Read CHAPTER VII - HOBOES ON THE TRAMP of The Boy With the U.S. Census, free online book, by Francis Rolt-Wheeler, on

Although he realized that his lines had fallen in pleasant places for the enumeration work, it was not without a certain sense of satisfaction that Hamilton entered up what was marked on the map as the last house, and started for the supervisor’s office. He was a day ahead of time, and was congratulating himself on his success in having covered the entire district in the appointed time. In order to make his record as good as possible the lad thought he would get an early start and be in the supervisor’s office before noon, thus emphasizing his punctuality. Accordingly it was but a little after seven o’clock when he was in the saddle and on the road.

Knowing from experience that the highway made quite a circuit to reach a little group of three houses, which he had already enumerated, Hamilton struck out across country, using a little footpath through some woods. At that early hour of the morning he was not expecting to meet any one, and it was a great surprise to him when he heard voices. A moment later he reached a small clump of trees, and came right upon three men, one with a tea-pot in his hand, standing up and leaning a little forward as though ready to show aggressiveness to any intruder, the other two on the ground, one sitting, and one lying half asleep on some boughs carelessly thrown down. As Hamilton was still in his enumeration district and felt that here were some people who might not have been registered, he pulled up.

“’Morning, boys!” he said ingratiatingly.

“Howdy!” the impromptu cook replied, and waited for the boy to go on.

“I’m the census-taker for this district,” the boy continued, “and I knew this was a short cut across the fields; but I didn’t know I should find you here.”

“Inform the gentleman, Bill,” spoke the traveler who was lying down, “that we were equally unaware of the unexpected pleasure of this meeting but that we would have been better prepared to meet him had he sent a courier to announce his coming.”

“You heard him,” the first speaker supplemented jerking his thumb over his shoulder.

“I heard him all right,” answered Hamilton, dropping immediately into the spirit of the thing, “but tell him that I was unaware that he had left his town residence for this convenient and airy country house.”

“As I live, an intelligent reply!” was the response in tones of surprise, and the speaker sat up on his rough couch.

To Hamilton the situation was a little difficult. There would be no trouble in merely exchanging a few greetings and then passing along on his journey, but the boy was above all things conscientious, and he could not forget that these men were probably not entered upon the books of the census, and that now, on the very last day of census-taking, they were in his district. And he knew well enough, that if he broached the question it would not be favorably received. However he thought he saw a way out.

“If you have a pannikin of tea to spare,” he said, “I’d enjoy it.”

“If you like to put up with what we’ve got, join us an’ welcome,” the tall tramp said.

“All right,” Hamilton answered, “I will.”

“Permit me to do the honours!” said the second tramp. “This is ‘Hatchet’ Ben Barclay, the gentleman sitting down is ‘Jolly’ Joe Smith not because of his humor but because of his powers of persuasion, and I am Harry Downe, very much at your service.”

“Better known as the ‘Windy Duke,’” interjected the tea-maker, who had by this time returned to his task of preparing breakfast, and was busy frying slices of ham on a piece of stick over the hot wood coals.

“I’m Hamilton Noble,” the boy answered in return, “and I’ve just got through taking the census for this district. I’ve got all the names in here,” he added, tapping his portfolio, “and now I’m going to the supervisor’s office to turn in my reports.”

“I am afraid your census will be incomplete,” said ‘Windy,’ “for, so far as I am aware, the rolls of the United States will be lacking the names and distinction of this gallant little company.”

“Haven’t you been listed?” asked Hamilton, glad that the subject should have seemed to come up in so natural a way and mentally congratulating himself on the success of his device to secure the friendship of the crowd.

“Nary a list,” said ‘Hatchet Ben,’ “the rustlers of the Ringling Circus told us that they had been enumerated four times, once for every week they played, an’ that not a blessed one of the census men would believe they had been taken before; but they cut us out entire.”

“Well, I guess I had better take you right now,” said Hamilton. “I’ve room on the census sheet for a few more names.”

“You can count me out,” said ‘Hatchet Ben,’ “I’m not lookin’ for that kind of fame.”

“Don’t you think it’s fair to the country to let it know who you are?”

