"Let me hear what you know about it."
Hamilton closed the book.
"I think I have it fairly straight," he said. "These first four columns on the card I have nothing to do with, so far as I can make out; is that right?"
"Yes," the older man replied, "that is looked after in another way. The district and State and all that sort of thing go in that section, and that is arranged by what we call a gang-punch."
"I don't know how that works," the boy said, "this list of instructions to the punching clerk doesn't say anything about it."
"It doesn't need to," his informant answered, "for the simple reason that the punching clerk has nothing to do with it. But I'll tell you if you want to know. There are about seventy thousand enumeration districts in the United States, and all we have to do is to set the gang-punch to the number of the district."
"But there are not seventy thousand divisions on the card or anything like it," the boy cried, "all told there are only forty-eight places in those four columns."
"That works by the permutation of numbers," was the reply. "You can arrange two numbers in only two ways, but you can arrange three figures in six ways, four in twenty-four ways, five in one hundred and twenty ways, six in seven hundred and twenty, seven in over five thousand ways; ten would give you over three and a half million ways of changing them around—and you can see for yourself where forty-eight would land you. The actual address, street, and house number, and everything else we get by reference to the schedule."
"That's enough!" cried Hamilton. "I can see now. It would take a sheet of paper a city block long merely to write down the figures."
"If you wrote down end to end all the possible relations that forty-eight figures could be put into you'd need a lifetime to write them down. Why, just with an alphabet of twenty-four letters, Leibnitz the great mathematician, calculated that over six hundred septillions of easily pronounceable words, none over three syllables long, could be arranged. We have room enough to arrange any trifling little matter like seventy or eighty million addresses, although, in truth, the gang-punch merely provides the district and section of district, and the schedule would give the rest if we had any need to refer to it."
"I see," said Hamilton, "and I suppose a number is put on the card which corresponds with every district number on the schedule. Then I come in on all the rest of the card."
"Yes, every other hole is punched by the clerk."
"But this machine doesn't seem to punch," the boy objected; "I put in a canceled card just now and tried it, but when I put the key down, nothing happened, the key just stayed down."
"It's not supposed to punch until the whole card is ready," the other explained. "You depress into position the various keys you want until all the records needed for this one card are ready. Then you can glance over your keyboard, comparing what might be called your map of depressed keys with the line of the schedule you are copying. If one is wrong, you can release that one and put down the correct one in its place, the card being as yet untouched. You see, each field or division of the card corresponds with a differently colored section of the keyboard, and this makes it easy to insure accuracy in reading from the schedule."
"But how is the punching done, then?" queried Hamilton.
"You press the bar," the foreman explained, "and that throws in the motor attached to the punching mechanism, which brings the entire die and card up against the end of the punches which have been depressed by the operator, including, of course, the gang-punch, and these perforate the card. It is then immediately withdrawn, and drops automatically into either the 'male' or the 'female' compartments of the machine, the location of the hole tilting the slide that determines on which side the punched card shall fall."
"So that really the sorting into sexes is done by the one and the same operation as the punching of the card," the boy remarked; "I see now. That's a first-class idea."
"It saves a great deal of work," the older man said. "Then, too, with the same group of motions a new card has been fed from the holder and is in place for punching. At the same time, the schedule, which is held in rigid alignment, has been turned just exactly the right amount to bring the next line in the direct vision of the operator. Thus he never has to stop and think whether he has done a line or not and never skips a line because of an error of eyesight."
"I can understand that now," the boy answered "Now let me see whether I really can do the rest of the card. In what you call the third column—though it is really the fifth—I punch either 'Hd' for the Head of the Family, 'Wf' for Wife, 'S' or 'D' for Son or Daughter, and 'Ot' for Other?"
"Then, further down the same line, 'M' is Male and 'F' is Female. That's easy enough. In the next section down, but still in the same line is 'W' for White, 'Mu' for Mulatto, 'B' for Black, 'Ch' for Chinese, 'Jp' for Japanese, and 'In' for Indian."
"Go ahead," the foreman said, "you're not likely to go wrong as yet."
"The age seems clear, too," said Hamilton, "you punch the five-year period nearest to the age and then add on. For instance, the way it looks to me is that if a fellow was sixteen, you would first punch the '15' and then the '1' in that little cornerwise bit at the bottom of the next section. But I don't see what the '5' is for."
"That's for babies in the sixth division of the first year, or from nine to eleven months old; the first division means under one month, and the rest either one, two, or three months apiece."
"I see it all now," exclaimed the boy, "you have to punch two holes for age for every person. For a boy of ten, you would have to punch the '0' as well as the '10,' I suppose, to make sure he isn't older and the extra years forgotten."
"That's the reason exactly."
"The meaning of the section next to the age is easy, too," Hamilton continued. "'S' for Single, 'M' for Married, 'Wd' for Widowed, 'D' for Divorced, 'Un' for unknown, any one could guess. But this 'Mother Tongue' business has me going."
"I thought it would," was the reply. "But it's not so hard if you remember a few things, particularly that the language of a country is not always spoken by the greatest number of its inhabitants. Now the mother tongue of Wales is Welsh, but a large proportion of the people do not speak Welsh. Thus an English-speaking Welshman's card would be punched 'OL,' meaning Other Language, or the language next in importance to the mother language of the country."
"On that basis," said Hamilton, "if the second most important language of Denmark is German a card that was punched 'Den' for the country would have to be punched 'OL' if the person whose census was registered had spoken German as his native tongue, but 'LC' if he had spoken Danish, which is the native tongue of the country. But I should think there would be some cases that would not come under that rule."
"There are—a few," the foreman replied, "but the way in which those are to be punched will be noted on the schedule by the schedule editors."
"Some schedules need a good deal of editing, I suppose," exclaimed Hamilton thoughtfully.
"You may be sure of that," the other answered. "If you think for a moment how impossible it would be to have all the supervisors and enumerators work exactly in the same style, you can see how necessary it must be for some group of persons to go over them to make them all uniform. Besides which, there are a lot of obvious mistakes that the editors remedy before the card is punched ready for tabulation. But go on with your explanation, so that I can see if you really do understand it."
"The parent columns run the same way, of course," Hamilton continued, "'U.S.' meaning any one born in the United States, and 'Un.' cases in which the parentage is unknown. Then 'NP' means native-born parents, and 'FP' foreign-born parents. Further on, 'Na' means Naturalized, 'Al' stands for Alien, 'Pa' that first papers have been taken out, and 'Un' unknown. Down the column, 'En' seems to mean that the foreign-born can speak English, 'Ot' that he can only speak some tongue other than English. The year of immigration, of course, is obvious. But this occupation, I can't make head or tail of!"
"That you have to learn," the instructor said. "There is a printed list here for reference that contains the principal kinds of employment in the United States and classifies them. In a very little while you will find that you can remember the numbers which signify the more common of these and you will need to refer to the list but seldom. All occupation returns not contained in the printed list will be classified and punched later by a special force of clerks. Holes punched for those out of work and the number of weeks unemployed are all easy. At the top of the last column, too, 'Emp' means Employer, 'W' Wage Earner, while 'OA' means working on his or her own account, and 'Un' is for Unemployed."
"All right, sir," Hamilton replied, "I think I can do it now. I should find it harder, though, if I hadn't been writing all those things just exactly as they are here on population schedules for the last month."
"It makes an astonishing difference," the experienced man agreed, "you know the why and wherefore of everything. Now you had better take this old test schedule and I will give you fifty blank cards, and we will see how they come out."
Through the rest of the afternoon, Hamilton worked steadily over this set of cards, not only doing the work, but getting the principles of the whole thing thoroughly in his mind, and, as he had said to the sub-section chief, knowing just the manner in which the schedules had been made up helped him to an extraordinary degree. He was well pleased, therefore, when he came down to work the following morning, to find at his machine a real schedule, not the test that he had been working on the afternoon before; the exact number of cards required for his schedule all ready in the hopper of the machine, and it was pointed out to him that error was not permissible and that he must account for every card.
"Why is that?" asked Hamilton, "what difference would a card or two make?"
"It isn't the cards, it's the numbering," the other explained. "Don't you remember that each card was numbered, and so, if one card is wrong it would throw all the succeeding numbers out? Besides, you never have a chance to see whether a card is right or not, because after you have touched the lever and the card is punched it slides into its own compartment. You have all the chance you want to look over your arrangement of depressed keys before the card is punched, but none after."
Before a week had passed by, Hamilton was so thoroughly at home with the machine that the work seemed to him to become more or less mechanical, and his interest in it began to wane. As—under government regulations—he left work early, he sauntered over several times to the verification department to become familiar with the work of the machine used there. There was a fascination to the boy in this machine, for it seemed almost to possess human intelligence in its results, and he was curious to know the principle on which it worked. Generally every one quit at half-past four o'clock, just as he did, but sometimes a man would work a few minutes longer to finish a batch of cards, and the boy would go to watch him.
When he was over there one day, after hours, Hamilton saw Mr. Cullern on the floor.
"Still looking for information?" questioned the older man, with a smile.
"Yes, sir," answered the boy, "I've been watching this machine and I've spoken to one or two of the operators about the principle of it, but they none of them seem to know. They knew how to run it, and that was about all."
