Author's Note: Okay, sorry about the wait... I was a little hesitant uploading this one because of the reaction from the last! Parts of this may seem a little odd... I'm trying hard not to be clichè... so there.
Chapter Nine: Charity Towards the World
The Convent of Mercy in Bermondsey had never been fuller. It seemed that, recently, more and more poor widows wandered the streets of London, only to find their ways to the Convent and sanctuary with the Mother Superior, Sister Mary Michael Buxton. Fortunately for the women housed in the convent, Sister Mary Michael was a dedicated woman, as devoted to good works as Mother Catherine McAuley herself.
She and other sisters under her jurisdiction had founded the convent several years back, to follow the "call to charity and works of Mercy" started in Dublin. Thus far, the convent proved to be a successful venture, and would later (unbeknownst to Sister Mary Michael) encourage spread to all of England, Australia, and even America—long after Catherine McAuley's death. But, of course, one could expect as much.
Naturally, the Mother Superior of Bermondsey was pleased with herself. After all, how could one not be? It was her duty, however, to offer every woman in need a "comfortable cup of tea." This would not have been such a problem if things were not a little out of hand.
Perhaps, Sister Mary Michael reasoned, this was a step in the right direction. Certainly, all the destitute widows coming to the convent now felt favorably towards Catholics. Some had even converted to the faith and taken vows. No number of new recruits, however, could stop the endless flow of people, in and out. Furthermore, food, clothes, and blankets had all gone up in cost.
So, when Sister Mary Michael opened the front door at sunrise that one morning to find a tousled-looking woman and her scrawny son, she had half a mind to shut the door in their faces.
Fortunately, for the woman and her boy, the more charitable side of the sister won over.
"Oh, my dears," she said, surprised from their appearance. "You must both be so cold! Please, come in and have a cup of tea."
The woman put her arm around the boy's shoulders. "Thank ye, sister. We'd been wanderin' all nigh,'" she said. Sister Mary Michael nodded, having heard very much the same story thousands of times before now.
"How far did you walk? You look as if you have been on the street for miles."
The woman nodded, and gingerly sat down on an upholstered chair in the parlor. The boy sat beside her on the floor, and rested his head on her knee. Somewhere, a woman cried out in sleep, and another coughed. As the woman looked around, she saw that sleeping people were tucked everywhere—on the sofa, by the fireplace, even under the chairs. They all had identical knit blankets wrapped around their shoulders.
"Seems ye got a full 'ouse, sister," the woman observed. The Mother Superior nodded, and waved to a novice to bring a tea tray.
"We've come all the way from Fleet Street," the woman continued, rumpling the boy's hair.
"Fleet Street?" exclaimed the Mother Superior. Her guest was obviously hardier than she looked.
"Tha's righ'," she said. The tea came, and the woman sniffed it before gingerly taking a sip. "Me boy Toby an' I walked the whole nigh,'" she said again, as if shocked by the fact.
"Well, we'll set you up," said Sister Mary Michael. "You must be very tired."
The woman nodded again, and returned to sipping her tea.
The novice returned, with a pen and a sheet of paper. The paper had hundreds of names on it, some scribbled and scratched out, others with check marks beside them.
"I need to know your name, ma'am," the Mother Superior said, pen in hand.
"Nellie Lovett, sister," she murmured. "An' this is Toby."
The sister carefully wrote down the names, and put little check marks beside them. "Well, Mrs. Lovett, you may stay for as long as you need. However, if you have any money, you may be more comfortable if we help you find a home."
Mrs. Lovett nodded. The Mother Superior thought she must not be a woman of many words.
Finally, the sister left. As a novice handed both Toby and Mrs. Lovett blankets, the Mother Superior turned around and said, "Oh, yes, if you have any relatives or friends whom you think might help, please do not hesitate to name them."
Mrs. Lovett thought for a moment, and shook her head. However, as the Mother Superior climbed the staircase, she heard a voice say faintly, "Oh, Mr. Todd, if ye only knew…"
Three times, he thought. Three times I have lost her.
Lucy was dead by now. Mr. Todd knew he had lost her for the last time. Strangely enough, he had shed all his tears. The grief that weighed so heavily for the last year seemed to have intensified, then disappeared. After all, he had only found his wife was alive two days ago.
The dark night gradually lightened as Mr. Todd cleaned the last blankets and wrapped Lucy from head to toe in a white sheet. Wishing to leave the barbershop, he hurried to Mrs. Lovett's apartments, to clean himself and his clothes.
Perhaps he could not have saved her anyway. As Mr. Todd thought about it, he knew he would never have what he had had. Johanna was married, and Lucy was mad. Her death did not change his state of life, other than giving him more spare time. But I have had my fill of spare time in prison, he thought bitterly.
