The String of Pearls/Chapter 28
XXVIII The Madhouse Yard, and Tobias's New Friend
This sudden retreat of the man was unexpected by Tobias, who at least thought it was the practice to feed people, even if they were confined to such a place; but the unceremonious departure of the keeper, without so much as mentioning anything about breakfast, began to make Tobias think that the plan by which he was to be got rid of was starvation; and yet that was impossible, for how easy it was to kill him if they felt so disposed! 'Oh, no, no,' he repeated to himself, 'surely they will not starve me to death.'
As he uttered these words, he heard the plaintive singing commence again; and he could not help thinking that it sounded like some requiem for the dead, and that it was a sort of signal that his hours were numbered.
Despair again began to take possession of him, and despite the savage threats of the keeper, he would again have called loudly for help, had he not become conscious that there were footsteps close at hand.
By dint of listening most intently he heard a number of doors opened and shut, and sometimes when one was opened, there was a shriek, and the lashing of the whips, which very soon succeeded in drowning all other noises. It occurred to Tobias, and correctly too, for such was the fact, that the inmates of that most horrible abode were living like so many wild beasts, in cages fed. Then he thought how strange it was that even for any amount of money human beings could be got to do the work of such an establishment. And by the time Tobias had made this reflection to himself, his own door was once more opened upon its rusty hinges.
There was the flash of a light, and then a man came in with a water-can in his hand, to which there was a long spout, and this he placed to the mouth of Tobias, who fearing that if he did not drink then he might be a long time without, swallowed some not over-savoury ditch-water, as it seemed to him, which was thus brought to him.
A coarse, brown-looking hard loaf was then thrown at his feet, and the party was about to leave his cell, but he could not forbear speaking, and, in a voice of the most supplicating earnestness, he said,-
'Oh, do not keep me here. Let me go, and I will say nothing of Todd. I will go to sea at once if you will let me out of this place, indeed I will, but I shall go really mad here.'
'Good, that, Watson, ain't it?' said Mr Fogg, who was of the party. 'Very good, sir. Lord bless you, the cunning of 'em is beyond anything in the world, sir; you'd be surprised at what they say to me sometimes.'
'But I am not mad, indeed I am not mad,' cried Tobias.
'Oh,' said Fogg, 'it's a bad case, I'm afraid; the strongest proof of insanity, in my opinion, Watson, is the constant reiteration of the statement that he is not mad on the part of a lunatic. Don't you think it is so, Watson?'
'Of course, sir, of course.'
'Ah! I thought you would be of that opinion; but I suppose as this is a mere lad we may do without chaining him up; besides, you know that today is inspection-day, when we get an old fool of a superannuated physician to make us a visit.'
'Yes, sir,' said Watson, with a grin, 'and a report that all is well conducted.'
'Exactly. Who shall we have this time, do you think? I always give a ten-guinea fee.'
'Why, sir, there's old Dr Popplejoy, he's eighty-four years old, they say, and sand-blind; he'll take it as a great compliment, he will, and no doubt we can humbug him easily.'
'I dare say we may! I'll see to it; and we will have him at twelve o'clock, Watson. You will take care to have everything ready, of course, you know; make all the usual preparations.'
Tobias was astonished that before him they chose thus to speak so freely, but despairing as he was, he little knew how completely he was in the power of Mr Fogg, and how utterly he was shut out from all human sympathy.
Tobias said nothing; but he could not help thinking that however old and stupid the physician whom they mentioned might be, surely there was a hope that he would be able to discover Tobias's perfect sanity.
But the wily Mr Fogg knew perfectly well what he was about, and when he retired to his own room, he wrote the following note to Dr Popplejoy, who was a retired physician, who had purchased a country house in the neighbourhood. The note will speak for itself, being as fine a specimen of hypocrisy as we can ever expect to lay before our readers:
The Asylum, Peckham
SIR - Probably you may recognise my name as that of the keeper of a lunatic asylum in this neighbourhood. Consistent with a due regard for the safety of that most unhappy class of the community submitted to my care, I am most anxious, with the blessing of Divine Providence, to ameliorate as far as possible, by kindness, that most shocking of all calamities - insanity. Once a year it is my custom to call in some experienced, able, and enlightened physician to see my patients (I enclose a fee) - a physician who has nothing to do with the establishment, and therefore cannot be biased.
If you, sir, would do me the favour, at about twelve o'clock today, to make a short visit of inspection, I shall esteem it a great honour, as well as a great favour.
Believe me to be, sir, with the most profound respect, your most obedient and humble servant,
To Dr Popplejoy, &c.
This note, as might be expected, brought old, purblind, superannuated Dr Popplejoy to the asylum, and Mr Fogg received him in due form, and with great gravity, saying, almost with tears in his eyes, 'My dear sir, the whole aim of my existence now is to endeavour to soften the rigours of the necessary confinement of the insane, and I wish this inspection of my establishment to be made by you in order that I may thus for a time stand clear with the world -with my own conscience I am of course always clear; and if your report be satisfactory about the treatment of the unhappy persons I have here, not the slightest breath of slander can touch me.'
'Oh, yes, yes,' said the garrulous old physician; 'I - I - very good -oh yes - eugh, eugh - I have a slight cough.'
'A very slight one, sir. Will you, first of all, take a look at one of the sleeping chambers of the insane?'
