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The Victim of His Vision by Gerald Chittenden

From Scribner's

I

“There's no doubt about it,” said the hardware drummer with the pock-pitted cheeks. He seemed glad that there was no doubt—smacked his lips over it and went on. “Obeah—that's black magic; and voodoo—that's snake-worship. The island is rotten with 'em—rotten with 'em.”

He looked sidelong over his empty glass at the Reverend Arthur Simpson. Many human things were foreign to the clergyman: he was uneasy about being in the Arequipa's smoke-room at all, for instance, and especially uneasy about sitting there with the drummer.

“But—human sacrifice!” he protested. “You spoke of human sacrifice.”

“And cannibalism. La chevre sans cornes—the goat without horns—that means an unblemished child less than three years old. It's frequently done. They string it up by its heels, cut its throat, and drink the blood. Then they eat it. Regular ceremony—the mamaloi officiates.”

“Who officiates?”

“The mamaloi—the priestess.”

Simpson jerked himself out of his chair and went on deck. Occasionally his imagination worked loose from control and tormented him as it was doing now. There was a grizzly vividness in the drummer's description. It was well toward morning before Simpson grasped again his usual certainty of purpose and grew able to thank God that he had been born into a very wicked world. There was much for a missionary to do in Hayti—he saw that before the night grew thin, and was glad.

Between dawn and daylight the land leaped out of the sea, all clear blues and purples, incomparably fresh and incomparably 111 wistful in that one golden hour of the tropic day before the sun has risen very high—the disembodied spirit of an island. It lay, vague as hope at first, in a jewel-tinted sea; the ship steamed toward it as through the mists of creation's third morning, and all good things seemed possible. Thus had Simpson, reared in an unfriendly land, imagined it, for beneath the dour Puritanism that had lapped him in its armour there still stirred the power of wonder and surprise that has so often through the ages changed Puritans to poets. That glimpse of Hayti would remain with him, he thought, yet within the hour he was striving desperately to hold it. For soon the ruffle of the breeze died from off the sea, and it became gray glass through which the anchor sank almost without a sound and was lost.

“Sweet place, isn't it, Mr. Simpson?” said Bunsen, the purser, pausing on his way to the gangway.

“So that,” Simpson rejoined slowly—and because it was a port of his desire his voice shook on the words—“is Port au Prince!”

“That,” Bunsen spat into the sea, “is Port au Prince.”

He moved away. A dirty little launch full of uniforms was coming alongside. Until the yellow flag—a polite symbol in that port—should be hauled down Simpson would be left alone. The uniforms had climbed to the deck and were chattering in a bastard patois behind him; now and then the smell of the town struck across the smells of the sea and the bush like the flick of a snake's tail. Simpson covered his eyes for a moment, and immediately the vision of the island as he had seen it at dawn swam in his mind. But he could not keep his eyes forever shut—there was the necessity of living and of doing his work in the world to be remembered always. He removed his hand. A bumboat was made fast below the well of the deck, and a boy with an obscenely twisted body and a twisted black face was selling pineapples to the sailors. Simpson watched him for a while, and because his education had been far too closely specialized he quoted the inevitable:

  “Where every prospect pleases,
  And only man is vile”

The verse uplifted him unreasonably. He went below to pack his baggage. He said good-bye to the officers, painfully conscious that they were grinning behind his back, and was rowed ashore by the deformed boy.

The boy said something in abominable French. He repeated it—Simpson guessed at its meaning.

“I shall stay a long time,” he answered in the same language. “I am a minister of the gospel—a missionary.”

The cripple, bent revoltingly over his oar, suddenly broke out into laughter, soulless, without meaning. Simpson, stung sharply in his stiff-necked pride, sprang up and took one step forward, his fist raised. The boy dropped the oars and writhed to starboard, his neck askew at an eldritch angle, his eyes glaring upward. But he did not raise a hand to ward off the blow that he feared, and that was more uncanny still.

The blow never fell. Simpson's hand unclinched and shame reddened in his face.

“Give me the oars,” he said. “Pauvre garcon—did you think that I would strike you?”

The boy surrendered the oars and sidled aft like a crab, his eyes still rolling at his passenger.

“Why should the maimed row the sound?” said Simpson.

He rowed awkwardly. The boy watched him for a moment, then grinned uncertainly; presently he lolled back in the stern-sheets, personating dignity. A white man was doing his work—it was splendid, as it should be, and comic in the extreme. He threw back his head and cackled at the hot sky.

“Stop that!” Simpson, his nerves raw, spoke in English, but the laughter jarred to a blunt end. The boy huddled farther away from him, watching him with unwinking eyes which showed white all around the pupil. Simpson, labouring with the clumsy oars, tried to forget him. It was hot—hotter than it had seemed at first; sweat ran into his eyes and he grew a little dizzy. The quarantine launch with its load of uniforms, among which the purser's white was conspicuous, passed, giving them its wake; there was no sound from it, only a blaze of teeth and eyeballs. Simpson glanced over his shoulder at it. The purser was standing in the stern, clear of the awning, his head quizzically on one side and a cigarette in his fingers.

The rowboat came abreast of a worm-eaten jetty.

Ici,” said the cripple.

Simpson, inexpert, bumped into it bow on, and sculled the stern around. The cripple, hideously agile, scrambled out and held the boat; Simpson gathered up his bag and followed.

A Roman priest, black as the top of a stove, strode down the jetty toward them.

“You—you!” he shouted to the cripple when he was yet ten strides away. His voice rose as he approached. “You let the m'sieu' row you ashore! You——” A square, heavy boot shot out from beneath his cassock into the boy's stomach. “Cochon!” said the priest, turning to Simpson. His manner became suddenly suave, grandiose. “These swine!” he said. “One keeps them in their place. I am Father Antoine. And you?”

“Simpson—Arthur Simpson.” He said his own name slowly as thought there was magic in it, magic that would keep him in touch with his beginnings.

“Simpson?” The priest gave it the French sound; suspicion struggled for expression on his black mask; his eyes took in the high-cut waistcoat, the unmistakable clerical look. “You were sent?”

“By the board of foreign missions.”

“I do not know it. Not by the archbishop?”

“There is no archbishop in my Church.”

“In your Church?” Father Antoine's eyes sprang wide—wide as they had been when he kicked the boatman. “In your Church? You are not of the true faith, then?”

Pride of race, unchastened because he had not till that moment been conscious that it existed in him, swelled in Simpson.

