by Thomas Prest. |
Originally published in People's Periodical and Family Library, Nov. 1846
A razor-wielding barber kills his customers for cash and a string of pearls.CONTENTS
Of all the tales of crime and bloodshed which it has fallen to the lot of the historian or novelist to chronicle, we doubt if any other can compare on the point of horror with the story of Sweeney Todd, usually called The Demon Barber of Fleet-Street.
This bloodthirsty wretch "flourished," if such a term may be used with regard to such a villain, during many years of the last century, until at last an end was made to his career of crime, fitting in horror well with the means by which he had striven to satisfy his avarice and cupidity.
Most of our readers have heard a little of how in his little shop near Temple Bar this human ghoul was in the habit of "polishing off" any victims presumably possessed of valuables who might present themselves at his shop for a shave or what-not.
And they have also heard of how the bodies of the unfortunate victims were disposed of by being conveyed through an underground passage under St. Dunstan's Church (not the present church, mind, but the one which formerly stood near the same spot) to the bakehouse of one Mrs. Lovett, when they were—horrible to relate!—made into pies, and sold by hundreds to hungry customers who came from far and near, attracted by the reputation which the pastry cook’s widow had obtained for the succulence and savoury flavour of her pies.
The interior of Todd's shop did not differ from that of any other barber of the period, save perhaps that the shop windows were a trifle more opaque than was usual.
The only thing that would strike the closest observers was the "operating" chair.
This was a handsome piece of furniture carved out of solid oak.
This chair was constructed in the most ingenious manner.
The square yard of flooring upon which it was placed worked upon an axle.
By pressing a button Todd sent the unsuspecting victim headforemost into the vaults below, and a second chair, the exact counterpart of the one recently occupied by the victim, immediately arose from the cellar, and appeared firmly established as a fixture in the shop.
The victim, in nine cases out of ten, was killed by the fall; a broken neck usually putting him out of his misery.
Should, however, the unfortunate man reach the ground alive, Todd would leisurely make his way down to the vaults, and with a long keen dagger dispatch the probably half-stunned wretch.
Sweeney would then return to the shop, and wait like a spider for a fly, until a fresh victim should appear.
The body he did not search until after the shop was closed at night, and his apprentice had gone to his home.
Todd exhibited a great amount of shrewdness in his method of selecting his victims.
He would ask them the time so that he might be able to judge of the value of their watches, and would artfully lead them to talk about their worldly possessions—especially as to what money and valuables they might be in the habit of carrying about with them.
In time he became so expert in his method of questioning his customers that he rarely made a mistake.
That is to say, that his murderous attacks were usually well-rewarded in a pecuniary point of view.
The only occasions on which he found himself not much richer for his crime were those on which some lively young spark, whose brains and money were about equally abundant, would talk loudly of his recent visit to the bank to cash a draft.
These boasters would usually tap their breast pockets in such a manner as to suggest that they had plenty of gold or notes in that receptacle.
They invariably paid with their lives for their little bit of harmless boasting.
When Todd found that he had been "sold," as he called it, his rage knew no bounds.
He would dash himself about through the long hours of the night, more like a maddened wild beast than a human being, if indeed he could be called one.
Then when thoroughly exhausted he would fall to the ground in a semi-trance, almost resembling an epileptic fit.
From this state he would not rouse until he heard his boy ring the shop bell in the morning.
He usually accounted for his worn-out appearance by stating he had suffered martyrdom during the night from neuralgia.
For years this course of crime had been carried on, and though strong suspicions were entertained that all was not right, still nothing positive was known until the events occurred which we are about to describe.
At the time our story opens Sweeney Todd's apprentice was a lad named Tobias Ragg.
This lad was usually called Toby by Sweeney's regular customers, for the horrid wretch had regular customers.
He was clever enough to confine his "operations" to strangers, or at least comparative strangers.
Toby was a well made lad, and had he have been better fed and clothed would have been positively handsome.
As it was any casual observer would have been struck by the regularity of his features and his great melancholy dark eyes.
Poor Toby was the only son of his mother and she was a widow.
He had been apprenticed to Todd by the parish of St. Dunstan, and the few shillings that he received weekly from the barber, together with the pence he sometimes received from the customers, went to cheer his mother's declining years, so that there is little to wonder at if his dress was shabby, and out of keeping with his decided good looks.
On the morning on which our story opens, that of a bright sunshiny day, Toby was at work clearing up the place, while his master, with a morose look upon his always repulsive countenance, was brooding over some dark thoughts in the parlour at the back of the shop.
Sweeney had not had a good haul for some days.
Not a stranger had arrived at the shop, or at least none who looked as if they were possessed of anything like plunder.
Todd was beginning to think that there must be some reason for this.
Suddenly raising himself out of his moody thoughts, the barber called out—
"Tobias, come here!"
"Yes, master," said the lad, as he complied with the command.
"We have not been busy during the last fortnight, my lad," cried Sweeney, in what he doubtless meant to be a kind voice, but which sounded more like the croak of a raven than the voice of a sentient being.
"Yes, master, we have been very slack," replied the lad, in a half-frightened tone; "but, indeed, master, it is not my fault. I am sure I have always been civil and respectful to the customers."
"Hold your whimper!" growled Todd. "I am not blaming you; but there must be some reason for it. I fancy," he went on, "that Hunt, the barber in Carey-street, has put a tout at the bottom of our court to stop people from coming in. Now, I want you to hang about, spinning your top, or playing marbles, or anything you like, for the next hour; but all the while you must keep watch and see whether anyone does try to stop my customers. Be off at once."
"All right, master," replied Toby, only too pleased to get out of the gloomy shop into the bright sunshine.
In another moment he was whistling blithely on his way to Temple Bar.
Meanwhile Todd had resumed his brooding attitude.
"It is not a rival barber that I fear," he muttered to himself; "but it strikes me that some underhand work is going on. Does Simon Podge, the constable, suspect anything? No; he cannot; it is only my foolish fears. I was not always a coward like this. I must realise my property, and give up this game, and live happy ever afterwards in the odour of sanctity, as soon as I have made another thousand or two. My nerves will not stand this sort of thing."
Sweeney's soliloquy was interrupted by the handle of the shop-door being turned, and in an instant he had risen to his feet, and his countenance had assumed as pleasant an appearance as was possible.
"This way, sir," said the voice of Toby, as the door opened, "this way, sir. My master will soon trim you up."
"Aye; that I will," said the barber, a ghoul-like look flashing across his face, as he noticed the heavy chain which the new-comer, who was a perfect stranger to him, wore. "I'll polish you off in no time."
Toby shuddered as his master spoke.
Those words, which he had heard so many times fall from his master's lips, always caused an unexplainable thrill of horror to run through his frail frame.
The stranger was a portly-looking man, one who might be a farmer or a country squire to judge from his appearance.
With clumsy courtesy, Sweeney bowed the new-comer towards the fatal chair, saying as he did so—
"You can go out again, Toby, on the errand I sent you before. I will lather the gentleman myself."
Toby, reluctantly enough now, withdrew, and Todd closed the door behind the lad, touching a spring that effectually prevented anyone from entering the shop unannounced.
"I can't make it out," said Toby to himself. "Why does Mr. Todd always send me out when a stranger comes? I do not complain because I lose the few pence which might fall to my lot if I was allowed to remain, although goodness knows they are welcome enough to my poor mother. But I cannot help thinking there is something wrong about my master."
And the poor lad once more took up his position as watcher at the corner of the court nearest to Temple Bar.
Meanwhile, the countryman had taken his seat in the fatal chair, and Sweeney Todd had adjusted the cloth round his neck and stood with the lather brush ready for use.
"Fine morning, sir," said Todd, as civilly as he could.
"Yes, 'tis indeed," said the customer, with a broad provincial accent. "And right glad I am of it, for it will bring the harvest on nicely."
"Ah! then I suppose you are a farmer?" queried the barber.
"Yes, I am," answered the countryman, "and so was my father before me."
"Strange time of the year for a farmer to be in town, isn't it?" went on Sweeney, with the privileged inquisitiveness of his class.
"Well, yes, I suppose it is; but, truth to tell, I had an extraordinary crop of hay this year, and I have just been to the market to dispose of some of it, as my daughter is going to get married, and I wanted a little ready money to start her in life with."
"And I hope you sold well, sir?" said Todd.
"Oh, yes," answered the unsuspecting farmer, "very well indeed. But the man who bought it wanted to give me a cheque for the hay.
"'No, no,’ said I, ‘no cheques for me—cash or notes I must have or my hay goes back home again.'"
"And did he produce the cash?" asked Sweeney, a wicked gleam flashing from his eye.
"Yes, he paid like a prince, and I have the money in my pocket ready to make my little girl happy."
Sweeney had heard all he wanted, and almost ere the farmer ceased speaking the fiend had touched the spring, and the fatal chair revolved, casting the unfortunate farmer head over heels into the cellar below.
The counter-balanced chair came up through the aperture, the floor resumed its normal condition, and the shop looked the same as it did ere the portly farmer had entered.
"Looked the same" we have said, and so it did save for one thing.
That circumstance was that the farmer's hat and stick remained where he had placed them before he had taken his seat in the accursed chair.
Sweeney had taken the hat and pitched it into a cupboard which had no bottom when he opened it, so that the hat went clear down into the cellar, where its unfortunate owner lay dead or dying.
Anyone not possessed of the secret of the cupboard would on opening the door find the flooring in its proper place at the bottom.
Sweeney had, however, touched a spring with his foot, which caused the bottom of the cupboard to fall down, and this, worked by a lever, immediately resumed its proper position on the door being closed.
One thing the barber had overlooked, and that was the walking-stick which his victim had carried.
As he closed the cupboard the handle of the outer door was shaken, and Sweeney quickly threw it open.
Toby stood outside, a sort of dazed look on his face.
"The door was locked, master," said the lad. "I thought you must have gone out with the country gentleman; although I have not moved from the corner, and certainly neither he nor you passed me."
"Confound you! you young idiot, the gentleman has been gone some time, and if that is how you keep watch when I send you out, I shall have to make you suffer somehow."
"Pardon, me, master, perhaps the gentleman turned up towards Clare-market."
"Perhaps he did," growled Sweeney. "Well, did you see anyone speak to any likely customer that might have been coming here?"
"No, master," replied Toby, "I saw no one save the country gentleman, and he would have passed on of his own accord had I not told him that there was a barber's shop just down the alley. The sign at the corner is almost blotted out by the wind and rain. Perhaps that is the reason why we have no strange customers."
"Perhaps so, Tobias, perhaps so," said Sweeney, placing two penny pieces in the lad's hand.
"Here is something for yourself for having been sharp enough to secure so good a customer for me."
The last words were spoken with a fiendish chuckle that made Toby shudder again.
As the poor lad recovered himself he cast a swift glance round the room, and in doing so his eye fell upon the stick which had been carried by the unfortunate farmer.
"Why," said Toby, "the gentleman has left his stick behind. He cannot have gone. He seemed to have the gout so bad that he could not walk without his stick."
"You young fool!" shouted Sweeney, throwing open the door of the inner room, "what do you suppose one of my customers would want to hide in here for? Do you suppose he would want to rob a poor barber like me, or to murder a miserable little wretch like you?"
"No, master," stammered the poor boy, "but it is strange he should have left his stick behind all the same."
"Ah! well," said Sweeney, disguising his rising anger as well as he could, "perhaps he has only gone up to the top of the court to get a chop. I'll go up to the Apollo myself, and take this stick with me, so that I can return it to him. This hot weather has made me very thirsty and a pint of ale will do me good."
"Very well, master," said Toby; "and shall I stop in here while you are out?" he added, with a frightened air.
"Yes, Tobias, you will stop in here, and if any one comes tell them that I shall be back very soon. But mind you, Tobias, don't you get into conversation with any one, nor allow anyone to go prying about the place."
"Very well, master," replied Toby, as Sweeney Todd took the walking-stick and his departure.
But Sweeney did not enter the Apollo in search of the missing farmer.
On the contrary he made his way through the numerous courts of St. Clement's Danes until he found himself in the Strand.
Crossing this, even in those days, busy thoroughfare, Sweeney Todd made his way towards the river's side.
Here he loitered about for some little time until he made sure that he was entirely unobserved.
Then he hastily dropped the farmer's stick into the Thames, and glanced slyly round.
No one was in sight, and with a fiend-like chuckle he muttered to himself—
"That is well; if the stick is found in the river and identified, the farmer's friends will imagine that he has fallen into the river. At all events I have got rid of an awkward piece of evidence.
"But as for that boy, I shall have to get rid of him somehow. But how? That is the question."
And so muttering, Sweeney made his way back towards the shop.
In the meantime Toby, in an agony of dread at being left alone in a shop about which he had begun to form some not unreasonable doubts, had slightly opened the front door, trusting to his good luck to be able to make some excuse should his master return and find the door ajar—for it was one of Sweeney's strictest injunctions to his apprentice that under no circumstances was the door to be allowed to stand open.
This injunction had its origin, no doubt, in the fact that if the barber's door were kept constantly closed no suspicions would be engendered, by its being sealed to the public while Sweeney was engaged in his nefarious work.
Hardly had Toby opened the door and seated himself in the fatal chair, when a pompous form made its appearance at the door.
"Is Mr.—ah—Todd—ah—in?" asked the pompous one.
"No, sir," replied Toby, "but he will not be long. He has only gone out to get a little refreshment."
"Ah—hum—er! Well, I will not wait, but tell Mr.—ah—er that I—er, Mr. Crummels, churchwarden of this parish, have called to see him, to ask if he could account for those horrid smells that arise from the—er—bowels of the earth in this neighbourhood. Erh—erh, you will give him my message?"
"Yes, sir," answered Toby, overawed by the manner of "Mr. Crummels, churchwarden of this parish."
"Then mind you do," said the pompous one, as he strode out of the barber's shop.
Toby, who was now thoroughly frightened, closed the door after the churchwarden, and in fear and a trembling mood awaited the arrival of his master.
His suspense did not last long.
Sweeney Todd, having assured himself that no one had observed him in the act of dropping the stick of the countryman into the Thames, made his way back to the shop by a rather circuitous route.
On his arrival home he turned to Toby somewhat brusquely, and said—
"Well, Tobias, has anyone called?"
The lad answered in the affirmative, and told his master the circumstances of the churchwarden's visit, and wound up by giving Sweeney Todd a verbatim report of the message which the pompous one had left.
"Ten thousand curses!" shrieked the barber; "am I always to be treated in this manner?
"If any smells do arise from this spot, what has it to do with me?"
"Tell the confounded churchwarden the next time he calls, if I happen to be out, that he had far better search in the crypts and catacombs of his own church for the cause of those evil smells than come and pester an honest tradesman about matters with which he has no concern save as a well-behaved, tax-paying citizen."
Then Sweeney Todd muttered to himself under his breath—
"I must go at once and tell Mrs. Lovett about this.
"There is evidently some underhand work going on, and we may be bowled out at any time.
"I must in justice to myself make an alteration."
Then turning to the lad he said—
"I am going out again—take heed of the instructions I have given you, and speak to no one save on matters of business."
He then turned to leave the shop, but pausing on the threshold, said—
"When I return you can go home. I shall want you no more to-day. But to earn your half-holiday you had better see to the scissors and razors so that they shall be all right to ‘polish anyone off to-morrow.'"
