Bound For South America

Foreign travel ought no doubt to be undertaken deliberately, after due thought and much preparation. I had no such opportunity. I was an employe of our Uncle Samuel, engaged in studying the production of sheep and wool. I was in Colorado when I received a telegram asking me if I could sail for Argentina on a very near day. Five minutes’ reflection convinced me that I could make the boat. There would be nearly a month on board ship—ample time in which to learn the Spanish language, for I could already say “bueno” and “Si, Senor,” the rest would be easy. I wired to Uncle Sam that I would be ready.

Just to show how easy it is after all to go anywhere, I stopped in Chicago and bought some rough clothes, not too rough, for shipboard, a suit of white flannels for the tropics, a pair of deck shoes with rubber soles, and an extra number of shirts and collars, for on a long voyage one can only get rough laundry work done. In three hours then I was ready, after a fashion. It is well on shipboard to have along a dinner coat or Tuxedo for evening wear, but I, being a farmer, forgot this; afterward I should have been happier with it.

From Chicago I went home, for a flying visit of only a few hours, while my wife between smiles and tears packed my things for the journey; then on to Washington I went to get instructions and have a word from President Taft. I find in my note book this reference to the President:

“He was very busy, and I was dismayed to see the lot of men who were waiting to see him. Surely there ought to be a way of avoiding this waste of a President’s time. He impresses me as being a splendid type of American; big of body, mind and heart. He was very kind and took such interest in my prospective journey. We talked of Canadian reciprocity; he asking my opinion of how it would affect the American farmer, and told me that he hoped by reciprocity to head off the proposed Canadian preferential tariff with England, as well as to cement commercially at least the Canadian and the American people. He is a great, strong man; to know him is to honor and love him.”

In New York I spent a night, and the next morning found the Steamer Verdi docked over in Brooklyn. She did not appear to be a large boat, but trim and seaworthy. The docks were fragrant with coffee spilled in unloading, and already one felt that he was in a foreign atmosphere. Pleasant English stewards received me and carried my traps to my little cabin; the purser came to welcome me and the head steward had letters for me—those inexpressibly precious steamer letters from friends and dear ones.

It was Jan. 20, 1911, and a fine winter’s day.

The Verdi was a beauty, all white and green, almost like a yacht. The passengers numbered perhaps 125 persons, and looked interesting. The fateful time arrived; the gang plank was drawn ashore; the lines cast off; our little tug drew us slowly out into the harbor; our own engines began their throbbing, easy at first, then bolder and stronger; we steamed down the hay; the air blew damp and chill from off the salt sea; New York with its towers of Babel sunk lower and lower; we were off.

Then began the making of acquaintances, the getting used to one’s cabin, the re-reading of letters, the going to meals, the walking of the deck for exercise—all the things that make up life on shipboard. I am never ill on ship, so I did not miss a meal, although I long ago learned that one can eat ten, times as much as is good for him on a ship. The meals are ample and tempting and one usually is hungry.

From my journal I quote:

“Jan. 21: Near lunch time. There is a little mist of rain mad some sea, although the sun has shone this morning and it has been fine. We have been sitting on deck wrapped in our rugs talking. While we sat there two ships came up mistily before us and soon afterward disappeared in the smothery haze. Ships have a provoking way of keeping apart from one another; our captain tells me that he considers a mile and a half a safe distance between two vessels! The waves are rather fine. Our ship begins to get up a vigorous pitching motion. The thing to do if one at first feels the motion is to go to his berth and lie down.

“3 :20 p. m.: What a splendid sight outside ! Tremendous swells; wet with rain; the sun occasionally shining through in the west; too rough to walk the deck. Not many passengers to lunch. Merciful heavens ! How she does roll! I have to hold my typewriter with one hand,. else it would slide off the end of my suit case, on which it rests.

