A/N: What's this? An update? So soon? I know I'm just as surprised as you haha - she's on a roll this month. Also thought it would be appropriate to add a slight trigger warning in this chapter for child abuse, nothing too graphic but a trigger warning all the same.
When Nellie had started her morning rush, she had woken after a long night's sleep and felt refreshed when she stepped out into the frosty morning air to begin opening up. Most of her customers were small and they wished to be seated inside now that winter was fast approaching and the snow was on its way. Things were not perfect, by any means but she was doing her best to make up for it by getting a good night's sleep and distracting herself by knitting for the baby and chatting with Toby who was being a darling helper now that her belly was starting to swell.
Just after nine o'clock, the baker was surprised as she turned and spotted a familiar small figure in one of her booths. She hadn't even seen the little blighter enter. Chuckling to herself she began to make her way over.
Beth had practically scurried from school before the teachers could call the students inside, there were so many of them they were unlikely to keep track and Beth knew no one would miss her anyway. So she had made her way straight to Mrs Lovett's Pie shop but had been disappointed to find that only Mrs Lovett was there, serving a small number of customers. She wanted nothing more than to curl up in Tobys arms, he understood, he'd also been bullied growing up in the workhouse - only he seemed to have it far worse than she had, but he didn't like talking about it. One day she hoped he would open up to her about it, but for now it was a tender subject that had brought them even closer. Sighing, she placed herself down in one of the booths and sat in discontent until the baker came over to her still holding her jug of ale.
"Oh 'ello lovely, I didn't expect ya to be here so early. Aren ya meant to be in school?" Beth did not answer and suspiciously kept her gaze down. Nellie frowned but smiled as she approached "You wantin' some o me nice carrot cake this mornin'?"
"No thank you." Beth sniffed and wiped her face with her sleeve. "Where's Toby?"
"He's out runnin' some errands for me at the market - he'll be back later, love." She internally smiled at the notion Beth was only here to see Toby - if she didn't know any better the two were completely smitten with each other.
Beth nodded and kept her head down as the baker stood over her. Nellie inclined her head "You bin cryin'?"
"No." She said quickly.
Nellie stared at her and the little girl virtually melted under her gaze. Placing down the jug on the table Nellie joined her in the booth, sitting opposite her. "Them girls that were meant ta be comin' to ye birthday party givin' you trouble again?"
Beth looked at her sheepishly "They've been giving me trouble for weeks now. I think they'd rather I was dead."
Nellies eyes widened and she bent forward over the table "Beth ya can't say such things, no one would ever want that."
"Then why do they do these things?" Her lip began to tremble with barely suppressed tears. Only moments ago, she had braved the playground at school for the morning roll call, she often liked to be dropped off early so she could read. That was the time they liked to strike, Emily Woods and Victoria Davis - they'd come up from behind and pulled her skirts over her head, exposing her bloomers to the rest of the children. All the boys and girls had laughed and those who did not said nothing. Beth didn't understand, she tried so hard to make friends and when she gave up she tried to stay out of everyone's way, but they still wanted to make her cry. "Why do they like to hurt me so much?"
Nellie sighed feeling her heart break for the little one. She began thinking of her own childhood and her own struggles growing up so poor. Back then things were simpler and the rougher kids would scrap it out and that was the end of it. These days such behaviour was improper, especially for Beth's kind. But if she could get her hands on those little bullies she would give them a piece of her mind.
"I wish I knew the answer love - that's probably somethin' even they don't know themselves. People like that, they don't really go that far in life. People like you, that are resilient, kind and 'ard working - go far. Sometimes they even change history..."
Beth sniffed again and so Nellie, tucked a strand of brown hair that had escaped her bonnet behind her ear. "An' ta tell ya the truth, most young girls don't like the pretty ones that are book smart and have the courage to say things as they are. You've got one beautiful soul an' heart Beth, an' yer very brave."
Beth's tears seemed to stop and she was met with an encouraging smile that at once began to cheer her up. She wiped her face again and sat up straighter, the words giving her some strength back. "Thanks, Nellie, but I'm not as brave as you."
Nellies face fell and she felt her eyes begin to grow wet. All these dammed emotions were getting to her these past few days, she was sure it was the baby. It could only be the blasted baby. At once she immediately regretted such a thought and stood from the booth, ready to get stuck back into her work so she could distract herself from what was really causing her so many emotions. Or rather who. Even when he wasn't around he could still make her feel this way.
"Nellie?" Beth called after her. When she turned around Beth licked her lips and thought carefully before she asked. "May I spend the rest of the week here with you and Toby?" When Nellie simply looked at her in confusion, Beth elaborated from her seat in the booth "I don't want to go back to school, I can't stand it!"
"Beth, you- ya can't miss school because of some girls tormentin' ya..."
"Please!" She begged, standing and wrapping her arms around her apron-clad body as fresh tears spilled down her cheeks "It's just for three days, then the week is over! I'll work for you! I'll cook and I'll bake and do whatever you want!"
"Beth-" She protested "Jus' tell your parents, they'll help ya get out of it-"
"No!" She sobbed "They won't! Mother will just make me go back she's already done it before and father will be cross, he's already spent so much money on schooling!" She raised her eyes up to Nellies and her hope began to raise when she saw that her pleading was seemingly working. "Please Nellie, please! Just for a few days, I won't ever ask you again..."
Nellie winced and it was clear there was a storm in her mind. When Beth was about to give up and loosen her arms around her she finally uttered "Alright, alright. But just till the end of the week, ya hear? that's it."
Beth at once stuffed her face into her apron and began babbling her thanks. Nellie returned the embrace and stroked her hair as the customers raised an eyebrow at the dramatic scene. The baker simply hushed the child and tried not to regret the decision she was making, Beth was clever and if Richard and Eliza didn't know the better. She knew she could get in trouble, but she couldn't say no to the poor girl. Hell if she ever had a daughter she would have the exact same problem, children were always a soft spot of hers. And it was only for three days, she told herself. What harm would it do?
