The String of Pearls/Chapter 16

XVI The Barber Makes Another Attempt To Sell the String of PearlsEdit

      It would seem as if Sweeney Todd, after his adventure in trying to dispose of the string of pearls which he possessed, began to feel a little doubtful about his chances of success in that matter, for he waited patiently for a considerable period, before he again made the attempt, and then he made it after a totally different fashion.
      Towards the close of night on that same evening when Johanna Oakley had met Colonel Jeffery for the second time, in the Temple-gardens, and while Tobias sat alone in the shop in his usual deep dejection, a stranger entered the place, with a large blue bag in his hand, and looked enquiringly about him.
      'Hilloa, my lad!' said he. 'Is this Mr Todd's?'
      'Yes,' said Tobias; 'but he is not at home. What do you want?'
      'Well, I'll be hanged,' said the man, 'if this don't beat everything; you don't mean to tell me he is a barber, do you?'
      'Indeed I do; don't you see?'
      'Yes, I see, to be sure; but I'll be shot if I thought of it beforehand. What do you think he has been doing?'
      'Doing,' said Tobias, with animation; 'do you think he will be hanged?'
      'Why, no, I don't say it is a hanging matter, although you seem as if you wished it was; but I'll just tell you now we are artists at the west-end of the town.'
      'Artists! Do you mean to say you draw pictures?'
      'No, no, we make clothes; but we call ourselves artists now, because tailors are out of fashion.'
      'Oh, that's it, is it?'
      'Yes, that's it; and you would scarcely believe it, but he came to our shop actually, and ordered a suit of clothes, which were to come to no less a sum than thirty pounds, and told us to make them up in such a style that they were to do for any nobleman, and he gave his name and address, as Mr Todd, at this number in Fleet-street, but I hadn't the least idea that he was a barber; if I had, I am quite certain that the clothes would not have been finished in the style they are, but quite the reverse.
      'Well,' said Tobias, 'I can't think what he wants such clothing for, but I suppose it's all right. Was he a tall, ugly-looking fellow?'
      'As ugly as the very devil. I'll just show you the things, as he is not at home. The coat is of the finest velvet, lined with silk, and trimmed with lace. Did you ever, in all your life, see such a coat for a barber?'
      'Indeed, I never did; but it is some scheme of his, of course. It is a superb coat.'
      'Yes, and all the rest of the dress is of the same style; what on earth can he be going to do with it I can't think, for it's only fit to go to court in.'
      'Oh, well, I know nothing about it,' said Tobias, with a sigh, 'you can leave it or not as you like, it is all one to me.'
      'Well, you seem to be the most melancholy wretch ever I came near; what's the matter with you?'
      'The matter with me? Oh, nothing. Of course, I am as happy as I can be. Ain't I Sweeney Todd's apprentice, and ain't that enough to make anybody sing all day long?'
      'It may be for all I know, but certainly you don't seem to be in a singing humour; but, however, we artists cannot waste our time, so just be so good as to take care of the clothes, and be sure you give them to your master; and so I wash my hands of the transaction.'
      'Very good, he shall have them; but, do you mean to leave such valuable clothes without getting the money for them?'
      'Not exactly, for they are paid for.'
      'Oh! that makes all the difference - he shall have them.'
      Scarcely had this tailor left the place, when a boy arrived with a parcel, and, looking around him with undisguised astonishment, said, 'Isn't there some other Mr Todd in Fleet-street?'
      'Not that I know of,' said Tobias. 'What have you got there?'
      'Silk stockings, gloves, lace, cravats, ruffles, and so on.'
      'The deuce you have; I dare say it's all right.'
      'I shall leave them; they are paid for. This is the name, and this is the number.'
      'Now, stupid!'
      This last exclamation arose from the fact that this boy, in going out, ran up against another who was coming in.
      'Can't you see where you're going?' said the new arrival. 'What's that to you? I have a good mind to punch your head.'
      'Do it, and then come down to our court, and see what a licking I'll give you.'
      'Will you? Why don't you? Only let me catch you, that's all.'
