"I think," he said, watching the stranger carefully as he spoke, "that gentleman left a paper behind him. Ask him."
The proprietor, looking much puzzled, put a question in Italian, to which was evidently returned a sharp denial.
Still watching him, Hamilton slowly reached out his hand for the paper which lay on the table, only half-hidden by the book, and turning it over laid it flat upon the white cloth.
It was the Black Hand.
RIOTS AROUND A CITY SCHOOL
There was a moment's utter silence. The bright little restaurant had suddenly become charged with mystery, the slinking stranger seemed to have become in a moment allied to secret powers of evil, and the whole atmosphere seemed baneful in the sinister significance of that drawing on the table. A glance at the restaurant-keeper dispelled all question of complicity. His jaw had fallen, his face was ashen, his lips bluish.
The other saw his advantage in the terror the mere display had excited, and stepping forward, he reached out his hand to pick up the paper, saying in English:
Before the Italian had time to grasp the sketch, Hamilton quietly took it and folded it in half.
"I wouldn't be so ready to claim it, if I were you," he said, knowing that the other might not understand the words but could tell the tone.
"What are you going to do?" queried the restaurant-keeper in a hoarse whisper. "They will kill-a me!"
Hamilton thought hard for a moment or two. In the first place the matter had nothing to do with the Census Bureau, and the boy felt that while he was on duty in that work and wearing the census badge he was not a private citizen. Again, it was not a crime to draw a hand on a piece of paper, and the space obviously left for the blackmail message had not been filled in, and thirdly he could not swear that he saw him draw the hand; he only saw the paper in the man's possession.
"Tell him," he said to the restaurant-keeper, "that I shall say nothing about it, that I am not a policeman, nor a spy; tell him that so far as I am concerned I do not know that he had anything to do with it, and return him the paper."
And bending forward, he reached out the paper to the Italian, who first snatched it eagerly, and then, having secured it, made a ceremonious bow. The proprietor of the restaurant translated the boy's words, and with a brief reply, which Hamilton rightly construed to be thanks, the stranger left the store. No sooner was he gone than the restaurateur, with a word of apology, sank into the nearest chair, fairly exhausted with fright.
"I tell you, sair," he said, as soon as he could get his breath, "I had-a nothing at all to do with that-a man."
"It's pretty hard to know about these things," said Hamilton, who was somewhat unnerved himself, "but I don't believe you had. Anyway, there's no harm done. I've always heard about the Black Hand society, but I didn't expect to run across it first thing, that way."
"There is no Black-a Hand society," the Italian said, "at least I do not think there is."
"How do you mean there's no Black Hand?" asked Hamilton a little indignantly, "haven't I just seen it?"
The Italian shook his head.
"What were you so scared about, then?" queried the boy impatiently.
"Mafia," said the other, his lips just shaping the syllables.
"You mean that the Mafia use the Black Hand?"
The Italian nodded.
"And that it is the sign of the Mafia?"
"No," said the restaurant proprietor. "It is this-a way. When the Mafia was all-a broken up in-a the Sicily, the chiefs come to America. But the people are so far away it is difficult-a to speak-a to them all. One day one of the Mafia leaders write a letter threatening to kill. His—what you call it—nickname was 'Il Mano Nera'—"
"That means 'The Black Hand,' doesn't it?" queried the boy.
The Italian nodded.
"He sign at the bottom with a Black Hand because the man-a to whom he write, once was member of the Mafia. The police see the letter, a newspaper print-a big long story about Italian society which have the Black-a Hand for its sign, and saying that much recent murders was done. Everybody become-a frightened, and the Mafia and the Camorra right away both begin-a to use Black Hand. So you see when I say there is no Black-a Hand society, no chief, no place-a to meet, no meetings, no plan-a to share money, no oath, it is quite true, but if I say there is a society which used the Black-a Hand that is true, too. But all I want-a to do is to be let alone. Now, I will get you your dinner, sair."
Hamilton felt distinctly uncomfortable in being left alone, not feeling at all sure that the man who had been there before would not suddenly dash in upon him unawares and stab him in the back with a stiletto to make sure of his not talking, nor that the restaurant-keeper might not put some poison in his coffee. Take it all in all, it was the most nerve-racking meal he had ever eaten.
Chatting with the Inspector that evening over his Black Hand experiences he found that his chief took a very serious view of the question.
