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?