Along this new-graveled line, still unused except by work-trains, we rode in our six negro-power car, dropping off in the gravel each time we caught sight of any species of human being. Every little way was a gang, averaging some thirty men, distinct in nationality,—Antiguans shoveling gravel, Martiniques snarling and quarreling as they wallowed thigh-deep in swamps and pools, a company of Greeks unloading train-loads of ties, Spaniards leisurely but steadily grading and surfacing, track bands of “Spigoties” chopping away the aggressive jungle with their machetes—the one task at which the native Panamanian (or Colombian, as many still call themselves) is worth his brass-check. Every here and there we caught labor’s odds and ends, diminutive “water-boys,” likewise of varying nationality, a negro switch-boy dozing under the bit of shelter he had rigged up of jungle ferns, frightening many a black laborer speechless as we pounced upon him emerging from his “soldiering” in the jungle; occasionally even a native bushman on his way to market from his palm-thatched home generations old back in the bush, who has scarcely noticed yet that the canal is being dug, fell into our hands and was inexorably set down in spite of all protest unless he could prove beyond question that he had already been “taken” or lived beyond the Zone line.
Thus we scribbled incessantly on, even through the noon hour, dragging gangs one by one away from their tasks, shaking laborers out of the brief after-lunch siesta in a patch of shade. “The boss” was hampered by having only two languages where ten were needed. In the early afternoon he went on to Paraiso to feed himself and the traction power, while I held the fort. Soon after rain fell, a sort of advance agent of the rainy season, a sudden tropical downpour that ran in rivulets down across the pink card-boards and my victims. Yet strange to note, the writing of the medium soft pencil remained as clear and unsmudged as in the driest weather, and so clean a rain was it that it did not even soil my white cotton shirt. I continued unheeding, only to note with surprise a few minutes later that the sun was shining on the dense green jungle about me as brilliantly as ever and that I was dry again as when I had set out in the morning.
“The boss” returned, and when I had eaten the crackers and the bottle of pink lemonade he brought, we pushed on toward the Pacific. Till at length in mid-afternoon we came to the top of the descent to Pedro Miguel and knew that the end of our district was at hand. So powerful was the breeze from the Atlantic that our six man-power engine sweated profusely as they toiled against it, even on the downgrade of the return to Empire.
To “Scotty” had been assigned my Empire “recalls” and I had been given a new and virgin territory,—namely, the town of Paraiso. It lies “somewhat back from the village street,” that is, the P.R.R. Indeed, trains do not deign to notice its existence except on Sundays. But there is the temporary bridge over the canal which few engineers venture to “snake her across” at any great speed, and the enumerator housed in Empire need not even be a graduate “hobo” to be able to drop off there a bit after seven in the morning and prance away up the chamois path into the town.