"The principle is simple enough," the chief replied, "but it would be a bit hard to understand the combination unless you had the clew. Then it is all as clear as day, although the machine itself is a little complicated. You noticed, of course, that the operator lays a card on this plate which is full of holes, and you probably noticed that these holes correspond with the points on the card, and that the way in which the card is fed into the machine insures that the holes shall coincide exactly."
"That I saw," Hamilton answered, "and I could see, of course, that this was one of the most important parts of the machine, and that upon it a good deal of the exactness of the work depended."
"It does," the other replied. "Now if you look into those holes in the plate you can see a little cup of bright metal under each hole. What do you suppose that is?"
"I'm not sure, of course," the boy responded, "but it looks very much like quicksilver."
"That's exactly what it is, quicksilver, or mercury. Now mercury, you ought to know, can transmit an electric current, so that if an electrically charged pin comes down into the cup of mercury, the cup itself being attached to an electric current, a circuit is formed."
"Now I'm beginning to see," the boy said, "but what is the idea of the cup of mercury; could not the pin just as well touch on a metal plate?"
"It could, of course, but a piece of dust between would prevent contact, the pins would wear away quickly, and the plate would get worn, whereas, by the pin just dropping into the mercury there is no friction and no fear of a missed contact."
"The pins are in that square box at the end of the long arm which comes down every time a card is put on the plate, aren't they, Mr. Cullern?" asked Hamilton.
"Yes, and if there is no card there and the pins in the square box are started down, they are automatically stopped before they reach the mercury so as not to make a contact on every point. Also if a card were there without any holes punched, none of the pins would reach the mercury and no contact would be made."
"But with a punched census card," interrupted the boy, eager to show that he understood, "the pins go through the holes in the cards and do not go through where no holes are punched, so that somehow the number of holes in the card is registered. But still, there's so much difference in the cards that I don't see how this machine can verify them, can tell which are right and which wrong!"
"There is variety enough," answered the chief, "for of the hundred million cards punched, no two are exactly the same, they could not be."
"Couldn't it happen perhaps that two people of the same age should do the same work, be both married and so forth?" asked the boy interestedly.
"They would have to live in the same district, they would have to be employed the same way, they would have both to be married and have the same number of children and a whole lot more things, and even then—the cards would be different for they would represent different numbers on the schedule on which their names were registered. No, there are not two cards in the entire series punched alike."
"Then I don't see how in the wide world this machine can tell which cards are right among millions so entirely different from each other."
"They don't verify by finding the cards that are right," was the answer, "but by picking out the cards that are wrong."
"What's the difference?"
"There is a wide difference. You can see that it would be easy enough to arrange that machine so that if a wrong combination of contacts were made the bell would not ring. Such wiring might be highly complex, but you see the idea is simple. For a right group of contacts, all the wires are satisfied, as it were, and the bell rings; for an error, one wire, cut in on by a wrong wire, breaks the contact, and the bell does not ring."
"But what do you mean by a wrong grouping?" asked the boy.
"You ought to be able to guess that," the chief said reproachfully. "For instance if a card is punched 'Wf' for Wife and also is punched 'Male' that card is sure to be wrong, and if 'Emp' for employer is punched on the same card as an age punch showing the person to be a three-year-old youngster, the card is wrong. There are twenty-three different possibilities of error which are checked by this verification machine, and for any one of these twenty-three reasons a card is thrown out."
"For example if 'Na' for naturalized is punched on the same card as 'N' for native-born, and things of that sort, I suppose?" the boy questioned.
"And many others of similar character," the older man agreed.
"But how about insufficiently punched cards?" queried Hamilton. "I can see that it would be easy to arrange the wires so as to catch really bad inconsistencies, but supposing a figure were only left out, there would be no contact made to show the error."
"Except in the age column," was the reply, "there is supposed to be a punch in every field and only one. Any field which does not have a contact from every card registers its disapproval by throwing out that card."
"And what happens to the rejected cards?" asked Hamilton, with interest.
"A checker-up compares them with the original schedules, and if incorrectly punched, punches a new card, if only insufficiently punched, punches the missing place. But the number of cards found wrong does not reach a high percentage."
"You know I've been thinking," Hamilton said thoughtfully, "that while I suppose it is all right getting all those holes punched in a card, and so forth, I should think it would be fearfully hard to handle the card afterwards. All these little holes look so much alike."
"To the eye, perhaps," the chief said, "but you must remember that these cards are never sorted by eyesight. And you must remember that the sorting process is done by machinery all the way along, just as the verifying and the tabulating is handled in a purely mechanical fashion. You remember that each card was punched with a gang-punch?"
"Of course," the boy said, "that was to specify the district."
"We keep all those together from the time they are punched till after we are through with the verifying, so that all the cards of a certain enumeration district, and of every section in that district, are kept together in a separate box."
"My word," Hamilton exclaimed, "what a storage you must have!"
"You ought to go down and see it some time," the other said. "It's big enough, with every State and every county and every district in the country having its own place, and every little village in that district right where it belongs in a box of its own, under that State, county, and district. I'm telling you this just to show you that we don't have to sort the cards for location at all, and that in itself saves us a lot of labor and time."
"And they were sorted into sexes on the punching machine, I remember," Hamilton remarked.
"Yes, and that prevents another handling of every card, you see," the chief went on, "so that without any further special division, every card is divided by village, district, county, and State, as well as sex, when it leaves the punching machine From there it comes to the tabulating machine—which is just the same as the verification, only instead of the electrical connections being made through relays only, they are sometimes made direct to counters."
"Just how, Mr. Cullern?" the boy asked.
"Well," the other continued, "when the pin, passing through the hole in the card, drops into the little cup of mercury it closes a current passing through an electro-magnet controlling a counter or a dial corresponding with each possible item of information on the card, and for each contact made to each dial, an added unit is registered. The tabulating process is completed by an automatic recording and printing system, somewhat along the stock ticker plan, connected with each dial. When desired, touching an electric button will cause every dial to print automatically the number recorded on a ribbon of paper."
"That is before sorting?"
"Or after. Cards may be tabulated along a lot of different lines. And the sorting device depends again upon another machine, operated by the same principle."
The chief led the boy to another portion of the floor.
"This sorter," he said, "can be set for thirteen different compartments. In determining the country of birth, for example, at any given point on the card, an electrically charged brush finds the hole punched and directs the card in between two of those finely divided wire levels, where a traveling carrier picks it up and runs it along to the point where the wires stop, the top wire extending to the furthest compartment. As the card falls, it is tilted into place against the pile of preceding cards, an automatic receiver holding them together, the operator clearing away the pile from each division as it becomes full. As you can see, that feed knife moves so rapidly and the endless band fingers carry the cards out of the way in such a hurry that they move along in a steady stream. We have only twenty of these machines and they handle all the cards."
"It's hard to believe," said Hamilton wonderingly, "that these machines don't think."
"We're just building one in here," the supervisor replied, leading the way into a little partitioned-off section of the room, "that has an uncanny ingenuity. This machine feeds itself with cards, verifies and tabulates at an incredible speed. It took some time to perfect all the adjustments, but it is running finely now, and it will simplify the work of the next census amazingly, just as the machines you saw have made the old hand punching machines of former times seem very cumbersome. But this one," he added, "is a gem."
"It's a little like magic, it seems to me," said Hamilton, "to think of every person in this whole country being registered on a card with a lot of little holes in it, and practically the whole history on it. It certainly is queer."
"There is something mysterious in it," the chief answered with a laugh. "One feels as though all the secrets of the United States were boxed up and in the storage vaults of the building. But the magician is the Director. He is the man whose spells have woven this web of organization, whose skill and knowledge have unlocked commercial secrets, and whose perception has always seen the essential fact."
"It's great work to have a share in," the boy declared enthusiastically.
"To make us all feel that," his superior replied "is the chiefest spell of the Director of the Census."
THE CENSUS HEROES OF THE FROZEN NORTH
"This is surely one blazing day," said Hamilton one day early in June, as after the noon hour, he settled back at his work on the punching machine.
"We'll cool you off all right," responded the foreman, who was coming up at the moment and heard the boy's remark, "for I understand they're looking for editors on the Alaskan schedules. A big batch of them has just arrived and I happen to know that your name has been recommended. Mr. Cullern asked me to send you to him just as soon as you came in."
"I should like that above all things," Hamilton replied, "partly because I've always been interested in Alaska, and also because this work has got a little monotonous. I hadn't thought of the Alaskan census," he continued, "and that's strange too; I should think census-taking up in that country must have been full of excitement and adventure."
"Probably it was," responded his friend, "but you won't find any thrilling yarns on the schedules; they'll be just like any other schedules, I should imagine, only that the occupations will be of a different variety. But you had better go along and see the chief."
Hamilton went gladly, thinking that no matter how formal the schedules might be that dealt with Alaska they could not help but show to some extent the character of the conditions in which they had been secured and the difficulties attaching to work in that isolated land.
"How would you like to try your hand at the editing of the Alaska schedules, Noble?" asked the chief of the division when the boy appeared before him a few moments later.
"Very much indeed, Mr. Cullern," Hamilton replied.
"I understand that you have shown a great deal of interest in your work while you have been here," the chief said, "and when I was asked yesterday if I had any one to recommend I thought of you at once. Having had experience in the manufactures end, as well as in the population, ought to help you a good deal in the work. You were a special agent in the manufactures, were you not?"
"Yes, sir," the boy answered, "but I don't think any of the places to which I went resembled in any way the conditions in Alaska."
