- All that glisters is not gold—Shakespeare
There was the turnkey's belt lying on the floor, with the keys and manacles fixed to it, just as it had failed and come off him at the fatal moment. Elzevir picked it up, tried the keys till he found the right one, and unlocked the door of the well-house.
'There are other locks to open before we get out,' I said.
'Ay,' he answered, 'but it is more than our life is worth to be seen with these keys, so send them down the well, after their master.'
I took them back and flung them, belt and keys and handcuffs, clanking down against the sides into the blackness and the hidden water at the bottom. Then we took pail and hammer, brush and ropes, and turned our backs upon that hateful place. There was the little court to cross before we came to the doors of the banquet-hall. They were locked, but we knocked until a guard opened them. He knew us for the plasterer-men, who had passed an hour before, and only asked, 'Where is Ephraim?' meaning the turnkey. 'He is stopping behind in the well-house,' Elzevir said, and so we passed on through the hall, where the prisoners were making what breakfast they might of odds and ends, with a savoury smell of cooking and a great patter of French.
At the outer gate was another guard to be passed, but they opened for us without question, cursing Ephraim under their breath, that he did not take the pains to let his own men out. Then the wicket of the great gates swung-to behind us, and we went into the open again. As soon as we were out of sight we quickened our pace, and the weather having much bettered, and a fresh breeze springing up, we came back to the Bugle about ten in the forenoon.
I believe that neither of us spoke a word during that walk, and though Elzevir had not yet seen the diamond, he never even took the pains to draw it out of the little parchment bag, in which it still lay hid in his pocket. Yet if I did not speak I thought, and my thoughts were sad enough. For here were we a second time, flying for our lives, and if we had not the full guilt of blood upon our hands, yet blood was surely there. So this flight was very bitter to me, because the scene of death of which I had been witness this morning seemed to take me farther still away from all my old happy life, and to stand like another dreadful obstacle between Grace and me. In the Family Bible lying on the table in my aunt's best parlour was a picture of Cain, which I had often looked at with fear on wet Sunday afternoons. It showed Cain striding along in the midst of a boundless desert, with his sons and their wives striding behind him, and their little children carried slung on poles. There was a quick, swinging motion in the bodies of all, as though they must needs always stride as fast as they might, and never rest, and their faces were set hard, and thin with eternal wandering and disquiet. But the thinnest and most restless-looking and hardest face was Cain's, and on the middle of his forehead there was a dark spot, which God had set to show that none might touch him, because he was the first murderer, and cursed for ever. This had always been to me a dreadful picture, though I could not choose but look at it, and was sorry indeed for Cain, for all he was so wicked, because it seemed so hard to have to wander up and down the world all his life long, and never be able to come to moorings. And yet this very thing had come upon me now, for here we were, with the blood of two men on our hands, wanderers on the face of the earth, who durst never go home; and if the mark of Cain was not on my forehead already, I felt it might come out there at any minute.
When we reached the Bugle I went upstairs and flung myself upon the bed to try to rest a little and think, but Elzevir shut himself in with the landlord, and I could hear them talking earnestly in the room under me. After a while he came up and said that he had considered with the landlord how we could best get away, telling him that we must be off at once, but letting him suppose that we were eager to leave the place because some of the Excise had got wind of our whereabouts. He had said nothing to our host about the turnkey, wishing as few persons as possible to know of that matter, but doubted not that we should by all means hasten our departure from the island, for that as soon as the turnkey was missed inquiry would certainly be made for the plasterers with whom he was last seen.
Yet in this thing at least Fortune favoured us, for there was now lying at Cowes, and ready to sail that night, a Dutch couper that had run a cargo of Hollands on the other side of the island, and was going back to Scheveningen freighted with wool. Our landlord knew the Dutch captain well, having often done business for him, and so could give us letters of recommendation which would ensure us a passage to the Low Countries. Thus in the afternoon we were on the road, making our way from Newport to Cowes in a new disguise, for we had changed our clothes again, and now wore the common sailor dress of blue.
