Great Nebraska

Naturalists and Scientists

Edith Schwartz Clements

Letters, 1911

June 14, 1911



On Board Pretoria.
Letter 1.

June 14th:

Such a big, booming, buzzing confusion! People of many sorts and conditions — mostly
German and mostly fat — rushing here and there! One-fourth of them passengers the
other three-fourths friends and relatives down to see them off. We hustled and bustled
with the rest, following a porter with our luggage in search of our stateroom. No
one seemed to know just where this was, and we raced up the narrow passage way, only
to be sent “zurück,” several times. Finally someone who actually knew something gave us directions, and
we finally arrived. Then we joined the buzzing mass of humanity on the upper deck
to see all there might be to see. Half an hour before starting-time, the gong was
rung, and those not going were “shoved” off, waving good-bye, or adding to the sum
total of briny waters, by a few drops. The tug took us in tow, and we swung off so
smoothly, I did not realize we were moving. The German band on the boat and the one
on the wharf — burst forth into patriotic airs — each trying to outdo the other; the
packed pier — gay with summer attire — waved handkerchiefs and flags; while the mass
on board did the same. Somehow, or other, there was a tightness about my heart, and
moisture in my eyes, as the distance between us and the solid land widened slowly.



The day was fair, though somewhat cloudy and the receding view of the harbor — very
impressive. It is certainly a beautiful harbor and we gazed until beyond lovely green
Staten and Long Islands. The sea is calm, and one scarcely knows the boat is moving. Fritz is a little disappointed, as he wishes to test his seamanship. I tell him to wait!

Everything is appallingly German aboard! The officials look blank when you talk English,
and we strain our ears almost in vain to recognize a familiar German word. We jumped
for joy when someone started to count “ein, zwei, drei.” The food? Oh my! half a dozen different kinds of meat and potatoes for luncheon,
but not a single sweet! We bolted for our candy box afterwards and wished we had yielded
to the impulse to have in some fruit. As for water! It is dealt out as though it were
medicine, in tiny goblets, and so only when asked for! I created quite a commotion by asking for some before dinner! We
have seats at the second table, in one corner of the room, near the door. Fritz is opposite me, a young mother and year old baby between us at the end of the table;
a twelve-year-old boy at my left and a young girl next to Fritz, so we will not lack for youthful company in any event. Behind me at the next



table are two girls — about twelve and eighteen who are assiduously exercising their
French. Their blunders are reminiscent of our own, and keep me entertained. I heard
the younger girl, for instance, ask for a “verre de d’eau“! There will doubtless be no lack of amount of eatables, as only shortly after we had finished luncheon, the bell was rung for
“afternoon coffee”! There are divers​ and sundry people aboard, in divers​ and sundry costumes. One group of fifteen or twenty California College chaps in hideous blue and yellow caps have been entertaining themselves, if no one
else, since dinner, with college songs. A university girl, graduate of last year,
made herself known to us, just before luncheon, and on the passenger list, we see
the names of our first violins — the (concert-meister of the orchestra) and his wife.
Otherwise, all are strange. There are a number of children, and many young people.
I have struck up acquaintance with a little girl with German parents, and am practicing
my German on her. The way the Germans swallow half their words, and chew the other
half is a scandal!



June 15th: Our cabin is large, but warm, being an inside room. It is, however well-ventilated,
and by dint of re-making the beds more, according to American notions we were quite
comfortable. The berths have, each one sheet over the mattress, and for covering a
comfort doubled and tucked into a linen bag, so that there was no possibility of having
less! I promptly reversed the arrangement putting the double quilt under and the sheet
over, and we were quite comfortable.

The sea is still very smooth, but there are various pale-green sufferers sitting about
or confined to their rooms. We are enjoying it. It is ten o’clock a.m. and the band
is giving a concert, while the deck-stewards dispense coffee by the gallon! Such coffee!
Coffee is not coffee except it be one-third thick cream. We use hot skim milk for
this! I will soon get out of the habit.

