|Back||1 2 3 4 5||Next|
Jurgis stood for a second, bewildered. Then, seeing blue-coated forms rushing upon him, he sprang after the Negress. Her cries had been the signal for a wild uproar above; the house was full of people, and as he entered the hallway he saw them rushing hither and thither, crying and screaming with alarm. There were men and women, the latter clad for the most part in wrappers, the former in all stages of dishabille. At one side Jurgis caught a glimpse of a big apartment with plush-covered chairs, and tables covered with trays and glasses. There were playing cards scattered all over the floor--one of the tables had been upset, and bottles of wine were rolling about, their contents running out upon the carpet. There was a young girl who had fainted, and two men who were supporting her; and there were a dozen others crowding toward the front door.
Suddenly, however, there came a series of resounding blows upon it, causing the crowd to give back. At the same instant a stout woman, with painted cheeks and diamonds in her ears, came running down the stairs, panting breathlessly: "To the rear! Quick!"
She led the way to a back staircase, Jurgis following; in the kitchen she pressed a spring, and a cupboard gave way and opened, disclosing a dark passageway. "Go in!" she cried to the crowd, which now amounted to twenty or thirty, and they began to pass through. Scarcely had the last one disappeared, however, before there were cries from in front, and then the panic-stricken throng poured out again, exclaiming: "They're there too! We're trapped!"
"Upstairs!" cried the woman, and there was another rush of the mob, women and men cursing and screaming and fighting to be first. One flight, two, three--and then there was a ladder to the roof, with a crowd packed at the foot of it, and one man at the top, straining and struggling to lift the trap door. It was not to be stirred, however, and when the woman shouted up to unhook it, he answered: "It's already unhooked. There's somebody sitting on it!"
And a moment later came a voice from downstairs: "You might as well quit, you people. We mean business, this time."
So the crowd subsided; and a few moments later several policemen came up, staring here and there, and leering at their victims. Of the latter the men were for the most part frightened and sheepish-looking. The women took it as a joke, as if they were used to it--though if they had been pale, one could not have told, for the paint on their cheeks. One black-eyed young girl perched herself upon the top of the balustrade, and began to kick with her slippered foot at the helmets of the policemen, until one of them caught her by the ankle and pulled her down. On the floor below four or five other girls sat upon trunks in the hall, making fun of the procession which filed by them. They were noisy and hilarious, and had evidently been drinking; one of them, who wore a bright red kimono, shouted and screamed in a voice that drowned out all the other sounds in the hall--and Jurgis took a glance at her, and then gave a start, and a cry, "Marija!"
She heard him, and glanced around; then she shrank back and half sprang to her feet in amazement. "Jurgis!" she gasped.
For a second or two they stood staring at each other. "How did you come here?" Marija exclaimed.
"I came to see you," he answered.
"But how did you know--who told you I was here?"
"Alena Jasaityte. I met her on the street."
Again there was a silence, while they gazed at each other. The rest of the crowd was watching them, and so Marija got up and came closer to him. "And you?" Jurgis asked. "You live here?"
"Yes," said Marija, "I live here." Then suddenly came a hail from below: "Get your clothes on now, girls, and come along. You'd best begin, or you'll be sorry--it's raining outside."
"Br-r-r!" shivered some one, and the women got up and entered the various doors which lined the hallway.
"Come," said Marija, and took Jurgis into her room, which was a tiny place about eight by six, with a cot and a chair and a dressing stand and some dresses hanging behind the door. There were clothes scattered about on the floor, and hopeless confusion everywhere--boxes of rouge and bottles of perfume mixed with hats and soiled dishes on the dresser, and a pair of slippers and a clock and a whisky bottle on a chair.
Marija had nothing on but a kimono and a pair of stockings; yet she proceeded to dress before Jurgis, and without even taking the trouble to close the door. He had by this time divined what sort of a place he was in; and he had seen a great deal of the world since he had left home, and was not easy to shock--and yet it gave him a painful start that Marija should do this. They had always been decent people at home, and it seemed to him that the memory of old times ought to have ruled her. But then he laughed at himself for a fool. What was he, to be pretending to decency!
"How long have you been living here?" he asked.
"Nearly a year," she answered.
"Why did you come?"
"I had to live," she said; "and I couldn't see the children starve."
He paused for a moment, watching her. "You were out of work?" he asked, finally.
"I got sick," she replied. "and after that I had no money. And then Stanislovas died--"
"Yes," said Marija, "I forgot. You didn't know about it."
"How did he die?"
"Rats killed him," she answered.
Jurgis gave a gasp. "Rats killed him!"
"Yes," said the other; she was bending over, lacing her shoes as she spoke. "He was working in an oil factory--at least he was hired by the men to get their beer. He used to carry cans on a long pole; and he'd drink a little out of each can, and one day he drank too much, and fell asleep in a corner, and got locked up in the place all night. When they found him the rats had killed him and eaten him nearly all up."
Jurgis sat, frozen with horror. Marija went on lacing up her shoes. There was a long silence.
Suddenly a big policeman came to the door. "Hurry up, there," he said.
"As quick as I can," said Marija, and she stood up and began putting on her corsets with feverish haste.
"Are the rest of the people alive?" asked Jurgis, finally.
|Back||1 2 3 4 5||Next|
The Jungle -by- Upton Sinclair