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STRING OF PEARLS
[the original 1846/47 penny dreadful featuring SWEENEY TODD
THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, ed.]
CHAPTER THIRTY SIX
THE LAST BATCH OF THE DELICIOUS PIES
It would have been clear to anyone, who looked at Sweeney Todd as he took his route from his own shop in Fleet-street to Bell-yard, Temple Bar, that it was not to eat pies he went there.
No; he was on very different thoughts indeed intent, and as he neared the shop of Mrs Lovett, where those delicacies were vended, there was such a diabolical expression upon his face that, had he not stooped like grim War to 'Smooth his wrinkled form', ere he made his way into the shop, he would, most unquestionably, have excited the violent suspicions of Mrs Lovett, that all was not exactly as it should be, and that the mysterious bond of union that held her and the barber together was not in that blooming state that it had been.
When he actually did enter the shop, he was all sweetness and placidity.
Mrs Lovett was behind the counter, for it seldom happened that the shop was free of customers, for when the batches of hot pies were all over, there usually remained some which were devoured cold with avidity by the lawyers' clerks, from the offices and chambers in the neighbourhood.
But at nine o'clock, there was a batch of hot pies coming up, for of late Mrs Lovett had fancied that between half-past eight and nine, there was a great turn-out of clerks from Lincoln's Inn, and a pie became a very desirable and comfortable prelude to half-price at the theatre, or any other amusements of the three hours before midnight.
Many people, too, liked them as a relish for supper, and took them home quite carefully. Indeed, in Lincoln's Inn, it may be said, that the affections of the clerks oscillated between Lovett's pies and sheep's heads; and it frequently so nicely balanced in their minds, that the two attractions depended upon the toss-up of a halfpenny, whether to choose 'sang amary Jameses' from Clare Market, or pies from Lovett's.
Half-and-half washed both down equally well.
Mrs Lovett, then, may be supposed to be waiting for the nine o'clock batch of pies, when Sweeney Todd, on this most eventful evening, made his appearance.
Todd and Mrs Lovett met now with all the familiarity of old acquaintance.
'Ah, Mr Todd,' said the lady, 'how do you do? Why, we have not seen you for a long time.'
'It has been some time; and how are you, Mrs Lovett?'
'Quite well, thank you. Of course, you will take a pie?'
Todd made a horrible face, as he replied, 'No, thank you; it's very foolish, when I knew I was going to make a call here, but I have just had a pork chop.'
'Had it the kidney in it, sir?' asked one of the lads who were eating cold pies.
'Yes, it had.'
'Oh, that's what I like! Lor' bless you, I'd eat my mother, if she was a pork chop, done brown and crisp, and the kidney in it; just fancy it, grilling hot, you know, and just popped on a slice of bread, when you are cold and hungry.'
'Will you walk in, Mr Todd?' said Mrs Lovett, raising a portion of the counter, by which an opening was made, that enabled Mr Todd to pass into the sacred precincts of the parlour.
The invitation was complied with by Todd, who remarked that he hadn't above a minute to spare, but that he would sit down while he could stay, since Mrs Lovett was so kind as to ask him.
This extreme suavity of manner, however, left Sweeney Todd when he was in the parlour, and there was nobody to take notice of him but Mrs Lovett; nor did she think it necessary to wreathe her face in smiles, but with something of both anger and agitation in her manner, she said, 'And when is all this to have an end, Sweeney Todd? you have been now for these six months providing me such a division of spoil as shall enable me, with an ample independence, once again to appear in the salons of Paris. I ask you now when is this to be?'
'You are very impatient!'
'Impatient, impatient? May I not well be impatient? do I not run a frightful risk, while you must have the best of the profits? It is useless your pretending to tell me that you do not get much. I know you better, Sweeney Todd; you never strike, unless for profit or revenge.
'Is it well, then, that I should have no account? Oh God! if you had the dreams I sometimes have!'
She did not answer him, but sank into a chair, and trembled so violently that he became alarmed, thinking she was very, very unwell. His hand was upon a bell rope, when she motioned him to be still, and then she managed to say in a very faint and nearly inarticulate voice, 'You will go to that cupboard. You will see a bottle. I am forced to drink, or I should kill myself, or go mad, or denounce you; give it to me quick - quick, give it to me: it is brandy. Give it to me, I say: do not stand gazing at it there, I must, and I will have it. Yes, yes, I am better now, much better now. It is horrible, very horrible, but I am better; and I say, I must, and I will have an account at once. Oh. Todd, what an enemy you have been to me!'
'You wrong me. The worst enemy you ever had is in your head.'
'No, no, no! I must have that to drown thought!'
'Indeed! can you be so superstitious? I presume you are afraid of your reception in another world.'
