" "Ere you go, loves. Two nice 'ot meat pies for the two men in my life."

She beamed at each of them in turn: first at the ragged, underfed boy whose eyes were wide with innocence and adoration, and then at the man, silent and frowning as always, handsome face craggy with exhaustion and regret.

She let her eyes linger for a moment on that loved but unhappy face before sweeping off to see to her other patrons. Business was booming these days and the shop was a seething mass of humanity, noisy and colorful and hungry. Insects, the barber would call them, and Vermin and Filth, and Mrs. Lovett would laugh and say Yes, Mr. Todd. Still, he observed how the lines melted from her face and her eyes grew bright and animated the instant she stepped into the fray. It was easy to see that she loved to be surrounded by people, and beholding her shop so full of them- warm, breathing creatures, who shouted and laughed and told bawdy stories over hot pies and ale- seemed to lend her a certain buoyancy and add a youthful liveliness to her step. Toby noticed it too: the happy pinkness that flushed her cheeks as she served another round of drinks; the graceful way that she danced through the crowd, making each customer feel individually cared for and special. Each caught the other one looking at the same moment and they both quickly turned away, embarrassed.

"I saw you watchin' her." Toby spoke suddenly, accusingly, his childish voice piercing the silence.

The ever-taciturn Mr. Todd stared morosely at his plate without saying a word.

"You haven't any right," Toby continued, "To look a' her that way. Not wiv the way you treat her. I might not be grown yet, but I ain't stupid or blind. I notice things. She tries so hard, an' you pretend like you don't see her. You do realize she's just about the only friend you've got in this sorry city? I can't imagine why anyone would care about a bitter old man wot never smiles nor says nuffin' nice about anybody. But she does. We'd've been lost, you an' me, if it wasn't for her."

Mr. Todd raised his eyes to meet the boy's, and they glittered with such a fearful intensity that Toby trembled a little despite himself. The man seemed to speak with an effort. "Yes. She certainly is an amazing woman." And he bit his lip in so touchingly human a way that Toby nearly fell off his chair in astonishment.

He reoriented himself quickly, however. This was surely just another of the barber's tricks. "You may be able to fool her," the boy declared bravely, "but you can't fool me." He tilted his chin defiantly. "I'm going to protect her from you."

But it seemed the conversation was over, for Mr. Todd was staring once again at his plate in stony contemplation. He muttered something under his breath, so quietly that Toby was sure he must have misheard.

It sounded like, "Thank God for that."