“They have heard of you, m’sieu’—and that you have something new to say to them. We Haytians like new things.”
Thus, very quietly, almost as though it had been a natural growth of interest, did Simpson’s ministry begin. He stepped one evening to the platform that overhung the carpenter’s backyard, and began to talk. Long study had placed the missionary method at his utter command, and he began with parables and simple tales which they heard eagerly. Purposely, he eschewed anything striking or startling in this his first sermon. It was an attempt to establish a sympathetic understanding between himself and his audience, and not altogether an unsuccessful one, for his motives were still unmixed. He felt that he had started well; when he was through speaking small groups gathered around him as children might have done, and told him inconsequent, wandering tales of their own—tales which were rather fables, folklore transplanted from another hemisphere and strangely crossed with Christianity. He was happy; if it had not been that most of them wore about their necks the leather pouches that were not scapulars he would have been happier than any man has a right to be. One of these pouches, showing through the ragged shirt of an old man with thin lips and a squint, was ripped at the edge, and the unmistakable sheen of a snake’s scale glistened in the seam. Simpson could not keep his eyes from it.
He dared to be more formal after that, and on the next night preached from a text—the Macedonian cry, “Come over and help us.” That sermon also was effective: toward the end of it two or three women were weeping a little, and the sight of their tears warmed him with the sense of power. In that warmth certain of his prejudices and inhibitions began to melt away; the display of feelings and sensibilities could not be wicked or even undesirable if it prepared the way for the gospel by softening the heart. He began to dabble in emotion himself, and that was a dangerous matter, for he knew nothing whatever about it save that, if he felt strongly, he could arouse strong feeling in others. Day by day he unwittingly became less sure of the moral beauty of restraint, and ardours which he had never dreamed of began to flame free of his soul.
He wondered now and then why Madame Picard, who almost from the first had been a constant attendant at his meetings, watched him so closely, so secretly—both when he sat with her and the cripple at meals and at the carpenter’s house, where he was never unconscious of her eyes. He wondered also why she brought her baby with her, and why all who came fondled it so much and so respectfully. He did not wonder at the deference, almost the fear, which all men showed her—that seemed somehow her due. She had shed her taciturnity and was even voluble at times. But behind her volubility lurked always an inexplicable intensity of purpose whose cause Simpson could never fathom and was afraid to seek for. It was there, however—a nervous determination, not altogether alien to his own, which he associated with religion and with nothing else in the world. Religiosity, he called it—and he was not far wrong.