The String of Pearls/Chapter 12
XII The Resolution Come To By Johanna OakleyEdit
The beautiful Johanna - when in obedience to the command of her father she left him, and begged him (the beefeater) to manage matters with the Rev Mr Lupin - did not proceed directly upstairs to the apartment, but lingered on the staircase to hear what ensued; and if anything in her dejected state of mind could have given her amusement, it would certainly have been the way in which the beef-eater exacted a retribution from the reverend personage, who was not likely again to intrude himself into the house of the spectacle-maker.
But when he was gone, and she heard that a sort of peace had been patched up with her mother - a peace which, from her knowledge of the high-contracting parties, she conjectured would not last long -she returned to her room, and locked herself in; so that if any attempt was made to get her down to partake of the supper, it might be supposed she was asleep, for she felt herself totally unequal to the task of making one in any party, however much she might respect the individual members that composed it.
And she did respect Ben the beefeater; for she had a lively recollection of much kindness from him during her early years, and she knew that he had never come to the house when she was a child without bringing her some token of his regard in the shape of a plaything, or some little article of doll's finery, which at that time was very precious.
She was not wrong in her conjecture that Ben would make an attempt to get her downstairs, for her father came up at the beef-eater's request, and tapped at her door. She thought the best plan, as indeed it was, would be to make no answer, so that the old spectacle-maker concluded at once what she wished him to conclude, namely that she had gone to sleep; and he walked quietly down the stairs again, glad that he had not disturbed her, and told Ben as much.
Now feeling herself quite secure from interruption for the night, Johanna did not attempt to seek repose, but set herself seriously to reflect upon what had happened. She almost repeated to herself, word for word, what Colonel Jeffery had told her; and, as she revolved the matter over and over again in her brain, a strange thought took possession of her, which she could not banish, and which, when once it found a home within her breast, began to gather probability from every slight circumstance that was in any way connected with it. This thought, strange as it may appear, was that the Mr Thornhill, of whom Colonel Jeffery spoke in terms of such high eulogium, was no other than Mark Ingestrie himself.
It is astonishing, when once a thought occurs to the mind, that makes a strong impression, how, with immense rapidity, a rush of evidence will appear to come to support it. And thus it was with regard to this supposition of Johanna Oakley.
She immediately remembered a host of little things which favoured the idea, and among the rest, she fully recollected that Mark Ingestrie had told her he meant to change his name when he left England; for that he wished her and her only to know anything of him, or what had become of him; and that his intention was to baffle enquiry, in case it should be made, particularly by Mr Grant, towards whom he felt a far greater amount of indignation, than the circumstances at all warranted him in feeling.
Then she recollected all that Colonel Jeffery had said with regard to the gallant and noble conduct of this Mr Thornhill, and, girl-like, she thought that those high and noble qualities could surely belong to no one but her own lover, to such an extent; and that, therefore, Mr Thornhill and Mark Ingestrie must be one and the same person.
Over and over again, she regretted she had not asked Colonel Jeffery for a personal description of Mr Thornhill, for that would have settled all her doubts at once, and the idea that she had it still in her power to do so, in consequence of the appointment he had made with her for that day week, brought her some consolation.
'It must have been he,' she said. 'His anxiety to leave the ship, and get here by the day he mentions, proves it; besides, how improbable it is, that at the burning of the ill-fated vessel, Ingestrie should place in the hands of another what he intended for me, when that other was quite as likely, and perhaps more so, to meet with death as Mark himself.'
Thus she reasoned, forcing herself each moment into a stronger belief of the identity of Thornhill with Mark Ingestrie, and so certainly narrowing her anxieties to a consideration of the fate of one person instead of two.
'I will meet Colonel Jeffery,' she said, 'and ask him if his Mr Thornhill had fair hair, and a soft and pleasing expression about the eyes, that could not fail to be remembered. I will ask him how he spoke, and how he looked; and get him, if he can, to describe to me, even the very tones of his voice; and then I shall be sure, without the shadow of a doubt, that it is Mark. But then, oh! then comes the anxious question, of what has been his fate?'
