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.
“And you will feed me for how much?”