“Murderer you call me—ha! ha! that is good. No, no! She murdered me! I tell you I died when I saw her asleep in her lover’s arms—she killed me at one blow. A devil rose up in my body and took swift revenge; that devil is in me now, a brave devil, a strong devil! That is why I do not fear the plague; the devil in me frightens away death. Some day it will leave me”—here his smothered yell sunk gradually to a feeble, weary tone; “yes, it will leave me and I shall find a dark place where I can sleep; I do not sleep much now.” He eyed me half wistfully.
“You see,” he explained, almost gently, “my memory is very good, and when one thinks of many things one cannot sleep. It is many years ago, but every night I see her; she comes to me wringing her little white hands, her blue eyes stare, I hear short moans of terror. Every night, every night!” He paused, and passed his hands in a bewildered way across his forehead. Then, like a man suddenly waking from sleep, he stared as though he saw me now for the first time, and broke into a low chuckling laugh.
“What a thing, what a thing it is, the memory!” he muttered. “Strange—strange! See, I remembered all that, and forgot you! But I know what you want—a suit of clothes—yes, you need them badly, and I also need the money for them. Ha, ha! And you will not have the fine coat of Milord Inglese! No, no! I understand. I will find you something—patience, patience!”
And he began to grope among a number of things that were thrown in a confused heap at the back of the shop. While in this attitude he looked so gaunt and grim that he reminded me of an aged vulture stooping over carrion, and yet there was something pitiable about him too. In a way I was sorry for him; a poor half-witted wretch, whose life had been full of such gall and wormwood. What a different fate was his to mine, I thought. I had endured but one short night of agony; how trifling it seemed compared to his hourly remorse and suffering! He hated Nina for an act of thoughtlessness; well, no doubt she was not the only woman whose existence annoyed him; it was most probably that he was at enmity with all women. I watched him pityingly as he searched among the worn-out garments which were his stock-in-trade, and wondered why Death, so active in smiting down the strongest in the city, should have thus cruelly passed by this forlorn wreck of human misery, for whom the grave would have surely been a most welcome release and rest. He turned round at last with an exulting gesture.
“I have found it!” he exclaimed. “The very thing to suit you. Your are perhaps a coral-fisher? You will like a fisherman’s dress. Here is one, red sash, cap and all, in beautiful condition! He that wore it was about your height it will fit you as well as it fitted him, and, look you! the plague is not in it, the sea has soaked through and through it; it smells of the sand and weed.”