Read CHAPTER V - “DON’T DEPORT MY OLD MOTHER!” of The Boy With the U.S. Census, free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on ReadCentral.com.

The “crusader’s” talk on the child-labor question set Hamilton’s mind working, and as soon as he got back to Washington and was busy tabulating the manufacturing statistics which had been gathered and sent in, he tried to learn something about the employment of children. He chanced to meet one of the photographers who had been with the Congressional commission, and the tales this man told were even more detailed. Hamilton found that the figures quoted had not been overstated, and he determined that just as soon as he grew old enough he would do all he could toward correcting this abuse.

But Hamilton found the actual statistical work not a little tedious, although it was work which usually he enjoyed, and this sense of the time dragging was largely due to the fact that the boy had not heard a word about his being considered in line for the population work. It was therefore a considerable relief to him when Mr. Burns said to him suddenly one morning:

“So you’re going over to the population side, I hear?”

“Am I? I didn’t know,” Hamilton replied. “I had wanted to go, but not hearing anything about it, I was afraid the plan had been shelved.”

“The Director told me this morning that you were going to be transferred.”

“The Director himself?”

“Yes. I had a talk with him about the figures for the manufactures of the New England States, and we happened to mention you; he knew your name, so I told him that your schedules had averaged six and a third per cent better than those of any one else in that section. So he said, ’That reminds me, I had almost forgotten that I had decided to put Noble on the population work. I’ll see that arrangements for that transfer are made,’ and he scribbled something on a pad.”

“That was awfully kind of you, Mr. Burns,” said Hamilton, “to mention me to the Director in that way.”

The statistician looked at him curiously.

“I wasn’t dealing in kindness,” he said dryly, “I was dealing in percentages. If that turned out well for you, it is yourself you have to thank, not me. I merely stated the figures, and they read in your favor.”

The boy laughed outright.

“I believe, Mr. Burns,” he said, “that you would more easily forgive a man who attacked you personally than one who gave you an incorrect list of figures.”

“Certainly I would,” the statistician replied. “I could hit back in the first case, but in the second who can tell how far I might be led astray!”

“Well,” the boy answered, “I’m glad at any rate that my figures tallied up all right.”

“I don’t want to seem inquisitive,” said the older man, “but when did you get in the population examination?”

“There was some talk of my being accepted without going through the exam,” said Hamilton, “because of the fact that I was doing census work of a more difficult character already, but I thought I would rather feel that everything had been done in the usual manner. I took the exam at New Haven, one afternoon.”

“But are you going to do the population work there?”

“No, Mr. Burns,” the boy explained. “The Director wrote to me that I would be allowed to send in a formal application in the regular way through the supervisor of the enumeration district to which I had asked to be assigned. The supervisor of that district had said beforehand that he would be willing to appoint me, as the section was so sparse that enough qualified enumerators were hard to get.”

“Well, where are you going, then?”

“I don’t know, for sure yet, of course,” the boy explained, “whether everything will go through as planned, but if so, I shall be going to Kentucky.”

“In the mountains where you had been visiting?”

“Oh, no,” the boy answered, “in another part of the State entirely, down toward the black belt of Kentucky.”

“Kentucky isn’t a black belt State,” his friend objected.

“No, Mr. Burns, but there are parts where the negroes are tolerably thickly settled. The supervisor is a friend of my older brother, and he says that is an interesting part of the country.”

“But can a Board of Examiners in one district look over the papers for the supervisor of another district?”

“No, sir,” explained the boy, “but they can allow the examination to be taken before them and have the papers sent to the supervisor of the other district. It was a little irregular, I suppose, but the Director knew all about it and it was for the good of the census, he thought, as he had been told there were not enough enumerators in the district to which I hoped to go.”

“Well,” the statistician replied, “if you’re headed for Kentucky I should think you’d like to see your folks before going.”

“I had planned to go up on Saturday afternoon,” Hamilton said. “I can get to New York by evening and spend Saturday night and all day Sunday there, catching the midnight train back. It brings me in early enough for office hours.”

“And this is Friday,” said the other thoughtfully. “I’ll tell you what to do. I can arrange for you to be off Saturday morning; it is only a half day, and you can catch the first train out after business hours to-day.”

“That would be bully!”