When poor Johanna began to consider the multitude of things that might have happened to her lover during his progress from Sweeney Todd's, in Fleet-street, to her father's house, she became quite lost in a perfect maze of conjecture, and then her thoughts always painfully reverted back to the barber's shop where the dog had been stationed; and she trembled to reflect for a moment upon the frightful danger to which that string of pearls might have subjected him.
'Alas, alas!' she cried, 'I can well conceive that the man whom I saw attempting to poison the dog would be capable of any enormity. I saw his face but for a moment, and yet it was one never again to be forgotten. It was a face in which might be read cruelty and evil passions; besides, the man who would put an unoffending animal to a cruel death shows an absence of feeling, and a baseness of mind, which makes him capable of any crime he thinks he can commit with impunity. What can I do - oh! what can I do to unravel this mystery?'
No one could have been more tenderly and more gently brought up than Johanna Oakley, but yet, inhabitive of her heart was a spirit and a determination which few indeed could have given her credit for, by merely looking on the gentle and affectionate countenance which she ordinarily presented.
But it is no new phenomenon in the history of the human heart to find that some of the most gentle and loveliest of human creatures are capable of the highest efforts of perversion; and when Johanna Oakley told herself, which she did, she was determined to devote her existence to a discovery of the mystery that enveloped the fate of Mark Ingestrie, she likewise made up her mind that the most likely means for accomplishing that object should not be rejected by her on the score of danger, and she at once set to work considering what those means should be.
This seemed an endless task, but still she thought that if, by any means whatever, she could get admittance to the barber's house, she might be able to come to some conclusion as to whether or not it was there where Thornhill, whom she believed to be Ingestrie, had been stayed in his progress.
'Aid me Heaven,' she cried, 'in the adoption of some means of action on the occasion. Is there anyone with whom I dare advise? Alas! I fear not, for the only person in whom I have put my whole heart is my father, and his affection for me would prompt him at once to interpose every possible obstacle to my proceeding, for fear danger should come of it. To be sure, there is Arabella Wilmot, my old school fellow and bosom friend, she would advise me to the best of her ability, but I much fear she is too romantic and full of odd, strange notions, that she has taken from books, to be a good adviser; and yet what can I do? I must speak to someone, if it be but in case of any accident happening to me, my father may get news of it, and I know of no one else whom I can trust but Arabella.'
After some little more consideration, Johanna made up her mind that on the following morning she would go immediately to the house of her old school friend, which was in the immediate vicinity, and hold a conversation with her.
'I shall hear something,' she said, 'at least of a kindly and consoling character; for what Arabella may want in calm and steady judgement, she fully compensates for in actual feeling; and what is most of all, I know I can trust her word implicitly, and that my secret will remain as safely locked in her breast as if it were in my own.
It was something to come to a conclusion to ask advice, and she felt that some portion of her anxiety was lifted from her mind by the mere fact that she had made so firm a mental resolution, that neither danger nor difficulty should deter her from seeking to know the fate of her lover.
She retired to rest now with a greater hope, and while she is courting repose, notwithstanding the chance of the discovered images that fancy may present to her in her slumbers, we will take a glance at the parlour below, and see how far Mrs Oakley is conveying out the pacific intention she had so tacitly expressed, and how the supper is going forward, which, with not the best grace in the world, she is preparing for her husband, who for the first time in his life had begun to assert his rights, and for big Ben, the beefeater, whom she as cordially disliked as it was possible for any woman to detest any man.
Mrs Oakley by no means preserved her taciturn demeanour, for after a little while she spoke, saying - 'There is nothing tasty in the house; suppose I run over the way to Waggarge's, and get some of those Epping sausages with the peculiar flavour.'
'Ah, do,' said Mr Oakley, 'they are beautiful, Ben, I can assure you.'
'Well, I don't know,' said Ben the beefeater, 'sausages are all very well in their way, but you need such a plagued lot of them; for if you only eat them one at a time, how soon will you get through a dozen or two?'