"Probably not," the chief said dryly, "New England isn't usually considered in that light. But the underlying principles are the same, of course, all the way through. Well, if you want to try it, here is your chance."
"Very well, sir," Hamilton answered promptly. "I shall be glad to take it up."
The boy waited a moment, but as there seemed nothing more to be said, he walked back to his machine, to straighten up before leaving.
"As soon as you're through with that schedule," the foreman in charge of the sub-section told him, "let me know, and then you can go to Mr. Barnes, who is in charge of the Alaskan schedules."
"I've nearly finished," answered the boy, "I'll be done in a quarter of an hour anyway."
Accordingly, a little later, Hamilton found his way to another part of the building, where he met his new superior, a small, alert, nervous, quick-spoken man, who, as Hamilton afterwards found out, had the capacity of working at lightning speed, and then stopping and wanting to talk at intervals. He said very little when Hamilton first came to him, merely handing him a number of schedules to edit.
Hamilton watched him furtively several times and noted the amazing rapidity of his work. Secretly he knew he could not attain that speed, but he thought he had better make as good a showing as he could, and so he, too, buckled to the job for all he was worth. When the boy had done two or three schedules, each containing fifty names, Mr. Barnes reached out for those that had been edited and went through them closely. He made one or two corrections.
"That's not half bad, Noble," he said suddenly, "but I can see from one or two little things you let go by that you are not entirely familiar with that country. I'll tell you more about it later, but in the meantime you had better look over some of the reports the supervisors have sent in; they give you an insight into what those enumerators out there had to go through in order to secure anything like complete schedules. Here in one from the Fourth District, for example, there is a graphic description of the work which I think you ought to enjoy. It's good writing, too."
"My enumeration work was in Kentucky," said Hamilton, "so I haven't much line on the conditions in the North. But I've always enjoyed books and stories about Alaska, and I'd like to read the report."
"It will give you the atmosphere," said Barnes, "listen to this paragraph, for example: 'The work was performed during the severest winter known in this part of Alaska by the oldest settlers there. There did not appear to be a man who did not have a pride in his work, an anxiety to create a record for traveling time, a desire to enumerate all the people in the district assigned to him, and to have to his credit less loss of time because of weather than any of the other agents.'"
"I guess," said Hamilton, "that supervisor had those enumerators just breaking their necks to beat out the other agents, and he worked on their pride to get up their speed."
"'That the service lost none of its men from freezing to death, and that every man returned safely, is a matter for congratulation and of good fortune, from the fact that there were in this part of Alaska more deaths from the weather this winter than all preceding years in total; cases in which those who met such deaths did not begin to go through the sacrifice and privation that these agents of the service did.'"
"Makes you proud to have been an enumerator, doesn't it?" asked the boy. "But it always seems difficult to realize hardship unless you have been there."
"I spent a winter in Alaska," said Barnes emphatically, "and I can feel the thrill of it in every line. He knows what he's writing of, too, this man. Hear how he describes it: 'All the men in the service,'" he continued, "'covered hundreds of miles over the ice and snow, in weather ranging from 30 to 70 degrees below zero, the average temperature probably being about 40 below. Because of the absolute lack of beaten trails—' I wonder," he broke off, "if any one who hasn't been there can grasp what it means!"
"No beaten trail," Barnes said reminiscently, "means where stunted willows emphasize by their starved and shivering appearance the nearness of the timber; where the snow-drifts, each with its little feather of drifting snow sheering from its crest, are heaped high; where the snow underfoot is unbroken; where under snow-filled skies a wind studded with needle-sharp ice crystals blows a perfect gale; where the lonely and frozen desolation is peopled only by the haunting shape of fear that next morning a wan and feeble sun may find you staggering still blindly on, hopelessly lost, or fallen beside a drift where the winter's snows must melt before your fate is known."
He stopped abruptly and went on with his schedule. Hamilton worked on in silence. Presently, as though there had been no pause, Barnes resumed his quotation from the supervisor's report:
"'Because of the absolute lack of beaten trails, and the fact that the snow lies so loosely on the ground like so much salt, no matter what its depth may be, it was necessary through all their work to snow-shoe ahead of the dog-teams. When one considers their isolation,—often traveling for days without other shelter than a tent and fur robes—it can be understood what sacrifices some of these men made to visit far-away prospectors' cabins and claims. However, no man who travels in this part of the country ever considers that there is any hardship, unless there is loss of life, and they take their work stoically and good-naturedly, though they drop in their tracks at the end of the day.'"
He tossed over the report to Hamilton.
"Look it over," he said. "I tell you there's some stirring stuff in that, and just the bald reports of the enumerators' trips leave the stories of explorers in the shade."
The boy took up the report as he was bidden, and read it with avidity. Presently, upon a boyish exclamation, the other spoke:
"What's that one you've struck?"
"It's the enumerator from the district of Chandler," answered Hamilton.
"Go ahead and read it aloud," Barnes said, "I can go on with these schedules just as well while you do."
"'At no time after he left Fairbanks,'" read the boy, "'did the thermometer get above 30 degrees below zero. His long journey away from a base of supplies made it impossible for him to carry a sufficient supply of grub, and he was obliged to live off the country, killing moose, mountain sheep, and other fresh meat. He froze portions of his face several times, and on one occasion dropped into six feet of open water, nearly losing his life in consequence.'"
"That would be fearful," said Barnes, "unless he could pitch camp right there, put up a tent, build a fire, and change into dry clothing."
"There seems to have been mighty little wood for that up there," Hamilton remarked, "because, speaking of this same enumerator, the supervisor says, further on, 'In crossing the Arctic Range and in returning he traveled above timber line eighteen hours in both directions, which, in a country where fire is a necessity, can be understood is a very considerable sacrifice. He traveled in many places where a white man had never been before, and as there are no beaten trails or government roads in the district anywhere, he was obliged, everywhere, to snow-shoe ahead of his team to beat down a trail.'"
"Did you ever snow-shoe?" asked Barnes abruptly.
"Once," answered Hamilton, "when I went to Canada to visit some cousins; they had a snow-shoe tramp and insisted on my coming along. But I was stiff for a week."
"Well," said the editor, "when you try to break trail and have to keep ahead of a dog-team coming along at a fair clip, it's just about the hardest kind of work there is."
"They all seem to have had their own troubles," said Hamilton, who had been glancing down the pages of the report: "here's the next chap, who got caught in a blizzard while accompanying the mail carrier, and if it hadn't been for the fact that the people of the nearest settlement knew that the mail carrier was expected on that day and sent out a rescue party to search for him, neither of the two men would ever have been found, and the census would have lost a man."
"That was up in the Tanana region, wasn't it?" queried Barnes, but without looking up from his work.
"Yes," answered the boy, "and from all accounts that must be a wild part of the country. Speaking of that same enumerator, the supervisor says: 'That this agent survived the work during the stormy period and came back alive was the wonder of the older inhabitants of the country. No less than four times this man was found by other travelers in an exhausted condition, not far from complete collapse, and assisted to a stopping place. He lost three dogs, and suffered terribly himself from frost-bite. In the same district, during the same time, eight persons were frozen to death, six men and two women.' There's quite a story here, too, telling how he himself rescued a couple of trappers in the last stages of hunger, exposure, and exhaustion."
"It's fearful to think of," the other commented; "just imagine those agonizing journeys in the teeth of an Arctic wind, traveling over hundreds of miles of trackless wilderness to get less than one-tenth as many people as a city enumerator would find in one block!"
"But why do it in winter?" asked Hamilton. "It's hot up there in summer, I've heard, and driving in the warm weather is pleasant enough; there's no hardship in that!"
"You can't drive where there are no roads, and you can't ride where there are no horses. Then the time available is short."
"Why is it so short?"
"You haven't a railroad going to every point in Alaska," Barnes pointed out, "there's usually a trip of several hundred miles before you get to the place from which to start. And when are you going to make that journey?"
"In the spring," Hamilton said, "as soon as it gets mild."
"I reckon you don't know much about Alaska," the older man remarked. "When the snow thaws, the creeks overflow, and the rivers become raging torrents. You can't ride, and if you walk, how are you going to cross a swollen river, filled with pieces of ice the size of this room? Those Alaska rivers are huge bodies of water, many of them, and there are no bridges."
"How about boats?"
"You mean traveling on those ice-filled rivers? It couldn't be done."
"But as soon as the ice goes out?"
"That's pretty well into June, to start with, and then you would have to pole up against the current all the way, and the currents of most of the rivers are very swift. Did you ever pole a boat up against a swift mountain river?—I thought not. Suppose, by very hard work, you could make two or three miles an hour up stream,—at that rate how long would it take you to go up to the highest settlement? And then you would have to go all the way down again and ascend the next stream; and even then more than half the settlements would be on streams and creeks you could not get to with boats because of falls, of rapids, of long portages, and things of that kind."
"I guess they couldn't use a boat," said Hamilton, "but still I don't see why they couldn't ride!"
"Ride what? Dogs? Or reindeer? I suppose you mean to take a horse up there?"
"That's what I was thinking of," Hamilton admitted.
"How would you get him up there? Take him in a dog-sled the preceding winter? You know a horse couldn't travel on the snow like a dog-team. And if you did get him up to the starting point during the winter, on what would you feed him? Dried salmon? That's all there is, and while it makes good enough dog-feed, a horse isn't built that way. There's no hay-cutting section up there, and your horse would starve to death before you had a chance to ride him. And even supposing that you could keep him alive,—I don't believe you could ride him over the tundra swamps; there is no horse made that could keep his footing on those marshy tussocks."
