“I was not sure,” she said slowly, “though you told the boy.” Her eyes, velvet-black in the shadow upcast by the lamp, opened slowly. “There has been much trouble with Father Antoine, and now small numbers go to mass or confession.” Her voice had the effect of shrillness though it remained low; her hands flew out, grasping the table-edge at arms’ length with an oddly masculine gesture. “He deserved that! To tell his canaille that I—that we——He dared! But now—now—we shall see!”
Her voice rasped in a subdued sort of a shriek; she sprang up from her chair, and stood for the fraction of a second with her hands raised and her fists clinched. Simpson, puzzled, amazed, and a little scared at last, had barely time to notice the position before it dissolved. The child, frightened, screamed from the floor.
“Taisez-vous—taisez-vous, mon enfant. Le temps vient.”
She was silent for a long time after that. Simpson sat wondering what she would do next, aware of an uncanny fascination that emanated from her. It seemed to him as though there were subterranean fires in the ground that he walked on.
“You shall teach us,” she said in her usual monotone. “You shall teach us—preach to many people. No house will hold them all.” She leaned down and caressed the child. “Le temps vient, mon petit. Le temps vient.”
Under Simpson’s sudden horror quivered an eerie thrill. He mistook it for joy at the promised fulfilment of his dreams. He stepped to his own doorway and hesitated there with his hand on the latch.
“To many people? Some time, I hope.”
“Soon.” She looked up from the child; there was a snakiness in the angle of her head and neck. “Soon.”
He opened the door, slammed it behind him, and dropped on tense knees beside his bed. In the kitchen the cripple laughed—laughed for a long time. Simpson’s tightly pressed palms could not keep the sound from his ears.
Each night the gathering at Vieux Michaud’s became larger; it grew too large for the house, and presently overflowed into the yard behind, where Michaud kept his lumber. Generally thirty or forty natives collected between six and seven in the evening, roosting on the piled boards or sitting on the dusty ground in little groups, their cigarettes puncturing the blue darkness that clung close to the earth under the young moon. There were few women among them at first and fewer young men; Simpson, who knew that youth ought to be more hospitable to new ideas than age, thought this a little strange and spoke to Michaud about it.
“But they are my friends, m’sieu’,” answered Michaud.
The statement might have been true of the smaller group that Simpson had first encountered at the carpenter’s house; it was not true of the additions to it, for he was evidently not on intimate terms with them. Nor did he supply rum for all of them; many brought their own. That was odd also, if Simpson had only known it; the many cantinas offered attractions which the carpenter’s house did not. That fact occurred to him at length.