"If we were receiving immigrants from the north of Italy," he said, "it would be an entirely different matter, but all the Italians who are coming in now are from the 'toe' and the 'heel' of Italy, and from Sicily. You see, the north of Italy are really Celts, like the French and Irish, being descended from the Lombards, but the Sicilians and Calabrians are a mixture of the old pirates, the Moors, and the degenerated Latin races that were left when the Roman Empire fell to pieces. The endeavor to break up the Mafia sent all the leaders of that nefarious Sicilian society here, and now the attack upon the Neapolitan Camorra lands another criminal group. Italy has sent us a larger proportion of criminals than any other country, and under our present laws, if they have been three years here, they cannot be deported. The Vincenzo Abadasso case was a good example of the folly of that rule."
"Who was he?" asked Hamilton.
"He was an Italian immigrant who had been arrested twenty-seven times and convicted twenty-five and who came over here a couple of years ago. Within a few months of his arrival he was arrested here and sentenced to three years' imprisonment And now, although he is a professed criminal, they won't be able to deport him, because when his prison term is up, he will have been in the United States three years."
"I suppose there are a lot of Italians coming over now?" said Hamilton questioningly.
"A little over three weeks ago," was the reply, "as I heard from a friend in the Immigration Bureau, there was a funeral in a small village near Naples and not enough able-bodied civilians could be found in the place to carry the casket. All of them were in America. There are scores of towns in southern Italy where all the work—of every kind—is done now by the women, because the men have emigrated."
"What do you think about this Black Hand business?"
"I think your friend the restaurant-keeper was nearly right, only that it is being used by all sorts of crooks as well, who have no connection with either the Mafia or the Camorra. Mark you, I think those two secret societies are apt to be much misrepresented, just as the Jesuits were during the Middle Ages and the Freemasons were at other periods. The Camorra was once simply the Tammany Hall of Naples. But when, as happened last year, there were six hundred and fourteen Black Hand outrages in two States in four months it is idle to say that it does not exist in America. The Camorrist trials over the Cuocolo murders at Viterbo, perhaps the most sensational in the world since the Dreyfus case, have shown its power to be more dangerous than any one could for a moment have imagined. And the danger lies here—there are more Camorrists in New York than in Naples!"
For a moment the boy looked at the Inspector, astounded.
"You mean—" he began, and stopped.
"I mean that the worst elements of the two worst societies in Europe are concentrating in New York, and that unless rigorous measures are taken to keep them down, America will harbor graver dangers than any it has yet known. Russian nihilism, Polish anarchism, German socialism may join hands with the Sicilian Mafia and the Neapolitan Camorra to institute a criminal organization such as the world has never seen before. There are enough ignorant immigrants to yield to a wave of fear, and the Black Hand thrives and grows on terror. But, wisely held in check until they learn, these very Sicilians and Neapolitans bring much that is of value to the making of an American people."
"Oh, there couldn't be any real danger!" Hamilton exclaimed. "The spirit of American institutions would prevent such a happening; that could only be in some old-world city like Naples. The Camorra comes down from the Middle Ages, anyway."
The Inspector shook his head.
"I hope so," he said, "and I only trust you may be right," and he turned the subject to the actual work in hand.
It so chanced that the very next day Hamilton had an opportunity of seeing, in a mild way, how truly the Inspector had spoken with regard to the alienizing of the crowds in the streets of New York. He had been working steadily several hours, and early in the afternoon he noticed a great deal of shouting in the streets. Being curious, and noticing that numbers of women were hurrying past, gesticulating violently, Hamilton followed, until almost before he was aware, the crowd grew so dense as to engulf him, and he was carried along, whether he would or no, up the street. Some of the women were crying, some shrieking, and all wore a furtive, strained expression as though in great distress.
Although there was a great deal of shouting, not a word was in a language familiar to Hamilton, and although he questioned every one around him he could find no one that understood his questions. All that he could gather was from some one in the front of the crowd who kept on crying out in English at irregular intervals:
"Our children, we want our children!"
Even if the boy had desired to break through the crowd to return to his work he could not have done so, and he really did not wish to,—he was too much interested in following the purposes of the throng. Finally the people stopped, but the boy was so far back that he could see nothing of what was going on at the head of the crowd. Being determined, however, Hamilton elbowed his way by main force and reached the woman who was still crying:
"Our children, we want our children!"