The clouds had returned after the rain, and the afternoon was wet, and worse than the morning, so I shall not say anything of another weary and silent walk. We arrived on Cowes quay by eight in the evening, and found the couper ready to make sail, and waiting only for the tide to set out. Her name was the Gouden Droom, and she was a little larger than the Bonaventure, but had a smaller crew, and was not near so well found. Elzevir exchanged a few words with the captain, and gave him the landlord's letter, and after that they let us come on board, but said nothing to us. We judged that we were best out of the way, so went below; and finding her laden deep, and even the cabin full of bales of wool, flung ourselves on them to rest. I was so tired and heavy with sleep that my eyes closed almost before I was lain down, and never opened till the next morning was well advanced.
I shall not say anything about our voyage, nor how we came safe to Scheveningen, because it has little to do with this story. Elzevir had settled that we should go to Holland, not only because the couper was waiting to sail thither for we might doubtless have found other boats before long to take us elsewhere — but also because he had learned at Newport that the Hague was the first market in the world for diamonds. This he told me after we were safe housed in a little tavern in the town, which was frequented by seamen, but those of the better class, such as mates and skippers of small vessels. Here we lay for several days while Elzevir made such inquiry as he could without waking suspicion as to who were the best dealers in precious stones, and the most able to pay a good price for a valuable jewel. It was lucky, too, for us that Elzevir could speak the Dutch language — not well indeed, but enough to make himself understood, and to understand others. When I asked where he had learned it, he told me that he came of Dutch blood on his mother's side, and so got his name of Elzevir; and that he could once speak in Dutch as readily as in English, only that his mother dying when he was yet a boy he lost something of the facility.
As the days passed, the memory of that dreadful morning at Carisbrooke became dimmer to me, and my mind more cheerful or composed. I got the diamond back from Elzevir, and had it out many times, both by day and by night, and every time it seemed more brilliant and wonderful than the last. Often of nights, after all the house was gone to rest, I would lock the door of the room, and sit with a candle burning on the table, and turn the diamond over in my hands. It was, as I have said, as big as a pigeon's egg or walnut, delicately cut and faceted all over, perfect and flawless, without speck or stain, and yet, for all it was so clear and colourless, there flew out from the depth of it such flashes and sparkles of red, blue, and green, as made one wonder whence these tints could come. Thus while I sat and watched it I would tell Elzevir stories from the Arabian Nights, of wondrous jewels, though I believe there never was a stone that the eagles brought up from the Valley of Diamonds, no, nor any in the Caliph's crown itself, that could excel this gem of ours.
You may be sure that at such times we talked much of the value that was to be put upon the stone, and what was likely to be got for it, but never could settle, not having any experience of such things. Only, I was sure that it must be worth thousands of pounds, and so sat and rubbed my hands, saying that though life was like a game of hazard, and our throws had hitherto been bad enough, yet we had made something of this last. But all the while a strange change was coming over us both, and our parts seemed turned about. For whereas a few days before it was I who wished to fling the diamond away, feeling overwrought and heavy-hearted in that awful well-house, and Elzevir who held me from it; now it was he that seemed to set little store by it, and I to whom it was all in all. He seldom cared to look much at the jewel, and one night when I was praising it to him, spoke out:
'Set not thy heart too much upon this stone. It is thine, and thine to deal with. Never a penny will I touch that we may get for it. Yet, were I thou, and reached great wealth with it, and so came back one day to Moonfleet, I would not spend it all on my own ends, but put aside a part to build the poor-houses again, as men say Blackbeard meant to do with it'
I did not know what made him speak like this, and was not willing, even in fancy, to agree to what he counselled; for with that gem before me, lustrous, and all the brighter for lying on a rough deal table, I could only think of the wealth it was to bring to us, and how I would most certainly go back one day to Moonfleet and marry Grace. So I never answered Elzevir, but took the diamond and slipped it back in the silver locket, which still hung round my neck, for that was the safest place for it that we could think of.
We spent some days in wandering round the town making inquiries, and learnt that most of the diamond-buyers lived near one another in a certain little street, whose name I have forgotten, but that the richest and best known of them was one Krispijn Aldobrand. He was a Jew by birth, but had lived all his life in the Hague, and besides having bought and sold some of the finest stones, was said to ask few questions, and to trouble little whence stones came, so they were but good. Thus, after much thought and many changes of purpose, we chose this Aldobrand, and settled we would put the matter to the touch with him.
