THE STRING OF PEARLS by James Malcolm Rymer and Thomas Peckett Prest
XXXIX. The Conclusion
It wants five minutes to nine, and Mrs Lovett’s shop is filling with persons anxious to devour or to carry away one or more of the nine o’clock batch of savoury, delightful, gushing gravy pies.
Many of Mrs Lovett’s customers paid her in advance for the pies, in order that they might be quite sure of getting their orders fulfilled when the first batch should make its gracious appearance from the depths below.
‘Well, Jiggs,’ said one of the legal fraternity to another. ‘How are you today, old fellow? What do you bring it in?’
‘Oh! I ain’t very blooming. The fact is the count and I, and a few others, made a night of it last evening, and, somehow or another, I don’t think whiskey and water, half-and-half, and tripe go together.’
‘I should wonder if they did.’
‘And so I’ve come for a pie just to settle my stomach; you see, I’m rather delicate.’
‘Ah! you are just like me, young man, there,’ said an elderly personage; I have a delicate stomach, and the slightest thing disagrees with me. A mere idea will make me quite ill.’
‘Will it, really?’
‘Yes; and my wife, she—’
‘Oh! bother your wife. It’s only five minutes to nine, don’t you see? What a crowd there is, to be sure. Mrs Lovett, you charmer, I hope you have ordered enough pies to be made tonight. You see what a lot of customers you have.’
‘Oh! there will be plenty.
‘That’s right. I say, don’t push so; you’ll be in time, I tell you; don’t be pushing and shoving in that sort of way—I’ve got ribs.’
‘And so have I. Last night, I didn’t get to bed at all, and my old woman is in a certain condition, you see, gentlemen, and won’t fancy anything but one of Lovett’s veal pies, so I’ve come all the way from Newington to get one for—’
‘Hold your row, will you? and don’t push.’
‘For to have the child marked as a pie as its—’
‘Behind there, I say; don’t be pushing a fellow as if it was half-price at a theatre.’
Each moment added some new comers to the throng, and at last any strangers who had known nothing of the attractions of Mrs Lovett’s pie-shop, and had walked down Bell Yard, would have been astonished at the throng of persons there assembled—a throng, that was each moment increasing in density, and becoming more and more urgent and clamorous.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine! Yes, it is nine at last. It strikes by old St Dunstan’s church clock, and in weaker strains the chronometrical machine at the pie-shop echoes the sound. What excitement there is now to get at the pies when they shall come! Mrs Lovett lets down the square, moveable platform that goes upon pulleys into the cellar; some machinery, which only requires a handle to be turned, brings up a hundred pies in a tray. These are eagerly seized by parties who have previously paid, and such a smacking of lips ensues as never was known.
Down goes the platform for the next hundred, and a gentlemanly man says,
‘Let me work the handle, Mrs Lovett, if you please; it’s too much for you, I’m sure.’
‘Sir, you are very kind, but I never allow anybody on this side of the counter but my own people, sir; I can turn the handle myself, sir, if you please, with the assistance of this girl. Keep your distance, sir: nobody wants your help.’
How the waggish young lawyers’ clerks laughed as they smacked their lips, and sucked in the golopshious gravy of the pies, which, by the by, appeared to be all delicious veal this time, and Mrs Lovett worked the handle of the machine all the more vigorously, that she was a little angry with the officious stranger. What an unusual trouble it seemed to be to wind up those forthcoming hundred pies! How she toiled, and how the people waited; but at length there came up the savoury steam, and then the tops of the pies were visible.
They came up upon a large tray, about six feet square, and the moment Mrs Lovett ceased turning the handle, and let a catch fall that prevented the platform receding again, to the astonishment and terror of everyone, away flew all the pies, tray and all, across the counter, and a man, who was lying crouched down in an exceedingly flat state under the tray, sprang to his feet.
Mrs Lovett shrieked, as well she might, and then she stood trembling, and looking as pale as death itself. It was the doomed cook from the cellars, who had adopted this mode of escape.
The throngs of persons in the shop looked petrified, and after Mrs Lovett’s shriek, there was an awful stillness for about a minute, and then the young man who officiated as cook spoke.