'A dozen or two,' said Mrs Oakley; 'why, there are only five to a pound.'
'Then,' said Ben, making a mental calculation, 'then, I think, ma'am, you ought not to get more than nine pounds of them, and that will be a matter of forty-five mouthfuls each.'
'Get nine pounds of them,' said Mr Oakley, 'if they are wanted; I know Ben has an appetite.'
'Indeed,' said Ben, 'but I have fell off lately, and don't take to my wittals as I used; you can order, missus, if you please, a gallon of half-and-half as you go along. One must have a drain of drink of some sort; and mind you don't be going to any expense on my account, and getting anything but the little snack I have mentioned, for ten to one I shall take supper when I get to the Tower; only human nature is weak, you know, missus, and requires something to be a continually a-holding of it up.'
'Certainly,' said Mr Oakley, 'certainly have what you like, Ben; just say the word before Mrs Oakley goes out, is there anything else?'
'No, no,' said Ben, 'oh dear no, nothing to speak of; but if you should pass a shop where they sells fat bacon, about four or five pounds, cut into rashers, you'll find, missus, will help down the blessed sausages.'
'Gracious Providence,' said Mrs Oakley, 'who is to cook it?'
'Who is to cook it, ma'am? why, the kitchen fire, I suppose; but mind ye if the man ain't got any sausages, there's a shop where they sells biled beef at the corner, and I shall be quite satisfied if you brings in about ten or twelve pounds of that. You can make it up into about half a dozen sandwiches.'
'Go, my dear, go at once,' said Mr Oakley, 'and get Ben his supper. I am quite sure he wants it, and be as quick as you can.'
'Ah,' said Ben, when Mrs Oakley was gone, 'I didn't tell you howl was sarved last week at Mrs Harvey's. You know they are so precious genteel there that they won't speak above their blessed breaths for fear of wearing themselves out; and they sits down in a chair as if it was balanced only on one leg, and a little more one way or t'other would upset them. Then, if they sees a crumb a-laying on the floor they rings a bell, and a poor half-starved devil of a servant comes and says, "Did you ring, ma'am?" and then they says, "Yes, bring a dust shovel and a broom, there is a crumb a-laying there," and then says I - "Danm you all," says I, "bring a scavenger's cart, and a half-dozen birch brooms, there's a cinder just fell out of the fire."
'Then in course they gets shocked, and looks as blue as possible, and arter that when they sees as I ain't a-going, one of them says, "Mr Benjamin Blummergutts, would you like to take a glass of wine?" "I should think so," says I. Then he says, says he, "Which would you prefer, red or white?" says he.
'"White," says I, "while you are screwing up your courage to pull out the red," so out they pull it; and as soon as I got hold of the bottle, I knocked the neck of it off over the top of the fireplace, and then drank it all up.
'"Now, damn ye," says I, "you thinks as all this is mighty genteel and fine, but I don't, and consider you to be the blessedest set of humbugs ever I set eyes on; and, if you ever catch me here again, I'll be genteel too, and I can't say more than that. Go to the devil, all of ye." So out I went, only I met with a little accident in the hall, for they had got a sort of lamp hanging there, and, somehow or 'nother, my head went bang into it; and I carried it out round my neck; but, when I did get out, I took it off, and shied it slap in at the parlour window. You never heard such a smash in all your life. I dare say they all fainted away for about a week, the blessed humbugs.'
'Well, I should not wonder,' said Mr Oakley. 'I never go near them, because I don't like their foolish pomposity and pride, which, upon very slender resources, tries to ape what it don't at all understand; but here is Mrs Oakley with the sausages, and I hope you will make yourself comfortable, Ben.'
'Comfortable! I believe ye. I rather shall. I means it, and no mistake.'
'I have brought three pounds,' said Mrs Oakley, 'and told the man to call in a quarter of an hour, in case there is more wanted.'
'The devil you have; and the bacon, Mrs Oakley, the bacon!'