Again that inexplicable shudder passed over Toby's frame, but he managed to blurt out some words which might have done duty for—
"All right, master, I'll keep hard at it until you return."
"See that you do," muttered the barber.
And a moment later Tobias was left in the barber's shop a prey to the most acute fears of he knew not what.
After the lapse of some five minutes, however, he had plucked up sufficient courage to argue with himself that work would prove the best panacea against the unknown evils which he dreaded.
He therefore took up a razor and proceeded to "strop" it on a piece of leather which was nailed up against the door of the inner room.
This "strop" was hung up just behind the "operating" chair, and Toby, in his nervous and over-strained state, soon managed to send the razor which he was manipulating flying through the air.
To the lad's intense alarm he saw the blade fall right across one corner of the arm of the oaken chair.
His terror was increased tenfold as he saw a small portion of the carved oak fall away, split from the chair by the weight of the razor blade.
Toby had barely time to fling the piece of wood into the chimney corner, and to rub the fractured arm of the chair over with his finger, which had been rendered moist through fear, when he heard the handle of the shop-door turn.
He had hardly time to take up the razor off the floor ere Sweeney Todd once again stood inside the shop.
The barber gave a furtive glance round, but noticing nothing unusual he merely said—
"Has anyone called during my absence, Tobias?"
The half-frightened lad could hardly bring his lips to utter the necessary—
But he managed to get the words out somehow, and the barber said—
"Then you can put on your hat and go home at once. I shall not want you any more. But, mind, no chattering, or your mother shall suffer. You understand."
Poor Toby made a mute gesture of assent and left the shop.
Not one word in the way of "Good-night," "Fare thee well," or anything of that sort, passed the lad's lips.
When first apprenticed to Sweeney Todd, Toby had ventured to bid his master "Good-night" at the close of the day's work; but the expres-
sion on the barber's fiend-like countenance had been so horrible that the poor lad was soon glad to drop any words of farewell, and to content himself with something like a shambling bow.
With a scowl Sweeney bolted and barred the shop door after Tobias.
"Now I can go down below in peace and see how much that load of hay fetched," chuckled Sweeney to himself.
And carefully closing the door of the little back parlour behind him Sweeney opened the door of the cupboard into which he had thrown his unfortunate victim's hat.
In opening the door he had touched a second spring, and the bottom of the cupboard not only fell away, as it had done before, but a rope ladder might have now been seen hanging down into the murky depths beneath.
Down this rope ladder Sweeney Todd rapidly swung himself.
The long dagger to which we have before alluded was tightly clenched between his teeth.
As soon as the barber had reached the bottom of the ladder he stepped on to the firm ground which formed the floor of the cellar underneath the shaving shop and parlour.
Touching a little button which moved a spring the rope ladder rolled up towards the ceiling, in much the same way that revolving shutters act now, proving once more that there is nothing new under the sun.
Then clutching the dagger firmly in his right hand Sweeney Todd made his way towards the spot where he knew the unfortunate farmer must have fallen.
The whole place was in utter darkness, but Sweeney Todd had developed an almost cat-like faculty of "seeing in the dark."
With unerring precision he made his way to the spot where the fatal chair usually deposited its victims.
But, although the horrid wretch was quite right as regarded locality, he had reckoned without one factor in the argument.
The farmer was not dead.
In spite of the shock and the fearful fall, the robust countryman had contrived to escape so far with his life.
But what could he do with that life?
Here he was, pitted, in a pitch dark arena, against one of the foulest fiends that ever bore human form.
And that fiend was conversant with every inch of the ground upon which the terrible combat we are about to narrate was bound to take place.
Moving rapidly towards the spot where he usually found his victims "waiting" for him, Sweeney Todd suddenly struck against something.
Before he had time to realise that this something was a still living and breathing human being, the countryman, so long since sent to meet his fate, had clutched the barber tightly by the legs.
So violent was the clutch that in an instant the would-be assassin and his victim were down on the floor of the cellar struggling the one with the other for dear life.
The fight that now took place fairly beggars all description.
First one got the best of the struggle.
Then chance would place the other in a position of advantage.
And so the fearful combat went on.
Always in the most complete silence.
Sweeney, of course, would not cry out from prudential motives.
The farmer, on the other hand, had laid on the floor of the cellar quite long enough to feel convinced that, shout he never so loud, no human assistance could be expected in that den of infamy and iniquity.
The farmer was probably a much more powerful man than the demon barber.
But the latter had hold of the knotted and twisted handle of the Spanish dagger.
Every attempt that the farmer made to deprive the barber of this weapon of offence only served to open a fresh wound in his already cut and bleeding hands.
So the struggle went on until almost every particle of flesh was hacked away from the arms, wrists, and hands of the unfortunate farmer.
Worn out at last through sheer exhaustion produced by loss of blood, the farmer fell back in a dead swoon, and with a fiendish chuckle Sweeney Todd severed his jugular vein and spurned the body away from him.
The barber remained perfectly quiescent for some minutes, during which time he was endeavouring to regain his breath.
But, fearful as the struggles had been through which he had hitherto passed, none had been so severe as this one.
It was fully half an hour before he could pull himself sufficiently together to procure a light.
The sight that then presented itself to him was one that probably none other ever saw in this life before or since.
Every inch of wall and floor seemed to be reeking with blood.
Strips of flesh cut from the poor farmer's limbs were shredded about in almost every direction.
And there in the corner lay the poor man himself, his throat cut from ear to ear, surrounded by a perfect pool of blood.
The horrible sight did not seem to affect Sweeney Todd in the least.
He merely growled, rather than muttered—
"The pig has bled well. 'Twill save me an infinite deal of trouble."
And he forthwith proceeded to search the body of his victim.
This operation did not occupy much time, so expert had Sweeney become in its execution.
The result seemed to surpass all his anticipations.
At least if we may be allowed to judge by the chuckles that he emitted from time to time in a ghoul-like manner.
Having entirely denuded the body of its covering, he placed the clothes in a bag.
Then laying the mangled corpse upon a slab, he proceeded to disjoint the various portions with all the skill of a qualified surgeon.
Having performed this part of his work to his satisfaction, Sweeney Todd placed the various portions of the body upon a trolly and wheeled it towards an inner part of the cellar.
Here he stopped before an alcove, and placed the horrible remains upon a sort of table which stood within the alcove about two feet from the floor.
Then touching a spring the table revolved on its axis, and the horrible freight disappeared, to give place to a table exactly similar, but as clean as if no human remains had touched it since the day when it was first wrought.
Sweeney Todd then went back to where he had left the murdered man's clothes.
Arrived here, he opened a curiously-contrived cupboard set in the wall, and took from it a looking-glass.
Holding this in front of himself he took a careful survey of his appearance. Evidently the result was not satisfactory.
He then proceeded to strip himself stark naked.
Then he crammed his cast-off clothes into the bag containing the habiliments of his victim.
This having been done to his satisfaction he proceeded to carefully wash his face and hands.
He now went back to the cupboard from whence he had taken the looking-glass.
From this receptacle he took a suit of clothes exactly resembling those which he had just doffed.
Then taking up the bundle and placing it upon the trolly he wheeled it off to another corner of the inner cell.
Arrived at his destination Sweeney picked up an iron rod from the floor, and inserting it in an iron ring fitted into the wall turned it round three times.
At the third turn a door flew open.
Through this door could be seen a mass of lambent flames, such as one might expect to find in a copper smelting furnace.
Into this fiery glow Sweeney Todd pitched the garments of the murdered man along with those which he had himself cast off.
Closing the furnace door he made his way back to the spot where he had cut up his victim's body.
Then hastily gathering up the plunder taken from the murdered farmer he blew out the light.
Then proceeding to the spot beneath the mysterious cupboard he touched the spring.
The ladder descended in due course.
Two minutes later he stood in his own shop.
But to his horror and alarm loud shouts and knocks were heard from the direction of the outer door.PART II.
Sweeney TODD’S face became absolutely livid when the sounds struck upon his ear.
He clutched nervously at the back of the fatal chair, and as the knocks and shouts still continued he nerved himself for a supreme effort.
Assuming a gaping and half-dazed manner, as if he had just been aroused from his sleep, the barber moved slowly to the door and unbarred it, and threw it open, crying out in as commanding a tone as he could persuade his quivering throat to produce—
"A nice time you have kept me knocking here," was the only answer to Sweeney's question.
"Again I ask who are you that come knocking at an honest man's door at ten o'clock at night in this manner."
"It’s not ten yet; and you know very well that you don't usually close up until St. Dunstan's clock chimes out the hour of ten."
"Well, who are you, and what on earth do you want with me?"
Sweeney had by this time completely recovered himself, and had had time to see that his visitors were three in number.
The one who had spoken was evidently a tavern waiter.
The second might have been a boots or ostler.
While the third Todd had no difficulty in recognising as the landlord of the Cock in Fleet-street.
That individual advanced to the front, and said—
"We are sorry to trouble you, Mr. Todd, but one of my customers left my house this morning and he has not returned yet."
"Well, sir, and what has that to do with me?" growled the barber. "I don't keep a lodging-house."
"I am well aware that it has nothing to do with you in one sense of the word," replied the landlord, "but my ‘boots,’ here, saw the missing man talking to your boy at the bottom of the court, and as he left my house for the purpose of getting shaved, we naturally thought you might give us some information concerning him."
"I can't be expected to keep a list of all the people I shave, can I?" snarled Todd.
"No, Mr. Todd, certainly not, but you see this is an exceptional case. The customer in question ordered his chop to be ready for him at eight sharp, and a coach to be in attendance for him at nine exactly; and as he is invariably such a precise man in his habits, we are compelled to think that he has come to some harm as he has not yet appeared; especially as he had a large sum of ready money in his possession. So I think, Mr. Todd, you will not object to helping me in this matter if you can."
"Oh! if that's all you want, I don't mind," said Sweeney; "only it's rather annoying to have one's door pummelled away at as you did with mine just now."
"Well, you see, Mr. Todd, we could not make you hear, and we thought, as you always stayed indoors until ten o'clock, you might have fallen asleep or have had a fit or something of that sort."
"How do you mean? What do you know of my movements to enable you to say that I never go out until ten at night?"
"Don't be cross, Mr. Todd, don't be cross; people will talk, you know, and I often hear my customers chatting about you and the Widow Lovett at the pie shop round the corner. Don't be cross, Mr. Todd. Ah! ha! sly dog, you!"
"Humph! well, I suppose I must not complain; but to have a kind of devil's tattoo beat upon one's door, and then to be told that one's habits are noted, is not calculated to make a man particularly amiable."
"Quite right, Mr. Todd, quite right, but what about my customer? Did he call here to get shaved?"
Sweeney had quite recovered his composure by this time, and replied, calmly—
"What sort of a man was he?"
The landlord described the farmer, whose flesh was probably at this time being made into Mrs. Lovett's famous pies, somewhere in the cellars beneath their feet.
Sweeney did not, of course, utter the curses which he felt in his heart, but his face assumed so diabolical an aspect, that, had it been daylight, his visitors must have seen it and suspected that something was wrong.
But his answer was unctuous enough.
"Oh! yes; that gentleman came to my shop this morning, and was—ahem—polished off by me. But I do not know where he is now!"
"And you have not seen him since he left your shop?"
"Ah! yes," said the barber, through whose cunning brain was moving the thought that if Tobias were questioned the fact of the farmer having left his stick behind him might come to light, and would probably lead to unpleasant inquiries.
"Ah, yes!" he said, "of course the gentleman left his stick behind him, and I went out after him, thinking he had gone to the Apollo to get a drink, but I met him before I got halfway there; he was on his way back to my shop in search of his stick. I handed it to him, and have not seen him since."
"Dear me," said the landlord, "what can have happened to him? But we had better go back to the Cock and see if he has turned up now, and then we must go off at once to the police if he has not turned up. He has not done such a thing as this all the years I have known him."
And wishing the barber "good-night," to which salute he vouchsafed no acknowledgment, the party left the shop.
As soon as they had disappeared, and Sweeney Todd had closed and barred the door, the barber's rage found vent in a string of oaths and blasphemous words.
Then, when his rage had literally exhausted itself, he went upstairs and flung himself upon his bed without undressing or even removing his boots.
For some time he lay muttering to himself.
At last he broke out with—
"Oh! hang it all! I'll not go to Mrs. Lovett's to-night. Some one may be watching, who knows? I must make an alteration. For my own sake I must be careful."
Then he kicked off his boots, and made ready to welcome sound sleep.
But when the drowsy god arrived he did not seem to be in a kind mood, to judge by the manner in which Sweeney received him.
He tossed himself from side to side.
He kicked and plunged.
He fought with his fists, and now and again clutched at the bedclothes, as if in his dream he was re-enacting once more one of the many murderous scenes in which he had taken part.
At last the morning dawned.
But slumber and the night had brought no rest to the barber's unquiet spirit.
As he rose from his couch, his face seemed to have reached the very acme of ugliness.
Always unprepossessing, if not positively hideous, his face now bore little resemblance to anything human.
As he gazed at himself in the looking-glass he muttered, between his teeth—
"I must take a holiday. I can't be well. I never used to feel like this. I am losing my nerves. Something must be going to happen."
Then, pulling himself together, he said—
"Pshaw, what a fool I am! What can happen if I only prove true to myself?"
Taking a bottle from a cupboard he placed it to his lips, and drank about half a pint of neat brandy.
This seemed to thoroughly "nerve" him up, and he descended to the shop to prepare his breakfast.
In the court just outside two men were conversing while the barber was preparing his morning meal in the parlour at the back of the shop.
One of these was a gigantic man in the uniform of a "beefeater," who was known by the name of Big Ben, and who was one of the most popular warders at the Tower.
The other was a little man in the glorious raiment of a beadle of the last century.
This worthy rejoiced in the name of Simon Podge, and he filled the proud position of beadle of St. Dunstan's, and in addition was the constable of the parish.
"Now, Ben," said Podge, "allow me to show you that you are wrong. In the first place some four months since the parishioners attending St Dunstan's Church complained very strongly of an unpleasant odour which threatened to suffocate the congregation. I was asked my opinion as to its cause. I gave it, and what do you think my opinion was?"
"I can't say," said Ben. "Perhaps you thought that it came from the graves in the churchyard?"
"No, Ben," said Simon, "I did not. I said I thought that the smells came from a cellar under Sweeney Todd's shop here."
"Lor'! did you now?"
"Yes, I did; and Mr. Crummels, our churchwarden, has deputed me to call upon the barber as soon as he opens his shop this morning to make inquiries about the matter. And that's what I'm waiting here now for."
"Lor'!" again ejaculated the "beefeater;" "but I must be off to duty at the Tower."
"Stop a minute, Ben," said Podge, "there is something else. For some time past horrible and unearthly noises have been heard to proceed from the cellar of his house. The neighbours have complained to the parish authorities, and I have been deputed to inquire into this matter also, for it has been several times suggested on very good authority that Mr. Todd's house is haunted."
"Haunted by what?" asked Ben.
"Why, by ghosts, of course. If it ain't then it must be no other than Old Nick himself."
"There," said Ben, "that'll do—easy does it."
"The facts speak for themselves," returned Podge. "The upper part of his house is not tenanted. Why should he keep all those rooms unoccupied when he could get a good rent for them? Depend upon it Mr. Todd knows his house is haunted, and does not take any lodgers in."