“What’s the census to me?” the other said defiantly. “I calc’late a country that doesn’t give a fellow a livin’ doesn’t care much about his name.”

“But you’re getting a living, just the same,” answered Hamilton, “and you’re an American, anyhow, aren’t you?”

“New York State,” the tramp replied.

“And you?” asked Hamilton, turning to the orator of the party.

“I’m an Oxford man,” answered the ‘Windy Duke,’ “classical tripos if you know what that means.”

“I do,” answered Hamilton, “but why ” and he stopped.

“You were going to ask me why I prefer to wander afield rather than be ‘cribbed and confined’ within narrow walls. I am but one of many, an educated man without any knowledge of how to use his learning. Do you care for Greek? There are some clever scenes from Aristophanes that I can give you, or if you have a taste for satire I yield second place to none in my interpretation of Juvenal. On the pre-Cadmean alphabets I am in my humble way quite an authority. But these magnificent talents,” he added with a self-depreciatory smile, “do not enable me to run a business as successfully as a Greek fruit peddler or a Russian Jew vender of old clothes.”

“You could teach,” suggested Hamilton.

“Only my friends,” replied the scholar. “To teach requires pedagogy and numerous devices for improving the youthful mind. I do not greatly admire the youthful mind and it bores me. I am informed that I also bore it. Hence I prefer rather to wander than to teach. I do not claim originality in this rôle; there have been ‘scholar gypsies’ before this. The phrase sounds better than ‘educated hobo,’ but the meaning is the same.”

“And you?” queried Hamilton of the third speaker.

“Plain American,” the other said simply, “born and raised in Ohio. Not a Yankee, not a Westerner, not a Southerner, nothin’, jest plain Middle-West American.”

“Well,” suggested Hamilton, “I think you chaps ought to let me put you down in the schedule here. We need white men in this country badly enough in all conscience, and we might as well make the strongest showing we can. Two Americans and an Englishman will help the average just that much. Part of the ‘white man’s burden,’” he added with a laugh.

“If you put it that way,” said ‘Hatchet Ben,’ “I calc’late after all I’m elected for one. Anything I can do to put down, even on paper, these foreigners that live on nothin’ and drive a decent man out of a job, I’ll do. I’m down on this jabberin’ mob from the south o’ Europe bein’ dumped down here by the hundred thousand every year, an’ you can take that straight from me.”

“It’s a little curious,” said Hamilton, noting down the facts as they came up in conversation, not wanting to work directly upon the schedule for fear of rebuffs, “that two of you should be Americans and one an Englishman. Somehow, one always thinks of an American as making good, not tramping it.”

“Nearly all hoboes are Americans,” ‘Hatchet Ben’ explained, “there’s a few English, and a few Swedes. Lots of races in this country you never meet on the road.”

“Trampdom,” said ‘Windy,’ “is a most exclusive circle. For example, you never saw a Jew hobo, did you?”

“No,” Hamilton said. “Never.”

“And you’re never likely to,” ‘Hatchet Ben’ interjected, “there’s no money in it, not unless it is organized and run on a percentage basis. There are a few French Canadians, but no real Frenchmen on the road, and the Dagoes never take to it.”

“I wonder why?” Hamilton queried.

“I purpose writing a monograph upon the subject of the nationality of the Hobo Empire,” the ‘Windy Duke’ broke in, “and therein I shall enlarge upon my theory that the life of a tramp requires more independence and more address than any profession I know. I find that usually those who adopt this unromantic gypsy career are the men who will not drop to the level of the horde below them and who consequently take to the life of the road in protest against the usage of an ill-arranged social state. That, for example, is the condition of my two friends here.”

“Would you mind my asking what made you take to the road?” said Hamilton, turning to the first speaker.

“Not at all,” ‘Hatchet Ben’ replied. “It’s a very usual story. I’m a steel worker by trade, an’ when I was workin’ I was reckoned among the best in the plant.”

“What did you quit it for?” asked Hamilton.

“Slovaks,” the man answered. “Every year or two the Pittsburg operators would get together an’ pretty soon gangs of foreigners would start comin’ to the West. They seemed to know where to come, an’ started work the mornin’ after they got there, without even seein’ the boss.”

