The String of Pearls/Chapter 3
III The Dog and the HatEdit
The earliest dawn of morning was glistening upon the masts, the cordage, and the sails of a fleet of vessels lying below Sheerness.
The crews were rousing themselves from their night's repose, and to make their appearance on the decks of the vessels, from which the night-watch had just been relieved.
A man-of-war, which had been the convoy of the fleet of merchant-men through the charnel, fired a gun as the first glimpse of the morning sun fell upon her tapering masts. Then from a battery in the neighbourhood came another booming report, and that was answered by another farther off, and then another, until the whole chain of batteries that girded the coast, for it was a time of war, had proclaimed the dawn of another day.
The effect was very fine, in the stillness of the early morn, of these successions of reports; and as they died away in the distance like mimic thunder, some order was given on board the man-of-war, and, in a moment, the masts and cordage seemed perfectly alive with human beings clinging to them in various directions. Then, as if by magic, or as if the ship had been a living thing itself, and had possessed wings, which, at the mere instigation of a wish, could be spread far and wide, there fluttered out such sheets of canvas as was wonderful to see; and, as they caught the morning light, and the ship moved from the slight breeze that sprang up from the shore, she looked, indeed, as if she walk'd the waters like a thing of life. The various crews of the merchantmen stood upon the decks of their respective vessels, gazing after the ship-of-war, as she proceeded upon another mission similar to the one she had just performed in protecting the commerce of the country.
As she passed one vessel, which had been, in point of fact, actually rescued from the enemy, the crew, who had been saved from a foreign prison, cheered lustily.
There wanted but such an impulse as this, and then every merchant-vessel that the man-of-war passed took up the gladsome shout, and the crew of the huge vessel were not slow in their answer, for three deafening cheers - such as had frequently struck terror into the hearts of England's enemies - awakened many an echo from the shore.
It was a proud and a delightful sight - such a sight as none but an Englishman can thoroughly enjoy - to see that vessel so proudly stemming the waste of waters. We say none but an Englishman can enjoy it, because no other nation has ever attempted to achieve a great maritime existence without being most signally defeated, and leaving us still, as we shall ever be, masters of the seas.
These proceedings were amply sufficient to arouse the crews of all the vessels, and over the taffrail of one in particular, a large-sized merchantman, which had been trading in the Indian seas, two men were leaning. One of them was the captain of the vessel, and the other a passenger, who intended leaving that morning. They were engaged in earnest conversation, and the captain, as he shaded his eyes with his hand, and looked along the surface of the river, said, in reply to some observation from his companion, 'I'll order my boat the moment Lieutenant Thornhill comes on board; I call him Lieutenant, although I have no right to do so, because he has held that rank in the king's service, but when quite a young man was cashiered for fighting a duel with his superior officer.'
'The service has lost a good officer,' said the other.
'It has indeed; a braver man never stepped, nor a better officer; but you see they have certain rules in the service and everything is sacrificed to maintain them. I can't think what keeps him; he went last night and said he would pull up to the Temple stairs, because he wanted to call upon somebody by the waterside, and after that he was going to the city to transact some business of his own, and that would have brought him nearer there, you see; and there are plenty of things coming down the river.'
'He's coming,' cried the other; 'don't be impatient; you will see him in a few minutes.'
'What makes you think that?'
'Because I see his dog - there, don't you see, swimming in the water, and coming direct towards the ship?'
'I cannot imagine - I can see the dog, certainly; but I can't see Thornhill, nor is there any boat at hand. I know not what to make of it. Do you know my mind misgives me that something has happened amiss? The dog seems exhausted. Lend a hand there to Mr. Thornhill's dog, some of you. Why, it's a hat he has in his mouth.'
The dog made towards the vessel; but without the assistance of the seamen - with the whole of whom he was an immense favourite - he certainly could not have boarded the vessel; and when he reached the deck, he sank down upon it in a state of complete exhaustion, with the hat still in his grasp.
As the animal lay, panting, upon the deck, the sailors looked at each other in amazement, and there was but one opinion among them all now, and that was that something very serious had unquestionably happened to Mr Thornhill.
'I dread,' said the captain, 'an explanation of this occurrence.'
