Part Eight

Mrs. Lovett could only stare down at the full teacup in her hand, in a matter of minutes the small knot in her stomach had become even tighter. When she had arrived at the Lainey's, she had expected to find an addlepated Lucy sitting in their parlour. Instead, she had found am unfamiliar man sitting with a cup of a tea in his hand, his lips firmly pressed together. "I don't understand, you said that you 'ad Lucy 'ere." Mrs. Lainey had led her over to the settee and placed the steaming cup in front of her. Eleanor felt as if she could be sick when the man finally spoke, explaining who he was and where he had come from.

His name was Basil Graves, a surname which Nellie came to find morbidly appropriate, though she kept this thought to herself. He stated that he worked at the Bethlem Royal Hospital, though it had become more infamously known as "Bedlam". His role was to chase down any patient that attempted to make an escape as well as assisting in breaking up any fights that began. Nellie didn't need to hear any of this, she honestly couldn't care less about this man's position, she only wanted to hear about Lucy. When he finally revealed what he knew about Lucy, she was too filled with shock to find the capability to utter a single word.

Mr. Graves had been the one to find Mrs. Barker as she was wandering aimlessly on the street. When he had made an attempt to stop and question who she was, she began to swat at him as if he were attacking her and shout at him groundlessly. It had been a very early hour in the morning, he had just arrived at his home from his shift and was relieved to escape the madness of the mad house. The only people who would be out at this time were drunks, prostitutes, and the most corrupt rubbish of society. He had first mistaken her for a prostitute, but upon closer inspection he assumed that she was nothing more than one of the countless and nameless beggars that roamed the streets.

He sneered and scrunched up his nose at her slovenly appearance. He was about to continue on his way when he overheard her mumbling to herself nonsensically. There was nothing eccentric about thinking aloud to oneself, he himself found it to be a helpful and useful practice. It was when someone went off on numerous tangents and seemed to be speaking to someone that wasn't seen that their mental stability should come into question. Graves had been warm towards her, anyone else would think almost suspiciously so, when he had offered to take her with him so that she could be calmed and comforted. She immediately agreed without any more thought, and he had helped her in after hailing a carriage.

Upon arriving back at the asylum two other men were standing outside of the carriage. One helped her out of the carriage and suddenly there were four strong hands on her, two on each arm. Her eyes widened and she began to thrash about as she looked at the immense and minatory building before her. She had no clue of where she was exactly, but she knew that with the high walls, high gates to keep people locked inside like prisoners and to keep onlookers out, and overall foreboding appearance, this was a place of neither calm nor comfort. One of the large men struck her and threatened that it would only be worse for her if she continued to put up an unavailing fight. She had gone limp, and they continued to drag her to the door and knocked incessantly until a middle-aged man answered the door. The man nodded and stepped to the side, loudly closing the door behind them and making Lucy jump.

There was a large staircase with large closed doors leading to the next floor, large extravagant curtains adorned every window. Lucy's boots clicked against the marble floors as she was led into another room with an enormous and beautiful fireplace. There were others sitting around, some reading, others playing table games such as chess, even a billiards table. Lucy's head began swimming with confusion, how could a place that looked so menacing from the outside be so beautiful within? Once they reached the floor above, however, Lucy came to see her fate.

The tranquility of the floor below was replaced with screams, the shining marble floors were now replaced with frigid, grimy bricks. Even the welcoming warm-toned paneling of the walls below were gone and stained, torn wallpaper surrounded her. Graves watched as she looked at everything with awe, shaking his head slightly when she asked where they were. He had explained that it was a home specifically intended for the destitute and abandoned, those deemed unwanted by or a burden to society outside of these walls, and with nowhere else to go.

Basil Graves continued to recount his introduction with Mrs. Lucy Barker. However, while it was clear that she wasn't of a sound mind, she was rather quick to learn where she truly was. It had begun quietly; she wouldn't say a word but would eat what was offered to her at the designated dining hours. At some point, however, she began to refuse food altogether, claiming that everyone at the asylum was trying to kill her. She would go on rants about a monster who poisoned her and that the doctors were working alongside it, drugging her food to fulfill the monster's desire to kill her. Initially, Nellie assumed that Lucy saw Turpin as the "monster", as his actions had led her to poison herself. Once Graves mentioned that the "monster" was aware of her being in the asylum and wanted her dead, however, Nellie began to question if this was a creation of Lucy's plagued mind. To her knowledge Turpin had no inkling that she was locked away in a mad house, and even had he known, there was no need for him to wish her dead, right? He had destroyed her life in the worst imaginable way, true, but he surely had no reason to fear her ever speaking out against his crimes. Especially now that she was too far gone to likely even recall the event clearly.

