Mighty is the job from one point of view; yet tiny from another. With all his enormous equipment, his peerless ingenuity, and his feverish activity all little man has succeeded in doing is to scratch a little surface wound in Mother Earth, cutting open a few superficial veins, of water, that trickle down the rocky face of the “cut.”
By March twelfth we had carried our task past and under Empire suspension bridge, and the end of the “cut” was almost in sight. That day I clawed and scrambled a score of times up the face of rock walls. I zigzagged through long rows of negroes pounding holes in rock ledges. I stumbled and splashed my way through gangs of Martinique “muckers.” I slid down the face of government-made cliffs on the seat of my commissary breeches. I fought my way up again to stalk through long lines of men picking away at the dizzy edge of sheer precipices. I rolled down in the sand and rubble of what threatened to develop into “slides.” I crawled under snorting steam-shovels to drag out besooted negroes—negroes so besooted I had to ask them their color—while dodging the gigantic swinging shovel itself, to say nothing of “dhobie” blasts and rocks of the size of drummers’ trunks that spilled from it as it swung. I climbed up into the quivering monster itself to interrupt the engineer at his levers, to shout at the craneman on his beam. I sprang aboard every train that was not running at full speed, walking along the running-board into the cab; if not to “get” the engineer at least to gain new life from his private ice-water tank. I scrambled over tenders and quarter-miles of “Lidgerwood flats” piled high with broken rock and earth, to scream at the American conductor and his black brakemen, often to find myself, by the time I had set down one of them, carried entirely out of my district, to Pedro Miguel or beyond the Chagres, and have to “hit the grit” in “hobo” fashion and catch something back to the spot where I left off. In short I poked into every corner of the “cut” known to man, bawling in the November-first voice of a presidential candidate to everything in trousers:
“Eh! ’Ad yer census taken yet?”
And what was my reward? From the northern edge of Empire to where the “cut” sinks away into the Chagres and the low, flat country beyond, I enrolled—just thirteen persons. It was then and there, though it still lacked an hour of noon, that I ceased to be a census enumerator. With slow and deliberate step I climbed out of the canal and across a pathed field to Bas Obispo and, sitting down in the shade of her station, patiently awaited the train that would carry me back to Empire.
Four thousand, six hundred and seventy-seven Zone residents had I enrolled during those six weeks. Something over half of these were Jamaicans. Of the states Pennsylvania was best represented. Martinique negroes, Greeks, Spaniards, and Panamanians were some eighty per cent illiterate; of some three hundred of the first only a half dozen even claimed to read and write; and non-wedlock was virtually universal among them.