'What on earth can it mean? That's Thornhill's hat, and here is Hector. Give the dog some drink and meat directly - he seems thoroughly exhausted.'
The dog ate sparingly of some food that was put before him; and then, seizing the hat again in his mouth, he stood by the side of the ship and howled piteously; then he put down the hat for a moment, and, walking up to the captain, he pulled him by the skirt of the coat.
'You understand him,' said the captain to the passenger; 'something has happened to Thornhill, I'll be bound; and you see the object of the dog is to get me to follow him to see what it's about.'
'Think you so? It is a warning, if it be such at all, that I should not be inclined to neglect; and if you will follow the dog, I will accompany you; there may be more in it than we think of, and we ought not to allow Mr Thornhill to be in want of any assistance that we can render him, when we consider what great assistance he has been to us. Look how anxious the poor beast is.'
The captain ordered a boat to be launched at once, and manned by four stout rowers. He then sprang into it, followed by the passenger, who was a Colonel Jeffery, of the Indian army, and the dog immediately followed them, testifying by his manner great pleasure at the expedition they were undertaking, and carrying the hat with him, which he evidently showed an immense disinclination to part with.
The captain ordered the boat to proceed up the river towards the Temple stairs, where Hector's master had expressed his intention of proceeding, and, when the faithful animal saw the direction in which they were going, he lay down in the bottom of the boat perfectly satisfied, and gave himself up to that repose, of which he was evidently so much in need.
It cannot be said that Colonel Jeffery suspected that anything of a very serious nature had happened; indeed, their principal anticipation, when they came to talk it over, consisted in the probability that Thornhill had, with an impetuosity of character they knew very well he possessed, interfered to redress what he considered some street grievance, and had got himself into the custody of the civil power in consequence.
'Of course,' said the captain, 'Master Hector would view that as a very serious affair, and finding himself denied access to his master, see he has come off to us, which was certainly the most prudent thing he could do, and I should not be at all surprised if he takes us to the door of some watch-house, where we shall find our friend snug enough.'
The tide was running up; and that Thornhill had not saved the turn of it, by dropping down earlier to the vessel, was one of the things that surprised the captain. However, they got up quickly, and as at that hour there was not much on the river to impede their progress, and as at that time the Thames was not a thoroughfare for little stinking steamboats, they soon reached the ancient Temple stairs.
The dog, who had until then seemed to be asleep, suddenly sprung up, and seizing the hat again in his mouth, rushed again on shore, and was closely followed by the captain and colonel.
He led them through the Temple with great rapidity, pursuing with admirable tact the precise path his master had taken towards the entrance to the Temple in Fleet-street, opposite Chancery-lane. Darting across the road then, he stopped with a low growl at the shop of Sweeney Todd - a proceeding which very much surprised those who followed him, and caused them to pause to hold a consultation ere they proceeded further. While this was proceeding Todd suddenly opened the door, and aimed a blow at the dog with an iron bar, but the latter dexterously avoided it, and, but that the door was suddenly closed again, he would have made Sweeney Todd regret such an interference.
'We must enquire into this,' said the captain; 'there seems to be mutual ill-will between that man and the dog.'
They both tried to enter the barber's shop, but it was fast on the inside; and after repeated knockings, Todd called from within, saying, 'I won't open the door while that dog is there. He is mad, or has a spite against me - I don't know nor care which - it's a fact, that's all I am aware of.'
'I will undertake,' said the captain, 'that the dog shall do you no harm; but open the door, for in we must come, and will.'
'I will take your promise,' said Sweeney Todd; 'but mind you keep it, or I shall protect myself and take the creature's life; so, if you value it, you had better hold it fast.'
The captain pacified Hector as well as he could, and likewise tied one end of a silk handkerchief round his neck, and held the other firmly in his grasp; after which Todd, who seemed to have some means from within of seeing what was going on, opened his door and admitted his visitors.
'Well, gentlemen, shaved, or cut, or dressed, I am at your service; which shall I begin with?'
The dog never took his eye off Todd, but kept up a low growl from the first moment of his entrance.