“Are you?” he asked.

Father Antoine stared at him, not as an angry white man stares, but with head thrown back and mouth partly open, in the manner of his race. Then, with the unreasoned impetuousness of a charging bull, he turned and flung shoreward down the pier. The cripple, groaning still, crawled to Simpson's feet and sat there.

Pauvre garcon!” repeated Simpson dully. “Pauvre garcon!”

Suddenly the boy stopped groaning, swung Simpson's kit-bag on his shoulder, and sidled up the pier. His right leg bent outward at the knee, and his left inward; his head, inclined away from his burden, seemed curiously detached from his body; his gait was a halting sort of shuffle; yet he got along with unexpected speed. Simpson, still dazed, followed him into the Grand Rue—a street of smells and piled filth, where gorged buzzards, reeking of the tomb, flapped upward under his nose from the garbage and offal of their feast. Simpson paused for a moment at the market-stalls, where negroes of all shades looked out at him in a silence that seemed devoid of curiosity. The cripple beckoned him and he hurried on. On the steps of the cathedral he saw Father Antoine, but, although the priest must have seen him, he gave no sign as he passed. He kept to what shade there was. Presently his guide turned down a narrow alley, opened a dilapidated picket gate, and stood waiting.

Maman!” he called. “Oh! Maman!”

Simpson, his curiosity faintly stirring, accepted the invitation of the open gate, and stepped into an untidy yard, where three or four pigs and a dozen chickens rooted and scratched among the bayonets of yucca that clustered without regularity on both sides of the path. The house had some pretensions; there were two stories, and, although the blue and red paint had mostly flaked away, the boarding looked sound. In the yard there was less fetor than there had been outside.

Maman!” called the boy again.

A pot-lid clashed inside the house, and a tall negress, dressed in a blue-striped Mother Hubbard, came to the door. She stared at Simpson and at the boy.

Qui?” was all she said.

The boy sidled nearer her and dropped the bag on the threshold.

Qui?” she said again.

Simpson waited in silence. His affairs had got beyond him somehow, and he seemed to himself but the tool of circumstance. It did occur to him, though dimly, that he was being introduced to native life rather quickly.

The cripple, squatting with his back against the bag, launched into a stream of patois, of which Simpson could not understand a word. Gestures explained somewhat; he was reenacting the scenes of the last half hour. When he had finished, the negress, not so hostile as she had been but by no means friendly, turned to Simpson and looked at him a long time without speaking. He had all he could do not to fidget under her gaze; finally, she stood aside from the door and said, without enthusiasm:

B'en venu. C'est vo' masson.”

Simpson entered automatically. The kitchen, with its hard earth floor and the sunlight drifting in through the bamboo sides, was not unclean, and a savoury smell came from the stew-pot on the ramshackle stove. In one of the bars of sunlight a mango-coloured child of two years or so was playing with his toes—he was surprisingly clean and perfectly formed.

Aha, mon petit!” exclaimed Simpson. He loved children. “He is handsome,” he added, addressing the woman.

“Mine!” She turned the baby gently with her foot; he caught at the hem of her dress, laughing. But she did not laugh. “Neither spot nor blemish,” she said, and then: “He is not yet three years old.”

Simpson shuddered, recalling the pock-marked drummer on the Arequipa. That was momentary—a coincidence, he told himself. The woman was looking down at the child, her eyes softer than they had been, and the child was lying on its back and playing with her Mother Hubbard.

The woman lifted the lid from the pot and peered into it through the sun-shot steam.

“It is ready,” she said. She lifted it from the stove and set it on the earthen floor. The cripple placed a handful of knives and spoons on the table and three tin plates; he thrust a long fork and a long spoon into the pot and stood aside.

“Seat yourself,” said the woman, without looking at Simpson, “and eat.”

She explored the pot with the fork, and stabbed it firmly—there was a suggestion of ruthlessness about her action that made Simpson shudder again—into a slab of meat, which she dropped on a plate, using a callous thumb to disengage it from the tines. She covered it with gravy and began to eat without further ceremony. The cripple followed her example, slobbering the gravy noisily; some of it ran down his chin. Neither of them paid any attention to Simpson.

He took the remaining plate from the table and stood irresolute with it in his hand. He was hungry, but his essential Puritan fastidiousness, combined with that pride of race which he knew to be un-Christian, rendered him reluctant to dip into the common pot or to eat on equal terms with these people. Besides, the sun and his amazing introduction to the island had given him a raging headache: he could not think clearly nor rid himself of the sinister suggestion of the town, of the house, of its three occupants in particular.

The child touched a ringer to the hot lip of the pot, burned itself, and began to cry.

Taise,” said the woman. Her voice was low but curt, and she did not raise her eyes from her plate. The child, its finger in its mouth, stopped crying at once.

Simpson shook himself; his normal point of view was beginning to assert itself. He must not—must not hold himself superior to the people he expected to convert; nothing, he insisted to himself, was to be gained, and much might be lost by a refusal to meet the people “on their own ground.” Chance—he did not call it chance—had favoured him incredibly thus far, and if he failed to follow the guidance that had been vouchsafed him he would prove himself but an unworthy vessel. He took up the long fork—it chattered against the pot as he seized it—and, overcoming a momentary and inexplicable nausea, impaled the first piece of meat that rolled to the surface. There were yams also and a sort of dumpling made of manioc. When he had filled his plate he rose and turned suddenly; the woman and the cripple had stopped eating and were watching him. They did not take their eyes away at once but gave him stare for stare. He sat down; without a word they began to eat once again.

The stew was good, and once he had begun Simpson ate heartily of it. The tacit devilry fell away from his surroundings as his hunger grew less, and his companions became no more than a middle-aged negress in a turban, a black boy pitifully deformed, and a beautiful child. He looked at his watch—he had not thought of the time for hours—and found that it was a little after noon. It was time that he bestirred himself and found lodgings.

“Is there a hotel?” he asked cheerfully. He had noticed that the islanders understood legitimate French, though they could not speak it.

“There is one,” said the woman. She pushed away her plate and became suddenly dourly communicative. “But I doubt if the proprietaire would find room for m'sieu'.”

“Has he so many guests, then?”

“But no. M'sieu' has forgotten the priest.”

“The priest? What has he to do with it?”

“My son tells me that m'sieu' offended him, and the proprietaire is a good Catholic. He will close his house to you.”

