South America Today - Brazilian Coffee
( Originally Published 1911 )
IT is not possible to speak of Brazil, still less of Saint Paul, without the coffee question cropping up.
The fabulous extension in recent years of the coffee plantations and the crops that have permitted the present extraordinary accumulation of wealth have drawn the attention of the whole world to the Brazilian fazendas.
Big volumes have been written on the subject, and I gladly refer my readers to them. There they will find all the figures that I as well as another might quote, but I adhere to my intention of leaving to statistics their own special eloquence, and of giving here an account of only such things as my eyes have seen.
If you want to inspect the Brazilian coffee plantations you have only to look around you. I can show you the coffee-plant, a shrub between three and five yards in height, which, for foliage and manner of growth, bears a strong resemblance to box. The flower is very like that of the orange-tree, but with a more subtle scent. The fruit, or " cherry," red at first, then of a brownish colour, contains two kernels. The characteristic feature of the coffee-plant is to bear flowers and fruit at the same time, in all stages of maturity, when once the first flowering is over, providing a spectacle that interested me greatly. But under these conditions it follows that at whatever season the harvesting may be carried out the crop is bound to be very unequal in quality. The only rational way to meet the case would be to have several harvests each year, but the cost of the proceeding would not be covered by the difference in the quality obtained. For this reason the fazendero generally makes but one harvest a year, plucking at the same time berries of varying quality, from the small rolled moka, which is found on all plants, to the more or less perfect berries destined for the average consumer. Not that the f azendero makes the mistake of placing on the market a mixture of coffee of all qualities. When the berries have been dried in the open air on asphalt floors they are sorted by machinery, and thus seven different kinds are obtained, whose value naturally depends on their quality.
But, unhappily, the canny dealers who buy the Brazilian product classified in this way have nothing more pressing to do than to invent fresh combinations, tending to increase their own profits but, at the same time, to ruin our palates. Here we have the Bercy mysteries of wine adulteration imported into the coffee market! We need not be surprised, therefore, to learn that to some palates coffee is only drinkable when mixed with chicory, with burnt fig, or roasted oats—the last more especially appreciated by the North American public. The best of it is that at home with us Brazilian coffee bears but an indifferent reputation among the epicures who like only the moka of Santos. I confess that one of the surprises awaiting me in Brazil was to find their common coffee infinitely superior to any we get in our best houses. It is a light beverage, with a subtle, soft scent; and, being easily digested, it does not produce the usual nervous tension that causes insomnia. In the hotels and railway-stations of Brazil a cup of coffee is a perfect joy, not only for its delicacy of flavour but also for its immediate tonic effect, and cannot be compared with the article offered in similar places at home. The cups certainly are smaller than ours, but I fancy the average Brazilian drinks quite five or six in a day. It is true I did hear "Brazilian excitability" put down to coffee intoxication, but one would like to know just what this " excitability " amounts to, and, besides, I am not clear that alcoholic countries have a right to take up a critical attitude towards coffee-drinkers. Man in all parts of the world seeks to stimulate his powers, and only succeeds in obtaining temporary results—which have to be paid for later on in one way or another, either by a reaction of debility or by hypersthenic disorders.
No one needs to be astonished, then, to find coffee in every mouth, both as a drink and as a topic of daily conversation. If it be true that coffee has made Saint Paul, I can testify that Saint Paul has repaid the debt. The muscles and the brains of the entire population are devoted to the same object. Enormous sums of money are invested in it, large fortunes have been made in it; and when the famous " valorisation " was operated, it looked as if a fearful catastrophe were preparing. This is not the moment to dwell upon the economic conditions of coffee-growing in the States of Saint Paul, Rio, and Minas-Geraes. I shall confine myself to recommending the reader to refer to the excellent book that M. Pierre Denis has published on the subject.' As for the " valorisation," a stroke of unparalleled audacity, it consisted in forbidding the laying out of new plantations at a moment when the market was menaced with a glut that seemed likely to bring about a " slump," and in forcing the State of Saint Paul to purchase the whole of the surplus stock—some eight million bags—and hold it until prices had recovered their tone, when the article could be placed gradually on the market at a remunerative figure, the scheme to be executed by means of a financial operation the details of which need not be gone into here. This is a piece of advanced State Socialism which looks like succeeding, contrary to the expectations of the economists, but which it would be highly imprudent to repeat on any pretext. As may be imagined, the scheme aroused the keenest opposition, for in case of failure the risks might have amounted to some hundreds of millions; but it sufficiently denotes the extraordinary mixture of audacity and foresight that belongs to Brazilian statesmen. The perilous honours be-long more especially to the President of the State of Saint Paul, M. Tibiriça, and to Senor Augusto Ramos, a planter of the Rio State.