“I estimate,” the statistician said, rapidly dotting down some figures on a pad, “that the fractions of overtime you have worked recently, cumulatively considered, enable me to do that fairly, so that you’ve earned it.”

“That’s fine,” said Hamilton, “for the family is going to Europe for the summer, and I shouldn’t see any of them at all unless I ran up to New York now.”

The older man nodded his confirmation of the suggested arrangement, and returned to his figures. During the noon hour Hamilton hurriedly packed a grip, and was back at the office without a minute lost, for he found a train leaving at a most advantageous hour, and by calling a taxi he was just able to catch it.

At breakfast the following morning, the conversation turned upon immigration, and Hamilton read in a newspaper the statement that two large liners were in New York harbor and would dock that morning, that each carried a record passenger list of immigrants, and that Ellis Island was making preparations for a busy day.

“I’ve never seen Ellis Island,” the boy announced “Father, do you know if visitors are allowed over there?”

“I’m fairly sure of it,” his father replied, “but in any case there ought to be no trouble for you, since the Bureau of the Census is a part of the Department of Commerce and Labor, just as is the Bureau of Immigration.”

“I think I’d like to go.”

“I think you ought to go,” his father said. “Taking up the population business, you ought to try to get hold of all the information you can, ahead of time. I have been there several times, on business, and it is a most interesting place.”

Accordingly, the eleven o’clock boat from the Barge Office, New York, a pier near Castle Garden, the historic immigration station, carried Hamilton to the famous Ellis Island. Preferring his request, the lad speedily found himself in the presence of the Commissioner. He stated his wants briefly.

“Mr. Commissioner,” he said, “I’m an assistant agent of the Census Bureau in Washington, and I’m just going to my station as an enumerator for the population. I have two days in New York and I’d like to learn how things are done on the Island here. May I have a pass?”

The Commissioner answered briefly.

“Read this,” he said, taking a sheaf of manuscript out of the drawer of his desk, “and here’s a short review for the use of visitors, and I’ll send you in to the Chief Clerk to get a pass, and if there’s anything more you want, let me know.” He touched a bell. “Show this gentleman to Mr. Tuckman, and let him be given a special pass,” he said, and Hamilton was ushered out promptly, thinking as he went that this was evidently one place where time was not wasted.

The Chief Clerk was equally ready to assist the lad, and armed with his special pass he started round the building, finding himself practically free of the island. Hamilton possessed the capacity of making friends readily, and with his alert manner and direct appeal, he usually secured attention. Walking sharply through the place he soon found himself down in what was called the Information Division. For the moment one of the clerks was not busy, and Hamilton, stepping up to him, began to ply him with questions. A tall young fellow, who was standing nearby, listened for a few moments, then turned to Hamilton.

“See here,” he said, “you can’t learn much about Ellis Island just by asking questions, you’ve got to go around and see for yourself.”

“That’s just what I propose doing,” Hamilton answered, “but I thought it wouldn’t be such a bad plan to get an idea of things first, and then I should understand what I saw. There’s not much use in watching things unless you understand just what’s going on. I have some knowledge of it, of course, because the Commissioner gave me some reading matter to look over, and I’ve got a special pass, so that I want to make the best use of it.”

“Suppose you come along with me, then,” said his new acquaintance, who was none other than the Chief of the Information Division, “and I’ll show you round myself as far as I can spare the time. It so happens that there are a lot of scattering things I want to look after through the building to-day, and if you don’t mind my leaving you alone, once in a while, I’ll take you through systematically. Where do you want to begin?”

“Right at the very start,” rejoined Hamilton “I always think the beginning is the most important part, and I’d hate to lose any of it.”

“All right,” said his conductor good-humoredly; “if you want it all, you shall have it. I notice, too,” he said, as they walked along the hall and out of the door to the well-kept lawns that stretch between the main building and the sea wall, “that you’re in good time, for there’s a barge just pulling in.”

“The barge is from one of the liners that came in this morning, I suppose?” queried the lad.

“Yes, one of the Hamburg boats,” his guide replied.

“Are those barges run by the immigration authorities?”

“No,” was the answer, “those are owned or managed by the steamboat companies. They bring all the steerage passengers who can’t show that they are citizens, and all the cabin passengers who are being detained.”

“Cabin passengers,” echoed Hamilton in surprise; “I didn’t think any cabin passengers came to Ellis Island. All second cabin, I suppose?”

