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?”
“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.”