The String of Pearls/Chapter 32
XXXII The Announcement in Sweeney Todd's Window, Johanna Oakley's AdventureEdit
Having thus far traced Tobias's career, we are the better enabled to turn now our exclusive attention to the proceedings of Johanna Oakley, who, we cannot help thinking, is about to commence a most dangerous adventure.
The advice which had been given to her by her romantic young friend, Arabella Wilmot, had from the first taken a strong hold upon her imagination; and the more she had thought it over, and the more she found the others failed, in procuring any tidings of her lost lover, the more intent she was upon carrying it out.
'Yes,' she said, 'yes, true love will accomplish very great wonders; and what force or ability will fail at, confident affection even of a mere girl may succeed in. 'Tis true I risk my life; but what is life to me without what made it desirable? What is continued existence to me, embittered with the constant thought that such a dreadful mystery hangs over the fate of Mark Ingestrie?'
So it will be seen it was partly despair, and partly a kind of presentiment she had that success would attend her enterprise, that induced her to go to Sweeney Todd's.
There was a placard in Todd's window, which bore the following announcement:
Wanted: a lad. One of strict religious principles preferred.
The fact is, as we have said, although Sweeney Todd now, from the sale of the string of pearls, had the means of retiring from his avocations, and fully meant to do so, he did not think it prudent to hurry over such a step, and was resolved to wait until all noise and enquiry, if any were made, about the pearls had subsided; and therefore was it that he found it necessary to provide himself with a new boy, who, for all he cared, might share the fate of poor Tobias -that fate which Sweeney Todd considered certain, but concerning which the reader is better informed.
'Ah,' muttered Todd to himself, 'I like boys of a religious turn. They are much easier managed, for the imagination in such cases has been cultivated at the expense of the understanding. Hilloa, who have we here?'
Todd was stropping a razor, and peering out into the street while he spoke, and he saw a decent-looking young lad of remarkably handsome exterior, stop at the window, and read the tempting announcement. The lad advanced a step towards the door, hesitated, retreated, and then advanced again, as if he wished to apply for the vacant situation, and yet dreaded to do so.
'Who can he be?' said Todd, as he looked curiously at him. 'He don't seem the likely sort to apply for the situation of barber's boy.'
Todd was right enough there, for this seeming lad was no other than Johanna Oakley; and little, indeed, did she seem as if she belonged to the rough class from whom Sweeney Todd, the barber, might be supposed to find a lad for his shop.
In another moment she entered the shop, and was face to face with the man whom she might fairly consider to be the bane of her young existence, if what was suspected of him were true.
Todd fixed his strange glance upon her; but he was silent, for it was no rule of his to speak first, and Johanna felt constrained to commence the rather embarrassing conversation.
'You are in want of a lad, sir,' she said, 'to mind your shop, I suppose?'
Johanna had certainly hoped for a longer answer; but as Todd was silent, she had now no recourse but to go on.
'I shall be glad to take the situation.'
'Who are you? You don't seem likely to want such a place. Who and what are you?'
Johanna had her story ready, for of course she had anticipated questions being asked of her; so she replied, with a readiness that did not seem at all forced, 'I am an orphan, I was left in the care of a mother-in-law; I don't like her, she was cruel to me, and I ran away.'
'Oxford, Oxford,' muttered Todd; 'then nobody knows you in London, I suppose, my little lad?'
'No one. I have come to town comfortably enough, in a wagon; but, if I don't get something to do, I shall have to go back, which I don't like the idea of at all. I'd rather be anything in London, than go back to Mrs Green.'
'Green, and what's your name?'
'Charley Green, of course; you sees my name's the same as hers, because she married my father.'
'Oh, you won't suit me; you ain't the sort of boy I want.'
'Sorry I troubled you, sir,' said Johanna, as she turned carelessly and left the shop without making the least attempt to move the barber's determination, or even looking behind her.
'Pshaw!' exclaimed Todd, as he flung down the razor he had commenced sharpening again, 'how foolishly suspicious I am. I shall wait a while, I think, before I get anyone to suit me as this lad will. In London alone, without friends, an orphan, nobody to enquire after him - the very thing.'
Sweeney Todd was at his door in an instant. 'Hoi! hoi!' he called. Johanna looked back, and saw him beckon to her; with new hope she returned, and was again in the shop.
'Hark ye, my lad,' said Todd; 'I feel disposed to take you on account of your friendless condition. I feel for you, I'm an orphan myself, that's a fact.' Here he made one of those hideous grimaces he was in the habit of indulging in when he thought he said anything particularly racy. 'Yes, I'm a poor orphan myself, with nothing but my strong sense of religion to support me. I'll take you on trial.'
'I am much beholden to you, sir.'