"Well," said Ben, "the mystery may be cleared up some of these days. Time is precious. I'm off to the Tower. Good-bye, Mr. Podge; and I'm sure I wish you luck in your mission."
And the big warder strode off, leaving the little beadle looking rather uncomfortable, for he by no means relished his task, and heartily wished that his big friend could have stayed by him during its execution.
The time slipped by, but there was no sign of the barber's shop being opened.
At last Podge said to himself—
"Well, here goes. I shan't wait any longer. But I must look important, dreadfully important, to Mr. Todd.
"Some people are afraid of him—positively afraid of him. Catch me being afraid of anybody!"
But, judging by the pompous little beadle's manner, he did seem terribly afraid of some one—and that some one none other than Sweeney Todd.
He nervously made his way to the door and turned the handle.
The door, however, was locked.
"Ahem!" said Podge. "Locked. No one at home, I suppose."
Podge knocked, and then, receiving no answer, called through the keyhole.
"Mr. Todd, Mr. Todd. It's me, Simon
Podge. I want to speak to you very particularly. Open the door."
Not receiving an immediate answer he went on—
"How provoking to be sure. I'll have a peep into the shop and see if anyone is at home."
And the little man applied his eye to the keyhole.
In another instant he had withdrawn it with a howl of agony. .
"Oh!" he yelled, "somebody's poked a skewer in my eye! Murder! Mr. Todd! Murder!"
While he was writhing and shouting with pain, Sweeney opened the door and said with a horrible grimace—
"Who's there? What do you want?"
"I—a—that is—er—Mr. Todd," said Podge. "If you please I've come to ask you a favour."
At this Sweeney changed his manner to one of extreme civility.
"A favour, my dear sir? Certainly. What is it? Speak."
"A parish complaint—" began Podge in a hesitating manner.
"A what?" yelled the barber.
"Yes, Mr. Todd," stammered Podge. "The fact is, Mr. Wiggles, your next door neighbour—"
"Well?" broke in Todd, as the beadle stopped.
"Has made a complaint about the unearthly sounds and smells that are heard to proceed from the cellars of your house, and I am deputed by Mr. Crummels, the churchwarden, to enquire into the matter."
"And what have I to do with such nonsense?" asked Todd.
"A great deal, Mr. Todd. I have this morning to ask your permission to examine your premises."
"What!" shouted Todd, fiercely.
"Your permission to—to examine your premises."
"That I most emphatically refuse," said the barber.
"What, refuse a parish officer? You daren't do it."
"Daren't I," said Sweeney, with a horrible leer. "I dare do that, and I dare break every bone in your carcase if you do not at once quit this place."
He was about to bang the door in the beadle's face when a thought struck him and he went on—
"You can tell Mr. Crummels to mind his own business. The smell probably comes from the charnel house beneath St. Dunstan's Church. Let them search there for the cause. I am an honest tradesman and have nothing to do with unearthly noises or smells either, save the smell I sometimes make when I am burning the refuse hair and shop sweepings. Now be off or I shall lose my temper, and I am not a very pleasant man when I am once put out, I can tell you."
So fierce was the barber's manner that the little beadle rapidly took the hint and disappeared.
"What does this mean?" said Todd to himself. "Do my neighbours suspect my movements? If so the sooner all traces of my work are removed the better for my safety."
Sweeney cast one look up and down the court and saw the lad Toby talking to a seafaring man.
"Ha!" cried Sweeney, "there's my boy, Tobias Ragg, in earnest conversation with a stranger.
"I see through it all now.
"That boy is in possession of unpleasant facts concerning me which if disclosed would bring me to ruin.
"Doubtless he means to betray me, for I have ever given him the strictest injunctions never to speak to a living soul when outside my home.
"You shall smart for betraying me, Mr. Tobias Ragg.
"You shall share the same fate as the other boys.
"You shall be promoted to the bakehouse cellar until you go mad, and then you can die at once, or end your days in a madhouse, as so many of your predecessors have done.
"They approach my shop. I will endeavour to overhear the subject which so evidently entertains them.
"Ha! what is that paper that the young villain has handed to the stranger?"
The two had, however, by this time come near enough to Todd's shop for their conversation to be overheard by that worthy.
The first words that met the barber's ears were thoroughly assuring.
The stranger was saying—
" Thank you, my boy, for the information you have so kindly afforded me. You are quite sure that this is the correct address of Mr. Jasper Oakley?"
And as he spoke the sailor tapped the card which Sweeney had seen Toby give to him.
"Certain, sir," replied Toby. "I am acquainted with Miss Johanna likewise; she is a dear, kind-hearted lady! Shortly after my dear father's death sickness and sorrow overcame my dear mother and myself; had it not been for Miss Oakley's timely aid both of us might have perished from want."
"Thanks, boy, thanks" said the stranger.
Then speaking to himself, but loud enough for the two listeners, the unseen Todd and Tobias Ragg to overhear, the stranger went on—
"How it gladdens a fellow's heart to hear that his sweetheart is so highly esteemed.
"Ah! Mark Ingestre, you are, indeed, a lucky dog with Johanna Oakley as your affianced bride."
Then turning to Tobias, he said—
"My name is Mark Ingestre. For five years I have been absent from the country that gave me birth, and from those I love so well.
"My vessel unexpectedly arrived in port yesterday afternoon, and no sooner did I place my foot on shore than I naturally felt a desire to see my old friends.
"Judge, then, of my mortification when, on inquiry at their former address, I was informed that they had removed no one knew whither.
"Heaven only knows when I should have discovered them had it not been for the valuable information with which you have supplied me."
"How I should love to become a sailor," said Toby. "Happy and joyous in my freedom, breathing the fresh air of liberty."
"The sea has its perils and its charms, my boy," said Mark. "I have been captain and part owner of the ship Star for five years. During that time I have saved some thousand pounds, and am besides the proprietor of a string of pearls worth perhaps, five thousand more."
And as he spoke Mark showed Toby a jewel case containing the pearl necklace in question.
Todd from his point inside the shop of course heard this conversation, and could restrain himself no longer.
Emerging from the shop with a crab-like motion, he said—
"Ah! Tobias, my dear, what a time you have been. I thought you were never coming to help your poor old governor this morning."
Then, without waiting for a reply from Toby, he affected to notice Captain Ingestre for the first time.
"Ah! sir," said Sweeney. "Good-morning. You are a sailor, I presume, by your dress. Just returned from sea, I suppose, judging by your untrimmed beard. Step into my shop, sir, and I'll soon polish you off."
Toby felt the same unaccountable shudder which he had before experienced run through his frame as the barber uttered these words.
The poor lad cast a half-imploring, half-warning glance at the sailor, but it was of no avail.
Mark Ingestre smiled, and said in answer to Todd's invitation—
"Well, Mr. Barber, I don't know but that I will. I may as well brighten myself up a bit before I call on dear Johanna."
"Come inside, my dear sir," said Todd, "come inside."
Then turning to Toby he went on—
"You, my lad, can take that wig over to the Temple, to Counsellor Lamb."
Toby looked up with a half-frightened expression on his face.
"To Counsellor Lamb's, sir?" he queried.
"Yes, fool," answered his master; "and look sharp about it. The wig ought to have been sent half an hour ago, only you came so late, having been dawdling and gossiping, I suppose, although you know that I have strictly forbidden you to speak to no one between here and your mother's."
"Don't blame the boy," said Mark Ingestre, "I asked him if he knew where one Jasper Oakley lived, and he was kind enough to give me the address. If anyone is to blame, therefore, it is me and not the boy."
During this speech Toby had reluctantly taken up the wig box and left the shop.
When he had got outside he said—
"Is it always to be like this? What can it mean? Another stranger, and I am sent away again on what I know is a fool's errand, for Mr. Lamb’s boy told me his master was not expected home until to-morrow at the earliest."
Then he started off at a rapid trot for the Temple, muttering to himself—
"I'll get back as quickly as possible, and see whether there is anything in my possible and apparently absurd suspicions."
Meanwhile the usual scene was going on in the barber's shop.
Sweeney Todd asked the sailor to take a chair, indicating, of course, the fatal piece of machinery, the operating chair.
Mark seated himself as requested.
"That seems a sharp lad of yours, barber," said Mark, "he would make a good sailor."
"He is a dear good boy," said Todd, "and I quite dote upon him, and would not part with him for the world."
These last words were spoken with a hideous leer, which it was unfortunate that Mark did not see, as it must inevitably have put him on his guard.
But it was too late.
In an instant the bolt was drawn and the chair had revolved and shot poor Mark Ingestre down into the regions below.
The sailor had uttered one short shrill cry as he disappeared, but that was the only sound which gave warning that anything unusual had occurred.
The barber put his lather pot on one side, and placed the razor in its case.
Then calmly seating himself in the fatal chair he took up a paper and commenced to read it, as unconsciously as if such a person as Mark Ingestre had never existed.
It mattered little to Sweeney Todd whether his victim were dead or alive.
Down below in the stone crypt-like cellar there was no chance of escape.
And Todd thought to himself no chance of any cry of the victim reaching the ears of the outer world.
Then again he thought of Simon Podge's statement that unearthly noises had been heard to issue from the cellar beneath his house.
A horrible scowl passed over his face as he thought of this, and he muttered gruffly—
"‘Pon my soul, the next time Podge asks me to shave him I'll polish him off, although it is against my rule to touch anyone except strangers. The man evidently suspects something, and to curry favour with his superiors will stick at nothing to try and incriminate me.
"Then again," he went on, "there's that boy Tobias. As soon as I have disposed of that joker below I'll take the boy down to the bakehouse and install him there. The boy Leonard, who makes the pies there now, is as mad as a hatter, and he had better go to my friend Lock's asylum at once. But I must first find out how much he knows."
As he ceased the subject of his thoughts entered.
Casting a swift glance round he saw that Captain Ingestre had disappeared.
"Has the captain gone, sir?" asked the trembling Tobias, for his fears were now thoroughly confirmed.
"Gone? Yes, you young fool. Do you think it takes me a quarter of an hour to polish a man off?"
Poor Toby shuddered, but, plucking up courage, said—
"But I haven't been gone more than five minutes, sir, and you could not have shaved anyone in that time."
"You infernal young imp!" yelled Sweeney; "so you rushed like mad on your errand so as to try and find me out in something, did you? But beware, my lad, one more escapade like this one and your mother goes straight off to goal."
This threat of the barber's was in allusion to the fact that some of Sweeney Todd's property had been found in her house, though how it had come there no one knew.
Toby immediately left off bothering about the missing sailor, and busied himself with his usual work about the shop.
Sweeney Todd, with a baleful look in his eyes, muttered—
"I must put a stop to this. I will drop a line to Mrs. Lovett, and get her to find out how much the brat knows or suspects."
Taking an ink horn, and pen and paper, Sweeney wrote a short letter to Mrs. Lovett, and then calling Toby to him, he said in a kinder voice than he had used before—
"Take this note round to Mrs. Lovett's pie shop, and wait for an answer. As Mrs. Lovett cannot write the answer will be a verbal one, so mind you make no mistake. "
Toby took the letter and hastened off with it to the pie shop, which was situated in the adjoining court.
But there was nothing in the shop to indicate the horrible nature of a part of the contents of those savoury-smelling and pleasant-looking pies.
In appearance the shop differ from an ordinary twopenny pie shop, save that there was every indication of a very large trade being carried on.
But there was nothing to indicate the horrible nature of a part of the contents of those savoury-smelling and pleasant-looking pies.
Although, if Toby had only known, the remains of the poor farmer, so foully murdered on the previous day, formed a considerable portion of the highly spiced "mutton" and "veal" pies.
Toby entered, and walking up to the counter, said to the buxom woman standing behind it—
"Are you Mrs. Lovett?"
"Yes," answered the shopkeeper. "What do you want?"
"I have brought a letter from Mr. Todd, and I am to be very particular to take back the exact answer which you give me," said Poor Toby, casting a longing look at the tempting dainties spread out on hot plates along the counter.
Mrs. Lovett, seeing the look, handed Toby a pie, which he proceeded to demolish with an eagerness that showed he had not had a very heavy breakfast that morning, if indeed any at all.
"From Mr. Todd, eh?" said Mrs. Lovett, opening the letter and reading it.
"I suspect the boy who delivers this note is in possession of unpleasant facts concerning me. Question him. You understand. An answer by the boy ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, will be sufficient. —
"Yours truly, "POLISH HIM OFF."
Then turning to the boy she said aloud—
"Are you regularly employed by Mr. Todd?"
"Yes, ma'am," said Toby.
"Are your parents living?"
"My dear mother is the only relative I have in the world," said Toby.
"Mr. Todd is very kind to you, is he not?" asked Mrs. Lovett.
"Madam?" said Toby in an inquiring tone.
"Do you know any secrets concerning him?"
"Secrets!" said Toby, now thoroughly frightened.
"Aye!—connected with his occupation?"
"I do," said Toby.
"Disclose them to me, and I will make you a handsome present," said Mrs. Lovett, temptingly.
"To you, ma'rm? Alas! I dare not," replied the poor boy.
"Why?" asked the pie shop keeper.
"For my poor mother's sake," announced Toby.
"How would your disclosures affect her?" asked the widow.
"Mr. Todd has threatened that in the event of my mentioning a single word concerning his affairs he will accuse my mother of robbery, for some articles of jewellery belonging to Mr. Todd were found in her house," replied Toby.
"How they came there she does not know, but I believe they were placed there by Mr. Todd himself.
"Oh! madam, if you have the power set the officers of justice to watch him. He is the perpetrator of crimes unparalleled, I believe, though I cannot prove the fact. Still you look so kind that I feel I can confide in you. So, dear madam, pray set the constables on the watch."
Todd was right.
"This boy is dangerous indeed," thought Mrs. Lovett, as she grew pale with fright at the thought of what might be the consequences should Toby open his mouth to anyone else in the same manner as he had done to her.
Then, turning to Toby, the widow said—
"I will cause inquiries to be made concerning this man, but you must first deliver him my answer to his note."
"And the answer?" queried Toby.
"Yes," replied Mrs. Lovett— "merely ‘Yes.’"
"Thank you, ma'am," said Toby, and he forthwith quitted the shop.
"I hope Mr. Todd will be more careful for the future," said the widow to herself; "luckily for us both his suspicions were aroused in time to prevent further mischief."
Toby made his way quickly back to the shop, hoping that the widow might succeed in doing what he had never been able to do himself, prove the guilt of his employer.
For with the disappearance of Mark Ingestre, and Sweeney Todd's manner of answering Toby's query, the last ray of belief in Todd's possible innocence had fled from the lad's breast.
The barber looked anxiously at his apprentice as he entered the shop, and broke out sharply with—
"Well, what answer did Mrs. Lovett send?"
"She told me to tell you it was ‘yes,’ sir."
"Thank you, my dear boy —thank you very much," said the fiend in human form in unctuous tones, which he assumed for the purpose of throwing Toby off his guard.
His plans were not quite ripe yet for disposing of the lad in the bakehouse adjoining the death cellar.
He had first to see the doctor so as to arrange for the lad Leonard's reception ere Toby could take his place.
It may appear to our readers very strange, but it seems to be a positive fact, that Sweeney Todd only murdered for motives of gain.
He had, however, no compunction in driving his unfortunate apprentices mad, and thus virtually sentencing them to a death in life.
Toby resumed his work in the shop and things went on much as usual.