She shaved a splinter to a point with a table knife and picked her teeth with it, both elbows on the table and her eyes on Simpson. “There is nowhere else to stay,” she said. “Unless—here.”

“I should prefer that,” said Simpson—quickly, for reluctance and distrust were rising in him again. “But have you a room?”

She jerked a thumb over her shoulder at a door behind her.

“There,” she said. Simpson waited for her to move, saw that she had no intention of doing so, and opened the door himself.

The room was fairly large, with two windows screened but unglazed; a canvas cot stood in one corner, a packing-box table and a decrepit chair in another. Like the kitchen it was surprisingly clean. He returned to his hostess, who showed no anxiety about his intentions.

“How much by the week?” he asked.

“Eight gourdes.”

“And you will feed me for how much?”

“Fifteen gourdes.”

“I will take it.” He forced himself to decision again; had he hesitated he knew he would have gone elsewhere. The price also—less than four dollars gold—attracted him, and he could doubtless buy some furniture in the town. Moreover, experienced missionaries who had talked before the board had always emphasized the value of living among the natives.

B'en,” said the negress. She rose and emptied the remains from her plate into a tin pail, sponging the plate with a piece of bread.

“I have a trunk on the steamer,” said Simpson. “The boy—can he——”

“He will go with you,” the negress interrupted.

The cripple slid from his chair, scraped his plate and Simpson's, put on his battered straw hat, and shambled into the yard. Simpson followed.

He turned at the gate and looked back. The child had toddled to the door and was standing there, holding on to the door-post. Inside, the shadow of the woman flickered across the close bars of bamboo.

II

Bunsen was standing on the jetty when they reached it talking excitedly with a tall bowed man of fifty or so whose complexion showed the stippled pallor of long residence in the tropics.

“Here he is now!” Bunsen exclaimed as Simpson approached. “I was just getting anxious about you. Stopped at the hotel—you hadn't been there, they said. Port au Prince is a bad place to get lost in. Oh—this gentleman is our consul. Mr. Witherbee—Mr. Simpson.”

Simpson shook hands. Witherbee's face was just a pair of dull eyes behind a ragged moustache, but there was unusual vigour in his grip.

“I'll see a lot of you, if you stay long,” he said. He looked at Simpson more closely. “At least, I hope so. But where have you been? I was getting as anxious as Mr. Bunsen—afraid you'd been sacrificed to the snake or something.”

Simpson raised a clerical hand, protesting. His amazing morning swept before his mind like a moving-picture film; there were so many things he could not explain even to himself, much less to these two Gentiles.

“I found lodgings,” he said.

“Lodgings?” Witherbee and Bunsen chorused the word. “Where, for heaven's sake?”

“I don't know the name of the street,” Simpson admitted. “I don't even know the name of my hostess. That”—indicating the cripple—“is her son.”

“Good God!” Witherbee exclaimed. “Madame Picard! The mamaloi!”

“The—the what?” But Simpson had heard well enough.

“The mamaloi—the mamaloi—high priestess of voodoo.”

“Her house is fairly clean,” Simpson said. He was hardly aware of his own inconsequence. It was his instinct to defend any one who was attacked on moral grounds, whether they deserved the attack or not.

“Ye-es,” Witherbee drawled. “I dare say it is. It's her company that's unsavoury. Especially for a parson. Eh? What's the matter now?”

Simpson had flared up at his last words. His mouth set and his eyes burned suddenly. Bunsen, watching him coolly, wondered that he could kindle so; until that moment he had seemed but half alive. When he spoke his words came hurriedly—were almost unintelligible; yet there was some quality in his voice that compelled attention, affecting the senses more than the mind.

“Unsavoury company? That's best for a parson. 'I come not to bring the righteous but sinners to repentance.' And who are you to brand the woman as common or unclean? If she is a heathen priestess, yet she worships a god of some sort. Do you?” He stopped suddenly; the humility which men hated in him again blanketed his fanaticism. “It is my task to give her a better god—the only true God—Christ.”

Bunsen, his legs wide apart, kept his eyes on the sea, for he did not want to let Simpson see him smiling, and he was smiling. Witherbee, who had no emotions of any sort, pulled his moustache farther down and looked at the clergyman as though he were under glass—a curiosity.

“So you're going to convert the whole island?” he said.

“I hope to make a beginning in the Lord's vineyard.”

“Humph! The devil's game-preserve, you mean,” Bunsen suddenly broke in.

“The devil's game-preserve, then!” Simpson was defiant.

“The ship calls here every other Saturday,” was all Bunsen said to that. “You may need to know. I'll send your trunk ashore.”

He stepped into the cripple's boat and started for the ship. Witherbee did not speak; Simpson, still raging, left him, strode to the end of the pier, and stood there, leaning on a pile.

His gust of emotion had left him; a not unfamiliar feeling of exaltation had taken its place. It is often so with the extreme Puritan type; control relaxed for however brief a moment sends their slow blood whirling, and leaves them light-headed as those who breathe thin air. From boyhood Simpson had been practised in control, until repression had become a prime tenet of his faith. The cheerful and generally innocent excursions of other men assumed in his mind the proportions of crime, of sin against the stern disciplining of the soul which he conceived to be the goal of life. Probably he had never in all his days been so shocked as once when a young pagan had scorned certain views of his, saying; “There's more education—soul education, if you will have it—in five minutes of sheer joy than in a century of sorrow.” It was an appalling statement, that—more appalling because he had tried to contradict it and had been unable to do so. He himself had been too eager to find his work in life—his pre-ordained work—ever to discover the deep truths that light-heartedness only can reveal; even when he heard his call to foreign missions—to Hayti, in particular—he felt no such felicity as a man should feel who has climbed to his place in the scheme of things. His was rather the sombre fury of the Covenanters—an intense conviction that his way was the only way of grace—a conviction that transcended reason and took flight into the realm of overmastering emotion—the only overmastering emotion, by the way, that he had ever experienced.

His choice, therefore, was in itself a loss of control and a dangerous one, for nothing is more perilous to sanity than the certainty that most other people in the world are wrong. Such conviction leads to a Jesuitical contempt of means; in cases where the Puritan shell has grown to be impregnable from the outside it sets up an internal ferment which sometimes bursts shell and man and all into disastrous fragments. Until old age kills them, the passions and emotions never die in man; suppress them how we will, we can never ignore them; they rise again to mock us when we think we are done with them forever. And the man of Simpson's type suffers from them most of all, for he dams against them all normal channels of expression.