“Not a bit of it,” answered the immigration official; “there’s quite a sprinkling of first-class passengers as well. Why, during a period of three months recently, nearly three thousand cabin passengers were detained on the island here, and I suppose twenty per cent of them had come over in the first-class saloon.”

“But why should any first-class passengers be stopped and shipped to Ellis Island?” queried the boy. “I don’t understand. I thought Ellis Island was to keep out people who were paupers, or diseased, or were undesirable citizens!”

“That’s just exactly what it is for,” the other replied, “but the United States government doesn’t think that having money enough to pay for a first-class passage makes every man a desirable citizen! A first-class berth is no insurance against an incurable disease, for example, and there’s nothing to prevent a criminal from coming over in the first cabin.” He laughed. “Most of them do, I think,” he said.

“It really never appealed to me just that way,” the boy remarked; “I supposed always that first-class passengers went right through if they passed quarantine.”

“That would mix things up,” the older man said. “Why, in that case we should have all the mentally deficient, all the paupers, and all the freaks landing here in shoals. Any group of friends, or any government, for that matter, would find it cheap and easy to dump all the public charges of Europe on our shores for the price of a first-class ticket. Oh, no, that would never do. Once in a while, you hear passengers on the big liners complaining of the inquiries made before they land, but it’s got to be done. You can see for yourself what would happen if we didn’t.”

“But if they bring plenty of money, they would not become public charges.”

“No, and we can’t exclude them on that ground. But money, for example, has nothing to do with crime or anarchism or things of that sort. I tell you, there’s a big slice of our work done before ever a vessel reaches her dock at a New York pier. Of course, problems do come up nearly every day, such as circus freaks, for instance.”

“You mean the living skeleton, the tattooed lady, the fat baby, the giant, and so forth?” asked Hamilton.

“Exactly. Are those people to be considered desirable citizens, or not? There is no question as to their inability to make a living by any customary kind of work, but on the other hand it is very difficult to prove that they could not get good money at a sideshow. If, however, they are able to show that they have been engaged in Europe by an American circus manager, they can come under the alien contract labor law.”

“Then this string of people,” said Hamilton, pointing to those who had just been unloaded from the barge, “may be from all classes of the ship.”

“They might be,” his guide replied, “but the chances are that they are all steerage. Cabin passengers that are detained usually come on the last boat, with the inspector. We have quarters here with a little more privacy for them, and they are kept together. But now watch this line. Suppose we go this way,” and stepping over a low iron railing, the official, followed by Hamilton, walked briskly up beside the line. A few yards from the door of the building, this line of people passed into a long barred lane. At the entrance of this stood an inspector who checked off the large ticket each immigrant had pinned on him to show his identity, in order to prevent confusion further on. Passing before the inspector at brief but regularly measured intervals, the immigrants walked one by one up this barred lane to where it made a right angle.

“There’s the first inspecting doctor,” said Hamilton’s conductor, pointing to a man standing just at the angle and watching carefully each immigrant as he walked up. After a moment Hamilton turned to his companion in surprise:

“But he isn’t doing anything!” he said.

“Doctor,” said the chief of the division, with a laugh, “I am afraid we shall have to investigate this matter. Here is a lad who says that you’re doing nothing. He’s watched you for a couple of minutes and you haven’t made a move.”

Hamilton began to protest, but the big doctor only laughed in reply, without taking his eyes, however, from the procession of figures which one by one walked up to him and made the turn round the angle.

“If he’ll wait a minute or two more,” he said, “perhaps I’ll have a chance to do something, and save my reputation.”

There was a pause; then the doctor continued:

“I think there’s something doing now; watch this man coming up.”

“He seems to limp just the merest trifle, that’s all I can see,” the boy replied.

“Bone disease of some kind, or maybe joint,” the doctor said, “tuberculous hip, like as not,” and as the man passed by he leaned forward and chalked a big “B” on the shoulder of his coat. “‘B’ for Bones,” the doctor explained to Hamilton.

“What will happen to him?” asked the boy of the immigration official.

“Because of that mark?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It simply means that he will be held for ‘special inquiry.’ He may be all right, but before he is passed, he will have to be examined physically a thorough physical examination, I mean. Now here, you see, is another doctor.”

