After walking a ways, Jurgis met a little ragamuffin whom he hailed: “Hey, sonny!” The boy cocked one eye at him—he knew that Jurgis was a “jailbird” by his shaven head. “Wot yer want?” he queried.
“How do you go to the stockyards?” Jurgis demanded.
“I don’t go,” replied the boy.
Jurgis hesitated a moment, nonplussed. Then he said, “I mean which is the way?”
“Why don’t yer say so then?” was the response, and the boy pointed to the northwest, across the tracks. “That way.”
“How far is it?” Jurgis asked. “I dunno,” said the other. “Mebbe twenty miles or so.”
“Twenty miles!” Jurgis echoed, and his face fell. He had to walk every foot of it, for they had turned him out of jail without a penny in his pockets.
Yet, when he once got started, and his blood had warmed with walking, he forgot everything in the fever of his thoughts. All the dreadful imaginations that had haunted him in his cell now rushed into his mind at once. The agony was almost over—he was going to find out; and he clenched his hands in his pockets as he strode, following his flying desire, almost at a run. Ona—the baby—the family—the house—he would know the truth about them all! And he was coming to the rescue—he was free again! His hands were his own, and he could help them, he could do battle for them against the world.
For an hour or so he walked thus, and then he began to look about him. He seemed to be leaving the city altogether. The street was turning into a country road, leading out to the westward; there were snow-covered fields on either side of him. Soon he met a farmer driving a two-horse wagon loaded with straw, and he stopped him.
“Is this the way to the stockyards?” he asked.
The farmer scratched his head. “I dunno jest where they be,” he said. “But they’re in the city somewhere, and you’re going dead away from it now.”
Jurgis looked dazed. “I was told this was the way,” he said.
“Who told you?”
“Well, mebbe he was playing a joke on ye. The best thing ye kin do is to go back, and when ye git into town ask a policeman. I’d take ye in, only I’ve come a long ways an’ I’m loaded heavy. Git up!”
So Jurgis turned and followed, and toward the end of the morning he began to see Chicago again. Past endless blocks of two-story shanties he walked, along wooden sidewalks and unpaved pathways treacherous with deep slush holes. Every few blocks there would be a railroad crossing on the level with the sidewalk, a deathtrap for the unwary; long freight trains would be passing, the cars clanking and crashing together, and Jurgis would pace about waiting, burning up with a fever of impatience. Occasionally the cars would stop for some minutes, and wagons and streetcars would crowd together waiting, the drivers swearing at each other, or hiding beneath umbrellas out of the rain; at such times Jurgis would dodge under the gates and run across the tracks and between the cars, taking his life into his hands.