Simpson, standing at the pier-end, was suffering from them now. His exaltation—a thing of a moment, as his fervour had been—had gone out of him, leaving him limp, uncertain of his own powers, of his own calling, even—the prey to the discouragement that precedes action, which is the deepest discouragement of all. Except for himself and Witherbee the pier was deserted; behind him the filthy town slept in its filth. Four buzzards wheeled above it, gorged and slow; the harbour lay before him like a green mirror, so still that the ship was reflected in it down to the last rope-yarn. Over all, the sun, colourless and furnace-hot, burned in a sky of steel. There was insolence in the scorched slopes that shouldered up from the bay, a threatening permanence in the saw-edged sky-line. The indifference of it all, its rock-ribbed impenetrability to human influence, laid a crushing weight on Simpson's soul, so that he almost sank to his knees in sheer oppression of spirit.

“Do you know much about Hayti?” asked Witherbee, coming up behind him.

“As much as I could learn from books.” Simpson wanted to be angry at the consul—why he could not tell—but Witherbee's voice was so carefully courteous that he yielded perforce to its persuasion and swung around, facing him. Suddenly, because he was measuring himself against man and not against Nature, his weakness left him, and confidence in himself and his mission flooded back upon him. “As much as I could get from books.” He paused. “You have lived here long?”

“Long enough,” Witherbee answered. “Five years.”

“You know the natives, then?”

“Can't help knowing them. There are quite a lot of them, you see, and there's almost no one else. Do you know negroes at all?”

“Very little.”

“You'd better study them a bit before you—before you do anything you have it in mind to do—the Haytian negro in particular. They're not like white men, you know.”

“Like children, you mean?”

“Like some children. I'd hate to have them for nephews and nieces.”

“Why?”

“We-ell”—Witherbee, looking sidelong at Simpson, bit off the end of a cigar—“a number of reasons. They're superstitious, treacherous, savage, cruel, and—worst of all—emotional. They've gone back. They've been going back for a hundred years. The West Coast—I've been there—is not so bad as Hayti. It's never been anything else than what it is now, you see, and if it moves at all it must move forward. There's nothing awful about savagery when people have never known anything else. Hayti has. You know what the island used to be before Desalines.”

“I've read. But just what do you mean by West Coast savagery—here?”

“Snake-worship. Voodoo.” Witherbee lit the cigar “Human sacrifice.”

“And the Roman Church does nothing!” There was exultation in Simpson's voice. His distrust of the Roman Church had been aggravated by his encounter with the black priest that morning.

“The Roman Church does what it can. It's been unfortunate in its instruments. Especially unfortunate now.”

“Father Antoine?”

“Father Antoine. You met him?”

“This morning. A brute, and nothing more.”

“Just that.” Witherbee let a mouthful of smoke drift into the motionless air. “It's curious,” he said.

“What is?”

“Father Antoine will make it unpleasant for you. He may try to have you knifed, or something.”

“Impossible!”

“Not at all. Human life is worth nothing here. No wonder—it's not really worth living. But you're safe enough, and that's the curious thing.”

“Why am I safe?”

“Because your landlady is who she is.” Witherbee glanced over his shoulder, and, although they were the only people on the pier, from force of habit he dropped his voice. “The mamaloi has more power than the Church.” He straightened and looked out toward the ship. “Here's her idiot with your trunk. My office is the first house on the left after you leave the pier. Don't forget that.”

He turned quickly and was gone before the cripple's boat had reached the landing.

III

The town, just stirring out of its siesta as Simpson followed the cripple through the streets, somehow reassured him. Men like Bunsen and Witherbee, who smiled at his opinions and remained cold to his rhapsodies, always oppressed him with a sense of ineffectuality. He knew them of old—knew them superficially, of course, for, since he was incapable of talking impersonally about religion, he had never had the chance to listen to the cool and yet often strangely mystical opinions which such men hold about it. He knew, in a dim sort of way, that men not clergymen sometimes speculated about religious matters, seeking light from each other in long, fragmentary conversations. He knew that much, and disapproved of it—almost resented it. It seemed to him wrong to discuss God without becoming angry, and very wrong for laymen to discuss God at all. When circumstances trapped him into talk with them about things divine, he felt baffled by their silences and their reserves, seemed to himself to be scrabbling for entrance to their souls through some sort of a slippery, impenetrable casing; he never tried to enter through their minds, where the door stood always open. The trouble was that he wanted to teach and be listened to; wherefore he was subtly more at home among the ignorant and in such streets as he was now traversing than with educated men. He had been born a few decades too late; here in Hayti he had stepped back a century or so into the age of credulity. Credulity, he believed, was a good thing, almost a divine thing, if it were properly used; he did not carry his processes far enough to realize that credulity could never become fixed—that it was always open to conviction. A receptive and not an inquiring mind seemed to him the prerequisite for a convert. And black people, he had heard, were peculiarly receptive.

The question was, then, where and how to start his work. Hayti differed from most mission fields, for, so far as he knew, no one had ever worked in it before him. The first step was to cultivate the intimacy of the people, and that he found difficult in the extreme. He had one obvious channel of approach to them; when buying necessary things for his room, he could enter into conversation with the shopkeepers and the market-women, but this he found it difficult to do. They did not want to talk to him, even seemed reluctant to sell him anything; and when he left their shops or stalls, did not answer his “Au revoir.” He wondered how much the priest had to do with their attitude. They had little also that he wanted—he shopped for a week before he found a gaudy pitcher and basin and a strip of matting for his floor. Chairs, bureaus, bookcases, and tables did not exist. He said as much to Madame Picard, and gathered from her growled response that he must find a carpenter. The cripple, his constant companion in his first days on the island, took him to one—a gray old negro who wore on a shoe-string about his neck a pouch which Simpson thought at first to be a scapular, and whom age and his profession had made approachable. He was garrulous even; he ceased working when at length he understood what Simpson wanted, sat in his doorway with his head in the sun and his feet in the shade, and lit a pipe made out of a tiny cocoanut. Yes—he could build chairs, tables, anything m'sieu' wanted There was wood also—black palm for drawer-knobs and cedar and mahogany and rosewood, but especially mahogany. An excellent wood, pleasant to work in and suave to the touch. Did they use it in the United States, he wondered?

