The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair is part of HackerNoon Books Series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Chapter XXVI
After the elections Jurgis stayed on in Packingtown and kept his job. The agitation to break up the police protection of criminals was continuing, and it seemed to him best to “lay low” for the present. He had nearly three hundred dollars in the bank, and might have considered himself entitled to a vacation; but he had an easy job, and force of habit kept him at it. Besides, Mike Scully, whom he consulted, advised him that something might “turn up” before long.
Jurgis got himself a place in a boardinghouse with some congenial friends. He had already inquired of Aniele, and learned that Elzbieta and her family had gone downtown, and so he gave no further thought to them. He went with a new set, now, young unmarried fellows who were “sporty.” Jurgis had long ago cast off his fertilizer clothing, and since going into politics he had donned a linen collar and a greasy red necktie. He had some reason for thinking of his dress, for he was making about eleven dollars a week, and two-thirds of it he might spend upon his pleasures without ever touching his savings.
Sometimes he would ride down-town with a party of friends to the cheap theaters and the music halls and other haunts with which they were familiar. Many of the saloons in Packingtown had pool tables, and some of them bowling alleys, by means of which he could spend his evenings in petty gambling. Also, there were cards and dice. One time Jurgis got into a game on a Saturday night and won prodigiously, and because he was a man of spirit he stayed in with the rest and the game continued until late Sunday afternoon, and by that time he was “out” over twenty dollars.
On Saturday nights, also, a number of balls were generally given in Packingtown; each man would bring his “girl” with him, paying half a dollar for a ticket, and several dollars additional for drinks in the course of the festivities, which continued until three or four o’clock in the morning, unless broken up by fighting. During all this time the same man and woman would dance together, half-stupefied with sensuality and drink.
Before long Jurgis discovered what Scully had meant by something “turning up.” In May the agreement between the packers and the unions expired, and a new agreement had to be signed. Negotiations were going on, and the yards were full of talk of a strike. The old scale had dealt with the wages of the skilled men only; and of the members of the Meat Workers’ Union about two-thirds were unskilled men.
In Chicago these latter were receiving, for the most part, eighteen and a half cents an hour, and the unions wished to make this the general wage for the next year. It was not nearly so large a wage as it seemed—in the course of the negotiations the union officers examined time checks to the amount of ten thousand dollars, and they found that the highest wages paid had been fourteen dollars a week, and the lowest two dollars and five cents, and the average of the whole, six dollars and sixty-five cents.
And six dollars and sixty-five cents was hardly too much for a man to keep a family on, considering the fact that the price of dressed meat had increased nearly fifty per cent in the last five years, while the price of “beef on the hoof” had decreased as much, it would have seemed that the packers ought to be able to pay it; but the packers were unwilling to pay it—they rejected the union demand, and to show what their purpose was, a week or two after the agreement expired they put down the wages of about a thousand men to sixteen and a half cents, and it was said that old man Jones had vowed he would put them to fifteen before he got through. There were a million and a half of men in the country looking for work, a hundred thousand of them right in Chicago; and were the packers to let the union stewards march into their places and bind them to a contract that would lose them several thousand dollars a day for a year? Not much!
All this was in June; and before long the question was submitted to a referendum in the unions, and the decision was for a strike. It was the same in all the packing house cities; and suddenly the newspapers and public woke up to face the gruesome spectacle of a meat famine. All sorts of pleas for a reconsideration were made, but the packers were obdurate; and all the while they were reducing wages, and heading off shipments of cattle, and rushing in wagon-loads of mattresses and cots.
So the men boiled over, and one night telegrams went out from the union headquarters to all the big packing centers—to St. Paul, South Omaha, Sioux City, St. Joseph, Kansas City, East St. Louis, and New York—and the next day at noon between fifty and sixty thousand men drew off their working clothes and marched out of the factories, and the great “Beef Strike” was on.
