It was a naked girl, with her back to him. She was not quite naked. She wore a broad leather belt round her waist with a hunting knife in a leather sheath at her right hip. The belt made her nakedness extraordinarily erotic. She stood not more than five yards away on the tideline looking down at something in her hand. She stood in the classical relaxed pose of the nude, all the weight on the right leg and the left knee bent and turning slightly inwards, the head to one side as she examined the things in her hand.
It was a beautiful back. The skin was a very light uniform café au lait with the sheen of dull satin. The gentle curve of the backbone was deeply indented, suggesting more powerful muscles than is usual in a woman, and the behind was almost as firm and rounded as a boy's. The legs were straight and beautiful and no pinkness showed under the slightly lifted left heel. She was not a coloured girl.
Her hair was ash blonde. It was cut to the shoulders and hung there and along the side of her bent cheek in thick wet strands. A green diving mask was pushed back above her forehead, and the green rubber thong bound her hair at the back.
The whole scene, the empty beach, the green and blue sea, the naked girl with the strands of fair hair, reminded Bond of something. He searched his mind. Yes, she was Botticelli's Venus, seen from behind.
How had she got there? What was she doing? Bond looked up and down the beach. It was not black, he now saw, but a deep chocolate brown. To the right he could see as far as the river mouth, perhaps five hundred yards away. The beach was empty and featureless except for a scattering of small pinkish objects. There were a lot of them, shells of some sort Bond supposed, and they looked decorative against the dark brown background. He looked to the left, to where, twenty yards away, the rocks of the small headland began. Yes, there was a yard or two of groove in the sand where a canoe had been drawn up into the shelter of the rocks. It must have been a light one or she couldn't have drawn it up alone. Perhaps the girl wasn't alone. But there was only one set of footprints leading down from the rocks to the sea and another set coming out of the sea and up the beach to where she now stood on the tideline. Did she live here, or had she too sailed over from Jamaica that night? Hell of a thing for a girl to do. Anyway, what in God's name was she doing here?
As if to answer him, the girl made a throwaway gesture of the right hand and scattered a dozen shells on the sand beside her. They were violent pink and seemed to Bond to be the same as he had noticed on the beach. The girl looked down into her left hand and began to whistle softly to herself. There was a happy note of triumph in the whistle. She was whistling 'Marion', a plaintive little calypso that has now been cleaned up and made famous outside Jamaica. It had always been one of Bond's favourites. It went:
All day, all night, Marion,
Sittin' by the seaside siftin' sand...
The girl broke off to stretch her arms out in a deep yawn. Bond smiled to himself. He wetted his lips and took up the refrain:
“The water from her eyes could sail a boat, The hair on her head could tie a goat...”
The hands flew down and across her chest. The muscles of her behind bunched with tension. She was listening, her head, still hidden by the curtain of hair, cocked to one side.
Hesitantly she began again. The whistle trembled and died. At the first note of Bond's echo, the girl whirled round. She didn't cover her body with the two classical gestures. One hand flew downwards, but the other, instead of hiding her breasts, went up to her face, covering it below the eyes, now wide with fear. “Who's that?” The words came out in a terrified whisper.
Bond got to his feet and stepped out through the sea-grape. He stopped on the edge of the grass. He held his hands open at his sides to show they were empty. He smiled cheerfully at her. “It's only me. I'm another trespasser. Don't be frightened.”
The girl dropped her hand down from her face. It went to the knife at her belt. Bond watched the fingers curl round the hilt. He looked up at her face. Now he realized why her hand had instinctively gone to it. It was a beautiful face, with wide-apart deep blue eyes under lashes paled by the sun. The mouth was wide and when she stopped pursing the lips with tension they would be full. It was a serious face and the jawline was determined-the face of a girl who fends for herself. And once, reflected Bond, she had failed to fend. For the nose was badly broken, smashed crooked like a boxer's. Bond stiffened with revolt at what had happened to this supremely beautiful girl. No wonder this was her shame and not the beautiful firm breasts that now jutted towards him without concealment.
The eyes examined him fiercely. “Who are you? What are you doing here?” There was the slight lilt of a Jamaican accent. The voice was sharp and accustomed to being obeyed.
“I'm an Englishman. I'm interested in birds.”
“Oh,” the voice was doubtful. The hand still rested on the knife. “How long have you been watching me? How did you get here?”
“Ten minutes, but no more answers until you tell me who you are.”
“I'm no one in particular. I come from Jamaica. I collect shells.”
“I came in a canoe. Did you?”
“Yes. Where is your canoe?”
“I've got a friend with me. We've hidden it in the mangroves.”
“There are no marks of a canoe landing.”
“We're careful. We-covered them up. Not like you.” Bond gestured towards the rocks. “You ought to take more trouble. Did you use a sail? Right up to the reef?”
“Of course. Why not? I always do.”
“Then they'll know you're here. They've got radar.”
“They've never caught me yet.” The girl took her hand away from her knife. She reached up and stripped off the diving mask and stood swinging it. She seemed to think she had the measure of Bond. She said, with some of the sharpness-gone from her voice, “What's your name?”
“Bond. James Bond. What's yours?”