"I see you're right," said Hamilton, "I hadn't thought of all that."
The older man continued: "There are horses in the towns of southern Alaska, because, you know, there is one narrow strip that runs a long way south, and there the weather is not severe. But the north is another matter entirely. The pay that you would have to offer in order to lure the men away from the gold-diggings would be enormous. No, it had to be a winter job, and in the Geography section—where I was last year—it took us all our time to estimate satisfactory enumeration districts for Alaska."
"The Geography section?" queried Hamilton in surprise. "I hadn't heard of that. What is that part of the census work for?"
"To map out the enumeration districts," his superior explained. "That is a most important part of the work. You remember that the enumeration district was supposed to provide exactly a month's work for each man?"
"Yes," Hamilton answered, "I know I had to hustle in order to get mine done in the month."
"Supposing," said the other, "that all the people that were on your schedule had lived in villages close together, would it have taken you as long to do?"
"Of course not," Hamilton replied, "I could have done it in half the time. What delayed things was riding from farm to farm, and they were scattered all over the countryside."
"Exactly," Barnes continued, "but I suppose you never stopped to think that the number of people in each district and the nature of the ground to be covered both had to be considered. Then allowance had to be made for the enumeration of those not readily accessible, and for such natural obstacles as unbridged rivers; all these had to be mapped out and gone over by the Census Bureau before the sections were assigned."
"No," the boy replied, "I never really stopped to think who it was that made up all those districts. And, now you come to speak of it, I don't see how it could have been done without being on the ground."
"Yet it is evident," the other said, "that it must have been done. It wouldn't be fair to tell a man to finish a district that represented seven or eight weeks' work, nor to promise a month's work to a man and then give him a district that had only two or three weeks' employment. You couldn't alter the districts afterwards, either, as everything had to be prepared in Washington for enumeration and tabulation by the original districts as mapped out."
"You mean," said Hamilton, "that every square mile of territory in the United States, the number of people on it, the kind of land it was, the roads and trails, the distance from the nearest town, the rivers, and the location of bridges across them, and all that sort of thing had to be worked out in advance?"
"Every acre," was the reply, "and the worst of it was that there was very little to go by. The lists for the last Decennial Census were only of use in the Eastern districts, for in the West large towns had grown up that were mere villages then. Whole sections of territory which were uninhabited ten years ago are thick with farms today and the 'Great American Desert' of a few years ago is becoming, under irrigation, the 'Great American Garden.'"
"The Survey maps helped, I should think," said Hamilton. "I have a friend, Roger Doughty, on the Geological Survey, and he told me all about the making of the Topographic maps."
"They helped, of course, but even with those it was hard to work out some of the queerly shaped districts. The supervisors helped us greatly after the larger districts had been planned, but the Geography division had to keep in touch with every detail until the entire country was divided into proportionately equal sections.
"And you had to do that for Alaska, as well!"
"As far as we could. Of course it was difficult to determine routes of travel there, and to a large extent that had to be left to the supervisors, but they merely revised our original districting. It took a lot of figuring in Alaska because of the tremendous travel difficulties there and the thousands of miles of territory still unsurveyed."
"I had never realized the need of all that preparatory work," the boy admitted.
"There's a great deal of the work that has to be done in the years before the census and in the years after," he was informed, "and the Bureau is kept just as busy as it can be, all the while. The Decennial Census, although it is the biggest part of the census work, is only one of its many branches, and then there are always other matters being looked after, like the Quinquennial Census of Manufactures, and such numberings as those of the Religious Bodies and the Marriage and Divorce Statistics of a few years ago."
"I understood the Bureau had regular work all the year round?" Hamilton said.
"Indeed it has. All the births and deaths that are registered are tabulated here, and a number of tables of vital statistics are worked out which are of immense value to doctors not only in the United States but all over the world. Then, as I think you know, we have for years made a special study of cotton crop conditions, and there is a bulletin published at stated intervals showing the state of the cotton industry in the United States. Then there is all the statistical work on cities of over 30,000 inhabitants, and there is scarcely a question which has reference to the population or the manufacturing interests of the country that is not referred sooner or later to the Bureau of the Census."
"You work with the Forest Service, too, I believe," said Hamilton. "Wilbur Loyle, a forest ranger whom I knew very well, showed me some figures that the Bureau had prepared."
"Only in the collection and publication of statistics of forest products," said Barnes, rising and changing his office coat,—for the conversation had run on long after office hours,—"owing to their co-operation the task is not cumbersome; questions of information or special statistics asked for by Congress or by the executive departments take up a great deal of time when added to an already extensive routine work."
Editing the schedules of the population of Alaska, just as Hamilton had expected, proved to be of the most intense interest, since, despite the closest desire on the part of the enumerators to confine themselves strictly to official facts, the wildness of the frontier life would creep in. An example of this was the listing of an Eskimo girl on the schedule as having "Sun" and "Sea" for her parents with an explanatory note to the effect that she had been found as a tiny girl upon a heap of sea moss on the beach. Another was when an enumerator wrote on his schedule under 'language spoken,' "Some pesky lingo; I know most of their talk, but this was too much for me and the hut was too strong to stay in long."
Such comments made it easy to create a picture of the semi-savagery of the fur-clad fishers on the shores of the Arctic Sea.
Another schedule, one which interested the boy greatly, was that in which the age of an Indian was described as "200 snows." To try to get this worked out to the probably true age of 80 or 90 years evidently had been quite a task. The enumerator wrote:
"This Indian ain't 200 years old. He says he's 200 snows, but I can't quite figure it out. He says he was 20 snows when he got first woman, kept her 4 snows, then she go away! He complained that 'he had no women 4 suns and catch no women 4 snows.' He 'got more woman, keep her 5 snows, then she eat cold (frozen to death). Got no woman 20 snows, she good woman.' He could not give any clue about his children only that 'his chickens 30 to 45 snows!' They reckon here only from what they can remember, so this buck is probably counting from about ten years old. That would make him thirty when he first got a wife, thirty-four when she died, thirty-eight when he got his next wife, and forty-three when she died. Counting his oldest child at 45 this would make him about seventy-five. Where the '200 snows' comes in, I don't see."
A great treat to the boy came, however, when one of the enumerators from the Second District of Alaska, who had been summoned East in the spring on business concerning some property with which he was associated, and had come as soon as the break-up permitted travel, dropped into the Census Bureau. He made himself known to the Director, and the latter, always ready to show attention and being really proud of the Census Bureau staff, arranged to have him shown around the building. The Alaskan was a small fellow, hard as nails, given to stretches of silence, but with a ready, infectious laugh and the ability to tell a good yarn after he got started. Presently, just before quitting time, he reached the desk where Barnes and Hamilton were editing schedules.
"This ought to interest you," said the Bureau official who was showing him around, "these men are just going over the Alaskan schedules before sending them to the machines to be punched and tabulated."
Looking interested, the man bent forward and, with a muttered word of apology, picked up the schedule on which Hamilton was working at the time. "This must be one o' mine!" he said, with an air of surprise.
"But that is marked, 'Copy'!" said Hamilton "I was just wondering where the original was."
"I'm willin' to gamble quite a stack, son," was the surprising reply, "that you'd have been wonderin' a whole lot more if the original had come down to you."
"Why, how's that?"
"Well, I reckon I c'n handle dogs better'n I can a pen," he said, "an' when you come to try an' write one o' these schedules on scraps o' dried skin you c'n count it sure's shootin' there's some decipherin' got to be done."
Barnes looked at the official who was showing the Alaskan 'round the building, and knowing him very well, he said to the visitor, "Spin us the yarn; I've been up there and I'd like to hear it myself, and I know the lad is just wild to hear it."
"I want to be a part of that audience, too," said the official, with a smile.
"I don't want to hold up the job!" the visitor suggested hesitatingly.
"Go ahead," his conductor answered. "Here we are all waiting, and it's nearly half-past four anyway."
"Well, then, it was up in the Noatak Pass—" he was beginning, when Hamilton stopped him.
"I don't want to interrupt, right at the start," he said, "but where is that pass?"
"I should have told you," said the miner goodhumoredly, "it's the pass between the Endicott an' the Baird ranges, at the extreme northern end of the Rockies. I hated to go through it, an' I wouldn't have, most times, not unless there was a mighty big pull to get me over there, but I had promised to count every one in my district, an' so, of course, there was nothin' else to do but go, even though I knew there was no one on the other side but a bunch of Eskimos. Well, we were halfway up the pass when the Indian guide stopped the dogs an' listened. It was just about noon an' the travelin' was good, so that, wantin' to make time, I got good an' mad at the stop. Knowin' my Indian, I kep' quiet just the same, always bein' willin' to bet on an Indian bein' right on the trail. First off, I could notice nothin', then, when I threw back my parka hood I could hear a boomin' in the air as though some one was beatin' a gong, miles and miles away. It was so steady a sound that after you had once heard it for a while you wouldn't notice it, an' you would have to listen again real hard to see if it was still goin' on."
"Like distant thunder?" queried Hamilton.
"Not a bit. It was high, like a gong, an' it wasn't any too good to hear. The dogs knew it, too, for though we had been stopped nearly five minutes none of them had started to fight."
"Do dogs fight every time they stop?"
