that was moldy and white—it would be dosed
with borax and glycerine, and dumped into the hoppers,
and made over again for home consumption. There
would be meat that had tumbled out on the floor, in
the dirt and sawdust, where the workers had tramped
and spit uncounted billions of consumption germs.
There would be meat stored in great piles in rooms;
and the water from leaky roofs would drip over it,
and thousands of rats would race about on it.
It was too dark in these storage places to see well,
but a man could run his hand over these piles of meat
and sweep off handfuls of the dried dung of rats.
These rats were nuisances, and the packers would put
poisoned bread out for them; they would die, and then
rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together.
This is no fairy story and no joke; the meat would
be shoveled into carts, and the man who did the shoveling
would not trouble to lift out a rat even when he saw
one—there were things that went into the
sausage in comparison with which a poisoned rat was
a tidbit. There was no place for the men to wash
their hands before they ate their dinner, and so they
made a practice of washing them in the water that
was to be ladled into the sausage. There were
the butt-ends of smoked meat, and the scraps of corned
beef, and all the odds and ends of the waste of the
plants, that would be dumped into old barrels in the
cellar and left there. Under the system of rigid
economy which the packers enforced, there were some
jobs that it only paid to do once in a long time,
and among these was the cleaning out of the waste
barrels. Every spring they did it; and in the
barrels would be dirt and rust and old nails and stale
water—and cartload after cartload of it
would be taken up and dumped into the hoppers with
fresh meat, and sent out to the public’s breakfast.
Some of it they would make into “smoked”
sausage—but as the smoking took time, and
was therefore expensive, they would call upon their
chemistry department, and preserve it with borax and
color it with gelatine to make it brown. All
of their sausage came out of the same bowl, but when
they came to wrap it they would stamp some of it “special,”
and for this they would charge two cents more a pound.
Such were the new surroundings in which Elzbieta was
placed, and such was the work she was compelled to
do. It was stupefying, brutalizing work; it left
her no time to think, no strength for anything.
She was part of the machine she tended, and every
faculty that was not needed for the machine was doomed
to be crushed out of existence. There was only
one mercy about the cruel grind—that it
gave her the gift of insensibility. Little by
little she sank into a torpor—she fell silent.
She would meet Jurgis and Ona in the evening, and the
three would walk home together, often without saying
a word. Ona, too, was falling into a habit of
silence—Ona, who had once gone about singing
like a bird. She was sick and miserable, and
often she would barely have strength enough to drag