The taste of failure did not fade quickly, however. As Mr. Todd washed his hair and changed into fresh clothes, he still did not feel completely cleansed. He had, in effect, killed his wife again. At least, it felt like he had.
Perhaps she would have died anyway, he thought as he pulled on his boots. The water at the pump may have been polluted for Lord-knows-how-long. Besides, her cholera had started so suddenly—she must have been infected before he found her.
But no number of slit throats, no cups of water, no clean towels could bring her back now.
Mr. Todd rose, fully dressed. He had to give Lucy a proper burial. The church down the street had a graveyard. With his savings, he could probably afford a plot. But one sight, a glow from the parlor he had barely noticed before, distracted him momentarily.
He walked towards the fireplace and warmed his hands by the fire. The apartments could have burned down, but here was a well-groomed fire…just to keep him warm. Briefly, Mr. Todd wondered what would have happened if the building had burnt down. Such a risk…a risk only Mrs. Lovett would take. Silly, practical woman.
He pulled on his coat and stepped outside into the cold morning.
They had hardly been at the Sisters of Mercy shelter a day, and Mrs. Lovett was already sick of it.
All these old nuns had begun to get on her nerves. Mrs. Lovett was hardly a Catholic (hardly an anything, for that matter, and only a member of the Anglican Church for statistical reasons) and had never cared much for female companionship. This may have had something to do with Lucy's constant presence in her life.
As it was, Mrs. Lovett found herself, once again, in the company of women. She did not mind so much those in her position, and she even felt her spirits rise a bit when hearing some of their tragic tales.
"When Raol died," one gray-haired woman, a Mrs. Thomson, said, "I took to the streets. Nearly fell in with a group of fallen women." The other ladies in the room nodded and caught their breaths. "But, needless to say, I found shelter here. Never thought I'd end up with the Catholics." She gave an ironic smile.
A very young woman, so frail that Mrs. Lovett thought she might melt away, piped up. "Me Carl used t'beat me," she said. "I could ne'er get away, 'cause 'e'd always find me. Once, 'e went for an 'aircut, or summit, and I ran off. Ain't 'eard from 'im since." She gave a triumphant grin, and Mrs. Lovett felt her stomach drop.
"What's your story, Nell?" asked one woman. Mrs. Lovett's eyes widened, and she shook her head. "Oh, y'know, more of the same. Beatings and such."
Of course, that wouldn't do, so she decided to extrapolate a bit. "Ol' Albert—'e was good t'me, but 'e died. It's tough for a woman alone." Her audience nodded encouragingly, and she continued. "Then—well, I fell in wi' someone else."
"Did 'e 'urt ye?" the former-Mrs. Carl Something-or-other asked.
"Eh? Oh, 'e ne'er meant any harm." At this point, Toby looked up. He had been reading a paper on one of the parlor chairs, and only began paying attention when Mrs. Lovett began speaking of Mr. Todd.
"Tha's not true, ma'am," he said. She turned to him, her eyes narrowed. But Toby pressed on. "'E used to take tha' razor, an' press it to yer—"
"Enough, Toby," she snapped. The other women stared at a seemingly hostile mother-son encounter, and Mrs. Lovett immediately felt the old guilt illness. She rose, and swept to Toby.
"Love, Mr. T was th' best thing tha' e'er 'appened t' me," she murmured, kneeling beside the boy.
"But 'e hurt you," he whispered, putting careful emphasis.
Sadly, the baker nodded. "Now, wha' 'ave ye found in there?" she asked.
Toby grinned, and held up the paper. "I think I found just the thing," he said.
"You want a burial plot, you say?" The elderly parishioner peered over his half-moon spectacles. The man in his office today seemed the epitome of mourning—from his sallow, gaunt face to his white-streaked hair. Just another day at work, thought the parishioner.
"For my wife," the man said. "I have the money for a marker, too."
"Very well, then," the parishioner said, devoid of any compassion. Ironic, since one would think a church to be full of sympathy to the mourning. Very few practiced what they preached.
"I want the stone to read this," the man said. He reached towards the paper and ink pen on the parishioner's desk and scrawled out a name, a couple dates, and a cause of death. After placing the pen down, he pulled out several pound-pieces and placed them on the paper.
As the man turned to the door, the parishioner squinted at the paper. "We shall commission this immediately. My sympathy to you and your children, Mr. Barker."
Mr. Todd (for it was he, and simply calling him "the man" for much longer would become puzzling) froze in the door way. "Thanks," he said gruffly, and stormed out.
As Mr. Todd strode back to Fleet Street and his wife's body, he thought back. Not Barker. Never again Barker. He shook his head.
Perhaps it was time he gave Sweeney Todd the life he needed. But if Benjamin Barker kept resurfacing, the transformation would become problematic.
Benjamin Barker buried his Lucy that day. With her, he buried himself. The last shovelful of dirt meant the last moment of the life he led before.
It's Todd now. Sweeney Todd.