“But that could hardly be, I should think,” said Hamilton; “that would be importing contract labor and they would be stopped at Ellis Island.”

“Not much fear of that,” the steel worker answered “the operators keep men in Europe just trainin’ the foreigners what to say. These men come over in the steerage with the immigrants, advance them, if necessary, the amount of money to enable them to land, buy their railroad tickets at this end, an’ all the rest of it.”

“Dangerous business if they got caught at it!”

“They’re paid to take chances,” the other replied. “Then, when these foreigners come, they know nothin’ about the scale of wages in America only that the pay is so much larger than anythin’ they can get in their own country, an’ they live even here in so cheap a way that no matter what wages they receive they can put money aside every week. The boss doesn’t see any use in payin’ them at a high rate, when they work just as well for small, an’ down goes the wages.”

“But they get a poorer grade of labor that way,” objected Hamilton, “I shouldn’t think that would pay.”

“They make up for it by increasin’ the power of machinery, by givin’ a man less and less to learn and more and more of some simple thing to do.”

“In a way that ought to be good, too,” the boy persisted, “for the more a machine does, the bigger wages the man who runs it gets.”

“I’m not a machinist,” the tramp replied, “an’ even if I were I should be in competition with the Swedes all along the line. Bein’ just a steel worker, I stood for one reduction in wages because they promised to give me a better job. But this supposed better job was just bossin’ a gang of these foreigners, an’ they got after me because I took every chance I got to talk ‘union’ to these men, showin’ them how they could just as easily get more pay than they were bein’ given. That didn’t suit the company at all, so I was fired, an’ they put me on the black list.”

“And you couldn’t get any more work there at all?”

“Not there, or at any place in the district. Or, for that matter, in any place in the United States unless I gave a false name. Steel workin’ is my trade, an’ I don’t know any other; the men that run that trade in the United States refuse to let me work at it; very well, then, if the country won’t let me earn my livin’ by working for it, it’ll have to give me a livin’ without. But I’d go to work to-morrow, if I had the chance.”

“Not me,” began ‘Jolly Joe,’ as soon as the tall tramp had finished, “I’d sooner be a hobo th’n anythin’ else I know. In the first place, I’m not like ‘Hatchet Ben,’ I don’t like work an’ I don’t do any unless I have to, an’ then besides, there’s more exercise for my talents in this business. If you think it isn’t a trick to rustle grub for three hungry men, just you try it. An’ while I’ve been on the road for nearly six years, I’ve never had a dog set on me yet.”

“How do you mean?” asked the boy.

“There’s always grub on a farm if you know the right way to go about getting it,” was the reply “and there’s very few places I ever go away from without some bread or a hunk of ham or a pie. Lots of chickens get lost, too, an’ you find them wanderin’ about in the woods, belongin’ to nobody, an’ there’s plenty of nests that hens lay astray that the farmers never could find. If you watch the bees closely, there’s nearly always some swarm that’s got away an’ made a nest in a dead tree. The trouble is that most people are too busy to lie still all day an’ watch, an’ those that aren’t busy don’t know.”

“But you don’t rustle tea that way,” said Hamilton, touching the tin pannikin with his knuckle.

“‘Windy’ looks after that.”

“I am not without some small means,” explained the ‘Windy Duke,’ “but my income would not permit my living in any sufficiently attractive city in a manner suitable to my desires. By adopting this vagrant life, however, I am able to relinquish a part of my very moderate annuity to my sister, and still retain sufficient to share up with my fellow-adventurers when times are hard or ‘Jolly’s’ persuasive tongue is not quite up to the mark.”

“But you didn’t tell me,” said Hamilton, turning to ‘Jolly Joe,’ “why you started going on the road. You said you didn’t like work, but where had you tried it?”

“I’ll make the story short,” was the reply. “I’m a railroad section hand, an’ was lookin’ to be made a foreman on a section near New York. I had a pile of friends among the men just above me, and I believe I would have worked up pretty rapidly.”

“You would be president of the road by now, ‘Jolly,’” put in the ‘Duke.’