We have just had a “row” with three very voluble excitable German “ladies” (?) who
had moved their steamer chairs in our places — the ones we had been to the trouble to make a special trip to the boat to secure! We gained our point ultimately, but
did not enjoy the prospect of sitting next them the rest of the trip, so finally moved
to a very cosy
cozy, sheltered corner in the fore part of the boat, where we can turn our



Letter 1 — page 2

backs to the noisy crowd and get the view and the breeze ahead. It is a great improvement
and I think I shall thank our friends (?) for the good turn they unwittingly gave
us. I fear I shall be willing to pay much more next time & for choicer company, tho’
perhaps the class of people is better on an American boat. We expected to meet congenial
people, but we are reduced to each other’s society. There are some people with money
at the table back of us, judging from the hot-house grapes and luscious peaches which
adorn their table. They appear nice, but exclusive (like us?). The rest of the people
at their table look as tho’ they belonged in the steerage! The sea is still flat and
we are bored to extinction (please read “Ship-Bored” in the June Everybody’s) and think of us). It might not be so stupid under ordinary circumstances, but after
another enforced period of inactivity in quarantine, this seems like an encore. We
had a delicious dinner tonight anyhow! Our steamer letters also are something to look
forward to. Speaking of dinner, reminds me that the dining-chairs are built so far
from the table, I have to sit on the edge



to reach my food. I have discovered the raison d’être for this in the astonishing girth of the Germans, both male & female. The chairs
are built to fit them — mountains! I would expect them to sink the boat, except that
since it is mostly fat, they will help us to float. The father of the little German
girl gave me a neat complement to-day (sic) on my German. He asked if I were not of
German family because I spoke so well! Ha! ha! and that in the face of the awful things
I do to German genders!

June 17th: Bright sunshine to-day (sic) for the first time, and white-caps here and
there. I have to sit on the bow of the boat, where the motion is greatest and dip
up and down like a bird. I saw two flying fish come out of the water for a short flight
I thought they were birds, until they suddenly dived into a wave! What fun to be able
to both swim and fly! Miss Hudson, the Minnesota girl and her two friends from Cincinnati helped us while away part of the afternoon with shuffle-board on the forward deck.
This is a game in which one takes a long-handled wooden shovel-like affair and shoves
wooden disks across



the deck in the attempt to make them land on certain numbered compartments chalked
on the deck. We had a really enjoyable time at dinner, however, when we found a rosy-cheeked,
bright-eyed, golden-haired girl at the end of our table in the place of the woman
& baby who have been eating on deck since the first meal. I had noticed this young
girl (in her early twenties I imagine) taking care of two charming little boys, and
decided she appeared in the passenger-list as “maid to Master Murray Jaeckel.” We had not seen her for several days as it appeared she had been “malade.” The fun I speak of consisted in our lively give and take of conversation with her
— all in French! She is a Belgian, with a German father, French mother, and American
little sisters! She was like a bird in her quick nervous, expressive movements, bright
speaking eyes. Droll, too — full of laughter and naïve remarks. I did most of the
talking on our part, as it takes Fritz several minutes to carefully concoct a sentence and slowly deliver it.



She did him the honor, however of saying that his accent was better than mine! I confessed
that I waded right in as one only learned by making blunders. She then gleefully told
of a joke on herself when learning English. When a man accidently stepped on her foot
in the street-car and then begged her pardon, she replied cheerfully “Call again” “You are welcome: call again”! instead of the conventional reply to an apology. It
was amusing to hear her go on about the German fare “toujours la viande“, whereas she hungered for ice cream, cake and sweets! We agreed heartily on this

Saturday: June 17th: Fourth day out! It is discouraging to look at the map and see
that we have barely started. We are counting the days until we may hope to see land.
The sea is flatter than ever to-day (sic) despite a strong head wind. I do not see
how we can have so strong a wind & so smooth a sea at the same time.



Letter 1 — page 3.

The sea-scape consists of forty-nine million, five hundred and thirty-three thousand
six hundred and thirteen waves each one like unto the other, of three different kinds
of flying-fish which one must look long to see, one porpoise and one sail on the distant

This evening we enjoyed our Belgian again at dinner. At nine o’clock the deck had
been cleared for a dance: it looked quite pretty with bunting and lights. Everyone
was in gala attire, which quite transformed them. There was little space and many
young people, so after watching awhile, we sought our berths. I have taken to dressing
for dinner so as to help pass the time.

