The Iron Heel eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 261 pages of information about The Iron Heel.

CHAPTER XXIV

NIGHTMARE

I had not closed my eyes the night before on the Twentieth Century, and what of that and of my exhaustion I slept soundly.  When I first awoke, it was night.  Garthwaite had not returned.  I had lost my watch and had no idea of the time.  As I lay with my eyes closed, I heard the same dull sound of distant explosions.  The inferno was still raging.  I crept through the store to the front.  The reflection from the sky of vast conflagrations made the street almost as light as day.  One could have read the finest print with ease.  From several blocks away came the crackle of small hand-bombs and the churning of machine-guns, and from a long way off came a long series of heavy explosions.  I crept back to my horse blankets and slept again.

When next I awoke, a sickly yellow light was filtering in on me.  It was dawn of the second day.  I crept to the front of the store.  A smoke pall, shot through with lurid gleams, filled the sky.  Down the opposite side of the street tottered a wretched slave.  One hand he held tightly against his side, and behind him he left a bloody trail.  His eyes roved everywhere, and they were filled with apprehension and dread.  Once he looked straight across at me, and in his face was all the dumb pathos of the wounded and hunted animal.  He saw me, but there was no kinship between us, and with him, at least, no sympathy of understanding; for he cowered perceptibly and dragged himself on.  He could expect no aid in all God’s world.  He was a helot in the great hunt of helots that the masters were making.  All he could hope for, all he sought, was some hole to crawl away in and hide like any animal.  The sharp clang of a passing ambulance at the corner gave him a start.  Ambulances were not for such as he.  With a groan of pain he threw himself into a doorway.  A minute later he was out again and desperately hobbling on.

I went back to my horse blankets and waited an hour for Garthwaite.  My headache had not gone away.  On the contrary, it was increasing.  It was by an effort of will only that I was able to open my eyes and look at objects.  And with the opening of my eyes and the looking came intolerable torment.  Also, a great pulse was beating in my brain.  Weak and reeling, I went out through the broken window and down the street, seeking to escape, instinctively and gropingly, from the awful shambles.  And thereafter I lived nightmare.  My memory of what happened in the succeeding hours is the memory one would have of nightmare.  Many events are focussed sharply on my brain, but between these indelible pictures I retain are intervals of unconsciousness.  What occurred in those intervals I know not, and never shall know.

I remember stumbling at the corner over the legs of a man.  It was the poor hunted wretch that had dragged himself past my hiding-place.  How distinctly do I remember his poor, pitiful, gnarled hands as he lay there on the pavement—­hands that were more hoof and claw than hands, all twisted and distorted by the toil of all his days, with on the palms a horny growth of callous a half inch thick.  And as I picked myself up and started on, I looked into the face of the thing and saw that it still lived; for the eyes, dimly intelligent, were looking at me and seeing me.

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The Iron Heel from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.