“I’d be goin’ up, anyhow,” the other replied. “But one day an order came along from headquarters changin’ the make-up of the gangs, an’ next week I found myself the only American on an Italian gang, under an Italian foreman. All of us were shifted around the same way. The foreman knew a little English not much an’ he tried to give me orders in mixed English an’ Italian. I told him I wouldn’t do anythin’ I wasn’t told to do in straight American, an’ when he started in jabberin’ and abusin’ me with every bad name he’d heard since he landed, why, I gave him a hammerin’. So, just as ‘Hatchet Ben’ here was driven out by Slovaks, it was a gang of Italians that gave me my throw-down. I tell you America’s all right for everybody but the American He doesn’t stand a show.”

“That sounds hard for the American working-man,” the boy said, “but there must be a lot of them working somewhere, they’re not all tramping it.”

“The back-country farmer is an American nearly every time,” ’Hatchet Ben’ replied, “the foreigners don’t get so far away from the cities and towns. I don’t know why.”

“I think I know the reason of that,” volunteered Hamilton. “I heard some census men talking about it, and one of them had spent a long time in Italy. He said that while it was true plenty of the peasants worked in the fields, they usually lived together in villages and went to the fields in the morning. Then the farms are very small, our average-sized farm here would make five or six of them, and so the village idea can’t be made to work in this country, and the Italians won’t stand for being separated from the nearest neighbor by a mile or two.”

“I can quite understand that,” the Englishman said thoughtfully; “it would be far less pleasant living in this care-free fashion of ours if one were doing it alone.”

“It may be rather pleasant,” Hamilton admitted slipping back into his pocket the necessary details for the schedule which he had secured from the three men while breakfast was being prepared, “but I think a day or two of it would be enough for me, and I certainly wouldn’t like your end of it, ’Jolly’!”

“Well,” the other replied, as Hamilton strolled over to his mare and lightly swung himself in the saddle, “if I hadn’t done some rustlin’ yesterday you would have gone without breakfast this mornin’ or at least, without this kind of breakfast.”

“And mighty good it was,” the boy replied, “I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a meal so much. I’m ever so much obliged, boys. Good-by.”

The incident gave Hamilton plenty to think about on the rest of the ride to town, and he found himself genuinely sorry not to have a chance to see more of the three. He could not help admitting to himself that under proper conditions they would be just as fine citizens of the country as any one could be, and the phrase “Nearly all hoboes are Americans” kept running in his head.

He reached the supervisor’s office just as a young fellow, but little older than Hamilton himself was stepping out. He noticed Hamilton’s portfolio and said, a little mischievously, the boy thought:

“How many, if I may ask?”

“Twenty-two hundred and six,” answered Hamilton, rightly supposing the question to refer to the number of people he had enumerated.

The other threw up his hands.

“I pass,” he said, “you beat me by nearly a hundred,” and he laughed and went on, while Hamilton continued on his way to the supervisor’s office. The boy exchanged greetings with his friend, who said:

“I heard you talking with that young chap who just left, when you were coming into the office. Do you know him at all?”

“Not in the least,” replied Hamilton, and he quoted the brief conversation.

“There’s quite a story about that case,” the supervisor said, settling himself back in his chair, “and though I’m as busy as an angry hornet I’ll stop just long enough to tell you. When I was picking the enumerators for the Gullyville district that’s away at the other end of the section from where you were I found an unusual number of applicants. At the examination, however, there were two who stood head and shoulders above the rest. One was the principal of a village school, and another was the chap you saw. His name is Wurtzi, and he gave his occupation as a student and his age as nineteen.”

“I didn’t think he looked even as old as that,” commented Hamilton.

“Yes, he’s nineteen. As I was saying, the choice seemed to lie between these two. Wurtzi’s paper was a few points better than the other, indeed I think it was one of the best tests turned in to me from any center. On the other hand, the schoolmaster was a graduate of one of the large colleges, had lived most of his life here and in the mountain districts of the State, was prominent in church affairs, and knew everybody. That was why, when I sent the papers to Washington, I recommended him for appointment instead of the boy, of whom I knew nothing except that his examination paper was slightly the better of the two.”

“Yet the boy got the job!”

“He did,” the supervisor answered. “The government rejected my recommendation, and I got a letter from the Director stating that Wurtzi should be appointed on his showing rather than the other unless I knew something against him.”