We took an evening in late summer for our venture, and came to Aldobrand's house about an hour before sundown. I remember the place well, though I have not seen it for so long, and am certainly never like to see it again. It was a low house of two stories standing back a little from the street, with some wooden palings and a grass plot before it, and a stone-flagged path leading up to the door. The front of it was whitewashed, with green shutters, and had a shiny-leaved magnolia trained round about the windows. These jewellers had no shops, though sometimes they set a single necklace or bracelet in a bottom window, but put up notices proclaiming their trade. Thus there was over Aldobrand's door a board stuck out to say that he bought and sold jewels, and would lend money on diamonds or other valuables.
A sturdy serving-man opened the door, and when he heard our business was to sell a jewel, left us in a stone-floored hall or lobby, while he went upstairs to ask whether his master would see us. A few minutes later the stairs creaked, and Aldobrand himself came down. He was a little wizened man with yellow skin and deep wrinkles, not less than seventy years old; and I saw he wore shoes of polished leather, silver-buckled, and tilted-heeled to add to his stature. He began speaking to us from the landing, not coming down into the hall, but leaning over the handrail:
'Well, my sons, what would you with me? I hear you have a jewel to sell, but you must know I do not purchase sailors' flotsam. So if 'tis a moonstone or catseye, or some pin-head diamonds, keep them to make brooches for your sweethearts, for Aldobrand buys no toys like that.'
He had a thin and squeaky voice, and spoke to us in our own tongue, guessing no doubt that we were English from our faces. 'Twas true he handled the language badly enough, yet I was glad he used it, for so I could follow all that was said.
'No toys like that,' he said again, repeating his last words, and Elzevir answered: 'May it please your worship, we are sailors from over sea, and this boy has a diamond that he would sell.'
I had the gem in my hand all ready, and when the old man squeaked peevishly, 'Out with it then, let's see, let's see,' I reached it out to him. He stretched down over the banisters, and took it; holding out his palm hollowed, as if 'twas some little paltry stone that might otherwise fall and be lost. It nettled me to have him thus underrate our treasure, even though he had never seen it, and so I plumped it down into his hand as if it were as big as a pumpkin. Now the hall was a dim place, being lit only by a half-circle of glass over the door, and so I could not see very well; yet in reaching down he brought his head near mine, and I could swear his face changed when he felt the size of the stone in his hand, and turned from impatience and contempt to wonder and delight. He took the jewel quickly from his palm, and held it up between finger and thumb, and when he spoke again, his voice was changed as well as his face, and had lost most of the sharp impatience.
'There is not light enough to see in this dark place — follow me,' and he turned back and went upstairs rapidly, holding the stone in his hand; and we close at his heels, being anxious not to lose sight of him now that he had our diamond, for all he was so rich and well known a man.
Thus we came to another landing, and there he flung open the door of a room which looked out west, and had the light of the setting sun streaming in full flood through the window. The change from the dimness of the stairs to this level red blaze was so quick that for a minute I could make out nothing, but turning my back to the window saw presently that the room was panelled all through with painted wood, with a bed let into the wall on one side, and shelves round the others, on which were many small coffers and strong-boxes of iron. The jeweller was sitting at a table with his face to the sun, holding the diamond up against the light, and gazing into it closely, so that I could see every working of his face. The hard and cunning look had come back to it, and he turned suddenly upon me and asked quite sharply, 'What is your name, boy? Whence do you come?'
Now I was not used to walk under false names, and he took me unawares, so I must needs blurt out, 'My name is John Trenchard, sir, and I come from Moonfleet, in Dorset.'
A second later I could have bitten off my tongue for having said as much, and saw Elzevir frowning at me to make me hold my peace. But 'twas too late then, for the merchant was writing down my answer in a parchment ledger. And though it would seem to most but a little thing that he should thus take down my name and birthplace, and only vexed us at the time, because we would not have it known at all whence we came; yet in the overrulings of Providence it was ordered that this note in Mr. Aldobrand's book should hereafter change the issue of my life.
'From Moonfleet, in Dorset,' he repeated to himself, as he finished writing my answer. 'And how did John Trenchard come by this?' and he tapped the diamond as it lay on the table before him.
