The String of Pearls/Chapter 22
XXII The Madhouse Cell
When the porter of the madhouse went out to the coach, his first impression was that the boy, who was said to be insane, was dead; for not even the jolting ride to Peckham had been sufficient to arouse him to a consciousness of how he was situated; and there he lay still at the bottom of the coach alike insensible to joy or sorrow.
'Is he dead?' said the man to the coachman.
'How should I know?' was the reply; 'he may be or he may not, but I want to know how long I am to wait here for my fare.'
'There is your money, be off with you. I can see now that the boy is all right, for he breathes, although it's after an odd fashion that he does so. I should rather think he has had a knock on the head, or something of that kind.'
As he spoke, he conveyed Tobias within the building, and the coachman, since he had no further interest in the matter, drove away at once, and paid no more attention to it whatever.
When Sweeney Todd reached the door at the end of the passage, he tapped at it with his knuckles, and a voice cried,-
'Who knocks - who knocks? Curses on you all, who knocks?'
Sweeney Todd did not make any verbal reply to this polite request, but opening the door he walked into the apartment, which is one that really deserves some description.
It was a large room with a vaulted roof, and in the centre was a superior oaken table, at which sat a man considerably advanced in years, as was proclaimed by his grizzled locks that graced the sides of his head, but whose herculean frame and robust constitution had otherwise successfully resisted the assaults of time.
A lamp swung from the ceiling, which had a shade over the top of it, so that it kept a tolerably bright glow upon the table below, which was covered with books and papers, as well as glasses and bottles of different kinds, which showed that the madhouse keeper was, at all events, as far as he himself was concerned, not at all indifferent to personal comfort.
The walls, however, presented the most curious aspect, for they were hung with a variety of tools and implements, which would have puzzled anyone not initiated into the matter even to guess at their nature.
These were, however, in point of fact, specimens of the different kinds of machinery which were used for the purpose of coercing the unhappy persons whose evil destiny made them members of that establishment.
Those were what is called the good old times, when all sorts of abuses flourished in perfection, and when the unhappy insane were actually punished, as if they were guilty of some great offence. Yes, and worse than that were they punished, for a criminal who might have injustice done to him by any who were in authority over him, could complain, and if he got hold of a person of higher power, his complaints might be listened to, but no one heeded what was said by the poor maniac, whose bitterest accusations of his keepers, let their conduct have been to him what it might, was only listened to and set down as a further proof of his mental disorder.
This was indeed a most awful and sad state of things, and, to the disgrace of this country, it was a social evil allowed until very late years to continue in full force.
Mr Fogg, the madhouse keeper, fixed his keen eyes, from beneath his shaggy brows, upon Sweeney Todd, as the latter entered his apartment, and then he said,-
'Mr Todd, I think, unless my memory deceives me.'
'The same,' said the barber, making a hideous face. 'I believe I am not easily forgotten.'
'True,' said Mr Fogg, as he reached for a book, the edges of which were cut into a lot of little slips, on each of which was a capital letter, in the order of the alphabet - 'true, you are not easily forgotten, Mr Todd.'
He then opened the book at the letter T, and read from it:
'Mr Sweeney Todd, Fleet-street, London, paid one year's keep and burial of Thomas Simkins, aged 13, found dead in his bed after a residence in the asylum of 14 months and 4 days. I think, Mr Todd, that was our last little transaction: what can I do now for you, sir?'
'I am rather unfortunate,' said Todd, 'with my boys. I have got another here, who has shown such decided symptoms of insanity, that it has become absolutely necessary to place him under your care.'
'Indeed! does he rave?'
'Why, yes, he does, and it's the most absurd nonsense in the world he raves about; for, to hear him, one would really think that, instead of being one of the most humane of men, I was in point of fact an absolute murderer.'
'A murderer, Mr Todd!'
'Yes, a murderer - a murderer to all intents and purposes; could anything be more absurd than such an accusation? - I, that have the milk of human kindness flowing in every vein, and whose very appearance ought to be sufficient to convince anybody at once of my kindness of disposition.'
Sweeney Todd finished his speech by making such a hideous face, that the madhouse keeper could not for the life of him tell what to say to it; and then there came one of those short, disagreeable laughs which Todd was such an adept in, and which, somehow or another, never appeared exactly to come from his mouth, but always made people look up at the walls and ceiling of the apartment in which they were, in great doubt as to whence the remarkable sound came.
'For how long,' said the madhouse keeper, 'do you think this malady will continue?'
'I will pay,' said Sweeney Todd, as he leaned over the table, and looked into the face of his questioner, 'I will pay for twelve months; but I don't think, between you and I, that the case will last anything like so long - I think he will die suddenly.'
'I shouldn't wonder if he did. Some of our patients do die very suddenly, and somehow or another, we never know exactly how it happens; but it must be some sort of fit, for they are found dead in the morning in their beds, and then we bury them privately and quietly, without troubling anybody about it at all, which is decidedly the best way, because it saves a great annoyance to friends and relations, as well as prevents any extra expenses which otherwise might be foolishly gone to.'
