Martin Conisby (Chapter 5, page 1 of 5)

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Chapter 5

That night, the moon being at the full and I very wakeful, I lay harassed of a thousand fretting thoughts, and each and every of this woman Joanna; and turning on my sleepless couch I cursed that hour the which had set her in my company.

Yet, even so, I must needs bethink me of all the supple warmth of her as she lay in my arms, of the velvety touch of her cheek that had by chance brushed my hand. Hereupon I would strive to turn my thoughts upon the labours of to-morrow only to find myself recalling the sound of her voice, now deep and soft and infinite sweet, now harsh and shrill and hatefully shrewish; or her golden-brown eyes, thick-lashed and marvellous quick in their changes from sleepy languor to flaming malevolence.

Thus lay I, haunted of her memory and all the sudden, bewildering changes of her moods until at last I started up, and coming to the entrance of my cave, saw her standing without and the moon bright on her face.

"Art wakeful too, Martino?" asked she softly. "'Tis the moon belike, or the heat of the night." Here she came a slow pace nearer; and her eyes were sweet and languorous and on her vivid mouth a smile infinite alluring. Slowly she drew near, thralling me as it were with the wonder of her look that I had neither power nor will to move or speak. Confident of herself and assured in her beauty she reached out her hands to me, her long lashes swept down, veiling her eyes; but, even then, I had seen their flash of triumph, and in that moment, bursting the spell that bound me, I turned from her.

"Go--leave me!" said I, finding my voice at last. "Here is no place for you!" And I stood thereafter with head averted, dreading her sighs and tears; instead (and to my unutterable relief) she brake out into a storm of sea-oaths, beslavering me with vile abuse and bitter curses. Now, hearkening to this lewd tirade, I marvelled I should ever have feared and trembled because of the womanhood of creature so coarse and unsexed. Thus she continued alternately mocking at and reviling me until she must needs pause for lack of breath; then I turned to look at her and stood amazed to behold that passionate head bowed upon her hands.

"Aye, I weep," she sobbed. "I weep because I am woman, after all, but in my heart I hate you and with my soul I despise you, for you are but a mock man,--the blood in your veins skim milk! Ah, by God, there is more of vigorous life in my little finger than in all your great, heavy, clod-like carcase. Oh, shame!" Here she lifted her head to scowl on me and I, not enduring her look, glanced otherwhere. "Ha--rot me!" cried she, wagging scornful finger. "Rot me but you are afraid of me--afraid, yes!"

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