“Deal with me as you think proper, gentlemen,” exclaimed Wood; “but, for mercy’s sake don’t harm the child! Let it be taken to its mother.”
“And who is its mother?” asked Jonathan, in an eager whisper. “Tell me frankly, and speak under your breath. Your own safety—the child’s safety—depends upon your candour.”
While Mr. Wood underwent this examination, Blueskin felt a small and trembling hand placed upon his own, and, turning at the summons, beheld a young female, whose features were partially concealed by a loo, or half mask, standing beside him. Coarse as were the ruffian’s notions of feminine beauty, he could not be insensible to the surpassing loveliness of the fair creature, who had thus solicited his attention. Her figure was, in some measure, hidden by a large scarf, and a deep hood drawn over the head contributed to her disguise; still it was evident, from her lofty bearing, that she had nothing in common, except an interest in their proceedings, with the crew by whom she was surrounded.
Whence she came,—who she was,—and what she wanted,—were questions which naturally suggested themselves to Blueskin, and he was about to seek for some explanation, when his curiosity was checked by a gesture of silence from the lady.
“Hush!” said she, in a low, but agitated voice; “would you earn this purse?”
“I’ve no objection,” replied Blueskin, in a tone intended to be gentle, but which sounded like the murmuring whine of a playful bear. “How much is there in it!”
“It contains gold,” replied the lady; “but I will add this ring.”
“What am I to do to earn it?” asked Blueskin, with a disgusting leer,—“cut a throat—or throw myself at your feet—eh, my dear?”
“Give me that child,” returned the lady, with difficulty overcoming the loathing inspired by the ruffian’s familiarity.
“Oh! I see!” replied Blueskin, winking significantly, “Come nearer, or they’ll observe us. Don’t be afraid—I won’t hurt you. I’m always agreeable to the women, bless their kind hearts! Now! slip the purse into my hand. Bravo!—the best cly-faker of ’em all couldn’t have done it better. And now for the fawney—the ring I mean. I’m no great judge of these articles, Ma’am; but I trust to your honour not to palm off paste upon me.”
“It is a diamond,” said the lady, in an agony of distress,—“the child!”
“A diamond! Here, take the kid,” cried Blueskin, slipping the infant adroitly under her scarf. “And so this is a diamond,” added he, contemplating the brilliant from the hollow of his hand: “it does sparkle almost as brightly as your ogles. By the by, my dear, I forgot to ask your name—perhaps you’ll oblige me with it now? Hell and the devil!—gone!”
He looked around in vain. The lady had disappeared.
The Master of the Mint.
Jonathan, meanwhile, having ascertained the parentage of the child from Wood, proceeded to question him in an under tone, as to the probable motives of the attempt upon its life; and, though he failed in obtaining any information on this point, he had little difficulty in eliciting such particulars of the mysterious transaction as have already been recounted. When the carpenter concluded his recital, Jonathan was for a moment lost in reflection.