Martin Conisby (Chapter 2, page 1 of 7)


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Chapter 2

Whiles I yet stood, knife in hand, staring at her and mute for wonder, she pulled off the close-fitting seaman's bonnet she wore and scowling up at me shook down the abundant tresses of her hair.

"Beast!" said she. "Oh, beast--you hurt me!"

"Who are you?" I questioned.

"One that doth hate you!" Here she took a silver comb from her pocket and fell to smoothing her hair; and as she sat thus cross-legged upon the grass, I saw that the snowy linen at throat and bosom was spotted with great gouts of blood.

"Are ye wounded?" quoth I, pointing to these ugly stains.

"Bah! 'Tis none of mine, fool! 'Tis the blood of Cestiforo!"

"Who is he?"

"The captain of yon ship."

"How cometh his blood on you?"

"'Twas when I killed him."

"You--killed him?"

"Aye--he wearied me. So do all my lovers, soon or late."

Now as I looked on this woman, the strange, sullen beauty of her (despite her masculine apparel) as she sat thus combing her long hair and foul with a dead man's blood, I bethought me of the wild tales I had heard of female daemons, succubi and the like, so that I felt my flesh chill and therewith a great disgust and loathing of her, insomuch that, not abiding the sight of her, I turned away and thus beheld a thing the which filled me with sudden, great dismay: for there, her sails spread to the fitful wind, I saw the ship standing out to sea, bearing with her all my hopes of escape from this hated island. Thus stood I, watching deliverance fade on my sight, until the ship was no more than a speck upon the moon-bright waters and all other thoughts 'whelmed and lost in raging despair. And now I was roused by a question sudden and imperious: "Who are you?"

"'Tis no matter."

"How came you here?"

"'Tis no matter for that, either."

"Are you alone?"

"Aye!"

"Then wherefore trouble to shave your beard?"

"'Tis a whim."

"Are you alone?"

"I was."

"And I would you were again."

"So do I."

"You are Englishman--yes?"

"I am."

"My mother was English--a poor thing that spent her days weeping and died of her tears when I was small--ah, very small, on this island."

"Here?" quoth I, staring.

"Twenty and one years agone!" said she, combing away at her glossy hair. "My mother was English like you, but my father was a noble gentleman of Spain and Governor of Santa Catalina, Don Esteban da Silva y Montreale, and killed by Tressady--Black Tressady--"

"What, Roger Tressady--o' the Hook?"

"True, SeƱor Englishman," said she softly and glancing up at me through her hair; "he hath a hook very sharp and bright, in place of his left hand. You know him? He is your friend--yes?"

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