'I couldn't get any - the man had nothing but hams.'
'Lor', ma'am, I'd a put up with a ham, cut thick, and never have said a word about it. I am an angel of a temper, if you did but know it! Hilloa! look, is that the fellow with the half-and-half?'
'Yes, here it is - a pot.'
'A pot, to be sure.'
'Well, I never; you are getting genteel, Mrs Oakley. Then give us a hold of it.'
Ben took the pot, and emptied it at a draught, and then he gave a tap at the bottom of it with his knuckles, to signify he had accomplished that feat, and then he said, 'I tells you what, ma'am, if you takes me for a baby, it's a great mistake, and anyone would think you did, to see you offering me a pot merely; it's a insult, ma'am.'
'Fiddle-de-de,' said Mrs Oakley; 'it's a much greater insult to drink it all up, and give nobody a drop.'
'Is it? I wants to know how you are to stop it, ma'am, when you gets it to your mouth? that's what I axes you - how are you to stop it, ma'am? You didn't want me to spew it back again, did you, eh, ma'am?'
'You low, vile wretch!'
'Come, come, my dear,' said Mr Oakley, 'you know our cousin Ben don't live among the most refined society, and so you ought to be able to look over a little of - of - his - I may say, I am sure without offence, roughness, now and then; come, come, there is no harm done, I'm sure. Forget and forgive, say I. That's my maxim; and always has been, and will always be.'
'Well,' said the beefeater, 'it's a good one to get through the world with, and so there's an end of it. I forgives you, Mother Oakley.'
'You forgive -'
'Yes, to be sure. Though I am only a beefeater, I supposes as I may forgive people for all that - eh, Cousin Oakley?'
'Of course, Ben, of course. Come, come, wife, you know as well as I that Ben has many good qualities, and that take him for all in all as the man in the play says, we shan't in a hurry look upon his like again.'
'And I'm sure I don't want to look upon his like again,' said Mrs Oakley; 'I'd rather by a good deal keep him a week than a fortnight. He's enough to breed a famine in the land, that he is.'
'Oh, bless you, no,' said Ben, 'that's amongst your little mistakes, ma'am, I can assure you. By the by, what a blessed long time that fellow is coming with the rest of the beer and the other sausages -why, what's the matter with you, Cousin Oakley - eh, old chap, you look out of sorts?'
'I don't feel just the thing, do you know, Ben.'
'Not - the thing - why - why now you come to mention it, I somehow feel as if all my blessed inside was on a turn and a twist. The devil - I - don't feel comfortable at all, I don't.'
'And I am getting very ill,' gasped Mr Oakley.
'And I'm getting iller,' said the beef-eater, manufacturing a word for the occasion. 'Bless my soul! there's something gone wrong in my inside. I know there's murder - there's a go - oh, Lord! it's a-doubling me up, it is.'
'I feel as if my last hour had come,' said Mr Oakley - 'I'm a - a -dying, man - I am - oh, good gracious, there was a twinge!'
Mrs Oakley, with all the coolness in the world, took down her bonnet from behind the parlour-door where it hung, and, as she put it on, said, 'I told you both that some judgement would come over you, and now you see it has. How do you like it? Providence is good, of course, to its own, and I have -'
'What - what -
'Pisoned the half-and-half.'
Big Ben, the beefeater, fell off his chair with a deep groan, and poor Mr Oakley sat glaring at his wife, and shivering with apprehension, quite unable to speak, while she placed a shawl over her shoulder, as she added, in the same tone of calmness she had made the terrific announcement concerning the poisoning,-
'Now, you wretches, you see what a woman can do when she makes up her mind for vengeance. As long as you all live, you'll recollect me; but if you don't, that won't much matter, for you won't live long, I can tell you, and now I'm going to my sister's, Mrs Tiddiblow.'
So saying, Mrs Oakley turned quickly round, and, with an insulting toss of her head, and not at all caring for the pangs and sufferings of her poor victims, she left the place, and proceeded to her sister's house, where she slept as comfortably as if she had not by any means committed two diabolical murders.
