It did. Toward eight, as I have hinted, he transferred from rocking-chair to cot. He was not afflicted with troublesome nerves. At times he was an entire minute in falling asleep. Usually, however, his time was something under the half; and he slept with the innocent, undisturbed sleep of a babe for at least twelve unbroken hours, unless the necessity of getting across the “cut” to his engine absolutely prohibited. Just there was the trouble. His first gentle, slumberous breath sounded like a small boy sliding down the sheet-iron roof of 35. His second resembled a force of carpenters tearing out the half-grown partitions. His third—but mere words are an absurdity. At times the noises from his gorilla-like throat softened down till one merely fancied himself in the hog-corral of a Chicago stockyards; at others we prayed that we might at once be transferred there. A thousand times during the night we were certain he was on the very point of choking to death, and sat up in bed praying he wouldn’t, and offering our month’s salary to charity if he would; and through all our fatiguing anguish he snorted undisturbedly on. In House 35 he was known as “the Sloth.” It was a gentle and kindly title.
There were a few inexperienced inmates who had not yet utterly given up hope. The long hours of the night were spent in solemn conference. Pounding on the walls with hammers, chairs, and shoe-heels was like singing a lullaby. One genius invented a species of foghorn which proved very effective—in waking up all Empire east of the tracks, except “the Sloth.” Some took to dropping their heavier and more dispensable possessions over the partition. One memorable night a fellow-sufferer cast over a young dry-goods box which, bouncing from the snorer’s figure to the floor, caused him to lose a beat—one; and the feat is still one of the proud memories of 35. On Sundays when all the rest of the world was up and shaved and breakfasted and off on the 8:39 of a brilliant, sunny day to Panama, “the Sloth” would be still imperturbably snorting and choking in the depths of his cot. And in the evening, as the train roamed back through the fresh cool jungle dusk and deposited us at Empire station, and we crossed the wooden bridge before the hotel and began to climb the graveled path behind, hoping against hope that we might find crape on that door, from the night ahead would break on our cars a sound as of a hippopotamus struggling wildly against going down for the third and last time.
Most annoying of all, “the Sloth” was not even a bona fide bachelor. He proudly announced that, though he was a model of marital virtue, he had not lived with his wife in many years. I never heard a man who knew him by night ask why. It was close upon criminal negligence on the part of the I.C.C. to overlook its opportunity in this matter. There were so many, many uninhabited hilltops on the Zone where a private Sloth-dwelling might have been slapped together from the remains of falling towns at Gatun end; near it a grandstand might even have been erected and admission charged. Or at least the daily climb to it would have helped to reduce a push-ball figure, and thereby have improved the general appearance of the Canal Zone force.