Then Elzevir broke in quickly, fearing no doubt lest I should be betrayed into saying more: 'Nay, sir, we are not come to play at questions and answers, but to know whether your worship will buy this diamond, and at what price. We have no time to tell long histories, and so must only say that we are English sailors, and that the stone is fairly come by.' And he let his fingers play with the diamond on the table, as if he feared it might slip away from him.
'Softly, softly,' said the old man; 'all stones are fairly come by; but had you told me whence you got this, I might have spared myself some tedious tests, which now I must crave pardon for making.'
He opened a cupboard in the panelling, and took out from it a little pair of scales, some crystals, a blackstone, and a bottle full of a green liquid. Then he sat down again, drew the diamond gently from Elzevir's fingers, which were loth to part with it, and began using his scales; balancing the diamond carefully, now against a crystal, now against some small brass weights. I stood with my back to the sunset, watching the red light fall upon this old man as he weighed the diamond, rubbed it on the black-stone, or let fall on it a drop of the liquor, and so could see the wonder and emotion fade away from his face, and only hard craftiness left in it.
I watched him meddling till I could bear to watch no longer, feeling a fierce feverish suspense as to what he might say, and my pulse beating so quick that I could scarce stand still. For was not the decisive moment very nigh when we should know, from these parched-up lips, the value of the jewel, and whether it was worth risking life for, whether the fabric of our hopes was built on sure foundation or on slippery sand? So I turned my back on the diamond merchant, and looked out of the window, waiting all the while to catch the slightest word that might come from his lips.
I have found then and at other times that in such moments, though the mind be occupied entirely by one overwhelming thought, yet the eyes take in, as it were unwittingly, all that lies before them, so that we can afterwards recall a face or landscape of which at the time we took no note. Thus it was with me that night, for though I was thinking of nothing but the jewel, yet I noted everything that could be seen through the window, and the recollection was of use to me later on. The window was made in the French style, reaching down to the floor, and opening like a door with two leaves. It led on to a little balcony, and now stood open (for the day was still very hot), and on the wall below was trained a pear-tree, which half-embowered the balcony with its green leaves. The window could be well protected in case of need, having latticed wooden blinds inside, and heavy shutters shod with iron on the outer wall, and there were besides strong bolts and sockets from which ran certain wires whose use I did not know. Below the balcony was a square garden-plot, shut in with a brick wall, and kept very neat and trim. There were hollyhocks round the walls, and many-coloured poppies, with many other shrubs and flowers. My eyes fell on one especially, a tall red-blossomed rushy kind of flower, that I had never seen before; and that seemed indeed to be something out of the common, for it stood in the middle of a little earth-plot, and had the whole bed nearly to itself.
I was looking at this flower, not thinking of it, but wondering all the while whether Mr. Aldobrand would say the diamond was worth ten thousand pounds, or fifty, or a hundred thousand, when I heard him speaking, and turned round quick. 'My sons, and you especially, son John,' he said, and turned to me: 'this stone that you have brought me is no stone at all, but glass — or rather paste, for so we call it. Not but what it is good paste, and perhaps the best that I have seen, and so I had to try it to make sure. But against high chymic tests no sham can stand; and first it is too light in weight, and second, when rubbed on this Basanus or Black-stone, traces no line of white, as any diamond must. But, third and last, I have tried it with the hermeneutic proof, and dipped it in this most costly lembic; and the liquor remains pure green and clear, not turbid orange, a diamond leaves it.'
As he spoke the room spun round, and I felt the sickness and heart-sinking that comes with the sudden destruction of long-cherished hope. So it was all a sham, a bit of glass, for which we had risked our lives. Blackbeard had only mocked us even in his death, and from rich men we were become the poorest outcasts. And all the other bright fancies that had been built on this worthless thing fell down at once, like a house of cards. There was no money now with which to go back rich to Moonfleet, no money to cloak past offences, no money to marry Grace; and with that I gave a sigh, and my knees failing should have fallen had not Elzevir held me.
'Nay, son John,' squeaked the old man, seeing I was so put about, 'take it not hardly, for though this is but paste, I say not it is worthless. It is as fine work as ever I have seen, and I will offer you ten silver crowns for it; which is a goodly sum for a sailor-lad to have in hand, and more than all the other buyers in this town would bid you for it.'