Eight or ten yards further on stood another man, all in white as the first had been, who took up the inspection where the judge of bone malformations had left off. A sunken chest, he explained to Hamilton, a hectic flush, a pinched nostril, an evident difficulty in breathing, a certain carriage of the head, a blueness of the lips, certain types of pallor, all these and a number of little points which experience had shown to be symptoms of organic disease his trained eye could detect at a glance, and he, too, every few minutes, stooped forward and chalked upon the coat of the man or the blouse of the woman, as the case might be, a letter which told of a suspected disease.

“I suppose I ought not to say anything,” said Hamilton, “but that looks a little ‘hit-or-miss’ to me. It’s hard on an immigrant to be detained on the basis of a medical examination that barely takes ten seconds.”

“If that were all,” said the official, smiling, “it surely would be a hardship. But you don’t quite get the point. All these passengers really are detained, and this arrangement is only a way to render the detention shorter by letting those go through unchecked who do not need further examination. This is not to delay the suspects, but to cause less trouble to the others. Here, however is where most of them get stopped.”

He pointed to another doctor, standing close to the last, who examined the eyes quickly and deftly (principally for a chronic and contagious disease called “trachoma"), scrupulously cleansing fingers and instrument between each immigrant.

Passing the eye doctors the immigrants came to an inspector who stood at a place where a large grating was built midway in the passage, dividing it into two parts. All those who had been marked by any of the doctors, and, in the cases of families, all those in the party of any one so marked, passed up the right hand passage which led to the Special Inquiry; the others were guided to the left hand side of the grating, which led directly into the main primary inspection room.

“Do you suppose they understand anything of the meaning of that division,” asked Hamilton, “why some go on this side and some on the other!”

“They don’t at all,” was the reply. “You will notice that there are no signs up, and that no attempt is made at this point to talk to the immigrant or to try to make him understand anything. Then, too, since all the members of a family or party are kept together, there is no reason why they should make a disturbance. They simply go where they are sent. If we separated the families, sending some on one side and some on the other, then there would be trouble!”

“That’s true,” said Hamilton, “in many cases they couldn’t read the signs, and they don’t know at all what the doctors’ marks mean.”

“Exactly, and once past the inspector, there is no getting out or coming back, for the two passages lead directly into two series of rooms from which there is no outlet except in a given direction.”

“But the others who are all right, where do they go?” asked the boy.

“They’re not safe yet,” his conductor answered “They have only passed a preliminary looking over. All that this first group of doctors does, remember, is to detect the questionable or to pass the obviously unquestionable whichever way you like to put it, and thus avoid delay in the primary inspection room.”

“Which group are we going to see first?”

“Those who have been passed,” was the reply, “because most of them will go right out, and you can follow that more easily.”

Going up the stairs, Hamilton found himself in an immense room all divided up into little lanes by bars and gratings. Each of these lanes bore a large number suspended over its entrance, corresponding to the number of one of the manifest sheets of the vessel, and likewise to the number pinned on the clothing of every immigrant while he was still on the vessel, when his name was tallied with the manifest sheet.

“I see the reason of those numbers they have pinned on them now,” said Hamilton, “it’s all the same principle, to avoid talk and questioning.”

“Certainly,” his friend said, “and if you look a little closely, you will see that in addition to the big number on the card that is pinned on, there is also a smaller number.”

“I had noticed that,” Hamilton answered, “and I was going to ask you what it was for.”

“That is the number of the name on the manifest sheet,” the other replied. “Thus, for example if Giordano Bruno is the tenth name on the seventh manifest sheet, this man at the top of the stairs will guide him into aisle number seven. Then, when his turn comes and he has moved up to the desk at the end of the line, the inspector doesn’t have to waste time questioning him, and finding the place on the manifest sheet. He looks at the number, runs his finger down to the tenth name, and has him at once.”

“It’s a great system,” said Hamilton admiringly.

“Why you’re right at the start of it,” said the official with a laugh; “wait till you get further on, if you want to find system.”

“Here I see, too, the questioning begins,” remarked Hamilton.

“Yes, some of the inspectors at the desk know several languages, and they are assisted by interpreters when necessary. They hold a responsible position, because they can decide to let an alien land. You see they ask the immigrant the same questions that are on the manifest sheet. If the answers tally all the way through, if the man understands and gives an apparently straight story, if he has a sufficiency of funds to keep him until he has a chance to get work, and especially if he has already a railroad ticket to friends at some inland point, he is given a blue ticket and allowed to pass directly through to the right into the railroad waiting rooms.”