“Jan. 22: How fine it is! Still a good deal of sea and the wind fresh, but no storm. The second officer and I had the table to ourselves last night at dinner, and only four passengers came down. There is a delightful girl from Denver, going to marry an old comrade, an American young man in Buenos Aires. I am sorry to say it but the bride-to-be looks decidedly wan and pale this morning, and I think longs for the dry land of Denver,. or any other good dry land. Very few this morning at breakfast. There is an old Brazilian—Senor Da Silva-on board; he speaks fairly good English and is a Presbyterian ! He is interesting and very courteous; I love to walk and talk with him. Why is it, I wonder, that we Americans are the least courteous people on earth? It is warm, warm already. There is now no need of steamer rugs. We are about as far south as Charleston and we feel the Gulf Stream. The bugle calls us to church; the service is the Episcopal, the same on all English and most American ships. It is almost warm enough to shed one’s waistcoat.

“Jan. 23: The sea is calm this morning; everyone is on deck and happy. I go to my bath at 6, soak a little while in hot water and then spray in cold; it is a great luxury. At our table curiously enough are three captains of industry : a Mr. G. of California, a Mr. S. of Missouri and Mr. M. of Boston. Of the four of us, three are millionaires: G. is a great cattleman of California and Arizona; he is going down to Brazil to look the land over with the thought of investment. I am interested and amused to learn that the wealthy Bostonian began his career by cutting marsh hay in New Jersey for 25 cents a day, with mosquitoes thrown in. Mr. S., the banker, began as a grocer’s clerk in Missouri at $100 a year, and G. as a ranch hand at $25 per month. Now G. owns his private yacht in California. These men saved their money and worked hard; they are typical Americans. Now they have more money, perhaps, than is good for them, but they are splendid, interesting men for all that. The background of success is work.

“Afternoon: I had a nap, as usual, after lunch. It is a good habit and the American people would be saner and live longer if they would adopt it. We played that deck game, shuffleboard. It is a fine game. I cannot forget that in my white suit is tucked away a note from my dear wife, which she forbids my reading until the weather is hot enough for me to wear the suit. I have the clothes hung out now where I can see them, and I feel lovingly of the thin little letter in the coat pocket, but I don’t read it yet. What a few days since I left home and yet how long it seems, and how far away I feel!

“Da Silva, my Brazilian friend, helps me to read Spanish. I have a book that absolutely teaches the language in one lesson, or is it three?

“Jan. 25: A perfect day, lovely and warm. So soon do we leave the latitudes of snows, frosts, chilblains and coal fires. This morning the First Officer came down all in white—a signal to the rest of us—and I was glad and made haste to don my white suit—the one holding the precious letter. That letter was about the finest bit of literature that I have ever read. My day is passed like this : a walk on deck at sunrise ; then work on a revision of Sheep Farming in America (somehow it does me good to think of bleating flocks on green hillsides) ; break-fast; afterward games or work, or simply loafing in my steamer chair and talking with people. The time passes swiftly. My old Brazilian friend comes often to talk with me. Capt. Byrnes is a fine study —a very serious man with a broad face that he can set smiling and go away and leave it on duty. It is amusing, for he is supposed to be a ladies’ man and to be gay at table. I see him smiling and pretending to take interest in what is going on around him, when I know full well that he is really thinking of the port engine that is not acting right, or of the chart, or of the firemen who seem an obstreperous lot, mostly Spaniards from various ports in South America.

“On the forward deck we now have arranged- a canvas swimming tank and each afternoon we go out and swim. It is really curious ; the motion of the ship sends the water surging from one end of the tank to the other; you have only-to keep afloat and you will get all the swimming you want.”

We crossed the Tropic of Cancer on Jan. 25. The weather was lovely—not too warm, not stormy; long swells lifted the ship, and there was a gentle breeze. It seemed to be almost a deserted ocean. We were yet within wireless touch with the United States. Strolling aft to where the second and third-cabin passengers hold sway, I was amazed to see evidently a sure-enough cowboy from the West, and some other western boys. They proved to be three lads from the Montana Agricultural College, and one sure-enough cowpuncher from Wyoming, all bound for Argentina, land of promise. They were fine boys, full of quiet fun, too, and of good, sound muscle. They had a working knowledge of soils and hoped to get positions under the Argentine’ Government. They had all of them herded cattle, ridden bucking bronchos and slept many a night out under the stars, but they had never ridden the waves before nor been out from under the American flag.