Meanwhile, Beth soaked in the warmth of Nellie Lovett's embrace. Distantly she found herself wondering if this was what mothers were like.
The force of the blow from Sweeney's fist to Turpin's jaw was enough to send the man to the ground. The tight ropes binding him to the chair however made this impossible, instead he slumped partially out of the chair with his head lolling to the side, blood and drool oozing from his mouth.
Sweeney smirked at the satisfying burn to his knuckles. He had been doing this for quite some time and had not grown tired of it yet.
"Had enough, you vulture?" He gripped the man's jaw tight, trying to scope out a splinter of fear or regret. But Turpin was practically catatonic from the beatings he had sustained from Richard and Sweeney. All light and semblance of recognition and awareness were gone from his eyes.
Sweeney growled and untied the ropes at the back of the chair, allowing him to fall to the ground. With both of his hands and feet already bound he did not bother to secure him further. Sending a kick to the unconscious man's side Sweeney stepped over him like a discarded cloth and made for the door, locking it with the bolt behind him.
The large, decrepit building they were using was once part of a series of small huts and warehouses used for a cotton factory decades prior. The factory had shut down and the workers sent elsewhere leaving a giant factory with spacious rooms and basements for storage. The dirt and filth were not a problem for them and Richard seemed to know the place; he had left chairs, blankets and a few tins of food for when they wished to stay over night. Truthfully Sweeney was quite surprised that the man was so willing to take part in something so callous and prolonged. He didn't think Richard was the type, he was pleasantly surprised.
Sweeney had slept roughly on the ground on the top upper floor in what he assumed was a manager's office overlooking the factory, a thick series of blankets not enough to keep the cold at bay. He would be sleeping here for most of the time between swapping shifts with Richard, he would try to find something comfier and light a fire with some of the loose wooden debris that lay about since he had nothing else to do while Turpin was unconscious.
Stepping outside into the crisp morning air, Sweeney walked down the winding paths and ruins of other huts and made his way down a hill where a small but working water pump lay. Pumping the handle hard he grimaced at the dirty water and waited a moment for the colour to turn clear. Splashing his face and scrubbing at his blood-dried hands he knelt down and wiped at the blood on his shoes, his mind whirring with excitement.
This was it, he was finally about to take part in his revenge. Turpin was his, and now he was going to make him suffer a punishment worse than death. He had yet to reveal his identity to the vulture and he would savour it until the right time. Any hesitation he might have had about finally killing the man prior was now gone, bloodlust ran through his veins and he desperately hoped the man would arouse soon so he could begin. He just hoped Richard would not complain and let him do what he had to do, wherever the man was.
"I wouldn't drink that if I were you." The familiar voice had Sweeney smirking, finally his partner in crime was here.
He stood and turned facing Richard in all his upper-class splendour with his coat and hat. Richard did not return his smile and seemed a little out of sorts, Sweeney supposed it had been a long and tiresome night for the pair of them. He was likely in need of a good sleep.
"I was simply washing the blood from my hands." He said. "What took you so long?"
"My sister demanded I attend a family breakfast." said Richard mutinously "Apologies, I brought you something to eat."
From under his arm he tossed Sweeney a paper bag with a pastry and a warm cookie inside.
"Beth made the cookies, she explicitly said I was to save you at least one." Richard smiled, his genuine love for his daughter made Sweeney feel warm about his own.
"Tell her I said thank you." He reached in to survey the overly chocolatey cookie. "We'd best go inside, I left him tied up unconscious. He'll wake soon."
Richard looked a little uncomfortable at that but he swallowed it quickly and nodded. The two made it back into the factory and together they gathered bits of broken wood to make a fire in the corner of the room as they sat.
"How did you come to find this place?" Sweeney asked on his blanket as he began to eat his breakfast.
"My family have ties to factory work," Richard said, staring into the flames and taking off his coat.
"I see, they were rich enough to own this place then?" Sweeney scoffed.
Richard chortled under his breath but it sounded not in jest "No. My uncle worked here as a little boy if you must know. He was adopted into the family when he was twelve."
"Oh," That silenced Sweeney and he chose to continue to eat quietly until Richard spoke again, his sapphire eyes still trailed on the cracking of the fire as he added more wood.
"Why are you doing this really?"
Sweeney was startled at the question. "Why? You know why. The same reason we're both here."
"And when it's over, what then?"
Sweeney put down his food and frowned at him. He did not like the way Richard was speaking, it seemed like he already had regrets.
"I'll continue my life... with Nellie," Sweeney added quietly, pulling the blanket tighter around him. Richard's cool gaze moved to him and so Sweeney returned it, confused at the sudden terseness between them. Coldly he asked the younger man "What's the matter?"
Breaking his stare and seeming to back down Richard shook his head "Nothing, forget it."
Sweeney frowned at him, his patience wearing thin "Wot? For god's sake just spit it out."
His harsh tone had Richard snapping his head up angrily "Alright if you must know, Edith mentioned something most troubling about you." When Sweeney didn't react he continued "She said when you and Nellie parted ways you left on bad terms."
"Of course we did, she threw me out!" He said gruffly.
Richard eyed him coolly "What really happened Mr Todd? You and I both know that Nellie is a very compassionate woman, any lady that rushes out into the street in her nightgown to save an elderly man does not throw her lover out onto the streets without good reason. I suggest you stop lying to me and tell me the truth, I would like to know what sort of man I have allowed into my home."
Sweeney's composure broke slightly at that. He had not expected to be confronted about what he had said. Of course, Nellie had told Edith, it was no wonder the woman hated his guts. And why shouldn't she? It had been a terrible, awful thing to say. Why now was it so hard for him to speak? He knew deep down he did not want Richard to hate him too, he was the only one he considered to be his friend if he could call him that. He didn't want that to change, not now.