Regular customers came in and went out and there was nothing to denote that anything but the most respectable class of trade was carried on in the shop of the demon barber.
Night came in due course, and Todd with an evil leer, but a civil tongue, told the lad that he might go.
"But mind," he said, "no chattering; if I find you have spoken one word to anyone, your mother goes straight off to prison."
Toby nodded a frightened assent and took his departure.
When he arrived home, the terrified lad carefully closed the room door where he and his mother dwelt, and calling the old lady over to him, he told her in a horror-stricken, but thrilling whisper, the events of the day, winding up by informing his mother of his master's threat that he would lock her up if Toby uttered a word to anyone.
"My poor dear boy, what a dreadful tale you have told me. You had better go at once to a magistrate and tell all you know. Never mind about me. Although Mr. Todd seems to have a complete chain of evidence against me I am conscious of my own innocence. Providence will surely watch over the innocent and see that I do not suffer at the hands of such a wretch as you fancy your master to be."
"No, no, mother," said Toby, in reply, "you must not risk that. I must be on the watch, and if any other casual customer comes in I will not leave the shop unless positively compelled by force to do so; and if that course is resorted to, why then I won't leave the court, but will keep my eye fixed upon the door of our shop until it is time for me to return.
"If when I do so the customer has disappeared I will go straight to the chief magistrate and tell all I suspect."
And it was eventually agreed that this plan should be adopted.
Toby as he bade his mother good-night said that he would call on Miss Oakley the next day and inquire whether she had seen her sailor lover.
His mother decided that this would be a good plan, and they separated for the night.
Meanwhile, a scene which baffles all description was being enacted in the death trap beneath the barber's house.
A scene exceeding tenfold in its blood-curdling horror the one which we professed our inability to describe when the farmer met his death by the hands of the demon barber.
Mark Ingestre, like the farmer, had not been killed by the fall.
And, what is more, Mark from his profession was naturally a more agile man than the farmer had been.
How he spent the hours since his sudden fall into an unknown cellar Mark could not tell.
He had probably made every effort possible to escape from his prison-house.
But, alas, in vain!
Doubtless he had paced for weary hours round and round the sides of his cell, striving in vain to find some means of exit from the place whose very atmosphere was as pestiferous as a plague pit.
Mark came across the cupboard we have before spoken of, and with a strength born of despair smashed it into fragments, only to find to his intense disappointment that it was entirely unconnected with the wall, and not as he had fondly imagined a means of ingress and egress.
The table in the alcove next attracted his notice, but as he was not in possession of the secret of the spring this was useless to him.
The ring then caught his attention, but that he at once concluded was only let into the wall for the purpose of manacling prisoners.
No; horrible thought! The only means of escape were at the top of the vaulted chamber, somewhere in the neighbourhood of the chair which had so unceremoniously hurled him into the valley of the shadow of death.
More like a maddened beast than a man, poor Mark spent those dreadful hours.
Thoughts of the sweetheart he should never look on again caused him the most terrible anguish.
Then, again, what could be the object of this extraordinary attack upon him?
"Ah!" he cried, "'THE STRING OF PEARLS!’ That sunny-faced lad that gave me my darling's address was in league with the barber. He must have told his master, and his cupidity being aroused he has by some devilish mechanical contrivances sent me to this pit of pestilence and death."
Then suddenly he drew the jewel-case from his breast and shrieked out—
"But the foul fiend shall not profit by his crime and fiendish ingenuity.
"I'll grind the pearls to dust beneath my
heel, and then I'll tear the bank notes into millions of fragments and swallow what I can of them and trample the others into the slime which covers the floor of this dungeon."
He was about to suit the action to his words when he was startled by a creaking sound above his head.
Then a slight rustle was heard.
At last came a sound that to his long practised ears needed no interpretation.
It was someone descending a rope ladder.
Ah! that old familiar sound.
How heartily Mark Ingestre must have prayed at that moment that he were once more on the deck of the good ship Star.
But this was no time for vain thought.
Action alone, and that of the promptest kind, would give him the slightest chance of escaping from his terrible position.
In an instant Mark had replaced the jewel-case in its former resting-place.
Then trusting to his keen sense of hearing he moved towards the spot where he guessed the end of the rope ladder must be.
Waving his hand round he at last clutched one of the ropes.
Gentle as his touch was Sweeney Todd had felt it.
In an instant the demon barber realised that once more the chair had refused to do its work properly.
With a demoniac yell he let go of the ladder and dropped clean on to Mark Ingestre's shoulders.
But the shock of the fall caused him to let the long Spanish dagger slip from between his teeth, and it fell to the ground with a clang that rang like a peal of bells through the cimmerean darkness of the awful vault.
Now then, Sweeney Todd, the chances are almost equal.
Hast thy hour of doom arrived?
Will the bold and true-hearted British tar prevail over the worse than murderer?
We shall see.
Had the barber descended into the fearful abyss before Mark had spent his best energies on wild and futile efforts to escape the issue could never have been in doubt.
The lithe and healthy sailor could have thrashed the drink-soddened demon barber within an inch of his life as easily as a terrier could have worried a rat.
But as it was, the chances were tolerably equal, and the two men closed in a deadly embrace, and the awful struggle for life, love, and liberty had commenced.PART III.
THE fearful combat lasted for quite an hour.
Now Todd would have the advantage.
Then Mark, pulling himself together, would make a grand effort and prove a little too much for the demon barber.
But at last by an unlucky accident Mark's heel caught against a projecting piece of stone in the flooring of the horrible cellar, and he immediately measured his length on the ground.
Todd now, of course, had the unfortunate man at his mercy.
The barber was not long before he seized the advantage so opportunely placed in his hands.
With a wild yell that must have struck terror into the breast of anyone who heard it he hurled himself on to his prostrate victim, and twining his bony fingers round Mark's neck proceeded deliberately to strangle him.
Had Sweeney known whereabouts his dagger was he would soon have "polished the sailor off."
Our readers, however, will recollect that this fearful scene was enacted in the dark.
The fiend in human form had therefore to trust to nature's weapons for the destruction of his victim.
A very short time elapsed before Sweeney's snake-like talons had performed their deadly task.
Every trace of life seemed to have left poor Mark Ingestre's body.
Todd placed his hand over his victim's heart, but failed to discover the faintest pulsation.
He next placed his cheek close to the sailor's lips, but not a flutter denoted that any breath remained in the unfortunate man's body.
Having so far satisfied himself that his victim was indeed dead, Sweeney proceeded to rifle the body.
He clutched the case containing the string of pearls with a fiendish cry of delight.
Then rapidly passing his hand over Mark's body he at last found the purse containing the gold and notes already alluded to.
Satisfying himself that there was no more plunder to be had, Sweeney resolved to return to the upper world.
His nerves, iron though they were, had been terribly shaken by the awful struggle he had just passed through, and he made up his mind that he would rather let Mark Ingestre's body lay where it was and rot than attempt to dress it as butcher's meat for Mrs. Lovett's pies.
Well for him perhaps if he had adopted the other course.
However, unaware that Nemesis was already on his track, Sweeney feeling fully satisfied with his night's work, made his way towards the rope-ladder and mounting it soon stood once more inside the shop.
Mopping his brow with a huge silk handkerchief, the produce, doubtless, of some person's murder and robbery, Sweeney muttered to himself—
"Curse him—in the whole course of my career I never met a man who gave as much trouble.
"I must set that chair right in the morning; this is the second time, and in succession, too, that it has refused to act.
"Can it have got out of order; or is it an omen sent to warn me that the game is up, and that I had better retire from it while I am yet safe?
"Pshaw, what a fool I am; that struggle has unmanned me, I must go on for a little while longer, and then I will take rest and enjoy the pleasures to be purchased by hard-earned wealth.
"Hard-earned, forsooth, and so it has been hard-earned.
"Do I not hear mysterious shrieks filling the air during the dim watches of the night?
"Do I not constantly see the ghastly faces of my customers as the chair has just tilted them head over heels into eternity?
"Then, again, look at the struggle I had with the farmer—ugh! I can smell his blood now.
"And if that last little affair with the sailor was not genuine hard work I should like to know what is.
"Aha! ah! Sweeney Todd you work hard, but look at the years of pleasure and enjoyment before you.
"Another coup like this one, and I can turn this whole concern up, burn down this old house, and retire."
And as the barber spoke he lovingly handled the string of pearls which nestled in their morocco and velvet case, where they had been placed by the gentle hands of poor Mark Ingestre as a fitting tribute for Johanna Oakley, his beloved sweetheart.
Then replacing the jewel case in his breast pocket, he took out the purse and counted over again and again the gold and notes which it contained.
The result seemed to be undoubtedly satisfactory, for, with a diabolical chuckle he tossed it in the air, and almost shouted—
"Hurrah! That will do; if the confounded sailor did give me a bad quarter of an hour, he has paid me well for it."
Then, taking up the brandy-bottle, he drank about half-a-pint of the fiery spirit as if it had been water.
Then proceeding to his bed-room, he threw himself on to his couch, and ten minutes later was snoring in such a manner as to justify Simon Podge in stating that unearthly sounds had been heard to proceed from Sweeney Todd's house.
The morning arrived in due course, and Toby put in an appearance as usual.
To his surprise, he found his master in full holiday dress, and evidently quite ready to leave the house.
Tobias was not left long in doubt as to the meaning of this unusual circumstance.
"Ah! my boy," said Sweeney, "I am glad you have come. I am going over to Dr. Lock's asylum at Wimbledon, to ask him to make room in his truly comfortable home for an unfortunate protege of mine who has recently been bereft of his reason.
"You see, my boy, that my one object in life is to benefit my fellow creatures, and I stand at nothing in my endeavours to give everyone as much rest as I can."
As he uttered these words he put on such a horribly hypocritical look that poor Toby fairly shuddered, though why he knew not.
Had he but guessed the true nature of Sweeney's errand he would probably have taken refuge in flight.
As it was, Toby merely experienced a feeling of positive relief on hearing that his master was going out, and going such a distance, too, for our readers must recollect the Wimbledon of those days was a trifle more difficult of access than the Wimbledon of to-day.
Toby, however, did not allow his pleasure to betray itself on his face.
He knew too well the mean and spiteful nature of the man he served.
Sweeney had been known to alter long-standing arrangements on purpose to cause annoyance to Toby, or, for the matter of that, anyone with whom he might have come in contact.
It was with a sigh of relief, therefore, that Toby saw his master stroll jauntily down the court, dressed in the height of fashion, and with a handsome malacca cane in his hand.
The latter article being probably a portion of the plunder taken from some unfortunate victim of the demon barber's death trap.
Sweeney had given Toby every instruction as to what he was to do during his master's absence, so that the lad did not find the time fall heavy on his hands.
He occupied himself until dinner-time in curling and dressing the various wigs that had been sent to Todd for that purpose by several members of the surrounding inns of court.
Then, taking his dinner from his jacket pocket, he seated himself in the fatal arm-chair to eat it in comfort.
His frugal meal consisted merely of a crust of exceedingly stale and unpleasant-looking bread, and an almost equally uninviting lump of cheese.
Nevertheless, Toby did ample justice to the viands, coarse and untempting as they were.
The poor boy was possessed of that best of all sauces, health and hunger.
His frugal meal discussed, Toby found that he had quite a quarter of an hour on his hands ere it would be time for him to resume his work.
For Toby was a most conscientious lad, and worked to time and as methodically during his master's absence as he did when his master was on the premises.
As the poor lad sat musing in the horrible chair that had done its fair share towards "polishing off" so many of its unfortunate occupants, his eye fell on the carved portion of the arm which had been struck by the razor which flew from out of Toby's hands on the morning of the disappearance of the farmer.
Our readers will recollect that the result of this accident was that a piece of the arm had been chipped off, and that Toby had endeavoured to hide the result of his carelessness by rubbing the spot over with his finger.
The lad's eyes, as he sat musing on the past and the future, fell on the spot from which the chip of wood had been sliced, but to his amazement the arm was as perfect as it had been on the day it left the hands of the upholsterer.
Toby looked at the other arm.
That, too, was intact.
What did this mean?
Toby's nerves were now so highly-strung that he could have fairly shrieked aloud.
He controlled himself, after a strong effort, however, and although he trembled like an aspen leaf he managed to keep himself from attracting the attention of the passers-by.
"What does this mean?" the poor lad moaned. "How is it that I cut a piece of wood off the arm of that chair, and it is now quite sound and whole."
The time for Toby to resume work had long glided past, and still the poor lad looked at the fatal chair and wondered what it all meant.
At last he came to the conclusion that some terrible secret must be connected with that chair.
"Shall I stop and try and ferret out the mystery," he said, "or shall I run away and put miles of ground between this den of iniquity and myself."
While Toby was thus soliloquising Mark Ingestre, who had recovered from the death-like swoon in which Sweeney Todd had left him, had found his way to the spot where the rope ladder descended into the cellar.
This ladder in his hurry and excitement Sweeney had neglected to pull up.
Mark swiftly swung himself up the ladder, and to his delight found that the trap door at the top yielded to his push.
It was not fastened down but was simply held in its place by its own weight.
As he emerged from the trap Mark gave a hurried glance round.
He was in the little room at the back of the shop, into which he recollected he had seen the barber disappear just prior to his own sudden fall.
"Heavens!" cried Mark, "have my senses left me? Do I dream of horrors unparalleled or is my existence a reality?
"I remember this place, of course. The man who invited me here stood yonder, and that is the chair on which I sat, afterwards falling into the depth below."
As Mark said this he was looking through the window of the shop, but he did not see Toby.
"Merciful Heaven!" went on Mark, "this piece of machinery, to which a chair is fixed, is
a contrivance for the purpose of murder and robbery."
Then wildly thrusting his hands into his various pockets, he went on, in terror-stricken accents—
"My pocket-book gone—the string of pearls—all lost! The facts are clear enough. The owner of this shop is a robber and an assassin; but I have not quite fallen a victim to his inhuman designs, for, though weak and defenceless, I'll sell my life dearly."
And, as he spoke, Mark endeavoured to open the door leading to the shop.
"It will not yield," he said; "I'll soon force it open though when I find an instrument fit for the purpose. What's here?—another door. This leads to the room into which the scoundrel entered before I was thrown into the cellar below. The mystery is explained. A bolt is here communicating with a spring from yonder room, and, at the murderer's will, his unsuspecting victims are launched in to eternity."
Just at this moment the barber's apprentice, now driven distracted by the tenor of his thoughts, moved to the parlour door and turned the key in the lock.
"Ha!" cried Mark, "some one at the door—perhaps the assassin himself. Murderer! I am prepared for you."
But as our readers are aware it was not the murderer himself, but his innocent apprentice who was striving to penetrate the mysteries of the infernal den.
As Tobias entered the room the first thing that met his eye was the open trap.
"Powers of mercy!" screamed the poor lad as his eyes next fell upon the awful looking figure of Mark Ingestre. "The sailor! The owner of the string of pearls!"
"Silence!" cried Mark, "another word and it is the last you'll utter. I am determined to leave this murderous den, but not until I have dragged the owner to prison. Where is he?"
"He has gone to Wimbledon. I expect him in every moment," said Toby.
"I believe you to be in league with the villain," cried Mark.
"Indeed, sir, I am not. Say rather that I am in his power," answered Toby.
"Then assist me to deliver him into the hands of justice," said the sailor.
"I will—I will—only tell me how I am to act," whispered Toby.