As I took a keen interest in the peripatetics of this social drama that threatened to swallow up both public and private fortunes, I naturally desired to visit the great laboratory of the fazendas, where modern alchemy transmutes into gold the red earth that contains the mysterious diabase which is the essential element in coffee-growing.
A member of the Prado family kindly offered to show us his fazenda at Santa Cruz. The beauties of the landscape were, unhappily, concealed beneath a haze of fine rain, but man, alas ! had done worse—for it is a disastrous introduction to the glories of the fazenda to cross smoking tracts of forest on fire. In the distance huge trees were still blazing, around us was a waste of ashes and of half-consumed boughs, and the falling rain seemed only to quicken the dying conflagration. In some of the great green boles were fearful gaping wounds through which the sap was oozing, while some tall trees' still stretched to heaven their triumph-ant crown of foliage above a trunk all charred that would never sprout again. The Brazilians contemplate spectacles such as this with a wholly indifferent eye, and, indeed, even with satisfaction, for they see in the ruin only a promise of future harvests. To me the scene possessed only the horror of a slaughter-house. At least we have the grace to hide ourselves when we massacre innocent beasts, since an implacable law of Nature has decreed that life can only be sup-ported on life. Why can we not hide in the same way the savage destruction of the beauties of the forest?
Between two harvests the fazenda is a scene of quiet repose. We witnessed all the different operations—from the drying to the sorting, and to the final departure of the bags to the Santos warehouses. Although our tour of inspection was arranged by the proprietor himself, he was only present on our account. The imposing mansion, the splendid gardens—all were deserted. The Italian colonist has taken the place of the slave. The former master, now the employer, is no doubt attracted towards the city. The overseer looks after the colonists, who are collected into a village, and the labour is organised as it might be in a factory. The families seemed prosperous enough beneath their coating of original dirt. Only babies and pigs were to be seen—scarcely distinguishable the ones from the others, except that the pigs occasionally wallowed in a chance pool. This was risky, how-ever, for the terrible jaws of the crocodile lie in wait on the banks of the neighbouring pond.
The coffee plantation furnishes occupation for entire families. Men, women, and children bring equal zeal to bear upon the task of weeding, which has to be repeated five or six times a year. The prolific Italian reaps an advantage from the size of his family. Moreover, plots of land are set apart for him, on which he raises forage for his cattle and the maize, manioc, and black beans on which he lives. Often, too, he gets permission to raise his private crops in the open spaces between the coffee-plants. All the colony is afoot when the time comes to pluck the berries. The Saint Paul growers claim that they have only a single crop, all the berries ripening at the same time. I saw them full of blossom, covered thickly with bouquets of white flowers. But I noticed also in the sorting-rooms a great irregularity in the grains.
We walked out to the plantations—vast stretches of red earth in which the shrubs are planted at irregular intervals. Beside the path and amongst the young plants there were great charred branches rotting in the sun, the melancholy remains of forest monarchs laid low a dozen years ago and awaiting final decomposition. Here and there colossal tree-trunks were still erect, though hemmed in on all sides by the green bushes whose monotonous uniformity triumphs over the dethroned sylvan power. Occasionally some forest giant that has escaped by miracle from the flames raises to the sky its splendid stature, sole evidence of past splendours. In the bare flatness of the immense plain covered with the low coffee-plants, where no outstanding feature provides a scale of measurement, it is difficult to realise the real dimensions of these relics. It is only when standing actually beneath a bole that you can estimate its proportions, and a series of " Oh's ! " and " Ah's ! " of amazement burst from all lips. One of these trees, whose trunk was no less than seventy metres in height, had a girth so immense that eleven men stretching their arms in a circle round it could not entirely span it. I was told that it was worth from two to three thousand francs. There would be some expense attached to getting it to the place where it was wanted.