‘Ladies and Gentlemen—I fear that what I am going to say will spoil your appetites; but the truth is beautiful at all times, and I have to state that Mrs Lovett’s pies are made of human flesh!’
How the throng of persons recoiled—what a roar of agony and dismay there was! How frightfully sick about forty lawyers’ clerks became all at once, and how they spat out the gelatinous clinging portions of the rich pies they had been devouring. ‘Good gracious! —oh, the pies! —confound it!’
‘‘Tis false!’ screamed Mrs Lovett.
‘You are my prisoner, madam,’ said the man who had obligingly offered to turn the handle of the machine that wound up the pies, at the same time producing a constable’s staff.
‘Yes, on a charge of aiding and abetting Sweeney Todd, now in custody, in the commission of many murders.’
Mrs Lovett staggered back, and her complexion turned a livid colour.
‘I am poisoned,’ she said. Good God! I am poisoned,’ and she sank insensible to the floor.
There was now some confusion at the door of the shop, for several people were effecting an entrance. These consisted of Sir Richard Blunt, Colonel Jeffery, Johanna Oakley and Tobias Ragg, who, when he escaped from the madhouse at Peckham Rye, went direct to a gentleman in the Temple, who took him to the magistrate.
‘Miss Oakley,’ said Sir Richard, ‘you objected to coming here, but I told you I had a particular reason for bringing you. This night, about half an hour since, I made an acquaintance I want to introduce you to.’
‘There’s an underground communication all the way from Sweeney Todd’s cellar to the ovens of this pie-shop; and I found there Mrs Lovett’s cook, with whom I arranged this little surprise for his mistress. Look at him, Miss Oakley, do you know him? Look up, Master Cook.’
‘Mark—Mark Ingestrie!’ shrieked Johanna, the moment she glanced at the person alluded to.
In another moment she was in his arms, and clasped to his heart.
‘Oh, Mark, Mark—you are not dead.’
‘No, no—I never was. And you, Johanna, are not in love with a fellow, in military undress, you met in the Temple.’
‘No, no, I never was.’
When Mrs Lovett was picked up by the officers, she was found to be dead. The poison which Sweeney Todd had put into the brandy she was accustomed to solace herself with, when the pangs of conscience troubled her, and of which she always took some before the evening batch of pies came up, had done its work.
That night Todd passed in Newgate, and in due time a swinging corpse was all that remained of the barber of Fleet Street. Mr Fogg’s establishment, at Peckham Rye, was broken up, and that gentleman persuaded to emigrate, for which the government kindly paid all expenses. Tobias went into the service of Mark Ingestrie, and, at the marriage of Mark with his beautiful bride, big Ben, the beefeater, did some extraordinary things, which space and opportunity will not permit us to chronicle in these pages.
The youths who visited Lovett’s pie-shop, and there luxuriated upon those delicacies, are youths no longer. Indeed, the grave has closed over all but one, and he is very, very old, but even now, as he thinks of how he enjoyed the flavour of the ‘veal,’ he shudders, and has to take a drop of brandy.
Beneath the old church of St Dunstan were found the heads and bones of Todd’s victims. As little as possible was said by the authorities about it; but it was supposed that some hundreds of persons must have perished in the frightful manner we have detailed.
Our tale is over, and the only seeming mystery that has to be explained consists in settling the point with regard to who Thornhill was, and what became of him.
He was just what he represented himself to be, the friend of Mark Ingestrie, to whom had been, by Mark, entrusted the care of the string of pearls; but he fell a victim to the awful criminality of Sweeney Todd, who was in league with Mrs Lovett, and who robbed his murdered customers, while she sold them for pies.
Mark Ingestrie, after many dangers and hardships, had reached London; but he did so, unfortunately, only just in time to follow Johanna to the Temple Gardens, in one of her innocent ramblings with Colonel Jeffery, but believing from that circumstance that she was false to him, and hearing nothing of his friend Thornhill, he, in a moment of despair, took the desperate situation of cook at Mrs Lovett’s far-famed pie-shop, from where he so narrowly escaped with his life.
Johanna and Mark lived long and happily together, enjoying all the comforts of an independent existence; but they never forgot the strange and eventful circumstances connected with the string of pearls.
NEXT WEEK: THE WANDERER’S NECKLACE by H RIDER HAGGARD