'Tush, tush,' cried Elzevir, and I could hear the bitterness and disappointment in his voice, however much he tried to hide it; 'we are not come to beg for silver crowns, so keep them in your purse. And the devil take this shining sham; we are well quit of it; there is a curse upon the thing!' And with that he caught up the stone and flung it away out of the window in his anger.
This brought the diamond-buyer to his feet in a moment. 'You fool, you cursed fool!' he shrieked, 'are you come here to beard me? and when I say the thing is worth ten silver crowns do you fling it to the winds?'
I had sprung forward with a half thought of catching Elzevir's arm; but it was too late — the stone flew up in the air, caught the low rays of the setting sun for a moment, and then fell among the flowers. I could not see it as it fell, yet followed with my eyes the line in which it should have fallen, and thought I saw a glimmer where it touched the earth. It was only a flash or sparkle for an instant, just at the stem of that same rushy red-flowered plant, and then nothing more to be seen; but as I faced round I saw the little man's eyes turned that way too, and perhaps he saw the flash as well as I.
'There's for your ten crowns!' said Elzevir. 'Let us be going, lad.' And he took me by the arm and marched me out of the room and down the stairs.
'Go, and a blight on you!' says Mr. Aldobrand, his voice being not so high as when he cried out last, but in his usual squeak; and then he repeated, 'a blight on you,' just for a parting shot as we went through the door.
We passed two more waiting-men on the stairs, but they said nothing to us, and so we came to the street.
We walked along together for some time without a word, and then Elzevir said, 'Cheer up, lad, cheer up. Thou saidst thyself thou fearedst there was a curse on the thing, so now it is gone, maybe we are well quit of it.'
Yet I could not say anything, being too much disappointed to find the diamond was a sham, and bitterly cast down at the loss of all our hopes. It was all very well to think there was a curse upon the stone so long as we had it, and to feign that we were ready to part with it; but now it was gone I knew that at heart I never wished to part with it at all, and would have risked any curse to have it back again. There was supper waiting for us when we got back, but I had no stomach for victuals and sat moodily while Elzevir ate, and he not much. But when I sat and brooded over what had happened, a new thought came to my mind and I jumped up and cried, 'Elzevir, we are fools! The stone is no sham; 'tis a real diamond!'
He put down his knife and fork, and looked at me, not saying anything, but waiting for me to say more, and yet did not show so much surprise as I expected. Then I reminded him how the old merchant's face was full of wonder and delight when first he saw the stone, which showed he thought it was real then, and how afterwards, though he schooled his voice to bring out long words to deceive us, he was ready enough to spring to his feet and shriek out loud when Elzevir threw the stone into the garden. I spoke fast, and in talking to him convinced myself, so when I stopped for want of breath I was quite sure that the stone was indeed a diamond, and that Aldobrand had duped us.
Still Elzevir showed little eagerness, and only said —
'’Tis like enough that what you say is true, but what would you have us do? The stone is flung away.'
'Yes,' I answered; 'but I saw where it fell, and know the very place; let us go back now at once and get it.'
'Do you not think that Aldobrand saw the place too?' asked Elzevir; and then I remembered how, when I turned back to the room after seeing the stone fall, I caught the eyes of the old merchant looking the same way; and how he spoke more quietly after that, and not with the bitter cry he used when Elzevir tossed the jewel out of the window.
'I do not know,' I said doubtfully; 'let us go back and see. It fell just by the stem of a red flower that I marked well. What!' I added, seeing him still hesitate and draw back, 'do you doubt? Shall we not go and get it?'