“I suppose that was fairer,” Hamilton said thoughtfully, “but I thought that matters of that kind were left to the discretion of the supervisor.”

“Generally they were, but still there were reversals in a good many cases,” was the reply. “But from everything that I’ve heard, suggestions from Washington seem to have had the knack of being just about exactly the right thing. They certainly were in this case. I sent the lad his commission at once, of course.”

“What did the master have to say?” asked Hamilton.

“I’m coming to that,” the supervisor replied. “Two or three days later he came into my office.

“‘I understand Wurtzi has secured the enumerator’s job?’ he said.

“‘Yes,’ I answered, ’it was a pretty close thing between you so I sent the papers to Washington to decide, and the Director ruled that the other was more satisfactory.’ The schoolmaster laughed and sat down.

“‘I don’t know whether I ought to be angry or pleased,’ he said; ’it all depends on how you look at it whether it can be considered as a compliment or an affront.’

“I just stared at him.

“‘I don’t follow you in the least,’ I said. He laughed.

“’Of course you didn’t know that Wurtzi was one of the boys in my school,’ he replied, ’and more than that, he is the poorest boy in the school. He lives about three miles out of the village, and the only way in which he could secure his father’s permission to allow him to come to school was that he should turn over to him the trifling sum we pay for janitor work.’”

“Pretty good stuff in the boy to want to learn under those conditions,” commented Hamilton.

“He wanted to educate himself, and his mother was very ambitious. She is Polish, evidently of the better class and, as you know, the Poles are one of the most intellectual races of the world and the boy gets his brains from her. The school-master told me that two years ago the boy could neither read nor write his own name, and yet, within that time he had learned to rival his teacher in a fair contest! And during those two years he had been walking barefoot three miles to school, getting there by daybreak, making the fire, sweeping the floor, cleaning the windows, and then settling down to prepare his morning lessons before the opening of school.

“I told Sinclair,” the supervisor continued, “that I thought he ought to be ten times prouder of the success of his pupil than of the merits of an examination paper, because it took a higher degree of ability to teach well than merely to answer a set of test questions, and the boy must have been wonderfully well taught to achieve so much. He agreed with me, of course, but I could see that it irked him a little just the same. He volunteered, however, to assist his pupil as much as he could.”

“That was very decent of him, I think,” Hamilton said, “lots of men would have borne a grudge. But did you say his name was Sinclair?”

“Yes,” the supervisor answered, “Gregory Sinclair. Why?”

“And you said he had been in the mountains?”

“Quite a good deal.”

“Then that must be Bill Wilsh’s teacher,” exclaimed Hamilton, and he told the supervisor the story of the “cunjer,” the whittled schoolhouse and the “trying” scholar. “I’ve got the carving still,” he concluded, “and as you probably will see Mr. Sinclair again soon, I wonder if you would give it to him for me. Don’t forget to tell him that the door was made to appear open, to show him that he was expected back.”

“Of course, I shall be glad to give it to him,” the supervisor answered, “and from what I know of Sinclair, I feel sure he will go back, though probably only in the holidays and for a visit. Where is this carving?”

“At the hotel, sir,” the boy answered, “I’ll bring it over this afternoon. I’m sorry not to have had the chance of seeing him myself, he must be a fine chap.”

“He is,” the supervisor agreed, “and he showed the stuff he was made of in connection with this poor lad in his school. I happen to know that he really put in a lot of time helping Wurtzi in order that he might make good.”

“You said the boy was Polish?”

“Polish, of the stock that’s making another country out of the deserted districts of New England. Land that has been abandoned by the Americans the Poles are making productive. That’s where the real wealth of the future is coming in from the people who will work the ground without exhausting it as reckless landowners formerly have done all through this country. Many a farm has had its soil so robbed of nourishment that its fertility will take years and years to return. These European peasants, however, are so used to making much of a small plot that they are redeeming the ground. You know, I’m one of those that believe in all the immigration possible, and I’ve never forgotten one of Broughton Brandenburg’s sayings about it.”

“What was that?” asked the boy.

“That ’it is always the most ignorant immigrant that makes the best citizen.’”

“I certainly don’t see that,” Hamilton replied.