“But if he hasn’t?”

“Then he goes down this passage which leads again to the special inquiry rooms where you saw the others going. He is given a different colored ticket, in accordance with the expected objection. You see, the inspector does not attempt to pass upon the merits of the case. He just affirms that the passenger has not made his title clear. Just as before, the aim is to enable the desirable immigrant to land as quickly and easily as possible. Supposing there were no crowd, an immigrant could land on the wharf, be looked over by the doctors, pass through the primary inspection, answer all questions, and be in the railroad waiting rooms ready for his train in less than four minutes. That’s not much of a hardship!”

“It certainly isn’t,” Hamilton agreed. “And I notice that most of them seem entitled to land.”

“That varies a great deal,” his guide said. “I think it averages about ninety per cent. In a few ships, especially those handling little of the Continental traffic, those held for special inquiry drop as low as five per cent, while for the vessels bringing immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, the proportion held will rise to nearly one-third of the entire passenger list.”

“All right,” said Hamilton in a satisfied tone, “I guess I have that straight. But I notice there is a third stream of people. One, you say, is going to the railroad waiting rooms, one down to special inquiry, but how about the third?”

“That’s the ‘temporary detention’ group. I’ll take you there in a minute, but let us finish up with the man who is to be admitted. Here is the railroad waiting room.”

A few feet further on Hamilton found an immense room, like a railroad ticket office, where tickets could be bought for any railroad or steamship route to any point in the United States or Canada. A money-changing booth was in the place, where foreign money could be turned into United States currency at the exact quotation for the day, even down to the fractions of a cent.

“Why are they pinning on more tickets?” asked Hamilton. “I thought when they took off the tickets upstairs that would be the end of it.”

“That also is to make it easier for them,” the other said. “Most of these people are poor, and we try to make traveling as cheap for them as possible. Nearly all the railroads run one train each day that carries special cars for the immigrant service. They give, accordingly, a cheaper rate to the government. Supposing, for example, that the regular number of the Lehigh Valley train was always numbered ‘9,’ then every man who purchased a ticket for a point on the Lehigh Valley would be given the ticket ‘9.’ Then, when the boat that was taking the passengers for Lehigh Valley points left Ellis Island, all the 9’s would be gathered together and no one would be left behind.”

“Nothing seems to have been forgotten,” said Hamilton, “even food, for I see there’s a big counter over there.”

“That’s quite a thing, too,” the other said. “A man can get two days’ food, six meals, for a dollar, or a little over sixteen cents a meal.”

“And what in the wide world can he buy for that price?” exclaimed the boy.

“Here’s a sample of the contents of one box,” the other said; “read it, it tells you what there is. ’Four loaves of bread, two pounds of cooked beans, twelve ounces of sausage, one can of beef, one can of sardines, six ham sandwiches, three pies, and four oranges.’ I’m sure you wouldn’t starve on that.”

“No,” said Hamilton, “I think I could get along if I ate it all. But why is it that most of the immigrants here are men? Have the women been lost in the shuffle?”

The immigration official laughed.

“They’re not lost,” he said, “most of the women pass through the ‘temporary detention’ rooms. We’re going to visit there now. Of course there are some women who will be able to take the train directly, but we try to see that they go with some one, or that their being met is assured. The tickets pinned on them are not given until an inspector has seen their railroad tickets, and they do not land in New York streets at all. A boat takes each group to the railroad pier, and they are escorted to the train by an inspector, who places them in charge of the conductor who is responsible for their arrival at their destination. Nearly all go West or South and start from the Jersey side. It is an entirely different matter with women and children who want to land in New York City. In every case they are detained until called for by some relative. And that relative has to prove to us that he really is the relative in question.”

“How do they meet?”

“I’ll show you right now. In this room,” he continued, entering another large waiting room, “are all the people ‘temporarily detained.’ Most of them will he released shortly. If you listen you can hear just how it is done, because that clerk who has just come in has a list.”

As he spoke a young fellow stepped forward and read a list of nine names. Seven of the nine were in the room and came to the front, the clerk ticking off their names on the sheet.