'No, no - oh no! you and I do not believe in a hereafter, Sweeney Todd; if we did, we should go raving mad, to think what we had sacrificed. Oh, no - no, we dare not, we dare not!'
'Enough of this,' said Todd, somewhat violently, 'enough of this; you shall have an account tomorrow evening; and when you find yourself in possession of £20,000, you will not accuse me of having been unmindful of your interests; but now, there is someone in the shop who seems to be enquiring for you.'
Mrs Lovett rose, and went into the shop. The moment her back was turned, Todd produced the little bottle of poison he had got from the chemist's boy, and emptied it into the brandy decanter. He had just succeeded in this manoeuvre, and concealed the bottle again, when she returned, and flung herself into a chair.
'Did I hear you aright,' she said, 'or is this promise but a mere mockery; £20,000 - is it possible that you have so much? oh, why was not all this dreadful trade left off sooner? Much less would have been done. But when shall I have it - when shall I be enabled to fly from here for ever? Todd, we must live in different countries; I could never bear the chance of seeing you.'
'As you please. It don't matter to me at all; you may be off tomorrow night, if you like. I tell you your share of the last eight years' work shall be £20,000. You shall have the sum tomorrow, and then you are free to go where you please; it matters not to me one straw where you spend your money. But tell me now, what immediate danger do you apprehend from your new cook?'
'Great and immediate; he has refused to work - a sign that he has got desperate, hopeless and impatient; and then only a few hours ago, I heard him call to me, and he said he had thought better of it, and would bake the nine o'clock batch, which, to my mind, was saying, that he had made up his mind to some course which gave him hope, and made it worth his while to temporise with me for a time, to lull suspicion.'
'You are a clever woman. Something must and shall be done. I will be here at midnight, and we shall see if a vacancy cannot be made in your establishment.
'It will be necessary, and it is but one more.'
'That's all - that's all, and I must say you have a very perfect and philosophic mode of settling the question; avoid the brandy as much as you can, but I suppose you are sure to take some between now and the morning.'
'Quite sure. It is not in this house that I can wean myself of such a habit. I may do so abroad, but not here.'
'Oh, well, it can't matter; but, as regards the fellow downstairs, I will, of course, come and rid you of him. You must keep a good lookout now for the short time you will be here, and a good countenance. There, you are wanted again, and I may as well go likewise.'
Mrs Lovett and Todd walked from the parlour to the shop together, and when they got there, they found a respectable-looking woman and a boy, the latter of whom carried a bundle of printed papers with him; the woman was evidently in great distress of mind.
'Cold pie, marm?' said Mrs Lovett.
'Oh dear no, Mrs Lovett,' said the woman; 'I know you by sight, mom, though you don't know me. I am Mrs Wrankley, mom, the wife of Mr Wrankley, the tobacconist, and I've come to ask a favour of you, Mrs Lovett, to allow one of these bills to be put in your window?'
'Dear me,' said Mrs Lovett, 'what's it about?'
Mrs Wrankley handed her one of the bills and then seemed so overcome with grief, that she was forced to sink into a chair while it was read, which was done aloud by Mrs Lovett, who, as she did so, now and then stole a glance at Sweeney Todd, who looked as impenetrable and destitute of all emotion as a block of wood.
'Missing! - Mr John Wranldey, tobacconist, of 92 Fleet-street. The above gentleman left his home to go over the water, on business, and has not since been heard of. He is supposed to have had some valuable property with him, in the shape of a string of pearls. The said Mr John Wrankley is five feet four inches high, full face, short thick nose, black whiskers, and what is commonly called a bullet-head; thickset and skittle-made, not very well upon his feet; and whoever will give any information of him at 92 Fleet-street, shall be amply rewarded.'
'Yes, yes,' said Mrs Wrankley, when the reading of the bill was finished, 'that's him to a T, my poor, dear, handsome Wrankley! oh, I shall never be myself again; I have not eaten anything since he went out.'
'Then buy a pie, madam,' said Todd, as he held one close to her. 'Look up, Mrs Wrankley, lift off the top crust, madam, and you may take my word for it you will soon see something of Mr Wrankley.'
The hideous face that Todd made during the utterance of these words quite alarmed the disconsolate widow, but she did partake of the pie for all that. It was very tempting - a veal one, full of coagulated gravy - who could resist it? Not she, certainly, and besides, did not Todd say she would see something of Wrankley? There was hope in his words, at all events, if nothing else.
'Well,' she said, 'I will hope for the best; he may have been taken ill, and not have had his address in his pocket, poor dear soul! at the time.'
'And at all events, madam,' said Todd, 'you need not be cut up about it, you know; I dare say you will know what has become of him someday, soon.'
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