"I-" He fumbled on his words, "I told her I didn't want the baby, I said...cruel things, I was hurt..."
Richard took in those words with a steady gaze and he hesitated for a long time before he asked, but he knew he needed to know the answer "Have you hurt people before?"
The question took Sweeney so much by surprise that he was momentarily stunned. He knew his silence was enough of an answer in itself but Richard was not willing to say anything further until he replied. He could not believe how much the man was reading him and immediately he grew wary. If he told the truth - the whole truth - he would know about George and Richard would go to the police. If he lied, Richard would know. Therefore he had only one option and that was to tell half-truths and hope that the reaction would not be so visceral.
"Yes." He admitted, "Only men that deserved it."
Richard blinked and swallowed hard, he seemed to have expected the answer but the gravity of it made him shudder all the same. He placed his hat down and raked his fingers through his hair in a self-soothing gesture.
"I knew the night of Turpin's ball there was a darkness inside you," He said quietly after a moment "You were so angry at me, I'd never seen a man's eyes go as black as yours. You were going to hurt me, but you didn't. Why?"
Sweeney shuffled uncomfortably "Because you reminded me of a young Benjamin Barker. He would have done anything to get his hands on Turpin for just a moment to make him feel the pain he inflicted on my wife - even if it involved acting irrationally. That's why I let you go. You didn't deserve to...to be hurt, I was wrong for even thinking so and for that I'm sorry. I hope you can forgive me."
Richard swallowed again but looked slightly at ease. His mind raced and he considered all the possibilities that may have led to Sweeney's departure from the shop. He worried this violent streak had something to do with it "Did you hurt Nellie that night? Or little Toby?"
"No." He said firmly "I would never hurt Toby and especially not Nellie."
Richard seemed to tell that he was being sincere but that did not deter his questions. Sweeney decided that if he was to get out of this conversation he would have to come clean.
"I told her I wanted her to miscarry!" He snapped "I told her I didn't want the bloody baby and that it was her fault. Happy?"
Richard stared at him, horrified "You did what?"
Sweeney held his head in his hands with a death grip to try and calm his mood. He prepared himself mentally for a storm and maintained a positive memory of himself and Nellie before everything went wrong to calm him down. Once he had gotten his breathing under control he drew in a breath and said more calmly "I know. It was wrong. She said things about my wife and daughter, I snapped and I told her what I knew would hurt her most. She won't forgive me, I don't expect her to. And I can't forgive myself. So if you could save me the speech I would be grateful, I don't need you to tell me what I already know..."
Outside rain had begun to pour, the sound of the water droplets and the wind being the only noise to marvel that of the crackling fire. Richard did not speak for a moment and Sweeney found himself appreciating the difficulty it was taking him to stay quiet, but he was doing so. He shuffled closer to the fire and let the heat hit his face. The sensation reminded him of home and it made him feel a crushing sense of sorrow that had now become a familiar friend.
Richard ran his fingers through his hair and looked towards the peaceful barber in sympathy. He opened his mouth to say something and then closed it again. When the rain began to batter the window he settled on speaking in a calm tone as he kept his eyes on the fire.
"You know, when I first found out I was going to be a father I wasn't so happy myself..."
Sweeney's eyes opened and drifted to where he sat. He was surprised by the words that came out of his mouth and frowned deeply. Richard continued, staring into the flames.
"Eliza and I were not together at the time. We'd both been young and drunk at a party, next thing she told me she was expecting. I almost did what you did, I almost ran away from being a father. I felt tricked. It was as if she was using the pregnancy as a golden ticket to marriage - and I hardly knew her. I did think about asking her to abort," His voice cracked and Sweeney could feel the shame radiating from him as he shuffled where he sat. "But father told me to take accept the consequences of my actions and be there for her; put aside your pride and reckless days, he said and take responsibility. I wasn't happy, but I did it. I married her and we had a little girl by that following autumn." Richards's expression changed and a smile danced across his features "As soon as I held her I was smitten. She changed everything. I wanted to savour that moment, with my little girl in my arms. Her eyes were my sister's eyes, her hair like mine and her smile more brilliant than I could have dreamed they would be, her hands more delicate. She felt so light, looked so perfect smelt so divine. I am her protector for as long as I live and my love for her will last for all time..."
He looked to Sweeney after his speech and the barber's dark eyes were pained like he was reliving memories from long ago. Swallowing the stone in his throat Sweeney pulled the blanket tighter around him and spoke so quietly it could have been the wind.
"I had the same feeling when my daughter was born, I was happier then - not so cruel..."
Richard placed a hand on Sweeney's shoulder and the barber tensed automatically. Richard did not seem to care and moved closer, determined to comfort him even though Sweeney felt less than worthy.
"You will feel the same when the second child comes, you will feel happiness like that again, trust me," Richard told him sincerely.
Sweeney relaxed somewhat under Richard's hand and spared him a glance. This man, whom he'd almost killed the other month was showing him a tenderness that he did not deserve. He thought back to when he had first met the man, how utterly and terribly wrong he had thought of him back then. That he was just another piece of vermin with eyes for Nellie. But he was not, he had kindness and the heart of a man that was pure. The thought of him being gone from this world was enough to give Sweeney an empty feeling in his chest. He could not believe how much their friendship had grown.
"You're a good man, Richard."
Richard blinked and removed his hand, genuinely moved and taken aback by the barber's words. "Thank you."
When the fire began to die down, Sweeney glanced to the door and thought about Turpin and how he was likely now roused from his stupor. He turned to Richard. "Shall we continue what we started?"
Richard again looked nervous and this time it was Sweeney who encouraged him with a hand on his arm "The sooner we extract out revenge, the sooner we'll be rid of our demons. He deserved to pay for the lives he's destroyed, the women he's hurt."
