The String of Pearls/Chapter 26
XXVI Colonel Jeffrey Makes Another Effort to Come at Sweeney Todd's SecretEdit
We were to say that Colonel Jeffery was satisfied with the state of affairs as regarded the disappearance of his friend Thornhill, or that he had made up his mind now contentedly to wait until chance, or the mere progress of time, blew something of a more defined nature in his way, we should be doing that gentleman a very great injustice indeed.
On the contrary, he was one of those chivalrous persons who, when they do commence anything, take the most ample means to bring it to a conclusion, and are not satisfied that they have made one great effort, which, having failed, is sufficient to satisfy them.
Far from this, he was a man who, when he commenced any enterprise, looked forward to but one circumstance that could possibly end it, and that was its full and complete accomplishment in every respect; so that in this affair of Mr Thornhill, he certainly did not intend by any means to abandon it.
But he was not precipitate. His habits of military discipline, and the long life he had led in camps, where anything in the shape of hurry and confusion is much reprobated, made him pause before he decided upon any particular course of action; and this pause was not one contingent upon a belief, or even a surmise, in the danger of the course that suggested itself, for such a consideration had no effect whatever upon him; and if some other mode had suddenly suggested itself, which, while it placed his life in the most imminent peril, would have seemed more likely to accomplish his object, it would have been at once most gladly welcomed.
And now, therefore, he set about thinking deeply over what could possibly be done in a matter that as yet appeared to be involved in the most profound of possible mysteries.
That the barber's boy, who had been addressed by him, and by his friend, the captain, knew something of an extraordinary character, which fear prevented him from disclosing, he had no doubt, and, as the colonel remarked, 'If fear keeps that lad silent upon the subject, fear may make him speak; and I do not see why we should not endeavour to make ourselves a match for Sweeney Todd in such a matter.'
'What do you propose, then?' said the captain.
'I should say that the best plan would be, to watch the barber's shop, and take possession of the boy, as we may find an opportunity of so doing.'
'Carry him off!'
'Yes, certainly; and as in all likelihood his fear of the barber is but a visionary affair, after all, it can really, when we have him to ourselves, be dispelled; and then when he finds that we can and will protect him, we shall hear all he has to say.'
After some further conversation, the plan was resolved upon; and the captain and the colonel, after making a careful reconnaissance, as they called it, of Fleet-street, found that by taking up a station at the window of a tavern, which was very nearly opposite to the barber's shop, they should be able to take such effectual notice of whoever went in and came out, that they would be sure to see the boy sometime during the course of the day.
This plan of operations would no doubt have been greatly successful, and Tobias would have fallen into their hands, had he not, alas! for him, poor fellow, already been treated by Sweeney Todd, as we have described, by being incarcerated in that fearful madhouse on Peckham Rye, which was kept by so unscrupulous a person as Fogg.
And we cannot but consider that it was most unfortunate, for the happiness of all those persons in whose fate we take so deep an interest, and in whom we hope, as regards the reader, we have likewise awakened a feeling of great sympathy - if Tobias had not been so infatuated as to make the search he did of the barber's house, but had waited even for twenty-four hours before doing so, in that case, not only would he have escaped the dreadful doom which awaited him, but Johanna Oakley would have been saved from much danger, which afterwards befell her.
But we must not anticipate; and the fearful adventures which it was her doom to pass through, before she met with the reward of her great virtue, and her noble perseverance will speak for themselves, trumpet-tongued indeed.
It was at a very early hour in the morning that the two friends took up their station at the public house so nearly opposite to Sweeney Todd's, in Fleet Street; and then, having made an arrangement with the landlord of the house, that they were to have undisturbed possession of the room for as long as they liked, they both sat at the window, and kept an eye upon Todd's house.
It was during the period of time there spent, that Colonel Jeffery first made the captain acquainted with the fact of his great affection for Johanna, and that, in her he thought he had at last fixed his wandering fancy, and found, really, the only being with whom he thought he could, in this world, taste the sweets of domestic life, and know no regret.
