Drown me, will you? said I; I should like to see you! Whats all this about? Was it because I saw you with your hands full of straw plait, and my mother there -
Yes, said the woman; what was I about?
Myself. How should I know? Making bad money, perhaps!
And it will be as well here to observe, that at this time there was much bad money in circulation in the neighbourhood, generally supposed to be fabricated by the prisoners, so that this false coin and straw plait formed the standard subjects of conversation at Norman Cross.
Ill strangle thee, said the beldame, dashing at me. Bad money, is it?
Leave him to me, wifelkin, said the man, interposing; you shall now see how Ill baste him down the lane.
Myself. I tell you what, my chap, you had better put down that thing of yours; my father lies concealed within my tepid breast, and if to me you offer any harm or wrong, Ill call him forth to help me with his forked tongue.
Man. What do you mean, ye Benguis bantling? I never heard such discourse in all my life: playmans speech or Frenchmans talk - which, I wonder? Your father! Tell the mumping villain that if he comes near my fire Ill serve him out as I will you. Take that - Tiny Jesus! what have we got here? Oh, delicate Jesus! what is the matter with the child?
I had made a motion which the viper understood; and now, partly disengaging itself from my bosom, where it had lain perdu, it raised its head to a level with my face, and stared upon my enemy with its glittering eyes.
The man stood like one transfixed, and the ladle, with which he had aimed a blow at me, now hung in the air like the hand which held it; his mouth was extended, and his cheeks became of a pale yellow, save alone that place which bore the mark which I have already described, and this shone now portentously, like fire. He stood in this manner for some time; at last the ladle fell from his hand, and its falling appeared to rouse him from his stupor.
I say, wifelkin, said he, in a faltering tone, did you ever see the like of this here?
But the woman had retreated to the tent, from the entrance of which her loathly face was now thrust, with an expression partly of terror and partly of curiosity. After gazing some time longer at the viper and myself, the man stooped down and took up the ladle; then, as if somewhat more assured, he moved to the tent, where he entered into conversation with the beldame in a low voice. Of their discourse, though I could hear the greater part of it, I understood not a single word; and I wondered what it could be, for I knew by the sound that it was not French. At last the man, in a somewhat louder tone, appeared to put a question to the woman, who nodded her head affirmatively, and in a moment or two produced a small stool, which she delivered to him. He placed it on the ground, close by the door of the tent, first rubbing it with his sleeve, as if for the purpose of polishing its surface.
Man. Now, my precious little gentleman, do sit down here by the poor peoples tent; we wish to be civil in our slight way. Dont be angry, and say no; but look kindly upon us, and satisfied, my precious little God Almighty.
Woman. Yes, my gorgeous angel, sit down by the poor bodies fire, and eat a sweetmeat. We want to ask you a question or two; only first put that serpent away.
Myself. I can sit down, and bid the serpent go to sleep, thats easy enough; but as for eating a sweetmeat, how can I do that? I have not got one, and where am I to get it?
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