Hamilton spoke to her, but the woman paid no heed. Finally, seeing that she would not listen, he shouted at her as harshly as he could. Then she turned and tried to answer his questions.
"What's all the row about?" he asked.
"They rob us. Steal our children. Make them walk far away, never see our children any more. Oh, my Mario, oh, my Petronilla. Oh, our children, we want our children!"
Further information the boy could not get. He worked his way clear to the front of the mob and saw the police gathering on all sides. Breaking through the front rank he stepped up to the nearest policeman, who merely shifted his grip on his night stick.
"That's quite a mob," he said in a conversational tone.
"It is that, sorr," said the policeman, recognizing immediately that the boy was not one of the rioters.
"I'm a census officer," the boy continued, "and I was doing some inspection work for the census when I got caught in the crowd. What's the matter with them?"
"'Tis a bunch of dummies they are," was the reply; "'tis thinkin' they are that the schools are goin' to steal their children. As if any one would be wantin' their brats. The most of us has enough of our own to keep."
"But why should the school want to steal their children? Do you mean that they don't want them to go to school?"
"'Tis not that, sorr," the Irishman answered, "but 'tis due to some 'fire drill' business. The little ones are taught in the school that when a bell rings—'tis the fire bell I'm m'anin'—they sh'd all march out dacintly and in order. 'Tis a good idea, that same, an' I'm favorin' it. But it's hard to make the children see it, so that they have to drill them often."
"That all seems right enough," Hamilton answered.
"Ye would think so, sorr," continued the policeman "But most of these mothers come from countries on the other side where they make them soldiers whether they want to be or not, an' this drillin' business scares the old folks 'most to death."
"But if it continues and nothing happens, I don't see why they should go on being scared. You would think the children had grown used to it."
"The children! They're not makin' any trouble, it's all the parents."
"Then what started it?"
"There was some street corner lecturer here the day before yisterday, tryin' to teach the people that children were the cause of poverty an' that the only way to prevent poverty was to get rid of the children, either by havin' fewer or by shippin' off the existin' surplus."
"It's silly for them to heed a man like that!"
"It's worse than silly, sorr," the policeman said. "But even then I don't believe there would have been trouble. But yisterday, some rich lady, plannin' to give the children a picnic this afternoon and a treat, told them they were all goin' out to the country and that they must tell their mothers they wouldn't be home until late."
"What about that?" asked the boy. "I should think they would be glad that the children should have some pleasure. From all I've seen recently of the way people live in this neighborhood, I don't believe the children have any too much good times."
"An' so they should be glad, sorr, but they won't see it that way. They know the children have been drilled for weeks an' weeks; they know a man on the street corner said the children ought to be shipped away; an' the next day they are told that the children are goin' to be taken into the country, an' they don't believe the children'll ever come back."
"Surely they can't be as silly as all that! And what do you suppose they want to do?"
"They don't know what they want," the policeman answered, "but it's a bad business when a crowd gathers. Look there now!"
Hamilton looked where the man was pointing. On the outskirts of the crowd the boy noted a number of half-grown toughs, hoodlums, and trouble-makers generally. The cries were increasing, and the boy could see that these men were doing all they could to stir up the rest of the crowd.
"Where they come from, I don't know," the police officer said, "but any time that there's a little trouble, they'll make it as big as they can."
"But the whole thing's so absurd," the boy said. "What do they think they're going to do,—raid the school?" He laughed.
The policeman turned on him quickly.
"'Tis absurd, as ye say, sorr," he said rebukingly "but there's many a good man been hurt with less cause than this. That crowd's growin' by thousands. Do you slip away, sorr, I'm afraid there's goin' to be trouble."
"Not much," Hamilton answered, "now I'm in this far, I'm going to stay and see the fun out."
"Well then, sorr," advised the policeman, "ye'd better slip through the school gates. Show your census badge, and the other men at the gate will let ye through."
Thanking him, Hamilton walked across the narrow stretch of road between the foremost ranks of the crowd and the little group of policemen gathered in front of the school entrance. As he did so, a bottle came whizzing at his head with deadly aim. Fortunately he had been keeping his head partly turned curiously toward the crowd, and he saw the missile in time to dodge. It missed him and went hurtling on, just passing between two policemen and smashing on the iron bars of the railing.
