The String of Pearls/Chapter 34

XXXIV Johanna Alone, the Secret, Mr. Todd's Suspicions, the Mysterious LetterEdit

      For some time after Todd had left the shop, Johanna could scarcely believe that she was sufficiently alone to dare to look about her; but as minute after minute passed away, and no sound indicative of his speedy return fell upon her ears, she gathered more courage.
      'Yes,' she said, 'I am at last alone, in the place where my suspicions have always pointed as the death place of poor Mark. O Heavens, grant that it may not be so, and that, in unravelling the evident mystery of this man's life, I may hail you living, my dear Mark, and not have to mourn you dead! And yet, how can I, even for a moment, delude myself with such false hopes? No, no, he has fallen a victim to this ruthless man.
      For a few minutes, as Johanna gave way to this violent burst of grief, she wrung her hands and wept; but then, as a thought of the danger she would be in should Todd return and see signs of emotion crossed her mind, she controlled her tears, and managed to bear the outward semblance of composure.
      She then began to look about her in the same way that poor Tobias had done; but she could find nothing of an explanatory character, although her suspicions made almost everything into grounds of suspicion. She looked into the cupboard, and there she saw several costly sticks and some umbrellas, and then she narrowly examined all the walls, but could see nothing indicative of another opening, save the door, visible and apparent. As she moved backwards, she came against the shaving chair, which she found was a fixture, as, upon examination, she saw that the legs of it were firmly secured to the floor. What there could be suspicious in such a circumstance she hardly knew, and yet it did strike her as such.
      'If I had but time,' she thought, 'I would make an attempt to go into that parlour; but I dare not yet. No, no, I must be more sure of the continued absence of Todd, before I dare make any such attempt.'
      As she uttered these words, someone opened the door cautiously, and, peeping in, said, 'Is Mr Todd at home?'
      'No,' replied Johanna.
      'Oh, very good. Then you are to take this letter, if you please, and read it. You will find, I dare say, whom it's from, when you open it. Keep it to yourself though, and if Mr Todd should come in, hide it, mind, whatever you do.'
      Before Johanna could make any reply, the man disappeared, and great was her astonishment to read upon the outside of the letter that had been put into her hands, her own proper name. With trembling fingers she opened it, and read as follows:
     


      From Sir Richard Blunt, magistrate, to Miss Oakley
      Miss Johanna Oakley, you have with great chivalry of spirit embarked in a very dangerous enterprise - an enterprise which, considering your youth and your sex, should have been left to others; and it is well that others are in a position to watch over you and ensure your safety.
      Your young friend, Arabella Wilmot, after giving so much romantic advice, and finding that you followed it, became herself alarmed at its possible consequences, and very prudently informed one who brought the intelligence to me, so that you are now well looked after; and should any danger present itself to you, you have but to seize any article that comes within your reach and throw it through a pane of glass in the shop window, when assistance will immediately come to you. I tell you this in order that you should feel quite at ease.
      As, however, you have placed yourself in your present position in Todd's shop, it is more than likely you will be able to do good service in aiding to unmask that villain. You will, therefore, be good enough, towards the dusk of the evening, to hold yourself in readiness to do anything required of you by anyone who shall pronounce to you the password of 'St Dunstan'.
      From your Friend (mentioned above)
     