'It's rather a remarkable circumstance,' said the captain, 'but this is a very sagacious dog, you see, and he belongs to a friend of ours, who has most unaccountably disappeared.'
'Has he, really?' said Todd. 'Tobias! Tobias!'
'Run to Mr Philip's, in Cateaton-street, and get me six-penny-worth of preserved figs, and don't say that I don't give you the money this time when you go on a message. I think I did before, but you swallowed it; and when you come back, just please remember the insight into business I gave you yesterday.'
'Yes,' said the boy, with a shudder, for he had a great horror of Sweeney Todd, as well he might, after the severe discipline he had received at his hands, and away he went.
'Well, gentlemen,' said Todd, 'what is it you require of me?'
'We want to know if anyone having the appearance of an officer in the navy came to your house?'
'Yes - a rather good-looking man, weatherbeaten, with a bright blue eye, and rather fair hair.'
'Yes, yes! the same.'
'Oh! to be sure, he came here, and I shaved him and polished him off'
'What do you mean by polishing him off?'
'Brushing him up a bit, and making him tidy: he said he had got somewhere to go in the city, and asked me the address of a Mr Oakley, a spectacle-maker. I gave it him, and then he went away; but as I was standing at my door about five minutes afterwards, it seemed to me, as well as I could see the distance, that he got into some row near the market.'
'Did this dog come with him?'
'A dog came with him, but whether it was that dog or not I don't know.'
'And that's all you know of him?'
'You never spoke a truer word in your life,' said Sweeney Todd, as he diligently stropped a razor upon his great, horny hand.
This seemed something like a complete fix; and the captain looked at Colonel Jeffery, and the colonel at the captain, for some moments, in complete silence. At length the latter said,-
'It's a very extraordinary thing that the dog should come here if he missed his master somewhere else. I never heard of such a thing.'
'Nor I either,' said Todd. 'It is extraordinary; so extraordinary that, if I had not seen it, I would not have believed. I dare say you will find him in the next watch-house.'
The dog had watched the countenance of all parties during this brief dialogue, and twice or thrice he had interrupted it by a strange howling cry.
'I'll tell you what it is,' said the barber; 'if that beast stays here, I'll be the death of him. I hate dogs - detest them; and I tell you, as I told you before, if you value him at all keep him away from me.
'You say you directed the person you describe to us where to find a spectacle-maker named Oakley. We happen to know that he was going in search of such a person, and, as he had property of value about him, we will go there and ascertain if he reached his destination.'
'It is in Fore-street - a little shop with two windows; you cannot miss it.'
The dog, when he saw they were about to leave, grew furious; and it was with the greatest difficulty they succeeded, by main force, in getting him out of the shop, and dragging him some short distance with them, but then he contrived to get free of the handkerchief that held him, and darting back, he sat down at Sweeney Todd's door, howling most piteously.
They had no resource but to leave him, intending fully to call as they came back from Mr Oakley's; and, as they looked behind them, they saw that Hector was collecting a crowd round the barber's door, and it was a singular thing to see a number of persons surrounding the dog, while he, to all appearance, appeared to be actually making efforts to explain something to the assemblage. They walked on until they reached the spectacle-maker's, and there they paused; for they all of a sudden recollected that the mission that Mr Thornhill had had to execute there was of a very delicate nature, and one by no means to be lightly executed, or even so much as mentioned, probably, in the hearing of Mr Oakley himself.
'We must not be so hasty,' said the colonel.
'But what am I to do? I sail tonight; at least I have got to go round to Liverpool with my vessel.'
'Do not then call at Mr Oakley's at all at present; but leave me to ascertain the fact quietly and secretly.'
'My anxiety for Thornhill will scarcely permit me to do so; but I suppose I must, and if you write me a letter to the Royal Oak Hotel, at Liverpool, it will be sure to reach me, that is to say, unless you find Mr Thornhill himself, in which case I need not by any means give you so much trouble.'
'You may depend upon me. My friendship for Mr Thornhill, and gratitude, as you know, for the great service he has rendered to us all, will induce me to do my utmost to discover him; and, but that I know he set his heart upon performing the message he had to deliver accurately and well, I should recommend that we at once go into this house of Mr Oakley's, only that the fear of compromising the young lady - who is in the case, and who will have quite enough to bear, poor thing! of her own grief - restrains me.'