Mrs. Lovett stood and, pacing around the room, began to bite on her lower lip. "Mr. Graves, would it be possible for me to see 'er tomorrow? I feel that she'd be better off at 'ome, she 'as a child that needs her mother. Can't I come visit her and see exactly 'ow bad she is? All I did was take Johanna out for a bit 'cause Lucy weren't feelin' all that well. I come back and she's gone, I spent weeks lookin' for the woman and find out that she's been locked up in a bloody mad'ouse!" A feeling of vertigo and nausea suddenly came over her, Mr. Lainey ran to get her water as Mrs. Lainey helped her back onto the settee.

Graves sat next to the baker and held onto her hand tightly until her heavy breathing returned to normal. "I know that this is all a good deal to take in at once. You may visit Mrs. Barker if you'd like to, though I can't say that I agree it would be best for her health. Mrs. Barker does have quite a long way to go, and while seeing a familiar face may be helpful, it may also serve as a serious hinderance to her rehabilitation. You will need to obtain a ticket signed by a governor as well, I'm afraid that free public visitations were put an end to some years ago. In fact, many people used to come around to see the inmates, it could be quite a spectacle. Unfortunately, you cannot bring her home, especially if there is a child involved, it would not be a safe environment for the child in question. She can't be released until she has shown palpable improvement, and in her condition, it will be some time. In fact, we didn't even know what to call her until your neighbour approached me, asking if I knew of her whereabouts and giving me the found woman's appearance. She doesn't seem to be able to recall much of anything. You may visit, but the most that I can do is to keep a close watch over her. Knowing that she has a child, we wouldn't want her to be in a worse position than she is in now." Nellie could only nod in agreement; her mind was whirling with so many nervous thoughts that she was struggling to even pay attention to his words any longer. The Lainey's thanked Graves and watched as he walked away.

Nellie groaned and hid her face in her hands. "I can't believe this. I knew that it was bad, I knew that 'er mind was goin', but for her to actually end up in Bedlam? I promised Ben that I would take care of 'er and Johanna, and Lucy Barker certainly isn't me favourite person in the world, but still…" Mrs. Lainey handed her the water again, mouthing something to her husband that the baker was barely even paying any mind to. Bloody 'ell, I wouldn't even wish that upon 'er." Mrs. Lainey pulled the hysterical baker into her arms until she had quieted, then they all began to think of what to do next.

Some weeks went by with little news from Basil Graves. Nellie had visited Lucy on a couple of occasions, without any success. If anything, it seemed that Lucy's condition had only worsened since she had left on that afternoon, though Nellie couldn't honestly say that she was deeply shocked by this. When Nellie approached Lucy, the woman would immediately move away as if the baker had the plague. During one visit, Lucy didn't even try to hide that she was of the opinion that Nellie was to blame for her situation. Eleanor could still recall every word that she had said. How Lucy's eyes were like saucers as soon as she saw her out of the corner of her eye. She had covered her ears and cowered against a wall, pointing an accusatory finger at Lovett. "You just stay away from me, you witch! This is your fault, you're the reason why I'm here. You poisoned me, you forced me to eat those foul pies of yours, and it nearly killed me!" Lucy continued to rave, inciting a tumult from the rest of the inmates around the hysterical blonde.

Eleanor took gradual steps backwards and turned as a group of men charged in her direction, Basil Graves hidden among the stampede. "What goes on here?" As soon as he saw Mrs. Lovett standing there, her gaze constantly switching between himself and the manic blonde, his brows furrowed. "Mrs. Lovett, I did tell you that you could visit the patient, but didn't I also suggest that you don't as it could negatively affect her behaviour?" Nellie's jaw dropped as she stared at Graves, was he truly blaming her for Lucy's hysterical outburst? "I'm aware that this wasn't your intention, but all of the inmates are very, susceptive. Even the slightest hint of disturbance from one can galvanise the rest, and it takes quite a lot of effort to assuage them all. I apologise, but I do think that it's in the best interest of the patients if you leave. I will be sure to stay in touch concerning Mrs. Barker's progress." Nellie told him that since her incarceration, Lucy's state of mind was only worsening.