Still, under a gentle sprinkle of rain, that fell like drops of clear light, we proceeded towards the great forest, across which a fair carriage-road has been made. This is not the decaying forest whose timber feeds the factory furnaces, such as that of Santa Ana or of Lulès. This was the forest that had stood for countless centuries, as is shown by Titanesque survivals of those unknown ages, but it remains the forest eternally young, its vital force still unimpaired by time. The grand architectural lines of trunks and boughs, where the sunlight plays tenderly in an unending scale of changing tones upon its depths, offer a feast for the eyes. Creepers en-twine themselves among the branches, making a thousand fantastic turns and twists, while slender stems spring like fireworks heavenwards, there to burst into bouquets of rich blossom. Part only of the monstrous tree-trunks are left visible. Beneath its inextricable tangle of boughs the jequiticaba, all in white, its spurs and ramparts high enough to conceal a man, rises high above the rest—a Tower of Babel that has escaped the destruction of the others.
Yet at our feet there lay a colossus that fell only three days ago, and seemed to point to the final destiny of all earthly glory. It was no tempest that had thus laid it low. Healthy, straight, and tall, it had fallen before it could be weakened by age, simply because the fatality of the action of underground forces crowding upon it from all sides had decreed that it should end then and there. We felt it, measured it, and examined every part of the gigantic corpse, and not one was inclined to quote the assassin of the Duc de Guise—" I thought it larger." No. Lying here at our feet it was no less amazing in its might than it had been in its ephemeral glory. Even in the beauty of death the splendour of life is impressive. In the clearings, where the slender stems of tall palms sway their parasol tops in the wind, flocks of large parrots were busy exchanging opinions as to the reason of our presence; and, if one may judge by the inflections of their cries, they thought it an ill omen. In the patches of blue sky visible between the branches we could see them swirling overhead, uttering loud curses. I had been promised a glimpse of monkeys, but it appears that our cousins retreat before the sound of wheels, and only tolerate—at a safe distance—the company of pedestrians. I thought if I separated from my fellows I might happen on the sight of one or two. Failing a specimen of the Pithecanthropus erectus any little chap on four legs would have found a brotherly welcome. Since none came, why not go after them? But walking is a dangerous pastime, since at every moment one stands a risk of treading on a trigonocephalus concealed in the brushwood, here as high as a man's waist, to say nothing of the fact that there are no landmarks, and that before I had taken a hundred steps I should have hopelessly lost my way. I walked about twenty yards, and that calmed my ardour. I saw neither monkey nor snake. I was not in-consolable, however, for the Brazilian snakes had no mystery for me.
I saw them in all their forms collected in a charming little garden which Dr. Vital Brazil has laid out expressly for them at Butantan. The coral serpent, the trigonocephalus, the rattlesnake, glide about the grass, climb the bushes whose branches effectually conceal them, or seek the shelter prepared for them in solitary corners. But for the absence of Mother Eve one might fancy oneself in Eden. I must add that a moat full of water, with a wall above, renders impossible the machinations of the Evil One; but I confess I did not go near them, even under these conditions. Dr. Brazil showed them to me in his laboratory, preserved in transparent jars, where the aggressive force of the creeping beast is revealed by means of sectional surgery, and again in the narrow yard of his menagerie; here one alarming-looking reptile after another was fished out of its prison on the end of a stick, and then seized by the throat and forced to choke up its venom into a small glass.
