The Iron Heel
Jack London

Part 6 out of 6

animals often became pests. In California the custom of rabbit-
driving obtained. On a given day all the farmers in a locality
would assemble and sweep across the country in converging lines,
driving the rabbits by scores of thousands into a prepared
enclosure, where they were clubbed to death by men and boys.

I remember another street, with quiet buildings on either side, and
the panic that smote me into consciousness as again I saw the
people of the abyss, but this time in a stream that flowed and came
on. And then I saw there was nothing to fear. The stream moved
slowly, while from it arose groans and lamentations, cursings,
babblings of senility, hysteria, and insanity; for these were the
very young and the very old, the feeble and the sick, the helpless
and the hopeless, all the wreckage of the ghetto. The burning of
the great ghetto on the South Side had driven them forth into the
inferno of the street-fighting, and whither they wended and
whatever became of them I did not know and never learned.*

* It was long a question of debate, whether the burning of the
South Side ghetto was accidental, or whether it was done by the
Mercenaries; but it is definitely settled now that the ghetto was
fired by the Mercenaries under orders from their chiefs.

I have faint memories of breaking a window and hiding in some shop
to escape a street mob that was pursued by soldiers. Also, a bomb
burst near me, once, in some still street, where, look as I would,
up and down, I could see no human being. But my next sharp
recollection begins with the crack of a rifle and an abrupt
becoming aware that I am being fired at by a soldier in an
automobile. The shot missed, and the next moment I was screaming
and motioning the signals. My memory of riding in the automobile
is very hazy, though this ride, in turn, is broken by one vivid
picture. The crack of the rifle of the soldier sitting beside me
made me open my eyes, and I saw George Milford, whom I had known in
the Pell Street days, sinking slowly down to the sidewalk. Even as
he sank the soldier fired again, and Milford doubled in, then flung
his body out, and fell sprawling. The soldier chuckled, and the
automobile sped on.

The next I knew after that I was awakened out of a sound sleep by a
man who walked up and down close beside me. His face was drawn and
strained, and the sweat rolled down his nose from his forehead.
One hand was clutched tightly against his chest by the other hand,
and blood dripped down upon the floor as he walked. He wore the
uniform of the Mercenaries. From without, as through thick walls,
came the muffled roar of bursting bombs. I was in some building
that was locked in combat with some other building.

A surgeon came in to dress the wounded soldier, and I learned that
it was two in the afternoon. My headache was no better, and the
surgeon paused from his work long enough to give me a powerful drug
that would depress the heart and bring relief. I slept again, and
the next I knew I was on top of the building. The immediate
fighting had ceased, and I was watching the balloon attack on the
fortresses. Some one had an arm around me and I was leaning close
against him. It came to me quite as a matter of course that this
was Ernest, and I found myself wondering how he had got his hair
and eyebrows so badly singed.

It was by the merest chance that we had found each other in that
terrible city. He had had no idea that I had left New York, and,
coming through the room where I lay asleep, could not at first
believe that it was I. Little more I saw of the Chicago Commune.
After watching the balloon attack, Ernest took me down into the
heart of the building, where I slept the afternoon out and the
night. The third day we spent in the building, and on the fourth,
Ernest having got permission and an automobile from the
authorities, we left Chicago.

My headache was gone, but, body and soul, I was very tired. I lay
back against Ernest in the automobile, and with apathetic eyes
watched the soldiers trying to get the machine out of the city.
Fighting was still going on, but only in isolated localities. Here
and there whole districts were still in possession of the comrades,
but such districts were surrounded and guarded by heavy bodies of
troops. In a hundred segregated traps were the comrades thus held
while the work of subjugating them went on. Subjugation meant
death, for no quarter was given, and they fought heroically to the
last man.*

* Numbers of the buildings held out over a week, while one held out
eleven days. Each building had to be stormed like a fort, and the
Mercenaries fought their way upward floor by floor. It was deadly
fighting. Quarter was neither given nor taken, and in the fighting
the revolutionists had the advantage of being above. While the
revolutionists were wiped out, the loss was not one-sided. The
proud Chicago proletariat lived up to its ancient boast. For as
many of itself as were killed, it killed that many of the enemy.

Whenever we approached such localities, the guards turned us back
and sent us around. Once, the only way past two strong positions
of the comrades was through a burnt section that lay between. From
either side we could hear the rattle and roar of war, while the
automobile picked its way through smoking ruins and tottering
walls. Often the streets were blocked by mountains of debris that
compelled us to go around. We were in a labyrinth of ruin, and our
progress was slow.

