The String of Pearls/Chapter 17
XVII The Great Change in the Prospects for Sweeney ToddEdit
As Sweeney Todd's object, as far as the money-lender's having seen the carriage, was fully answered, he had no objection to enter the house, which he accordingly did at once, being preceded by John Mundel, who became each moment more and more impressed with the fact, as he considered it, that his guest was some person of very great rank and importance in society.
He ushered him into a splendidly-furnished apartment, and after offering him refreshments, which Sweeney Todd politely declined, he waited with no small degree of impatience for his visitor to be explicit with regard to the object of his visit.
'I should,' said Sweeney Todd, 'have myself accommodated the illustrious lady with the sum of money she requires, but as I could not do so without encumbering some estates, she positively forbade me to think of it.'
'Certainly,' said Mr Mundel, 'she is a very illustrious lady, I presume?'
'Very illustrious indeed, but it must be a condition of this transaction, if you at all enter into it, that you are not to enquire precisely who she is, nor are you to enquire precisely who I am.'
'It's not my usual way of conducting business, but if everything else be satisfactory, I shall not cavil at that.'
'Very good; by everything else being satisfactory I presume you mean the security offered?'
'Why, yes, that is of great importance, my lord.'
'I informed the illustrious lady that as the affair was to be wrapped up in something of a mystery, the security must be extremely ample.'
'That's a very proper view to take of the matter, my lord.'
'I wonder,' thought John Mundel, 'if he is a duke; I'll call him your grace next time and see if he objects to it.'
'Therefore,' continued Sweeney Todd, 'the illustrious lady placed in my hands security to a third greater amount than she required.'
'Certainly, certainly, a very proper arrangement, your grace; may I ask the nature of the proffered security?'
'Highly satisfactory and unexceptionable security; they go into a small space, and do not deteriorate in value.'
'And if they do,' said the barber, 'deteriorate in value, it would make no difference to you, for the illustrious person's honour will be committed to their redemption.'
'I don't doubt that, your grace, in the least; I merely made the remark incidentally, quite incidentally.'
'Of course, of course; and I trust, before going further, that you are quite in a position to enter into this subject.'
'Certainly I am, and, I am proud to say, to any amount. Show me the money's worth, your grace, and I will show you the money -that's my way of doing business; and no one can say that John Mundel ever shrunk from a matter that was brought fairly before him, and that he considered worth his going into.'
'It was by hearing such a character of you that I was induced to come to you. What do you think of that?'
Sweeney Todd took from his pocket, with a careless air, the string of pearls, and cast them down before the eyes of the money-lender, who took them up and ran them rapidly through his fingers for a few seconds before he said, 'I thought there was but one string like this in the kingdom, and that those belonged to the Queen.'
'Well!' said Sweeney Todd.
'I humbly beg your grace's pardon. How much money does your grace require on these pearls?'
'Twelve thousand pounds is their current value, if a sale of them was enforced; eight thousand are required of you on their security.'
'Eight thousand is a large sum. As a general thing I lend but half the value upon anything; but in this case, to oblige your grace and the illustrious personage, I do not of course hesitate for one moment, but shall for one month lend the required amount.'
'That will do,' said Sweeney Todd, scarcely concealing the exultation he felt at getting so much more from John Mundel than he expected, and which he certainly would not have got if the money-lender had not been most fully and completely impressed with the idea that the pearls belonged to the Queen, and that he had actually at length majesty itself for a customer.
He did not suppose for one moment that it was the Queen who wanted the money; but his view of the case was, that she had lent the pearls to this nobleman to meet some exigency of his own, and that of course they would be redeemed very shortly.
Altogether a more pleasant transaction for John Mundel could not have been imagined. It was just the sort of thing he would have looked out for, and had the greatest satisfaction in bringing to a conclusion, and he considered it was opening the door to the highest class of business in his way that he was capable of doing.
'In what name, your grace,' he said, 'shall I draw a cheque upon my banker?'
'In the name of Colonel George.'
'Certainly, certainly; and if your grace will give me an acknowledgement for £8,000, and please to understand that at the end of a month from this time the transaction will be renewed if necessary, I will give you a cheque for £7,500.'
'Why £7,500 only, when you mentioned £8,000?'
'The £500 is my little commission upon the transaction. Your grace will perceive that I appreciate highly the honour of your grace's custom, and consequently charge the lowest possible price. I can assure your grace I could get more for my money by a great deal, but the pleasure of being able to meet your grace's views is so great, that I am willing to make a sacrifice, and therefore it is that I say five hundred, when really I ought to say £1,000, taking into consideration the great scarcity of money at the present juncture; and I can assure your grace that -'
'Peace, peace,' said Sweeney Todd; 'give me the money, and if it be not convenient to redeem the jewels at the end of a month from this time, you will hear from me most assuredly.'
'I am quite satisfied of that,' said John Mundel, and he accordingly drew a cheque for £7,500, which he handed to Sweeney Todd, who put it in his pocket, not a little delighted that at last he had got rid of his pearls, even at a price so far beneath their real value.
'I need scarcely urge upon you, Mr Mundel,' he said, 'the propriety of keeping this affair profoundly secret.'