Jurgis went to his dinner, and afterward he walked over to see Mike Scully, who lived in a fine house, upon a street which had been decently paved and lighted for his especial benefit. Scully had gone into semi-retirement, and looked nervous and worried. “What do you want?” he demanded, when he saw Jurgis.
“I came to see if maybe you could get me a place during the strike,” the other replied.
And Scully knit his brows and eyed him narrowly. In that morning’s papers Jurgis had read a fierce denunciation of the packers by Scully, who had declared that if they did not treat their people better the city authorities would end the matter by tearing down their plants. Now, therefore, Jurgis was not a little taken aback when the other demanded suddenly, “See here, Rudkus, why don’t you stick by your job?”
Jurgis started. “Work as a scab?” he cried.
“Why not?” demanded Scully. “What’s that to you?”
“But—but—” stammered Jurgis. He had somehow taken it for granted that he should go out with his union. “The packers need good men, and need them bad,” continued the other, “and they’ll treat a man right that stands by them. Why don’t you take your chance and fix yourself?”
“But,” said Jurgis, “how could I ever be of any use to you—in politics?”
“You couldn’t be it anyhow,” said Scully, abruptly.
“Why not?” asked Jurgis.
“Hell, man!” cried the other. “Don’t you know you’re a Republican? And do you think I’m always going to elect Republicans? My brewer has found out already how we served him, and there is the deuce to pay.”
Jurgis looked dumfounded. He had never thought of that aspect of it before. “I could be a Democrat,” he said.
“Yes,” responded the other, “but not right away; a man can’t change his politics every day. And besides, I don’t need you—there’d be nothing for you to do. And it’s a long time to election day, anyhow; and what are you going to do meantime?”
“I thought I could count on you,” began Jurgis.
“Yes,” responded Scully, “so you could—I never yet went back on a friend. But is it fair to leave the job I got you and come to me for another? I have had a hundred fellows after me today, and what can I do? I’ve put seventeen men on the city payroll to clean streets this one week, and do you think I can keep that up forever? It wouldn’t do for me to tell other men what I tell you, but you’ve been on the inside, and you ought to have sense enough to see for yourself. What have you to gain by a strike?”
“I hadn’t thought,” said Jurgis.
“Exactly,” said Scully, “but you’d better. Take my word for it, the strike will be over in a few days, and the men will be beaten; and meantime what you can get out of it will belong to you. Do you see?”
And Jurgis saw. He went back to the yards, and into the workroom. The men had left a long line of hogs in various stages of preparation, and the foreman was directing the feeble efforts of a score or two of clerks and stenographers and office boys to finish up the job and get them into the chilling rooms. Jurgis went straight up to him and announced, “I have come back to work, Mr. Murphy.”
The boss’s face lighted up. “Good man!” he cried. “Come ahead!”
“Just a moment,” said Jurgis, checking his enthusiasm. “I think I ought to get a little more wages.”
“Yes,” replied the other, “of course. What do you want?”
Jurgis had debated on the way. His nerve almost failed him now, but he clenched his hands. “I think I ought to have’ three dollars a day,” he said.
“All right,” said the other, promptly; and before the day was out our friend discovered that the clerks and stenographers and office boys were getting five dollars a day, and then he could have kicked himself!
