Jurgis bade farewell, and went on his way.
Such was the beginning of his life as a tramp. It was seldom he got as
fair treatment as from this last farmer, and so as time went on he learned
to shun the houses and to prefer sleeping in the fields. When it rained he
would find a deserted building, if he could, and if not, he would wait
until after dark and then, with his stick ready, begin a stealthy approach
upon a barn. Generally he could get in before the dog got scent of him,
and then he would hide in the hay and be safe until morning; if not, and
the dog attacked him, he would rise up and make a retreat in battle order.
Jurgis was not the mighty man he had once been, but his arms were still
good, and there were few farm dogs he needed to hit more than once.
Before long there came raspberries, and then blackberries, to help him
save his money; and there were apples in the orchards and potatoes in the
ground—he learned to note the places and fill his pockets after
dark. Twice he even managed to capture a chicken, and had a feast, once in
a deserted barn and the other time in a lonely spot alongside of a stream.
When all of these things failed him he used his money carefully, but
without worry—for he saw that he could earn more whenever he chose.
Half an hour's chopping wood in his lively fashion was enough to bring him
a meal, and when the farmer had seen him working he would sometimes try to
bribe him to stay.
But Jurgis was not staying. He was a free man now, a buccaneer. The old
wanderlust had got into his blood, the joy of the unbound life, the joy of
seeking, of hoping without limit. There were mishaps and discomforts—but
at least there was always something new; and only think what it meant to a
man who for years had been penned up in one place, seeing nothing but one
dreary prospect of shanties and factories, to be suddenly set loose
beneath the open sky, to behold new landscapes, new places, and new people
every hour! To a man whose whole life had consisted of doing one certain
thing all day, until he was so exhausted that he could only lie down and
sleep until the next day—and to be now his own master, working as he
pleased and when he pleased, and facing a new adventure every hour!
Then, too, his health came back to him, all his lost youthful vigor, his
joy and power that he had mourned and forgotten! It came with a sudden
rush, bewildering him, startling him; it was as if his dead childhood had
come back to him, laughing and calling! What with plenty to eat and fresh
air and exercise that was taken as it pleased him, he would waken from his
sleep and start off not knowing what to do with his energy, stretching his
arms, laughing, singing old songs of home that came back to him. Now and
then, of course, he could not help but think of little Antanas, whom he
should never see again, whose little voice he should never hear; and then
he would have to battle with himself. Sometimes at night he would waken
dreaming of Ona, and stretch out his arms to her, and wet the ground with
his tears. But in the morning he would get up and shake himself, and
stride away again to battle with the world.
He never asked where he was nor where he was going; the country was big
enough, he knew, and there was no danger of his coming to the end of it.
And of course he could always have company for the asking—everywhere
he went there were men living just as he lived, and whom he was welcome to
join. He was a stranger at the business, but they were not clannish, and
they taught him all their tricks—what towns and villages it was best
to keep away from, and how to read the secret signs upon the fences, and
when to beg and when to steal, and just how to do both. They laughed at
his ideas of paying for anything with money or with work—for they
got all they wanted without either. Now and then Jurgis camped out with a
gang of them in some woodland haunt, and foraged with them in the
neighborhood at night. And then among them some one would "take a shine"
to him, and they would go off together and travel for a week, exchanging
Of these professional tramps a great many had, of course, been shiftless
and vicious all their lives. But the vast majority of them had been
workingmen, had fought the long fight as Jurgis had, and found that it was
a losing fight, and given up. Later on he encountered yet another sort of
men, those from whose ranks the tramps were recruited, men who were
homeless and wandering, but still seeking work—seeking it in the
harvest fields. Of these there was an army, the huge surplus labor army of
society; called into being under the stern system of nature, to do the
casual work of the world, the tasks which were transient and irregular,
and yet which had to be done. They did not know that they were such, of
course; they only knew that they sought the job, and that the job was
fleeting. In the early summer they would be in Texas, and as the crops
were ready they would follow north with the season, ending with the fall
in Manitoba. Then they would seek out the big lumber camps, where there
was winter work; or failing in this, would drift to the cities, and live
upon what they had managed to save, with the help of such transient work
as was there the loading and unloading of steamships and drays, the
digging of ditches and the shoveling of snow. If there were more of them
on hand than chanced to be needed, the weaker ones died off of cold and
hunger, again according to the stern system of nature.
It was in the latter part of July, when Jurgis was in Missouri, that he
came upon the harvest work. Here were crops that men had worked for three
or four months to prepare, and of which they would lose nearly all unless
they could find others to help them for a week or two. So all over the
land there was a cry for labor—agencies were set up and all the
cities were drained of men, even college boys were brought by the carload,
and hordes of frantic farmers would hold up trains and carry off
wagon-loads of men by main force. Not that they did not pay them well—any
man could get two dollars a day and his board, and the best men could get
two dollars and a half or three.
The harvest-fever was in the very air, and no man with any spirit in him
could be in that region and not catch it. Jurgis joined a gang and worked
from dawn till dark, eighteen hours a day, for two weeks without a break.