"You nearly got hit that time," said one of the policemen, as Hamilton showed his badge and was let through. "How did you get in with them?"
"Just doing my work," the boy answered, "and got carried right along. I was curious at first,—then when I wanted to get out I found I couldn't. I think," he added, a little nervously, for the flying jagged bottle had startled him not a little, "that's the first time I've been in front of a mob."
"I wish it was the last I'm likely to be," was the reply, "especially a crowd of women like that. Men you know what to do with."
"What do you suppose they'll do?" asked the boy. "Try to rush the school?"
"They did once not far from here," the policeman answered, "it was a school on the East Side, where nearly all the children were Jewish, and in order to make it easier for the poorer children the school authorities had opened a sort of restaurant where the kids could get lunch for three cents. The story got abroad that the children were getting ham and pork, and the whole section rose in arms. We tried to disperse them and couldn't. There was no way of reasoning with them, there was nothing they could do, but they just hung around."
"Waiting a chance to burn the school down, every one seemed to think. They did make one rush toward the end of the afternoon, and several people were wounded. One of our men was badly stabbed, but he got over it. Watch now," he added, in a sharp voice. "There's something doing!"
The crowd hushed a moment, and a man's voice could be heard, but whether pacifying the women or inflaming them, Hamilton could not make out. The next moment answered him. Without any apparent preparation, the whole face of the crowd suddenly seemed to burst, the end closed in, and in a second one of the wildest hordes Hamilton had ever seen was at the school gates. There was a brief struggle and nightsticks were drawn. The crowd rolled back, then surged on, more angrily than before. But the bluecoats stood firm, and when the crowd rolled back the second time a number showed broken heads.
"Son," called the police lieutenant, "you scamper along, and tell the principal to hurry up with letting out the school. I sent him one message now this means business."
Hamilton turned and ran for all he was worth toward the building, but just as he reached there, he saw the children marching in regular order out of the rear door, and he came back immediately to report. As he did so he found that the crowd was getting ready to make a third attempt to attack the police, when, turning the corner, sauntering down the narrow lane between the crowd and the police, came an Italian boy, about fourteen years old, with half a dozen other ragged boys at his heels. On seeing him, the lieutenant turned to Hamilton.
"That's Caesar," he said, with a sigh of relief. "I've known him for the past year or two, and he'll settle all this trouble."
The boy looked at the police lieutenant with surprise. The police force had had trouble enough, and what could a boy do? He voiced his query.
"His father's a 'Man of Silence,'" was the reply, "and Caesar himself knows all there is to know. You'll see."
Arriving at the center of the crowd, just by the school gate, the boy turned, and speaking to the nearest officer, said, in English, without a trace of foreign accent, shrugging his shoulders:
"Some of them won't ever learn!"
For a moment he scanned the mob, called the names of two or three men on the outskirts, and Hamilton could see them wince as this fourteen-year-old lad named them; then he commenced a speech, which seemed,—so far as Hamilton could tell—to be ridiculing them for their fears.
The crowd relaxed, and for a moment Hamilton thought the whole trouble was over; but suddenly a man sprang to the front of the rioters, and gesticulating wildly, answered the boy in what seemed to be a threatening tone. The young Italian lad heard him through patiently, then almost without raising his voice, uttered one crisp sentence. The man turned white to the lips and slunk away.
"Ask him," said Hamilton to a policeman, "what he said?"
"I only asked him," the Italian said, "if he wanted me to find out his name—so that you would know it if you wanted to arrest him of course," he added, as an afterthought.
The policeman looked at him and pulled the boy's ear, in fun.
"Av I knew as much about some things as you do," he said, "they'd make me chief. Maybe, though," he added, "I wouldn't hold it long. But what about this, Caesar, is it all over?"
The Italian nodded.
"See," he said, "they all go!"
It was as the boy said; Hamilton could see that little by little the crowd was dispersing and that the members of the boyish gang were going all through the groups, evidently explaining that the trouble was all over.
"Ye see what we're up against," the policeman said to Hamilton. "Here's a slip of a lad that c'n just make a crowd do what he says because his father is a leader in the Mafia. There's never any one gives credit enough to the force for keepin peace, between all these foreigners and the Chinks; this ain't an American city, it's a racial nightmare."
"Do the Chinese give much trouble, then?"
