“How long are you going to stay?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Always, I guess. What else could I do?”
“Don’t you save any money?”
“Save!” said Marija. “Good Lord, no! I get enough, I suppose, but it all goes. I get a half share, two dollars and a half for each customer, and sometimes I make twenty-five or thirty dollars a night, and you’d think I ought to save something out of that! But then I am charged for my room and my meals—and such prices as you never heard of; and then for extras, and drinks—for everything I get, and some I don’t. My laundry bill is nearly twenty dollars each week alone—think of that! Yet what can I do? I either have to stand it or quit, and it would be the same anywhere else. It’s all I can do to save the fifteen dollars I give Elzbieta each week, so the children can go to school.”
Marija sat brooding in silence for a while; then, seeing that Jurgis was interested, she went on: “That’s the way they keep the girls—they let them run up debts, so they can’t get away. A young girl comes from abroad, and she doesn’t know a word of English, and she gets into a place like this, and when she wants to go the madame shows her that she is a couple of hundred dollars in debt, and takes all her clothes away, and threatens to have her arrested if she doesn’t stay and do as she’s told. So she stays, and the longer she stays, the more in debt she gets. Often, too, they are girls that didn’t know what they were coming to, that had hired out for housework. Did you notice that little French girl with the yellow hair, that stood next to me in the court?”
Jurgis answered in the affirmative.
“Well, she came to America about a year ago. She was a store clerk, and she hired herself to a man to be sent here to work in a factory. There were six of them, all together, and they were brought to a house just down the street from here, and this girl was put into a room alone, and they gave her some dope in her food, and when she came to she found that she had been ruined. She cried, and screamed, and tore her hair, but she had nothing but a wrapper, and couldn’t get away, and they kept her half insensible with drugs all the time, until she gave up. She never got outside of that place for ten months, and then they sent her away, because she didn’t suit. I guess they’ll put her out of here, too—she’s getting to have crazy fits, from drinking absinthe. Only one of the girls that came out with her got away, and she jumped out of a second-story window one night. There was a great fuss about that—maybe you heard of it.”
“I did,” said Jurgis, “I heard of it afterward.” (It had happened in the place where he and Duane had taken refuge from their “country customer.” The girl had become insane, fortunately for the police.)