Richard sighed but could not argue with that, he nodded "Alright."
Sweeney smiled and began to stand when Richard stopped him "Wait." He reached his hand into his bag and pulled out a pistol and a smaller bag filled with bullets "Here, I have my own - I thought it best you have one too - in case he tries anything."
Sweeney took the pistol in his hands, the weight and feel of it not quite matching that of his friends but enough to make him feel secure in the knowledge that Turpin would not escape. "Thank you."
Richard licked his dry lips, encouraged "We'd best pay him another visit then."
Sweeney clutched the pistol tight in his hand and smirked, determined to let Richard have his moment with the vulture tonight "Shall we?"
The next day, news of Turpin's disappearance had sent shockwaves across the city by the time the afternoon rush had rolled by. Some said he had moved away, others believed he had been murdered by someone - Nellie couldn't see a fault with the latter - almost anyone and everyone wanted an end to Judge Turpin - that's why her shop seemed fuller for the first time in days with people drinking she assumed. It seemed she underestimated just how happy the common working man would be that tyrant was gone.
"Nellie ya ya beauty, come 'ere!" A drunken regular of hers swept her up in a hug and pressed sloppy kisses on her cheeks. He was one of many that had been drinking all afternoon in her establishment and she didn't have the heart to put an end to it. Luckily she had backup in the form of Edith Sykes.
"Not so tight you idiot!" She hollered, standing from her seat to physically pry his arms off her midsection "She's pregnant you fool! Show some decorum!"
The man instantly stepped back and babbled his apologies before joining his friends. Nellie shook her head with a smile and gestured for Edith to join her back at the table "Really Edith I'm alrigh', no need ta be so strict with 'em love - baby isn't due for a lil while yet."
"Five months will come and go quickly Nellie - and everyone should be making it as comfortable five months as possible, even your customers." She said pointedly, lowering herself into her chair. She had joined the baker late morning, determined to get some air and calm her nerves after finding out about Turpin's disappearance. Secretly she was pleased but she still worried for her brother - just because the devil was missing did not mean he was gone. She also had her suspicions that Richard may have been somewhat involved.
Nellie joined her at the table and pushed her curls behind her ears. The poor dear looked tired but much better the last few days. Her cheeks were pinker and the bags under her eyes were beginning to fade. Once she had sat down she groaned "Ugh, me poor knees weren't made fer this kinda work."
"Well it's a good job you have such a good boy helping you," said Edith, winking at a passing Toby who beamed at her. She turned back to Nellie and scooted closer "Perhaps you should think of employing someone to help. Those young children that helped you during Beth's party would likely jump at the chance."
"I know," She sighed "But they have their duties and responsibilities at the workhouse, I don't want ta give then more. And they're only kids, they shouldn't be workin' in the first place."
Edith pursed her lips and eyed her friend suspiciously as she took a drink from her tea. She suspected this excuse had little to do with the work and far more to do with who they weren't - the children did not replace Mr Todd.
She placed down her cup and looked sadly at the woman "Well if you need some help, you know you can always ask Amelia and I."
"Thanks, Edith, you and your family are so good ta me." Nellie bit her lip and kept her eyes down. She felt guilty. In her bedroom, Beth was currently hiding away from her aunt who was unaware that her niece had been skipping school these past couple of days. If she found out, Nellie knew that Edith would not be happy. Clearing her throat she opted to change the subject. "How is ya family? How's Amelia?"
Edith's face fell slightly "She's... different. I'm not sure exactly what is going on but I think she and Charles are not getting along. It's taking a toll on her, the marriage. She tries not to show it but I can see it's bothering her greatly."
Nellie frowned at that and leaned closer as she kept her voice quiet incase the man himself could hear her "If ya don't mind me askin', 'ow did ya sister end up with such a horrible man? Amelia's far too good fer this world an deserves ta be with a man that treats' er so. What on earth do they even 'ave in common? "
Edith chortled sadly "Nothing. My sister is in love with the idea of love and always has been. The first man that came along knew exactly what to say and how to say it. She loves him for whatever reason, he wasn't so bad at the beginning I'll give her that - but he showed his true colours after their marriage - quite frankly I would have rathered die a spinster than stay with a man that treated me like a slave and demanded heirs. But that's Amelia, she doesn't give up on people, always sees the bloody good and then gets disappointed when she doesn't find it."
Nellie shifted in her seat, it reminded her of herself in her younger days when she used to see the world as rainbows and daisies, she wasn't so naive now. The world had taught her not to hope and not to dream, you were only left deflated and longing for something more.
"Well... it's not the worst attitude ta have, but the poor thing ought to stand up for herself." she said "I suppose if she left him he would pull some tricks, I wouldn't put it past a man like him."
"Neither would I." She said darkly "He is a lawyer, I worry he's dangling that power over her head and threatening her with the children. She's been particularly clingy with them as of late, talking about how she couldn't live without them and how much they mean to her... It's been worrying me greatly."
Nellie looked at her in concern "I think ya ought to speak to her, people who talk like that are in a very bad place..."
"Yes I think you're right, I'll pay her a visit sometime this weekend, whether she likes it or not."
Nellie nodded and jumped slightly as she felt her baby kick. Edith spotted the movement and smiled radiantly "Moving around?"
"Been doing it none stop lately, I reckon they're doin' summersaults in mum's tummy just ta show off." she laughed.
Edith laughed too and her eyes lowered as the emptiness in her own belly brought a sense of pain. She had not felt the baby that had grown from Turpin kick her, she had been too early for that. But she lately felt herself wondering what it may feel like, to carry a child. She was becoming old and no man was in her life anymore, but she wondered all the same.
Her thoughts suddenly turned to her brother and how strangely he had been acting also, scuttling off to various different places and refusing to answer her questions. She had debated speaking to Nellie about it but decided against the prospect - Nellie didn't need further stress or to listen to her problems, it was likely nothing. However she knew her brother and he was not the best liar, if he was hiding something she was bloody well going to find out what it was.
