The evening after leaving Port Hartford the Mazatlan ran into dirty weather. It was not stormy—simply rough, disagreeable, the wind and sea directly ahead. Half an hour after supper Vandover began to be sick. For a long time he sat on the slippery leather cushions in the nasty smoking-room, sucking limes, drinking seltzer, and trying to be interested in the card games. He dozed a little and awoke, feeling wretched, covered with a cold sweat, racked by a pain in the back of his head, and tortured by an abominable nausea. He groped his way out upon the swaying, gusty deck, descended to his cabin, and went to bed.
The Mazatlan had booked more passengers than could be accommodated, the steward being obliged to make up beds on the floor of the dining saloon and even upon some of the tables. Vandover had not been able to get a stateroom, and so had put up with a bunk in the common cabin at the stern of the vessel.
About two o’clock in the morning he woke up in this place frightfully sick at the stomach and wretched in body and mind. He had an upper bunk, and for a long time he lay on his back rolling about with the rolling of the steamer, vaguely staring straight above him at the roof of the cabin, hardly a hand’s-breadth above his face. The roof was iron, painted with a white paint very thick and shiny, and was studded with innumerable bolt-heads and enormous nuts. By and by, for no particular reason, he rose on his elbow and, leaning over the side of his berth, looked about him.
The light streaming from two strong-smelling ship’s lanterns showed the cabin, long and narrow. There were two cramped passageways, on either side of which the tiers of bunks, mere open racks filled with bedding, rose to the roof, those occupied by women hung with spotted turkey-red calico.
The cabin was two decks below the open air and every berth was occupied, the only ventilation being through the door. The air was foul with the stench of bilge, the reek of the untrimmed lamps, the exhalation of so many breaths, and the close, stale smell of warm bedding.
A vague murmur rose in the air, the sound of deep breathing, the moving of restless bodies between the coarse sheets, the momentary noise of the scratching of blunt finger-tips, a subdued cough, the moan of a sleeping child. All the while the shaft of the screw, seemingly close beneath the floor, pounded and rumbled without a moment’s stop.
Immediately underneath Vandover two men, saloonkeepers, awoke and lit their cigars and began a long discussion on the question of license. Two or three bunks distant, a woman, a Salvation Army lassie, one of a large party of Salvationists who were on board, began to cough violently, choking for breath. Across the aisle the little Jew of the plush skull-cap with ear-laps snored monotonously in alternate keys, one a guttural bass, the other a rasping treble. The Mazatlan was rolling worse than ever, now