There was a young Englishman too, a. mining engineer, back in the second cabin; an intelligent fellow who worked all the way down on a book he was writing. Also there was an old Padre from Lima; Peru, on his way home from a journey around the world. I was aghast when the college boys confessed to me how little cash they had brought with them. It was just like boys, trusting to luck to bring them through. We promptly organized a Spanish language class; the old Padre would read to us and correct our pronunciation. Thus like children we whiled away many hours, imagining that we were very industrious and accomplishing much that would be helpful to us later.

Our Spanish lesson book proved to be a curiosity. It contained a story of “tres viajantes”—three travelers, who found a treasure in the road—”tres viajantes hallaron un tesoro en el camino.” Then these travelers sent one of their number to buy something to eat (“comprar algo por comer”) and he decided sagely to poison (“envenenar”) the meat so that he could enjoy the “tesoro” all by his “solo.” The book has endless questions and variations, which we ask one another—”who were on the road?” “The three travelers.” “What found they?” “One treasure.” “Where found they this treasure?” “In the road” (“en el camino”), and so on endlessly. I am amused and shocked to re-member that all the Spanish I have acquired thus far relates to poisoning meat and finding treasures, but the word “camino” will be useful, and so will “carne!”

Flocks of little flying fish enlivened the waters in these latitudes. Men said they did not really fly but jumped and soared. I could not agree; I am sure that they keep in the air too long to be simply soaring; they must fly some. They tell that it is the sharks, or other large fish in the sea, that startle them into action and make them leave, the sea for the air for a time.

Games began, all sorts of games, to make merriment for the passengers and to make the voyage pass swiftly. One day we had rifle shooting, and I was amazed to be adjudged the champion of the ship. I had not used a rifle for more than twenty years—not since my ranching days in fact, but like swimming the art seems to hang to one.

At night the decks were lighted and the young folks danced. Our little group of people seemed almost like a family party, after a time, though as usual they divided somewhat into cliques and there were some heartburnings, as there always are on shipboard. The saddest man of us all seemed to be a Count Somebody from southern Europe, a spoiled boy who had had too much money and done too many things, so that life held no novelty for him. He mourned that he had left his valet behind and feared lest he should get acquainted with the wrong people on board! Love-making went on ; sometimes between young people who had never seen one another before, and sometimes, thank God, between husband and wife, who had time now to be much to each other.

Up on the upper deck was the tiny cabin of the wireless operator; he was a mere boy, as delicate and lovely as a girl, but he knew his work well and it was a keen pleasure to walk with him and talk with him. Boy-like, he resented the petting by the women, and their insistence that he take better care of himself. There is something about the work of the wireless operator that is very trying on the nerves.

So the life went on, as in a dream. When the nights were close and hot I would take my army blanket and sleep deliciously on deck, and some-times other young men would join me. One old Brazilian traveler told me that always on the Amazon people slept on deck, so warm and sultry were the nights. Flying fish increased until they were no longer a novelty; one of them flew onto our deck, at least twenty-five feet high. We came into the region of showers and they were very frequent, sometimes fine and misty, sometimes very hard in-deed. We were nearing the Equator. What a ship-less ocean it was! We would be days out of sight of anything but sea and sky and water. Day by day with the old Padre and the Montana boys the Spanish lessons progressed; we had interminable dialogues that, translated meant, “is the book on the chair?” “No, the book is under the table.” “Did one man go out?” “One man went out.” “Did he poison the meat?” “Who poisoned the meat?” and so on, until we were weary. I can not now remember that we learned one word that was after-wards useful to us in South America, but we, poor deluded innocents, trusting to the wisdom of books, supposed we were bravely doing our duties! If I had time L would like to make a lesson book for beginners in Spanish. It would contain such simple but helpful phrases as, “Where is the hotel?” “Where is the post office?” “When will dinner be ‘ready?” “At what time does the train leave for Rosario?” I would omit the poisoning of meat.