"Not such a great deal usually, but they do once in a while. There's bloody murder in Chinatown going on now, or going to begin mighty soon. Three were killed yesterday and the word was given out at Headquarters this morning that the Tongs were out."
"Have we Tongs in New York?" asked Hamilton. "I've heard all about the troubles in the West. Before the fire in San Francisco, I know, there were fifteen organized Tongs of Highbinders, each with its paid band of 'Hatchet Men' for no other purpose than to rule Chinatown. The man who got up the report for the government told me that 'Frisco Chinatown was far more under Tong rule and had far more crimes in proportion than any city in China."
"There are six strong Tongs in New York that I know about," the policeman answered, "and I guess there are a lot more. But I reckon it's the same in 'Frisco as it is here, they keep their killings to themselves, and they don't let any white men get mixed up in it at all. That's why you never can tell anything about it. But right now Chinatown is pretty dangerous, and all the sight-seeing business there has been shut off. No one is going into Mott and Pell Streets now."
"Pell Street!" exclaimed the boy. "Is that in Chinatown?"
"Right in the heart of it," was the reply. "Why?"
"Because I'm headed there now," Hamilton answered, taking from his pocket the schedule he had been given by Burns to check up, and showing it to the officer.
"That's Chinatown all right," the policeman said, "just look at the names!"
"I hadn't looked at it closely," the boy remarked, "why, yes, so it is. Well, Tong or no Tong, I suppose I've got to chance it, if those are orders."
The policeman shook his head.
"Looks to me as though you'd have to wait a while. Take some other district first and come back next week."
"Can't," the boy answered. "The Census Inspector and I have to go to 'Frisco to straighten out a Chinese tangle over the census there. The Chinese refused point-blank to have anything to do with the census, and there was a heap of trouble."
"What was it?" asked the policeman, walking along beside Hamilton in the direction of Chinatown, his beat extending to the limits of that section.
"When the rule for the census was issued, so they told me in Washington," Hamilton answered, "in order to make sure that the Chinese would not place any obstacles in the way, not only was a copy of the President's proclamation in Chinese pasted all over the walls of the city, but, in addition a decree was made by the Chinese consul-general that it was the wish of the Chinese government that the population in the city be properly numbered."
"That was a good idea," said the policeman approvingly.
"It would have been," said Hamilton, "if the Chinese had paid any attention to it. Instead of that, some of the Tongs got together and had a brief threat printed and pasted across the face of the President's proclamation, as well as that of the consul, that no Chinaman was to give any information to a census officer, unless he wanted to come under the displeasure of the Tongs."
"The nerve of them!"
"At this," continued the boy, "the consul put out a second order, sharper than the first, not only commanding obedience, but pointing out that refusal would lay the person refusing open to fine or imprisonment. Over these second orders again was pasted the former threat of the Tongs. A few days later the enumerators, each accompanied by a policeman, went through Chinatown. The Chinese wouldn't understand any language, not even their own. They didn't refuse to give information, they simply answered, 'No understand' when any question was asked."
TRANSLATION OF THE PROCLAMATION
Whereas, the Director of the Census Bureau of the Department of Commerce and Labor of the United States, in a letter to His Excellency Chang, His Imperial Chinese Majesty's Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, requests that, since it has been the custom of the United States to take a census of the population once in every ten years, many of which have been taken and are on record, and since the present year is the time for taking another such census, which is to include the people of every nationality residing within the territory of the United States, and as the Chinese residents of this country, through possible ignorance of the English language, may mistake the object of the enumerators to be that of ascertaining what the people possess and its value, in order to impose taxes, or that of investigating the certificates of registration, etc., a proclamation be issued fully explaining the matter to the Chinese people;
And whereas, instructions have been received from His Excellency to the effect that, the taking of a census being merely to ascertain the population of the country, and having no connection in any way with the imposing of taxes or the examination of certificates by the customs authorities of the Treasury Department, and for fear that our countrymen may not understand the purpose and make trouble through a mistaken notion of the whole proceeding, the Consul-General at San Francisco and the Consul at New York shall publish and make known to all Chinese residing in every part of the United States that it is the custom of the United States to take a census at stated intervals, that this proceeding has no connection with the laying of taxes or the examination of certificates of residence, that our countrymen have no cause for suspicion or alarm, but, as soon as the enumerators present themselves, they should answer the questions put to them without evasion or reservation, in order not to incur the penalty of the law:
Now, therefore, we, Li Yung Yew, His Imperial Chinese Majesty's Consul-General at the port of San Francisco, and Yang Yu Ying, His Imperial Chinese Majesty's Consul at the port of New York, in pursuance of instructions as aforesaid, do hereby publish and make known that inasmuch as it is the custom of the United States to take a census of the population thereof once in every ten years, and as this proceeding has no connection whatever with the laying of taxes or the examination of certificates of residence, and as all persons irrespective of nationality are to be enumerated under the provisions of the law, our countrymen should not be alarmed or cherish any suspicion, but, as soon as the proper officers of the Census Bureau present themselves with this Consular proclamation, should answer all the questions put to them without evasion or reservation, in order not to incur the penalty of the law.
