At eleven the meeting closed, and the desolate audience filed out into the snow, muttering curses upon the few traitors who had got repentance and gone up on the platform. It was yet an hour before the station house would open, and Jurgis had no overcoat—and was weak from a long illness. During that hour he nearly perished. He was obliged to run hard to keep his blood moving at all—and then he came back to the station house and found a crowd blocking the street before the door! This was in the month of January, 1904, when the country was on the verge of “hard times,” and the newspapers were reporting the shutting down of factories every day—it was estimated that a million and a half men were thrown out of work before the spring. So all the hiding places of the city were crowded, and before that station house door men fought and tore each other like savage beasts. When at last the place was jammed and they shut the doors, half the crowd was still outside; and Jurgis, with his helpless arm, was among them. There was no choice then but to go to a lodginghouse and spend another dime. It really broke his heart to do this, at half-past twelve o’clock, after he had wasted the night at the meeting and on the street. He would be turned out of the lodginghouse promptly at seven they had the shelves which served as bunks so contrived that they could be dropped, and any man who was slow about obeying orders could be tumbled to the floor.
This was one day, and the cold spell lasted for fourteen of them. At the end of six days every cent of Jurgis’ money was gone; and then he went out on the streets to beg for his life.
He would begin as soon as the business of the city was moving. He would sally forth from a saloon, and, after making sure there was no policeman in sight, would approach every likely-looking person who passed him, telling his woeful story and pleading for a nickel or a dime. Then when he got one, he would dart round the corner and return to his base to get warm; and his victim, seeing him do this, would go away, vowing that he would never give a cent to a beggar again. The victim never paused to ask where else Jurgis could have gone under the circumstances—where he, the victim, would have gone. At the saloon Jurgis could not only get more food and better food than he could buy in any restaurant for the same money, but a drink in the bargain to warm him up. Also he could find a comfortable seat by a fire, and could chat with a companion until he was as warm as toast. At the saloon, too, he felt at home. Part of the saloon-keeper’s business was to offer a home and refreshments to beggars in exchange for the proceeds of their foragings; and was there any one else in the whole city who would do this—would the victim have done it himself?