She reflected. “Rider.”
“What's so funny about it?”
“Nothing. Honeychile Rider. It's a pretty name.”
She unbent. “People call me 'Honey'.”
“Well, I'm glad to meet you.”
The prosaic phrase seemed to remind her of her nakedness. She blushed. She said uncertainly, “I must get dressed.” She looked down at the scattered shells around her feet. She obviously wanted to pick them up. Perhaps she realized that the movement might be still more revealing than her present pose. She said sharply, “You're not to touch those while I'm gone.”
Bond smiled at the childish challenge. “Don't worry, I'll look after them.”
The girl looked at him doubtfully and then turned and walked stiff-legged over to the rocks and disappeared behind them.
Bond walked the few steps down the beach and bent and picked up one of the shells. It was alive and the two halves were shut tight. It appeared to be some kind of a cockle, rather deeply ribbed and coloured a mauve-pink. Along both edges of the hinge, thin horns stood out, about half a dozen to each side. It didn't seem to Bond a very distinguished shell. He replaced it carefully with the others.
He stood looking down at the shells and wondering. Was she really collecting them? It certainly looked like it. But what a risk to take to get them-the voyage over alone in the canoe and then back again. And she seemed to realize that this was a dangerous place. “They've never caught me yet.” What an extraordinary girl. Bond's heart warmed and his senses stirred as he thought of her. Already, as he had found so often when people had deformities, he had almost forgotten her broken nose. It had somehow slipped away behind his memory of her eyes and her mouth and her amazingly beautiful body. Her imperious attitude and her quality of attack were exciting. The way she had reached for her knife to defend herself! She'was like an animal whose cubs are threatened. Where did she live? Who were her parents? There was something uncared for about her-a dog that nobody wants to pet. Who was she?
Bond heard her footsteps riffling the sand. He turned to look at her. She was dressed almost in rags-a faded brown shirt with torn sleeves and a knee-length patched brown cotton skirt held in place by the leather belt with the knife. She had a canvas knapsack slung over one shoulder. She looked like a principal girl dressed as Man Friday.
She came up with him and at once went down on one knee and began picking up the live shells and stowing them in the knapsack.
Bond said, “Are those rare?”
She sat back on her haunches and looked up at him. She surveyed his face. Apparently she was satisfied. “You promise you won't tell anybody? Swear?”
“I promise,” said Bond.
“Well then, yes, they are rare. Very. You can get five dollars for a perfect specimen. In Miami. That's where I deal with. They're called Venus Elegans-The Elegant Venus.” Her eyes sparkled up at him with excitement. “This morning I found what I wanted. The bed where they live,” she waved towards the sea. “You wouldn't find it though,” she added with sudden carefulness. “It's very deep and hidden away. I doubt if you could dive that deep. And anyway,” she looked happy, “I'm going to clear the whole bed today. You'd only get the imperfect ones if you came back here.”
Bond laughe'd. “I promise I won't steal any. I really don't know anything about shells. Cross my heart.”
She stood up, her work completed. “What about these birds of yours? What sort are they? Are they valuable too? I won't tell either if you tell me. I only collect shells.”
“They're called roseate spoonbills,” said Bond. “Sort of pink stork with a flat beak. Ever seen any?”
“Oh, those,” she said scornfully. “There used to be thousands of them here. But you won't find many now. They scared them all away.” She sat down on the sand and put her arms round her knees, proud of her superior knowledge and now certain that she had nothing to fear from this man.
Bond sat down a yard away. He stretched out and turned towards her, resting on his elbow. He wanted to preserve the picnic atmosphere and try to find out more about this queer, beautiful girl. He said, easily, “Oh, really. What happened? Who did it?”
She shrugged impatiently. “The people here did it. I don't know who they are. There's a Chinaman. He doesn't like birds or something. He's got a dragon. He sent the dragon after the birds and scared them away. The dragon burned up their nesting places. There used to be two men who lived with the birds and looked after them. They got scared away too, or killed or something.”
It all seemed quite natural to her. She gave the facts indifferently, staring out to sea.
Bond said, “This dragon. What kind is he? Have you ever seen him?”
“Yes., I've seen him.” She screwed up her eyes and made a wry face as if she was swallowing bitter medicine. She looked earnestly at Bond to make him share her feelings. “I've been coming here for about a year, looking for shells and exploring. I only found these,” she waved at the beach, “about a month ago. On my last trip. But I've found plenty of other good ones. Just before Christmas I thought I'd explore the river. I went up it to the top, where the birdmen had their camp. It was all broken up. It was getting late and I decided to spend the night there. In the middle of the night I woke up. The dragon was coming by only a few chains away from me. It had two great glaring eyes and a long snout. It had sort of short wings and a pointed tail. It was all black and gold.” She frowned at the expression on Bond's face. “There was a full moon. I could see it quite clearly.It went by me. It was making a sort of roaring noise. It went over the marsh and came to some thick mangrove and it simply climbed over the bushes and went on. A whole flock of birds got up in front of it and suddenly a lot of fire came out of its mouth and it burned a lot of them up and all the trees they'd been roosting in. It was horrible. The most horrible thing I've ever seen.”
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