Then he had a sum of money that would have been a fortune to him in the
old days of misery—but what could he do with it now? To be sure he
might have put it in a bank, and, if he were fortunate, get it back again
when he wanted it. But Jurgis was now a homeless man, wandering over a
continent; and what did he know about banking and drafts and letters of
credit? If he carried the money about with him, he would surely be robbed
in the end; and so what was there for him to do but enjoy it while he
could? On a Saturday night he drifted into a town with his fellows; and
because it was raining, and there was no other place provided for him, he
went to a saloon. And there were some who treated him and whom he had to
treat, and there was laughter and singing and good cheer; and then out of
the rear part of the saloon a girl's face, red-cheeked and merry, smiled
at Jurgis, and his heart thumped suddenly in his throat. He nodded to her,
and she came and sat by him, and they had more drink, and then he went
upstairs into a room with her, and the wild beast rose up within him and
screamed, as it has screamed in the Jungle from the dawn of time. And then
because of his memories and his shame, he was glad when others joined
them, men and women; and they had more drink and spent the night in wild
rioting and debauchery. In the van of the surplus-labor army, there
followed another, an army of women, they also struggling for life under
the stern system of nature. Because there were rich men who sought
pleasure, there had been ease and plenty for them so long as they were
young and beautiful; and later on, when they were crowded out by others
younger and more beautiful, they went out to follow upon the trail of the
workingmen. Sometimes they came of themselves, and the saloon-keepers
shared with them; or sometimes they were handled by agencies, the same as
the labor army. They were in the towns in harvest time, near the lumber
camps in the winter, in the cities when the men came there; if a regiment
were encamped, or a railroad or canal being made, or a great exposition
getting ready, the crowd of women were on hand, living in shanties or
saloons or tenement rooms, sometimes eight or ten of them together.
In the morning Jurgis had not a cent, and he went out upon the road again.
He was sick and disgusted, but after the new plan of his life, he crushed
his feelings down. He had made a fool of himself, but he could not help it
now—all he could do was to see that it did not happen again. So he
tramped on until exercise and fresh air banished his headache, and his
strength and joy returned. This happened to him every time, for Jurgis was
still a creature of impulse, and his pleasures had not yet become
business. It would be a long time before he could be like the majority of
these men of the road, who roamed until the hunger for drink and for women
mastered them, and then went to work with a purpose in mind, and stopped
when they had the price of a spree.
On the contrary, try as he would, Jurgis could not help being made
miserable by his conscience. It was the ghost that would not down. It
would come upon him in the most unexpected places—sometimes it
fairly drove him to drink.
One night he was caught by a thunderstorm, and he sought shelter in a
little house just outside of a town. It was a working-man's home, and the
owner was a Slav like himself, a new emigrant from White Russia; he bade
Jurgis welcome in his home language, and told him to come to the
kitchen-fire and dry himself. He had no bed for him, but there was straw
in the garret, and he could make out. The man's wife was cooking the
supper, and their children were playing about on the floor. Jurgis sat and
exchanged thoughts with him about the old country, and the places where
they had been and the work they had done. Then they ate, and afterward sat
and smoked and talked more about America, and how they found it. In the
middle of a sentence, however, Jurgis stopped, seeing that the woman had
brought a big basin of water and was proceeding to undress her youngest
baby. The rest had crawled into the closet where they slept, but the baby
was to have a bath, the workingman explained. The nights had begun to be
chilly, and his mother, ignorant as to the climate in America, had sewed
him up for the winter; then it had turned warm again, and some kind of a
rash had broken out on the child. The doctor had said she must bathe him
every night, and she, foolish woman, believed him.
Jurgis scarcely heard the explanation; he was watching the baby. He was
about a year old, and a sturdy little fellow, with soft fat legs, and a
round ball of a stomach, and eyes as black as coals. His pimples did not
seem to bother him much, and he was wild with glee over the bath, kicking
and squirming and chuckling with delight, pulling at his mother's face and
then at his own little toes. When she put him into the basin he sat in the
midst of it and grinned, splashing the water over himself and squealing
like a little pig. He spoke in Russian, of which Jurgis knew some; he
spoke it with the quaintest of baby accents—and every word of it
brought back to Jurgis some word of his own dead little one, and stabbed
him like a knife. He sat perfectly motionless, silent, but gripping his
hands tightly, while a storm gathered in his bosom and a flood heaped
itself up behind his eyes. And in the end he could bear it no more, but
buried his face in his hands and burst into tears, to the alarm and
amazement of his hosts. Between the shame of this and his woe Jurgis could
not stand it, and got up and rushed out into the rain.
He went on and on down the road, finally coming to a black woods, where he
hid and wept as if his heart would break. Ah, what agony was that, what
despair, when the tomb of memory was rent open and the ghosts of his old
life came forth to scourge him! What terror to see what he had been and
now could never be—to see Ona and his child and his own dead self
stretching out their arms to him, calling to him across a bottomless abyss—and
to know that they were gone from him forever, and he writhing and
suffocating in the mire of his own vileness!