It is the worst country for getting about that I ever heard of. It has revived my interest and belief in all such beautiful things as buried treasures and hidden cities and shooting men against stone walls and filibusters. There are not many of these stories but every man tells them differently so they have all the freshness of a new tale. There is no ice on this boat or lemons or segars. It is the first time so they say that it has happened in twelve months, but after this it must be better. At Panama they fine the ice man $1000 every day his machine breaks and so we have hopes. I feel so very, very selfish off down here and leaving you all alone and it makes me lose my temper more than usual when all these delays occur but I promise to be good hereafter and we will be together soon now by the end of March sure and I hope you will not miss me too much, as much as I miss all of you. Sometimes I wish you could see some of these islands and the long shadowy sharks and the turtles, there are thousands of turtles as big as tubs just floating around like empty bottles, but I have never on the whole taken a trip when I so seldom wished that the family were around to enjoy it. It used to hurt me during the Mediterranean trip but there is not much that would please you in this outfit. I like it because I am satisfied to go dirty for weeks at a time and to talk to the engineer or the queer passengers and to pick up stories and improve my geography but I do not think the scenery would compensate either Nora or you or Dad for the lack of necessities and CLEANTH. When we were crossing the continent I don't believe I had a spot on me as big as a nickel without three bites on it, all sorts of bites, they just swarmed over you all sizes, colors and varieties. They came from dogs, from the sand, from trees, from the grass, from the air. The worst were little red bugs that lay under the leaves called carrapati's and that came off on you in a hundred at a time. And there were also "jiggers" that get under your nails and leave eggs there. Some times we could not sleep at all for the bites and you had to carry a brush to brush the carripats off every time you passed through bushes. It's the damnedest country I was ever in now that I have time to think of it. The other day I was going in to bathe and the sand was so hot that I could not get to the breakers and so I went yelling and jumping back to the grass and the grass was just one mass of burrs, so I gave another yell and leaped on to a big log and the log was full of thorns. That's the sort of country it is. And then after you do make a dash for the surf a shark makes a dash for you and you don't know what you are here for anyway. It had its humorous side and it was very funny, especially as it never turned out otherwise, to see the men scamper when the sharks came in. They never scented us for ten minutes or so and then they would swim up and we would give a yell and all make for the shore head over heels and splashing and shrieking and scared and excited. There would always be one man who was further out than the rest and he could not hear on account of the waves and we would all line up on the beach and yell and dance up and down and try to attract his attention. But you would see him go on diving and playing along in horrible loneliness until he turned to speak to some one and found the man gone and then he would look for the others and when he saw us all on the shore he would give one wild whoop out of him and go falling over himself with his hair on end and his eyes and mouth wide open. I saw one shark ten feet long but we would have died of the heat if we had not bathed so we thought it was worth it. That's over now because we cannot get any more sea bathing. Just around Panama. Finest place seen yet.
PANAMA, February 28th, 1895. DEAR MOTHER:
Griscom has awakened to the fact that he is a Press correspondent and is interviewing rebels who come stealthily by night followed by spies of the government and sit in Griscom's room with the son of the Consul General, as interpreter. Somerset and I refuse to be implicated and sit in the plaza waiting for a file of soldiers to carry Griscom off which is our cue for action. There is a man-of-war, the Atlanta, the one we made friends with at Puerto Cortez, lying at Colon and so we feel safe. We may now be said to be absorbing local color. That is about all we have done since we left Amapala. And if it were not that you are all alone up there, I would not mind it. I would probably continue on. We know it now as we do London or Paris. We can distinguish sea captains, lawyers in politics, commandantes, oldest residents, gentlemenly good for nothings, shipping agents and commission dealers, coffee planters and men who are "on the beach" with unerring eye. We know the story of each before he tells it, or it is told by some one else. The Commandante shot a lot of men by the side of a road during the last revolution, first allowing them to dig their own graves and is here now so that he can pay himself by stealing the custom dues, the lawyer politician has been to Cornell and taken a medical degree in Paris and aspires to be a deputy and only remembers New York as the home of Lillian Russell. The commission merchants are all Germans and the coffee planters are all French. They point with pride to little bare-foot boys selling sea shells and cocoanuts as their offspring, although they cannot remember their names. The sea captains you can tell by their ready made clothes of a material that would be warm in Alaska and by them wearing Spanish dollars for watch guards and by the walk which is rolling easily when sober and pitching heavily toward the night. The oldest resident always sits in front of the hotel and in the same seat, with a tortoise shell cane and remembers when Vasquez or Mendoza or Barrios, or Bonilla occupied the Cathedral and fired hot shot into the Palace and everybody took