The doctor agreed, and Mr Fogg led him into a very comfortable sleeping-room, which the old gentleman declared was very satisfactory indeed, and when they returned to the apartment in which they had already been, Mr Fogg said, 'Well, then, sir, all we have to do is bring in the patients, one by one, to you as fast as we can, so as not to occupy more of your valuable time than necessary; and any questions you may ask will, no doubt, be answered and I, being by, can give you the heads of any case that may excite your especial notice.'
The old man was placed in a chair of state, reposing on some very comfortable cushions; and, take him altogether, he was so pleased with the ten guineas and the flattery of Mr Fogg, for nobody had given him a fee for the last fifteen years, that he was quite ready to be the foolish tool of the madhouse keeper in almost any way that he chose to dictate to him.
We need not pursue the examination of the various unfortunates who were brought before old Dr Popplejoy; it will suffice for us if we carry the reader through the examination of Tobias, who is our principal care, without, at the same time, detracting from the genial sympathy we must feel for all who, at that time, were subject to the tender mercies of Mr Fogg.
At about half-past twelve the door of Tobias's cell was opened by Mr Watson, who, walking in, laid hold of the boy by the collar, and said, 'Hark you, my lad! you are going before a physician, and the less you say the better. I speak to you for your own sake; you can do yourself no good, but you can do yourself a great deal of harm. You know we keep a cart-whip here. Come along.'
Tobias said not a word in answer to this piece of gratuitous advice, but he made up his mind that if the physician was not absolutely deaf, he should hear him.
Before, however, the unhappy boy was taken into the room where old Dr Popplejoy was waiting, he was washed and brushed down generally, so that he presented a much more respectable appearance than he would have done had he been ushered in in his soiled state, as he was taken from the dirty madhouse cell.
'Surely, surely,' thought Tobias, 'the extent of cool impudence can go no further than this; but I will speak to the physician, if my life should be sacrificed in so doing. Yes, of that I am determined.'
In another minute he was in the room, face to face with Mr Fogg and Dr Popplejoy.
'What - what? eugh! eugh!' coughed the old doctor; 'a boy, Mr Fogg, a mere boy. Dear me! O - I - eugh! eugh! eugh! My cough is a little troublesome, I think, today - eugh! eugh!'
'Yes, sir,' said Mr Fogg with a deep sigh, and making a pretence to dash a tear from his eye; 'here you have a mere boy. I am always affected when I look upon him, doctor. We were boys ourselves once, you know, and to think that the divine spark of intelligence has gone out in one so young, is enough to make any feeling heart throb with agony. This lad, though, sir, is only a monomaniac. He has a fancy that someone named Sweeney Todd is a murderer, and that he has discovered his bad practices. On all other subjects he is sane enough; but upon that, and upon his presumed freedom from mental derangement, he is furious.'
'It is false, sir, it is false!' said Tobias, stepping up. 'Oh, sir, if you are not one of the creatures of this horrible place, I beg that you will hear me, and let justice be done.'
'Oh, yes - I - I - eugh! Of course - I - eugh!'
'Sir, I am not mad, but I am placed here because I have become dangerous to the safety of criminal persons.'
'Oh, indeed! Ah - oh - yes.'
'I am a poor lad, sir, but I hate wickedness, and because I found out that Sweeney Todd is a murderer, I am placed here.'
'You hear him, sir,' said Fogg; 'just as I said.'
'Oh, yes, yes. Who is Sweeney Todd, Mr Fogg?'
'Oh, sir, there is no such person in the world.'
'Ah, I thought as much - I thought as much - a sad case, a very sad case indeed. Be calm, my little lad, and Mr Fogg will do all that can be done for you, I'm sure.
'Oh, how can you be as foolish, sir,' cried Tobias, 'as to be deceived by that man, who is making a mere instrument of you to cover his own villainy? What I say to you is true, and I am not mad!'
'I think, Dr Popplejoy,' said. Fogg with a smile, 'it would take rather a cleverer fellow than I am to make a fool of you; but you perceive, sir, that in a little while the boy would get quite furious, that he would. Shall I take him away?'
'Yes, yes - poor fellow.'
'Hear me - oh, hear me,' shrieked Tobias. 'Sir, on your deathbed you may repent this day's work - I am not mad - Sweeney Todd is a murderer - he is a barber in Fleet-street - I am not mad!'
'It's melancholy, sir, is it not?' said Fogg, as he again made an effort to wipe away a tear from his eye. 'It's very melancholy.'
'Oh! very, very.'
'Watson, take away poor Tobias Ragg, but take him very gently, and stay with him a little in his nice comfortable room, and try to soothe him; speak to him of his mother, Watson, and get him round if you can. Alas, poor child! my heart quite bleeds to see him. I am not fit exactly for this life, doctor, I ought to be made of sterner stuff, indeed I ought.'
'Well,' said Mr Watson, as he saluted poor Tobias with a furious kick outside the door, 'what a deal of good you have done!'
The boy's patience was exhausted; he had borne all that he could bear, and this last insult maddened him. He turned with the quickness of thought, and sprang at Mr Watson's throat.
So sudden was that attack, and so completely unprepared for it was that gentleman, that down he fell in the passage, with such a blow of his head against the stone floor that he was nearly insensible; and before anybody could get to his assistance, Tobias had pummelled and clawed his face, that there was scarcely a feature discernible, and one of his eyes seemed to be in fearful jeopardy.
The noise of this assault soon brought Mr Fogg to the spot, as well as old Dr Popplejoy, and the former tore Tobias from his victim, whom he seemed intent upon murdering.