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The Jungle eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 445 pages of information about The Jungle.
explain to him that it could not be helped, that a woman was subject to such things when she was pregnant; but he was hardly to be persuaded, and would beg and plead to know what had happened.  She had never been like this before, he would argue—­it was monstrous and unthinkable.  It was the life she had to live, the accursed work she had to do, that was killing her by inches.  She was not fitted for it—­no woman was fitted for it, no woman ought to be allowed to do such work; if the world could not keep them alive any other way it ought to kill them at once and be done with it.  They ought not to marry, to have children; no workingman ought to marry—­if he, Jurgis, had known what a woman was like, he would have had his eyes torn out first.  So he would carry on, becoming half hysterical himself, which was an unbearable thing to see in a big man; Ona would pull herself together and fling herself into his arms, begging him to stop, to be still, that she would be better, it would be all right.  So she would lie and sob out her grief upon his shoulder, while he gazed at her, as helpless as a wounded animal, the target of unseen enemies.

Chapter 15

The beginning of these perplexing things was in the summer; and each time Ona would promise him with terror in her voice that it would not happen again—­but in vain.  Each crisis would leave Jurgis more and more frightened, more disposed to distrust Elzbieta’s consolations, and to believe that there was some terrible thing about all this that he was not allowed to know.  Once or twice in these outbreaks he caught Ona’s eye, and it seemed to him like the eye of a hunted animal; there were broken phrases of anguish and despair now and then, amid her frantic weeping.  It was only because he was so numb and beaten himself that Jurgis did not worry more about this.  But he never thought of it, except when he was dragged to it—­he lived like a dumb beast of burden, knowing only the moment in which he was.

The winter was coming on again, more menacing and cruel than ever.  It was October, and the holiday rush had begun.  It was necessary for the packing machines to grind till late at night to provide food that would be eaten at Christmas breakfasts; and Marija and Elzbieta and Ona, as part of the machine, began working fifteen or sixteen hours a day.  There was no choice about this—­whatever work there was to be done they had to do, if they wished to keep their places; besides that, it added another pittance to their incomes.  So they staggered on with the awful load.  They would start work every morning at seven, and eat their dinners at noon, and then work until ten or eleven at night without another mouthful of food.  Jurgis wanted to wait for them, to help them home at night, but they would not think of this; the fertilizer mill was not running overtime, and there was no place for him to wait save in a saloon.  Each would stagger out into the darkness, and make her way to the corner, where they met; or if the others had already gone, would get into a car, and begin a painful struggle to keep awake.  When they got home they were always too tired either to eat or to undress; they would crawl into bed with their shoes on, and lie like logs.  If they should fail, they would certainly be lost; if they held out, they might have enough coal for the winter.

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