Still he did not answer for a minute, and then spoke slowly, as if weighing his words. 'I cannot tell. I think that all you say is true, and that this stone is real. Nay, I was half of that mind when I threw it away, and yet I would not say we are not best without it. 'Twas you who first spoke of a curse upon the jewel, and I laughed at that as being a childish tale. But now I cannot tell; for ever since we first scented this treasure luck has run against us, John; yes, run against us very strong; and here we are, flying from home, called outlaws, and with blood upon our hands. Not that blood frightens me, for I have stood face to face with men in fair fight, and never felt a death-blow given so weigh on my soul; but these two men came to a tricksy kind of end, and yet I could not help it. 'Tis true that all my life I've served the Contraband, but no man ever knew me do a foul action; and now I do not like that men should call me felon, and like it less that they should call thee felon too. Perhaps there may be after all some curse that hangs about this stone, and leads to ruin those that handle it. I cannot say, for I am not a Parson Glennie in these things; but Blackbeard in an evil mood may have tied the treasure up to be a curse to any that use it for themselves. What do we want with this thing at all? I have got money to be touched at need; we may lie quiet this side the Channel, where thou shalt learn an honest trade, and when the mischief has blown over we will go back to Moonfleet. So let the jewel be, John; shall we not let the jewel be?'
He spoke earnestly, and most earnestly at the end, taking me by the hand and looking me full in the face. But I could not look him back again, and turned my eyes away, for I was wilful, and would not bring myself to let the diamond go. Yet all the while I thought that what he said was true, and I remembered that sermon that Mr. Glennie preached, saying that life was like a 'Y', and that to each comes a time when two ways part, and where he must choose whether he will take the broad and sloping road or the steep and narrow path. So now I guessed that long ago I had chosen the broad road, and now was but walking farther down it in seeking after this evil treasure, and still I could not bear to give all up, and persuaded myself that it was a child's folly to madly fling away so fine a stone. So instead of listening to good advice from one so much older than me, I set to work to talk him over, and persuaded him that if we got the diamond again, and ever could sell it, we would give the money to build up the Mohune almshouses, knowing well in my heart that I never meant to do any such thing. Thus at the last Elzevir, who was the stubbornest of men, and never yielded, was overborne by his great love to me, and yielded here.
It was ten o'clock before we set out together, to go again to Aldobrand's, meaning to climb the garden wall and get the stone. I walked quickly enough, and talked all the time to silence my own misgivings, but Elzevir hung back a little and said nothing, for it was sorely against his judgement that he came at all. But as we neared the place I ceased my chatter, and so we went on in silence, each busy with his own thoughts, We did not come in front of Aldobrand's house, but turned out of the main street down a side lane which we guessed would skirt the garden wall. There were few people moving even in the streets, and in this little lane there was not a soul to meet as we crept along in the shadow of the high walls. We were not mistaken, for soon we came to what we judged was the outside of Aldobrand's garden.
Here we paused for a minute, and I believe Elzevir was for making a last remonstrance, but I gave him no chance, for I had found a place where some bricks were loosened in the wall-face, and set myself to climb. It was easy enough to scale for us, and in a minute we both dropped down in a bed of soft mould on the other side. We pushed through some gooseberry-bushes that caught the clothes, and distinguishing the outline of the house, made that way, till in a few steps we stood on the Pelouse or turf, which I had seen from the balcony three hours before. I knew the twirl of the walks, and the pattern of the beds; the rank of hollyhocks that stood up all along the wall, and the poppies breathing out a faint sickly odour in the night. An utter silence held all the garden, and, the night being very clear, there was still enough light to show the colours of the flowers when one looked close at them, though the green of the leaves was turned to grey. We kept in the shadow of the wall, and looked expectantly at the house. But no murmur came from it, it might have been a house of the dead for any noise the living made there; nor was there light in any window, except in one behind the balcony, to which our eyes were turned first. In that room there was someone not yet gone to rest, for we could see a lattice of light where a lamp shone through the open work of the wooden blinds.
'He is up still,' I whispered, 'and the outside shutters are not closed.' Elzevir nodded, and then I made straight for the bed where the red flower grew. I had no need of any light to see the bells of that great rushy thing, for it was different from any of the rest, and besides that was planted by itself.
I pointed it out to Elzevir. 'The stone lies by the stalk of that flower,' I said, 'on the side nearest to the house'; and then I stayed him with my hand upon his arm, that he should stand where he was at the bed's edge, while I stepped on and got the stone.
My feet sank in the soft earth as I passed through the fringe of poppies circling the outside of the bed, and so I stood beside the tall rushy flower. The scarlet of its bells was almost black, but there was no mistaking it, and I stooped to pick the diamond up. Was it possible? was there nothing for my outstretched hand to finger, except the soft rich loam, and on the darkness of the ground no guiding sparkle? I knelt down to make more sure, and looked all round the plant, and still found nothing, though it was light enough to see a pebble, much more to catch the gleam and flash of the great diamond I knew so well.