You may suppose that in all this Dr. Brazil has some plan. You are right, and it is worth explaining. He is engaged in a quest after a cure for snake-bites, or even perhaps for some way of rendering humanity immune. Brazil and India have a specialty of the most venomous of snakes. Dr. Brazil, who spends his life in their company, declares that even the most deadly species is without hostile feeling for man. No one has ever been attacked by a snake. His poison (I refer to the snake) permits him to paralyse instantaneously the prey destined for his food. But if by mistake you walk on his tail he is carried away by a desire for reprisals. I do not want to argue about it. It is sufficient to state that some hundreds of Brazilians and some thousands of Indians whose pleasure it is to walk barefoot in the forests die annually from the deadly sting of this philanthropist whom they have unwittingly annoyed, notwithstanding the humanitarian opinions of snakes in general. This is the evil for which Dr. Brazil is trying to find a remedy.
The Butantan Institute, half an hour distant from Saint Paul, prepares antidiphtheric and antitetantic serums, but its specialty is the antiophidic serum. Dr. Calmette was the first to discover a method of procuring immunity, but the serum of the Lille Institute, prepared from the poison of Indian cobras, proved, in the hands of Dr. Brazil, powerless against the Brazilian rattlesnake. In this way Dr. Brazil made the discovery that each South American species had a special poison, the serum of which took no effect on other poisons. Accordingly, at Butantan three different serums are prepared—two act on special species, and the third, called " polyvalent," is used in cases where the owner of the poison has omitted when stinging his victim to leave his visiting-card and thus establish his identity—the most common case.' But Dr. Brazil is not satisfied to cure or render immune those who seek ophidic inoculation. He has discovered a superprovidential serpent, which, having no poison of its own and being invulnerable to the stings of its kind, renders them all in-nocuous to humanity by eating them. This is the friendly mussurana. They offered him to me for inspection, and he looked neither better nor worse than the trigonocephalus—I should not at all like to find him in my bed. I tried to coax him, however, to munch a poisonous comrade. He had just breakfasted, and wanted only to sleep. Dr. Pozzi, luckier than myself, had the pleasure of seeing him swallow a certain jaracaca, whose slightest caress is deadly. The story has been published in the Figaro. How must we regard this phenomenon unless as a freak of Nature? To try to multiply the mussurana in order to exterminate rattlesnakes seems to me a dangerous experiment. Dr. Brazil has not yet succeeded in obtaining a single young one, and for my part I cannot yet see man and the mussurana living in harmony together.
As a final surprise, we were informed that Dr. Bettencourt Rodriguez had obtained some excellent results by treating yellow fever with antitoxic serum. The most certain method seems, however, to suppress the mosquito, the propagator of the disease, as Rio and Santos have done.
Santos, now a healthy city, is an agreeable place whose only mission is to receive the coffee from Saint Paul and export it to all the continents of the world. We had a brief look at it as we passed, and saw enough to wish to return there. But this time, instead of approaching by sea, we descended upon it from the plateau, 2500 feet in altitude, which shuts the city in with its salt marshes, bounded by mountain and sea, using the famous electric rail-way which is celebrated throughout the world for the picturesque moving panorama it offers to travellers. From an industrial point of view the port is not equipped to cope with the present traffic, statistics for 1908 showing that 109 ships left its quays, carrying 50 millions of kilo-grammes of coffee—three quarters of the total output of the world. As for the Brazilian floresta, it is difficult to judge of it at a distance. I was placed on a little balcony in front of the motor, between the Minister of the Interior of Saint Paul and Senor Augusto Ramos, and thus enjoyed an unrivalled point of view, while, at the same time, I was relieved from feeling any excess of heat. Mountains, valleys, forest-clad slopes—it might have been Switzer-land or the Pyrenees, and I have assuredly no inclination to belittle either. Yet what a difference from the impression produced by a walk in any part of the forest, where every step lifts you to an ecstasy of admiration. Shall I confess it? The railway stations, melancholy halting-places on the mountain, have left the best souvenir in my mind. In the first place, there were rows of cups of coffee awaiting us there—coffee which revives and refreshes a traveller and perfumes the air with an aroma unknown in Europe. Then, and still better, there were delicate orchids climbing over the verandas, irradiating showers of warm light, and left there out of respect for one of Nature's chefs d'oeuvre, for they ill support the fatigue of railway travelling. The orchid season was just beginning when I left Brazil. What I could see of it in the forest, where the earth was piled up with all kinds of decaying vegetation which the marvellous harvest was already pre-paring, delighted me, for such beauty gains much from being viewed in its natural setting. And in the desolate railway stations, from all these wood chips, there spring sheaves of vivid colours transforming everything, as if the yawning rags of some beggar revealed a fabulously rich treasure.