A list of the questions to be answered is hereby appended for the information of all concerned:
Population schedule (32 questions).
Agriculture schedule (59 questions).
Dated Hsuan Tung, second year, First moon (February, 1910), and sealed with our respective seals of office.
THIRTEENTH CENSUS OF THE UNITED STATES
CHINESE CONSULAR PROCLAMATION
(SEE TRANSLATION ABOVE)
"What was finally done?" the policeman queried.
"The Consul-General had to ask the Five Companies to back up the census order, and they did. The fifth layer of paper was put on the billboards, and the Five Companies, without beating around the bush, just ordered the Chinese to do as they were told."
"I've always heard that the Five Companies were stronger on the Pacific coast than they are here. I wonder why?"
"I asked that very question," Hamilton said, "and the man who told me all about this explained that it was because they controlled the Chinese slave traffic to America."
"'Tis like enough," the policeman agreed, "and of course the most of that would be on the other slope. But there's enough of it here, just the same, and half the trouble between the Tongs is because of it."
"That was what started the trouble in Oakland between the Hop Sings and the Bing Gongs," Hamilton said, "and there were eight men killed in that. It began over the possession of a slave girl who had been given as security for debt. But they never caught any one for that."
"You can't ever catch a Chinaman," the policeman said. "I've arrested a dozen myself—but it never did any good. Look at Boston—it was open talk that there were two regular executioners under Tong law, but the Chinks got out of it by tellin' the judge that there never had been any executions and that it was merely an ancient title!"
"There have been cases in New York, too," the boy said, "that they haven't found out yet!"
"It doesn't matter what the case is—you can never prove it on them. Look at that young girl, a missionary, who was killed! And that's only one of dozens. And they can shoot, and shoot straight, too!" he added. "Look at the shooting galleries," the two were walking down the Bowery, "they've been kept going for years by the practice of the Tong marksmen. You'd never think it, but some of those Highbinders could make our crack shots do their best to keep an even score. Well," he broke off, "here we are at Mott Street. Bob," he called to the policeman across the street, "here's a young fellow wants to go into Chinatown."
"Sorry, sir," said the other, a great big burly fellow, coming forward to meet them, "but orders are strict. No one going in at all, unless on business."
"It is on business, officer," said Hamilton. "I'm a census agent and the Inspector told me to check up some names on this schedule."
The policeman took it and looked it over.
"I think those are all right, sir," he said, "I know most of 'em by name. But that's one of those underground places and we don't any of us go down there any more than we have to. Of course when we have to go—why, that's another matter. I think, sir, you can take it those names are about all right."
"I don't feel that I could make a report like that," Hamilton answered. "I was sent to check it up personally, and don't you think I'd better do it? There's a chap there," he added, pointing to a young fellow standing a few yards up the street, "he doesn't look Chinese."
"He's a reporter, sir," the policeman said, "an' he's like us,—it's part of his business to take chances."
"Mine, too," said Hamilton; "only he represents a newspaper and I'm here for the government."
The policeman scratched his chin in perplexity.
"Do you wait here," he said, "and I'll call up the station."
He came back in a minute or two.
"The lieutenant says it'll be all right," he said. "I told him that I hadn't seen any sign of trouble—not that that means anything," he added, "but if you wait a minute the other man will be up this way; he's patrollin' the streets and you can go along with him."
"How many of you are there here?" asked the boy.
"Generally half a dozen in these two or three streets," the policeman answered, "but I guess right now there's twice that number."
