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.
As if a thief should steal a tainted vest,
Some dead man’s spoil, and sicken of his pest—Hood
’Tis bitterer to me than wormwood the memory of what followed, and I shall tell the story in the fewest words I may. We were cast into prison, and lay there for months in a stone cell with little light, and only foul straw to lie on. At first we were cut and bruised from that tussle and cudgelling in Aldobrand’s house, and it was long before we were recovered of our wounds, for we had nothing but bread and water to live on, and that so bad as barely to hold body and soul together. Afterwards the heavy fetters that were put about our ankles set up sores and galled us so that we scarce could move for pain. And if the iron galled my flesh, my spirit chafed ten times more within those damp and dismal walls; yet all that time Elzevir never breathed a word of reproach, though it was my wilfulness had led us into so terrible a strait.