It was not there, and yet I knew that I had seen it fall beyond all room for doubt. 'It is gone, Elzevir; it is gone!' I cried out in my anguish, but only heard a 'Hush!' from him to bid me not to speak so loud. Then I fell on my knees again, and sifted the mould through my fingers, to make sure the stone had not sunk in and been overlooked.
But it was all to no purpose, and at last I stepped back to where Elzevir was, and begged him to light a piece of match in the shelter of the hollyhocks; and I would screen it with my hands, so that the light should fall upon the ground, and not be seen from the house, and so search round the flower. He did as I asked, not because he thought that I should find anything, but rather to humour me; and, as he put the lighted match into my hands, said, speaking low, 'Let the stone be, lad, let it be; for either thou didst fail to mark the place right, or others have been here before thee. 'Tis ruled we should not touch the stone again, and so 'tis best; let be, let be; let us get home.'
He put his hand upon my shoulder gently, and spoke with such an earnestness and pleading in his voice that one would have thought it was a woman rather than a great rough giant; and yet I would not hear, and broke away, sheltering the match in my hollowed hands, and making back to the red flower. But this time, just as I stepped upon the mould, coming to the bed from the house side, the light fell on the ground, and there I saw something that brought me up short.
It was but a dint or impress on the soft brown loam, and yet, before my eyes were well upon it, I knew it for the print of a sharp heel — a sharp deep heel, having just in front of it the outline of a little foot. There is a story every boy was given to read when I was young, of Crusoe wrecked upon a desert isle, who, walking one day on the shore, was staggered by a single footprint in the sand, because he learnt thus that there were savages in that sad place, where he thought he stood alone. Yet I believe even that footprint in the sand was never greater blow to him than was this impress in the garden mould to me, for I remembered well the little shoes of polished leather, with their silver buckles and high-tilted heels.
He had been here before us. I found another footprint, and another leading towards the middle of the bed; and then I flung the match away, trampling the fire out in the soil. It was no use searching farther now, for I knew well there was no diamond here for us.
I stepped back to the lawn, and caught Elzevir by the arm. 'Aldobrand has been here before us, and stole away the jewel,' I whispered sharp; and looking wildly round in the still night, saw the lattice of lamplight shining through the wooden blinds of the balcony window.
'Well, there's an end of it!' said he, 'and we are saved further question. 'Tis gone, so let us cry good riddance to it and be off.' So he turned to go back, and there was one more chance for me to choose the better way and go with him; but still I could not give the jewel up, and must go farther on the other path which led to ruin for us both. For I had my eyes fixed on the light coming through the blinds of that window, and saw how thick and strong the boughs of the pear-tree were trained against the wall about the balcony.
'Elzevir,' I said, swallowing the bitter disappointment which rose in my throat, 'I cannot go till I have seen what is doing in that room above. I will climb to the balcony and look in through the chinks'. Perhaps he is not there, perhaps he has left our diamond there and we may get it back again.' So I went straight to the house, not giving him time to raise a word to stop me, for there was something in me driving me on, and I was not to be stopped by anyone from that purpose.
There was no need to fear any seeing us, for all the windows except that one, were tight shuttered, and though our footsteps on the soft lawn woke no sound, I knew that Elzevir was following me. It was no easy task to climb the pear-tree, for all that the boughs looked so strong, for they lay close against the wall, and gave little hold for hand or foot. Twice, or more, an unripe pear was broken off, and fell rustling down through the leaves to earth, and I paused and waited to hear if anyone was disturbed in the room above; but all was deathly still, and at last I got my hand upon the parapet, and so came safe to the balcony.
I was panting from the hard climb, yet did not wait to get my breath, but made straight for the window to see what was going on inside. The outer shutters were still flung back, as they had been in the afternoon, and there was no difficulty in looking in, for I found an opening in the lattice-blind just level with my eyes, and could see all the room inside. It was well lit, as for a marriage feast, and I think there were a score of candles or more burning in holders on the table, or in sconces on the wall. At the table, on the farther side of it from me, and facing the window, sat Aldobrand, just as he sat when he told us the stone was a sham. His face was turned towards the window, and as I looked full at him it seemed impossible but that he should know that I was there.