Sunday: June: 18th: A delightful variation in the “rising-bell” occurred this morning,
when the band, which consists of very sweet-toned instruments, played a hymn in the
various corridors. The sea is rather beautiful to-day (sic) with white-caps in the
sunshine. We have moved our chairs again, this time to the lowest deck, where there
are fewer people, less



shining sky, and more sea. It is a change for the better, and if the sea remains as
quiet, I shall take to my painting to help while away the time. We are also reduced
to composing “poetry.” Here is a sample.

“They sat upon the floating deck,
When but four days had fled,
They sighed to each “Alack, Alas!’
There are eight more ahead!”
We wish we were in Timbuctoo or Afghanistan
On shipboard, there is naught to do
Except to watch the coffee-man
And the flying fish that flew.
For breakfast they ad orderedverlorene Eier
And awaited the treat with glee!
They ate them — but results were dire:
Later, they “lost” them in the sea.

There is poetic licence license here, as the poet wished to play on the “verlorene” which means “lost”. Perhaps they were “lost” because no one could eat them at all!
Such funny eggs! hard round balls, on toast and covered with tomato sauce! Bah! I
am struggling to learn to eat eggs from the



shell: it is difficile. In despair, I broke them this morning into a sauce-dish á la Americaine, but it looked so messy after the other way, that perhaps I shall ultimately change
any allegiance to the method.

Hurray! Some excitement in the shape of a big steamer at our rear, which is rapidly
overhauling us. We would like to change to the faster boat, but while considering
the proposition, we enter a low fog, and the two steamers are now engaged in fog-horning
each other at regular intervals. The fresh, cool breeze, after the heavy warmth of
the past few days invigorates us and we take new interest in life.

Monday: June 19th — The fog-horn blew at frequent, regular intervals all night. We
rejoiced at being so far away below decks that it did not disturb our slumber: it
must have been most annoying up above. We wonder how we happened to get so good a
room. Except for the warmth, it is very pleasant — commodious & well-ventilated. The
outside rooms on the other side on this deck open on a passage which smells so vilely,
one must needs hurry through to avoid getting sick. Moreover, they are tiny.



Auf Einem Deutschen Schiffe.


Ich sing’ einen Sang von Essen.
Ich sing’ einen Sang von Bier.
Doch kann ich nicht vergessen
Wie langweilig ist es hier.


Die Deutschen trinken und essen.
Die Deutschen sitzen so gern.
Ihr Gürtel kann nicht gemessen-
Er ist ringsumher so fern.


Sie sitzen an dem Tische
Fünfmal jeden Tag
Sie essen Fleisch und Fische
Auf immer ohne Klag’.


Wenn ich ein Deutscher wäre,
Dann könnt’ ich freudig sein.
Seit ich nicht bin, ich schöre
“Deutsche Schiffe nicht für mein.”


I bid fair to develop extraordinary poetical gifts under the influence of my new environment!



(Translation) Letter 1 Page 4.


I sing a song of Eating
I sing a song of Beer.
And yet, I can’t forget
How tiresome it is here.


The Germans eat & drink.
The Germans sit all day.
Their girth cannot be measured.
It is too great to say.


They sit down to the table
Five-times every day
They eat their meat & fishes-
No sweets, for which we pray.


If I were but a German,
I could so happy be!
Since I am not, I’ll never-
Take a German ship to Sea.

Tuesday, June 20th: We woke to quite a rolling tumbling sea — the roughest yet. Someone
said it had stormed during the night, and the portholes had to be closed. One young
man left his open, and when he saw an immense wave come in, in the middle of the night,
he was so frightened, he ran for the steward.



Another found his trunk and things floating around the room in the morning. We, in
our inside room were unconscious of any change, & slept soundly through it all. The
sea was much more interesting in its rough mood, and offered some diversion in the
way of sights. At night, we had the joy of watching a small steamer pass. Otherwise,
here is a day’s program:

5:00 a.m. Help gets up & makes all the noise possible.
5:00 – 7:00 One dozes through as best one may.
7:00 a.m. Reveille is sounded for first table.
7:15 a.m. Bell is rung.
7:30 a.m. Bugle call in all corridors for first table breakfast.
7:45 a.m. Second table decides it may as well give up hope for sleep & gets up.
8:00 a.m. Bugle call to breakfast for second table.
8:00-9:00 Breakfast for second table.
9:00-10:00 Various nerve-racking attempts on the part of those musically inclined



but not proficient.