Just as he had expected, another policeman appeared shortly, and Hamilton was passed on to him. His conductor was taciturn, and the boy was glad when the reporter joined them. In reply to a question, Hamilton told his purpose, and the reporter, scenting a story, volunteered to accompany them. The boy was willing enough, especially as he found the reporter had the Chinese district as his regular assignment and was well known in Chinatown.
The address given, as the first policeman had said, was merely that painted over a stairway.
"I guess we go down here," Hamilton said.
The policeman answered not a word, he simply pushed past the boy and went down first; Hamilton followed, and the reporter came next. At the bottom of the stair the policeman rapped on a door with his nightstick, a good loud rap. It was opened, and he strode in, followed by the two boys. A few questions from Hamilton verified one or two items of information, but details about the rest of the house were not forthcoming. In answer to questions the Chinaman simply pointed to the ground.
"Next floor down, I reckon," the reporter said.
"But we're in the cellar now," objected Hamilton
The reporter laughed.
"We build above ground, the Chinese below," he said. "Lots of these houses have five stories underground, and nearly all have either two or three. A Chinaman doesn't care about fresh air at all, and he won't waste money in fuel when he can keep warm in an underground burrow. Come on, I guess we'll go down some more."
The policeman still leading the way, three of them went down a rickety stair, not much better than a ladder, and found themselves in a sort of storehouse.
"They don't keep things to eat here!" exclaimed Hamilton, scarcely able to breathe the foul air and the exhalations from decaying food-stuffs.
"Sure," the reporter answered. "Cheerful, isn't it?"
Hamilton gave a little shiver of repugnance, but taking out his schedule, asked the underground store-keeper all the personal questions on it. Then, realizing that he would be able to know about his customers, the lad quickly made enough inquiries to assure him that there was no fault to find with the work, and started for the upper air. Just as they passed out of the stairway, the policeman, who was the last, still being on the steps, Hamilton heard a shot, and a bullet came whizzing by his head. It was answered by a fusillade of shots.
The boy's first instinct was to duck back under the cover of the staircase from which he had just come out, but the policeman, as he left it, roughly gave him a push, as much as to say, "Keep out of there," and started on a dead run for the group where the firing was going on.
"That's the Hip Sings," the reporter said, pulling Hamilton into the shadow of a doorway, "the Ong Leongs have been waiting for them, ever since that affair in the theater."
"What was that?" asked Hamilton, although more interested in the immediate excitement than the story.
"Time of the Chinese New Year," the reporter answered in short, crisp sentences. "There was a gala performance in the theater with suppers and banquets before and after. Everybody brought fire-crackers to the theater, and at a certain time all the fire-crackers were set off. When the noise stopped eighteen men were found shot dead, all members of the Ong Leong Tong. The Hip Sing men were blamed for it, but none ever caught."
"What's up now?" cried Hamilton, in alarm.
As he spoke two men dashed out of a building near by, and fired at the group beyond. The others turned and made a rush. The two newcomers cut across the street, thus for a moment diverting the line of fire which had been perilously close to where the two boys were standing.
"This is too hot for me," said the reporter, "we'd better get out of here as fast as we know how. We'll go to the end of this street and turn to the right. Are you ready? Come along."
Out from the doorway like a couple of frightened hares the two lads bolted, pursued by a few shots which, they flew so far over their heads, Hamilton surmised were intended as a warning to keep out of the way rather than as attempts to shoot them. In the few seconds that had elapsed it seemed that the streets had become full of running policemen, and Hamilton looked back.
As he did so, he saw one of the men in the nearest group stagger sideways and stand for an instant alone in the center of the street. There was the sharp bark of a sawed-off revolver, and the wounded man just reached the shelter of a doorway as the bullet sang over the spot on which he had stood a second before.
The sight unnerved Hamilton. He clutched the reporter's arm.
"Chinese, Camorrists, sweatshop workers, and negroes!" he cried, a hysterical note in his voice. "Are there no Americans in an American city?"
The reporter grasped his shoulder and pointed to where, a block or two away, the towering framework of a Titanic building pierced the sunlit air, far above the sordid savagery of the human rat-holes near by. Guiding monster beams into place, sure-set upon the frailest foothold, forms of men, made tiny by the distance, were silhouetted against the sky.
"The post of honor is the post of danger," he said; "it is in work like that, where skill is linked to daring, where brain is joined to nerve, that the Yankee stands. If you want to see the American in America, don't look down, look up!"