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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 FOUR
THE NIGHT AT THE MADHOUSE
When Sweeney Todd had with such diabolical want of feeling whispered the few words of mockery which we have recorded in Tobias's ear, when he was carried out of Mr Fogg's reception-room to be taken to a cell, the villainous barber drew back and indulged in rather a longer laugh than usual.
'Mr Todd,' said Mr Fogg, 'I find that you still retain your habit of merriment, but yours ain't the most comfortable laugh in the world, and we seldom hear anything to equal it, even from one of our cells.'
'No,' said Sweeney Todd, 'I don't suppose you do, and for my part I never heard of a cell laughing yet.'
'Oh! you know what I mean, Mr Todd, well enough.'
'That may be,' said Todd, 'but it would be just as well to say it for all that. I think, however, as I came in, you said something about refreshment?'
'I certainly did; and if you will honour me by stepping back to my room, I think I can offer you, Mr Todd, a glass of as nice wine as the king himself could put on his table, if he were any judge of that commodity, which I am inclined to think he is not.'
'What do you expect,' said Sweeney Todd, 'that such an idiot should be a judge of; but I shall have great pleasure in tasting your wine, for I have no hesitation in saying that my work tonight has made me thirsty.'
At this moment a shriek was heard, and Sweeney Todd shrank away from the door.
'Oh! it's nothing, it's nothing,' said Mr Fogg: 'if you had resided here as long as I have, you would get accustomed to hearing a slight noise. The worst of it is, when half a dozen of the mad fellows get shrieking against each other in the middle of the night. That, I grant, is a little annoying.'
'What do you do with them?'
'We send in one of the keepers with the lash, and soon put a stop to that. We are forced to keep the upper hand of them, or else we should have no rest. Hark! do you hear that fellow now? he is generally pretty quiet, but he has taken it into his head to be outrageous today; but one of my men will soon put a stop to that. This way, Mr Todd, if you please, and as we don't often meet, I think when we do we ought to have a social glass.'
Sweeney Todd made several horrible faces as he followed the madhouse keeper, and he looked as if it would have given him quite as much pleasure, and no doubt it would, to brain that individual, as to drink his wine, although probably he would have preferred doing the latter process first, and executing the former afterwards, and at his leisure.
They soon reached the room which was devoted to the use of Mr Fogg and his friends, and which contained the many little curiosities in the way of madhouse discipline, that were in that age considered indispensable in such establishments.
Mr Fogg moved away with his hands a great number of the books and papers which were on the table, so as to leave a vacant space, and then drawing the cork of a bottle he filled himself a large glass of its contents, and invited Sweeney Todd to do the same, who was by no means slow in following his example.
While these two villains are carousing, and caring nothing for the scene of misery with which they are surrounded, poor Tobias, in conformity with the orders that had been issued with regard to him, was conveyed along a number of winding passages and down several staircases towards the cells of the establishment.
In vain he struggled to get free from his captor - as well might a hare have struggled in the fangs of a wolf- nor were his cries at all heeded; although, now and then, the shriek he uttered was terrible to hear, and enough to fill anyone with dismay.
'I am not mad,' said he, 'indeed I am not mad - let me go, and I will say nothing - not one word shall ever pass my lips regarding Mr Todd - let me go, oh, let me go, and I will pray for you as long as I live.'
Mr Watson whistled a lively tune.
'If I promise - if I swear to tell nothing, Mr Todd will not wish me kept here - all he wants is my silence, and I will take any oath he likes. Speak to him for me, I implore you, and let me go.
Mr Watson commenced the second part of his lively tune, and by that time he reached a door, which he unlocked, and then, setting down Tobias upon the threshold, he gave him a violent kick, which flung him down two steps on to the stone floor of a miserable cell, from the roof of which continual moisture was dripping, the only accommodation it possessed being a truss of damp straw flung into one corner.
'There,' said Mr Watson, 'my lad, you can stay there and make yourself comfortable till somebody comes to shave your head, and after that you will find yourself quite a gentleman.'
'Mercy! mercy! have mercy on me!'
'Mercy! what the devil do you mean by mercy? Well, that's a good joke; but I can tell you, you have come to the wrong shop for that, we don't keep it in stock here, and if we wanted ever so little of it, we should have to go somewhere else for it.'
Mr Watson laughed so much at his own joke, that he felt quite amiable, and told Tobias that if he were perfectly quiet, and said 'thank you' for everything, he wouldn't put him in the straight waistcoat, although Mr Fogg had ordered it; 'for,' added Mr Watson, 'so far as that goes, I don't care a straw what Mr Fogg says or what he does; he can't do without me, damn him! because I know too many of his secrets.'
Tobias made no answer to this promise, but he lay upon his back on the floor of his cell wringing his hands despairingly, and feeling that almost the very atmosphere of the place seemed pregnant with insanity, and giving himself up for lost entirely.