"Just about. They try to, anyway. In the traces, of course, they can't do much but snap an' snarl, but that they're always doin'. This time, however, all save one or two of them stood upright sniffin' uneasily.
"'Wind?' I asked the Indian.
"'Heap wind!' he answered. 'Go back?'
"Now you may lay ten to one that when an Indian is the first to suggest goin' back, trouble with a big 'T' is right handy. I reckon that was the first time I ever did hear an Indian propose goin' back. 'Why go back, Billy?' I asked.
"'Heap wind,' he repeated, 'old trail easy.' He pointed ahead, 'No trail!'"
"He meant, I suppose," Hamilton interjected, "that if you doubled on your tracks the trail would have been broken before, and it would be easy going."
"That's the bull's-eye, and if a storm did come up we'd have a trail to follow and not get lost."
"Did you go back?"
"I did not. I figured that while we were about a day's journey to a settlement either way, we were perhaps an hour nearer where we were goin' than where we had come from, an' that perhaps the storm would hold off long enough for us to make it. Those storms last for days, sometimes, an' we'd have the trip to make anyway, even if we did go back. Besides, I didn't want to lose the time. 'No, Billy,' I called to the Siwash, 'go on!'
"I was sorry the minute I said it, because I knew the Siwash thought me wrong, although, bein' an Indian, of course he never showed a sign. He started up the dogs without a word. I knew he thought it reckless and dangerous, but tortures wouldn't have made him say so. In half an hour's time, I began to be sure he was right."
"Did the storm strike as soon as that?" asked the boy.
"No. If it had, I think I should have gone back. But at the end of that half-hour, we topped a rise that gave a view of the country ahead an' showed it to be broken an' bad travelin'. I shouldn't have liked the look of it at any time, but with a storm brewin' an' the Indian wantin' to go back, it sure did look ugly. But the faint roarin' of the distant storm sounded no louder, the sky was no heavier, the air no colder, the wind no higher,—an' I built my hopes upon a delay in its comin', an' plunged on. We were makin' good time; the dogs were keepin' up a fast lick, an' the Indian ahead, workin' to break the trail, was movin' like a streak. I sure never did see an Indian travel the speed he did. I was behind, pushin' the sled, an' I had to put out all there was in me. An hour went by, an' I was just beginnin' to think that we would be able to cover the greater part of the distance, when a huge white shape rose from the snow near by, passed in front of the sledge, and disappeared. I've been scared once in my life. This was that once."
"What was it?" asked Hamilton breathlessly.
"I watched," the Alaskan continued, "an' presently about a hundred yards away, an' a little to the right of the sled, the snow began to move. I couldn't feel a breath of wind. But the snow seemed to writhe an' stir as though some monster from the Arctic night was wakin' from his winter sleep, an' a wisp of snow hurled upwards; then, with a heave the snow crust broke an' fell apart an' a column of snow shot up like a geyser swirlin' into a pillar a hundred feet high.
"A moment it stood; then swayed over an' begun to move slowly at first, but gatherin' speed every second, noiselessly, save for a sound like the indrawin' of a breath and a faint crackin' as the hard snow crust shivered into atoms where it struck. Aimlessly, yet seemin' to have a hidden purpose as though wreathin' the figures of some Boreal dance, it come near us and fell back; moved away an' threatened again; then swept upon us till its icy breathin' gripped our throats, an' our hearts stood still.
"An' in the silence, one dog whined.
"Behind the sled there stirred the snow anew, an' in a moment or two another column threw itself at the sky, and behind us an' around, other of these columns rose an' moved like spectral dancers under the slate-green clouds of the snow-filled sky. No wind, no sound but the lone leader of the team howlin' in utter fear."
"A dancing blizzard!" said Barnes, in an awed tone, under his breath.
"If there had been anythin' to do, it would have been easier," the Alaskan continued, "but to move was not more dangerous than to stay still. In answer to a sign, the Indian started up the dogs again, an' we went on, though the road ahead looked like the ice-forest of a disordered dream. Presently, without a moment's warnin' one of the huge snow pillars came rushin' straight at us, an' I braced myself by the sledge to hold to it if I could, but it swerved before it reached us an' ran along beside the trail. About fifty feet ahead it swerved again and cut across the trail, an' the extreme edge caught the Indian, picked him up in the air, an' threw him at least thirty feet."
"Was he hurt?" cried Hamilton.
"Not a bit, for there was nothin' to fall on but snow. He picked himself up, looked carefully at his snow-shoes to see that they had not been damaged, an' resumed his place at the head of the dogs. What would have become of him if he had been plucked into the middle of the whirlwind is hard to say. I wouldn't have counted on seein' him again anyway."
"But you never really got caught by any?"
"Wouldn't be here talkin', if I had," was the reply. "But when we come to the track of that whirlwind column, it was a puzzle how to get across. The column, goin' like a railroad train, had cut a gully in the hard snow full ten feet deep,—the sides as clean cut as though done with a knife, or rather with a scoop, because the edge was slightly scolloped all the way along."
"How did you get across?"
"Axes," was the brief reply. "We cut through the snow crust and beat down a steep path on both sides of the gully an' made the dogs take it. Dog harness is strong, but I was afraid of the strain on it that time."
"How long did the blizzard last?"
"You mean the whirlwinds?"
"Yes, sir," the boy answered.
"Not very long,—quarter of an hour, perhaps. Then I felt a slight breeze, an' at the same moment the columns, bendin' their heads like grass before the wind, swept to the right of us, an' were out of sight in a moment. The Indian yelled and pointed to the left, throwin' himself on the ground as he did so."
"What was it?" cried Hamilton.
"It looked like a solid wall of snow, an' before I realized it was comin', the storm struck, hurled me to the ground, an' rolled me over an' over in the snow. I wasn't hurt, of course, but it took me so long to get my breath that I thought it was never goin' to come, an' that I should suffocate. But after that first burst, the blizzard settled down to the regular variety, an' we all felt more at home. But even at that, it was the worst one I ever saw in the North, an' I've been there nine winters."
"What did you do? Go back?"
"No use tryin' to go back," the traveler said, "because those whirlwinds had cut gullies across the snow in every direction so that our old trail was no use to us. We went ahead a bit, as far as we could, but soon realized that there was nothin' to do but camp right where we were an' wait for the blizzard to blow over. Usually two days is enough for the average storm to let up a little, but it was not until the third day that there was any chance of startin', an' even then it was almost as bad as could be for travel. But I had to make a start then."
"Why?" asked Hamilton, who always wanted to know the details of everything.
"Because we were runnin' short of dog-feed, an' you can't let your dogs die of hunger, for then you can't get anywhere. But the blizzard had drifted everything an' was still driftin', so that the snow was hard in some places and soft in others; the travelin' was almost impossible, an' you couldn't see twenty yards ahead. Then while the blizzard had filled the gullies made by the whirlwinds, the snow in them was not packed down as hard as the rest of the surface, an' dogs an' sled an' Indian an' myself would all go flounderin' into the drift, an' it would be a tough pull to get the sled out again.—That was a hard trip.
"The worst of it came when, without a bit of warnin', without our even knowin' where we were, the hard crust of the snow gave way beneath us, an' the sled, the dogs, and myself fell headlong down a slope an' into a stream of runnin' water, the sled upside down, of course."
"How about the Indian?" asked the boy.
"He saved himself from goin' into the water, an' it was a good thing that he did, for he was able to help in pullin' us out. But, from one point of view, the accident was a help, for it told the Indian just where we were. There was only one stream of that size in that neighborhood, an' until we found it, we were hopelessly lost. But from that time we knew that the settlement we were headin' for was straight up the stream, an' all we had to do was to follow it. But it was a race for life, in order to get to camp before frozen clothin' and various frostbites crippled me entirely."
"But how about the dogs?" queried Hamilton. "I should think it would be worse for them than for you."
The Alaskan shook his head.
"A 'husky' can stand just about anythin' in the way of cold," he said, "an' my leaders 'Tussle' and 'Bully' were a couple of wonders. Only one of the dogs gave out. Well, we made the camp finally, pretty well done up all round. The worst of it was, that when we come to unpack the sled—we did it with an ax because everythin' was frozen solid—the census pouch was missin'. Luckily there was no past work in it,—only blank schedules, information papers, an' things of that sort. So I made up the schedules on odd bits of paper and skins, as I told you, an' the supervisor copied them on the schedule to send in, an' that schedule you have in your hand is the copy of those very pieces of skin."
Hamilton glanced at the paper with redoubled interest.
"I suppose it was no use trying to get the pouch back," he said.
"I didn't think it would be," the Alaskan replied "but I tried to reach the place where the sled had been overturned, an' each time the weather drove me back. On the third day I got a chance to go with some Eskimos with reindeer to a little settlement about twenty miles off, an' so I went along and got the names there, comin' back on a reindeer sled. That's the only time I ever felt like Santa Claus. I'm sure I don't look it."
Hamilton looked at his spare figure and laughed.
"No," he said, "I don't think an artist would be likely to pick you for the part. How did you like the reindeer, though? I've always wondered that they didn't use them more in Alaska. The government keeps a herd, doesn't it?"
"Yes," was the reply, "but that is more for fresh meat than for travel. A good reindeer is a cracker-jack of an animal when he wants to be, but when he takes a streak to quit, it doesn't matter where it is or what you do to him, he won't go another step. A balky mule is an angel of meekness beside a reindeer. You can always make a mule see what you want him to do—although the odds are that he won't do it even then—but when a reindeer gets stubborn,—why, he just can't be made to understand anythin'!"
