By the mid-1850s, with the Transcontinental Railroad more than a decade from completion, the quickest way from one end of the U.S. to the other was by steamer through Central America. This deleted scene from The Relentless Harvest, originally developed as the opening of the novel, is set in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua, the western terminus for the northernmost route. The Nicaraguan passage has a troubled history, filled with territorial disputes, revolutions, and shady deals. In 1866, Mark Twain traveled through Nicaragua on his way from San Francisco to New York City, a journey that inspired The Innocents Abroad.
January 1854, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
“Sorry, señor, we have no room. Two of the big houses are closed with cholera and the next steamer is two days late.”
Jared Walsh reached down and lifted his portmanteau from the landing. This was the last hotel in town and no one had a bed available. He thought he’d have more luck up here in the hills away from the center of town, but no. And there were no vacancies along the wharf at Lake Nicaragua. Most of the passengers on his riverboat had crowded into those hotels to avoid the eleven mile wagon ride into San Juan del Sur.
A sudden breeze rustled through the palms and the underbrush that covered the hills. It was hot, humid air that caused Jarod to sag as he wiped the sweat from his forehead. From where he stood, he could see a portion of the beach and one of the hilly, overgrown land masses that curled around each end of the large bay.
“Maybe I should just sleep down by the beach.”
“Not a good idea, señor.”
“Why, are there wild animals down there?”
“Only two legged animals, señor. We have more bandits than flies this time of year. It’s better to stay around other people at night. Try down the street. Maybe a cafe will let you sleep on the floor after they close. That would be better than the beach.”
By the time he reached the Casa de los Monos, siesta was over and the cafe was overrun with people looking for a late lunch or an early drink. Jarod pushed his way through the crowd to the far side of the room where a plump, middle-aged white woman was serving drinks to several men seated at the bar.
“Excuse me, who would I talk to about getting a place to sleep for the night?”
The barmaid topped off one man’s shot glass, plunked down the bottle and, gawked at Jarod suspiciously. “You got us confused with a hotel, sonny. This is a tavern; there’s no place to sleep here. Now if it’s a plate of pork or a slug of whiskey you’re after, I might be able to oblige you.”
Jarod shook his head. “All the hotels and inns are filled. I thought maybe you’d let me sleep on your floor after you close. At least, that’s what an innkeeper up the hill suggested.”
The barmaid propped one chunky fist on her hip and looked askance at Jarod. “Oh he did, did he? Well maybe you should sleep on his floor then. This ain’t a mission and I ain’t your patron saint. Why, you’d likely eat and drink your way through a week’s provisions during the night. Now will there be anything else or should we say adiós?”
Jarod frowned, dropped his portmanteau to the floor, and climbed onto an empty bar stool. “I’ll try some of that pork…but with water; no whiskey.”
The barmaid cackled loudly as she turned and entered the kitchen.
“Where you headed, lad,” asked the man next to him in a faint Irish brogue as he took a swig of beer. He was older than Jarod, maybe twenty, and had a thin, friendly face.
“San Francisco… soon, I hope. I heard the last steamer was late so I may be stuck here for a while.” He stretched out a hand to the young man. “Jarod Walsh.”
“Pleasure, Walsh. I’m Dunleavy. So San Juan del Sur has been less than welcoming, has she? I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation. Look, if it’s a floor you’re after, you can share my room tonight. I’m in the place next door. I leave tomorrow so you’ll have first crack at it once I’m gone. Buy me a bit of supper and we’ll call it even.”
The barmaid returned shortly and grunting, slid a plate of food across the bar towards Jarod. Dunleavy ordered his meal and another beer, then the new acquaintances resumed their conversation.
Dunleavy was from San Francisco and headed for New York on his first solo business trip. He’d be leaving in the morning on the same riverboat Jarod had arrived on.
“You’ll need to watch your back in San Francisco, lad. It can be rough.What are you, sixteen or thereabouts?”
“I just turned fifteen two days ago.”
“Fifteen and already champing at the bit, are you? You’re a bold one all right. Still, San Francisco’s a dangerous place, even for the old pirates. Blaggers and cutthroats in every dark corner. If they’re not after your money, they’re after your flesh so they can sell you off to some boarding master. You being a young one and all, you’ll be in their sights for sure.”
Jarod poked at the meat on his plate, mulling over Dunleavy’s words. He knew before leaving St. Louis that he’d have a difficult time of it. And it wasn’t just San Francisco. He’d read about the mining camps and the thousands of greedy fortune seekers. There’d be men from all over the world and some of them were bound to be crooked or ruthless. He had to be ready for anything.
“There must be a way to avoid some of the trouble.”
Dunleavy looked at him intently for a moment and seemed to consider his words carefully.
“I know someone that might be able to offer a bit of guidance.” He took a long draught from his glass and stared into the distance. “A tailor friend of mine by the name of Ferguson. He’s been around for years, even before the Mexicans left. He knows everything and everybody. He’ll be able point you in the right direction. You’ll need to buy something from his shop as trade, but it’s a small price to pay for your peace of mind.”
“Ferguson the tailor, huh?”
“Ferguson Outfitters over on Law’s Wharf. Anyone can tell you were to find it.”
Why do you think the scene was cut?
Is Dunleavy just a nice guy or do you think he’s up to something? What?
Why would passengers change boats at Lake Nicaragua? Why didn’t the boat just continue through to San Francisco?
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