This is my first Sweeney Todd fic, and it's dedicated to the wonderful people at Pieminister, whose delicious cooking I pretty much lived on at Shrewsbury Festival. Those pies were lovely…
It was a typical London day; overcast, boring and indescribable. For John Harding, Esquire, however, this was an extremely important day; the day he intended to propose to Isabel Higley, the jeweller's daughter who had captured his heart.
As he passed from the Strand into Fleet Street, the smell of meat pies wafted into his nose. He realised that he hadn't had any lunch, and the gurgling of his stomach reminded him of his hunger. He stopped in front of a building which claimed to be 'Mrs Lovett's Meat Pie Emporium'. From what he could see through the murky windows it was empty, but his pocket-watch told him it was gone three o'clock – everyone would have gone by now.
Harding pushed open the door and entered the shop. The tables spread round the room indicated that it was mostly a busy place, although right now the only other presence was a woman behind the counter who must be Mrs Lovett. Her curly dark red hair contrasted with her pale skin – made to look even paler by her dark dress – and her deep brown eyes snapped up as he came in.
"Pie? You're a bit late for the lunch, but I got a few left over if you want 'em."
He nodded. "A meat pie, and gin if you have it."
"'Course I got gin," she said scornfully. "But if you jus' want somethin' to wash your food down, ale's cheaper."
"I need gin," he stated. He was jittery at the thought of the upcoming meeting with Isabel and her parents.
Mrs Lovett nodded. "Fine." Her eyes took in his unusually showy appearance. "Goin' somewhere nice?"
"I'm going to ask for someone's hand." He took a swig of gin. Not bad.
"Good luck, then."
He nodded, smiled gratefully. When he took a bite of the pie, his eyes widened in surprise.
"Very good." He took another bite. "What's the secret?"
She looked slightly rattled, biting her dark lip. "All to do with 'erbs, sir."
"Herbs? It's more the meat… it's not like anything I've ever tasted. Not cow… pig… lamb… or any other animal. It's like a different thing altogether."
The pie-maker smiled. "Enjoy, don' spoil your meal with asking where it came from." Was it his imagination, or was there a worried edge to her voice?
"But that's what I want to know. It's definitely meat, but better than anything I've had before." It certainly was unsurpassed; the fat and lean meat was artistically mixed, and he doubted he'd ever again taste a pie so good.
If John Harding had been paying more attention to Mrs Lovett, he would have noticed her unease and become more suspicious of the baker. But he was too engrossed in his pie to notice her frequent glances to the ceiling – or was it upstairs where her tenant had a barber shop?
Her attention focussed back on her customer as he finished his pie. "Goin' to propose to your lady, you said?"
Harding looked up in surprise. "Yes, why?"
"Well, forgive me for bein' so bold, but I couldn' 'elp but notice you got some stubble on your cheek. I'd've thought you wanted to look your best for 'er, right?"
His hand went to his jaw. "Is it noticeable?"
She nodded. "A bit, yeah. But," she carried on brightly, "you're in luck. The man wot lives above me, Sweeney Todd, is a skilled barber an' 'e'll give you a shave before you go. Proper artist with a knife, 'e is. Your girl'll find you irresistible." Mrs Lovett smiled sweetly.
John Harding could see the sense in this. But there was the problem of money – he'd spent it all on the pie and gin. When he told Mrs Lovett, she waved the concern away. Seeing as it was an important occasion for him, she'd make sure he was shaved free of charge.
She took him out of the shop and up the steps leading to the barber's parlour. As she pushed open the door, Harding's immediate impression was of a dim, dingy room. He was pushed in and saw a chair in the middle, worn but still strong. As he took in his surroundings he heard Mrs Lovett say, "No charge for 'im, Mr T. 'E's got no money but 'e needs to look respectable for a very important occasion. A proposal, wasn't it? Make sure you give 'im a good shave, love – the closest 'e'll ever know."
With that, she left and a man stepped out of the shadows. He had a mass of jaw-length black hair with a distinctive white streak at one side, matching his pale, gaunt face. His black eyes seemed to pierce Harding, not only to the proverbial bone but right through it. the silver razor he held flashed as it caught the light. Harding's every instinct screamed at him to run from the shop, but he reminded himself sternly that despite his daunting appearance this man could be invaluable in neatening up his appearance.
"Sit, sir." Todd's voice was soft and quiet, contrasting with Mrs Lovett's sharper, louder one. Harding crossed over to the chair and nervously sat down. The barber spread a sheet over his shoulders and went over to his table to mix up the lather.
"So, getting married, are you?" he asked.
"If she'll have me," Harding replied. He thought longingly of Isabel's glorious auburn hair, bright green eyes and quick, darting movements. She was so beautiful…
"Pretty, is she?"
He gave a start. It was as if the barber could read his mind. "Very," he replied.
"Ah, how we fall prey to pretty women," Sweeney Todd mused as he spread the lather onto his customer's face.
"She's not just pretty," Harding countered defensively. "She's clever and witty, and well-educated. Her father made sure she wasn't lacking in those areas."
The razor swept across his cheek. "She sounds delightful." The razor was wiped on the sheet wrapped round him. "What a pity you won't be seeing her any more."
Almost before he could realize what was happening, John Harding became the latest in the long line of victims of Sweeney Todd, demon barber of Fleet Street.
"It was your idea. Told me to give him the closest shave he'll ever know. Why, anyway? He'll be missed, this one."
"'E was curious about me pies. Much longer and 'e'd've guessed the truth." Mrs Lovett looked sadly down at the latest corpse to arrive in her bakehouse. Beside her, Sweeney Todd was more concerned with wiping the blood off his razor.
She suddenly noticed something glinting on the floor. She bent down and picked up a slim golden ring that must have fallen out of their victim's pocket.
"What's that?" Sweeney asked sharply. She obligingly showed him the ring. "'E was goin' to give 'is lady this, I'm sure."
"Keep it, it might be worth a bit," he said before walking out of the bakehouse.
Left alone, Nellie Lovett spun the ring between her fingers, wondering sadly if she'd ever get to wear one again.
I'm not that pleased with the ending… The edit was just to fix a few errors. People who don't review go the same way as John Harding. People who do review get one of Sweeney's razors!