"Yet I've read that they use them a good deal in Lapland!" said the boy in surprise.
"They have domesticated them more thoroughly, I guess," the Northerner replied. "In time they may be worked up here in the same way, and when you consider how short a time the government has had to do what is already accomplished, it seems to me the result is wonderful. Of course, so far as traffic is concerned there are dogs enough, and they do the work in mighty good shape."
"How did you work back from the settlement which you had got to with such difficulty?" the boy asked.
"I came back another way, in order to take in a little group of houses on a small pay-creek," was the reply. "But it was comin' back from that trip, on the Koatak River, that I had quite a time, although I was not the sufferer. We had been havin' a hard spell of weather, but there come a week when conditions on the trail were much better an' we were reelin' off the miles in great shape. I hadn't a place on my map for about sixty miles, when in the distance I saw a little hut, just in the fringe of some stunted cottonwoods and some scraggy willows, for we were not far from the timber limit.
"'Billy,' I called to the Indian, 'ever see that hut before?'
"The Indian shook his head, but knowin' that I wanted to see an' count everybody in the district, he turned off the trail—he said it was a trail but I couldn't see it—an' led the way to the hut. I went in an' found a man lying on a couple of planks, just about dead. He was one of the survivors of the wrecked steamer Filarleon, and had frozen all the fingers of both hands. Two or three were turnin' gangrenous; an' one of these had got so bad that with his other crippled hand, he had sawed off the decomposin' member with his pocket-knife. One foot also was frozen an' had turned black, but that afterwards recovered."
"What did you do for him?" asked the boy.
"Put him on the sled, of course," the Alaskan answered, "an' took him to the nearest settlement. I afterwards heard that a doctor happened in to camp soon after I left, an' got at his hurts right away, an' that he was put back into fair condition all but the one finger.—That's no tenderfoot's country up there."
"I wonder you stuck it out," said Hamilton. "But then," he added a moment later, "I can see how a fellow would hate to quit."
"It was tough," reluctantly admitted the narrator, "an' I'll tell you what I did. I'm not much of a hand with the pen, but right in the middle of the work I found a man who was goin' down the river, an' I sat down and wrote a long letter to the supervisor. It was about as plaintive a thing as I ever read. I had no reason to expect an answer, but by chance another party was comin' up that way, an' some weeks later I received a reply. What do you suppose he said!"
"I haven't the least idea," answered the boy.
"His answer read just this way:
"'I chose you because you were experienced in the treeless coast. Go to it. We are expecting you to make good.'"
"And," Hamilton said, his eyes shining, "I'll bet you did!"
CONFRONTED WITH THE BLACK HAND
The sidelights that Hamilton had received on the Alaskan enumeration had given him a greater zest for census work than ever, and he devoted not a little of his spare time to the study of conditions in the far North. Indeed, the lad became so enthusiastic about it that every evening, when he reached home, he worked out the route of the enumerator whose schedules he had edited during that day's work. He had secured the big geological reconnaissance map of Alaska for the purpose. Consequently, it was with a sense of regret that he faced the day when the last of the Alaskan schedules had been edited.
"What next, I wonder, Mr. Barnes?" said Hamilton, laying down his pen and glancing round to his companion. "How about Porto Rico? They had a census this spring, too, didn't they?"
"I imagine the Porto Rico work is about done," his friend replied, "at least I know that most of it came in some weeks ago. How are you on Spanish?"
"I can read it all right," Hamilton answered, "although I don't write particularly well. But are the schedules all in Spanish?"
"Yes, indeed," said the other.
"I don't think simple Spanish would bother me at all," Hamilton replied. "I knew a chap who was going to the Philippines and he wanted some one to take up Spanish with him so that he wouldn't be alone in it; and to keep him company, I hammered at it too. But, after a bit, he joined a class, so I dropped out, although I did study once in a while so as not to forget it altogether."
"Why don't you suggest that you know Spanish," remarked Barnes, "and perhaps you'll get the chance."
Accordingly, when a little later, the final copy on the Alaskan schedules was turned in, Hamilton asked concerning the Porto Rican work, and ventured his slight familiarity with Spanish.
"We have several translators," replied the chief, "but still, I suppose Mr. Alavero can make you useful. I'll let you know later on."
In a few moments he returned and beckoned to the boy, who followed him, with a word of farewell and thanks to the editor of the Alaskan schedules with whom he had enjoyed working greatly.
"Mr. Alavero," the official said, introducing Hamilton, "this is Noble. I don't know what his Spanish is like, but I think he may be of some use to you in getting out the manufactures statistics, as he did some work along that line early in the year and has been with the census ever since."
The editor smiled affably at the boy and shook hands with heartiness.
"The schedule work is all done," he said, "but it will take some time preparing the report. It is going to be fuller than most of them because there is so much American capital invested in Porto Rico that a detailed analysis will be of value."
"It is real editorial work, then!" Hamilton said, with a note of pleasure in his voice.
"I think," said the chief dryly, "that Mr. Alavero will do the editorial work, as you call it, since he is the editor; you are to assist him in preparing tables and matters of that kind."
But no sooner had the Bureau official gone than the Porto Rican came forward.
"If you like," he said, "we'll try to arrange some part of the work that you can do all yourself, writing and everything else, so that it will be 'real' editorial work, and you'll be able to see your own writing in print."
Hamilton thanked him fervently, and from that day on would have done anything for his new superior.
"This is a considerable change, Mr. Alavero," said Hamilton the following morning, when he found himself at a table littered with maps and drawings of the island, with papers in Spanish and English, with reports and circulars containing pictures of the sub-tropical landscapes and towns of Porto Rico. "I have been doing nothing but Alaska for a month past."
"Too cold!" the Porto Rican cried, with a shrug of the shoulders. "I was in Washington this last winter and I thought I should die of freezing."
"You are from Porto Rico yourself, Mr. Alavero?"
"I was never away from the island at all," was the reply, "never even on a steamboat until I came to the United States last autumn; I came to show the people in your Congress that the coffee growers of Porto Rico need help."
"Porto Rican coffee is the finest in the world," the editor answered with a graphic gesture, "and when Porto Rico was Spanish we could sell in Europe at high prices, but now the European tariff against the United States includes us, and our coffee is taxed so that we cannot sell it. And the American market is satisfied with Brazilian coffee, which is of a cheaper grade."
"Is coffee the principal crop down there?" queried the boy. "I notice that nearly half these papers and books deal with coffee plantations."
"It is still, but not as it once was," the Porto Rican answered. "Sugar and tobacco are the other big crops."
"Coffee is easy to grow, isn't it?" asked the boy. "It doesn't want all the attention that cotton does?"
"After a grove is well-established, no, though we prune a great deal; but sugar, yes. That's not such an obstacle though. There is plenty of labor on the island."
"Isn't the bulk of the island colored?"
"No, no, no," answered the Porto Rican, shaking his finger in emphatic denial, "more than three-fifths are pure white, a much smaller proportion of negroes than in some of your Southern States. The negroes were slaves, but Spain freed them in 1873. There was no war." He smiled. "We are a most peaceful people."
"Not like our other accession from Spain," Hamilton commented. "I mean the Philippines; you certainly couldn't call the Filipinos peaceful, it seems to me that they come just about as wild as they make them."
"Wild? You do not know the half!" said the excitable little editor, who, despite the frequency of his gestures and the volubility of his explanations was busily working with diagrams the while. "You know there was a census in Porto Rico in 1899?"
"I didn't until this morning," the boy answered "but as I see that most of these tables are compared with that year it is evident that there must have been."
"There was a census," the editor went on, after a pause during which he had been working over a column of figures, "and my uncle was a supervisor. Mr. Gatten—you know him?"
"Only by name," Hamilton replied.
"He was in the Porto Rico census, too. Then in 1903 he went to assist in the census of the Philippines. It was done by the War Department, because the fighting was hardly over. You think the census difficult? You should hear my uncle! The Dattos were not all stopped fighting, because just as soon as the Philippine Commission thought it safe, the census began."
"Did any one get killed by hostile natives?" asked Hamilton, scenting a story.
"Several wounded, one badly, but no one killed. But"—and he waggled a finger warningly—"there were plenty of places where the census was only estimated! The blowpipe and the poison arrow are most dangerous. Even with the soldiers taking the census and going with other census men, it was very risky among the uncivilized tribes."
"They are really wild?" said Hamilton.
"I think the wildest people in the world, the most savage, are in those jungles. My uncle had to go to the haunts of the Pygmies."
"Pygmies!" exclaimed Hamilton in surprise. "I didn't know that the Stars and Stripes floated over Pygmy tribes! I thought they were only in Africa!"
"The Negritos are pygmies," answered the editor, "seldom over four feet ten inches for the man and the woman two or three inches shorter; they use their toes like fingers, they wear only a loin-cloth, their hair is fuzzy like a black bush, and they seldom use fire, even for cooking."
"How do they live?" asked Hamilton. "We have got used to thinking of the Red Indians as a part of the United States races, but the Pygmies seem outlandish. Have they huts or do they live in caves, or how?"
"Nothing!" was the answer. "A few have rough huts, but most of them wander in the forests."
"But where do they sleep?"
"On the ground."
"I should think they would be afraid of wild beasts," the boy remarked.
