The String of Pearls/Chapter 31
XXXI The Rapid Journey of Tobias to LondonEdit
There was something extremely touching in the tone, and apparently in the manner, in which the poor persecuted one detailed the story of her wrongs, and she had the tribute of a willing tear from Tobias.
'After the generous confidence you have had in me,' he said, 'I ought to tell you something of myself.'
'Do so,' she replied, 'we are companions in misfortune.'
Tobias then related to her at large all about Sweeney Todd's villainies, and how at length he, Tobias, had been placed where he was, for the purpose of silencing his testimony of the evil and desperate practices of the barber. After that, he related to her what be had overheard about the intention to murder him that night, and he concluded by saying,-
'If you have any plan of escape from this horrible place, let me implore you to tell it to me, and let us put it into practice tonight, and if we fail, death is at any time preferable to continued existence here.'
'It is - it is - listen to me.'
'I will indeed,' said Tobias; 'you will say you never had such attention as I will now pay to you.'
'You must know, then, that this cell is paved with flagstones, as you see, and that the wall here at the back forms likewise part of the wall of an old wood-house in the garden, which is never visited.'
'Yes, I understand.'
'Well, as I have been here so long, I managed to get up one of the flagstones that forms the flooring here, and to work under the wall with my hands - a slow labour, and one of pain, until I managed to render a kind of excavation, one end of which is here, and the other in the wood-house.'
'Glorious!' said Tobias, 'I see - I see - go on.'
'I should have made my escape if I could, but the height of the garden wall has always been the obstacle. I thought of tearing this miserable quilt into strips, and making a sort of rope of it; but then how was I to get it on the wall? You, perhaps, will, with your activity and youth, be able to accomplish this.'
'Oh, yes, yes! you're right enough there; it is not a wall that shall stop me.'
They waited until, from a church clock in the vicinity, they heard ten strike, and then they began operations. Tobias assisted his new friend to raise the stone in the cell, and there, immediately beneath, appeared the excavation leading to the wood-house, just sufficiently wide for one person to creep through.
It did not take long to do that, and Tobias took with him a piece of work, upon which he had been occupied for the last two hours, namely, the quilt torn up into long pieces, twisted and tied together, so that it formed a very tolerable rope, which Tobias thought would sustain the weight of his companion.
The wood-house was a miserable-looking hole enough, and Tobias at first thought that the door of it was fastened, but by a little pressure it came open; it had only stuck through the dampness of the woodwork at that low point of the garden.
And now they were certainly both of them at liberty, with the exception of surmounting the wall, which rose frowningly before them in all its terrors.
There was a fine cool fresh air in the garden, which was indeed most grateful to the senses of Tobias, and he seemed doubly nerved for anything that might be required of him after inhaling that delicious cool, fresh breeze. There grew close to the wall one of those beautiful mountain-ash trees, which bend over into such graceful foliage, and which are so useful in the formation of pretty summerhouses. Tobias saw that if he ascended to the top of this tree, there would not be much trouble in getting from there to the wall.
'We shall do it,' he said, 'we shall succeed.'
'Thank God, that I hear you say so,' replied his companion.
Tobias tied one end of the long rope they had made of the quilt to his waist, so that he might carry it up with him, and yet leave him free use of hands and feet, and then he commenced, with great activity, ascending the tree. In three minutes he was on the wall.
The moon shone sweetly. There was not a tree or house in the vicinity that was not made beautiful now, in some portions of it, by the sweet, soft light that poured down upon them.
Tobias could not resist pausing a moment to look around him upon the glorious scene: but the voice of her for whom he was bound to do all that was possible, aroused him.
'Oh, Tobias!' she said, 'quick, quick - lower the rope; oh, quick!'
'In a moment - in a moment,' he cried.
The top of the wall was here and there armed with iron spikes, and some of these formed an excellent grappling place for the torn quilt. In the course of another minute Tobias had his end of it secure.
'Now,' he said, 'can you climb up by it, do you think? Don't hurry about it. Remember, there is no alarm, and for all we know we have hours to ourselves yet.'
'Yes, yes - oh, yes - thank God!' he heard her say.
Tobias was not where he could, by any exertion of strength, render her now the least assistance, and he watched the tightening of the frail support by which she was gradually climbing to the top of the wall with the most intense and painful interest that can be imagined.
'I come - I come,' she said, 'I am saved.'
'Come slowly - for God's sake do not hurry.'
At this moment Tobias heard the frail rope giving way: there was a tearing sound - it broke, and she fell.
Lights, too, at that unlucky moment, flashed from the house, and it was now evident an alarm had been given. What could he do? if two could not be saved, one could be saved.
He turned, and flung his feet over the wall, he hung by his hands, as low as he could, and then he dropped the remainder of the distance.
He was hurt, but in a moment he sprang to his feet, for he felt that safety could only lie in instant and rapid flight.
The terror of pursuit was so strong upon him that he forgot his bruises.
'Thank Heaven,' exclaimed Tobias, 'I am at last free from that horrible place. Oh, if I can but reach London now, I shall be safe; and as for Sweeney Todd, let him beware, for a day of retribution for him cannot be far off.'
So saying, Tobias turned his steps towards the city, and at a hard trot, soon left Peckham Rye far behind him as he pursued his route.