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.