"There are very few in the Philippines," was the reply.
"How about snakes, then?" queried the lad.
"They have to take chances on snakes. But you know a snake will scarcely ever strike unless alarmed or attacked. No snake will bite a sleeping man. Wild animals only attack for food, and man is left alone as much as possible."
"Haven't they pythons there? And a python could easily strangle and swallow a man."
"He could, but he doesn't," the Porto Rican pointed out; "rabbits are more his size, or a young fawn. The Negritos are safe enough, as far as that goes."
"What do they live on?"
"Fish, mostly, together with roots and berries; and they can get all they want with bow and arrow, or with a stone. They can throw a stone as straight as you could shoot a bullet."
"We ought to import some of them for baseball pitchers," suggested Hamilton with a grin. "But it really must have been an awful job enumerating them. And when it comes to poisoned arrows!—No thank you, I'd rather stick to old Kentucky. Are there many of them?"
"No," was the reply, "the Negrito is dying out, just as the aboriginal tribes all over the world are doing. There are only about twenty-three thousand of the Pygmies left now."
"But there are more natives than that in the Philippines?" queried the boy.
"Hundreds of thousands. You see there are really three different types of savages in the Philippines, according to the census reports. The aboriginal tribes are the Negritos, perhaps as close to primitive man as any people on earth; those are the ones I have been telling you about, and they are a race all to themselves, as different from the rest of the Filipinos as the negro is from the white man. The true Filipinos are Malays."
"Even the head-hunters?"
"Certainly. There are Filipinos of two grades,—apparently of two periods of migration. The first came and settled the islands away a long time back, driving the Pygmies to the forests, and occupying the coasts themselves. These tribes, the Igorots, the Ilongots, the Bilans, and so forth, are of the same general type as the head-hunters of Borneo, and some,—like the Ilongots—to this day carry out the savage custom that 'no young man can be accepted in marriage until he has presented his bride with a human head.'"
"That is certainly savage," Hamilton agreed; "one never thinks that sort of thing can be going on still, and certainly not under the American flag!"
"It is, though," the Porto Rican replied. "The third group," he continued, "the Moros and so forth, are all Mohammedans, and they seem to have come to the islands after the semi-civilization of the Malay archipelago and its submission to Mohammedanism. The Moros are haughty and assume the air of conquerors. As the Igorots drove the Negritos to the forest and thence to the wild interior, so the Moros drove the Igorots. They are largely pure Malay, warlike and cruel, but shrewd and capable of culture. They assume an over-lordship over all other tribes and their Dattos can generally enforce it."
"It seems strange," the boy said, "to think of going among those savages and asking them the same questions that United States citizens were asked, writing the answers on the same kind of schedules, and counting these ferocious head-hunters on a tabulating machine."
"Of course," the editor reminded him, "the Philippine census last time was taken by the War Department, although the Bureau is even now considering what will be the best way to attack the problem should it have to take the next Philippine census, as it probably will. But while it was primitive, the work wasn't so very different. They were able to use advance schedules, for example."
The boy stared, and his informant laughed outright.
"They were a little different," he explained, "and it was during the enumeration of the Igorots and similar tribes. It was soon found that they could count up to ten but no further. A certain number of them could grasp the idea of ten groups of ten. So a bundle of sticks was sent to each village and each man was made to cut notches in these sticks up to ten to show how many children, or pigs, or chickens he had. In some of the villages so my uncle told me, the supervisor had a branding iron made with which he had branded on the tally sticks the figure of a pig, or a house, or a chicken or whatever it might be."
"That is about as far back, I should think, as any one could go, in the way of census-taking," the boy said. "I thought some of my up-country negro farmers were barbaric—especially when I came across some voodooism, but now I see I didn't know what barbarism meant."
"There's just as much savagery—of a kind—right in the heart of civilization," said the Porto Rican. "The slums of a great city are little less dangerous than a Philippine jungle, and you will do well to remember it."
"Why should I remember it especially?" asked Hamilton in surprise.
"Mr. Burns, who has been made an Inspector, told me the other day that he expected to start soon for some of the larger cities, where reports of census frauds had been made, and that he thought he would take you along, if the Director was willing."
"You mean the Mr. Burns I was with in New Haven?"
"Yes, he seems to want to have you as his assistant in that work."
"That would be just splendid," said Hamilton, his eyes shining, "but how about the Porto Rican report, Mr. Alavero?"
"I think I can manage it," the other replied, endeavoring to suppress a smile, "and the chapter that you were working on is nearly done, isn't it?"
"Yes, sir," the boy answered, "I can finish it in a couple of days."
"That will be in plenty of time," the editor assured him. "I don't think Mr. Burns intends to start until some time next week."
Before many days had passed Hamilton found the correctness of the Porto Rican's information, for as he was busily engaged in compiling a big tabulation on the proportion of breadwinners per age and sex for one of the provinces of the island, his friend the special agent of manufactures, under whom he had been at New Haven, strolled into the office.
"Why, Mr. Burns," the boy said delightedly, jumping up and shaking hands, "I haven't seen you for ever so long."
"I haven't been in Washington more than twenty-two per cent of the time," was the reply "and I'm going away on the eleven-fifty next Tuesday evening. Do you want to come along?"
"The Director said, if you wanted to come, I could take you."
"Where are we going, Mr. Burns?"
"Seems to me, Alavero," said the Inspector, turning to the Porto Rican, "that you've been teaching this lad to ask questions. Out of the four remarks he has made since I came in, two have been questions. Fifty per cent is a high average. Well, I'll tell you," he added, turning to the boy, "it's just this: there are always some cities that aren't satisfied with the census. I believe of the cities of over thirty thousand inhabitants at this census there has been something like nine, decimal-eight-one per cent protests, and the most necessary of these the Bureau investigates. Perhaps ten or a dozen in the entire country get a recount. The Bureau doesn't officially recognize some of them but sends an inspector to look over the ground, and see if everything was done right. That's what we're going to do in New York."
"All right," said Hamilton briefly.
"You'll be on that train?"
"Yes, Mr. Burns," the boy answered. "Eleven-fifty P.M., Tuesday."
The opportunity was one which Hamilton had been coveting, for he felt that if he only had a chance to get at the city methods he would have covered almost the entire ground of the field-work of the Decennial Census, and while he was sorry to leave his Porto Rican friend, still the novelty appealed to him greatly, and in spite of his former chief's mathematical conversation, Hamilton was genuinely fond of him.
"I've been wondering, Mr. Burns," the boy said, as they stood in the great concourse of the Union Station at Washington, "whether there would not be a very large number of protests about census figures,—people always seem to have such an exaggerated idea of the size of their own towns."
"There is to some extent," Burns replied. "I think something like a hundred places filed protests in this last census."
"Then I read something, too, about census frauds," Hamilton said, "soon after the taking of the census, in which it was suggested that some enumerators—who were paid per capita—had bolstered up the figures in order to get more out of it."
"There was a little of that," the Inspector said, "but by far the greatest amount of fraud was due to the desire on the part of the inhabitants of a town or city to make the place appear larger and more important. Tacoma, Washington, was the most flagrant example of this, why, they padded 32,527 names there, and even when the Census had made a recount they tried to repeat the same performance, complaining of the results and demanding a second recount."
"Was this granted?"
"It was," the Inspector replied, "largely in order that the Census Bureau itself might have an opportunity to check the correctness of its methods. The second recount was performed by expert statisticians and with extreme care."
"And how did it come out?" the boy asked.
"It substantiated the first recount in every way. It was, indeed, a wonderful object lesson in showing how small is the margin of error in the United States Census."
"But was there really much fraud among the enumerators and supervisors, Mr. Burns?"
"With perhaps one exception, no criticism could be made of the supervisors, but you can't have 70,000 enumerators, chosen for temporary work, and expect perfection! There was quite a little over-counting, caused by entering hotel transients as having permanent residences, by numbering citizens both at business and home addresses, and the constant difficulty of the floating population. Deliberate frauds were very few; where trouble was found it was usually discovered to have been due to the unauthorized activity of committees of boards of trade or other commercial organizations, giving lists of names all ready to be copied on the enumerator's schedule, which the latter did not take the time and trouble to verify."
"Then do you think the net result of the census is to make it seem that there are more people in the country than really are here?"
"No," the Inspector replied confidently, "the total figures are an understatement, probably of about one per cent, maybe a little less, but certainly not much more."
"I think that's mighty close," Hamilton said. "But do towns never wish to have small numbers announced?"
"There was only one case, so far as I know," the other replied, "in which a Business Men's Association wrote and demanded a recount on the ground that the figures were too big. The reason was a dispute about raising city salaries when a certain population mark was reached.
"And now, Noble," he continued, moving on toward the train platform, "we want to look into the question of statistics in New York carefully. Personally I believe the work has been as well done as possible, and I know the Director is satisfied, but one or two little matters have come up, which want looking into."
Being on a midnight train, Hamilton had no chance for further talk with the Inspector; but it was quite a home-coming when, after passing through the great tunnels under the Hudson River, he found himself next morning among the skyscrapers of New York again.
"I suppose every one feels the same way about his own town," Hamilton said, "but it always seems to me that you feel the bigness of things more in New York than anywhere. In Washington there always seems lots of time to do everything you want, but New York is just made up of hustle. You've got to know what you want in this city and you've got to do it in a hurry, before some one else gets there first."