"Fetch the police officers hither. I will await the murderer's coming, and secure him until assistance arrives," said Mark Ingestre.
"Too late—he is here," almost shrieked Toby as he hid himself behind a curtain.
Mark instantly drew as far from away the door as he could, so as to be ready to meet the murderer.
Todd entered without noticing Mark; Toby, of course, he could not see as he was hidden.
"Not a sign of the boy," said Todd. "What a fool I was to trust him to mind the shop."
Then he caught sight of the open trap and yelled out, "Fiends! What is this?"
"Murderer!" cried Mark, in answer, as he strode forward to meet his implacable foe for the second time.
"The sailor—the—the" broke from the barber's trembling lips.
"Yes," replied Mark, "the owner of the string of pearls."
"Living!" cried Todd.
"Yes," almost shrieked Mark, "the sailor was saved by a miracle to stay your hellish deeds. Murderer!—assassin! the scaffold shall have its due."
In an instant Todd had drawn a formidable looking knife from his pocket, and had rushed like a madman at Mark Ingestre.
A terrific struggle now ensued.
Victory seemed, as in the course of the struggles in the cellar to alternate between the two.
At last by a supreme effort Todd managed to throw his adversary into a corner close to the trap-door.
The barber then seized a huge horse pistol which was hanging over the fireplace and presented it at Mark, who had managed to rise on one knee.
Before Todd could fire, however, Toby darted forward from his place of concealment, and snatched the pistol from Todd's hand.
Sweeney in an instant struck up Toby's arm, and the pistol exploded harmlessly in the air.
Then the barber, with a sudden accession of strength born of desperation, hurled Toby a bruised and bleeding lump of humanity to the further end of the room, and proceeded to devote his attention to Mark.
Sweeney seized the unfortunate sailor by the throat, and endeavoured to force him down the trap.
For some time Ingestre was successful in resisting the efforts of the barber.
But his strength gave way at last and Todd succeeded in throwing his victim through the trap.
Mark managed to make one more desperate effort for liberty, and his hands caught the edge of the trap.
But to no avail.
Todd hammered at the unfortunate man's knuckles until he was compelled to release his hold, and in the twinkling of an eye he had disappeared from the scene, and a sickening thud told Todd that the chances were a hundred to one against his victim ever troubling him again.
Sweeney now crossed over to the spot where his unfortunate apprentice lay, with the intention of cutting his throat and flinging him into the cellar after the sailor.
Toby, however, was too quick for him.
Rushing under the barber's arm he seized a chair and struck his master a fearful blow with it.
Then Toby's face assumed a semi-idiotic appearance, and he passed out from the barber's shop and made his way towards Fleet-street.
For hours he wandered about in an aimless and purposeless manner.
So he wandered about until the shades of night fell over the great city, shades through which the dim oil lamps that lighted the streets strove in vain to penetrate.
At last, worn out with fatigue, and with scarcely enough sense left in him to tell him what he was doing, poor Toby sat down by the archway of Clement's Inn, muttering almost incoherently to himself as he did so—
"Whither shall I fly to avoid the murderer's foul intent? Sickened at the sight of new horrors my brain whirls, and my limbs refuse to bear me from this hated place.
"Go where I will, I am reminded of the bloodshed I have witnessed, until I am impressed with the idea that I am also guilty.
"Oh! my dear mother, for your sake have I kept the terrible secret, but now a voice from Heaven whispers in my ear telling me that I am acting wrong by hiding the assassin's crime from the light of day .
"Yes, I will denounce him to the world, or my heart will burst from its load of misery."
Here poor Toby broke off with a vacant stare.
Then he went on again in the same strain—
"Again that horrible sensation is stealing over me. A demon is taking possession of my reason, my speech will fail me ere I have time to divulge the secret.
"Another effort and I—too late—too late—a veil is thrown across my path, I can proceed no further—all is growing dark—help! save me—save me!"
And the poor lad with a heartrending scream fell to the ground in a swoon.
At this critical juncture Big Ben, the Tower warder, made his way through the gateway, evidently considerably troubled in his mind by something, for he was muttering to himself as he strode along.
We will take a liberty with our friend, and listen to him as his tall figure turns out of the inn into the Strand.
"Blockhead as many persons call him," said Ben, "I have arrived at the conclusion that the beadle has good grounds for suspecting Mr. Sweeney Todd is not the pious, good-natured individual most persons believe him, for I distinctly saw a young man enter his shop, and up to the present time I don't believe he's come out of it. I took good care to look into the shop myself, but could find no trace of the missing man.
"It's a case of magic in my opinion; or else Mr. Todd has got some connection with the old gentleman of the lower region. Howsomever, I'll not let the matter drop until I have made known my suspicions to Sir Richard Blunt, the chief magistrate at Bow-street.
"Hallo!" he cried, as he saw Toby lying on the ground; "easy does it—what's this? A boy fainting on the ground. Rouse up, my little man, rouse up—easy does it."
And the kind-hearted man raised the still fainting boy in his arms, and loosened his neck-cloth and fanned his face.
"Where am I?" said Toby, staring vacantly round him.
Then, seeing Ben, he exclaimed—
"Let me go—let me go! You shall not drag me back to that dreadful place! I would suffer death rather than meet Sweeney Todd again."
"Sweeney Todd!" said Ben. "Steady, my lad, easy does it. No harm shall come to you while I am by your side. My name is Ben, commonly called ‘Big Ben,’ and I can safely say I never betrayed a fellow creature by thought or deed. Now, if you've anything on your mind, my little man, speak up. Don't be afraid, for I've got a big fist and a strong arm, and with me my motto always is ‘easy does it.’"
"I have been in the service of Sweeney Todd. He is a murderer," said Toby, with a
"I suspected such was the case. Go on, my little man, tell me all—easy does it," said Ben.
"Yesterday morning a young man—a sailor—entered his shop—"
"And has not since been heard of?" interrupted Ben.
"He was murdered," replied Toby.
"Yes, by Sweeney Todd," said Ben.
"True, true," cried Toby; "Heaven has at last heard my prayers. Oh! sir, call in the officers of justice. Cause him to be apprehended and punished."
Then he broke off with a hysterical laugh, but immediately went on again—
"Ha, ha, ha! Joy is now returning to my bosom. But my brain seems to be on fire. Secure the murderer. I can prove that he is guilty. See, see—he is there, waiting to receive me as a victim. Keep him away—don't let him kill me. His hand is now upon my throat; the weapon is upraised to strike. Mercy, Mr. Todd, mercy! I will keep your secret—swear it! Yes, I will swear it if you will save me! Ha, ha, ha!"
And with a soul-stirring cry, almost indescribable in its concentrated terror, the unfortunate lad fell back into Ben's arms—a raving lunatic.
Just at this moment Johanna Oakley made her appearance in the Strand.
"Is that you, cousin Ben?" she said. "Whatever are you doing?"
"Rendering a little assistance to this poor boy, from whom I have learnt a most terrible secret respecting the fate of poor Mark Ingestre," he replied.
"Mark Ingestre! Tell me—" Johanna broke in breathlessly.
"Easy does it," said Ben. "You shall know all about it to-morrow."
"If, as you say, it concerns Mark Ingestre, I must be made acquainted with the facts at once," said the girl, imploringly.
"Now, easy does it, or I won't answer for the consequences."
"I must know that at once," said Johanna impatiently.
"Well, if I must—I must," replied Ben. "Well, then, I saw a young sailor enter Sweeney Todd's shop; as I was passing the door I heard a cry for help."PART IV.
"HAVING my suspicions that all was not right, I demanded the cause," said Big Ben. "Todd objected to my entering his house—an altercation ensued—the place was searched, but no sign of the missing man was seen. Just now I by chance came across this lad, who says he has been in Sweeney Todd's employ, and positively asserts that the person I have described to you was murdered by his master!"
For a few moments Mark's sweetheart stood like one bereft of reason.
A few hysterical sobs broke from her; but with a superhuman effort she choked them down, and said—
"You see I am calm. I can be trusted with a secret, which I will not divulge until the fitting time arrives. If he be a murderer, I will be the means of bringing his crime to the world's light."
"Easy does it. What do you mean to do?" said the bewildered Ben.
"Ascertain the truth of that boy's story. I will go there disguised as a boy and seek the situation under Sweeney Todd which this poor lad has held, and if, as I suspect, Mark Ingestre has met his death by the assassin’s hand, Justice shall claim its own—the gibbet shall have its due!" and Johanna hurried away.
"Poor little fellow," said Ben, as he raised Toby in his arms; "I'll take him to Mr. Oakley's. He has a kind heart and will look after the little chap until we can find out where he lives. I trust though, by the way, that Johanna will not get herself into any trouble; but she is a shrewd girl and I doubt not that she can take her own part."
And the kind-hearted Big Ben raised Toby in his arms and bore him off in the direction of Mr. Oakley's house as easily as if the poor lad had been a doll.
Had Toby retained his reason another minute the mystery of the chair might have been divulged, and an end put to Sweeney Todd's career of crime in a summary fashion.
But it was ordained otherwise.
The fiend's time had not yet come.
When Toby fled from the barber's shop after having stunned the monster by the blow from the chair, Sweeney Todd lay for some time in a state of insensibility.
His first act on coming to was to touch the spring which caused the rope-ladder to roll up towards the trap.
Sweeney then closed the horrible aperture and staggered out into the shop.
"What a fool I have been!" he hissed between his clenched teeth.
"The boy has made good his escape, and has carried my terrible secret with him.
"What shall I do—he has been gone some hours now?"
And as he said this, the barber consulted a splendid gold repeater, which, probably, had been but a short time before the property of one of his many victims.
"It is no use my following him. What shall I do? Shall I wait the course of events, or shall I fly with what I have already got ere the hue and cry gets too strong?"
Then he leant his head on his arm for a minute or two as if thinking.
He suddenly started to his feet, exclaiming as he did so—
"No, ten thousand times, no! I'll fight it out. Why should I fly like a cursed cur. I'll take my chance. Luck has been with me all through. I'll chance it. The lad dare not speak for his mother's sake. That was a good bit of business on my part when I hid those jewels in the old lady's wallet!"
"It's dark now, I'll go round and see Mrs. Lovett, and talk the matter over with her.
"I daren't go below and see if the sailor is really dead this time. He can't escape now, even if he has as many lives as a cat, but I cannot face him again. He shall starve where he lies, if he is not already dead, and Mrs. Lovett will have to get more genuine butcher's meat to mix with her pies."
And smoothing his crumpled linen, Sweeney Todd proceeded to make himself presentable, prior to paying his intended visit to the widow.
He would have taken a very different course, however, had he been able to see what was taking place beneath his feet.
Mark had again escaped death in a most marvellous manner.
But on this occasion, when he recovered his senses, after his terrible fall, he made up his mind to act in a very different way to that in which he had indulged before.
He could see now that vain raving and tearing about would do no good.
He must meet craft by craft if he was ever to leave his prison alive.
Of one thing he felt certain now.
That was, that the lad was not an accomplice of the barber.
This being the case, there was some hope that the lad might escape and put the officers of justice upon the track.
Yes, some hope, truly—but how small was the chance that the boy should escape from the murderer's toils.
Every instant Mark Ingestre expected to hear the trap open, and to find poor Toby come hurtling through the air down on to the floor of the death cellar, whose pitiless stones had well-nigh shaken all the life out of his stalwart and sinewy frame.
But as time passed on, and nothing of the kind occurred, Mark began to grow more hopeful.
Feeling that rest was an absolute necessity, after all he had gone through, the sailor felt his way round the vault until he came to the alcove before alluded to.
Arrived at the spot, he laid himself at full length upon the table, which revolved on a spring being touched, and transferred its burden to the bakehouse connected with Mrs. Lovett's pie shop.
How it happened Mark never knew, but when he awoke from the fitful slumber into which he had fallen on his iron couch, he found himself in an entirely different place to the horrible vault of death in which he had surrendered himself to the blessed unconsciousness of sleep.
The probability is that in tossing his arms about Mark must have accidentally touched the spring, and here he was in a well warmed and well lighted bakehouse with a delicious odour of pastry and baked meats permeating the air.
The bewildered sailor hardly knew whether he was awake or dreaming.
He pinched himself, and shook himself, but to no purpose.
He was evidently wide-awake.
But where had he got to, and how had he got there?
He looked around him more carefully, and in the distance, standing at a large table kneading dough, Mark saw a gaunt-looking man or boy, he could hardly tell which.
"Ha!" he said, "this is well; I have by some means found my way into a bakehouse. Well, the baker yonder seems hard at work. That looks honest. I'll ask him what all this means, and how it is I am here."
And Mark was about to cross over to the man.
But suddenly he stopped and said to himself—
"I had better get a cudgel or something. The fellow may be in league with the rascally barber."
Mark observed a spade in one corner of the bakehouse, and this he promptly seized.
Then rushing suddenly over to the startled youth he said—
"Who are you? And why am I here?"
Poor Leonard, for it was that half-witted lad
whom Mark had accosted in this somewhat abrupt manner, turned quickly round with a terrified air.
"Merciful Heavens!" he exclaimed, "it has come at last. The moment I have dreaded has arrived, and the ghost of one of Sweeney Todd's victims has at last been permitted to re-visit this earth."
"What do you mean, boy?" cried Mark. "I am no ghost; but real live flesh and blood like yourself."
"No, no," whimpered the poor lad; "go away pray do, Mr. Ghost."
And throwing himself upon his knees, he groveled at the sailor's feet.
Mark Ingestre had considerable difficulty in quieting Leonard's apprehensions, but at last he succeeded in doing so.
The shock of Mark's sudden appearance seemed to have restored the lad's senses to a certain extent.
In answer to the sailor's interrogatories he told him the horrible secrets of that prison house.
Told him how he, like Tobias, had been one of the barber's apprentices.
Told him how he began to suspect that many customers who entered the barber's shop never again left it alive.
Todd, with the proverbial shrewdness of sin, had soon discovered that his apprentice had doubts as to his honesty.
The barber, therefore, gave him a sleeping draught on one occasion, and on his waking the lad discovered himself in the bakehouse which Mark Ingestre had so mysteriously entered, and where the poor lad had remained ever since.
"I saw no one at the time," the unfortunate lad went on, "and I have seen no one since. Did you go into the barber's shop and get drugged?"
"Never mind about me, at present," said Mark.
"Tell me about yourself.
"If you saw no one at the time and have seen no one since, how have you managed to live, and keep yonder fire burning, and all the rest?"
"Oh! master," said Leonard, "I know that my story must sound untruthful to you. But I can assure you that every word is true.
"I hear a voice every now and again which tells me what to do.
"As soon as I have made a batch of pies I place them on yonder table and ring this bell here.
"The table slides away, and when it comes back to this bakehouse, as it does almost immediately, I find flour, coals, wood, water, candles, or anything I want in place of the pies, I have sent up to the pie-shop."
"But," queried Mark, "you have omitted all mention of the meat for the pies. Tell me, where does that come from?"
"Ah, Heavens! that is what is driving me mad," shrieked Leonard, in tones denoting the most poignant anguish.
"How, boy, is it driving you mad?"
"Well, master, some of the meat comes back on the tray where I have placed the pies, but—"
Here the poor lad broke off suddenly, and with a scared look paced round the walls of the bakehouse as if in mortal terror lest some listener might overhear the horrible tale he was about to unfold.