“A great deal,” answered Simpson. “And the San Domingo wood is the best, I believe.”

“San Domingo—but yes,” the carpenter said; “the Haytian also—that is excellent. Look!”

He led Simpson to the yard at the rear of his house and showed him half a dozen boards, their grain showing where the broad axe had hewed them smooth. Was it not a beautiful wood? And what furniture did m'sieu' desire?

Simpson had some little skill with his pencil—a real love for drawing was one of the instincts which his austere obsessions had crushed out of him. He revolved several styles in his mind, decided at length on the simplest, and drew his designs on a ragged scrap of wrapping paper, while the carpenter, leaning down from his chair by the door, watched him, smoking, and now and then fingering the leather pouch about his neck. Simpson, looking up occasionally to see that his sketch was understood, could not keep his eyes away from the pouch—whatever it was, it was not a scapular. He did not ask about it, though he wanted to; curiosity, he had heard, should be repressed when one is dealing with barbarians. But he knew that that was not his real reason for not asking.

“But it is easy,” said the carpenter, picking up the paper and examining it. “And the seats of the chairs shall be of white hide, is it not?”

Simpson assented. He did not leave the shop at once, but remained seated on the threshold, following his usual policy of picking up acquaintances where he could.

“M'sieu' is a priest?” the old man asked, squinting at he filled the cocoanut pipe again and thrust it between his ragged yellow teeth.

“Not a priest. A minister of the gospel.”

Quoi?” said the carpenter.

Simpson saw that he must explain. It was difficult. He had on the one hand to avoid suggesting that the Roman Church was insufficient—that denunciation he intended to arrive at when he had gained firmer ground with the people—and on the other to refrain from hinting that Haytian civilization stood in crying need of uplift. That also could come later. He wallowed a little in his explanation, and then put the whole matter on a personal basis.

“I think I have a message—something new to say to you about Christ. But I have been here a week now and have found none to listen to me.”

“Something new?” the carpenter rejoined. “But that is easy if it is something new. In Hayti we like new things.”

“No one will listen to me,” Simpson repeated.

The carpenter reflected for a moment, or seemed to be doing so.

“Many men come here about sunset,” he said. “We sit and drink a little rum before dark; it is good against the fever.”

“I will come also,” said Simpson, rising. “It is every evening?”

“Every evening.” The carpenter's right hand rose to the pouch which was not a scapular and he caressed it.

“Au revoir,” said Simpson suddenly.

“'Voir,” the carpenter replied, still immobile in his chair by the door.

Up to now a walk through the streets had been a night-mare to Simpson, for the squalor of them excited to protest every New England nerve in his body, and the evident hostility of the people constantly threatened his success with them. He had felt very small and lonely, like a man who has undertaken to combat a natural force; he did not like to feel small and lonely, and he did not want to believe in natural forces. Chosen vessel as he believed himself to be, thus far the island had successfully defied him, and he had feared more than once that it would do so to the end. He had compelled himself to frequent the markets, hoping always that he would find in them the key to the door that was closed against him; he had not found it, and, although he recognized that three weeks was but a fractional moment of eternity, and comforted himself by quoting things about the “mills of God,” he could not approach satisfaction with what he had accomplished so far.

His interview with the carpenter had changed all that, and on his way home he trod the Grand Rue more lightly than he had ever done. Even the cathedral, even the company of half-starved conscripts that straggled past him in the tail of three generals, dismayed him no longer, for the cathedral was but the symbol of a frozen Christianity which he need no longer fear, and the conscripts were his people—his—or soon would be. All that he had wanted was a start; he had it now, though he deplored the rum which would be drunk at his first meeting with the natives. One must begin where one could.

Witherbee, sitting in the window of the consulate, called twice before Simpson heard him.

“You look pretty cheerful,” he said. “Things going well?”

“They've just begun to, I think—I think I've found the way to reach these people.”

“Ah?” The monosyllable was incredulous though polite. “How's that?”

“I've just been ordering some furniture from a carpenter,” Simpson answered. It was the first time since the day of his arrival that he had seen Witherbee to speak to, and he found it a relief to speak in his own language and without calculating the result of his words.

“A carpenter? Vieux Michaud, I suppose?”

“That's his name. You know him?”

“Very well.” The consul tipped back his chair and tapped his lips with a pencil. “Very well. He's a clever workman. He'll follow any design you give him, and the woods, of course, are excellent.”

“Yes. He showed me some. But he's more than a carpenter to me. He's more—receptive—than most of the natives, and it seems that his shop is a gathering place—a centre. He asked me to come in the evenings.”

“And drink rum?” Witherbee could not resist that.

“Ye-es. He said they drank rum. I sha'n't do that, of course, but one must begin where one can.”

“I suppose so,” Witherbee answered slowly. The office was darkened to just above reading-light, and the consul's face was in the shadow. Evidently he had more to say, but he allowed a long silence to intervene before he went on. Simpson, imaging wholesale conversions, sat quietly; he was hardly aware of his surroundings.

“Don't misunderstand what I'm going to say,” the consul began at length. Simpson straightened, on his guard at once. “It may be of use to you—in your work,” he added quickly. “It's this. Somehow—by chance perhaps, though I don't think so—you've fallen into strange company—stranger than any white man I've ever known.”

“I am not afraid of voodoo,” said Simpson rather scornfully.

“It would be better if you were a little afraid of it. I am—and I know what I'm talking about. Look what's happened to you. There's the Picard woman—she's the one who had President Simon Sam under her thumb. Did you know he carried the symbols of voodoo next his heart? And now Michaud, who's her right hand and has been for years. Looks like deep water to me.”

“I must not fear for my own body.”

“That's not what I mean exactly, though I wish you were a little more afraid for it. It might save me trouble—possibly save our government trouble—in the end. But the consequences of letting voodoo acquire any more power than it has may be far-reaching.”

“I am not here to give it more power.” Simpson, thoroughly angry, rose to go. “It is my business to defeat it—to root it out.”

“Godspeed to you in that”—Witherbee's voice was ironical. “But remember what I tell you. The Picard woman is subtle, and Michaud is subtle.” Simpson had crossed the threshold, and only half heard the consul's next remark. “Voodoo is more subtle than both of them together. Look out for it.”