"New York certainly is hurried and restless; I can't say I like the noise and the skyscrapers," replied Burns.
"But it's great the way those buildings tower up," the boy exclaimed enthusiastically, "the low houses and poky ways of older and smaller cities look as though they were made for dwarfs, after living in the New York streets."
"Yet there are taller buildings, in other places, even in Europe," the statistician remarked.
"Spires!" answered the boy, "propped up by buttresses and flying buttresses and all the rest of it so as to keep them from falling. Look at those," he added, pointing at the skyscrapers before him, "they're not afraid to stand by themselves; they mean something, they have a use, while a spire just sticks straight up, pointing at nothing and being of no service unless it is to hang bells in a belfry. I don't care what people say about those crazy old tumble-down buildings of the Middle Ages, they may be beautiful and all that, but they're useless nowadays. The New York skyscraper is the greatest example of architecture in the world because it best does what it was built to do."
"You are enthusiastic, Noble," said his friend.
"I'm a New Yorker all the way through," the lad continued, "and I want to feel that I'm right in the whirl of things, where there is so much to do that you can't crowd it into a day, where the fun is at the same speed as the work. No backwaters for me, I want to be right out in the center. I don't say that I'm going to win, but I want to be a game sport and try my strength with the rest of the crowd in the current, sink or swim. It's all right to say that the heart of the nation is Washington, and the backbone is the farm, but its nerve center is here,—right here in New York. America's the wonder of the world, all right, but all there is to it is capital plus brains, and New York is the furnace that melts them down into that quickness and grip on things we call the American spirit. Millions from every race of the world come here, and the Statue of Liberty is the first symbol, and the skyscrapers of lower New York the first reality they see of the Land of Promise."
"How about the inside of these great shells of structure?"
"No such office buildings in the world," the boy answered enthusiastically. "The salt winds from over three thousand miles of ocean blow around them; in their steel walls there are lots of windows; lightning speed elevators make the top floor easier to get at than the second story of a dark, old-fashioned staircase building; and I've heard that the marble mosaic entrances of the larger of them put the Italian palaces to shame. I don't know Europe, but I do know New York, and I believe, Mr. Burns, if you knew it as I do, you'd be as proud of it too."
The Inspector looked at the boy quietly.
"You're wrong," he said soberly, "in thinking that I don't know New York. To-morrow morning you do a little work in a section of the city in which you have probably never been, and I think we'll hear less tall talk. If you could count the tens of thousands of families who live in rooms with nothing but court windows; if you could find out in how many thousand families children are toiling under sweatshop conditions till far into the night; if you were to ask the tuberculosis district nurses what conditions they find, you might then do a little thinking on your own account. It's only right you should be proud of New York, but you'd better see both sides before you are sure of yourself. Now, I suppose you're going home?"
"Yes, sir," said Hamilton, a little taken aback by his friend's rebuke.
"Call at my hotel early to-morrow morning and I'll start you on a 'Seeing New York' trip of a new kind." And turning off sharply, the Inspector swung himself aboard a passing cross-town car.
Nine o'clock the next morning found Hamilton in one of the worst districts he had ever seen. Thronged as it was, the boy was sufficiently conscious of his difference from the people he met to feel uncomfortable. He had one of the schedules that had been filled out during the enumeration of the city, and the Inspector had bidden him verify certain portions of it which were either confusing or slightly incorrect. This was to be done in a dozen or so districts, and if the information was found to be adequate, showing that the enumerators' work had been faithfully done, there would be no need for further inspection.
The home manufacture of ostrich feathers first gave Hamilton a clear insight into poverty. Four or five rooms each occupied by a family of several persons he entered in one tenement, and in each he found three or four people working over ostrich plumes, working nervously at high speed, afraid to stop, even for a moment. He noted conditions carefully, and was amazed to find that each of the little strands was wired—he had always supposed that plumes grew upon the ostrich the way that they are sold.
In one such family dejection seemed to have reached its lowest ebb. The window looked out on a court,—a court that was never cleaned and where all manner of rubbish was thrown. Although it was morning and a brilliant, sunshiny day, the light within was so dim that it was hard to work by; yet with characteristic shiftlessness the window had not been washed for months and diminished still further the little light there was; a mattress in the opposite corner from a shaky cooking gas-burner showed that this room was the entire home.
"Where is your husband?" asked the boy, noting on the schedule a man's name as head of the family.
"In hospital—perhaps dead. See!"
The woman pointed to a telegram which had fallen to the floor. Hamilton picked it up. It read:
"John Sobieski worse. Come at once," and was signed with the name of one of the large hospitals.
"Did you go?" asked the boy.
The woman shook her head.
"Two hours lost, if I go. No good. Two hours' work means twenty-four cents. What's the use?"
"What's the matter with him?"
"Consumption. I die soon, next year, perhaps. All the children sick."
The boy looked around at 'all the children.' There were five of them in that room, and all—even the youngest, a baby four years old—were knotting the feathers on the plume. The baby could hardly do it, but he was learning.
"Many hands make light work," said Hamilton as cheerfully as he could. "With so many little workers you ought to get along finely."
"Yes," the woman answered listlessly, "we get along. Some days we make as much as a dollar!"
"Each of you?"
"Do we look so rich? One dollar for everybody. But that is only sometimes, when I am not too sick. We can get a little more than five dollar the week, by working all the time."
The boy hastily asked the remaining questions on the schedule, found everything correctly reported and relieving his conscience by giving a little help out of his own pocket, he left for the next place.
On the floor below was a family working on fur, every one of them with hacking coughs caused by tiny particles of fur in the lungs.
"We work or we starve," was again the unanswerable explanation.
In the house next door, embroidering rich cloaks, Hamilton found a family of which several of the members had a bad infectious skin disease. Chancing to meet a health inspector soon afterwards he told him about this family and gave him their address.
"I can stop it, as far as this family is concerned," the health officer said, "and I suppose I ought to. But you know what it means, I suppose?"
"What?" asked the boy.
"It means, if I take their work away, they will starve to death in a couple of weeks."
"And if you don't?"
"If I don't, they'll go on spreading disease. Oh, I'll have to put a stop to it, of course, but tell me what is going to happen to the family."
"They ought to go to a hospital," Hamilton said.
The health officer shook his head.
"They are not hospital cases," he said. "None of them need more medical attention than they can get in a dispensary, and every hospital to which they applied would treat them in an Out-Patient department. They would have to take in more work, or die."
"But where would they get the work?"
"Any of these sweatshop jobbers will give it to them. It makes no difference to the middlemen where the work is done or out of what dens it comes, as long as it is done cheap."
"And is all clothing open to the same risk?" asked the boy.
The health inspector shook his head.
"Cheap clothing is not," he said, "because even the cheapest kind of labor is more expensive than machinery, and machine-made clothes are clean. But costly dresses which need hand embroidery are sent to sweatshops to be done. Not all, of course, but enough of them to keep thousands of women and children working day and night the year round. The more elaborate the gown, the longer is it likely to have been in a tenement that the future wearer would not even allow her dog to enter."
From house to house Hamilton went, finding misery at every step, with the single consolation that the schedule showed in almost every case that the son or the daughter who was working had moved out of the slums, or that the family had progressed sufficiently to find better quarters. Everywhere the children from these fearful homes seemed to have been dowered with promise, and as Burns had suggested, the sole comfort and hope for the future lay in the fact that the New York slum is a one-generation slum.
It was growing toward noon when Hamilton finished the short list that the Inspector had given him in that poorest section, and he was glad when he was able to leave the pressure of the poverty behind him. His next district was a section of the Italian quarter, and Hamilton knew that while he would find poverty of a certain kind there, there was enough of the community spirit among the Italians to prevent such conditions as he had witnessed and enough frugality among them to enable them to make the best of all they had.
Feeling that it was time for lunch, the boy hunted around a while for some restaurant that looked as though it would serve a meal that would not be too distasteful. After a little search he found a small place that seemed to be just the thing. The sign board was in Italian and the list of dishes pasted on the windows was in Italian, but Hamilton's Spanish enabled him to make out what the phrases meant, and he went in. At a table not far from the door, a man was sitting with his back to the entrance. He did not hear the lad's step until Hamilton was just behind him, then, with an Italian cry, he turned upon its face the paper on which he had been writing, and jumped to his feet so quickly that the chair on which he had been sitting overturned, and he stumbled as he stepped back a pace or two. He glared threateningly at the boy, who apologized for startling him. But it was evident that the man did not understand a word of English.
Hearing the clatter the proprietor came out from an inner room, and seeing the Italian standing there, broke into a passionate torrent of speech, all utterly unintelligible to Hamilton.
"I hava told heem," he explained to the boy, "that I not wanta heem in this-a place at all."
"I shouldn't think you would," said Hamilton, "I don't like his looks. Can I have some dinner?" he added, laying on the table a book he had just taken from his pocket, for the boy when alone always read at his meals.
"Certainly, sair," and the proprietor rattled off a string of dishes from which the boy made a copious selection, for he was hungry.
But he noticed that the man who had been sitting at the table had not left the place but was furtively watching, a few steps away. He was an ugly-looking customer, and Hamilton, full of grit as he was, felt uneasy. Casting his eye down to where he had laid his book, he noticed the piece of paper sticking from beneath it, and noticed moreover, a heavy shadow as though there were a drawing on the other side. His pulse beat a little faster as an idea came into his mind, but he showed no sign until the proprietor returned to set the table.