So Jurgis became one of the new “American heroes,” a man whose virtues merited comparison with those of the martyrs of Lexington and Valley Forge. The resemblance was not complete, of course, for Jurgis was generously paid and comfortably clad, and was provided with a spring cot and a mattress and three substantial meals a day; also he was perfectly at ease, and safe from all peril of life and limb, save only in the case that a desire for beer should lead him to venture outside of the stockyards gates. And even in the exercise of this privilege he was not left unprotected; a good part of the inadequate police force of Chicago was suddenly diverted from its work of hunting criminals, and rushed out to serve him. The police, and the strikers also, were determined that there should be no violence; but there was another party interested which was minded to the contrary—and that was the press. On the first day of his life as a strikebreaker Jurgis quit work early, and in a spirit of bravado he challenged three men of his acquaintance to go outside and get a drink. They accepted, and went through the big Halsted Street gate, where several policemen were watching, and also some union pickets, scanning sharply those who passed in and out. Jurgis and his companions went south on Halsted Street; past the hotel, and then suddenly half a dozen men started across the street toward them and proceeded to argue with them concerning the error of their ways. As the arguments were not taken in the proper spirit, they went on to threats; and suddenly one of them jerked off the hat of one of the four and flung it over the fence. The man started after it, and then, as a cry of “Scab!” was raised and a dozen people came running out of saloons and doorways, a second man’s heart failed him and he followed. Jurgis and the fourth stayed long enough to give themselves the satisfaction of a quick exchange of blows, and then they, too, took to their heels and fled back of the hotel and into the yards again. Meantime, of course, policemen were coming on a run, and as a crowd gathered other police got excited and sent in a riot call. Jurgis knew nothing of this, but went back to “Packers’ Avenue,” and in front of the “Central Time Station” he saw one of his companions, breathless and wild with excitement, narrating to an ever growing throng how the four had been attacked and surrounded by a howling mob, and had been nearly torn to pieces. While he stood listening, smiling cynically, several dapper young men stood by with notebooks in their hands, and it was not more than two hours later that Jurgis saw newsboys running about with armfuls of newspapers, printed in red and black letters six inches high:
VIOLENCE IN THE YARDS! STRIKEBREAKERS SURROUNDED BY FRENZIED MOB!
If he had been able to buy all of the newspapers of the United States the next morning, he might have discovered that his beer-hunting exploit was being perused by some two score millions of people, and had served as a text for editorials in half the staid and solemn business-men’s newspapers in the land.
Jurgis was to see more of this as time passed. For the present, his work being over, he was free to ride into the city, by a railroad direct from the yards, or else to spend the night in a room where cots had been laid in rows. He chose the latter, but to his regret, for all night long gangs of strikebreakers kept arriving. As very few of the better class of workingmen could be got for such work, these specimens of the new American hero contained an assortment of the criminals and thugs of the city, besides Negroes and the lowest foreigners—Greeks, Roumanians, Sicilians, and Slovaks. They had been attracted more by the prospect of disorder than by the big wages; and they made the night hideous with singing and carousing, and only went to sleep when the time came for them to get up to work.
In the morning before Jurgis had finished his breakfast, “Pat” Murphy ordered him to one of the superintendents, who questioned him as to his experience in the work of the killing room. His heart began to thump with excitement, for he divined instantly that his hour had come—that he was to be a boss!
Some of the foremen were union members, and many who were not had gone out with the men. It was in the killing department that the packers had been left most in the lurch, and precisely here that they could least afford it; the smoking and canning and salting of meat might wait, and all the by-products might be wasted—but fresh meats must be had, or the restaurants and hotels and brownstone houses would feel the pinch, and then “public opinion” would take a startling turn.
An opportunity such as this would not come twice to a man; and Jurgis seized it. Yes, he knew the work, the whole of it, and he could teach it to others. But if he took the job and gave satisfaction he would expect to keep it—they would not turn him off at the end of the strike? To which the superintendent replied that he might safely trust Durham’s for that—they proposed to teach these unions a lesson, and most of all those foremen who had gone back on them. Jurgis would receive five dollars a day during the strike, and twenty-five a week after it was settled.
So our friend got a pair of “slaughter pen” boots and “jeans,” and flung himself at his task. It was a weird sight, there on the killing beds—a throng of stupid black Negroes, and foreigners who could not understand a word that was said to them, mixed with pale-faced, hollow-chested bookkeepers and clerks, half-fainting for the tropical heat and the sickening stench of fresh blood—and all struggling to dress a dozen or two cattle in the same place where, twenty-four hours ago, the old killing gang had been speeding, with their marvelous precision, turning out four hundred carcasses every hour!