10:00-11:00 Concert by band Coffee with crackers, pretzels or “Etwas“served on deck.
11:45 a.m. Bugle call for 1st table luncheon.
1:00 p.m. Bugle call for second table luncheon.
2:00-4:00 More music(?) by untalented folk. Attempts to find a corner unoccupied by a sparring
couple or a noisy “bunch” for quiet naps or reading.
4:00-5:00 Band concert More Coffee!
5:45 p.m. Bugle call to dinner, first table.
7:00 p.m. Bugle call to dinner for second table.
9:00-10:00 Band Concert.
10:00-5:00 Blessed oblivion!



Wednesday-June 21st: Another gray day. We awake, tired out! Why we cannot imagine, unless it is the weight
of the atmosphere, or the effort of trying to pass the time. Our table neighbor, a
woman & daughter, tell of their unpleasant experience with their cabin mates — strangers
— who did everything in their power to make it unpleasant for them, & succeeded finally
in driving them out. They have taken the room next to ours. The wind has changed,
and the smell has all collected in our hallway. Pfui! It is vile!

Thursday-June 22nd: Fog and rain all day long. Also music(?) One cannot escape it, except by jumping
overboard. On a German boat, it pays to have neither a cultivated ear, nor a sensitive
olfactory nerve. One gleam of pleasure across the gray background: a school of porpoises(?)
dolphins(?) what I know not — except that they were graceful brown-backed, white bellied,
sharp-nosed, fish, sported in the sea for a few minutes, leaping out of the water
in beautiful curves.



Letter 1 – page 5.

Friday: June 23rd:— The fog lifted last night under the influence of a stiff, cold
breeze. Half a dozen of the porpoises afforded us fifteen minutes of keen pleasure
by scurrying along just in front of the boat, swimming sideways, in beautiful curves
& again leaping out of the water. When they tired of their play, we proposed to three
unmarried people of about our own age, a game Pussy-wants the corner. We each chose
a capstan or a ventilating pipe or something on deck, for a corner, & had a hilarious
time, until we got dripping wet with perspiration. This morning the sea was beautiful:
clear green in the sunshine, instead of leaden & black, & the waves very high. We
have discovered a successful way of killing time by napping two hours every afternoon.
Fritz reads two or three books a day, & the hours do pass. We are already two days late however! We think every day with joy of only four
days at sea returning instead of fourteen!

Sat’day, June 24th:— The wind increased to a gale last night. Imagine the double motion
of rolling a marble



around the edge of a pie tin & you will see why we slept but little. Add to that,
little air & that violated by stale tobacco from the servants room, & you will be
able to sympathize. The sea is glorious! — waves “mountain-high”, but how the boat
does pitch & roll! I feel fine; Fritz a little unsettled from some Cascara pills, but not sea-sick. Very few are able to
get around & look cheerful. We were on the second deck, watching the waves, when a
tremendous big one broke over the boat, and drenched us, before we could scamper to
cover. The dolphins had a glorious time with the waves, but I am quite ready for a
steady-underfooting once more. The steamer Lapland passed us yesterday. We expect
to reach Boulogne Monday morning early, but this rough sea may delay us. The wind whistles thru’ the
rigging like a fiend. Great commotion and laughter has been caused at intervals through
the day, by a facetious wave, coming on board. We climbed on the railing just in time
after dinner to avoid the ankle-deep swash of a spent wave. At noon, I attempted to
make up some lost sleep, some one someone was hammering



somewhere about the boat. The doors all about went slam! as the boat lurched to one
side, and bang! as it dipped to the other; people tramped up & down the corridors,
children scampered & laughed; the engine went throb-throb; the knife-sharpening machine,
whizzed, clattered, and buzzed while the scullion sharpened scores of knives; and
the ship creaked and groaned at every joint & lurched fourteen ways at once. I saved
up my sleepiness till to-night. Out of doors, the wind shrieked thro’ the rigging,
the waves roared & crashed, people laughed & walked. Is there a quiet spot anywhere?

We met Richard Czerwonky & his wife, our Symphony orchestra’s concert-meister tonight. He is an attractive
young fellow; she an elfin-faced girl.