For the Brazilian flora has extraordinary resources. When I crossed the Bay of Santos to take the tramway, which runs in twenty minutes to Guaruja beach, I had no idea that the pleasure of the journey could excel that of my first arrival. The Guaruja beach is extremely fine. It lies in a frame of rocks and forests, and in its fine sands it filters the high waves that rush in from the open sea in magnificent cascades of fury, which suddenly melt away into great rings of pacified foam. But how find words to express the enchantment of the road ! The low shores of Santos Bay are but a broad marsh, where a frail vegetation rejected by the forest has full sway. On both sides of the road there is an ever-changing sorcery of leaf and blossom in the most lurid of hues. Not an inch of space between two boughs but is promptly filled by stem, bud, creeper, parasite, and some kind of growth, large or small. Trees that are wasting beneath the cruel tendrils eating into their flesh don a robe of orchids. Cannas make patches of flaming scarlet in the thickest part of the brushwood, and the wild banana-palm. lifts a tall head from above the two-cornered spirals of saffron-coloured flowers, which gives an effect like monstrous crustaceans warring with the branches—a wild scene, in which it looks as if all the forces of terrestrial fecundity were convulsed in one impudent spasm.
Just as I was closing my visit to Brazil, with great regret at leaving so much unseen, I had accepted an invitation from Senor Teixeria Soarès, the owner of a fazenda in the State of Minas Geraes. Senor Soarès is the manager of a railway company besides being devoted to land and its fruitful joys. Modest and quiet, he tries to efface himself socially, but his methodical and clear mind is attracted by every big problem, and forces him into the front rank of all the different enterprises which are an honour to his country. I was greatly impressed by the way he spoke of his fazenda, the management of which he has confided to his son. It was easy to see that he had centred there, if not the best of his energy, at least the highest pleasure that can be derived from the collaboration of man with the soil. When I inquired of one of the fazenderos whether it was true, as Senor Soarès boasted, that he grew the best coffee in Brazil, and obtained for it the highest market prices, I was told that the fact could not be disputed, but that Senor Soarès had the reputation of spending more on his coffee than it could bring in. I could not help fancying the words covered an acknowledgment of inferiority. Idealism, in agriculture as elsewhere, is apt to be costly. It may not, however, exclude the active qualities that make for success. Senor Soarès devotes himself more particularly to the improvement of coffee-plants and the raising of new species. Now it was said that he had got from an horticulturist (of Montmartre) a certain plant with whose fame the world would shortly ring. He wanted me to open the new plantation, and as an ex-Montmartrois, I certainly could not refuse the invitation.
I shall say nothing of the journey. As usual, there were miles of forest destroyed by fire. In the villages cabins and colonial houses were scattered about on the river banks amongst great groves of trees. The Parahyba made amends for the melancholy waste of the land by its innumerable rocky headlands, its tree-stems, its islets where a note of beauty was lent by the brilliant plumage of birds.
Small, impatient horses were waiting for us at the station, and seated in " boggles" that bounded over the deep ruts of the road, we passed through woods where large-leaved creepers made a magnificent stage-setting which only ended in the acropolis of Santa Alda. This rustic baronial hall, that belongs to days of slavery, is set on the summit of an eminence which commands a tangle of valleys, and it offers a comfortable simplicity of arrangement clothed in an avalanche of flowers. Wide verandas, colonnades, arches, are all overgrown with multi-coloured bouquets that are perpetually in flower, and under the rays of the sun distil a delicate ambiance of scented prisms. The impression is one of charm as well as of force, and when the young planter, accompanied by the pleasant queen of the domain with her group of small children, is seen in this background of rustic nobility, you are conscious of a fine harmony between man and Nature. The strains of the Marseillaise burst out, as we crossed the threshold, from instruments concealed in the plantation. It was a greeting to France that was touching enough from these Africans, but yesterday ground down in an odious slavery and to-day the free and light-hearted comrades of a man who by his kindly ways has retained the little colony in a place where the associations must be painful enough.