refuge in the English Consulate and he helped guard the bank all night with a Springfield rifle. The men who are on the beach have just come out of the hospital where they have had yellow fever and they want food. This story is intended to induce you to get rid of them hurriedly by a small token. Sometimes out of this queer combination you will get a good story but generally they want to show you a ruined abbey or a document as old as the Spanish occupation or to make you acquainted with a man who has pearls to sell, or a coffee plantation or a collection of unused stamps which he stole while a post-office employee. Our chief sport now is to go throw money at the prisoners who are locked up in a row of dungeons underneath the sea wall. The people walk and flirt and enjoy the sea breeze above them and the convicts by holding a mirror between the bars of the dungeons can see who is leaning over the parapet above them. Then they hold out their hands and you drop nickels and they fail to catch them and the sentry comes up and teases them by holding the money a few inches beyond their reach. They climb all over the crossbars in their anxiety to get the money and look like great monkeys. At night it is perfectly tremendous for their is only a light over their heads and they crawl all over the bars beneath this, standing on each other's shoulders and pushing and fighting and yelling half naked and wholey black and covered with sweat. As a matter of fact they are better content to stay in jail than out and when the British Consul offered to send eight of them back to Jamaica they refused to go and said they would rather serve out their sentence of eight years. This is the way the place looks and I am going to introduce it in a melodrama and have some one lower files down to the prisoners. DICK.
After some not very eventful or pleasant days at Caracas, Richard sailed for home and from the steamer wrote the following letter:
March 26th--On board S. S. Caracas.
Off the coast of God's country. Hurrah! H---- did not come near us until the morning of our departure when he arrived at the Station trembling all over and in need of a shave. But in the meanwhile the consul at Caracas picked Griscom and myself up in the street and took us in to see Crespo who received us with much dignity and politeness. So we met him after all and helped the story out that much.
There is not much more to tell except that I was never so glad to set my face home as I am now and even the roughness of this trip cannot squelch my joy. It seems to me as if years had passed since we left and to think we are only three days off from Sandy Hook seems much too wonderfully good to be possible. Some day when we have dined alone together at Laurent's I will tell you the long story of how Somers and Gris came to be decorated with the Order of the Bust of Bolivar the Liberator of Venezuela of the 4th class but at present I will only say that there is a third class of the order still coming to me in Caracas, as there is 20 minutes still coming to Kelly in Brooklyn. It was a matter of either my getting the third class, which I ought to have had anyway having the third class of another order already, and THEIR GETTING NOTHING, or our all getting the 4th or 5th class and of course I choose that they should get something and so they did and for my aimable unselfishness in the matter they have frequently drunken my health. I was delighted when Somers got his for he was happier over it than I have ever seen him over anything and kept me awake nights talking about it. I consider it the handsomest order there is after the Legion of Honor and I have become so crazy about Bolivar who was a second Washington and Napoleon that I am very glad to have it, although I still sigh for the third class with its star and collar.
The boys are especially glad because we have organized a Traveller's Club of New York of which we expect great things and they consider that it starts off well in having three of the members possessors of a foreign order. We formed the club while crossing Honduras in sight of the Pacific Ocean and its object is to give each other dinners and to present a club medal to people who have been nice to and who have helped members of the club while they were in foreign parts. It is my idea and I think a good one as there are lots of things one wants to do for people who help you and this will be as good as any. Members of the club are the only persons not eligible to any medal bestowed by the club and the eligibility for membership is determined by certain distances which a man must have travelled. Although the idea really is to keep it right down to our own crowd and make each man justify the smallness of the club's membership by doing something worth while. I am President. Bonsal is vice president. Russell treasurer and Griscom Secretary. Somerset is the solitary member. You and Sam and Helen and Elizabeth Bisland are at present the only honorary members. We are also giving gold medals to the two chaps who crossed Asia on bicycles, to Willie Chanler and James Creelman, but that does not make them members. It only shows we as a club think they have done a sporting act. I hope you like the idea. We have gone over it for a month and considered it in every way and I think we are all well enough known to make anybody pleased to have us recognize what they did whether it was for any of us personally or for the public as explorers. On this trip for instance we would probably send the club medals in silver to Admiral Meade, to Kelly, to Royas the Venezuelan Minister for the orders to the Governor of Belize, to the consul at La Guayra and to one of the phonograph chaps. In the same way if you would want to send a medal to any man or woman prince or doctor who had been kind, courteous, hospitable or of official service to you you would just send in a request to the committee. Write me soon and with lots of love DICK.