The String of Pearls/Chapter 37
XXXVII The Prisoner's Plan of Escape From the PiesEdit
Mrs Lovett was a woman of judgement, and when she told Sweeney Todd that the prisoner was getting impatient in the lower regions of that house which was devoted to the manufacture of the delicious pies, she had guessed rightly his sensations with regard to his present state and future prospects.
We last left that unfortunate young man lying upon the floor of the place where the steaming and tempting manufacture was carried on; and for a time, as a very natural consequence of exhaustion, he slept profoundly.
That sleep, however, if it rested him bodily, likewise rested him mentally; and when he again awoke it was but to feel more acutely the agony of his most singular and cruel situation. There was a clock in the place by which he had been enabled to accurately regulate the time that the various batches of pies should take in cooking, and upon looking up to that he saw that it was upon the hour of six, and consequently it would be three hours more before a batch of pies was wanted.
He looked about him very mournfully for some time, and then he spoke.
'What evil destiny,' he said, has placed me here? Oh, how much better it would have been if I had perished, as I have been near perishing several times during the period of my eventful life, than that I should be shut up in this horrible den and starved to death, as in all human probability I shall be, for I loathe the pies. Damn the pies!'
There was a slight noise, and upon his raising his eyes to that part of the place near the roof where there were some iron bars and between which Mrs Lovett was wont to give him some directions, he saw her now detested face.
'Attend,' she said; you will bake an extra batch tonight, at nine precisely.'
'An extra batch, two hundred at least; do you understand me?'
'Hark ye, Mrs Lovett. You are carrying this sort of thing too far; it won't do, I tell you, Mrs Lovett; I don't know how soon I may be numbered with the dead, but, as I am a living man now, it will make no more of your detestable pies.'
'Beware yourself! I am not one to be frightened at shadows. I say I will leave this place, whether you like it or not; I will leave it; and perhaps you will find your power insufficient to keep me here. That there is some frightful mystery at the bottom of all the proceedings here, I am certain, but you shall not make me the victim of it!'
'Very well, say what you like, but remember I defy you.'
'Then you are tired of your life, and you will find, when too late, what are the consequences of your defiance. But listen to me: when I first engaged you, I told you you might leave when you were tired of the employment.'
'You did, and yet you keep me a prisoner here. God knows I'm tired enough of it. Besides, I shall starve, for I cannot eat pies eternally; I hate them.'
'And they so admired!'
'Yes, when one ain't surfeited with them. I am now only subsisting upon baked flour. I cannot eat the pies.'
'You are strangely fantastical.'
'Perhaps I am. Do you live upon pies, I should like to know, Mrs Lovett?'
'That is altogether beside the question. You shall, if you like, leave this place tomorrow morning, by which time I hope to have got someone else to take over your situation, but I cannot be left without anyone to make the pies.'
'I don't care for that, I won't make another one.
'We shall see,' said Mrs Lovett. I will come to you in an hour, and see if you persevere in that determination. I advise you as a friend to change, for you will most bitterly repent standing in the way of your own enfranchisement.'
'Well, but - she is gone, and what can I do? I am in her power, but shall I tamely submit? No, no, not while I have my arms at liberty, and strength enough to wield one of these long pokers that stir the coals in the ovens. How foolish of me not to think before that I had such desperate weapons, with which perchance to work my way to freedom.'
As he spoke, he poised in his hand one of the long pokers he spoke of, and, after some few minutes spent in consideration, he said to himself, with something of the cheerfulness of hope, 'I am in Bell-yard, and there are houses right and left of this accursed pie-shop, and those houses must have cellars. Now surely with such a weapon as this, a willing heart, and an arm that has not yet quite lost all its powers, I may make my way from this abominable abode.'
The very thought of thus achieving his liberty lent him new strength and resolution, so that he felt himself to be quite a different man to what he had been, and he only paused to consider in which direction it would be best to begin his work.
After some reflection upon that head, he considered that it would be better to commence where the meat was kept - that meat of which he always found abundance, and which came from - he knew not where; since, if he went to sleep with little or none of it upon the shelves where it was placed for use, he always found plenty when he awoke.
'Yes,' he said, I will begin there, and work my way to freedom.'
Before, however, he commenced operations, he glanced at the clock, and found that it wanted very little now to seven, so that he thought it would be but common prudence to wait until Mrs Lovett had paid him her promised visit, as then, if he said he would make the pies she required, he would, in all probability, be left to himself for two hours, and, he thought, if he did not make good progress in that time towards his liberty, it would be strange indeed.
He sat down, and patiently waited until seven o'clock.
Scarcely had the hour sounded, when he heard the voice of his tormentor and mistress at the grating.
'Well,' she said, have you considered?'
' Oh, yes, I have. Needs must, you know, Mrs Lovett, when a certain person drives. But I have a great favour to ask of you, madam.'