“He absorbs Americanism more quickly,” the other explained. “For example, there’s no class hatred idea to be fought down, no anarchistic tendencies, no desire to turn liberty into license. The ignorant immigrant comes to work, he gets a job immediately, he finds that there is good pay and steady employment for a man who does work. There’s not one in ten thousand of that kind that does not prosper from the day he lands. But you’ll hear all sorts of ideas and suggestions in Washington. When do you go?”

“I’m leaving to-night, sir,” the boy answered. “I thought it might please the Bureau if I were there a day ahead of time.”

“They’ll be willing enough,” the supervisor answered “I imagine every added helper is of value now, with all these schedules piling in. I’ll drop a note to the Director to-night, telling him of your work; your schedules are in good shape, and I think you’ve done very well to cover your district in the time. I wish you all sorts of luck, and write to me once in a while from Washington so that I can hear what you’re doing and how you’re getting along.”

Hamilton thanked the supervisor heartily, and after a word or two of farewell returned to the house of a friend where he was to dine before starting on the night train for Washington. Immediately on reaching there he went directly to the Census Bureau, sent in his card, and the Director’s secretary, a keen young fellow, came out to see him.

“I think I’ve heard Mr. Burns speak about you, Mr. Noble,” he said, looking at the card he held in his hand. “The Director is very busy right now, but he said when you came you were to go down to Mr. Cullern; I’d take you there myself but I’m needed here.”

“Well, there’s really no necessity, Mr. Russet,” the boy replied, “tell me where it is and I’ll find my way.”

But the other beckoned to an attendant.

“Show this gentleman to Mr. Cullern,” he said. Then, turning with a smile to the boy, he said, “You’ll be all right, I guess.”

Hamilton thanked him, and the secretary hurried back through the swinging half length door to the inner office. Following the messenger, Hamilton found himself on the main floor with hundreds of machines clicking on every side of him. The chief of the floor looked at the card, turned it over, read what had been penciled on the back, and said promptly:

“I think I’ll start you on one of the punching machines.”

“Very well, sir,” the boy answered, “I want to learn everything I can.”

“I have a vacant machine,” the other continued, “one of the men is away on sick leave. If you want to begin right away you can start this afternoon. Here,” he said, picking up a pamphlet from a pile which lay on a table near by, “is a list of instructions.”

“I’m quite ready to start now,” Hamilton declared.

“Your machine is over here, then,” his new superior said, leading the way to a far corner of the room. “You had better try to find out as much as you can from the instructions, and one of the foremen will be ’round to tell you more about the working of it a little later.”

“All right, sir,” the boy replied, sitting down at the machine, “I think I can get on to it without much trouble.”

The keyboard was entirely strange to Hamilton. It looked not unlike that of a big typewriter, or resembled even more closely a linotype keyboard, only it was divided off into sections each one of which was brightly colored, giving the arrangement of the keys quite a gay effect. The instructions were very clear, and with the machine in front of him the boy quickly saw its principles. He was so deeply sunk in the book that he did not notice the coming of the sub-section foreman, who looked down at the boy for a moment or two with an amused smile. Presently he coughed, and Hamilton looked up suddenly to see him standing there.

“I beg your pardon,” asked the boy, “were you speaking?”

“No,” said the newcomer, “but I was going to before long. You seem to be just eating up that book.”

“Mr. Cullern said he thought you would be here before very long,” said Hamilton, rightly guessing that this must be the foreman, “and I thought the more I knew about it before you came, the better it would be all ’round.”

“Do you know anything about census work?” was the next question.

“Yes, sir,” the boy answered, “I was an assistant special agent on the manufactures division, and I only left my population district the day before yesterday.”

“I thought it likely that you had been doing enumeration work,” the foreman answered, “coming in to-day, just when that end of the work closes, but I didn’t know, of course, you had been doing manufactures. I wonder why they sent you to this department; I should have supposed that you would be editing schedules.”

“I hope to go on the Census Bureau force permanently,” the boy explained, “and I was anxious to have a chance to learn all the various parts of the work by doing them myself. Judging from this book, it doesn’t seem hard.”

“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?”

“That’s right.”

“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 ‘Öl,’ 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 ‘Öl’ 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.”