"Go on," said Mark; "you can whisper if you are afraid of being overheard; but there seems to be no chance of anyone spying on us in this underground den."
"Well, master," whispered Leonard, in trembling accents, "some of the ‘meat’ I find on that table over there."
And he pointed to the iron slab where Mark Ingestre had found himself waking from his uneasy slumber.
"Well," said Mark, "and why do you shudder and tremble so when you mention the meat which you find on yonder table, where, by-the-bye, I found myself when I awoke to consciousness in this place?"
"Ah, master! you will never believe me if I tell you."
"Never mind," said Mark; "go on. My present impression is that you are speaking the truth."
"Well, then," muttered the poor lad, almost inarticulately, "I am sure the ‘meat’ that comes to me on that table is human flesh!"
"Human flesh!" almost shrieked Mark Ingestre.
"Yes, master, human flesh—the flesh of the victims of Mr. Sweeney Todd, the sanctimonious barber, of Fleet-street. "
"Merciful Powers!" cried Mark; "and do you mean to tell me that you make those fragments of your fellow-creatures' bodies up into pies?"
"Alas, master! all too true—what can I do? The voice of the unseen one which I hear from that side of the bakehouse bids me do so, and do it I must.
"Once I thought I would refuse, but I found no water sent to me—and oh! the agony that those long hours of thirst caused me! Can you wonder that I gave in and did as I was bidden?"
"No, my poor lad," said Mark, "I cannot wonder that your frail body could not stand such terrible torture."
Then, breaking off, he said—
"By Jove! I see it all now. Sweeney Todd's murdered victims are cut up into fragments in the shambles from which I have just escaped.
"Their flesh is then placed upon the table in the alcove upon which I lay down to rest.
"Some secret spring is touched, and the horrible cargo is sent into here.
"Perhaps in my half-delirious sleep I may have touched that spring, and hence it is that I find myself here."
Then Mark turned to Leonard, and said—
"Tell me, how long have you been in this awful den?"
But the spark of intellect which had momentarily lighted up the poor lad's brain had died out.
Leonard gave the sailor one vacant stare and then mechanically resumed his occupation of making pies as if he alone were the inhabitant of that awful bakehouse.
Mark Ingestre, whose usual keen and shrewd foresight had returned to him, made up his mind that he had better wait quietly until the unfortunate lad had another lucid interval, and then form some plan of escape, if such were possible.
He carefully examined the place through which the pies were removed, but nothing could be discovered in that quarter to give him any hope of escape.
He could see that a flange of iron about six inches deep, and running the whole length of the tray, some four feet, was so contrived as to move on hinges when anything was passed beneath it, either from the cannibalistic bakehouse to the pie shop, or vice versa.
But all Mark's endeavours to move this hinged shutter were in vain.
There was evidently only one method of working it, and that was from the outside.
He then went back to the ‘dead meat’ table at the other end of the bakehouse and closely examined that.
Here he met with precisely the same result.
The table was evidently only to be moved from the interior of the death vault in which he had passed through such terrible moments.
Mark was not down-hearted.
Strange to say, a certain sense of safety and hope of succour had crept over him, and he made up his mind to take what rest he could, and chance any visit which might be made to the infernal den, either by the demon barber or by the horrible vendor of pies who evidently drove a thriving trade on the remains of Sweeney Todd's victims.
Here for the present we will leave him, and quitting these foul precincts, make the best of our way back to the upper earth once more.
Sweeney Todd had placed a notice in his window to the effect that he wanted a boy, either as apprentice or as odd lad.
Mark’s sweetheart, true to her intention of hunting down the man whom she believed to be the murderer of her sweetheart, had procured a suit of clothes suitable to a youth who would be supposed to apply for a situation of this kind.
On the afternoon of the day when Todd first put the notice in the window, the plucky girl set out on her dangerous mission.
Arrived at the shop, Johanna peeped in and saw that the barber was alone.
He was muttering to himself, but the girl could not catch the words.
Todd was, in fact, saying to himself—
"The game's nearly up, ugly rumours are bruited abroad concerning me. And all through that beggar's brat, Tobias Ragg. I have heard that the young babbler has been carried to the house of Mr. Jasper Oakley. He must be removed. My friend Dr. Lock, being clever in such matters may advise, and materially assist me."
At this moment Johanna knocked loudly at the shop door and entered.
Todd turned hastily round and said—
"Ah! little boy, what's your business? Not a shave yet, I reckon."
"No, sir," replied Johanna. "By the card in your window I see you are in want of a boy; if you are pleased to bestow the situation upon me, I will promise to be as honest and faithful a—"
"Bah! that's what all the boys say when they apply," said Todd.
Then he muttered to himself—
"They tell a different tale afterwards—ha, ha, ha!"
"How old are you?" he continued, addressing Johanna.
"Seventeen!" said Todd. "From your appearance you don't seem to be in want of the situation you apply for."
"That is easily explained, sir," replied Johanna. "Stepfather has treated me so badly, so I resolved to run away from home."
"Run away from where?" asked Todd.
"From Oxford, sir," said the girl.
"When?" queried the barber.
"Four days ago," replied Johanna.
"From Oxford, eh? Are you a stranger to London?"
"Quite so, sir."
"A country lad—he will suit me admirably for a time; knows nothing, knows nobody," said Todd to himself exultantly.
Then turning again to Johanna, he said—
"What's your name?"
"Charley Green, sir."
"Well, then, Charley, you shall have the situation, but you must promise not to make any acquaintances, or speak on any subject connected with my house; see all and say nothing, your place will be the shop.
"Yonder," went on Sweeney, pointing to the room where the trap door was, "is my little back parlour, into which no one enters but myself. If you are a good boy you shall receive the sum of three shillings per week. Go now and secure a lodging for yourself, and return immediately."
"Yes, sir," said Johanna, "thank you."
"And see what o'clock it is by Saint Dunstan's," said Todd, as the girl was leaving.
"Yes, sir," replied Johanna, and then turning quickly, she said, "I beg your pardon, but I'm a stranger to London will you kindly direct me to—"
"Oh, never mind—you'll find out where it is soon enough," said the barber. "Away now, and execute your errand quickly."
And as Johanna was about to leave the shop, Dr. Lock, the keeper of the lunatic asylum at Wimbledon, entered.
Johanna eyed him suspiciously, not being able to make up her mind whether this was a confederate or a probable victim of her new master.
However, she passed on, leaving the stranger and Sweeney Todd together.
"How do you do, friend Todd?" said Dr. Lock.
"As well as folks will allow," replied that worthy.
"Ah, what a wicked world this is!" whined Lock.
"None of that humbug for me—don't turn my shop into a ranter's ken! Sit down, and talk business in a rational manner."
"Beg pardon, Mr. Todd—habit, you know—use is second nature."
"Oh, yes—you're so used to roguery that the practice comes quite natural to you."
"Really, Mr. Todd."
"Bah! Listen to me—some time since, on my recommendation, you received a patient—
one of my boys—he died shortly afterwards!"
"He did, Mr. Todd."
"Now the young imp that has lately been in my service has gone mad—ran away, and sought shelter in a neighbour's house. In his fancied security he may be tempted to mention many disagreeable things concerning me; you know how readily some persons take a poor man's character away. I wish him removed from his present asylum, and placed under your care. Take note of his actions—for a valuable string of pearls has been stolen from my house, and I suspect he is the thief. When the property is recovered I will give you further instructions respecting him."
Mr. Todd, I am your very humble servant," said the sycophantic doctor, scenting a good round fee.
"Meet me to-night as the clock strikes twelve, near Temple Bar; you'd better bring a trustworthy person to assist you, as, if necessary, we must use force."
"Certainly, Mr. Todd, anything to serve an old friend. I'll be father and mother both to the poor boy. Adieu for the present, Mr. Todd. Oh! what a wicked world this is!" and the hypocrite passed out of the shop.
"So that's settled," said Todd. "The boy removed to a place of safety, my mind will be at ease."
Then passing into the back parlour Sweeney opened a trap and gazed long and rapturously at the treasures contained in the receptacle.
"How they glitter," he said, gloatingly. "Folks little think the treasure this old shop contains—ha! ha! ha! This wealth belong to me, Sweeney Todd, the barber—all mine—mine! Ha! ha! Ha!"
While Todd was so pleasantly engaged in gloating over his jewels, and other articles plundered from his murdered victims, Johanna had returned to the shop.
Not seeing Sweeney Todd she moved lightly across to the closed door of the little back room.
Arrived here, she endeavoured to look over the blind which covered the lower part of the window at the top of the door.
In vain she strove to add another inch to her stature.
It was no use.
She looked about for something on which she might stand so as to increase her height to the desired point.
But nothing portable appeared within reach and as she turned to leave the door she made a slight noise.
Slight as the noise was, however, it caught the acute ears of the demon barber.
With a horrible oath he closed the trap.
In another instant, with the bound of a panther, he had thrown open the door and clutched the luckless Johanna by the throat.
In an almost inarticulate tone, so overpowering were his rage and dread of discovery, Todd shrieked out—
"What did you see?—speak! Tell me the truth—no lies, or I will cut your throat from ear to ear. Tell me the truth, or I will murder you!"
Johanna, with great presence of mind, although she was thoroughly alarmed, replied—
"I've nothing to tell, sir; I was only returning as you told me, when just as I entered the shop you seized me and—"
Sweeney at once smilingly released her, and said, at the same time patting the girl on the head—
"It was only my fun, Charley. I'm so fond of little boys, you know, that I like to play with them sometimes."
Then he muttered to himself—
"If I thought he'd observed me I'd soon polish him off at once."
After a pause, in which he was probably making up his mind as to the course he should pursue, he turned to Johanna, and with a half vacant look asked the totally unnecessary question—
"What was I doing, Charley?"
"Holding me very tightly by the throat, sir."
"So I was, Charley—so I was. Well, now Charley you can clear up the shop and make everything look as tidy as possible. Don't be afraid of me, my lad, it's only my funny way. You'll soon get used to it."
And the fiend left Johanna in the shop while he went back to the inner room to see that he had left everything safe.
As Sweeney Todd entered the room he muttered—
"No, no, he suspects nothing. His time to be polished off has not yet come. But I must be more careful—more careful."
Johanna, although terribly frightened, was more than pleased with the success which she saw looking in the distance.
That Todd was a robber if not a murderer there could be no reasonable doubt, or why should he have behaved in such an extraordinary manner?
At this juncture a tall gentlemanly young man entered the shop.
He turned to the barber's assistant, and said—
"Can I be shaved, young fellow?"
"I’ll call my master," said Johanna, at the same time endeavouring to slip a piece of paper in his hand on which she had previously written—
"Take care—there is something wrong about this fearful shop."
But Sweeney had heard the stranger's entrance, and was in the shop before Johanna could effect her purpose.
"Good-day, sir; what can I have the pleasure of doing for you?" grinned the barber, with oily accents.
"I want a shave," said the stranger, "and trust you will be quick about it as I am in an infernal hurry."
"All right, sir—all right," replied Todd.
Then, turning to Johanna, he said—
"Run round and tell Mrs. Lovett that I will be with her directly. I am only detained by a gentleman who wants polishing off."
For one instant Johanna paused, thinking that she might yet save the unfortunate man from she knew not what.
But Sweeney shot such a baleful gleam at her that she did not dare disobey his orders, and at once quitted the shop.
Sweeney proceeded to lather his victim, and in the most natural manner asked—
"Was anyone outside when you came in, sir?"
"No," replied the stranger.
"Then no one saw you come in?" queried Todd.
"No," again answered the unsuspecting man.
"Then, by Heaven! no one shall see you go out!" yelled Todd.
And a second later the spring was touched, the chair revolved, and the victim was hurled into the vault below.PART V.
WITH a horrible chuckle the man of blood saw his victim disappear down into the depths below his shop.
Not one shriek escaped from the doomed one’s lips.
So great was his surprise that his tongue was absolutely paralysed.
"That's good," said Sweeney Todd to himself. "I've got dreadfully nervous lately, and I can't bear to hear them howl."
Then he took up the poor fellow's hat and stick, and, passing into the parlour, pitched them down the trap-door.
"Now," the barber continued, "I must carefully watch Master Charles Green on his return, and see if he seems to suspect anything."
In due course Johanna returned, but as Mrs. Lovett had kept her several minutes, it would have been quite possible for the barber to have shaved the customer in the time.
She, therefore, wisely concluded to look as unconcerned as possible on noticing the absence of the customer.
"I polished him off quickly, didn't I, Charley?" said the barber.
Johanna answered as quickly as she could, and heroically managed to conceal the shudder which passed through her frame as Sweeney uttered the words "polished him off!"
"I don't know, sir," answered the supposed Charley. "I think Mrs. Lovett kept me rather a long time; but, indeed, it was not my fault that I was not back more quickly."
"Never mind, Charley," said Todd, "I'm not angry with you—I’m not angry,"
Then, retiring into the back parlour, he muttered to himself—
"The lad suspects nothing. He is a veritable green-horn.
"I could not resist the temptation of sending that gay young spark to kingdom come.
"The diamond ring and his jewelled studs must be worth a lot of money. And then his watch—why, it's the handsomest I have ever seen.
"But I will wait a day or two before I venture down.
"The sailor must have been dead long since, even if he survived the fall.
"This last blade had death in his face as he toppled over; I do not think it even wanted the fall to kill him."
Then Sweeney went back to the shop and entered into a general conversation with Johanna.
Whilst they were thus engaged, the shop door opened and a rather portly, but by no means bad-looking, woman entered the shop.
The barber turned round quickly, and as he recognised the visitor his face turned livid, and he exclaimed with astonishment—
"Sweeney Todd!" replied that lady.
"Charley, go and inquire what time the coach starts for Liverpool," said Todd, turning to Johanna.
"Yes, sir," she replied,
"You are surprised at my unexpected appearance, Mr. Todd, are you not?" queried Mrs. Lovett.
"The time and place are ill-chosen for a meeting between us, as you must see if you have an atom of sense."
"Very likely—therefore I will be brief," said the pie-shopkeeper. "Both of us for a lengthened period have carried on a systematic trade of guilt, by which we have accumulated countless wealth. I am tired of the life, and wish to renounce it. I have come for the money you hold belonging to me, as I wish to leave London immediately."
"Really I should be very sorry to be the means of thwarting your intentions, but I must positively—"
"Beware how you trifle with me, Sweeney Todd, for you are in my power, and know that in two hours I could have you placed in Newgate on a charge of murder!"
"Indeed!" cried Todd. "But Mrs. Lovett forgets that such a step would be ruin to her; for if such a fate awaits one, it must be shared equally by the other."
"I can turn king's evidence, and will do so if you do not act straight," said Mrs. Lovett, spitefully.
"Breathe one word to a living soul, and I'll cut your throat from ear to ear!" hissed Todd, between his clenched teeth.
"Ha! ha! ha!—I defy you!" said the widow.
"Dare me in my own house?" yelled Todd.
"Traitress!" shouted Todd, as he rushed at her with an open razor.
But the widow was too quick for Todd.
In an instant she had snatched a pistol from her bosom, and had presented it at the barber's head.
"Move one inch towards me," she cried, "and all accounts between us shall be speedily settled."
"Really, my dear Mrs. Lovett, what a woman you are; I was only joking," replied Todd, with a leer.
"Back, I say—we are not strangers! we know each other too well," cried Mrs. Lovett. "Answer me quickly—do you agree?"