“Can we go on?” asked Hamilton. “I would like to see just how this works!”

“All right,” responded his guide, smiling at the boy’s eagerness, “go ahead.”

As they reached the next room, Hamilton saw the clerk ushering the seven immigrants behind a grating. Outside the grate was a narrow open space and then a desk. On the farther side of the desk the friends of the seven in question were waiting. There was one lad, just about his own age, among the friends, and Hamilton waited curiously to see whom he was to meet. Among the immigrants was a sweet-faced old Frenchwoman, and Hamilton hoped that she might be the lad’s relative. As it chanced, this boy was the first to come up.

“For whom are you calling?” he was asked.

The young lad answered clearly and promptly, and the clerk nodded approvingly as the questions proceeded.

“You say you have an older brother,” the clerk said, “and the two of you are able to keep your grandmother?”

“Yes, indeed, sir,” was the reply.

“You are young to have come. Why didn’t your brother come instead?”

“He has been a waiter in a French hotel,” answered the boy, “and has not learned much English He asked me to come.”

A few short, sharp queries established the relationship without question and the boy was released from the desk. The door in the grating was opened, and to Hamilton’s delight it was the old Frenchwoman who came out. After a most affectionate greeting, they went off together, the boy coming back to thank the clerk profusely, with true French courtesy.

“I suppose all that is necessary,” said Hamilton “but I’ll admit I don’t see why. No one would be likely to call for some one else’s grandmother!”

“We want to be sure that women who land here are really with their own people,” said the official, evading a more direct statement, “and sometimes if the chief of the ‘temporary detention’ work is not satisfied, the immigrant is sent back to ‘special inquiry.’”

“How long are they detained?”

“Nearly all go out the same day. A few, however, have to telegraph for their friends to meet them, and we look after that on their behalf. They are never temporarily detained over five days, except in the case where a child has been held in quarantine and some member of the family has to remain until the patient is released in order to take charge of him. That covers, you see, all those who come here except the ’special inquiry’ cases.”

“May I see those?” asked Hamilton.

“That’s not so easy,” his friend replied, “and you wouldn’t get much out of it. They are handled, one by one, in Courts of Special Inquiry, each court consisting of three inspectors, an interpreter, and a stenographer, while doctors are always on call. Special Inquiry, remember, does not mean that there is any reason for excluding the immigrant, merely that his inclusion is not self-evident. In most cases, answers to a few questions settle all difficulties, and the decisions to exclude are rare. In doubtful cases, a Court of Special Inquiry takes great pains to investigate the whole condition closely. When a decision to exclude is reached, the immigrant is given an opportunity to ‘appeal’ to the Commissioner, and these appeals vary from fifteen to seventy a day. Further appeals may be taken in rare cases.”

“And when all appeals are lost?”

“Then the immigrant must be deported at the expense of the steamship company that brought him.”

“What are the usual grounds for deportation?” asked Hamilton.

“Principally persons of unsound mind, insane, diseased, paupers likely to become a public charge, criminals, anarchists, contract laborers, and those who by physical defect are unable to make a living.”

“It seems to me that you go to a great deal of trouble here,” Hamilton said, “and it must be a big expense keeping and looking after such a mob of people.”

“We don’t pay for their keep,” the official answered; “we make the steamship companies do that. They are expected to bring desirable, not undesirable immigrants here, and if they bring people whom we cannot accept, they must take the consequences and bear the expense of deporting them. Our deporting division looks after that, and it is one of the hardest parts of our work. We’ve a pathetic case there now.”

“You mean that Bridget Mahoney case,” said an inspector, who had just stepped up. “I beg your pardon for interrupting, but I was just going to ask you to come and see about that case. There are some new developments.”

“I’ll go right in,” said Hamilton’s guide interestedly. “I think you might come along, too,” he added, turning to the boy.

“Who is Bridget Mahoney?” Hamilton asked. “That’s a good old Irish name.”

“And she’s a good old Irish soul,” the other answered. “She landed here about three weeks ago, fully expecting her son to meet her, but during the five days when she was in temporary detention he failed to show up.”

“But why didn’t you telegraph to the son?” asked Hamilton, who was beginning to feel as though he knew all the ropes.

“We couldn’t find his right address.”

“Was he a traveling man?”