And as for her sister, she would need to approach the matter delicately. Amelia was prone to being defensive and argumentative when it came to the matter of her husband. If she timed her visit right, she could approach whilst Charles was working - he was often gone for long periods of time leaving Amelia at home with the children, then would be the perfect time for her to intercept.
Edith sighed quietly to herself at all the fuss her siblings were giving her - the perks of being the eldest she supposed.
The following morning same morning, At Richard's stately home, Beth once again dressed and readied herself to go to school as she hopped into her waiting carriage after kissing her father goodbye as he and Mr Todd went on their usual outing. After instructing the carriage to drop her a street over from the school, she had clambered out and thanked the driver, walking in the general direction until she had seen him turn the corner out of sight - then she had smiled and ran in the opposite direction.
She was practically ecstatic that she did not have to go to school again today, she knew she was taking advantage of Nellie's kindness but she really couldn't stay angry at herself for long. She just wanted more time to figure out what to do. Eventually, she would run out of excuses and her parents would find out - she would have to face those consequences when they came - for now, all she wanted was to enjoy her freedom for just that little while longer, before she had to confront the storm.
Beth began to walk the long way back home, skipping along the way and kicking stones. This was her third day of skipping school and her father and Mr Todd had been so busy of late she had slipped under the radar. She had no idea what her father was up to with the man but she hoped it had something to do with Mr Todd and Nellie - she had noticed a ring on his finger the other night at dinner and after inquiring about it her mother had scolded her but Mr Todd had smirked at her, confirming her suspicions that the two were now technically back together again, Toby must have been thrilled. She was excited to talk to him about it.
As she reached the halfway point her feet picked up and she began to jog the rest of the way, eager to grab a few things and then make her way to the pie shop so she could be with Toby and continue her reading lessons with him. In her haste to leave the house she'd picked up Macbeth but Mr Todd had stopped her on the way and informed her that Toby was desperate to read Oliver Twist as of course their family name played a major role in the novel. Beth had been thrilled and touched by this, Oliver Twist was one of her favourites after all and despite her grandparents disliking that their surname was used as the main antagonist of the book, Beth and her Auntie Edith found it hilarious.
She would have to be quiet however because she didn't want her mother to hear her sneaking in. Though Beth knew that she was feeling ill today after whining to the housekeeper earlier to take the day off so she could be alone and sleep. Lately, all her mother did was sleep and her parent's room was two floors up from the ground floor, she would be fine so long as she was cautious.
Finally reaching her stately home she opened the gate and made her way to the back door. The little girl bent down to one of the many little plant pots by the side of the door and rummaged around underneath for the spare key that her father always left in case of an emergency. When she found it under the Fuchsia plant she smiled and quietly slipped the key into the lock and opened it.
The house was quiet as she suspected and there seemed to be no sign that her mother was anywhere other than upstairs. Carefully, Beth closed the door and made her way down the hallway to the sitting room when she was startled by the sound of pattering feet running at her from behind. She gasped as she spun around only to be greeted by a small ball of brown fur running at her legs and barking happily.
Beth smiled in relief and bent down to scoop up the little dog in her arms. "Hello Ollie, you scared me."
The dog quietened his yapping but happily licked her face and whined like a babe in her arms. He always did this every time she came home and she loved him for it. It was no surprise that he was smitten with her, if there was a reward for the most spoiled dog in Britain Oliver would surely win. He was the most pampered pup ever since he had been gifted to her on her birthday. She had been secretly begging her father for a pet for a little over a year. The little girl was incredibly lonely with no siblings and friends to play with at school, but ever since she had met Toby that loneliness had gone away. Of course, Olliver was still her best friend.
She placed Oliver down on the ground and quietly beckoned him to follow her to the kitchens where she could get him a treat. Her mother was so disinterested in the dog and barely ever kept track of anything in the kitchens so she knew she would not notice.
As Beth made her way back to the hallway to enter the kitchen at the end of the hallway, something made her stop in her tracks. Oliver hovered at her feet, his tail wagging and his eyes stuck to Beth's face. He let out a little yelp in question but Beth did not even hear him, her eyes were too focused on the coat and hat that lay on the rack beside the door. A coat and hat that she knew did not belong to her father.
Beth suddenly felt her blood run cold. Who could possibly be here while her father was working? Her mother did not work and had not mentioned anyone coming over so early in the morning. She approached the coat rack suspiciously, running her fingers over the elaborate material. Behind the rack was an ornate black cane, confirming her suspicious that this was in fact not her father's, he very rarely used a cane; he said it made him feel too pompous.
Beth's head turned to look up the stairs to the first floor and a frown of determination crossed her face. If someone was sneaking around with her mother behind her father's back, she was not just going to leave. Her curiosity was too strong. Slowly, she began to ascend the steps and the further she walked the more her nerves began to disappear. Perhaps her mother had called on their family doctor, that seemed far more likely than any other outcome.
And as she reached the landing at the top fo the stairs she could hear muffled talking from the drawing room. A man's voice that sounded familiar to her. She breathed a sigh of relief and felt a splinter of guilt in the pit of her stomach. Though she and her mother had a strained relationship, she did not think that her mother would ever go as far as to disrespect her father by sneaking around his back. She was not that low.
As Beth made her way to turn back, she heard a different sort of sound from the drawing room and felt her heart skip a beat. Distress, it sounded like whimpering and soft cries. Her mother.
Beth's heart began to thunder in her ears. She debated running from the house and getting her father, his work was about a five-minute journey from here if she sprinted. If the situation was serious she did not care about the repercussions of her father finding out about her skipping school, her mother's safety was paramount. And yet what if she didn't come back quickly enough? What if something awful had already happened to her by the time she and her father returned?