The attraction of the gardens is too strong to be resisted, and we wander out, strolling amidst the clumps of tall, brilliantly coloured plants, anon gazing in rapt admiration at the warm line of the distant hills which hold up against the gorgeous crimson of the sunset a delicate fringe of palm foliage, or watching the hummingbirds which chase each other in the branches and form a dancing cohort of glowing brands. When night fell a golden light pervaded the atmosphere. We did not go in until we had taken a look at the stud, which boasts some of the finest English sires, and we wound up the evening by an amusing performance by an agreeable African conjurer, who gave an explanation in French of all his tricks and was clad in gentlemanly attire—frock-coat, white tie, tan shoes, all the latest style of the Floresta.
Tomorrow, a good hour before sunrise, we are to start for a last visit to the Brazilian forest, and although a heartless doctor has forbidden me riding exercise, I have not the strength of mind to refuse the expedition. They set me accordingly upon a plank, having a high wheel on either side, and soon I taste the joys of foot-ball, not as player, but as ball, leaping with its round elasticity heavenwards after a vigorous kick. And the pleasure of bounding up-wards is as nothing to the austere sensation of falling back again on the implacable boot sole. In this fashion I was rolled through a series of black holes which I was told would appear in the sunlight to be valleys. As luck would have it, we presently came upon a hill that had to be climbed, and my courser dropped to a footpace. The violent shocks of the earlier part of the journey now gave place to a comparatively simple sensation that suggested an anvil beneath the blows of a hammer. Then the day broke. Senor Soarès, junior, who watched my progress from the back of a tall steed, pointed out his first experiments with rubber-plants and with cocoa, and described his coffee-gardens, of which I had already seen some specimens. The sufferings of the lower part of my person now gave way to the admiration of the higher as I mentally compared the wretched, stunted lives in our cities with the wide freedom of existence led by this high-spirited youth who was wrestling out here in the glorious sunshine with the exuberant forces of a fruitful Nature which he is certain to master in time. 0 you, my French brethren who in alpaca coats sit eternally on your stools, bent over useless documents, know that the earth has not yet exhausted her gifts, learn that there is another life, free from the anaemic, cramping condition which you know ! This thought was still in my mind when we turned our reins across the moors that led to the coffee plantations, where dried palm-leaves protect the young shoots from the heat of the sun, and where the new species derived from a plant grown on the sacred hill of Montmartreen-Paris is being carefully cultivated. Come out here, young men in shiny threadbare sleeves who make your way homewards nightly to the close dens around the Sacré Coeur; come and see these black coffee-planters—men, women, and children —living close to Nature on the outskirts of civilisation, and compare your own wretched quarters furnished by Dufayel on the " hire " system, that has cost you such anxious moments, with the blissful nudity of these cabins, and tell me where you see the worst form of slavery, here amongst the newly emancipated Africans or at home under your own roofs.
The forest ! the forest ! I have seen it once and again, but I could never tire of it, and my great regret is that I cannot come back again to it. The sun has made its sudden appearance on the scene, glowing like a violent conflagration, and a thousand voices from the winged population of the woods have greeted him, singing the joy of light returned. Everywhere is the same eternal hymn to life. I was shown a small bird whose female dances round her spouse as soon as he begins to pour forth his love serenade in joyous notes. Blue and yellow toucans dazzle us with their splendour. Valleys filled with colossal ferns open out in the daylight their unexpected vistas of a delirious vegetation. I ask after the monkeys. Alas! they do not leave their retreats before two o'clock in the after-noon. They only arrive for five o'clock tea! But for no inducement would they leave their dressing-rooms until the sun has gone down to the horizon. When you have once seen the heart of the forest wilderness, where the same luxuriant life in manifold manifestations is to be seen at your feet and in the high tree and hilltops, where profusely flowering creepers wind themselves around every twig and bough, placing these forest kings in tender bondage, you will not blame the monkeys for being content to remain in their sumptuous domain. I was shown fruit half eaten, the refuse of a monkeys' restaurant. I can well believe it. A wood-cutter told me he was attacked yesterday by a dozen, who were so pertinacious that he had to defend himself with his stick. Thus, though I never saw a monkey, I did see a man who had seen one.
