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