Her hands trembling, Beth found herself approaching the slightly ajar door to the drawing room. She didn't know what she would find behind the door but she was ready to run if she had to. Swallowing, the sounds had become quieter now but she could still make out the occasional sound of movement as she finally reached the door and quietly pushed it open. The sight inside turned her stomach.
Her mother was indeed the one making the sounds as she lay upon the velvet chaise by the fire. Her bare body flushed with heat, her naked breasts exposed and heaving as she cried out in pleasure. Above her, a man with his shirt removed and his trousers halfway down his legs moved between her thighs with grotesque enthusiasm, gripping her hips and grasping her breasts with his hands. A man with slicked-back greying hair and harsh features, her Uncle Charles.
Beth let out a shaken gasp and grew white. The pair during their coupling had not heard her, but Eliza, whose head had been tilted back, happened to turn her head to face the door and opened her eyes when she came upon her daughter standing there ashen face with shock. Eliza's face immediately twisted in fear and she screamed, alerting Charles who too snapped his head to the door to see a wide-eyed and trembling Beth.
At once, numerous curses were snarled from her uncle and Beth's fear turned to absolute terror. She knew she had just stumbled upon something she was forbidden from seeing and she knew there were going to be severe consequences if she stuck around.
The little girl turned and bolted down the hall, ignoring the screams of her mother and the angry shouts of her uncle as she heard them scrambling from the drawing room to re dress. Beth made it down the stairs when she tripped and fell on her frilly dress skirt that her mother had insisted she wears all the bloody time. She felt her body fall and tumbled down only the last few steps, cracking her knees against the wooden floor with a painful cry as she scrambled to get back up and fight against the crippling pain in her knees.
She could hear heavy footsteps perusing her and could only assume it was her uncle. Tripping over her skirts she managed to stand up and make for the front door, her hand had just started to pull the door open when she felt her uncle's towering presence from behind and he slammed the door closed with his open hand. At once Beth felt his grip upon her arm and she was yanked from the door and forced to look at his furious face.
"No please!" she begged as frightened tears welled in her eyes "I'm sorry!"
"What were you doing?" Charles hissed, shaking her tiny body like a ragdoll.
Beth frantically shook her head and her face screwed up as tears slid down her cheeks and she babbled "I just wanted to get something! I thought mother was hurt! I didn't know it was you- I'm sorry!"
Charles glared at her with his cold eyes and then his attention was broken by the sound of eliza running down the stairs with a robe thrown loosely over her shoulders.
"She saw us!" She cried frantically "She saw us together-"
"Hush." Charles told her, stopping her as she approached. His eyes then turned back to a still-crying Beth and his expression smoothed into something more composed.
"Alright." He said coolly, eyeing Beth. "Alright...you saw me and your mother together, did you? Is that what you saw?"
Beth remained quiet, she was perceptive enough to know that the question was less of a question and more of a threat. Her uncle seemed to be gaining more confidence in her silence despite her mother's obvious panic still evident.
"You saw nothing." Charles said "You saw your mother, taking a nap on the couch. Is that not right?"
Eliza folded her arms and glared at her daughter, her breathing deep and pained.
"Elizabeth?" Charles's voice had taken on a note of danger and Beth's lip trembled "Tell us what you saw."
Beth's eyes trailed to the floor and it took her a while before her soft voice said "I saw mother sleeping on the couch."
Charles nodded and smiled but it was a devilish sort of smile "Good girl. A young lady like you knows not to tell such lies...they can get you in serious trouble. Can't they Eliza?"
Eliza glared at Beth before looking at Charles "Shes supposed to be at school."
"Ah," Charles quipped as if he had just found gold. "It seems like you're quite good at telling lies then." His grip on her arms became tighter and Beth whimpered as his face grew so close to hers she could feel his hot breath on her face "What were you doing here?"
Beth looked desperately at her mother, silently begging her to come to her defence and tell her uncle to realise her from his grip. But all she was met with was her mother's angry gaze, she knew she was on her own.
Fighting the lump in her throat, Beth struggled to speak through her tears and meet the couple's gaze. "I just... wanted to see Oliver..." She lied.
Charles gripped her chin hard and forced her to face him and she had never been so scared of her uncle.
"Tell the truth," He demanded.
"I... I wanted to take some things to the park, a few books..." She continued to lie "I just didn't want to go back to school."
In her silence, Eliza's mind began reeling and she looked at her daughter accusingly. "You were planning to see that boy at that pie shop weren't you?"
Beth frantically shook her head, terrified by how quickly her mother could catch on to her despite hardly knowing her at all.
"Boy?" Charles inquired.
"That street urchin son of the Lovett woman." Eliza spat "She's been fraternizing with him for weeks now, always talking about him, itching to spend time with him."
Eliza's face twisted in fury and she stepped forward to snatch Beth's wrist and yank her towards her. "Were you planning to see him? Skipping school so you can run around frolicking with a common little beggar and his family?!"
"He's not a beggar! He's my friend!" Beth protested, pulling at her mother's grip but it only tightened and she yelped in pain "Please mother you're hurting me!"
"You dare lie to me and skip school so you can run around with some boy when you're not even twelve yet!? You filthy slut, your father would be ashamed of you! You're a disgrace!" She screamed in the child's face.
Beth sobbed and desperately twisted her wrist to try and get her mother's grip off her when Charles stepped forward once again to put a hand on her mother's shoulder.
"Eliza," He said calmly. "I think it's best I take my leave and allow you to deal with this yourself. I'm sure you'll know how to handle her."
Beth watched as her mother's face fell at the idea but she nodded in agreement, her grip ever so lightly loosened on Beth. Charles inhaled deeply and bent so he was at eye level with Beth again, his bare exposed chest making her eyes drop to the floor in embarrassment.
"Now," He said sweetly. "We can put this whole misunderstanding behind us, can't we? Your daddy wouldn't be very happy with you when he finds out about you skipping school will he?"