At last we reached a waterfall which was, it appears, the limit of our excursion. On our way back we came to a difficult crossing, and as my horse was even more exhausted than myself by the rough treatment he had given me, he was taken out of the shafts, and a swarm of some eleven negroes pulled and pushed me along, with bursts of laughter at their performance. But for their chuckles, I might have fancied myself some Roman victor arriving in triumph. It lasted only ten minutes, but I should have been covered with confusion had some chance cinematograph been on the spot to reproduce the scene. This misfortune was spared me. Thanks to the fact, I take the pleasure of holding myself up to ridicule.
The ceremony of inaugurating the Montmartre coffee-plant took place half-way. The operation is less difficult than might be thought. I climbed up a slope from whose top I could see rows of holes, with heaps of coffee-plants, their roots carefully wrapped up, and each in a small basket by itself, lying at intervals over the prepared ground. One of these baskets with its young green stem was offered to me, I stuck it in the first hole that came handy, and thus the glory of Montmartre, like that of Brazil, reached its apogee.
I do not know what will become of my coffee enterprise at Santa Alda. It is more certain that Senor Soarès has begun to manure his land instead of merely scattering the shells of the berries over it. It is possible that the Brazilian fazenderos will be a little worried by this ex-ample, seeing in it only a way of increasing expenses. But the established fact that Senor Soarès's coffees are in great demand seems a curious coincidence, for no one can suppose he amuses himself in this way for the fun of losing his money. When I left Santa Alda, I carried with me a pretty collection of canes made from the finest woods produced on the fazenda, and on board the Principe Umberto, which brought me back to Europe, I discovered a chest of coffee, which enabled me to give my kind hosts the authentic testimony of a consumer.
The Principe Umberto is in every way like the Regina Elena, as indeed she ought to be considering her origin. There are the same comfortable arrangements, the same excellent service, the same Latin courtesy from the officers. We had two adventures on the voyage. A mad-man threw himself into the sea one night. The siren shrieked the alarm. A boat put off but returned after a fruitless search. I was told that this was a typical " return " case. On the way out Hope holds us by the hand. To make one's way back, after disappointments, is for human weakness perhaps a sore trial. We do not all get to Corinth. Let us pity those who make this an excuse for never setting out. The commissary told me the story of one third-class passenger, all in rags, who deposited with him when he came on board the sum of 150,000 francs. There are evidently compensations.
The second adventure was more general in interest. It took the form of a strike among the coal-heavers of St. Vincent. The harbour, with its border of bare rock, lay still and deserted. A few saucy niggers dived for our edification after coins flung from the ship. But that was all, neither white nor black man appeared, for the order had been given that no one should come off to meet us and we on our side were forbidden to land. We need not be astonished if the first lesson learnt by the blacks from their white " superiors " is that of violence preached by grandiloquent politicians, trembling inwardly with fear, but, none the less, tenacious in their inglorious arguments. The negroes have the excuse of having reached our civilisation late in the day. Are we too exigent when we implore the whites to preach by example?
We coal at Las Palmas, the capital of the Grand Canary. As other boats are there ahead of us, we are obliged to spend an entire day in harbour. We land, therefore. The " Happy Isles " have inherited from the ancients such a reputation that some disappointment is inevitable. Seen from the sea, the Canaries show only a cluster of arid rocks devoid of vegetation. Las Palmas is a picturesque town whose palms can but inspire an amiable benevolence in people who have seen Brazil. The country is purely African in character. Square white houses without windows, banana-groves down in the valleys, hills of calcined stones. After an hour or two along a road that is thick with dust, you reach a pretty restaurant standing in a garden whose exotic vegetation would be charming if one had never seen the Riviera. The canary of the islands that is said to abound revealed itself to me in the guise of a vulgar chattering sparrow. Yet the boatmen who boarded our ship offered authentic canaries in cages hung from a long rod, but I was told they had been procured from Holland. These birds have a particularly sweet song, and they sing to order, oddly enough. It is enough to shout to the seller, " Your canary does not sing," for the birds to burst into a flood of trills and turns. It is the triumph of a songster with the imitative faculty. Buyer and seller both are taken in and the greatest serin (canary, also used to mean " duffer ") is not the one you might think.