The Negroes and the “toughs” from the Lêvée did not want to work, and every few minutes some of them would feel obliged to retire and recuperate. In a couple of days Durham and Company had electric fans up to cool off the rooms for them, and even couches for them to rest on; and meantime they could go out and find a shady corner and take a “snooze,” and as there was no place for any one in particular, and no system, it might be hours before their boss discovered them. As for the poor office employees, they did their best, moved to it by terror; thirty of them had been “fired” in a bunch that first morning for refusing to serve, besides a number of women clerks and typewriters who had declined to act as waitresses.
It was such a force as this that Jurgis had to organize. He did his best, flying here and there, placing them in rows and showing them the tricks; he had never given an order in his life before, but he had taken enough of them to know, and he soon fell into the spirit of it, and roared and stormed like any old stager. He had not the most tractable pupils, however. “See hyar, boss,” a big black “buck” would begin, “ef you doan’ like de way Ah does dis job, you kin get somebody else to do it.” Then a crowd would gather and listen, muttering threats. After the first meal nearly all the steel knives had been missing, and now every Negro had one, ground to a fine point, hidden in his boots.
There was no bringing order out of such a chaos, Jurgis soon discovered; and he fell in with the spirit of the thing—there was no reason why he should wear himself out with shouting. If hides and guts were slashed and rendered useless there was no way of tracing it to any one; and if a man lay off and forgot to come back there was nothing to be gained by seeking him, for all the rest would quit in the meantime. Everything went, during the strike, and the packers paid. Before long Jurgis found that the custom of resting had suggested to some alert minds the possibility of registering at more than one place and earning more than one five dollars a day. When he caught a man at this he “fired” him, but it chanced to be in a quiet corner, and the man tendered him a ten-dollar bill and a wink, and he took them. Of course, before long this custom spread, and Jurgis was soon making quite a good income from it.
In the face of handicaps such as these the packers counted themselves lucky if they could kill off the cattle that had been crippled in transit and the hogs that had developed disease. Frequently, in the course of a two or three days’ trip, in hot weather and without water, some hog would develop cholera, and die; and the rest would attack him before he had ceased kicking, and when the car was opened there would be nothing of him left but the bones. If all the hogs in this carload were not killed at once, they would soon be down with the dread disease, and there would be nothing to do but make them into lard. It was the same with cattle that were gored and dying, or were limping with broken bones stuck through their flesh—they must be killed, even if brokers and buyers and superintendents had to take off their coats and help drive and cut and skin them. And meantime, agents of the packers were gathering gangs of Negroes in the country districts of the far South, promising them five dollars a day and board, and being careful not to mention there was a strike; already carloads of them were on the way, with special rates from the railroads, and all traffic ordered out of the way. Many towns and cities were taking advantage of the chance to clear out their jails and workhouses—in Detroit the magistrates would release every man who agreed to leave town within twenty-four hours, and agents of the packers were in the courtrooms to ship them right. And meantime trainloads of supplies were coming in for their accommodation, including beer and whisky, so that they might not be tempted to go outside. They hired thirty young girls in Cincinnati to “pack fruit,” and when they arrived put them at work canning corned beef, and put cots for them to sleep in a public hallway, through which the men passed. As the gangs came in day and night, under the escort of squads of police, they stowed away in unused workrooms and storerooms, and in the car sheds, crowded so closely together that the cots touched. In some places they would use the same room for eating and sleeping, and at night the men would put their cots upon the tables, to keep away from the swarms of rats.
But with all their best efforts, the packers were demoralized. Ninety per cent of the men had walked out; and they faced the task of completely remaking their labor force—and with the price of meat up thirty per cent, and the public clamoring for a settlement. They made an offer to submit the whole question at issue to arbitration; and at the end of ten days the unions accepted it, and the strike was called off. It was agreed that all the men were to be re-employed within forty-five days, and that there was to be “no discrimination against union men.”
