‘And what may have been your motive for coming to this place?’ said I.
‘Per far visita a sua signoria, ecco il motivo.’
‘Why do you speak to me in that gibberish,’ said I; ’do you think I understand it?’
‘It is not Armenian,’ said the man in black; ’but it might serve, in a place like this, for the breathing of a little secret communication, were any common roadster near at hand. It would not do at Court, it is true, being the language of singing women, and the like; but we are not at Court—when we are, I can perhaps summon up a little indifferent Latin, if I have anything private to communicate to the learned Professor.’
And at the conclusion of this speech the man in black lifted up his head, and, for some moments, looked me in the face. The muscles of his own seemed to be slightly convulsed, and his mouth opened in a singular manner
‘I see,’ said I, ’that for some time you were standing near me and my companion, in the mean act of listening.’
‘Not at all,’ said the man in black; ’I heard from the steep bank above, that to which I have now alluded, whilst I was puzzling myself to find the path which leads to your retreat. I made, indeed, nearly the compass of the whole thicket before I found it.’
‘And how did you know that I was here?’ I demanded.
’The landlord of the public-house, with whom I had some conversation concerning you, informed me that he had no doubt I should find you in this place, to which he gave me instructions not very clear. But, now I am here, I crave permission to remain a little time, in order that I may hold some communion with you.’
‘Well,’ said I, ’since you are come, you are welcome; please to step this way.’
Thereupon I conducted the man in black to the fireplace, where Belle was standing, who had risen from her stool on my springing up to go in quest of the stranger. The man in black looked at her with evident curiosity, then making her rather a graceful bow, ‘Lovely virgin,’ said he, stretching out his hand, ‘allow me to salute your fingers.’
‘I am not in the habit of shaking hands with strangers,’ said Belle.
‘I did not presume to request to shake hands with you,’ said the man in black, ’I merely wished to be permitted to salute with my lips the extremity of your two forefingers.’
‘I never permit anything of the kind,’ said Belle; ’ I do not approve of such unmanly ways, they are only befitting those who lurk in corners or behind trees, listening to the conversation of people who would fain be private.’
‘Do you take me for a listener then?’ said the man in black.
‘Ay, indeed I do,’ said Belle; ’the young man may receive your excuses, and put confidence in them, if he please, but for my part I neither admit them nor believe them;’ and thereupon flinging her long hair back, which was hanging over her cheeks, she seated herself on her stool.