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STRING OF PEARLS
[the original 1846/47 penny dreadful featuring SWEENEY TODD
THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, ed.]
CHAPTER TWENTY ONE
THE MISADVENTURE OF TOBIAS. THE MADHOUSE ON PECKHAM RYE
Sweeney Todd paused for a moment at the cupboard-door, before he made up his mind as to whether he should pounce on poor Tobias at once, or adopt a more creeping, cautious mode of operation.
The latter course was by far the more congenial to him, and so he adopted it in another moment or so, and stole quietly from his place of concealment, and with so little noise, that Tobias could not have the least suspicion anyone was in the room but himself.
Treading as if each step might involve some fearful consequences, he thus at length got completely behind the chair on which Tobias was sitting, and stood with folded arms, and such a hideous smile upon his face, that they together formed no inept representation of the Mephistopheles of the German drama.
'I shall at length,' murmured Tobias, 'be free from my present dreadful state of mind by thus accusing Todd. He is a murderer - of that I have no doubt; it is but a duty of mine to stand forward as his accuser.'
Sweeney Todd stretched out his two brawny hands, and clutched Tobias by the head, which he turned round till the boy could see him, and then he said,-
'Indeed, Tobias, and did it never strike you that Todd was not so easily to be overcome as you would wish him, eh, Tobias?'
The shock of this astonishing and sudden appearance of Sweeney Todd was so great, that for a few moments Tobias was deprived of all power of speech or action, and with his head so strangely twisted as to seem to threaten the destruction of his neck, he glared in the triumphant and malignant countenance of his persecutor, as he would into that of the arch enemy of all mankind, which probably he now began to think the barber really was.
If aught more than another was calculated to delight such a man as Todd, it certainly was to perceive what a dreadful effect his presence had upon Tobias, who remained about a minute and a half in this state before he ventured upon uttering a shriek, which, however, when it did come almost frightened Todd himself.
It was one of those cries which can only come from a heart in its utmost agony - a cry which might have heralded the spirit to another world, and proclaimed as it very nearly did, the destruction of the intellect for ever.
The barber staggered back a pace or two as he heard it, for it was too terrific even for him, but it was for a very brief period that it had that stunning effect upon him, and then, with a full consciousness of the danger to which it subjected him, he sprang upon poor Tobias as a tiger might be supposed to do upon a lamb, and clutched him by the throat, exclaiming,-
'Such another cry, and it is the last you ever live to utter, although it cover me with difficulties to escape the charge of killing you. Peace! I say, peace!'
This exhortation was quite needless, for Tobias could not have uttered a word, had he been ever so much inclined to do so; the barber held his throat with such an iron clutch, as if it had been in a vice.
'Villain,' growled Todd, 'villain, so this is the way in which you have dared to disregard my injunctions. But no matter, no matter! you shall have plenty of leisure to reflect upon what you have done for yourself. Fool to think that you could cope with me, Sweeney Todd. Ha, ha!'
He burst into a laugh, so much more hideous, more than his ordinary efforts in that way, that, had Tobias heard it - which he did not, for his head had dropped upon his breast, and he had become insensible - it would have terrified him almost as much as Sweeney Todd's sudden appearance had done.
'So,' muttered the barber, 'he has fainted, has he? Dull child, that is all the better - for once in a way, Tobias, I will carry you, not to oblige you, but to oblige myself - by all that's damnable it was a lively thought that brought me here tonight, or else I might, by the dawn of the morning, have had some very troublesome enquiries made of me.'
He took Tobias up as easily as if he had been an infant, and strode from the chambers with him, leaving Mrs Ragg to draw whatever inference she chose from his absence, but feeling convinced that she was too much under his control to take any steps of a nature to give him the smallest amount of uneasiness.
'The woman,' he muttered to himself, 'is a double distilled ass, and can be made to believe anything, so that I have no fear whatever of her. I dare not kill Tobias, because it is necessary, in case of the matter being at any other period mentioned, that his mother shall be in a position to swear that she saw him after this night alive and well.'
The barber strode through the Temple, carrying the boy, who seemed not at all in a hurry to recover from the nervous and partial state of suffocation into which he had fallen.
As they passed through the gate, opening into Fleet Street, the porter, who knew the barber well by sight, said, 'Hilloa, Mr Todd, is that you? Why, who are you carrying?'
'Yes, it's I,' said Todd, 'and I am carrying my apprentice boy, Tobias Ragg, poor fellow.'
'Poor fellow! why, what's the matter with him?'