'I shall never - never,' he said, 'look upon the bright sky and the green fields again. I shall be murdered here, because I know too much; what can save me now? Oh, what an evil chance it was that brought me back again to my mother, when I ought to have been far, far away by this time, instead of being, as I know I am, condemned to death in this frightful place. Despair seizes upon me! What noise is that - a shriek? Yes, yes, there is some other blighted heart beside mine in this dreadful house. Oh, Heaven! what will become of me? I feel already stifled and sick, and faint with the air of this dreadful cell. Help, help, help! have mercy upon me, and I will do anything, promise anything, swear anything!'
If poor Tobias had uttered his complaints on the most desolate shore that ever a shipwrecked mariner was cast upon, they could not have been more unheeded than they were in that house of terror.
He screamed and shrieked for aid. He called upon all the friends he had ever known in early life, and at that moment he seemed to remember the name of everyone who had ever uttered a kind word to him; and to those persons who, alas! could not hear him, but were far enough removed away from his cell, he called for aid in that hour of his deep distress.
At length, faint, wearied and exhausted, he lay a mere living wreck in that damp, unwholesome cell, and felt almost willing that death should come and relieve him, at least from the pang of constantly expecting it!
His cries, however, had had the effect of summoning up all the wild spirits in that building; and, as he now lay in the quiet of absolute exhaustion, he heard from far and near smothered cries and shrieks and groans, such as one might expect would fill the air of the infernal regions with dismal echoes.
A cold and clammy perspiration broke out upon him, as these sounds each moment more plainly fell upon his ear, and as he gazed upon the profound darkness of the cell, his excited fancy began to people it with strange, unearthly beings, and he could suppose that he saw hideous faces grinning at him, and huge misshapen creatures crawling on the walls, and floating in the damp, pestiferous atmosphere of the wretched cell.
In vain he covered his eyes with his hands; these creatures of his imagination were not to be shut out from the mind, and he saw them, if possible, more vividly than before, and presenting themselves with more frightfully tangible shapes. Truly, if such visions should continue to haunt him, poor Tobias was likely enough to follow the fate of many others who had been held in that establishment perfectly sane, but in a short time exhibited in it as raving lunatics.
'A nice clear cool glass of wine,' said Sweeney Todd, as he held up his glass between him and the light, 'and pleasant drinking; so soft and mild in the mouth, and yet gliding down the throat with a pleasant strength of flavour.'
'Yes,' said Mr Fogg, 'it might be worse. You see, some patients, who are low and melancholy mad, require stimulants, and their friends send them wine. This is some that was so sent.'
'I should certainly, Mr Fogg, not expect such an act of indiscretion from you, knowing you as I do to be quite a man of the world.'
'Thank you for the compliment. This wine, now, was sent for an old gentleman who had turned so melancholy, that he not only would not take food enough to keep life and soul together, but he really terrified his friends so by threatening suicide that they sent him here for a few months; and, as stimulants were recommended for him, they sent this wine, you see; but I stimulated him without it quite as well, for I drink the wine myself and give him such an infernal good kick or two every day, and that stimulates him, for it puts him in such a devil of a passion that I am quite sure he doesn't want any wine.
'A good plan,' said Sweeney Todd, 'but I wonder you don't contrive that your own private room should be free from the annoyance of hearing such sounds as those that have been coming upon my ears for then last five or ten minutes.'
'It's impossible; you cannot get out of the way if you live in the house at all; and you see, as regards these mad fellows, they are quite like a pack of wolves, and when once one of them begins howling and shouting, the others are sure to chime in, in full chorus, and make no end of a disturbance till we stop them, as I have already told you we do, with a strong hand.'
'While I think of it,' said Sweeney Todd, as he drew from his pocket a leathern bag, 'while I think of it, I may as well pay you the year's money, for the lad I have brought you; you see, I have not forgot the excellent rule you have of being paid in advance. There is the amount.
'Ah, Mr Todd,' said the madhouse keeper, as he counted the money, and then placed it in his pocket, 'it's a pleasure to do business with a thorough business man like yourself. The bottle stands with you, Mr Todd, and I beg you will not spare it. Do you know, Mr Todd, this is a line of life which I have often thought would have suited you; I am certain you have a genius for such things.'
'Not equal to you,' said Todd; 'but as I am fond, certainly, of what is strange and out of the way, some of the scenes and characters you come across would, I have no doubt, be highly entertaining to me.'
'Scenes and characters, I believe you! During the course of a business like ours, we come across all sorts of strange things; and if I chose to do it, which, of course, I don't, I could tell a few tales which would make some people shake in their shoes; but I have no right to tell them, for I have been paid, and what the deuce is it to me?'
'Oh, nothing, of course, nothing. But just while we are sipping our wine, now, couldn't you tell me something that would not be betraying anybody else's confidence?'
'I could, I could; I don't mean to say that I could not, and I don't much care if I do, to you.'
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