      They stood for some moments so close together that their noses very nearly touched; and then after mutual assertions of what they would do if they caught each other - although, in either case, to stretch out an arm would have been quite sufficient to have accomplished that object - they separated, and the last corner said to Tobias, in a tone of irritation, probably consequent upon the misunderstanding he had just had with the hosier's boy, 'You can tell Mr Todd that the carriage will be ready at half-past seven precisely.' And then he went away, leaving Tobias in a state of great bewilderment as to what Sweeney Todd could possibly be about with such an amount of finery as that which was evidently coming home for him.
      'I can't make it out,' he said. 'It's some villainy of course, but I can't make out what it is; I wish I knew; I might thwart him in it. He is a villain, and neither could nor would project anything good; but what can I do? I am quite helpless in this, and will just let it take its course. I can only wish for a power of action I will never possess. Alas, alas! I am very sad, and know not what will become of me. I wish that I was in my grave, and there I am sure I shall be soon, unless something happens to turn the tide of all this wretched evil fortune that has come upon me.
      It was in vain for Tobias to think of vexing himself with conjectures as to what Sweeney Todd was about to do with so much finery, for he had not the remotest foundation to go upon in the matter, and could not for the life of him imagine any possible contingency or chance which should make it necessary for the barber to deck himself in such gaudy apparel.
      All he could do was to lay down in his own mind a general principle as regarded Sweeney Todd's conduct, and that consisted in the fact, that whatever might be his plans, and whatever might be his objects, they were for no good purpose; but, on the contrary, were most certainly intended for the accomplishment of some great evil which that most villainous person intended to perpetrate.
      'I will observe all I can,' thought Tobias to himself, 'and do what I can to put a stop to his mischiefs; but I fear it will be very little he will allow me to observe, and perhaps still less that he will allow me to do; but I can but try, and do my best.'
      Poor Tobias's best, as regarded achieving anything against Sweeney Todd, we may well suppose would be little indeed, for that individual was not the man to give anybody an opportunity of doing much; and possessed as he was of the most consummate art, as well as the greatest possible amount of unscrupulousness, there can be very little doubt but that any attempt poor Tobias might make would recoil upon himself.
      In about another half-hour the barber returned, and his first question was, 'Have any things been left for me?'
      'Yes, sir,' said Tobias, 'here are two parcels, and a boy has been to say that the carriage will be ready at half-past seven precisely.'
      'Tis well,' said the barber, 'that will do; and Tobias, you will be careful, whilst I am gone, of the shop. I shall be back in half an hour, mind you, and not later; and be sure I find you here at your post. But you may say, if anyone comes here on business, that there will be neither shaving nor dressing tonight. You understand me?'
      'Yes, sir, certainly.'
      Sweeney Todd then took the bundles which contained the costly apparel, and retired into the parlour with them; and, as it was then seven o'clock, Tobias correctly enough supposed that he had gone to dress himself, and he waited with a considerable amount of curiosity to see what sort of an appearance the barber would cut in his fine apparel.
      Tobias had not to control his impatience long, for in less than twenty minutes out came Sweeney Todd, attired in the very height of fashion for the period. His waistcoat was something positively gorgeous, and his fingers were loaded with such costly rings that they quite dazzled the sight of Tobias to look upon; then, moreover, he wore a sword with a jewelled hilt, but it was one which Tobias really thought he had seen before, for he had a recollection that a gentleman had come in to have his hair dressed, and had taken it off, and laid just such a sword across his hat during the operation.
      'Remember,' said Sweeney Todd, 'remember your instructions; obey them to the letter, and no doubt you will ultimately become happy and independent.'
      With these words, Sweeney Todd left the place, and poor Tobias looked after him with a groan, as he repeated the words 'happy and independent. Alas! what a mockery it is of this man to speak to me in such a way - I only wish that I were dead!'
      But we will leave Tobias to his own reflections, and follow the more interesting progress of Sweeney Todd, who, for some reason best known to himself, was then playing so grand a part, and casting away so large a sum of money. He made his way to a livery-stables in the immediate neighbourhood, and there, sure enough, the horses were being placed to a handsome carriage; and all being very soon in readiness, Sweeney Todd gave some whispered directions to the driver, and the vehicle started off westward.