'I can hardly tell you, but he seems to me and to his mother to have gone out of his senses. Good-night to you, good-night. I'm looking for a coach.'
'Good-night, Mr Todd; I don't think you'll get one nearer than the market - what a kind thing now of him to carry the boy! It ain't every master would do that; but we must not judge of people by their looks, and even Sweeney Todd, though he has a face that one would not like to meet in a lonely place on a dark night, may be a kindhearted person.'
Sweeney Todd walked rapidly down Fleet Street, towards old Fleet Market, which was then in all its glory, if that could be called glory which consisted in all sorts of filth enough to produce a pestilence within the city of London.
When there he addressed a large bundle of great coats, in the middle of which was supposed to be a hackney coachman of the regular old school, and who was lounging over his vehicle, which was as long and lumbering as a city barge.
'Jarvey,' he said, 'what will you take me to Peckham Rye for?'
'Peckham Rye - you and the boy - there ain't any more of you waiting round the corner are there, 'cos, you know, that won't be fair.'
'No, no, no.
'Well, don't be in a passion, master, I only asked, you know, so you need not be put out about it; I will take you for twelve shillings, and that's what I call remarkable cheap, all things considered.'
'I'll give you half the amount,' said Sweeney Todd, 'and you may consider yourself well paid.'
'Half, master! that is cutting it low; but howsoever, I suppose I must put up with it, and take you. Get in, I must try and make it up by some better fare out of somebody else.'
The barber paid no heed to these renewed remonstrances of the coachman, but got into the vehicle, carrying Tobias with him, apparently with great care and consideration; but when the coach door closed, and no one was observing him, he flung him down among the straw that was at the bottom of the vehicle, and resting his immense feet upon him, he gave one of his disagreeable laughs, as he said, -
'Well, I think I have you now, Master Tobias; your troubles will soon be over. I am really very much afraid that you will die suddenly, and then there will be an end of you altogether, which will be a very sad thing, although I don't think I shall go into mourning, because I have an opinion that that only keeps alive the bitterness of regret, and that it's a great deal better done without, Master Tobias.'
The hackney coach swung about from side to side in the proper approved manner of hackney coaches in the olden times, when they used to be called bone shakers, and to be thought wonderful if they made a progress of three miles and a half an hour.
This was the sort of vehicle then in which poor Tobias, still perfectly insensible, was rumbled over Blackfriars-bridge, and so on towards Peckham Rye; and anyone acquainted with that locality is well aware that there are two roads, the one to the left, and the other to the right, both of which are pleasantly enough studded with villa residences. Sweeney Todd directed the coachman to take the road to the left, which he accordingly did, and they pursued it for a distance of about a mile and a half.
It must not be supposed that this pleasant district of country was then in the state it is now, as regards inhabitants or cultivation. On the contrary, it was rather a wild spot, on which now and then a serious robbery had been committed; and which had witnessed some of the exploits of those highwaymen, whose adventures, in the present day, if one may judge from the public patronage they may receive, are viewed with a great amount of interest.
There was a lonely, large, rambling old-looking house by the wayside, on the left. A high wall surrounded it, which only allowed the topmost portion of it to be visible, and that presented great symptoms of decay, in the dilapidated character of the chimney-pots, and the general appearance of discomfort which pervaded it.
Then Sweeney Todd directed the coachman to stop, and when the vehicle, after swinging to and fro for several minutes, did indeed at last resolve itself into a state of repose, Sweeney Todd got out himself, and rang a bell, the handle of which hung invitingly at the gate.
He had to wait several minutes before an answer was given to this summons, but at length a noise proceeded from within, as if several bars and bolts were being withdrawn; and presently the door was opened, and a huge, rough-looking man made his appearance on the threshold.
"Well! what is it now?' he cried.
'I have a patient for Mr Fogg,' said Sweeney Todd. 'I want to see him immediately.'
'Oh! well, the more the merrier; it don't matter to me a bit. Have you got him with you and is he tolerably quiet?'
'It's a mere boy, and he is not violently mad, but very decidedly so as regards what he says.
'Oh! that's it, is it? He can say what he likes here, it can make no difference in the world to us. Bring him in - Mr Fogg is in his own room.'
'I know the way: you take charge of the lad, and I will go and speak to Mr Fogg about him. But stay, give the coachman these six shillings, and discharge him.'
The doorkeeper of the lunatic asylum, for such it was, went out to obey the injunctions of Sweeney Todd, while that rascally individual himself walked along a wide passage to a door which was at the further extremity of it.
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