This was an anxious time for Jurgis. If the men were taken back “without discrimination,” he would lose his present place. He sought out the superintendent, who smiled grimly and bade him “wait and see.” Durham’s strikebreakers were few of them leaving.
Whether or not the “settlement” was simply a trick of the packers to gain time, or whether they really expected to break the strike and cripple the unions by the plan, cannot be said; but that night there went out from the office of Durham and Company a telegram to all the big packing centers, “Employ no union leaders.” And in the morning, when the twenty thousand men thronged into the yards, with their dinner pails and working clothes, Jurgis stood near the door of the hog-trimming room, where he had worked before the strike, and saw a throng of eager men, with a score or two of policemen watching them; and he saw a superintendent come out and walk down the line, and pick out man after man that pleased him; and one after another came, and there were some men up near the head of the line who were never picked—they being the union stewards and delegates, and the men Jurgis had heard making speeches at the meetings. Each time, of course, there were louder murmurings and angrier looks. Over where the cattle butchers were waiting, Jurgis heard shouts and saw a crowd, and he hurried there. One big butcher, who was president of the Packing Trades Council, had been passed over five times, and the men were wild with rage; they had appointed a committee of three to go in and see the superintendent, and the committee had made three attempts, and each time the police had clubbed them back from the door. Then there were yells and hoots, continuing until at last the superintendent came to the door. “We all go back or none of us do!” cried a hundred voices. And the other shook his fist at them, and shouted, “You went out of here like cattle, and like cattle you’ll come back!”
Then suddenly the big butcher president leaped upon a pile of stones and yelled: “It’s off, boys. We’ll all of us quit again!” And so the cattle butchers declared a new strike on the spot; and gathering their members from the other plants, where the same trick had been played, they marched down Packers’ Avenue, which was thronged with a dense mass of workers, cheering wildly. Men who had already got to work on the killing beds dropped their tools and joined them; some galloped here and there on horseback, shouting the tidings, and within half an hour the whole of Packingtown was on strike again, and beside itself with fury.
There was quite a different tone in Packingtown after this—the place was a seething caldron of passion, and the “scab” who ventured into it fared badly. There were one or two of these incidents each day, the newspapers detailing them, and always blaming them upon the unions. Yet ten years before, when there were no unions in Packingtown, there was a strike, and national troops had to be called, and there were pitched battles fought at night, by the light of blazing freight trains. Packingtown was always a center of violence; in “Whisky Point,” where there were a hundred saloons and one glue factory, there was always fighting, and always more of it in hot weather. Any one who had taken the trouble to consult the station house blotter would have found that there was less violence that summer than ever before—and this while twenty thousand men were out of work, and with nothing to do all day but brood upon bitter wrongs. There was no one to picture the battle the union leaders were fighting—to hold this huge army in rank, to keep it from straggling and pillaging, to cheer and encourage and guide a hundred thousand people, of a dozen different tongues, through six long weeks of hunger and disappointment and despair.
Meantime the packers had set themselves definitely to the task of making a new labor force. A thousand or two of strikebreakers were brought in every night, and distributed among the various plants. Some of them were experienced workers,—butchers, salesmen, and managers from the packers’ branch stores, and a few union men who had deserted from other cities; but the vast majority were “green” Negroes from the cotton districts of the far South, and they were herded into the packing plants like sheep. There was a law forbidding the use of buildings as lodginghouses unless they were licensed for the purpose, and provided with proper windows, stairways, and fire escapes; but here, in a “paint room,” reached only by an enclosed “chute,” a room without a single window and only one door, a hundred men were crowded upon mattresses on the floor. Up on the third story of the “hog house” of Jones’s was a storeroom, without a window, into which they crowded seven hundred men, sleeping upon the bare springs of cots, and with a second shift to use them by day. And when the clamor of the public led to an investigation into these conditions, and the mayor of the city was forced to order the enforcement of the law, the packers got a judge to issue an injunction forbidding him to do it!