'She is all,' he said, 'in beauty that the warmest imagination can possibly picture, and along with these personal charms, which certainly are most peerless, I have seen enough of her to feel convinced that she has a mind of the purest order that ever belonged to any human being in the world.'
'With such sentiments and feelings towards her, the wonder would be,' said the captain, 'if you did not love her, as you now avow you do.'
'I could not be insensible to her attractions. But, understand me, my dear friend, I do not on account of my own suddenly-conceived partiality for this young and beautiful creature, intend to commit the injustice of not trying might and main, and with heart and hand, to discover, if she supposes it be true, that Thornhill and Mark Ingestrie be one and the same person; and when I tell you that I love her with a depth and a sincerity of affection that makes her happiness of greater importance to me than my own - you know, I think, enough of me to feel convinced that I am speaking only what I really feel.'
'I can,' said the captain; 'and I do give you credit for the greatest possible amount of sincerity, and I feel sufficiently interested myself in the future fate of this fair young creature to wish that she may be convinced her lover is no more, and may so much better herself as I am quite certain she would, by becoming your wife; for all we can hear of this Ingestrie seems to prove that he is not the most stable-minded of individuals the world ever produced, and perhaps not exactly the sort of man to make such a girl as Johanna Oakley happy; however, of course she may think to the contrary, and he may in all sincerity think likewise.'
'I thank you for the kind feeling towards me, my friend, which has dictated that speech, but -'
'Hush!' said the captain, suddenly, 'hush! look at the barber!'
'The barber? Sweeney Todd?'
'Yes, yes, there he is; do you not see him? There he is, and he looks as if he had come off a long journey. What can he have been about, I wonder? He is draggled in mud.'
Yes, there was Sweeney Todd, opening his shop from the outside with a key that, after a vast amount of fumbling, he took from his pocket; and, as the captain said, he did indeed look as if he had come off a long journey, for he was draggled with mud, and his appearance altogether was such as to convince anyone that he must have fallen during the early part of the morning upon London and its suburbs.
And this was just the fact, for after staying with the madhouse keeper in the hope that the bad weather which had set in would be alleviated, he had been compelled to give up all chance of such a thing, and as no conveyance of any description was to be had, he enjoyed the pleasure, if it could be called such, of walking home up to his knees in the mud of that dirty neighbourhood.
It was, however, some satisfaction to him to feel that he had got rid of Tobias, who, from what he had done as regarded the examination of the house, had become extremely troublesome indeed, and perhaps the most serious enemy that Sweeney Todd had ever had.
'Ha!' he said, as he came within sight of his shop in Fleet-street, 'ha! Master Tobias is safe enough; he will give me no more trouble, that is quite clear. What a wonderfully convenient thing it is to have such a friend as Fogg, who for a consideration will do so much towards ridding one of an uncomfortable encumbrance. It is possible enough that that boy might have compassed my destruction. I wish I dared, with the means I now have from the string of pearls, joined to my other resources, to leave the business, and so not be obliged to nm the risk and have the trouble of another boy.'
Yes, Sweeney Todd would have been glad now to shut up his shop in Fleet-street at once and for ever, but he dreaded that when John Mundel found that his customer did not come back to him to redeem the pearls, that he, John Mundel, would proceed to sell them, and that then their beauty, and their great worth would excite much attention, and someone might come forward who knew much more about their early history than he did.
'I must keep quiet,' he thought, 'I must keep quiet; for although I think I was pretty well disguised, and it is not at all likely that anyone - no, not even the acute John Mundel himself - would recognise in Sweeney Todd, the poor barber of Fleet Street, the nobleman who came from the Queen to borrow £8,000 upon a string of pearls, yet there is a remote possibility of danger, and should there be a disturbance about the precious stones, it is better that I should remain in obscurity until that disturbance is completely over.