Witherbee's warning did no more than make Simpson angry; he attributed it to wrong motives—to jealousy perhaps to hostility certainly, and neither jealousy nor hostility could speak true words. In spite of all that he had heard he could not believe that voodoo was so powerful in the island; this was the twentieth century, he insisted, and the most enlightened country in the world was less than fifteen hundred miles away; he forgot that opinions and not figures number the centuries, and refused to see that distance had nothing to do with the case. These were a people groping through the dark; when they saw the light they could not help but welcome it, he thought. The idea that they preferred their own way of life and their own religion, that they would not embrace civilization till they were forced to do so at the point of benevolent bayonets, never entered his head. His own way of life was so obviously superior. He resolved to have nothing more to do with Witherbee.

When he returned to the carpenter's house at about six that evening he entered the council of elders that he found there with the determination to place himself on an equality with them. It was to his credit that he accomplished this feat, but it was not surprising for the humility of his mind at least was genuine. He joined in their conversation, somewhat stiffly at first, but perhaps no more so than became a stranger. Presently, because he saw that he could not refuse without offending his host, he conquered prejudice and took a little rum and sugar and water. It went to his head without his knowing it, as rum has a habit of doing; he became cheerfully familiar with the old men and made long strides into their friendship—or thought he did. He did not once mention religion to them at that first meeting, though he had to exercise considerable self-restraint to prevent himself from doing so.

On his way home he met Father Antoine not far from Michaud's door. The priest would have passed with his usual surly look if Simpson had not stopped him.

“Well?” Antoine demanded.

“Why should we quarrel—you and I?” Simpson asked. “Can we not work together for these people of yours?”

“Your friends are not my people, heretic!” Father Antoine retorted.” Rot in hell with them!”

He plunged past Simpson and was gone down the darkling alley.

“You are late, m'sieu',” remarked Madame Picard as he came into the kitchen and sat down in a chair near the cripple. Her manner was less rough than usual.

“I've been at Michaud's,” he answered.

“Ah? But you were there this morning.”

“He asked me to come this evening, when his friends came, madame. There were several there.”

“They are often there,” she answered. There was nothing significant in her tone, but Simpson had an uneasy feeling that she had known all the time of his visit to the carpenter.

“I met Father Antoine on the way home,” he said.

“A bad man!” She flamed into sudden violence. “A bad man!”

“I had thought so.” Her loquacity this evening was amazing. Simpson thought he saw an opening to her confidence and plunged in. “And he is a priest. It is bad, that. Here are sheep without a shepherd.”

Quoi?”

“Here are many people—all good Christians.” Simpson, eager and hopeful, leaned forward in his chair. His gaunt face with the down-drawn mouth and the hungry eyes—grown more hungry in the last three weeks—glowed, took on fervour; his hand shot out expressive fingers. The woman raised her head slowly, staring at him; more slowly still she seated herself at the table that stood between them. She rested her arms on it, and narrowed her eyelids as he spoke till her eyes glittered through the slits of them.

“All good Christians,” Simpson went on; “and there is none to lead them save a black——” He slurred the word just in time. The woman's eyes flashed open and narrowed again. “Save a renegade priest,” Simpson concluded. “It is wrong, is it not? And I knew it was wrong, though I live far away and came—was led—here to you.” His voice, though it had not been loud, left the room echoing. “It was a real call.” He whispered that.

“You are a Catholic?” asked Madame Picard.

“Yes. Of the English Catholic Church.” He suspected that the qualifying adjective meant nothing to her, but let the ambiguity rest.

“I was not sure,” she said slowly, “though you told the boy.” Her eyes, velvet-black in the shadow upcast by the lamp, opened slowly. “There has been much trouble with Father Antoine, and now small numbers go to mass or confession.” Her voice had the effect of shrillness though it remained low; her hands flew out, grasping the table-edge at arms' length with an oddly masculine gesture. “He deserved that! To tell his canaille that I—that we——He dared! But now—now—we shall see!”

Her voice rasped in a subdued sort of a shriek; she sprang up from her chair, and stood for the fraction of a second with her hands raised and her fists clinched. Simpson, puzzled, amazed, and a little scared at last, had barely time to notice the position before it dissolved. The child, frightened, screamed from the floor.

Taisez-vous—taisez-vous, mon enfant. Le temps vient.”

She was silent for a long time after that. Simpson sat wondering what she would do next, aware of an uncanny fascination that emanated from her. It seemed to him as though there were subterranean fires in the ground that he walked on.

“You shall teach us,” she said in her usual monotone. “You shall teach us—preach to many people. No house will hold them all.” She leaned down and caressed the child. “Le temps vient, mon petit. Le temps vient.”

Under Simpson's sudden horror quivered an eerie thrill. He mistook it for joy at the promised fulfilment of his dreams. He stepped to his own doorway and hesitated there with his hand on the latch.

“To many people? Some time, I hope.”

“Soon.” She looked up from the child; there was a snakiness in the angle of her head and neck. “Soon.”

He opened the door, slammed it behind him, and dropped on tense knees beside his bed. In the kitchen the cripple laughed—laughed for a long time. Simpson's tightly pressed palms could not keep the sound from his ears.

IV

Each night the gathering at Vieux Michaud's became larger; it grew too large for the house, and presently overflowed into the yard behind, where Michaud kept his lumber. Generally thirty or forty natives collected between six and seven in the evening, roosting on the piled boards or sitting on the dusty ground in little groups, their cigarettes puncturing the blue darkness that clung close to the earth under the young moon. There were few women among them at first and fewer young men; Simpson, who knew that youth ought to be more hospitable to new ideas than age, thought this a little strange and spoke to Michaud about it.

“But they are my friends, m'sieu',” answered Michaud.

The statement might have been true of the smaller group that Simpson had first encountered at the carpenter's house; it was not true of the additions to it, for he was evidently not on intimate terms with them. Nor did he supply rum for all of them; many brought their own. That was odd also, if Simpson had only known it; the many cantinas offered attractions which the carpenter's house did not. That fact occurred to him at length.

“They have heard of you, m'sieu'—and that you have something new to say to them. We Haytians like new things.”

Thus, very quietly, almost as though it had been a natural growth of interest, did Simpson's ministry begin. He stepped one evening to the platform that overhung the carpenter's backyard, and began to talk. Long study had placed the missionary method at his utter command, and he began with parables and simple tales which they heard eagerly. Purposely, he eschewed anything striking or startling in this his first sermon. It was an attempt to establish a sympathetic understanding between himself and his audience, and not altogether an unsuccessful one, for his motives were still unmixed. He felt that he had started well; when he was through speaking small groups gathered around him as children might have done, and told him inconsequent, wandering tales of their own—tales which were rather fables, folklore transplanted from another hemisphere and strangely crossed with Christianity. He was happy; if it had not been that most of them wore about their necks the leather pouches that were not scapulars he would have been happier than any man has a right to be. One of these pouches, showing through the ragged shirt of an old man with thin lips and a squint, was ripped at the edge, and the unmistakable sheen of a snake's scale glistened in the seam. Simpson could not keep his eyes from it.

He dared to be more formal after that, and on the next night preached from a text—the Macedonian cry, “Come over and help us.” That sermon also was effective: toward the end of it two or three women were weeping a little, and the sight of their tears warmed him with the sense of power. In that warmth certain of his prejudices and inhibitions began to melt away; the display of feelings and sensibilities could not be wicked or even undesirable if it prepared the way for the gospel by softening the heart. He began to dabble in emotion himself, and that was a dangerous matter, for he knew nothing whatever about it save that, if he felt strongly, he could arouse strong feeling in others. Day by day he unwittingly became less sure of the moral beauty of restraint, and ardours which he had never dreamed of began to flame free of his soul.

He wondered now and then why Madame Picard, who almost from the first had been a constant attendant at his meetings, watched him so closely, so secretly—both when he sat with her and the cripple at meals and at the carpenter's house, where he was never unconscious of her eyes. He wondered also why she brought her baby with her, and why all who came fondled it so much and so respectfully. He did not wonder at the deference, almost the fear, which all men showed her—that seemed somehow her due. She had shed her taciturnity and was even voluble at times. But behind her volubility lurked always an inexplicable intensity of purpose whose cause Simpson could never fathom and was afraid to seek for. It was there, however—a nervous determination, not altogether alien to his own, which he associated with religion and with nothing else in the world. Religiosity, he called it—and he was not far wrong.

Soon after his first sermon he began little by little to introduce ritual into the meetings at Michaud's, so that they became decorous; rum-drinking was postponed till after the concluding prayer, and that in itself was a triumph. He began to feel the need of hymns, and, since he could find in French none that had associations for himself, he set about translating some of the more familiar ones, mostly those of a militant nature. Some of them, especially “The Son of God goes forth to war,” leaped into immediate popularity and were sung two or three times in a single service. He liked that repetition; he thought it laid the groundwork for the enthusiasm which he aroused more and more as time went on, and which he took more pains to arouse. Nevertheless, the first time that his feverish eloquence brought tears and incoherent shoutings from the audience, he became suddenly fearful before the ecstasies which he had touched to life, he faltered, and brought his discourse to an abrupt end. As the crowd slowly quieted and reluctantly began to drift away there flashed on him with blinding suddenness the realization that his excitement had been as great as their own; for a moment he wondered if such passion were godly. Only for a moment, however, of course it was godly, as any rapture informed by religion must be. He was sorry he had lost courage and stopped so soon. These were an emotional and not an intellectual people—if they were to be reached at all, it must be through the channels of their emotions. Thus far he thought clearly, and that was as far as he did think, for he was discovering in himself a capacity for religious excitement that was only in part a reflex of the crowd's fervour, and the discovery quickened and adorned the memory of the few great moments of his life. Thus had he felt when he resolved to take orders, thus, although in a less degree, because he had been doubtful and afraid, had he felt when he heard the Macedonian cry from this West Indian island. He had swayed the crowd also as he had always believed that he could sway crowds if only the spirit would burn in him brightly enough; he had no doubt that he could sway them again, govern them completely perhaps. That possibility was cause for prayerful and lonely consideration, for meditation among the hills, whence he might draw strength. He hired a pony forthwith and set out for a few days in the hinterland.

It was the most perilous thing he could have done. There is neither sanctity nor holy calm in the tropic jungle, nothing of the hallowed quietude that, in northern forests, clears the mind of life's muddle and leads the soul to God. There lurks instead a poisonous anodyne in the heavy, scented air—a drug that lulls the spirit to an evil repose counterfeiting the peacefulness whence alone high thoughts can spring. In the North, Nature displays a certain restraint even in her most flamboyant moods: the green fires of spring temper their sensuousness in chill winds, and autumn is rich in suggestion not of love, but of gracious age, having the aloof beauty of age and its true estimates of life. The perception of its loveliness is impersonal and leaves the line between the aesthetic and the sensuous clearly marked. Beneath a straighter sun the line is blurred and sometimes vanishes: no orchid-musk, no azure and distant hill, no tinted bay but accosts the senses, confusing one with another, mingling all the emotions in a single cup, persuading man that he knows good from evil as little as though he lived still in Eden. From such stealthy influences the man of rigid convictions is often in more danger than the man of no convictions at all, for rigid convictions rather often indicate inexperience and imperfect observation; experience, therefore—especially emotional experience—sometimes warps them into strange and hideous shapes.

Simpson did not find in the bush the enlightenment that he had hoped for. He did, however, anaesthetize his mind into the belief that he had found it. Returning, he approached Port au Prince by a route new to him. A well-beaten trail aroused his curiosity and he followed it into a grove of ceiba and mahogany. It was clear under foot, as no tropic grove uncared for by man can be clear; in the middle of it lay the ashes of a great fire, and three minaca-palm huts in good repair huddled almost invisible under the vast trees. The ground, bare of grass, was trodden hard, as though a multitude had stamped it down—danced it down, perhaps—and kept it bare by frequent use.

“What a place for a camp-meeting!” thought Simpson as he turned to leave it. “God's cathedral aisles, and roofed by God's blue sky.”

His pony shied and whirled around, a long snake—a fer-de-lance—flowed across the path.

The desire to hold his services in the grove remained in his mind; the only reason he did not transfer them there at once was that he was not yet quite sure of his people. They came eagerly to hear him, they reflected his enthusiasm at his behest, they wept and praised God. Yet, underneath all his hopes and all his pride in what he had done ran a cold current of doubt, an undefined and indefinable fear of something devilish and malign that might thwart him in the end. He thrust it resolutely out of his mind.

V

“I have told your people—your canaille,” said Father Antoine, “that I shall excommunicate them all.”

The priest had been graver than his wont—more dignified, less volcanic, as though he was but the mouthpiece of authority, having none of it himself.

“They are better out of your Church than in it,” Simpson answered.

Father Antoine trembled a little; it was the first sign he had given that his violent personality was still alive under the perplexing new power that had covered it.

“You are determined?” Simpson nodded with compressed lips. “Their damnation be on your head, then.”

The priest stood aside. Simpson squeezed by him on the narrow sidewalk; as he did so, Antoine drew aside the skirts of his cassock.

From the beginning Simpson had preached more of hell than of heaven; he could not help doing so, for he held eternal punishment to be more imminent than eternal joy, and thought it a finer thing to scare people into heaven than to attract them thither. He took an inverted pleasure also in dwelling on the tortures of the damned, and had combed the minor prophets and Revelation for threatening texts to hurl at his congregation. Such devil-worship, furthermore, gave him greater opportunity for oratory, greater immediate results also; he had used it sometimes against his better judgment, and was not so far gone that he did not sometimes tremble at the possible consequences of its use. His encounter with the priest, however, had driven all doubts from his mind, and that evening he did what he had never done before—he openly attacked the Roman Church.

“What has it done for you?” he shouted, and his voice rang in the rafters of the warehouse where a hundred or so Negroes had gathered to hear him. “What has it done for you? You cultivate your ground, and its tithes take the food from the mouths of your children. Does the priest tell you of salvation, which is without money and without price, for all—for all—for all? Does he live among you as I do? Does he minister to your bodies? Or your souls?”

There was a stir at the door, and the eyes of the congregation turned from the platform.

“Father Antoine!” shrieked a voice. It was Madame Picard's; Simpson could see her in the gloom at the far end of the hall and could see the child astride of her hip. “Father Antoine! He is here!”

In response to the whip of her voice there was a roar like the roar of a train in a tunnel. It died away; the crowd eddied back upon the platform. Father Antoine—he was robed, and there were two acolytes with him, one with a bell and the other with a candle—began to read in a voice as thundering as Simpson's own.

Excommunicado ——”

The Latin rolled on, sonorous, menacing. It ceased; the candle-flame snuffed out, the bell tinkled, there was the flash of a cope in the doorway, and the priest was gone.

“He has excommunicated you!” Simpson shouted, almost shrieked. “Thank God for that, my people!”

They faced him again; ecstatic, beside himself, he flung at them incoherent words. But the Latin, mysterious as magic, fateful as a charm, had frightened them, and they did not yield to Simpson immediately. Perhaps they would not have yielded to him at all if it had not been for Madame Picard.

From her corner rose an eerie chant in broken minors; it swelled louder, and down the lane her people made for her she came dancing. Her turban was off, her dress torn open to the breasts; she held the child horizontally and above her in both hands. Her body swayed rhythmically, but she just did not take up the swing of the votive African dance that is as old as Africa. Up to the foot of the platform she wavered, and there the cripple joined her, laughing as always. Together they shuffled first to the right and then to the left, their feet marking the earth floor in prints that overlapped like scales. She laid the baby on the platform, sinking slowly to her knees as she did so; as though at a signal the wordless chant rumbled upward from the entire building, rolled over the platform like a wave, engulfing the white man in its flood.

“Symbolism! Sacrifice!” Simpson yelled. “She offers all to God!”

He bent and raised the child at arm's length above his head. Instantly the chanting ceased.

“To the grove!” screamed the mamaloi. She leaped to the platform, almost from her knees it seemed, and snatched the child. “To the grove!”

The crowd took up the cry; it swelled till Simpson's ears ached under the impact of it.

“To the grove!”

Doubt assailed him as his mind—a white man's mind—rebelled.

“This is wrong,” he said dully; “wrong.”

Madame Picard's fingers gripped his arm. Except for the spasms of the talons which were her fingers she seemed calm.

“No, m'sieu',” she said. “You have them now. Atonement—atonement, m'sieu'. You have many times spoken of atonement. But they do not understand what they cannot see. They are behind you—you cannot leave them now.”

“But—the child?”

“The child shall show them—a child shall lead them, m'sieu'. They must see a theatre of atonement—then they will believe. Come.”

Protesting, he was swept into the crowd and forward—forward to the van of it, into the Grand Rue. Always the thunderous rumble of the mob continued; high shrieks flickered like lightning above it; the name of Christ dinned into his ears from foul throats. On one side of him the cripple appeared; on the other strode the mamaloi—the child, screaming with fear, on her hip. A hymn-tune stirred under the tumult—rose above it.

  “Le fils de Dieu se va Pen guerre
  Son drapeau rouge comme sang
.”

Wild quavers adorned the tune obscenely; the mob marched to it, falling into step. Torches came, flaming high at the edges of the crowd, flaming wan and lurid on hundreds of black faces.

  “Il va pour gagner sa couronne
  Qui est-ce que suit dans son train
?”

“A crusade!” Simpson suddenly shouted. “It is a crusade!”

Yells answered him. Somewhere a drum began, reverberating as though unfixed in space; now before them, now behind; now, it seemed, in the air. The sound was maddening A swaying began in the crowd that took on cadence, became a dance. Simpson, his brain drugged, his senses perfervid marched on in exultation. These were his people at last.

The drum thundered more loudly, became unbearable. They were clear of the town and in the bush at last; huge fires gleamed through the trees, and the mob spilled into the grove. The cripple and the mamaloi were beside him still.

In the grove, with the drums—more than one of them now—palpitating unceasingly, the dancing became wilder, more savage. In the light of the fire the mamaloi swayed, holding the screaming child, and close to the flames crouched the cripple. The hymn had given place to the formless chant, through which the minors quivered like the wails of lost souls.

The scales fell from Simpson's eyes. He rose to his full height and stretched out his arm, demanding silence; there was some vague hope in him that even now he might guide them. His only answer was a louder yell than ever.

It took form. Vieux Michaud sprang from the circle into the full firelight, feet stamping, eyes glaring.

La ch vre!” he yelled. “La chevre sans cornes!”

The drums rolled in menacing crescendo, the fire licked higher. All sounds melted into one.

La chevre sans cornes!”

The mamaloi tore the child from her neck and held it high by one leg. Simpson, seeing clearly as men do before they die, flung himself toward her.

The cripple's knife, thrust from below, went home between his ribs just as the mamaloi's blade crossed the throat of the sacrifice.

“So I signed the death-certificate,” Witherbee concluded. “Death at the hands of persons unknown.”

“And they'll call him a martyr,” said Bunsen.

“Who knows?” the consul responded gravely. “Perhaps he was one.”