The Fertilizer Man
(From "The Jungle")


(A novel portraying the lives of the workers in the Chicago
stockyards; published in 1906)

HIS labor took him about one minute to learn. Before

him was one of the vents of the mill in which the fertilizer was being ground-rushing forth in a great brown river, with a spray of the finest dust floating forth in clouds. Jurgis was given a shovel, and along with half a dozen others it was his task to shovel this fertilizer into carts. That others were at work he knew by the sound, and by the fact that he sometimes collided with them; otherwise they might as well not have been there, for in the blinding dust-storm a man could not see six feet in front of his face. When he had filled one cart he had to grope around him until another came, and if there was none on hand he continued to grope till one arrived. In five minutes he was, of course, a mass of fertilizer from head to feet; they gave him a sponge to tie over his mouth, so that he could breathe, but the sponge did not prevent his lips and eyelids from caking up with it and his ears from filling solid. He looked like a brown ghost at twilight-from hair to shoes be became the color of the building and of everything in it, and for that matter a hundred yards outside it. The building had to be left open, and when the wind blew Durham and Company lost a great deal of fertilizer.

Working in his shirt-sleeves, and with the thermometer at over a hundred, the phosphates soaked in through every pore of Jurgis' skin, and in five minutes he had a

headache, and in fifteen was almost dazed. The blood was pounding in his brain like an engine's throbbing; there was a frightful pain in the top of his skull, and he could hardly control his hands. Still, with the memory of his four jobless months behind him, he fought on, in a frenzy of determination; and half an hour later he began to vomit-he vomited until it seemed as if his inwards must be torn into shreds. A man could get used to the fertilizer-mill, the boss had said, if he would only make up his mind to it; but Jurgis now began to see that it was a question of making up his stomach.

At the end of that day of horror, he could scarcely stand. He had to catch himself now and then, and lean against a building and get his bearings. Most of the men, when they came out, made straight for a saloon-they seemed to place fertilizer and rattlesnake poison in one class. But Jurgis was too ill to think of drinking-he could only make his way to the street and stagger on to a car. He had a sense of humor, and later on, when he became an old hand, he used to think it fun to board a street-car and see what happened. Now, however, he was too ill to notice it-how the people in the car began to gasp and sputter, to put their handkerchiefs to their noses, and transfix him with furious glances. Jurgis only knew that a man in front of him immediately got up and gave him a seat; and that half a minute later the two people on each side of him got up; and that in a full minute the crowded car was nearly empty-those passengers who could not get room on the platform having gotten out to walk.

Of course Jurgis had made his home a miniature fertilizer-mill a minute after entering. The stuff was half an inch deep in his skin-his whole system was full of it,

and it would have taken a week not merely of scrubbing, but of vigorous exercise, to get it out of him. As it was, he could be compared with nothing known to man, save that newest discovery of the savants, a substance which emits energy for an unlimited time, without being itself in the least diminished in power. He smelt so that he made all the food at the table taste, and set the whole family to vomiting; for himself it was three days before he could keep anything upon his stomach-he might wash his hands, and use a knife and fork, but were not his mouth and throat filled with the poison?

And still Jurgis stuck it out! In spite of splitting headaches he would stagger down to the plant and take up his stand once more, and begin to shovel in the blinding clouds of dust. And so at the end of the week he was a fertilizer-man for life-he was able to eat again, and though his head never stopped aching, it ceased to be so bad that he could not work.




(American poet and novelist; born 1882)

VER his face his gray hair drifting hides his Laborglory in smoke,

trange through his breath the soot is sifting, his feet are buried in coal and coke.

night hands twisted and lurid in fires, by day hands blackened with grime and oil,

De toils at the foundries and never tires, and ever and ever his lot is toil.

He speeds his soul till his body wrestles with terrible tonnage and terrible time,

Out through the yards and over the trestles the flat-cars clank and the engines chime,

His mills through windows seem eaten with fire, his high cranes travel, his ingots roll,

And billet and wheel and whistle and wire shriek with the speeding up of his soul.

Lanterns with reds and greens a-glisten wave the way and the head-light glares,

The back-bent laborers glance and listen and out through the night the tail-light flares—

Deep in the mills like a tipping cradle the huge converter turns on its wheel

And sizzling spills in the ten-ton ladle a golden water of molten steel.

Yet screwed with toil his low face searches shadow-edged fires and whited pits,

Gripping his levers his body lurches, grappling his irons he prods and hits,

And deaf with the roll and clangor and rattle with its sharp escaping staccato of steam,

And blind with flame and worn with battle, into his tonnage he turns his dream.

The world he has builded rises around us, our wondercities and weaving rails,

Over his wires a marvel has found us, a giory rides in our wheeled mails,

For the Earth grows small with strong Steel woven, and they come together who plotted apart

But he who has wrought this thing in his oven knows only toil and the tired heart.


The Cabby*

(From "Children of the Dead End")


(See page 32)

T that time there were thousands of navvies working at Kinlochleven waterworks. We spoke of waterworks, but only the contractors knew what the work was intended for. We did not know, and we did not care. We never asked questions concerning the ultimate issue of our labors, and we were not supposed to ask questions. If a man throws red muck over a wall today and throws it back again tomorrow, what the devil is it to him if he keeps throwing that same muck over the wall for the rest of his life, knowing not why nor wherefore, provided he gets paid sixpence an hour for his labor? There were so many tons of earth to be lifted and thrown somewhere else; we lifted them and threw them somewhere else; so many cubic yards of iron-hard rocks to be blasted and carried away; we blasted and carried them away, but never asked questions and never knew what results we were laboring to bring about. We turned the Highlands into a cinder-heap, and were as wise at the beginning as at the end of the task. Only when we completed the job, and returned to the town, did we learn from the newspapers that we had been employed on the construction of the biggest aluminium factory in the kingdom. All that we knew was that we had gutted whole mountains and hills in the operations. . . .

Above and over all, the mystery of the night and the By permission of E. P. Dutton & Co.

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