Chapter 90

Buona sera - Rather apprehensive - The steep bank - Lovely virgin - Hospitality - Tory minister - Custom of the country - Sneering smile - Wandering Zigan - Gypsies’ cloaks - Certain faculty - Acute answer - Various ways - Addio - Best Hollands.

THE man in black and myself stood opposite to each other for a minute or two in silence; I will not say that we confronted each other that time, for the man in black, after a furtive glance, did not look me in the face, but kept his eyes fixed apparently on the leaves of a bunch of ground-nuts which were growing at my feet. At length, looking around the dingle, he exclaimed, ‘Buona sera, I hope I don’t intrude.’

‘You have as much right here,’ said I, ‘as I or my companion; but you had no right to stand listening to our conversation.’

‘I was not listening,’ said the man, ‘I was hesitating whether to advance or retire; and if I heard some of your conversation, the fault was not mine.’

‘I do not see why you should have hesitated if your intentions were good,’ said I.

‘I think the kind of place in which I found myself might excuse some hesitation,’ said the man in black, looking around; ‘moreover, from what I had seen of your demeanour at the public-house, I was rather apprehensive that the reception I might experience at your hands might be more rough than agreeable.’

‘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.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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