In front of him, on the table, lay the diamond — our diamond, my diamond; for I knew it was a diamond now, and not false. It was not alone, but had a dozen more cut gems laid beside it on the table, each a little apart from the other; yet there was no mistaking mine, which was thrice as big as any of the rest. And if it surpassed them in size, how much more did it excel in fierceness and sparkle! All the candles in the room were mirrored in it, and as the splendour flashed from every line and facet that I knew so well, it seemed to call to me, 'Am I not queen of all diamonds of the world? am I not your diamond? will you not take me to yourself again? will you save me from this sorry trickster?'
I had my eyes fixed, but still knew that Elzevir was beside me. He would not let me risk myself in any hazard alone without he stood by me himself to help in case of need; and yet his faithfulness but galled me now, and I asked myself with a sneer, Am I never to stir hand or foot without this man to dog me? The merchant sat still for a minute as though thinking, and then he took one of the diamonds that lay on the table, and then another, and set them close beside the great stone, pitting them, as it were, with it. Yet how could any match with that? — for it outshone them all as the sun outshines the stars in heaven.
Then the old man took the stone and weighed it in the scales which stood on the table before him, balancing it carefully, and a dozen times, against some little weights of brass; and then he wrote with pen and ink in a sheepskin book, and afterwards on a sheet of paper as though casting up numbers. What would I not have given to see the figures that he wrote? for was he not casting up the value of the jewel, and summing out the profits he would make? After that he took the stone between finger and thumb, holding it up before his eyes, and placing it now this way, now that, so that the light might best fall on it. I could have cursed him for the wondering love of that fair jewel that overspread his face; and cursed him ten times more for the smile upon his lips, because I guessed he laughed to think how he had duped two simple sailors that very afternoon.
There was the diamond in his hands — our diamond, my diamond — in his hands, and I but two yards from my own; only a flimsy veil of wood and glass to keep me from the treasure he had basely stolen from us. Then I felt Elzevir's hand upon my shoulder. 'Let us be going,' he said; 'a minute more and he may come to put these shutters to, and find us here. Let us be going. Diamonds are not for simple folk like us; this is an evil stone, and brings a curse with it. Let us be going, John.'
But I shook off the kind hand roughly, forgetting how he had saved my life, and nursed me for many weary weeks and stood by me through bad and worse; for just now the man at the table rose and took out a little iron box from a cupboard at the back of the room. I knew that he was going to lock my treasure into it, and that I should see it no more. But the great jewel lying lonely on the table flashed and sparkled in the light of twenty candles, and called to me, 'Am I not queen of all diamonds of the world? am I not your diamond? save me from the hands of this scurvy robber.'
Then I hurled myself forward with all my weight full on the joining of the window frames, and in a second crashed through the glass, and through the wooden blind into the room behind.
The noise of splintered wood and glass had not died away before there was a sound as of bells ringing all over the house, and the wires I had seen in the afternoon dangled loose in front of my face. But I cared neither for bells nor wires, for there lay the great jewel flashing before me. The merchant had turned sharp round at the crash, and darted for the diamond, crying 'Thieves! thieves! thieves!' He was nearer to it than I, and as I dashed forward our hands met across the table, with his underneath upon the stone. But I gripped him by the wrist, and though he struggled, he was but a weak old man, and in a few seconds I had it twisted from his grasp. In a few seconds — but before they were past the diamond was well in my hand — the door burst open, and in rushed six sturdy serving-men with staves and bludgeons.
Elzevir had given a little groan when he saw me force the window, but followed me into the room and was now at my side. 'Thieves! thieves! thieves!' screamed the merchant, falling back exhausted in his chair and pointing to us, and then the knaves fell on too quick for us to make for the window. Two set on me and four on Elzevir; and one man, even a giant, cannot fight with four — above all when they carry staves.
Never had I seen Master Block overborne or worsted by any odds; and Fortune was kind to me, at least in this, that she let me not see the issue then, for a staff caught me so round a knock on the head as made the diamond drop out of my hand, and laid me swooning on the floor.