He responded by only shaking his head and stating that sometimes, things had to get worse before they could get better. Then he took hold of her arms and guided her away from the shrieking blonde, trying to persuade the baker that he was more knowledgeable on the emotionally and mentally afflicted than she. Nodding to two of the doctors that, once out of Nellie's eyesight, injected Lucy with a syringe and shackled her to the wall. "Oh Mr. Graves, would ya just 'ave some patience and allow me to go back and try to placate 'er? I'm sure that if I brought up 'er 'usband or the little one to 'er, she would be inclined to become more, compliant, in order to return 'ome to them." Graves quickly rejected her suggestion, however, and hastened his pace as he all but tossed her out of the hospital of horrors.

Nellie was frustrated with Basil Graves resistance to her requests to further help in Lucy's treatment. At least he had paid the baker a few visits here and there as he had promised, but they all came with no real news for her. He would tell her of Lucy's radical behavior changes between starving herself and attempting to steal other inmate's food, as well as her either being almost completely stoic or creating anarchy with her hysterics. The baker felt utterly helpless as to what could be done to help her former tenant. She asked if there was anything that Graves could do to help, but he simply told her that the best he could do was comfort her when he had an opportunity to be at least somewhat private with her, and with her was still being unwell and dangerously unpredictable, even her moments of privacy were few and far between. That even if he miraculously managed to sneak her out the door, there were still guards outside of it's crumbling walls, and the two towering gates that engulfed the institution would prove to be even more difficult to climb over.

Mrs. Lovett was tucking Johanna into her bed, having transformed an extra small room that Albert had once used as a sort of office into a cosy room for the little girl. "Auntie Nellie, do you love me?" Eleanor gave a sigh and ran her hand over the top of Johanna's head, telling the child that she was the most precious thing in the world to the baker. "Do mummy and daddy love me?" Three months had passed since she had learned of Lucy's lockdown in the hellish asylum, and nothing seemed to be going anywhere. Lucy was still locked away, and while Nellie wanted to believe Graves' words -or lack thereof-, she couldn't help but feel that Lucy's situation was far more grievous than he made it out to be.

Nellie kissed the girl on her forehead and laid her head against it. "Your mummy and daddy love you very much, little love. Ya remember 'ow I said that daddy was on a very long trip? Well, the silly man found 'imself into a spot of trouble. I'm tryin' all that I can to 'elp out though, by taking care of you, bug. Your mummy worried 'erself sick, but she'll get better, and then she'll come 'ome and will cover you from head to toe in kisses. I'll make sure that she does, 'ow does that sound?" Johanna started to sniffle, but Nellie quickly wiped away the tears that began to streak the girl's face. "Oh, ya sweet thing, I know that it's 'ard but ya gotta be a strong girl for when mummy comes back, right?" Johanna tried to hold back her tears, but after a few shaky breaths, the few lone tears turned into a stream. The baker pulled the tot into her lap and slowly rocked her back and forth. "How would ya like it if I tell ya about mummy and daddy? That way, when they come 'ome, you'll know 'em right away and run up to give 'em both a big hug." Johanna's wails stopped almost instantaneously, and she nodded as she rubbed at her puffy eyes. Nellie began to tell her about Ben and Lucy, whilst wishing in the back of her mind that Lucy would just try to improve and get back for her daughter's sake.