"Your demands are exorbitant; in the first place you require a sum of money that I have never had in my possession."
"It's a lie, Todd! Beware how you trifle with me."
"Well, I'll see. Anything in reason you shall have, my dear Mrs. Lovett. If you'll just step into my little back parlour I will arrange everything to your entire satisfaction—come!"
"No, thank you, Mr. Todd," laughed the widow, discordantly.
"Why, what is the matter?" asked Todd.
"Oh! nothing particular, only that I know as well as you that any person entering that room never comes out alive; I'm as artful as you are, Mr. Sweeney Todd."
"I'll fetch my books. In the meantime take a chair," said Todd, with a baleful look, as he pointed to the shaving-chair.
"In that chair!" cried the widow. "What do you take me for? I see you are trying by some means to take my life. Now, mark well my words, if the money is not forthcoming by this time to-morrow I'll make a full confession at Bow-street Police Office. You have heard my final determination, so, for the present, farewell."
Sweeney made another attempt to seize her, but she again presented the pistol at him, and under its protecting power left the shop, slamming the door violently after her.
"Gone!" shrieked Todd. "Another obstacle in my path. Turn king's evidence, will she? Not if I know it. I'll under the vaults of St Dunstan's, through the bakehouse, and into the shop. I'll settle all accounts with Mrs. Lovett, for to-night she dies!"
At this moment a foppishly-dressed, military-looking man entered the shop.
"A customer," said Todd. "Be seated, sir."
"Be speedy, if you please," said the stranger. "I have a particular appointment. It doesn't do to keep a lady in suspense."
"Ah! you military gentlemen were ever favourites of the fair sex," said the barber, banteringly.
"Egad! you're right. I was always called Dare Devil Dick, the lady's man, in the regiment."
"I wonder if Mr. Dare Devil Dick's worth polishing off?" said Todd to himself.
"A fellow sees the folly of his youth when he arrives at the age of forty. So, having sown my wild oats, I've selected a partner for life—a handsome creature, with a splendid fortune," the stranger went on, musingly.
"How the world will envy you, sir."
"I believe you. Without exaggeration, she's a perfect goddess. The day after tomorrow I shall marry her, and take a trip to America."
"Have I the honour of claiming the acquaintance of this fair charmer of yours?"
"Everybody knows her—famed alike for her beauty and her wit. It's no other than Mrs. Lovett, the owner of the splendid pie-shop in Bell yard."
"Mrs. Lovett!" cried the barber, almost stricken dumb at the announcement.
"You seem astonished!" said the military man.
"You have positively taken my breath away," said Todd.
And then he muttered to himself—
"This accounts for her anxiety for a settlement. A pretty pair—go to America, will they? Not while it's in my power to baffle their schemes!"
Then, turning to the customer, Sweeney said—
"Excuse me for a moment, sir, I've left my best razor in the parlour—shan't detain you a moment."
And as the demon passed through the parlour door he hissed out the words—
"Now to polish him off!"
The usual sickening details were repeated.
The chair revolved on its axis, and the amorous but unfortunate gallant went to join the stranger whose still warm corpse was lying upon the cruel stones of the vault of death.
"Go to America, will you?" yelled Todd, as the body disappeared. "Ha—ha—ha! Who triumphs now, Mrs. Lovett, you or I?"
Then his face lengthened, as he muttered to himself—
"But I had forgotten. I cannot polish Mrs. Lovett off to-night. I dare not attempt to go down below to get to the bakehouse until I know that the two, or must I say three of them, are dead.
"Pshaw! what is it makes me such a coward?
"Fancy Sweeney Todd, after all these years, being afraid to go down and plunder his customers.
"But I am afraid—there's no denying that. I'll wait till to-morrow night, and then I'll risk all and make the descent. Then, plucking all that is worth having from my pigeons below, I'll pass on through the bakehouse, and then, Mrs. Lovett, I think you shall receive your share of my hard-earned wealth."
And with a fiendish chuckle, the malignity of which could scarcely be surpassed, Sweeney threw the soldier's three-cornered hat and clouded cane through the trap-door into the abyss below.
This done it suddenly occurred to Todd that the lad had been absent for a very long time on his journey to find out the time of the starting of the Liverpool coach.
"Well, well," said Sweeney, "the lad does not know his way about London, and he has most likely lost himself. 'Tis all for the best, as he might have arrived at an awkward moment."
But Sweeney would not have taken matters quite so easy if he could have followed Johanna and overheard a conversation in which she was at that instant taking part.
On leaving the barber's shop the girl went straight to her father's house, and, to her amazement, Big Ben was in the act of leaving it.
"Why, Ben," she said, "how is this? The pet beefeater of the Tower absent from his post at this time of the day. What does it mean?"
"Well, Johanna," said Ben, "I've got a holiday; and I got it partly on your account."
"Partly on my account! Why, Ben, whatever do you mean?"
"Well, I saw your father last night, and he told me that the boy Toby had been raving about the shaving chair in Sweeney Todd's shop."
"Yes, yes—go on, Ben," cried the excited girl, eagerly.
"Well, Toby says that there are two chairs! Now, hold on, don't you get excited. Easy does it."
"Yes; but if you don't get on more quickly how can I help getting excited?" asked Johanna.
"Well, then, Toby raves about there being two shaving chairs, and by this means Sweeney Todd is enabled to ‘polish off’ his victims."
"But how can that be?" cried Johanna. "How can the fact of there being two chairs enable the barber to dispose of his victims?"
"That, Johanna, is exactly what we want to find out. This much we can get out of Toby, that on one occasion he accidentally cut a piece off the shaving chair, and when next he looked at it the piece was not missing, nor had the chair been mended."
"But what does this lead you to suspect?"
"Why, that by some means or other the chair is moved away with the customer, either dead or alive, seated on it, and a second chair, exactly like it, takes its place. We are the more certain that that is the case, as Toby says that he afterwards saw the chair with the piece off. Then he stops, and shudders and shrieks, and we can get no more from him."
"And what do you propose to do?" asked Johanna.
"Well, I propose to call at your shop to get shaved. Then to keep my eyes fixed on Sweeney Todd. If he turns away, or seems to touch a spring, or anything of that kind, I shall simply rise from my chair and move clean away from it. If my suspicions are correct it will sink into the ground, and another one rise up and take its place. Subsequent events must then shape themselves as Heaven wills."
"But, Ben, it is an awfully dangerous task which you have taken upon yourself."
"That's right, Johanna. Here's a great hulk of a fellow like me taking on a job similar to the one you set yourself, and you talk about the danger to me. Why did not you think of that yourself ere you embarked upon your enterprise?"
"But that is different, Ben. What have I to live for save vengeance now that Mark has gone? With you the case is different. You have all that makes life enjoyable at your command; you are young, in the best of health, and well provided for."
"It's no use, girl; my mind is made up. Now go in and see your father, and mind you do not express any surprise when you see me enter your master's shop, as I shall do later in the day, or the first thing in the morning, for I have leave of absence for to-morrow as well, and, my dear cousin, you need not in the least fear for me. I shall come off all right."
Johanna, seeing that Ben's mind was thoroughly made up, wisely did not attempt any further to dissuade him, and, bidding him adieu, she passed into her father's house.
She found Mr. Oakley terribly concerned as to her welfare.
The plucky girl, however, had little difficulty in persuading her father that she felt quite safe, especially as she felt certain that Ben had in truth discovered the secret of the shaving chair.
With a few words of kindly caution Mr. Oakley allowed her to return to Sweeney Todd's shop.
On her arrival there, after an absence of over two hours' duration, she found her master in a pretended passion.
Without waiting for Sweeney to speak, Johanna said—
"The coach will start from the Saracen's Head at ten o'clock to-morrow morning, sir."
"Coach, what coach, boy?" snarled out Sweeney Todd.
"The Liverpool coach, sir."
"The Liverpool coach—what the devil has the Liverpool coach got to do with me?" cried the barber.
"You sent me to ask, sir," replied Johanna, in a whimpering tone.
"Well, and if I did, I certainly did not expect you to go to Liverpool to find out, and you have been gone almost time enough to have got there."
"Please, sir, I lost myself," said Johanna. "I am very sorry, you know. I am a stranger to London, and I am very sorry, and I will work two hours later for you to-night if you can find me anything to do."
"You cursed young whelp. What do you mean? Do you think I am going to have you prowling about my premises to-night? No; be off home at once, and mind you are here sharp to time in the morning."
"Thank you, sir; I hope you'll forgive me by then."
And with that the pretended Charley Green left the shop.
When he was left alone, Sweeney Todd paced up and down the shop for some time.
He seemed to be labouring under the most intense excitement.
He kept muttering to himself, but it was only now and again that anything intelligible escaped from his lips.
At last he seated himself, but not in the shaving chair, and with a sigh of relief he said—
"Well, the game is up, and I am not altogether sorry for it.
"I will change my programme, and go down below to-night, and relieve the gentlemen below of their worldly possessions."
Then, with a horrid laugh, he went on—
"They can have no use for watches and chains and jewels and gold where they now are. I will bring the property up and add it to the stock I already have.
"Then I will again descend and pass through the bakehouse, first polishing Master Leonard off.
"After that I should advise Mrs. Lovett to look out for herself."
And if the widow could have seen the barber's face at that moment we have no doubt but that she would have looked out for herself, and with both eyes too.
Carefully closing the shop and barring and bolting the door, Sweeney advanced to the trap, and opening it placed his head as far down it as he could.
Not the faintest trace of a sound met the anxious listener.
With a muttered exclamation, that might have meant anything, he rose to his feet.
All silent, still as the very grave itself.
Then as he proceeded to let the ladder fall he stopped, and said—
"No, they may not be dead—I'll run no unnecessary risk.'
He then gathered up the rope ladder, and, hooking the bottom part on the top round, he exclaimed—
"Ha, ha! I can look at them from mid-air. My ladder will only reach halfway down now, and I can take a good light with me and have a glance round me to see how my lodgers are getting on before I go down to collect the rent."
Suiting the action to the word he obtained a light, and descended as far as the ladder
The lantern light revealed the fact that two out of the three victims were certainly dead.
The two bodies that met his gaze were undoubtedly those of the young gentleman and the unfortunate suitor for Mrs. Lovett's hand and purse.
But the sailor—where was he?
Sweeney could see no trace of him, and he mentally reckoned up the time since Mark Ingestre had last disappeared down the horrible trap.
"Ha! ha!" said the barber with a yell of triumph, "he's dead, of course, by this time. He has only crept into some corner to breathe his last, and that is how it is that I cannot see him. I have nothing to fear, even if he should be alive. Starvation and his injuries must have weakened him so much that I shall have an easy task in polishing him off in the
remote event of his still having any breath left in his body."
With this the demon barber reascended the ladder, and, unhooking the bottom, dropped the whole length of it down into the death vault.
Then, placing a couple of loaded pistols in his breast, he took the keenest razor between his teeth and commenced the descent.
On reaching the bottom he looked cautiously round, but no Mark Ingestre was to be seen.
There were the inanimate bodies of his two latest victims, but not a trace of the sailor could he discover.
Cautiously, but trembling so that he could hardly hold the light he held in his hand, the miserable man made the round of the foul chamber.
Not the slightest trace of Mark met his eyes.
"What can it mean? How can he have escaped?"
Then with a yell, he cried out—
"Am I going mad—am I going mad?
"I certainly threw the sailor's palpitating form down through the trap-door, and heard him fall with a sickening thud on the stones beneath."
Rushing again round the vault he met with the same result.
"I will away," he cried. "I will not take the trouble to cut up those bodies for the pies. Mrs. Lovett will be able to do without any more after to-morrow."
Then rapidly overhauling the bodies of his two victims, he transferred all the valuables that fell under his notice to his own capacious pockets.
This operation performed to his satisfaction, he proceeded to make his way back to his shop.
"They may lay there and rot," cried Sweeney Todd, "but I am too unnerved over the mystery of the sailor to go and settle Mrs. Lovett to-night. She may live another day, I can surely temporise with her for that time."
"Yes," he went on, as he placed the newly-acquired property along with the string of pearls, and bundles of bank notes, into which he had converted the other articles of value which had previously come into his possession.
"Yes; I will open the shop as usual to-morrow, and, in the meantime, I'll go to sleep. Rest may restore my shattered nerves to their normal condition."
Taking out the brandy flask, he drained it to the bottom, and throwing himself on the truckle bed in his clothes, the monster soon fell asleep.
The morning came, and with it Johanna, fully half an hour earlier than usual.
She knocked loudly at the door, but it was some time before she could succeed in rousing the barber.
At last he awoke, and, with a shudder, looked round him.
"Is it the officers of justice on my track," he muttered; "or is it only Charley Green?"
Looking cautiously through the window, he saw that it was his boy, and he gave a sigh of relief.
Then, as he made his way to the door to open it, he muttered to himself—
"Confound it! have missed my appointment with Dr. Lock. I wonder whether he has captured Toby or not?"
He let Johanna in without a word, merely acknowledging her morning salutation by a kind of grunt.
Johanna passed into the shop, and went on with her work in the usual manner.
A close observer, however, might have noticed a sort of constrained nervousness in her manner, but this escaped the eye of the barber.
This nervousness was caused by the fact that she was expecting the advent of Big Ben every moment.
Would he succeed, or would the gallant warder, who had done good yeoman service for his king and country, find an untimely end at
the hands of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber of Fleet-street?
At last the critical moment arrived, and Ben, in his splendid dress, entered the shop.
The girl had her back to the door and did not notice his entrance until he whispered under his breath the one word—
"Hush!" she said, placing her finger on his lips, and just then Sweeney Todd emerged from the parlour.
"Oh! a customer; be seated, sir," said Todd, as Big Ben seated himself in the fatal chair. Then he continued aloud, "Charley, hot water." Then he said to himself, "This is the fellow who made all the mischief after—I know; I'll polish him off, and gratify my revenge. Charley, go and buy a pennyworth of shrimps at Mr. Dab's, there's a good boy. Do you hear, Charley?" and he tied the cloth round Ben's neck.
"Yes, sir," she said, hesitatingly; and then added silently, "Heaven help Ben!"
"Now then, boy, why don't you do as your master bids you?" said the warder sharply.
"Heaven help him!" she said again. "How will it end?"
"Bless me! I've left my best razor in the parlour. Won't detain you a moment, sir," said Todd, adding aside, "now to polish him off!"
The instant Todd had disappeared, Ben rose and crossed to the other side of the shop.
As he did so the barber touched the spring, and Ben had the supreme gratification of seeing the action of the revolving chairs.
"Thankye, Mr. Todd, Big Ben's not caught this time, at any rate," said Ben, with a chuckle.
"Ha! ha! ha! he's polished off, and now—" shouted Todd, when he suddenly caught sight of Ben.
"Ha! ha! ha! Mr. Todd. Ha! ha! ha!" roared Ben, with a laugh.
"Foiled—my secret discovered!" shrieked Sweeney. "What shall I do?"PART VI.
IT did not take the demon long to make up his mind as to the best course to pursue.
In another instant Sweeney Todd had closed with Ben, and a terrific struggle ensued.
Under ordinary circumstances the gigantic Tower warder could literally have crushed all semblance of life and humanity out of the barber.
On this occasion, however, the murderer, finding that his infernal game was completely exposed, gained threefold strength from his knowledge of the peril in which his neck was now irrevocably placed—unless by any chance he could master his antagonist, and pass by means of the death-vault and the bakehouse into Mrs. Lovett's pie-shop.