Beth's eyes widened and the weight of just how angry her father would be hit her head on. She had not taken into consideration the effect this would have on Toby and Mrs Lovett, if he found out she had been letting her stay at her shop during school hours he would be furious with her too and she knew he would not want her anywhere near the shop. And that included Toby.
"Please don't tell him." Beth's eyes widened as she looked between them "I won't say anything I swear!"
"No you won't." said Charles "Once a liar, always a liar. Your father isn't likely to belive two lies now is he?"
Beth glared at him through her dark locks but didn't dare to argue. She knew her predicament was too tricky for her to try to clever her way out. She was too frightened.
Charles stood and adjusted trousers slightly as he turned to Eliza "Ensure she won't tell." He said in her ear, he pressed a kiss to her cheek "Do whatever it takes.
Eliza nodded and watched coldly as he made his way back up the stairs to retrieve the rest of his clothing. Eliza turned back to Beth and pulled her in front of her.
"Get upstairs now." She snarled.
Beth did as she was told and ran up the stairs to her room, sitting on the bed with her knees to her chest as she struggled to stifle her tears into her skirts.
Below her, she heard her uncle descend the stairs again and speak to her mother briefly before the door opened then shut and she knew he was gone. The silence from her mother for the next few minutes had her heart beating wildly in her chest and when Oliver came wondering into the room to jump on her bed she clutched at him like a teddy bear so hard she knew she must have been hurting him, but he was such a good boy he didn't protest.
Her mother's footsteps returned and they were soon heading for her bedroom. When Eliza entered she had redressed but Beth could still feel the heat of her rage radiating all around her.
With her mouth in a hard set line, Eliza approached the bed and grabbed a growling Oliver by the scruff of his neck and pulled him off the bed.
"Don't hurt him!" Beth pleaded as she watched her mother dump him outside the room and then slam the door shut so he could not enter. Though Beth knew Oliver was only little, she felt so much more vulnerable without his protection.
Turning around Eliza's gaze burned through Beth and she tried not to tremble.
"Stand up." She told her.
Beth slid from the bed and stood to attention like a soldier would their commandant. Eliza approached her until she stood directly in front, looking down at her in revulsion.
"The very audacity of you child. The complete vulgarity and behaviour with which you have conducted yourself. Have you no shame?" She asked "Your father's been far too soft on you from the day you were born, but even he would be disgusted by your behaviour. You know how much he values your education, girl. How hard he has worked to pay for your schooling."
Beth's eyes welled with fresh tears and she bit her tongue hard to prevent herself from crying loudly. She wanted to scream, she wanted to break things and tell her mother exactly how she felt about her, but the truth behind her words kept her from doing so. She was ashamed.
"Why? Why in heaven's name did god curse me with such a daughter? Not a dignified son but a disobedient and disrespectful daughter!" She yelled and Beth flinched at her cruel words. She stared at the ground, her shoulders shaking with suppressed cries. She was still so shaken from her uncle's manhandling of her. Her mother had yelled at her before on occasion but never like this, she was always somewhat composed and well-spoken but this, she had never seen her loose control like this. She had never known that this was how her mother truly felt.
"I've done my best to teach you to be a dignified lady all my life, you have ignored me, mocked me and disobeyed me for the last time," said Eliza continued.
Beth felt something like courage beginning to bubble inside her. Her father had a right to know what his wife was doing when he was not looking, if anyone had brought shame upon this family she knew it was this woman who had the audacity to call herself a wife and mother. No. She knew that she was worthy of respect, her father taught her to be brave. He would want her to be brave.
"It's not very lady-like for a married woman to spread her legs to her brother-in-law, mother." She hissed, without missing a beat.
Eliza's eyes blazed and before Beth could even register what had happened, her mother drew her arm back and struck her hard across the face, sending her to the floor. Her head barely missed the corner of the fireplace and the ring her mother bore on her finger cut across Beth's cheek.
"You insufferable little brat! " Eliza screamed, bending down to pull Beth onto her back and raising her hand to strike her again.
"You whore!" Beth yelled back, fighting and struggling against her mother's open-handed strikes. She tried in vain to block every hit with her arms but her little form was no match for the grown woman.
"I'll tell!" She screamed, stopping Eliza in her tracks "I'll tell father and he'll hate you just as much as I hate you! "
Eliza's eyes flashed with fear now, and Beth for a moment believed that perhaps she had won. But as soon as her hopes were raised they were dashed again when a newfound rage twisted her mother's once beautiful face into a mask of hate.
"You will not say a word." She hissed, yanking Beth up by her wrists and pulling her onto her knees. Beth fought back weakly as she was thrust across her mother's lap and had her skirts hiked up and her thin bloomers yanked down. At once she began twisting and screaming in fear when she saw her mother reach for the thin metal poker that lay on the carpet beside the fire. "Lest you forget that I am your mother! And if I have to beat some sense into you to make you realise that I shall!"
Raising the poker Beth screamed when her mother brought it down hard against the backs of her legs. Eliza raised the poker once more and continued to mercilessly beat Beth over and over again with all the force and strength she could muster, using her other arm to keep her flailing child in place over her lap. All the while she did so, she screamed and tears of anguish clouded her eyes. This child, this daughter was supposed to be the beginning of her life. But she was her enemy, that was how it had been ever since Beth had hit puberty, she had become her greatest adversary and competed for her father's attention. Years of anger and jealously for the life she had wanted but never had were translated through the strength that she wielded that poker.
"If you so much as breathe a word to your father I will make you suffer! You don't even know the things I am capable of! The things I could do to you and that boy if you test me!" When Eliza's arm strayed too close to Beth's face, the little girl seized her chance by grabbing her mother's hand and biting hard into her fingers.