But has she done so, or shall we, for the honour of human nature, discover that she went to a neighbouring chemist's, and only purchased some dreadfully powerful medicinal compound, which she placed in the half-and-half, and which began to give those pangs to Big Ben, the beefeater, and to Mr Oakley, concerning which they were so eloquent?
This must have been the case; for Mrs Oakley could not have been such a fiend in human guise as to laugh as she passed the chemist's shop. Oh no! she might not have felt remorse, but that is a very different thing, indeed, from laughing at the matter, unless it were really laughable and not serious at all.
Big Ben and Mr Oakley must have at length found out how they had been hoaxed, and the most probable thing was that the before-mentioned chemist himself told them; for they sent for him in order to know if anything could be done to save their lives.
Ben from that day forthwith made a determination that he would not visit Mr Oakley, and the next time they met he said,
'I tell you what it is, that old hag your wife is one too many for us, that's a fact; she gets the better of me altogether - so, whenever you feels a little inclined for a gossip about old times, just you come down to the Tower.'
'I will, Ben.'
'Do; we can always find you something to drink, and you can amuse yourself, too, by looking at the animals. Remember feeding time is two o'clock; so, now and then, I shall expect to see you, and, above all, be sure you let me know if that canting parson, Lupin, comes any more to your house.'
'I will, Ben.'
'Ah, do; and I'll give him another lesson if he should, and I'll tell you how I'll do it. I'll get a free admission to the wild beastesses in the Tower, and when he comes to see 'em, for them 'ere sort of fellows always goes everywhere they can go for nothing, I'll just manage to pop him into a cage along of some of the most cantankerous creatures as we have.'
'But would that not be dangerous?'
'Oh dear no! we has a laughing hyena as would frighten him out of his wits; but I don't think as he'd bite him much, do you know. He's as playful as a kitten, and very fond of standing on his head.'
'Well, then, Ben, I have, of course, no objection, although I do think that the lesson you have already given to the reverend gentleman will and ought to be fully sufficient for all purposes, and I don't expect we shall see him again.'
'But how does Mrs O. behave to you?' asked Ben.
'Well, Ben, I don't think there's much difference; sometimes she's a little civil, and sometimes she ain't; it's just as she takes into her head.'
'Ah! all that comes of marrying.'
'I have often wondered, though, Ben, that you never married.'
Ben gave a chuckle as he replied, 'Have you, though, really? Well, Cousin Oakley, I don't mind telling you, but the real fact is, once I was very near being served out in that sort of way.
'Yes. I'll tell you how it was: there was a girl called Angelina Day, and a nice-looking enough creature she was as you'd wish to see, and didn't seem as if she'd got any claws at all; leastways, she kept them in, like a cat at meal times.'
'Upon my word, Ben, you have a great knowledge of the world.'
'I believe you, I have! Haven't I been brought up among the wild beasts in the Tower all my life? That's the place to get a knowledge of the world in, my boy. I ought to know a thing or two, and in course I does.'
'Well, but how was it, Ben, that you did not marry this Angelina you speak of?'
'I'll tell you: she thought she had me as safe as a hare in a trap, and she was as amiable as a lump of cotton. You'd have thought, to look at her, that she did nothing but smile; and, to hear her, that she said nothing but nice, mild, pleasant things, and I really began to think as I had found the proper sort of animal.'
'But you were mistaken?'
'I believe you, I was. One day I'd been there to see her, I mean, at her father's house, and she'd been as amiable as she could be; I got up to go away, with a determination that the next time I got there I would ask her to say yes, and when I had got a little way out of the garden of the house where they lived - it was out of town some distance - I found I had left my little walking-cane behind me, so I goes back to get it, and when I got into the garden, I heard a voice.