'You are wonderfully correct and considerate,' said Todd, 'and it's no more than what I expected from you, or what anyone might expect from a person of your great experience, knowledge, and acquirements. I must confess I am quite delighted to hear you talk in so elevated a strain.'
'Why,' said Mr Fogg, with a strange leer upon his face, 'we are forced to make ourselves useful, like the rest of the community; and we could not expect people to send their mad friends and relatives here, unless we took good care that their ends and views were answered by so doing. We make no remarks, and we ask no questions. Those are the principles upon which we have conducted business so successfully and so long; those are the principles upon which we shall continue to conduct it, and to merit, we hope, the patronage of the British public.'
'Unquestionably, most unquestionably.'
'You may as well introduce me to your patient at once, Mr Todd, for I suppose, by this time, he has been brought into this house.'
'Certainly, certainly, I shall have great pleasure in showing him to you.'
The madhouse keeper rose, and so did Mr Todd, and the former, pointing to the bottles and glasses on the table, said, 'When this business is settled, we can have a friendly glass together.'
To this proposition Sweeney Todd assented with a nod, and then they both proceeded to what was called a reception-room in the asylum, and where poor Tobias had been conveyed and laid upon a table, when he showed slight symptoms of recovering from the state of insensibility into which he had fallen, and a man was sluicing water on his face by the assistance of a hearth broom, occasionally dipped into a pailful of that fluid.
'Quite young,' said the madhouse keeper, as he looked upon the pale and interesting face of Tobias.
'Yes,' said Sweeney Todd, 'he is young - more's the pity - and, of course, we deeply regret his present situation.'
'Oh, of course, of course; but see, he opens his eyes, and will speak directly.'
'Rave, you mean, rave!' said Todd; 'don't call it speaking, it is not entitled to the name. Hush, listen to him.'
'Where am I?' said Tobias, 'where am I - Todd is a murderer. I denounce him.'
'You hear - you hear,' said Todd.
'Mad indeed,' said the keeper.
'Oh, save me from him, save me from him,' said Tobias, fixing his eyes upon Mr Fogg. 'Save me from him, it is my life he seeks, because I know his secrets - he is a murderer - and many a person comes into his shop who never leaves it again in life, if at all.'
'You hear him,' said Todd, 'was there anybody so mad?'
'Desperately mad,' said the keeper. 'Come, come, young fellow, we shall be under the necessity of putting you in a straight waistcoat, if you go on in that way. We must do it, for there is no help in such cases if we don't.'
Todd slunk back into the darkness of the apartment, so that he was not seen, and Tobias continued, in an imploring tone.
'I do not know who you are, sir, or where I am; but let me beg of you to cause the house of Sweeney Todd, the barber, in Fleet-street, near St Dunstan's church, to be searched, and there you will find that he is a murderer. There are at least a hundred hats, quantities of walking-sticks, umbrellas, watches and rings, all belonging to unfortunate persons who, from time to time, have met with their deaths through him.'
'How uncommonly mad!' said Fogg.
'No, no,' said Tobias, 'I am not mad; why call me mad, when the truth or falsehood of what I say can be ascertained so easily? Search his house, and if those things be not found there, say that I am mad, and have but dreamed of them. I do not know how he kills the people. That is a great mystery to me yet, but that he does kill them I have no doubt - I cannot have a doubt.'
'Watson,' cried the madhouse keeper, 'hilloa! here, Watson.'
'I am here, sir,' said the man, who had been dashing water upon poor Tobias's face.
'You will take this lad, Watson, as he seems extremely feverish and unsettled. You will take him, and shave his head, Watson, and put a straight waistcoat upon him, and let him be put in one of the dark, damp cells. We must be careful of him, and too much light encourages delirium and fever.'
'Oh! no, no!' cried Tobias; 'what have I done that I should be subjected to such cruel treatment? What have I done that I should be placed in a cell? If this be a madhouse, I am not mad. Oh, have mercy upon me, have mercy upon me!'
'You will give him nothing but bread and water, Watson, and the first symptoms of his recovery, which will produce better treatment, will be his exonerating his master from what he has said about him, for he must be mad so long as he continues to accuse such a gentleman as Mr Todd of such things; nobody but a mad man or a mad boy would think of it.'
'Then,' said Tobias, 'I shall continue mad, for if it be madness to know and to aver that Sweeney Todd, the barber, of Fleet-street, is a murderer, mad am I, for I know it, and aver it. It is true, it is true.
'Take him away, Watson, and do as I desired you. I begin to find that the boy is a very dangerous character, and more viciously mad than anybody we have had here for a considerable time.'
The man named Watson seized upon Tobias, who again uttered a shriek something similar to the one which had come from his lips when Sweeney Todd clutched hold of him in his mother's room. But they were used to such things at that madhouse, and cared little for them, so no one heeded the cry in the least, but poor Tobias was carried to the door half maddened in reality by the horrors that surrounded him.
Just as he was being conveyed out, Sweeney Todd stepped up to him, and putting his mouth close to his ear, he whispered, 'Ha! ha! Tobias! how do you feel now? Do you think Sweeney Todd will be hung, or will you die in the cell of a madhouse?'