"What d'ya mean I can't see 'er? And don't give me any bad for the nerves rubbish!" Basil Graves grabbed onto Mrs. Lovett's shoulders and pushed her back down into the booth she had just jumped off from. He apologised, telling her that if he broke the rules of the asylum and gave her any unallowed entrance, his career would be in great jeopardy. After Lucy had influenced the inmates to riot during Nellie's last visit, the director had suggested to Graves that the baker no longer visit the asylum. He had believed it to be the best decision for not only Lucy's safety, but Lovett's as well. "Mr. Graves, I don't see why it should matter now if I see 'er or not? It ain't as if it's gonna change anythin'!" He rubbed the back of his neck and told her that it was pointless to see her now, that it was too late and the pit had already been emptied. Nellie rose a brow, "Pit, what pit are ya talkin' 'bout?" Graves explained that any patients that died in the hospital and were unclaimed after a certain time were buried in something of a body pit. Early every morning, the carts drove by to pick up new victims of disease and fatal madness. It seemed that Lucy had been among the bodies, though he couldn't say precisely when she had been taken away.

He had no say in how the hospital was run, his role as a chaser was a rather lesser one, he couldn't even say with certainty where all of the bodies were taken. She could only stare at him in utter silence before giving him a derisive scoff, "Why couldn't ya tell me any of this before? I've not 'eard anything of Lucy for weeks and now ya arrive to tell me this?" She turned on her heels and left him alone to grab Johanna and one of her toys, telling her to play quietly while the adults spoke. She approached Graves and pointed at Johanna, whispering harshly under her breath, "That sweet little girl 'as lost her father, now her mother. I absolutely refuse to send her off to some orphanage or work'ouse! Believe me Graves, I know precisely 'ow painful and frightenin' it feels to lose your family and 'ave nowhere to go!"

Basil Graves smiled at the baker and grasped her hands, looking deeply into the baker's flaming stare, frowning deeply when she yanked them away. She crossed her arms and looked down at the floor, biting on her lip. "I would never ask you to give up a child that you clearly care so deeply for to an orphanage." Mrs. Lovett asked how it could be possible when her lack of any relation would lead to the girl being taken away. To her knowledge, there was no one that Johanna could go to. Neither Ben nor Lucy had siblings, at least to her knowledge, and while she knew absolutely nothing of Lucy's family, both of Ben's parents were gone. Graves cleared his throat and gave her a sideways glance, "I don't have the jurisdiction to make the decision but let's just say that, from my visits here, I've noticed that the girl seems perfectly happy and healthy in your care."

Nellie crossed her arms, "Well, thank ya very much, but 'ow does that 'elp? I'm not a blood relative. I'm just… I was, just 'er parent's landlady. There's nothin' that I can d-".

Graves cleared his throat and looked deeply into her eyes. "What I'm saying is that I'm willing to keep quiet, if you are. As long as you can feed, clothe, house, care for the child, she is where she should be. Believe me Mrs. Lovett, I've seen some of the children in orphanages. I pray for the little ones that I remember from some orphanage that end up in Bethlem." He turned his head towards Johanna, who had climbed onto a chair and had plucked a couple of flowers from a vase that Mrs. Lovett had on the table, giggling and rubbing the sweet-smelling petals all over her face. Nellie smiled and moved to pick up the child. "She's far better off with someone that can care for and love her, blood relation or no." Nellie looked at him with slanted eyes, asking why he was being so kind towards her. "I told you that I was going to look out for your friend, and I didn't commit to my promise."

Nellie nodded and focused her attention back on Johanna. "I still don't understand all of this. You would tell me when Lucy refused to eat or had her attacks, but when exactly did she begin to take such a turn for the worst that she was close to death? I went weeks waiting for news on 'ow she was comin' along with nothin'. Lucy Barker certainly wasn't me favourite person in the world, but I asked what I could do to 'elp 'er, and ya never said a bloody word! I knew that somethin' sounded off whenever ya told me that you was doin' everything possible and nothin' was gettin' any better! Now, finally some news, and it's that's she's died and wound up in some unmarked body pit?" Graves was somewhat flabbergasted by the fact that a large man such as himself was being so easily chastised by a woman so small.

Nellie took notice of this however and sighed, placing Johanna back on the floor before falling into a chair, her forehead resting on her hand. "M'sorry about that Mr. Graves, I ain't usually one to raise me voice. I'm afraid there's jus' been far too much 'appening around 'ere lately for me to handle, at least emotionally. First a father, now 'er mother, and now me raisin' a child while copin' with keepin' a business afloat that doesn't seem to be fillin' up as easily as it used to. I barely sees customers come through anymore, and the ones that still do 'ave started complaining about 'ow poor the quality of meat 'as become since me Albert died. I don't care what I've gotta do, though, this child 'as lost everyone else in 'er life, but I refuse to allow this child to think that 'er Auntie Nellie's given up on 'er!" She pushed herself up and, scooping Johanna back up into her arms, held the girl close to her chest.

