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“But there's nothing left of it. It's, a ruin in the middle of the cane fields.”
“I live in the cellars. I've lived there since I was five. It was burned down then and my parents were killed. I can't remember anything about them so you needn't say you're sorry. At first I lived there with my black nanny. She died when I was fifteen. For the last five years I've lived there alone.”
“Good heavens.” Bond was appalled. “But wasn't there anyone, else to look after you? Didn't your parents leave any money?”
“Not a penny.” There was no bitterness in the girl's voice-pride if anything. “You see the Riders were one of the old Jamaican families. The first one had been given the Beau Desert lands by Cromwell for having been one of the people who signed King Charles's death warrant. He built the Great House and my family lived in it on and off ever since. But then sugar collapsed and I suppose the place was badly run, and by the time my father inherited it there was nothing but debts •-mortgages and things like that. So when my father and mother died the property was sold up. I didn't mind. I was too young. Nanny must have been wonderful. They wanted people to adopt me, the clergyman and the legal people did, but Nanny collected the sticks of furniture that hadn't been burned and we settled down in the ruins and after a bit no one came and interfered with us. She did a bit of sewing and laundry in the village and grew a few plantains and bananas and things and there was a big breadfruit tree up against the old house. We ate what the Jamaicans eat. And there was the sugar cane all round us and she made a fishpot which we used to go and take up every day. It was all right. We had enough to eat. Somehow she taught me to read and write. There was a pile of old books left from the fire. There was an encyclopedia. I started with A when I was about eight. I've got as far as the middle of T.” She said defensively. “I bet I know more than you do about a lot of things.”
“I bet you do.” Bond was lost in the picture of the little flaxen-haired girl pattering about the ruins with the obstinate old Negress watching over her and calling her in to do the lessons that must have been just as much a riddle to the old woman. “Your nanny must have been a wonderful person.”
“She was a darling.” It was a flat statement. “I thought I'd die when she did. It wasn't such fun after that: Before, I'd led a child's life; then I suddenly had to grow up and do everything for myself. And men tried to catch me and hurt me. They said they wanted to make love to me.” She paused. “I used to be pretty then.”
Bond said seriously, “You're one of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen.”
“With this nose? Don't be silly.”
“You don't understand.” Bond tried to find words that she would believe. “Of course anyone can see your nose is broken. But since this morning I've hardly noticed it. When you look at a person you look into their eyes or at their mouth. That's where the expressions are. A broken nose isn't any more significant than a crooked ear. Noses and ears are bits of face-furniture. Some are prettier than others, but they're not nearly as important as the rest. They're part of the background of the face. If you had a beautiful nose as well as the rest of you you'd be the most beautiful girl in Jamaica.”
“Do you mean that?” her voice was urgent. “Do you think I could be beautiful? I know some of me's all right, but when I look in the glass I hardly see anything except my broken nose. I'm sure it's like that with other people who are, who are-well-sort of deformed.”
Bond said impatiently, “You're not deformed! Don't talk such nonsense. And anyway you can have it put right by a simple operation. You've only got to get over to America and it would be done in a week.”
She said angrily, “How do you expect me to do that? I've got about fifteen pounds under a stone in my cellar. I've got three skirts and three shirts and a knife and a fishpot. I know all about these operations. The doctor at Port Maria found out for me. He's a nice man. He wrote to America. Do you know, to have it properly done it would cost me about five hundred pounds, what with the fare to New York and the hospital and everything?” Her voice became hopeless. “How do you expect me to find that amount of money?”
Bond had already made up his mind what would have to be done about that. Now he merely said tenderly, “Well, I expect there are ways. But anyway, go on with your story. It's very exciting-far more interesting than mine. You'd got to where your Nanny died. What happened then?”
The girl began again reluctantly.
"Well, it's your fault for interrupting. And you mustn't talk about things you don't understand. I suppose people tell you you're good-looking. I expect you get all the girls you want.
Well you wouldn't if you had a squint or a hare-lip or something. As a matter of fact,“ he could hear the smile in her voice, ”I think I shall go to the obeahman when we get back and get him to put a spell on you and give you something like that.“ She added lamely, ”Then we should be more alike."
Bond reached out. His hand brushed against her. “I've got other plans,” he said. “But come on. I want to hear the rest of the story.”
“Oh well,” the girl sighed, “I'll have to go back a bit. You see all the property is in cane and the old house stands in the middle of it. Well, about twice a year they cut the cane and send it off to the mill. And when they do that all the animals and insects and so on that live in the cane fields go into a panic and most of them have their houses destroyed and get killed. At cutting time some of them took to coming to the ruins of the house and hiding. My Nanny was terrified of them to begin with, the mongooses and the snakes and the scorpions and so on, but I made a couple of the cellar rooms into sort of homes for them. I wasn't frightened of them and they never hurt me. They seemed to understand that I was looking after them. They must have told their friends or something because after a bit it was quite natural for them all to come trooping into their rooms and settling down there until the young cane had started to grow again. Then they all filed out and went back to living in the fields. I gave them what food we could spare when they were staying with us and they behaved very well except for making a bit of a smell and sometimes fighting amongst each other. But they all got quite tame with me, and their children did, too, and I could do anything with them... Of course the cane-cutters found out about this and saw me walking about with snakes round my neck and so forth, and they got frightened of me and thought I was obeah. So they left us absolutely alone.” She paused. “That's where I found out so much about animals and insects. I used to spend a lot of time in the sea finding out about those people too. It was the same with birds. If you find out what all these people like to eat and what they're afraid of, and if you spend all your time with them you can make friends.” She looked up at him. “You miss a lot not knowing about these things.”