      Johanna read this letter, certainly, with most unmitigated surprise, and yet there was a glow of satisfaction in her mind as she perused it, and the difference in her feelings, now that she was assured of protection, was certainly something wonderful and striking. To think that she had but to seize any one of the numerous stray articles that lay about and fling it through the window, in order to get assistance, was a most consolatory idea, and she felt nerved for almost any adventure.
      She had just hidden the letter, when Sweeney Todd made his appearance.
      'Anybody been?' he asked.
      'Yes, one man, but he would not wait.'
      'Ah, wanted to be shaved, I suppose; but no matter - no matter; and I hope you have been quiet, and not been attempting to indulge your curiosity in any way, since I have been gone. Hush! there's somebody coming. Why, it's old Mr Wrankley, the tobacconist, I declare. Good-day to you, sir - shaved, I suppose; I'm glad you have come, sir, for I have been out till this moment. Hot water, Charley, directly, and hand me that razor.'
      Johanna, in handing Todd the razor, knocked the edge of it against the chair, and it being uncommonly sharp, cut a great slice of the wood off one of the arms of it.
      'What shameful carelessness,' said Todd; 'I have half a mind to lay the strop over your back, sir; here, you have spoilt a capital razor - not a bit of edge left upon it.'
      'Oh, excuse him, Mr Todd - excuse him,' said the old gentleman; 'he's only a little lad, after all. Let me intercede for him.'
      'Very good, sir; if you wish me to look over it, of course I will, and, thank God, we have a stock of razors, of course, always at hand. Is there any news stirring, sir?'
      'Nothing that I know of, Mr Todd, except it's the illness of Mr Cummings, the overseer. They say he got home about twelve to his own house, in Chancery-lane, and ever since then he has been sick as a dog, and all they can get him to say is, "Oh, those pies - oh, those pies!"'
      'Very odd, sir.'
      'Very. I think Mr Cummings must be touched in the upper storey, do you know, Mr Todd. He's a very respectable man, but, between you and I, was never very bright.'
      'Certainly not - certainly not. But it's a very odd case. What pies can he possibly mean, sir? Did you call when you came from home?'
      'No. Ha, ha! I can't help laughing; but ha, ha! I have come away from home on the sly, you see. The fact is, my wife's cousin, Mr Mundel - hilloa! - I think you have cut me.'
      'No, no; we can't cut anybody for three-halfpence, sir.'
      'Oh, very good - very good. Well, as I was saying, my wife's cousin, Mr Mundel, came to our house last night, and brought with him a string of pearls, you see. He wanted me to go to the City, this morning, with them, to Round and Bridget, the court jewellers', and ask them if they had ever seen them before.'
      'Were they beauties?'
      'Yes, they are brilliant ones. You see, Mundel lends money, and he didn't like to go himself, so he asked me to go, as Mr Round knows me very well; for between you and me, Mr Todd, my wife's cousin, Mr Mundel, thinks they belonged, once upon a time, to some lady.'
      'Oh, indeed!'
      'Yes; and as it won't do to say too much to women, I told my wife I was going over the water, you see, and just popped out. Ha, ha, ha! and I've got the pearls in my pocket. Mundel says they are worth twelve thousand pounds at the least, ha, ha!'
      'Indeed, sir, twelve thousand pounds? A pretty sum that, sir - a very pretty sum. No doubt Mr Mundel lent seven or eight thousand pounds upon the pearls. I think I will just give you another lather, sir, before I polish you off; and so you have the pearls with you, well, how odd things come round, to be sure.'
      'What do you mean?'
      'This shaving-brush is just in a good state now. Always as a shaving-brush is on the point of wearing out, it's the best. Charley, you will go at once to Mr Cummings's, and ask if he is any better; you need not hurry, that's a good lad, I am not at all angry with you now; and so, sir, they think at home that you have gone after some business over the water, do they, and have not the least idea that you have come here to be shaved - there, be off, Charley - shut the door, that's a good lad, bless you.'
     

***


      When Johanna came back, the tobacconist was gone.
      'Well,' said Sweeney Todd, as he sharpened a razor, very leisurely; 'how is Mr Cummings?'
      'I found out his house, sir, with some difficulty, and they say he is better, having gone to sleep.'
      'Oh, very good! I am going to look over some accounts in the parlour, so don't choose to be disturbed, you understand; and for the next ten minutes, if anybody comes, you will say I am out.'
      Sweeney Todd walked quite coolly into the parlour, and Johanna heard him lock the door on the inside; a strange, undefined sensation of terror crept over her, she knew not why, and she shuddered, as she looked around her. The cupboard door was not close shut, and she knew not what prompted her to approach and peep in. On the first shelf was the hat of the tobacconist: it was a rather remarkable one, and recognised in a moment.
      'What has happened? Good God! what can have happened?' thought Johanna, as she staggered back, until she reached the shaving-chair, into which she cast herself for support. Her eyes fell upon the arm which she had taken such a shaving off with the razor, but all was perfectly whole and correct; there was not the least mark of the cut that so recently had been given to it; and, lost in wonder, Johanna, for more than a minute, continued looking for the mark of the injury she knew could not have been, by any possibility, effaced.
      And yet she found it not, although there was the chair, just as usual, with its wide spreading arms and its worn, tarnished paint and gilding. No wonder that Johanna rubbed her eyes, and asked herself if she were really awake.
      What could account for such a phenomenon? The chair was a fixture too, and the others in the shop were of a widely different make and construction, so it could not have been changed.
      'Alas, alas!' mourned Johanna, 'my mind is full of horrible surmise, and yet I can form no rational conjecture. I suspect everything, and know nothing. What can I do? What ought I to do, to relieve myself from this state of horrible suspense? Am I really in a place where, by some frightful ingenuity, murder has become bold and familiar, or can it all be a delusion?'
      She covered her face with her hands for a time, and when she uncovered them, she saw that Sweeney Todd was staring at her with looks of suspicion from the inner room.
      The necessity of acting her part came over Johanna, and she gave a loud scream.
      'What the devil is all this about?' said Todd, advancing with a sinister expression. 'What's the meaning of it? I suspect -'
      'Yes, sir,' said Johanna, 'and so do I; I must tomorrow have it out.'
      'Have what out?'
      'My tooth, sir, it's been aching for some hours; did you ever have the toothache? If you did, you can feel for me, and not wonder that I lean my head upon my heads and groan.'