'What is it?'
'Why, I feel faint, and if you could let me have a pot of porter, I would undertake to make a batch of pies superior to any you have ever had, and without any grumbling either.'
Mrs Lovett was silent for a few moments, and then said, 'If you are supplied with porter, will you continue in your situation?'
'Well, I don't know that; but perhaps I may. At all events, I will make you the nine o'clock batch, you may depend.'
'Very well. You shall have it.'
'She disappeared at these words, and in about ten minutes, a small trapdoor opened in the roof, and there was let down by a cord a foaming pot of porter.
'This is capital,' cried the victim of the pies, as he took half of it at a draught. 'This is nectar for the gods. Oh, what a relief, to be sure. It puts new life into me.'
And so it really seemed, for shouldering the poker, which was more like a javelin than anything else, he at once rushed into the vault where the meat was kept.
'Now,' he said, 'for a grand effort at freedom, and if I succeed I promise you, Mrs Lovett, that I will come round to the shop, and rather surprise you, madam. Damn the pies!'
We have before described the place in which the meat was kept, and we need now only say that the shelves were very well stocked indeed, and that our friend, in whose progress we have a great interest, shovelled off the large pieces with celerity from one of the shelves, and commenced operations with the poker.
He was not slow in discovering that his work would not be the most easy in the world, for every now and then he kept encountering what felt very much like a plate of iron; but he fagged away with right good will, and succeeded after a time in getting down one of the shelves, which was one point gained at all events.
'Now for it,' he said. 'Now for it; I shall be able to act - to work upon the wall itself, and it must be something unusually strong to prevent me making a breach through it soon.'
In order to refresh himself, he finished the porter, and then using his javelin-like poker as a battering ram, he banged the wall with the end of it for some moments, without producing any effect, until suddenly a portion of it swung open just like a door, and he paused to wonder how that came about.
All was darkness through the aperture, and yet he saw that it was actually a little square door that he had knocked open; and the idea then recurred to him that he had found how the shelves were supplied with meat, and he had no doubt that there was such a little square door opening at the back of every one of them.
'So,' he said, that mystery is solved; but what part of Mrs Lovett's premises have I got upon now? We shall soon see.'
He went boldly into the large cellar, and procured a light - a flaming torch, made of a piece of dry wood, and returning to the opening he had made in the wall, he thrust his head through it, and projected the torch before him.
With a cry of horror he fell backwards, extinguishing the torch in his fall, and he lay for a full quarter of an hour insensible upon the floor. What dreadful sight had he seen that had so chilled his young blood, and frozen up the springs of life?
When he recovered, he looked around him in the dim, borrowed light that came from the other vault, and he shuddered as he said, Was it a dream?'
Soon, however, as he rose, he gave up the idea of having been the victim of any delusion of the imagination, for there was the broken shelf, and there the little square opening, through which he had looked and seen what had so transfixed him with horror.
Keeping his face in that direction, as if it would be dreadful to turn his back for a moment upon some frightful object, he made his way into the larger cellar where the ovens were, and then he sat down with a deep groan.
'What shall I do? Oh, what shall I do?' he muttered. I am doomed - doomed.'
'Are the pies doing?' said the voice of Mrs Lovett. It's eight o'clock.'
'Eight, is it?'
'Yes, to be sure, and I want to know if you are bent upon your own destruction or not? I don't hear the furnaces going, and I'm quite sure you have not made the pies.'
'Oh, I will keep my word, madam, you may depend. You want two hundred pies at nine o'clock, and you will see that they shall come up quite punctually to the minute.
'Very good. I am glad you are better satisfied than you were.'
'I am quite satisfied now, Mrs Lovett. I am quite in a different mood of mind to what I was before. I can assure you, madam, that I have no complaints to make, and I think the place has done me some good; and if at nine o'clock you let down the platform, you shall have two hundred pies up, as sure as fate, and something else, too,' he added to himself, 'or I shall be of a very different mind to what I now am.'
We have already seen that Mrs Lovett was not deceived by this seeming submission on the part of the cook, for she used that as an argument with Todd, when she was expatiating upon the necessity of getting rid of him that night.
But the cleverest people make mistakes at times, and probably, when the nine o'clock batch of pies makes its appearance, something may occur at the same time which will surprise a great many more persons than Mrs Lovett and the reader.
But we must not anticipate, merely saying with the eastern sage, what will be will be, and what's impossible don't often come to pass; certain it is that the nine o'clock batch of two hundred pies were made and put in the ovens; and equally certain is it that the cook remarked, as he did so,-
'Yes, I'll do it - it may succeed; nay, it must succeed; and if so, woe be to you, Mrs Lovett, and all who are joined with you in this horrible speculation, at which I sicken.'