This was no doubt admirable policy on the part of Todd, who, although he found himself a rich man, had not, as many people do when they make that most gratifying and interesting discovery, forgotten all the prudence and tact that had made him one of that most envied class of personages.
He was some few minutes before he could get the key to turn in the lock of his street-door, but at length he effected that object and disappeared from before the eyes of the colonel and his friend into his own house, and the door was instantly again closed upon him.
'Well,' said Colonel Jeffery, 'what do you think of that?'
'I don't know what to think, further than that your friend Todd has been out of town, as the state of his boots abundantly testifies.'
'They do indeed; and he has the appearance of having been a considerable distance, for the mud that is upon his boots is not London mud.'
'Certainly not; it is of quite a different character altogether. But see, he is coming out again.'
Sweeney Todd strode out of his house, bare-headed now, and proceeded to take down the shutters of his shop, which, there being but three, he accomplished in a few seconds of time, and walked in again with them in his hand, along with the iron bar which had secured them, and which he had released from the inside.
This was all the ceremony that took place at the opening of Sweeney Todd's shop, and the only surprise our friends, who were at the public house window, had upon the subject was, that having a boy, he, Todd, should condescend to make himself so useful as to open his own shop. And nothing could be seen of the lad, although the hour, surely, for his attendance must have arrived; and Todd, equally surely, was not the sort of man to be so indulgent to a boy, whom he employed to make himself generally useful, as to allow him to come when all the dirty work of the early morning was over.
But yet such to all appearances would seem to be the case, for presently Todd appeared with a broom in his hand, sweeping out his shop with a rapidity and a vengeance which seemed to say, that he did not perform that operation with the very best grace in the world.
'Where can the boy be!' said the captain. 'Do you know, little reason as I may really appear to have for such a supposition, I cannot help in my own mind connecting Todd's having been out of town, somehow, with the fact of that boy's non-appearance this morning.'
'Indeed! the coincidence is curious, for such was my own thought likewise upon the occasion, and the more I think of it the more I feel convinced that such must be the case, and that our watch will be a fruitless one completely. Is it likely - for possible enough it is - that the villain has found out that we have been asking questions of the boy, and has thought proper to take his life?'
'Do not let us go too far,' said the captain, 'in mere conjecture; recollect that as yet, let us suspect what we may, we know nothing, and that the mere fact of our not being able to trace Thornhill beyond the shop of this man will not be sufficient to found an accusation upon.
'I know all that, and I feel how very cautious we must be; and yet to my mind the whole of the circumstances have been day by day assuming a most hideous air of probability, and I look upon Todd as a murderer already.'
'Shall we continue our watch?'
'I scarcely see its utility. Perchance we may see some proceedings which may interest us; but I have a powerful impression that we certainly shall not see the boy we want. But, at all events, the barber, you perceive, has a customer already.'
As they looked across the way, they saw a well-dressed-looking man, who, from a certain air and manner which he had, could be detected not to be a Londoner. He had rather resembled some substantial yeoman, who had come to town to pay or receive money, and, as he came near to Sweeney Todd's shop, he might have been observed to stroke his chin, as if debating in his mind the necessity or otherwise of a shave.
The debate, if it were taking place in his mind, ended by the ayes having it, for he walked into Todd's shop, being most unquestionably the first customer which he had had that morning.
Situated as the colonel and his friend were, they could not see into Todd's shop, even if the door had been opened, but they saw that after the customer had been in for a few moments, it was closed, so that, had they been close to it, all the interior of the shaving establishment would have been concealed.
They felt no great degree of interest in this man, who was a commonplace personage enough, who had entered Sweeney Todd's shop; but when an unreasonable time had elapsed, and he did not come out, they did begin to feel a little uneasy. And when another man went in and was only about five minutes before he emerged shaved, and yet the first man did not come, they knew not what to make of it, and looked at each other for some moments in silence. At length the colonel spoke - saying,-
'My friend, have we waited here for nothing now? What can have become of that man whom we saw go into the barber's shop; but who, I suppose we feel ourselves to be in a condition to takes our oaths never came out?'