Just at this time the mayor was boasting that he had put an end to gambling and prize fighting in the city; but here a swarm of professional gamblers had leagued themselves with the police to fleece the strikebreakers; and any night, in the big open space in front of Brown’s, one might see brawny Negroes stripped to the waist and pounding each other for money, while a howling throng of three or four thousand surged about, men and women, young white girls from the country rubbing elbows with big buck Negroes with daggers in their boots, while rows of woolly heads peered down from every window of the surrounding factories. The ancestors of these black people had been savages in Africa; and since then they had been chattel slaves, or had been held down by a community ruled by the traditions of slavery. Now for the first time they were free—free to gratify every passion, free to wreck themselves. They were wanted to break a strike, and when it was broken they would be shipped away, and their present masters would never see them again; and so whisky and women were brought in by the carload and sold to them, and hell was let loose in the yards. Every night there were stabbings and shootings; it was said that the packers had blank permits, which enabled them to ship dead bodies from the city without troubling the authorities. They lodged men and women on the same floor; and with the night there began a saturnalia of debauchery—scenes such as never before had been witnessed in America. And as the women were the dregs from the brothels of Chicago, and the men were for the most part ignorant country Negroes, the nameless diseases of vice were soon rife; and this where food was being handled which was sent out to every corner of the civilized world.
The “Union Stockyards” were never a pleasant place; but now they were not only a collection of slaughterhouses, but also the camping place of an army of fifteen or twenty thousand human beasts. All day long the blazing midsummer sun beat down upon that square mile of abominations: upon tens of thousands of cattle crowded into pens whose wooden floors stank and steamed contagion; upon bare, blistering, cinder-strewn railroad tracks, and huge blocks of dingy meat factories, whose labyrinthine passages defied a breath of fresh air to penetrate them; and there were not merely rivers of hot blood, and car-loads of moist flesh, and rendering vats and soap caldrons, glue factories and fertilizer tanks, that smelt like the craters of hell—there were also tons of garbage festering in the sun, and the greasy laundry of the workers hung out to dry, and dining rooms littered with food and black with flies, and toilet rooms that were open sewers.
And then at night, when this throng poured out into the streets to play—fighting, gambling, drinking and carousing, cursing and screaming, laughing and singing, playing banjoes and dancing! They were worked in the yards all the seven days of the week, and they had their prize fights and crap games on Sunday nights as well; but then around the corner one might see a bonfire blazing, and an old, gray-headed Negress, lean and witchlike, her hair flying wild and her eyes blazing, yelling and chanting of the fires of perdition and the blood of the “Lamb,” while men and women lay down upon the ground and moaned and screamed in convulsions of terror and remorse.
Such were the stockyards during the strike; while the unions watched in sullen despair, and the country clamored like a greedy child for its food, and the packers went grimly on their way. Each day they added new workers, and could be more stern with the old ones—could put them on piecework, and dismiss them if they did not keep up the pace. Jurgis was now one of their agents in this process; and he could feel the change day by day, like the slow starting up of a huge machine. He had gotten used to being a master of men; and because of the stifling heat and the stench, and the fact that he was a “scab” and knew it and despised himself. He was drinking, and developing a villainous temper, and he stormed and cursed and raged at his men, and drove them until they were ready to drop with exhaustion.
Then one day late in August, a superintendent ran into the place and shouted to Jurgis and his gang to drop their work and come. They followed him outside, to where, in the midst of a dense throng, they saw several two-horse trucks waiting, and three patrol-wagon loads of police. Jurgis and his men sprang upon one of the trucks, and the driver yelled to the crowd, and they went thundering away at a gallop. Some steers had just escaped from the yards, and the strikers had got hold of them, and there would be the chance of a scrap!