The stockyards (ghetto, plant, and everything) were smouldering
ruins. Far off to the right a wide smoke haze dimmed the sky,--the
town of Pullman, the soldier chauffeur told us, or what had been
the town of Pullman, for it was utterly destroyed. He had driven
the machine out there, with despatches, on the afternoon of the
third day. Some of the heaviest fighting had occurred there, he
said, many of the streets being rendered impassable by the heaps of
the dead.

Swinging around the shattered walls of a building, in the
stockyards district, the automobile was stopped by a wave of dead.
It was for all the world like a wave tossed up by the sea. It was
patent to us what had happened. As the mob charged past the
corner, it had been swept, at right angles and point-blank range,
by the machine-guns drawn up on the cross street. But disaster had
come to the soldiers. A chance bomb must have exploded among them,
for the mob, checked until its dead and dying formed the wave, had
white-capped and flung forward its foam of living, fighting slaves.
Soldiers and slaves lay together, torn and mangled, around and over
the wreckage of the automobiles and guns.

Ernest sprang out. A familiar pair of shoulders in a cotton shirt
and a familiar fringe of white hair had caught his eye. I did not
watch him, and it was not until he was back beside me and we were
speeding on that he said:

"It was Bishop Morehouse."

Soon we were in the green country, and I took one last glance back
at the smoke-filled sky. Faint and far came the low thud of an
explosion. Then I turned my face against Ernest's breast and wept
softly for the Cause that was lost. Ernest's arm about me was
eloquent with love.

"For this time lost, dear heart," he said, "but not forever. We
have learned. To-morrow the Cause will rise again, strong with
wisdom and discipline."

The automobile drew up at a railroad station. Here we would catch
a train to New York. As we waited on the platform, three trains
thundered past, bound west to Chicago. They were crowded with
ragged, unskilled laborers, people of the abyss.

"Slave-levies for the rebuilding of Chicago," Ernest said. "You
see, the Chicago slaves are all killed."



It was not until Ernest and I were back in New York, and after
weeks had elapsed, that we were able to comprehend thoroughly the
full sweep of the disaster that had befallen the Cause. The
situation was bitter and bloody. In many places, scattered over
the country, slave revolts and massacres had occurred. The roll of
the martyrs increased mightily. Countless executions took place
everywhere. The mountains and waste regions were filled with
outlaws and refugees who were being hunted down mercilessly. Our
own refuges were packed with comrades who had prices on their
heads. Through information furnished by its spies, scores of our
refuges were raided by the soldiers of the Iron Heel.

Many of the comrades were disheartened, and they retaliated with
terroristic tactics. The set-back to their hopes made them
despairing and desperate. Many terrorist organizations
unaffiliated with us sprang into existence and caused us much
trouble.* These misguided people sacrificed their own lives
wantonly, very often made our own plans go astray, and retarded our

* The annals of this short-lived era of despair make bloody
reading. Revenge was the ruling motive, and the members of the
terroristic organizations were careless of their own lives and
hopeless about the future. The Danites, taking their name from the
avenging angels of the Mormon mythology, sprang up in the mountains
of the Great West and spread over the Pacific Coast from Panama to
Alaska. The Valkyries were women. They were the most terrible of
all. No woman was eligible for membership who had not lost near
relatives at the hands of the Oligarchy. They were guilty of
torturing their prisoners to death. Another famous organization of
women was The Widows of War. A companion organization to the
Valkyries was the Berserkers. These men placed no value whatever
upon their own lives, and it was they who totally destroyed the
great Mercenary city of Bellona along with its population of over a
hundred thousand souls. The Bedlamites and the Helldamites were
twin slave organizations, while a new religious sect that did not
flourish long was called The Wrath of God. Among others, to show
the whimsicality of their deadly seriousness, may be mentioned the
following: The Bleeding Hearts, Sons of the Morning, the Morning
Stars, The Flamingoes, The Triple Triangles, The Three Bars, The
Rubonics, The Vindicators, The Comanches, and the Erebusites.

And through it all moved the Iron Heel, impassive and deliberate,
shaking up the whole fabric of the social structure in its search
for the comrades, combing out the Mercenaries, the labor castes,
and all its secret services, punishing without mercy and without
malice, suffering in silence all retaliations that were made upon
it, and filling the gaps in its fighting line as fast as they
appeared. And hand in hand with this, Ernest and the other leaders
were hard at work reorganizing the forces of the Revolution. The
magnitude of the task may be understood when it is taken into*

* This is the end of the Everhard Manuscript. It breaks off
abruptly in the middle of a sentence. She must have received
warning of the coming of the Mercenaries, for she had time safely
to hide the Manuscript before she fled or was captured. It is to
be regretted that she did not live to complete her narrative, for
then, undoubtedly, would have been cleared away the mystery that
has shrouded for seven centuries the execution of Ernest Everhard.


Back to Full Books