      At that time Hyde Park Corner was very nearly out of town, and it looked as if you were getting a glimpse of the country, and actually seeing something of the peasantry of England, when you got another couple of miles off, and that was the direction in which Sweeney Todd went; and as he goes, we may as well introduce to the reader the sort of individual whom he was going to visit in so much state, and for whom he thought it necessary to go to such great expense.
      At that period the follies and vices of the nobility were somewhere about as great as they are now, and consequently extravagance induced on many occasions troublesome sacrifice of money, and it was found extremely convenient to apply to a man of the name of John Mundel, an exceedingly wealthy person, a Dutchman by extraction, who was reported to make immense sums of money by lending to the nobility and others what they required on emergencies, at enormous rates of interest.
      But it must not be supposed that John Mundel was so confiding as to lend his money without security. It was quite the reverse, for he took care to have the jewels, some costly plate, or the title deeds of an estate, perchance, as security, before he would part with a single shilling of his cash.
      In point of fact, John Mundel was nothing more than a pawnbroker on a very extensive scale, and, although he had an office in town, he usually received his more aristocratic customers at his private residence, which was about two miles off, on the Uxbridge-road.
      After this explanation, it can very easily be imagined what was the scheme of Sweeney Todd, and that he considered if he borrowed from John Mundel a sum equal in amount to half the real value of the pearls he should be well rid of a property which he certainly could not sufficiently well account for the possession of, to enable him to dispose of it openly to the highest bidder.
      We give Sweeney Todd great credit for the scheme he proposes. It was eminently calculated to succeed, and one which in the way he undertook it was certainly set about in the best possible way.
      During his ride, he revolved in his mind exactly what he should say to John Mundel, and from what we know of him we may be well convinced that Sweeney Todd was not likely to fail from any amount of bashfulness in the transaction; but that, on the contrary, he was just the man to succeed in any scheme which required great assurance to carry it through; for he was certainly master of great assurance, and possessed of a kind of diplomatic skill, which, had fortune placed him in a more elevated position of life, would no doubt have made a great man of him, and gained him great political reputation.
      John Mundel's villa, which was called, by the by, Mundel House, was a large, handsome, and modern structure, surrounded by a few acres of pleasure gardens, which however the money-lender never looked at, for his whole soul was too much engrossed by his love for cash to enable him to do so; and, if he derived any satisfaction at all from it, that satisfaction must have been entirely owing to the fact that he had wrung mansion, grounds, and all the costly furnishing of the former from an improvident debtor, who had been forced to fly the country, and leave his property wholly in the hands of the money-lender and usurer.
      It was but a short drive with the really handsome horses that Sweeney Todd had succeeded in hiring for the occasion, and he soon found himself opposite the entrance gates of Mundel House.
      His great object now was that the usurer should see the equipage which he had brought down; and he accordingly desired the footman, who had accompanied him, at once to ring the bell at the entrance-gate, and to say that a gentleman was waiting in his carriage to see Mr Mundel.
      This was done; and when the money-lender's servant reported to him that the equipage was a costly one, and that, in his opinion, the visitor must be some nobleman of great rank, John Mundel made no difficulty about the matter, but walked down to the gate at once, where he immediately mentally subscribed to the opinion of his servant, by admitting to himself that the equipage was faultless, and presumed at once that it did belong to some person of great rank.
      He was proportionally humble, as such men always are, and advancing to the side of the carriage, he begged to know what commands his lordship - for so he called him at once - had for him.
      'I wish to know,' said Sweeney Todd, 'Mr Mundel, if you are inclined to lay under an obligation a rather illustrious lady, by helping her out of a little pecuniary difficulty.'
      John Mundel glanced again at the equipage, and he likewise saw something of the rich dress of his visitor, who had not disputed the title which had been applied to him, of lord; and he made up his mind accordingly, that it was just one of the transactions that would suit him, provided the security that would be offered was of a tangible nature. That was the only point upon which John Mundel had the remotest doubt, but, at all events, he urgently pressed his visitor to alight, and walk in.