“I'm afraid I do,” said Bond truthfully. “I expect they're much nicer and more interesting than humans.”
“I don't know about that,” said the girl thoughtfully. “I don't know many human people. Most of the ones I have met have been hateful. But I suppose they can be interesting too.” She paused. “I hadn't every really thought of liking them like I like the animals. Except for Nanny, of course. Until...” She broke off with a shy laugh. “Well, anyway we all lived happily together until I was fifteen and Nanny died and then things got difficult. There was a man called Mander. A horrible man. He was the white overseer for the people who own the property. He kept coming to see me. He wanted me to move up to his house near Port Maria. I hated him and I used to hide when I heard his horse coming through the cane. One night he came on foot and I didn't hear him. He was drunk. He came into the cellar and fought with me because I wouldn't do what he wanted me to do. You know, the things people in love do.”
“Yes, I know.”
“I tried to kill him with my knife, but he was very strong and he hit me as hard as he could in the face and broke my nose. He knocked me unconscious and then I think he did things to me. I mean I know he did. Next day I wanted to kill myself when I saw my face and when I found what he had done. I thought I would have a baby. I would certainly have killed myself if I'd had a baby by that man. Anyway, I didn't, so that was that. I went to the doctor and he did what he could for my nose and didn't charge me anything. I didn't tell him about the rest. I was too ashamed. The man didn't come back. I waited and did nothing until the next cane-cutting. I'd got my plan. I was waiting for the Black Widow spiders to come in for shelter. One day they came. I caught the biggest of the females and shut her in a box with nothing to eat. They're the bad ones, the females. Then I waited for a dark night without any moon. I took the box with the spider in it and walked and walked until I came to the man's house. It was very dark and I was frightened of the duppies I might meet on the road but I didn't see any. I waited in his garden in the bushes and watched him go up to bed. Then I climbed a tree and got on to his balcony. I waited there until I heard him snoring and then I crept through the window. He was lying naked on the bed under the mosquito net. I lifted the edge and opened the box and shook the spider out on to his stomach. Then I went away and came home.”
“God-Almighty!” said Bond reverently. “What happened to him?”
She said happily, “He took a week to die. It must have hurt ” terribly. They do, you know. The obeahmen say there's nothing like it.“ She paused. When Bond made no comment, she said anxiously, ”You don't think I did wrong, do you?"
“It's not a thing to make a habit of,” said Bond mildly. “But I can't say I blame you the way it was. So what happened then?”
“Well then I just settled down again,” her voice was matter-of-fact. “I had to concentrate on getting enough food, and of ” course all I wanted to do was save up money to get my nose made good again.“ She said persuasively, ”It really was quite a pretty nose before. Do you think the doctors can put it back to how it was?"
“They can make it any shape you like,” said Bond definitely. “What did you make money at?”
“It was the encyclopedia. It told me that people collect sea-shells. That one could sell the rare ones. I talked to the local schoolmaster, without telling him my secret of course, and he found out that there's an American magazine called Nautilus for shell collectors. I had just enough money to subscribe to it and I began looking for the shells that people said they wanted in the advertisements. I wrote to a dealer in Miami and he started buying from me. It was thrilling. Of course I made some awful mistakes to begin with. I thought people would like the prettiest shells, but they don't. Very often they want the ugliest. And then when I found rare ones I cleaned them and polished them to make them look better. That's wrong too. They want shells just as they come out of the sea, with the animal in and all. So I got some formalin from the doctor and put it into the live shells to stop them smelling and sent them off to this man in Miami, I only got it right about a year ago and I've already made fifteen pounds. I'd worked out that now I knew how they wanted them, and if I was lucky, I ought to make at least fifty pounds a year. Then in ten years I would be able to go to America and have the operation. And then,” she giggled delightedly, “I had a terrific stroke of luck. I went over to Crab Key. I'd been there before, but this was just before Christmas, and I found these purple shells. They didn't look very exciting, but I sent one or two to Miami and the man wrote back at once and said he could take as many as I could get at five dollars each for the whole ones. He said that I must keep the place where they live a dead secret as otherwise we'd what he called 'spoil the market' and the price would get cheaper. It's just like having one's private gold mine. Now I may be able to save up the money in five years. That's why I was so suspicious of you when I found you on my beach. I thought you'd come to steal my shells.”