'I could take my oath; and what conclusion can we come to?'
'None, but that he has met his death there; and that, let his fate be what it may, is the same which poor Thornhill has suffered. I can endure this no longer. Do you stay here, and let me go alone.'
'Not for worlds - you would rush into an unknown danger: you cannot know what may be the powers of mischief that man possesses. You shall not go alone, colonel, you shall not indeed; but something must be done.'
'Agreed; and yet that something surely need not be of the desperate character you meditate.'
'Desperate emergencies require desperate remedies.'
'Yes, as a general principle I will agree with you there, too, colonel; and yet I think that in this case everything is to be lost by precipitation, and nothing is to be gained. We have to do with one who to all appearance is keen and subtle, and if anything is to be accomplished contrary to his wishes, it is not to be done by that open career which for its own sake, under ordinary circumstances, both you and I would gladly embrace.'
'Well, well,' said the colonel, 'I do not and will not say but what you are right.'
'I know I am - I am certain I am; and now hear me: I think we have gone quite far enough unaided in this transaction, and that it is time we drew some others into the plot.'
'I do not understand what you mean.
'I will soon explain. I mean, that if in the pursuit of this enterprise, which grows each moment to my mind more serious, anything should happen to you and me, it is absolutely frightful to think that there would then be an end of it.'
'True, true; and as for poor Johanna and her friend Arabella, what could they do?'
'Nothing, but expose themselves to great danger. Come, come now, colonel, I am glad to see that we understand each other better about this business; you have heard, of course, of Sir Richard Blunt?'
'Sir Richard Blunt - Blunt - oh, you mean the magistrate?'
'I do; and what I propose is, that we have a private and confidential interview with him about the matter - that we make him possessed of all the circumstances, and take his advice what to do. The result of placing the affair in such hands will at all events be, that, if, in anything we may attempt, we may be by force or fraud overpowered, we shall not fall wholly unavenged.'
'Reason backs your proposition.'
'I knew it would, when you came to reflect. Oh, Colonel Jeffery, you are too much a creature of impulse.'
'Well,' said the colonel, half jestingly, 'I must say that I do not think the accusation comes well from you, for I have certainly seen you do some rather impulsive things.'
'We won't dispute about that; but since you think with me upon the matter, you will have no objection to accompany me at once to Sir Richard Blunt's?'
'None in the least; on the contrary, if anything is to be done at all, for Heaven's sake let it be done quickly. I am quite convinced that some fearful tragedy is in progress, and that, if we are not most prompt in our measures, we shall be too late to counteract its dire influence upon the fortunes of those in whom we have become deeply interested.'
'Agreed, agreed! Come this way, and let us now for a brief space, at all events, leave Mr Todd and his shop to take care of each other, while we take an effectual means of circumventing him. Why do you linger?'
'I do linger. Some mysterious influence seems to chain me to the spot.
'Some mysterious fiddlestick! Why, you are getting superstitious, colonel.'
'No, no! Well, I suppose I must come along with you. Lead the way, lead the way; and believe me that it requires all my reason to induce me to give up a hope of making some important discovery by going to Sweeney Todd's shop.'
'Yes, you might make an important discovery, and only suppose that the discovery you did make was that he murdered some of his customers. If he does so, you may depend that such a man takes good care to do the deed effectually, and you might make the discovery just a little too late. You understand that?'
'I do, I do. Come along, for I positively declare that if we see anybody else going into the barber's, I shall not be able to resist rushing forward at once, and giving an alarm.'
It was certainly a good thing that the colonel's friend was not quite as enthusiastic as he was, or from what we happen actually to know of Sweeney Todd, and from what we suspect, the greatest amount of danger might have befallen Jeffery, and instead of being in a position to help others in unravelling the mysteries connected with Sweeney Todd's establishment, he might be himself past all help, and most absolutely one of the mysteries.
But such was not to be.