“It wasn’t that. The woman said she knew he lived in a town called Johnson, or Johnston, or something like that, but she didn’t know in what State. Now there are nearly forty post-offices with that name in America, and we sent telegrams or letters to every one of these. But we never received a definite reply.”

“Well, if she’s all right, as you say she is,” said Hamilton, “why can’t she land and wait until her son is reached?”

“Bridget’s over seventy,” the chief replied, “and not very strong; she’d be a public charge, sure.”

“And yet she’s all right?”

“Oh, perfectly,” he said as soon as they reached the building.

“We got this telegram yesterday and I took it to your office this morning,” the newcomer answered, “to talk it over with you, but you weren’t there.”

The chief of the Information Division glanced at the telegram and then turned it over to Hamilton.

“Read that,” he said. “That’s the way it came, without signature or anything.”

Hamilton read it eagerly, and as soon as he had finished, “that’s from Bridget Mahoney’s son,” he announced, with as absolute assurance as though it had been signed.

The deportation official looked up in surprise, but Hamilton’s guide made a hasty explanatory introduction.

“We should like to be as sure as you are,” said the deportation chief, “although I think we all rather hope it is from him. But you see it isn’t dated Johnstown or anything like that, and it isn’t signed. Just simply the words:

“‘Don’t deport my old mother.’”

“If you notice,” he continued, “it comes from away out West, and it might apply to any one of thousands of cases. ‘My Old Mother’ might have been deported weeks ago.”

“But this is yesterday’s wire,” Hamilton’s friend interjected, “you said there were new developments in the case.”

“There are,” Farrell replied, drawing another telegram out of his pocket. “This one came this morning, and it’s just about as intelligent as the one you have. Notice, though, that it’s dated from Chicago early yesterday evening.”

“What does it say?” burst out Hamilton, too eager to wait until it was read.

“It’s very short,” was the answer, “it just reads:

“‘ Hold Mother ’”

“Unsigned?”

“Unsigned, just as before.”

“It must be from the same person,” Hamilton suggested.

“I think there’s little doubt of that,” the deportation chief agreed.

“Whoever sent it must be traveling fast,” the boy remarked, “that last one was from Montana.”

“I’ve been doing my best to persuade myself that I have the right to keep Bridget longer. Twice I’ve begged an extra stay from the Commissioner, and he’s been willing to consent, but he thinks she’s got to go back now. There’s really no valid reason that I can give against it.”

As they walked toward the desk in the deporting division, one of the clerks called the chief. He came back a moment or two later with a telegram in his hand.

“A third one,” he said, “it must have come while I was out at lunch. The same person wrote all three, for this is almost the same as the first; it reads:

“‘ Don’t deport my old Mother I have plenty to support her ’”

“Where’s it dated from?” asked the boy.

“I hadn’t noticed,” the deportation chief replied. “Oh, yes, why it’s from Albany!”

“That’s pretty near here!” Hamilton said excitedly. “Oh, Mr. Farrell, what time was that sent?”

“Quarter to twelve.”

“Whoever sent it ought to be here by now! Mr. Farrell, I’m just as sure as can be that is from Bridget Mahoney’s son.”

“If it is, he may reach here in time,” the other answered, “but it will mean a great deal of trouble, because the boat sails early in the morning long before the office here is open, and the deported aliens go on board to-night. Indeed they are going now –­if they haven’t gone.”

“And Bridget with them?”

“Yes, I’m sorry to say Bridget is with them.” He strolled to the window. “No,” he continued, “they haven’t gone yet, but they will in a few minutes.”

“Could I see her before she goes?”

“What for?”

“Just to cheer her up a bit,” pleaded the boy.

The two men looked at each other, and Hamilton’s new acquaintance nodded.

“You won’t say anything about these telegrams,” the chief warned him.

“No very well,” said Hamilton, “but it seems a shame that she doesn’t know.”

The three passed through the door to the yard beside the lawns, and there Hamilton encountered one of the most desolate groups he had ever seen, sitting and standing in all attitudes of dejection. Among them was a little old lady with snow-white hair, walking with a stick, but clear-eyed and brisk-looking.

“You’re Mrs. Mahoney?” the boy asked.

“I’m Bridget Mahoney, young masther,” the old Irishwoman answered, “at your service, sorr.”