They went out at the Ashland Avenue gate, and over in the direction of the “dump.” There was a yell as soon as they were sighted, men and women rushing out of houses and saloons as they galloped by. There were eight or ten policemen on the truck, however, and there was no disturbance until they came to a place where the street was blocked with a dense throng. Those on the flying truck yelled a warning and the crowd scattered pell-mell, disclosing one of the steers lying in its blood. There were a good many cattle butchers about just then, with nothing much to do, and hungry children at home; and so some one had knocked out the steer—and as a first-class man can kill and dress one in a couple of minutes, there were a good many steaks and roasts already missing. This called for punishment, of course; and the police proceeded to administer it by leaping from the truck and cracking at every head they saw. There were yells of rage and pain, and the terrified people fled into houses and stores, or scattered helter-skelter down the street. Jurgis and his gang joined in the sport, every man singling out his victim, and striving to bring him to bay and punch him. If he fled into a house his pursuer would smash in the flimsy door and follow him up the stairs, hitting every one who came within reach, and finally dragging his squealing quarry from under a bed or a pile of old clothes in a closet.
Jurgis and two policemen chased some men into a bar-room. One of them took shelter behind the bar, where a policeman cornered him and proceeded to whack him over the back and shoulders, until he lay down and gave a chance at his head. The others leaped a fence in the rear, balking the second policeman, who was fat; and as he came back, furious and cursing, a big Polish woman, the owner of the saloon, rushed in screaming, and received a poke in the stomach that doubled her up on the floor. Meantime Jurgis, who was of a practical temper, was helping himself at the bar; and the first policeman, who had laid out his man, joined him, handing out several more bottles, and filling his pockets besides, and then, as he started to leave, cleaning off all the balance with a sweep of his club. The din of the glass crashing to the floor brought the fat Polish woman to her feet again, but another policeman came up behind her and put his knee into her back and his hands over her eyes—and then called to his companion, who went back and broke open the cash drawer and filled his pockets with the contents. Then the three went outside, and the man who was holding the woman gave her a shove and dashed out himself. The gang having already got the carcass on to the truck, the party set out at a trot, followed by screams and curses, and a shower of bricks and stones from unseen enemies. These bricks and stones would figure in the accounts of the “riot” which would be sent out to a few thousand newspapers within an hour or two; but the episode of the cash drawer would never be mentioned again, save only in the heartbreaking legends of Packingtown.
It was late in the afternoon when they got back, and they dressed out the remainder of the steer, and a couple of others that had been killed, and then knocked off for the day. Jurgis went downtown to supper, with three friends who had been on the other trucks, and they exchanged reminiscences on the way. Afterward they drifted into a roulette parlor, and Jurgis, who was never lucky at gambling, dropped about fifteen dollars. To console himself he had to drink a good deal, and he went back to Packingtown about two o’clock in the morning, very much the worse for his excursion, and, it must be confessed, entirely deserving the calamity that was in store for him.
As he was going to the place where he slept, he met a painted-cheeked woman in a greasy “kimono,” and she put her arm about his waist to steady him; they turned into a dark room they were passing—but scarcely had they taken two steps before suddenly a door swung open, and a man entered, carrying a lantern. “Who’s there?” he called sharply. And Jurgis started to mutter some reply; but at the same instant the man raised his light, which flashed in his face, so that it was possible to recognize him. Jurgis stood stricken dumb, and his heart gave a leap like a mad thing. The man was Connor!
Connor, the boss of the loading gang! The man who had seduced his wife—who had sent him to prison, and wrecked his home, ruined his life! He stood there, staring, with the light shining full upon him.
Jurgis had often thought of Connor since coming back to Packingtown, but it had been as of something far off, that no longer concerned him. Now, however, when he saw him, alive and in the flesh, the same thing happened to him that had happened before—a flood of rage boiled up in him, a blind frenzy seized him. And he flung himself at the man, and smote him between the eyes—and then, as he fell, seized him by the throat and began to pound his head upon the stones.
The woman began screaming, and people came rushing in. The lantern had been upset and extinguished, and it was so dark they could not see a thing; but they could hear Jurgis panting, and hear the thumping of his victim’s skull, and they rushed there and tried to pull him off. Precisely as before, Jurgis came away with a piece of his enemy’s flesh between his teeth; and, as before, he went on fighting with those who had interfered with him, until a policeman had come and beaten him into insensibility.