After some more conversation of a similar nature, they decided that this should be the plan adopted. They made an unavailing call at the watch-house of the district, being informed there that no such person, nor anyone answering the description of Mr Thornhill had been engaged in any disturbance, or apprehended by any of the constables; and this only involved the thing in greater mystery than ever, so they went back to try and recover the dog, but that was a matter easier to be desired and determined upon than executed, for threats and persuasions were alike ineffectual.
Hector would not stir an inch from the barber's door. There he sat, with the hat by his side, a most melancholy and strange-looking spectacle, and a most efficient guard was he for that hat, and it was evident, that while he chose to exhibit the formidable row of teeth he did occasionally, when anybody showed a disposition to touch it, it would remain sacred. Some people, too, had thrown a few copper coins into the hat, so that Hector, if his mind had been that way inclined, was making a very good thing of it; but who shall describe the anger of Sweeney Todd, when he found that he was likely to be so beleaguered?
He doubted, if, upon the arrival of the first customer to his shop, the dog might dart in and take him by storm; but that apprehension went off at last, when a young gallant came from the Temple to have his hair dressed, and the dog allowed him to pass in and out unmolested, without making any attempt to follow him. This was something, at all events; but whether or not it insured Sweeney Todd's personal safety, when he should himself come out, was quite another matter.
It was an experiment, however, which he must try. It was quite out of the question that he should remain a prisoner much longer in his own place, so, after a time, he thought he might try the experiment, and that it would be best done when there were plenty of people there, because, if the dog assaulted him, he would have an excuse for any amount of violence he might think proper to use upon the occasion.
It took some time, however, to screw his courage to the sticking-place; but, at length, muttering deep curses between his clenched teeth, he made his way to the door, and carried in his hand a long knife, which he thought a more efficient weapon against the dog's teeth than the iron bludgeon he had formerly used.
'I hope he will attack me,' said Todd to himself, as he thought; but Tobias, who had come back from the place where they sold the preserved figs, heard him, and after devoutly in his own mind wishing that the dog would actually devour Sweeney, said aloud, 'Oh dear, sir; you don't wish that, I'm sure!'
'Who told you what I wished, or what I did not? Remember, Tobias, and keep your own counsel, or it will be the worse for you, and your mother too - remember that.'
The boy shrunk back. How had Sweeney Todd terrified the boy about his mother! He must have done so, or Tobias would never have shrunk as he did.
Then that rascally barber, whom we begin to suspect of more crimes than fall ordinarily to the share of man, went cautiously out of his shop-door: we cannot pretend to account for why it was so, but, as faithful recorders of facts, we have to state that Hector did not fly at him, but with a melancholy and subdued expression of countenance he looked up in the face of Sweeney Todd; then he whined piteously, as if he would have said, 'Give me my master, and I will forgive you all that you have done; give me back my beloved master, and you shall see that I am neither revengeful nor ferocious.'
This kind of expression was as legibly written in the poor creature's countenance as if he had actually been endowed with speech, and uttered the words themselves.
This was what Sweeney Todd certainly did not expect, and, to tell the truth, it staggered and astonished him a little. He would have been glad of an excuse to commit some act of violence, but he had now none, and as he looked in the faces of the people who were around, he felt quite convinced that it would not be the most prudent thing in the world to interfere with the dog in any way that savoured of violence.
'Where's the dog's master?' said one.
'Ah, where indeed?' said Todd; 'I should not wonder if he had come to some foul end!'
'But I say, old soapsuds,' cried a boy; 'the dog says you did it.'
There was a general laugh, but the barber was no means disconcerted, and he shortly replied, 'Does he? he is wrong then.'
Sweeney Todd had no desire to enter into anything like a controversy with the people, so he turned again and entered his own shop, in a distant corner of which he sat down, and folding his great gaunt-looking arms over his chest, he gave himself up to thought, and, if we might judge from the expression of his countenance, those thoughts were of a pleasant anticipatory character, for now and then he gave such a grim sort of smile as might well have sat upon the features of some ogre.
And now we will turn to another scene, of a widely different character.