Sunday: June 25th: — Joy! Joy! Land in sight early this morning! Too excited to do
anything but gaze & gaze. We had decided this trip would last ten years, or perhaps
a life-time, but we may change our minds when we forget the monotony of the past two
weeks somewhat. We quite agree with “Uncle John” who says “he’d like to what we took
a slow steamer for, anyhow. He says it would have been more comfortable to have all
been in death agonies & to have been in Havre by this time.”



And again: “Uncle says he’s going express hereafter; he says no more dilly-dally voyages
for him.”

The land is fair to see-all marked out by dark hedges into green or brown fields —
red-roofed cottages, or stately gray mansions here and there; or a tiny sea-side village
by a sandy beach. Every rocky point has a neat white light-house or fort. Our glasses
are very powerful, so we are able at times to see details of buildings, or even read
signs. When the land was too far away, there were numerous sea-craft to take our attention,
fishing-sloops & steamers of all sorts — even to a big ocean liner. We spent the day
“at-gaze”; in the evening, we had a superfluity of good things. First, the “farewell
dinner. This was quite elaborate with everybody in their best bib and tucker (‘ceptin’
us who don’t dress for this sort of a crowd). At each place, were two tiny flags —
one German & one American, besides “snapping bon-bons”. These made merry confusion,
while being pulled apart & searched for the contained treasure of gayly gaily colored tissue paper caps, tiny toys, pictures & what not. Some of the fat Germans
looked extra-



Letter 1 – Page 6.

ordinarily comical with the caps on, & waxed unusually boisterous with good cheer
& drinkables. The bill-of fare was unusually good, with the piece de resistance “illuminated ice-cream.” This was quite a pretty sight: the lights were turned out,
and then the waiters entered, each carrying a platter containing the ice-cream & a
candle in a red translucent holder, and marched up and down the aisles while the band
played, & the diners shouted and clapped. At the end, a German arose & delivered a
speech, whose purport seemed to be: “hurrah for the Pretoria & three cheers for America,
Hamburg & Germany!” Dinner was finished just in time for the concert to be given by
talent among the passengers. The center of the program was occupied by the glee Club,
& after one or two numbers we escaped. This prominence must have gone to their heads,
for I understand they sang for two hours after the concert was over & people were
trying to



sleep. We were fully rewarded for our defection from the concert, at reaching deck
just in time to see the Isle of Wight with Catherina(?) glittering with rainbow colored lights, like a wonderful collection of jewels against
the darkness. At the left, a powerful search-light revolved steadily, searching the
sea and the sky. It was a sight to be remembered.

Monday; June 26th. Great excitement this morning, as a number of the passengers were to land at Boulogne. We were on deck early to see the fun. First, a small steamer came bobbing & dipping
out from the harbor, and the pilot clambered guide our ship in. We picked our way
slowly between mournfully whistling buoys, to the shelter of the breakwater. The anchors were dropped with
a rattle; a tender put out from shore, the band played the Marseillaise, and amid
fluttering handkerchiefs & flags the passengers & their baggage were transferred &
steamed away to



the misty shore. In the intervals, we studied the shore with our glasses, & were able
to make out the hotels on the beach with their names on the roofs, quaint gray & brown
cottages — with the inevitable red-tiled roof, churches — or cathedrals, rather, a
train steaming cross country, and children playing on the beach. Then we slowly put
about & steamed away, past Calais, and finally came in sight of the dazzling white cliffs of about Dover. If one could only learn geography by this practical method, and history at the same
time, how much more it would mean.

We have been drifting for half a day while some mysterious doings have been going
on called “maneuvers.” It seems that a year or so ago, this ship ran down a small
vessel in these waters. The matter went to court & now they are investigating to see
where the blame lies: whether with this Company, or the machinery or what. It has
been a tiresome affair — no land in sight & everyone eager to arrive. We are now off
again — towards nightfall with fresh hopes of arriving Wednesday morning.



Tuesday: June 27th—News this morning that we will arrive to-night (sic). There is no land in sight,
as we are on the North Sea, so the day is spent packing & looking at whatever sea — craft are in sight. One
or two ghostly cities are visible toward Holland shore, but too far away for detail.