A dead silence had fallen in the room, and he saw that every one was staring at him. “What’s the matter?” he exclaimed again.
And then, up in the garret, he heard sounds of wailing, in Marija’s voice. He started for the ladder—and Aniele seized him by the arm. “No, no!” she exclaimed. “Don’t go up there!”
“What is it?” he shouted.
And the old woman answered him weakly: “It’s Antanas. He’s dead. He was drowned out in the street!”
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 cars.