Johanna looked between the two adults and placed her small hands on Nellie's cheeks, "Why do ya look so sad, Auntie, is the man gonna take me away 'cause daddy and mummy are gone?" Basil Graves pressed his lips together tightly and shaking his head slowly, asked if she loved her Aunt Nellie. Johanna didn't speak out of shyness but gave the baker an expressive kiss on her cheek. He then asked if Nellie took proper care of her. Johanna frowned deeply as if the very question insulted her and gave her head a sharp nod. "My Auntie Nellie loves me very much. When Mummy started gettin' sick, Auntie Nellie played with me and took care of me all the time. She told me that I'm the most precious thing in the world to her last night, and she was telling me stories about my mummy and daddy." Graves smiled at the girl and gave Nellie a slow nod, repeating his consoling words that as long as she could care for the girl, he would have nothing to say against her.

Nellie could only grin as she thanked him, her and Johanna standing at the doorway as they waved him farewell. Nellie chuckled when Johanna wrapped her arms tightly around the baker's neck, allowing a few happy tears to escape when Johanna mentioned that, "Maybe while mummy's gone, you can be my mummy too, Auntie." Nellie had always had an incredibly soft spot in her heart for children, and there had been a time where she had dreamt of becoming a mother. She had felt a sense of mourning after her attempts with Albert had been fruitless, but if Johanna could be happy to see her as a mother figure, she would be more than happy to fill that role for her.

A few years had passed since the news of Lucy's death. Nellie was hard at work to make life as easy as she could for little Johanna, but things certainly had become more difficult over this time. For some time after hearing of Lucy's initial disappearance, the pie shop seemed to inconsistently careen between humble success and protracted collapse. Since hearing of Lucy's fate, however, it slowly began to only tip in an ever downward direction. No matter how the baker tried or what gimmicks she offered, business still fell steadily. In spite of this stress, she wasn't about to give up. She had promised herself that she would do whatever she could, whatever it took, in order to keep Johanna safe and happy.

Then one day, if only to add fuel to the fire, Nellie had begun to catch sight of the 'respectable' Judge Turpin skulking around her shop, just as he had with Lucy after Benjamin had been sent away. She would see him and the beadle, Simon Bamford, speaking surreptitiously outside of her shop, whilst occasionally taking a peek in its direction. While she couldn't be absolutely positive of what his exact intentions were, she knew that both she and Johanna were at risk, and began to act more wary than ever before in response. She wouldn't allow Johanna to leave the flat, always keeping the young girl downstairs with her. If Johanna wanted to go for a walk or for a small treat at the market, Nellie would be by her side the entire time, never taking her eyes off of the girl. It had gotten to a point where whenever Nellie caught sight of the debaucher and his sycophant outside of the shop, she would immediately tell Johanna to go into the bakehouse. "Darling, we're gonna play hide and seek for a bit, all right? I'll give you our special word when I find ya."

Nellie led Joanna over to the stairs to the bakehouse. She had taught Johanna to hide in one of the corners, a cramped space under the staircase with absolutely no light touching it. "Am I hiding from the scary men again, Auntie Nellie?" Mrs. Lovett nodded, and Johanna grasped tightly onto Nellie's skirts as if her little life depended on it. "Why do I always have to go down there? It's so dark and scary! Why do you never hide from the monsters with me, don't they scare you?" Nellie got down on her knees and wrapped her arms around the girl, Johanna nuzzling against Nellie's neck. She explained that she was indeed afraid of the scary men, but they were afraid of her as well. They weren't afraid of children because they were so innocent and little, but they were terrified of adults, and these two scary men were especially afraid of Auntie Nellie.