“I hear you haven’t found your son yet,” Hamilton said; “did you write to him before you left the old country?”

“I did, dear, but I intoirely disremember what I did wid the letther. I know I intinded to give it to Mickey O’Murry, but I’ll niver tell ye whether I did give it to him, an’ if I did, there’s no knowin’ av he posted it. ‘Tis a difficult thing to remember, this letther-postín’ and maybe he forgot.”

“But what did you write on the envelope? Can’t you remember what you wrote?”

“‘Tis I that am the poor hand for writin’, young masther, but there was no schoolin’ when I was a gurrl such as there is now. Jim, that’s me son, he makes shift to read me writin’, but he always sinds me a written envelope to put me answer in so that the postman can read it. An’ so I niver learnt the address. I thought, av course, he’d be here. But he isn’t, dear, an’ so I must thravel all the weary way home again.”

“But you don’t sail till morning,” said Hamilton, as cheerfully as he could, “and maybe he’ll come by then. I have a feeling, Mrs. Mahoney, that he’s just surely going to come.”

“I’m not thinkin’ it,” the old woman said bravely, “but I take it kindly, young masther, that ye should thry an’ make the goin’ easy. But it isn’t easy, ‘tis a hard returnin’. An’ me so proud that me son should send for his ould mother. ’Tis a great country this America, but it’s too big. I’d niver ’ave lost me Jim in the ould country. I see they’re callin’ us, an’ I wish ye an ould woman’s blessin’, young masther, for your cheerin’ me at the last.”

With a certain dignity, the old woman turned away and shook hands with all the officials, with whom she had become a favorite during the three weeks of her stay. Hamilton just ached to be able to do something, to tell the Commissioner of the later telegrams, to appeal to the department, to make some wild effort, but the actuality of the group for deportation slowly making their way to the barge showed him the folly of any such ideas. He roused himself, just as the friendly official who had been his guide turned round with outstretched hand.

“I think you have seen it all now,” he said, “and as the boat from New York is just pulling in, you’ll have plenty of time to board her.”

Hamilton thanked his conductor warmly, and with a final look at the group about to be deported, the last few stragglers of whom were making their way toward the barge, he started along the wharf in the direction of the New York boat. He was on the opposite side of the ship and had to walk round, but, as his friend had said, there was plenty of time. He had a good view of the boat as she landed.

The minute the bow touched the quay, before the mooring chains were on, a middle-aged man who had been standing in the front of the boat, leaped the light chain that runs waist high across the bow, and started on a dead run up the bridge to the shore. One of the inspectors tried to stop him, but he cried, as he went past:

“I’m going to the Commissioner’s office. Don’t stop me. I’m in a hurry.”

Hamilton could just hear him, and it struck the boy as unnecessary for the man to say he was in a hurry, for he showed it clearly enough. But just before the runner reached him a sudden thought flashed into the boy’s mind.

“Are you Jim Mahoney?” he called, just as the man swept by.

“Yes,” answered the other, scarcely slackening speed and passing him.

Hamilton wheeled on the instant, and caught up to him in a few steps, for the other man was older, not in training, and getting out of breath.

“You’ll do it, don’t worry,” the boy said, as he overtook him, running along beside him. “I was talking to your mother a few minutes ago and she was all right. But she was just starting for the steamer then. There’s not a second to lose.”

“What shall I do?” puffed the other.

“Go in there, by that door marked ‘Information.’ Tell them who you are and they’ll fix things up in a hurry. Then go up and see the Commissioner. I’ll go on and tell them at the boat.”

Then, seeing that the man hesitated, he shouted:

“Go in there,” and nudged him in the direction of the door.

As the man turned, Hamilton settled himself down to run. In a second he was at the landing. The tender had just cast off her ropes and was moving out.

“Bridget,” he cried, and his voice rang high and clear above the dripping of the water from the cable, the creaking of the wheel as it swung round, and the churning of the screw. “Bridget, Bridget Mahoney, Jim’s here!”

The captain came to the window of the pilot house and called back:

“What’s that?”

“Bridget!” he shouted again. “Bridget Mahoney’s Jim’s here!”

There was a pause, the captain not seeming to understand the situation, but a cheer went up from the deportation officials on board and from some of the tender’s crew who knew; and the cry ran along the decks:

“Bridget, Bridget Mahoney! Jim’s here!”