Dark grottos, fairy festoons, tunnels, temples, columns, pillars, towers, pilasters, terraces, pyramids, mounds, domes, walls, in endless confusion of vine-work--no shape known to architecture unimitated--and all so webbed together that short distances within are only gained by glimpses. Monkeys here and there; birds warbling; gorgeous plumaged birds on the wing; Paradise itself, the imperial realm of beauty-nothing to wish for to make it perfect.
But it was beyond the isthmus that the voyage loomed into proportions somber and terrible. The vessel they took there, the San Francisco, sailed from Greytown January 1, 1867, the beginning of a memorable year in Mark Twain's life. Next day two cases of Asiatic cholera were reported in the steerage. There had been a rumor of it in Nicaragua, but no one expected it on the ship.
The nature of the disease was not hinted at until evening, when one of the men died. Soon after midnight, the other followed. A minister making the voyage home, Rev. J. G. Fackler, read the burial service. The gaiety of the passengers, who had become well acquainted during the Pacific voyage, was subdued. When the word "cholera" went among them, faces grew grave and frightened. On the morning of January 4th Reverend Fackler's services were again required. The dead man was put overboard within half an hour after he had ceased to breathe.
Gloom settled upon the ship. All steam was made to put into Key West. Then some of the machinery gave way and the ship lay rolling, helplessly becalmed in the fierce heat of the Gulf, while repairs were being made. The work was done at a disadvantage, and the parts did not hold. Time and again they were obliged to lie to, in the deadly tropic heat, listening to the hopeless hammering, wondering who would be the next to be sewed up hastily in a blanket and slipped over the ship's side. On the 5th seven new cases of illness were reported. One of the crew, a man called "Shape," was said to be dying. A few hours later he was dead. By this time the Reverend Fackler himself had been taken.
"So they are burying poor 'Shape' without benefit of clergy," says the note-book.
General consternation now began to prevail. Then it was learned that the ship's doctor had run out of medicines. The passengers became demoralized. They believed their vessel was to become a charnel ship. Strict sanitary orders were issued, and a hospital was improvised.
Verily the ship is becoming a floating hospital herself--not an hour passes but brings its fresh sensation, its new disaster, its melancholy tidings. When I think of poor "Shape" and the preacher, both so well when I saw them yesterday evening, I realize that I myself may be dead to-morrow.
Since the last two hours all laughter, all levity, has ceased on the ship--a settled gloom is upon the faces of the passengers.
By noon it was evident that the minister could not survive. He died at two o'clock next morning; the fifth victim in less than five days. The machinery continued to break and the vessel to drag. The ship's doctor confessed to Clemens that he was helpless. There were eight patients in the hospital.
But on January 6th they managed to make Key West, and for some reason were not quarantined. Twenty-one passengers immediately deserted the ship and were heard of no more.
"I am glad they are gone. D--n them," says the notebook. Apparently he had never considered leaving, and a number of others remained. The doctor restocked his medicine-locker, and the next day they put to sea again. Certainly they were a daring lot of voyagers. On the 8th another of the patients died. Then the cooler weather seemed to check the contagion, and it was not until the night of the 11th, when the New York harbor lights were in view, that the final death occurred. There were no new cases by this time, and the other patients were convalescent. A certificate was made out that the last man had died of "dropsy." There would seem to have been no serious difficulty in docking the vessel and landing the passengers.