'Indeed, you need not, your grace, for it is part of my business to be discreet and cautious. I should very soon have nothing to do in my line, your grace may depend, if I were to talk about it. No, this transaction will for ever remain locked up in my own breast, and no living soul but your grace and I need know what has occurred.'
With this, John Mundel showed Sweeney Todd to his carriage, with abundance of respect, and in two minutes more he was travelling along towards town with what might be considered a small fortune in his pocket.
We should have noticed earlier that Sweeney Todd had, upon the occasion of his going to sell the pearls to the lapidary, in the city, made some great alterations in his appearance, so that it was not likely he should be recognised again to a positive certainty. For example, having no whiskers whatever of his own, he had put on a large black pair of false ones, as well as moustachios, and he had given some colour to his cheeks likewise, which had so completely altered his appearance, that those who were most intimate with him would not have known him except by his voice, and that he took great care to alter in his intercourse with John Mundel, so that it should not become a future means of detection.
'I thought that this would succeed,' he muttered to himself, as he went towards town, 'and I have not been deceived. For three months longer, and only three, I will carry on the business in Fleet Street, so that any sudden alteration in my fortunes may not give rise to suspicion.'
He was then silent for some minutes, during which he appeared to be revolving some very knotty question in his brain, and then he said, suddenly,-
'Well, well, as regards Tobias, I think it will be safer, unquestionably, to put him out of the way by taking his life than to try to dispose of him in a madhouse, and I think there are one or two more persons whom it will be highly necessary to prevent being mischievous, at all events at present. I must think - I must think.'
When such a man as Sweeney Todd set about thinking, there could be no possible doubt but that some serious mischief was meditated, and anyone who could have watched his face during that ride home from the money-lender's would have seen by its expression that the thoughts which agitated him were of a dark and a desperate character, and such as anybody but himself would have shrunk from, aghast.
But he was not a man to shrink from anything, and, on the contrary, the more a set of circumstances presented themselves in a gloomy and a terrific aspect, the better they seemed to suit him, and the peculiar constitution of his mind.
There can be no doubt but that the love of money was the predominant feeling in Sweeney Todd's intellectual organisation and that, by the amount it would bring him, or the amount it would deprive him of, he measured everything.
With such a man, then, no question of morality or ordinary feeling could arise, and there can be no doubt but that he would quite willingly have sacrificed the whole human race, if, by doing so, he could have achieved any of the objects of his ambition.
And so on his road homeward, he probably made up his mind to plunge still deeper into criminality; and perchance to indulge in acts that a man not already so deeply versed in iniquity would have shrunk from with the most positive terror.
And by a strange style of reasoning, such men as Sweeney Todd reconcile themselves to the most heinous crimes upon the ground of what they call policy.
That is to say, that having committed some serious offence, they are compelled to commit a great number more for the purpose of endeavouring to avoid the consequences of the first lot; and hence the continuance of criminality becomes a matter necessary to self-defence, and an essential ingredient in their consideration of self-preservation.
Probably Sweeney Todd had been, for the greater part of his life, aiming at the possession of extensive pecuniary resources, and, no doubt, by the aid of a superior intellect, and a mind full of craft and design, he had managed to make others subservient to his views, and now that those views were answered, and that his underlings and accomplices were no longer required, they became positively dangerous.
He was well aware of that cold-blooded policy which teaches that it is far safer to destroy than to cast away the tools, by which a man carves his way to power and fortune.
'They shall die,' said Sweeney Todd, 'dead men tell no tales, nor women nor boys either, and they shall all die, after which there will, I think, be a serious fire in Fleet Street. Ha! ha! it may spread to what mischief it likes, always provided it stops not short of the entire destruction of my house and premises.
'Rare sport - rare sport will it be to me, for then I will at once commence a new career, in which the barber will be forgotten, and the man of fashion only seen and remembered, for with this last addition to my means, I am fully capable of vying with the highest and the noblest, let them be who they may.'
This seemed a pleasant train of reflections to Sweeney Todd, and as the coach entered Fleet-street, there sat such a grim smile upon his countenance that he looked like some fiend in human shape, who had just completed the destruction of a human soul.
When he reached the livery stables to which he directed them to drive, instead of to his own shop, he rewarded all who had gone with him most liberally, so that the coachman and footman who were both servants out of place, would have had no objection for Sweeney Todd every day to have gone on some such an expedition, so that they should receive as liberal wages for the small part they enacted in it as they did upon that occasion.
He then walked from the stables towards his own house, but upon reaching there, a little disappointment awaited him, for he found to his surprise that no light was burning; and when he placed his hand upon the shop-door, it opened, but there was no trace of Tobias, although he, Sweeney Todd, called loudly upon him the moment he set foot within the shop.
Then a feeling of great approbation crept across the barber, and he groped anxiously about for some matches, by the aid of which he hoped to procure a light, and then an explanation of the mysterious absence of Tobias.
But in order that we may in its proper form relate how it was that Tobias had had the daring, thus in open contradiction of his master, to be away from the shop, we must devote to Tobias a chapter which will plead his extenuation.