'Oh, don't mention that; your duties will consist of minding the shop if I happen to be absent. You will have sixpence a day, but nothing else from me; for out of that, you provide yourself with food; and the cheapest and the best thing you can do is, to go always to Lovett's, in Bell Yard, and have a pie for your dinner; you will sleep at night here in the shop, run messages, see and hear much, but if you gossip about me and my affairs, I'll cut your throat.'
'You may depend upon me, sir; I'm only too happy in being taken into the service of such a respectable gentleman.'
'Respectable gentleman!' repeated Todd, as he finished stropping the razor. 'Respectable'; and then he gave one of his hideous laughs, which thrilled through the very heart of Johanna, as she thought that it might have been the last noise that sounded in the ears of Mark Ingestrie in this world. Todd turned very suddenly round, and said, 'Did you groan?'
'I groan!' replied Johanna; 'what for?'
'Oh, I only thought you did, Master Charley, that's all. See if that water on the fire is hot, and if so, bring it to me. Ha! a customer.'
As Todd uttered these words, two persons entered the shop; they looked like substantial countrymen, farmers perhaps, in a good way of business; and one of them said, 'Now, Mr Barber, for a clean shave, if you please,' while the other stood at the door, as if to wait for his companion.
'Certainly, sir,' said Todd. 'Pray sit down here if you please, sir; a nice day for the time of year; come from the country, sir, I suppose?'
'Yes, me and my cousin; we don't know much of London, yet.'
'Indeed, sir, you ought not to leave it soon, then, I'm sure, for there is much to see, and that can't be seen quickly; and if you live far off, it's better to take the opportunity while you are here. Give me that soap dish, Charley.'
'Ah, to be sure,' replied the countryman, 'it is; but we have brought up to the London market a number of beasts, which having sold well, we have too much money about us to risk in going to see sights.'
'Indeed! you are prudent. Would you like your whiskers trimmed?'
'A little, but not quite off.'
There was now a pause of some moments' duration, after which Sweeney Todd said, in a very offhand manner - 'I suppose you have seen the two figures at St Dunstan's church strike the hour?'
'Two figures?' said the one who was not being shaved, for the other would have had a mouthful of lather if he had spoken; 'two figures? No - what may they be all about?'
'Well,' resumed Todd, with the most indifferent air and manner in the world, 'if you have not seen them, it's quite a shame that you should not; and while I am shaving your friend, as it now only wants about five minutes to eleven, you have a good opportunity of going and getting back in time when your friend is - disposed of - what do you say to that? Charley, go with the gentleman, and show him the figures striking the hour at St Dunstan's. You must cross over to the other side of the way, you know, to see them properly and effectually. Don't hurry, sir.'
'Very much obliged,' said the disengaged grazier, for such he seemed to be; 'but I would rather go with my friend here, when he is shaven. You can't think what cynical remarks he makes at anything he has not seen before, so that to go with him is really always to me half the treat.'
'Very good and very right,' said Todd; 'I shall soon be done. I have just about finished you off, now, sir. That will do.'
There was no disappointment at all visible in Todd's manner, and the grazier rose and wiped his face on the jack-towel, that hung from a roller for the use of those whom it might concern, paid his money, and with a civil good-day to the barber, left the shop along with his friend.
An awfully diabolical look came across the countenance of Sweeney Todd, as he muttered to himself, 'Curses on them both! I may yet have one of them though.'
'What did you say, sir?' asked Johanna.
'What is that to you, you young imp?' roared Todd. 'Curse you! I'll pull out your teeth by degrees, with red-hot pincers, if you presume to listen to what I say! I'll be the death of you, you devil's cub.'
Johanna shrank back, alarmed, and then Todd walked across his shop to the back-parlour, the door of which he carefully double-locked, after which, turning to Johanna, he said,-
'You will mind the shop till I return, and if anybody comes, you can tell them that they need not wait, for I shall probably be some time gone. All you have to do is mind the place, and, hark you, no peeping nor prying about; sit still, and touch nothing, for if you do, I shall most assuredly discover it, and your punishment will be certain and perhaps terrible.'
'I will be careful, sir.'
'Do so, and you will be rewarded. Why, the last lad I had served me so well that I have had him taken care of for life, in a fine handsome country house, with grounds attached, a perfect villa, where he is waited upon by attendants, in the most attentive manner.'
'How kind,' said Johanna, 'and is he happy?'
'Very, very - notwithstanding the general discontent of human nature, he is quite happy, as a matter of course. Mind my instructions, and in due time you will no doubt yourself share as amiable a fate.'
Todd put on his hat, and with a horrible and strange leer upon his countenance, left the shop, and Johanna found herself in the situation she had coveted, namely, to be alone in the shop of Sweeney Todd, and able to make what examination of it she pleased, without the probability of much interruption.
'Heaven be my aid,' she cried, 'for the sake of truth.'