And so Jurgis spent the balance of the night in the stockyards station house. This time, however, he had money in his pocket, and when he came to his senses he could get something to drink, and also a messenger to take word of his plight to “Bush” Harper. Harper did not appear, however, until after the prisoner, feeling very weak and ill, had been hailed into court and remanded at five hundred dollars’ bail to await the result of his victim’s injuries. Jurgis was wild about this, because a different magistrate had chanced to be on the bench, and he had stated that he had never been arrested before, and also that he had been attacked first—and if only someone had been there to speak a good word for him, he could have been let off at once.
But Harper explained that he had been downtown, and had not got the message. “What’s happened to you?” he asked.
“I’ve been doing a fellow up,” said Jurgis, “and I’ve got to get five hundred dollars’ bail.”
“I can arrange that all right,” said the other—“though it may cost you a few dollars, of course. But what was the trouble?”
“It was a man that did me a mean trick once,” answered Jurgis.
“Who is he?”
“He’s a foreman in Brown’s or used to be. His name’s Connor.”
And the other gave a start. “Connor!” he cried. “Not Phil Connor!”
“Yes,” said Jurgis, “that’s the fellow. Why?”
“Good God!” exclaimed the other, “then you’re in for it, old man! I can’t help you!”
“Not help me! Why not?”
“Why, he’s one of Scully’s biggest men—he’s a member of the War-Whoop League, and they talked of sending him to the legislature! Phil Connor! Great heavens!”
Jurgis sat dumb with dismay.
“Why, he can send you to Joliet, if he wants to!” declared the other.
“Can’t I have Scully get me off before he finds out about it?” asked Jurgis, at length.
“But Scully’s out of town,” the other answered. “I don’t even know where he is—he’s run away to dodge the strike.”
That was a pretty mess, indeed. Poor Jurgis sat half-dazed. His pull had run up against a bigger pull, and he was down and out! “But what am I going to do?” he asked, weakly.
“How should I know?” said the other. “I shouldn’t even dare to get bail for you—why, I might ruin myself for life!”
Again there was silence. “Can’t you do it for me,” Jurgis asked, “and pretend that you didn’t know who I’d hit?”
“But what good would that do you when you came to stand trial?” asked Harper. Then he sat buried in thought for a minute or two. “There’s nothing—unless it’s this,” he said. “I could have your bail reduced; and then if you had the money you could pay it and skip.”
“How much will it be?” Jurgis asked, after he had had this explained more in detail.
“I don’t know,” said the other. “How much do you own?”
“I’ve got about three hundred dollars,” was the answer.
“Well,” was Harper’s reply, “I’m not sure, but I’ll try and get you off for that. I’ll take the risk for friendship’s sake—for I’d hate to see you sent to state’s prison for a year or two.”
And so finally Jurgis ripped out his bankbook—which was sewed up in his trousers—and signed an order, which “Bush” Harper wrote, for all the money to be paid out. Then the latter went and got it, and hurried to the court, and explained to the magistrate that Jurgis was a decent fellow and a friend of Scully’s, who had been attacked by a strike-breaker. So the bail was reduced to three hundred dollars, and Harper went on it himself; he did not tell this to Jurgis, however—nor did he tell him that when the time for trial came it would be an easy matter for him to avoid the forfeiting of the bail, and pocket the three hundred dollars as his reward for the risk of offending Mike Scully! All that he told Jurgis was that he was now free, and that the best thing he could do was to clear out as quickly as possible; and so Jurgis overwhelmed with gratitude and relief, took the dollar and fourteen cents that was left him out of all his bank account, and put it with the two dollars and quarter that was left from his last night’s celebration, and boarded a streetcar and got off at the other end of Chicago.
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Sinclair, Upton. 1994. The Jungle. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved April 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/140/140-h/140-h.htm#chap26
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