Johanna cocked her head and furrowed her brows, asking what could possibly make the scary men afraid of her. "I'm goin' to tell ya bug, the scary men want to take ya away from me, but your Auntie Nellie will never allow it to 'appen! I'll fight 'em 'fore they could touch a 'air on your angelic lil' head." Johanna still couldn't say that she was completely convinced by Nellie's words but also knew that her Auntie was protecting her the best way that she knew how. Plus, she always had her Little Johanna that she'd had since she was just a baby. Cuddling the doll would keep her calm and quiet until Nellie would tell her that it was safe to come out.

This worked for some time, until Johanna's sixth birthday was quickly approaching. Nellie had gone out to buy a nice gift for the child. Nellie had caught her admiring a small stuffed dog one day. It was a bit out of the way to High Holborn, but the small store that Johanna had admired it in had sold out, and this toy shop was the larger supplier of the toy. She'd had to save up quite a bit, the toys in this shop could get frightfully expensive, but after holding the "Woofy", as Johanna had already affectionately named it, she knew it would be worth it to see the little girl's eyes gleam when she ripped it open. After hiding the dog away and buying an inexpensive cup and ball game, Nellie made her way to the Lainey's, with whom she had left Johanna. Upon entering the house, however, Nellie felt an immediate unease wash over her. She couldn't hear the sounds of the couple talking, nor did she hear any talking from Johanna, the child having had acquired quite a flowing vocabulary from spending time with the church bell baker. Her first thought was that they had all fallen asleep after Johanna's seemingly inexhaustible energy had left them all fatigued. Upon examining every room in the house and finding it completely empty, however, she quickly found her heart racing. She ran out the door and threw open the pie shop door but found no one there either.

Suddenly, Mrs. Lainey came rushing through the still open door, almost knocking the baker off her feet as she grabbed onto her shoulders. "It's Judge Turpin, Mrs. Lovett, we was watchin' Johanna and 'e bursts in wiv' all of these peelers. Says that he knows you've been caring for 'er since Lucy was locked up, we knew well 'nough not to tell him about Lucy's true fate. Says that ya got no right to 'er. That you ain't 'er mother and that you're not in a place to care for her properly. Your shop's been steadily failing and you doesn't 'ave the proper finances or practical sense to care for a child on your own, 'is own words o' course. Clayborne and I knows how much ya care for that sweet thing and 'ow hard ya work to take care of her. Clayborne's gone after Turpin to attempt to reason with the ma-."

Nellie's hands balled into fists as her lips formed a thin line. "There is no reasoning with that bastard! He sent Benjamin away for an utterly ridiculous reason, 'e took advantage of Lucy and killed 'er, don't matter if it weren't done by his own 'and. He and that bloody beadle is the reason for everythin' bad and I really 'ate to say it, but I absolutely doubt that Clayborne or anyone else could reason with monsters like them two!" Mere minutes passed before Mr. Lainey returned with neither news nor success. He had gone to Turpin's manor, but immediately upon mentioning Johanna's name, Turpin had sent his doorman to shoo him away. He had even had the audacity to threaten that he would only make things worse for Mr. Lainey if he ever again attempted to "break into" Turpin's manor without a proper invitation. Mr. Lainey rubbed his face, the judge seemed to have every intention to keep Johanna as his own. Following Clayborne Lainey's failure, however, Nellie rose to her feet and stormed from the house. She refused to let the son of a bitch win and to take away the girl that she'd practically raised and become a mother to since her father's absence. She entered the pie shop and, picking up the stuffed toy that she had just purchased and stroking it's rough "fur", she stared out the window. There needed to be something, some way, but how?

Thank you for remaining loyal to my story, I truly appreciate every kind word from you. I hope that you enjoyed this update. And now a huge thank you to Laird Mackinstosh, the whole cast, crew, orchestra, Hal Prince and Sir ALW, everyone, for allowing me to go "Down Once More" for a final time. If I could tell my 6yo self (the first time that I ever saw PotO) that I would be hysterically crying over a stage light fixture one day, I would've called myself mad, but that's precisely what I did after the final chandelier/Ruthie II drop and raising last Sunday night. I may not have been alive for most of it, but thanks so much for a "Phan"tastic 35 years to our favorite ghostly angel, his protégé, and the famous love triangle. So bittersweet to know it's official that "It's over now, the music of the night." The Majestic theatre and Broadway will never feel the same without you all.