'Why Angelina's to be sure; she was a-speaking to a poor little dab of a servant they had; and oh, my eye! how she did rap out, to be sure! Such a speech as I never heard in all my life. She went on for a matter of ten minutes without stopping, and every other word was some ill name or another, and her voice - oh, gracious! it was like a bundle of wire all of a tangle - it was!'
'And what did you do, then, upon making such a discovery as that in so very odd and unexpected a manner?'
'Do? What do you suppose I did?'
'I really cannot say, as you are rather an eccentric fellow.'
'Well then, I'll tell you. I went up to the house, and just popped in my head, and says I, "Angelina, I find out that all cats have claws after all; good-evening, and no more from your humble servant, who don't mind the job of taming a wild animal, but a woman... "and then off I walked, and I never heard of her afterwards.'
'Ah, Ben, it's true enough! You never know them beforehand; but, after a little time, as you say, then out come the claws.'
'They does - they does.'
'And I suppose you since then made up your mind to be a bachelor for the rest of your life, Ben?'
'Of course I did. After such experience as that I should have deserved all I got, and no mistake, I can tell you; and if you ever catches me paying any attention to a female woman, just put me in mind of Angelina Day, and you'll see how I shall be off at once like a shot.'
'Ah!' said Mr Oakley, with a sigh, 'everybody, Ben, ain't born with your good luck, I can tell you. You are a most fortunate man, Ben, and that's a fact. You must have been born under some lucky planet I think, Ben, or else you never would have had such a warning as you have had about the claws. I found 'em out, Ben, but it was a deal too late; so I had to put up with my fate, and put the best face I could upon the matter.'
'Yes, that's what learned folks call - what's its name - fill - fill -something.'
'Philosophy, I suppose you mean, Ben.'
'Ah, that's it - you must put up with what you can't help, it means, I take it. It's a fine name for saying you must grin and bear it.'
'I suppose that is about the truth, Ben.'
It cannot, however, be exactly said that the little incident connected with Mr Lupin had no good effect upon Mrs Oakley, for it certainly shook most alarmingly her confidence in that pious individual.
In the first place, it was quite clear that he shrank from the horrors of martyrdom; and, indeed, to escape any bodily inconvenience was perfectly willing to put up with any amount of degradation or humiliation that he could be subjected to; and that was, to the apprehension of Mrs Oakley, a great departure from what a saint ought to be.
Then again, her faith in the fact that Mr Lupin was such a chosen morsel as he had represented himself, was shaken from the circumstance that no miracle in the shape of a judgement had taken place to save him from the malevolence of big Ben, the beefeater; so that, taking one thing in connection with another, Mrs Oakley was not near so religious a character after that evening as she had been before it, and that was something gained.
Then circumstances soon occurred, of which the reader will very shortly be fully aware, which were calculated to awaken all the feelings of Mrs Oakley, if she really had any feelings to awaken, and to force her to make common cause with her husband in an affair that touched him to the very soul, and did succeed in awakening some feelings in her heart that had lain dormant for a long time, but which were still far from being completely destroyed.
These circumstances were closely connected with the fate of one in whom we hope that, by this time, the reader has taken a deep and kindly interest - we mean Johanna - that young and beautiful, and artless creature, who seemed to have been created to be so very happy, and yet whose fate had become so clouded by misfortune, and who appears now to be doomed through her best affections to suffer so great an amount of sorrow, and to go through so many sad difficulties.
Alas, poor Johanna Oakley! Better had you loved someone of less aspiring feelings, and of less ardent imagination, than him to whom you have given your heart's young affections.
It is true that Mark Ingestrie possessed genius, and perhaps it was the glorious light that hovers around that fatal gift which prompted you to love him. But genius is not only a blight and a desolation to its possessor, but it is so to all who are bound to the gifted being by the ties of fond affection.
It brings with it that unhappy restlessness of intellect which is ever straining after the unattainable, and which is never content to know the end and ultimatum of earthly hopes and wishes; no, the whole life of such persons is spent in one long struggle for a fancied happiness, which like the ignis-fatuus of the swamp glitters but to betray those who trust to its delusive and flickering beams.