Before I take my leave of the reader, I want to say a word for the creation of a line of fast ships making the journey between France and South America. So little space remains to me that I cannot treat the subject as I should like. The case is simple; formerly the French line was very popular, but it has allowed itself to be entirely outdistanced by other companies who have built more rapid boats while we continue to send our old vessels over the sea. The contract held by the Messageries Maritimes expires in 1912. By some culpable negligence no steps have been taken to improve the service or even to continue it. The matter cannot rest there. If we are to enlarge our dealings with South America, it is of capital importance to France to have a service of rapid boats fitted up on the most comfortable of modern lines.
I shall venture to make a brief extract here from a report that I got my friend Edmond Théry to make out for me, since his authority in matters economic is universally known.
For the last twenty years there has been a prodigious increase of production and public wealth in the two Americas. This fact ac-counts for the enormously increased proportion of travellers to Europe drawn from North America, Mexico, Brazil, the Argentine, etc. The proof is that the luxurious hotels springing up anew almost daily in Paris and on the Riviera to cater for this class of customer are always, crowded.
Brazil and the Argentine Republic have more especially profited by the rise in value of their land. In the course of the last ten years, from 1900 to 1909, their working railways have gone up from 14,027 kilometres to 19,080 in Brazil, and from 16,563 to 25,508 kilometres in the Argentine Republic.
Thus during a short period of ten years the exports—i. e., the surplus of home-grown articles after supplying the needs of the country—have increased in value by 770 millions of francs, 90 per cent., for Brazil, and 1214 millions, or 157 per cent., for the Argentine Republic. As for the total value of the foreign trade of the two countries, it has risen 1071 millions of francs for the former and 2161 millions for the latter : in other words, an average of 107 mil-lions of francs per annum for Brazil and 216 millions for the Argentine.
These startling figures show clearly enough the importance of the economic advance the two countries are making, and we may say that French capital has built up this prosperity.
We ought now to seek to retain the advantages to be drawn from our financial intervention in the new Brazilian and Argentine undertakings, and one of the best ways to attain this end is to make sure of rapid means of communication between France and the two great South American Republics, which shall be up-to-date in every way and luxurious enough to induce Brazilians and Argentinos to come to Europe and return to their own country in French boats rather than in English, German, or Italian vessels.
Such means of communication are already in existence between France and the United States, but are wholly lacking in the direction of Brazil and the Argentine Republic.
The French boats which call at these stations have been a long time in use, and their fittings are in no sense in conformity with modern ideas of luxury such as the class of travellers to which I have already alluded invariably expects. As for their average speed, it certainly never goes beyond fourteen knots, for they make the journey from Bordeaux to Rio de Janeiro, with the different scheduled stops by the way, in a mini-mum of seventeen days, and if they go on as far as Buenos Aires, in twenty-two days.
The distance between Bordeaux and these two ports being 4901 and 5991 nautical miles respectively, it is only necessary to have boats capable of doing twenty knots as an average, or twenty-three miles an hour, for the journey to Rio de Janeiro to be performed in ten days and five hours, and that to Buenos Aires in twelve days fifteen hours.
There is nothing to add to this clear statement of the case.
And now, how can I resist the temptation to draw some sort of conclusion from these rambling notes, made with the sole desire to make use of the knowledge acquired for the benefit of French extension, and this in the interest of humanity at large? In every calling there is but one road to success—work. When Candide returned from Buenos Aires, he brought back from his travels the lesson that we must work in our gardens. Since his days our gardens have grown considerably, and since we are ourselves the first elemental instrument for all work, the first condition of improvement must be the improvement of the material. Therefore let us work.