We are back here now and rid of that dusty, dirty city. You would be amused if you saw this place and tried to understand why we prefer it to any place we have seen. There is surf bathing at a half mile distant and a good hotel with a great bar where a Frenchman gives us ice and the sea captains and agents for mines and plantations in the interior gather to play billiards. Outside there are rows of handsome women with decollete gowns and shining black hair and colored silk scarfs selling fruit and down the one street which faces the bay are a double row of palms and the store where two American boys have a phonograph. They are the only Americans I have met who have or are taking a dollar out of this country. They play the guitar and banjo very well. One of them was on the Princeton glee club and their stories of how they have toured Central America are very amusing. Lots of Love.
February 21, 1895. DEAR MOTHER:
Today I believe is the 21st. We are out two days from Corinto off San Juan on the boundary of Costa Rica and lie here some hours. Then we go on without stopping to Panama arriving there about the 25th. On the 28th we take the steamer to Caracas. We will be at Caracas a week and then go straight home. But in the meanwhile we will have got one mail at Colon when we go there to take the boat for Caracas and glad I will be to get it. We have had a summary of the news in the Panama Star and a bundle of Worlds telling all about the trolley strike and that is all except Dad's cable at Tegucigalpa that we have heard in nearly two months. I am very sorry that the distances have turned out so much longer than we expected and that we had that unfortunate ten days wait for the steamer. I know you want me home and I would like to be there but I do not think I ought to go without seeing Caracas. It helps the book so much too if one runs it into South America for no one in the States thinks much of Central and does not want to read about it. At least I know I never did. We have had a most amusing time with the two phonograph chaps. One of them has been an advertising agent and a deputy sheriff and chased stage coach robbers and kept a hard-ware store and is only twenty-five and the other has not had quite as much experience but has been to Princeton, he is 23. The mixture of narratives which change from tricks of the hard-ware trade to dances at Buckingham Palace and anecdotes of Cliff House supper parties at San Francisco are very interesting. I am going to write a book for them and call it "Through Central America with a Phonograph" or "Who We Did, and How We Done Them." We sing the most beautiful medleys and contribute to the phonograph. I had to protest against them announcing "Her Golden Hair was Hanging Down her Back" by Richard Harding Davis and Somerset kicked at their introducing "God Save the Queen" as sung by "His Grace the Duke of Bedford" which they insist in thinking his real title and his name; if he would only confess the truth. You cannot have any idea of how glad I am that I took this trip, just this particular trip, not for any interest it will be to the gentle reader but for the benefit it has been to me. All the things I was nervous about have been done and should I get nerves again as I suppose I always will in one form or another I can get rid of them by remembering how I got rid of them before during this most peculiar excursion. For though I and we all told the truth about being well, we were in a most trying place at times and the ride we took and the sail to get away from possible fever was very much of a strain. I do not see how Griscom kept up as he did for he was an invalid and very nervous when he started. But he showed great sporting blood. It was much better having three than two and he furnished us with much amusement at which he never complains. His artlessness and his bad breaks which keep us filled with terror make the most entertaining narratives and he tells them on himself and then keeps on making new ones. One night Jeffs came down with fever through bathing in the mountain streams, a practice which did not hurt us but which natives of the country cannot do in safety, and I confess I was scared. Jeffs pulled through in a few days. It was odd that the man who had lived here eleven years should have been the only one to give up throughout the whole trip and he was a good sport, too.
I will have the Central American stories all done or nearly so by the time we reach New York which is one of the comforts of this over abundance of sea voyages. I have the lottery story nearly written and am wondering now if Bissell will let me publish it. Would it not be a good idea to have Dad, if he knows him, explain about how I went South to write it and just what it is and get his official sanction or shall I write or get the Harper's to write when I get back. The lottery people in joke offered $10,000 if they could write the story themselves. And sometimes I wish they would for it is the hardest kind of work. I do not want to advertise their old game and yet I cannot help doing it, in a way. We put in at Punta Arenas and I found a woman looking at us with an opera glass and shortly after she sent out to say she knew me and that she wanted me to come up. It seemed I met her in Elizabeth, New Jersey with Eddie Coward where she was playing in private theatricals. Since then as a punishment no doubt she has lived here and her husband is Minister of the Navy with one gun boat. This trip is very hot and I sleep on deck and look up at the stars and the light on the jib and the smoke spoiling the firmament. It makes you feel terribly far away from the centre of civilization in front of the fire and you all trying to make out where we are at. I hope you know more about it than we do.
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: