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.