From thence he thought he could easily make his way into Bell-yard, and so secure liberty and his life.
All his newly-acquired strength was exerted to force Ben into the parlour at the back of the shop.
Sweeney's idea was that if he could but succeed in doing this, he might, by one supreme effort, cast Ben away from him, and so secure time to open the trap, and descend by means of the rope ladder into the horrible den beneath.
At last fortune seemed to favour the fiend.
Sweeney managed to drag Big Ben to the door of the parlour; but his strength was not sufficient to pull or force him through.
One little thing, however, turned the tables in an instant.
This little thing was simply a narrow strip of wood, which was nailed to the floor from door-post to door-post.
Its original purpose had been to act as a stop to the parlour door, so as to prevent it opening into the shop.
In the struggle, rendered more awful by the despairing but desperate gleam in Todd's eyes, and the fiendish expression on his face, the barber managed to place the warder in such a position that his heel caught in the projecting piece of wood.
The position changed as if by magic.
Ben vainly tried to recover his lost balance.
Sweeney took immediate advantage of the accident, and hurled his weight against his powerful adversary.
An instant later and the handsome beefeater lay sprawling at full length on the floor of the barber's shop.
Without a moment's hesitation, Sweeney rushed to the trap, opened it, dropped the ladder, and hand over hand with a nimbleness that would have done duty to an able-bodied sailor, he descended it until he stood upon the dank cold stones of the chamber which had been the scene of so many awful crimes.
Touching a spring which he had contrived in case of an event of this kind occurring, the trap dropped into its place, and the ladder came down with a run into the vault beneath.
Sweeney Todd breathed a sigh of relief, as he said—
"That was a tough struggle, and I must take breath for a moment or two."
With this he seated himself upon the revolving table for a brief space of time.
"I doubt if I ought not to have killed him," Sweeney muttered to himself; "but I seem to have lost all nerve lately. However, I have not much to go through now if I only act promptly."
Rising from his seat, he felt in his pocket, and found a razor there—one which he had slipped into his pocket as he went to touch the spring which was intended to hurl Big Ben to an instant and terrible death.
"Now for it," he said.
The next instant he had laid himself upon the revolving table which had so often supplied Mrs. Lovett's bakehouse with human flesh, to be made up into the savoury pies for which she was so famous.
"If I had not brought the razor," he said to himself, as he touched the spring, "I should not have had pluck to meet the boy Leonard."
What would he have thought if he had known that he had to meet another antagonist beside the half idiotic baker?
The table revolved noiselessly, and in an instant Sweeney Todd found himself in the warm and well-lighted bakehouse, in exactly the same fashion as Mark Ingestre had done.
Springing to his feet as swiftly as possible, for he wished above all things to avoid an encounter with Leonard unless such proved inevitable, Sweeney sprang towards a spot in the bakehouse close to the table on which Leonard was wont to place the pies, and on which his food and the necessary articles for producing the delicious morsels came back to him.
As he did so a tall, well-shaped, but slightly emaciated figure rushed from out of a corner of the bakehouse, and stood before him.
The figure was not that of Leonard.
"The sailor's ghost!" shrieked Sweeney.
"The demon barber!" yelled Mark Ingestre.
The sound of the sailor's voice convinced Sweeney that he had flesh and blood to deal with and not a visitant from the other world.
The barber took advantage of the astonishment which for a moment deprived Mark of all power of action.
He touched a spring just behind him.
A panel hitherto imperceptible swung open and Sweeney rushed through.
In an instant Mark recovered possession of his faculties, and had rushed forward to seize his would-be murderer.
With a rapid movement Todd slammed the door to.
But Mark Ingestre was too quick for him.
The sailor's arm was between the door and the lintel ere the two met.
The force of the blow was so great that it nearly broke Mark's arm; but the door was open,
Without pausing a moment to calculate the chance he would have in a combat with the barber, taking into consideration the state of his arm, the brave sailor darted through the door, and found himself in a narrow corridor dimly lighted by rusty gratings at the top.
This he at once and correctly surmised to be a passage under St Dunstan's Church.
Pushing rapidly forward, as only one who knows not what the word fear is, Mark followed in the footstep of the flying barber.
The passage or series of passages seemed to the sailor to be a perfect labyrinth.
But Sweeney Todd appeared to know every inch of this ground. Now they would plunge into utter darkness.
Darkness that might almost be felt.
Again they would emerge into a dimly-lighted vault.
Then they would seem to pass into the corridor by which they had just entered from the bakehouse.
And subsequent explorations proved this to be the case.
Here Sweeney, who was some three yards or so in front of his pursuer, touched another spring.
A door immediately opened and revealed a flight of wooden steps in a most dilapidated condition.
With the bound of a panther Mark sprang upon his retreating enemy.
Sweeney turned and dealt him a fearful blow upon the ear.
The sailor fell, but he fell on the stairs.
The secret door closed with a clang, and the barber fled upstairs.
In the meantime, to return to the barber's shop.
Big Ben had recovered consciousness, and had sought his allies, the Bow Street Runners, who were closely in attendance, and told them what had occurred.
"You may depend upon it," said Ben, "that he has an underground passage that either takes him into Bell Yard or into St Dunstan's Church."
"Do you," he went on to Sir Richard Blunt, the chief magistrate, "order your men to guard Bell Yard and the church, and I am sure we shall secure the miscreant."
At this juncture Johanna Oakley, in her assumed character of Charley Green, appeared on the scene.
While Sir Richard was giving the necessary instructions to his men, Johanna said to Ben—
"Thank heaven you are safe, cousin."
"Yes, my dear," said he, "safe and sound; and, what is more, I think we have succeeded in making the capture of the human wolf a matter of certainty."
"I pray that it is so," said Johanna.
"Well, my dear, as you have behaved in such a plucky manner, you shall come with us, and see what the end will be."
"Thank you, oh! thank you so much, Ben," cried Johanna.
"Tush, tush!" answered that worthy. "I've done nothing but my duty. Come along, my dear."
And the two cousins followed in the rear of the constables until they arrived at Bell-yard.
Here Big Ben and Johanna elected to stop.
Both felt sure that by whatever means Sweeney Todd had escaped from the barber's shop, his next appearance in the light of day would be from the door of the widow Lovett's pie-shop.
Todd, when he had dealt Mark Ingestre that fearful blow on the ear, did not turn to see whether his victim had fallen inside or outside of the secret door communicating with the vaults beneath St Dunstan's Church.
The barber's chief object was to secure his own safety.
He had, however, a subordinate one if fate should be propitious to him.
This subordinate object was to "polish" off the buxom widow, whom he had in his own mind associated with the betrayal of the secret of the chair.
"She wants to save her own bacon, and to collar all the swag," he muttered to himself, as he swiftly coursed up the stairs. "What a fool I was to let her know the secret of the treasure-trap! She will, if I do not kill her, manage, under pretence of giving evidence, to make an entrance to my shop, and once there the she-devil will hoodwink all present until she manages to secure all my hard-earned wealth."
But to the demon's chagrin when he arrived at the top of the stairs and had opened the door that led into the pie-shop parlour there was no one there.
He entered the shop.
The shutters were closed, not an unusual thing at that time of the day.
Sweeney rushed upstairs, and searched room after room, but to no purpose.
"Foiled!" cried Sweeney. "The house empty! Can she already have given information? I must away, it is too late."
With this the fiend rushed to the front door, and opened it, crying out, wildly—
To his horror he was met with the muzzles of half-a-dozen pistols levelled at his head.
Then a clear, ringing voice cried—
"It's no use, Sweeney Todd; the game is up. We have apprehended Mrs. Lovett here, and she has confessed all under promise that she shall be allowed to turn King's evidence."
Sweeney made no articulate reply, but mouthed and foamed more like a wild beast than a human being.
"You had better give in quietly, or in another instant you shall have half-a-dozen bullets in your brain."
But even as Sir Richard, for he was the speaker, uttered these words, Sweeney was seized from behind by two long sinewy hands, which clasped his throat with such tenacity that he was powerless to offer any resistance.
And as the owner of these sinewy hands
came into view from the inside of Mrs. Lovett's pie-shop, Johanna Oakley shrieked out—
"Mark, my beloved—oh! Mark, come to me."
Thrusting the half-suffocated barber into the hands of the officers, Mark Ingestre in an instant was clasped in the arms of the one who had undergone such danger to avenge her lover's supposed murder.
Todd was rapidly handcuffed and marched off to Bridewell.
On the way to the lock-up Mark rapidly told Johanna and Big Ben all that had occurred since the eventful day when he had first entered Sweeney Todd's shop.
Both listened with eyes as well as ears opened wide with wonderment.
Johanna said nothing.
She only pressed closer to her sweetheart's side, and nestled there with loving faith.
Ben, on the contrary, thrust out his hand and said—
"Well done, Mark Ingestre—well done! I don't mind confessing that I have been a little bit jealous of you on account of Johanna here. But I can see now that if ever any man was worthy of my pretty cousin it is a plucky chap like you. As for her—"
"Stop—stop, Ben," said Johanna, playfully; "I'll listen to nothing of that sort."
And she proceeded to explain to Mark the heroic part which her cousin had played in the capture of Sweeney Todd.
By this time they had arrived at Bridewell.
Entering that place Mark, Johanna, and Ben proceeded to give their evidence, and Mrs.
Lovett was then brought forward.
Addressing her in severe tones Sir Richard Blunt said—
"You may thank your lucky stars that I have promised that you should not suffer for your share in Sweeney Todd's horrible crimes.
"That promise I gave you thinking that we should not be able to convict the villain without you aid.
"This you see we are now able to do; but I never depart from my word.
"You are free to go back to your own home if you choose, or if you think it is safer you can go to goal.
"I may as well tell you that the populace are by this time up in arms against you, and have sworn to have justice executed upon you, whether the law aids them or not."
The widow Lovett thought of the money she had secreted in her home, and resolved to risk all and return to Bell-yard, if only for the night.
Of this resolution she informed Sir Richard Blunt.
"Very well," said he, "you can sleep there tonight, but two of my men must accompany you—the one to see that no one enters by the front door, and the other to guard the door that leads to the cellars under St. Dunstan's."
At this juncture an officer and a blacksmith who had been told off to inspect the said door, entered the office, and stated that they could not find the spring to open the door.
"Never mind," said Sir Richard; "we will have the whole place down to-morrow but what we find it. Mrs. Lovett says she does not know the secret, which may or may not be true, but, anyhow, she may consider herself a prisoner until the secret is discovered."
Sweeney was then searched, and, strange to say, the only valuables that were found upon him were Mark Ingestre's wallet and the String of Pearls.
These were at once identified, and marked as belonging to the sailor, but of course they were for the time by the authorities.
The various parties now made their way from the court, and proceeded on their respective businesses.
Of one thing our readers may be certain, and that is that there were none among them so Happy as Mark Ingestre and Johanna Oakley.
Sweeney Todd was removed to a cell in the Bridewell and left to chew the cud of bitter reflection.
The night grew in, and by the time it did so, Todd's active brain had conceived a chance of escape.
The chimney of his cell was a flue wide enough almost for him to climb up.
He waited until the last visit for the night had been paid to him and then proceeded to put his plan into execution.
He succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations.
Ere the clock of the neighbouring church had struck one, Sweeney stood a free though handcuffed man, in St. Bride's Churchyard.
Dashing his handcuffs against a grave stone, he speedily succeeded in smashing them.
"Now," he muttered to himself, "I must to the vaults beneath St. Dunstan's, and reaching my own den by that means get a new suit of clothes."
And well might he wish to do so, for the ones he wore were literally stripped to rags during his journey up the chimney.
He felt himself quite secure in this move, as he had heard the officer say he had not discovered the secret of the spring.
Sweeney cautiously proceeded to the back of St. Dunstan's Church, and there by an entrance known only to himself made his way into the maze-like vaults through which he had been pursued by Mark Ingestre.
Meanwhile Mrs. Lovett had made up her mind to make an attempt to reach Sweeney Todd's house, and secure the treasure.
The widow knew that the officers in charge of those premises were on the outside, not one of them daring to remain within the accursed place at night-time.
If she could succeed in passing through the bakehouse and getting into the barber's shop she would there find untold wealth.
It was worth an effort.
And almost without any difficulty she succeeded in removing the first obstacle from her path. This obstacle was the two officers.
These men, however, were susceptible to the seductive influence of drink, and this fact being ascertained, Mrs. Lovett had little difficulty in mixing a drug with their potations which swiftly deprived them of all consciousness.
Assuring herself that they were securely settled for some hours to come, Mrs. Lovett took up an oil-lamp and proceeded to descend the stairs leading to the passages below St. Dunstan's.
Arrived at the bottom she touched the spring and the door flew open.
She was about to enter into the dark corridor, when the light of her lamp fell upon an object which paralysed her.
With a yell of terror the unfortunate woman shrieked out—
"Yes, Sweeney Todd," cried the barber, for it was he. "At last I shall have revenge."
But the widow had dashed halfway up the stairs, and in an instant Sweeney was after her.
As he passed through the secret door one of the strips of his torn garments caught the spring.
The door closed.
But the spring was broken and the door could not be opened again.
Mrs. Lovett sprang as quickly as her legs would carry her up the stairs, but ere they reached the door the barber was upon her.
The lamp dropped from her hand upon the touchwood-like stairs.
In an instant the whole place was in flames.
This common danger brought both to their senses.
Up to the top they rushed only to find their means of exit barred and bolted from the shop side.
One of the officers with a stronger head than that of his fellow had recovered, and guessing by the open door what had happened, had barred and bolted it, and rushed off to fetch his superior.
By the time they came back all that remained of Sweeney Todd, the demon barber, and his accomplice, Mrs. Lovett, was a heap of charred bones, indistinguishable from the other burnt objects around them.
What their agony must have been, when, on descending the blazing staircase, they found the door leading to St. Dunstan's vaults closed against them may possibly be imagined; the mental picture is too horrible for us to attempt to describe.
Half an hour later, and all vestige of the pie-shop had disappeared.
The mob, now made mad with excitement, rushed round to the barber's shop, and, in spite of the efforts of the officers, succeeded in setting that on fire.
Ere the morning dawned the den of iniquity, with all the treasure it contained, was a heap of blackened dust.
Our story is ended.
Johanna and Mark, of course, married; but Ben, true to his old love, remained a bachelor.
Poor Leonard's body was found in the bakehouse quite dead, but with a peaceful smile on his face.
He had met his death by suffocation.
Mark wished to provide the funeral expenses, but the authorities would not listen to it, and the poor lad had a public funeral, being followed to the grave by some hundreds.
Poor Toby never quite recovered his intellect, but he was well cared for by Mark and Johanna; and if he had not have been, there were scores in the parish that would have held out a helping hand to him.
Dr. Lock met with no punishment at the hands of the law as nothing could be proved against him.
But his end was terrible.
On hearing of the fate of Sweeney Todd and the widow, he gave one shriek, and rushed out of his house.
For hours he wandered about until he came to the neighbourhood of Caterham, where he saw the glare of a kiln in front of him.
Five minutes later all that remained of him was a handful of calcined bones at the top of the kiln fire.
His last words as he flung himself into the fire were—
"I come, Sweeney, I come!"
And so ends our story of the STRING OF PEARLS.