Eliza cried out in pain but her grip loosened and Beth managed to crawl away from her in a matter of seconds. She felt her mother's hand attempt to grab her ankle but she was too fast and her mother was taken by surprise. By the time she had got to her feet the door had already been thrown open and Beth sprinted down the hall and thundered down the stairs.
"Elizabeth!" She thought she heard her mother cry but she gave little thought to the monster that may have been perusing her.
By the time Eliza had staggered to her feet and leaned over the bannister of the stairs, Beth had already ripped open the door and tore down the street. Eliza panted and paced the hall, her panicked breath causing her chest to heave. She was in big trouble. If Beth told, everything would go wrong. Her plan would go up in the air and she would face irreversible consequences.
She placed a hand over her sweaty forehead and paused as the wheels began turning in her head. She had a plan in mind, it was cruel and it was risky but it would solve everything that had gone wrong today. Composing herself and tucking a blonde strand behind her ear, she swept down the stairs and grabbed her coat and bonnet.
She had somewhere she needed to be.
Two nights had passed since they had started their revenge. Almost three full days and two nights since they had kidnapped the vulture and revenge had never tasted so sweet. The two men took out their rage on Turpin's body as any man would, beating and bloodying him until he begged for mercy - but he would find none from the two. Whilst Richard had been initially nervous he had left each time feeling completely satisfied. He knew, of course, their time was ticking and the longer they kept this up, the longer they increased the risk of being caught - but frankly, the release had been too great and he found himself almost wishing he could do it for eternity- destroy this man's willpower and hope day after day just to make him feel even a shred of what Edith had felt the night he had raped her - but nothing would ever compare and now he felt that he could rest easy.
Before the week was out he was determined to put a bullet in the bastard's head and have him rid of this world for good, around the abandoned factory was a small clump of woodland that made a perfect spot. Tomorrow he and Sweeney would begin to dig the man's grave - but knowing Sweeney, he would take far more pleasure in watching Turpin dig his own.
As they road the carriage home, Sweeney's hands shook slightly at the adrenaline coursing through his veins. He'd not felt bloodlust and hunger like this in so long, his friends were calling for him to tear into the flesh of Turpin's skin and watch the rubies streak like tears down his body. Once he had gathered some overnight wear from Richards's home, he had every intention of returning to continue and stay overnight as it was already getting dark.
However, when Richard and Sweeney pulled up to Richards's home, they had barely gotten through the front door when an angry Eliza stormed up to the pair of them waggling what appeared to be a letter in her hand.
"There you are! Do you know long I have been looking for you?! How long I've waited for you to get home? Where the hell have you been?" She addressed Richard first who raised his hands in a gesture of defence.
"I was working at the bank with Mr Todd," He lied smoothly, "He's opened a new account with us - you know how long these things take Eliza."
"Liar." She hissed "I came by the bank earlier today and you weren't there!"
"Mrs Sykes, I borrowed a great deal of Richard's time today - don't be too hard on him, the fault is mine-" Sweeney began but was cut off when Eliza turned to him with enraged eyes and interrupted coldly;
"I was speaking to my husband."
Sweeney took a step back, angry and confused but slightly worried that the mad woman would launch at him. Richard stepped forward to take her arm and say something quietly to her. Sweeney wondered how often these occurrences happened, Richard seemed completely unsurprised and not very fazed by her ranting and raving.
"This is not an appropriate conversation to have out here, lets's go inside." He practically marched his wife in and Sweeney followed hesitantly behind. When he closed the front door, Eliza whirled on him and Richard took off his coat and hat.
"We filed the paperwork elsewhere and had some drinks." Richard said calmly "Now what on earth is the matter?"
"Elizabeth has been skipping school." She practically shoved the letter into his hand "Read that letter, it's from her headmistress, over the last two weeks she has been skipping out on days of school, forging sick notes in your writing - lover two weeks' worth of school paid with your hard -earned money and shes been skipping it!"
"What?" Richard snatched the letter and began to read it, it was addressed to himself and Eliza. Sweeney could only guess that the contents were indeed true as Richard's face morphed from betrayal to confusion, to anger. "What on earth is the meaning of this? She's been lying to me for these past two months?" His heart raced with terror then. There was a gang out there that wanted his family dead, she could have been killed! If she was in and out of school she could have been taken without him even knowing. He read further, noticing that the headmistress had addressed this letter today as a result of her missing almost three full days this week "Where the hell has she been going?!"
"Can you guess?" Eliza asked venomously, her disgusted gaze now moving to Sweeney "She's been staying at that bakery to see that foul boy of yours."
"Toby?" Sweeney asked puzzled. "No. No there must be some sort of mistake, if she had been coming to the bakery to skip school Nellie would have never allowed her to stay with her. She must have been going somewhere else and just visited Toby on the weekends, they're very close."
"Close!" She shrieked "Close is putting it lightly Mr Todd." Her hand then moved to a small plant pot table by the door where a hardcover notebook lay. "Her diary has explained all the sordid intimate details of their relationship at eleven years old!" She slipped through a few pages until she came to a bookmarked page "Yesterday Toby and I sat in front of the fire and he kissed my lips for the first time. It was a strange feeling but not an unpleasant one, he touched my cheek and held me and kissed me again' - you think it's acceptable to call what your urchin of a boy has done to my daughter as 'being close?' He is molesting her! And she is too young and naive enough to see it!"
"Toby would never molest her!" Sweeney yelled, appalled by the allegations coming out of this woman's mouth. The nerve of her to attack his family like this. Yes, they were his family, albeit small and broken but a family nonetheless - he would not have her attacking Nellies character and certainly not a twelve-year-old boy. "He's a child himself!"
"Eliza why were you reading her diary?" Richard demanded, "You know how hard she finds it to make friends that's the whole bloody reason you got it for her in the first place!"
"You are missing the point!" Eliza hissed, her eyes never leaving Mr Todd's "Our daughter is being intimate with that boy who is clearly mistreating and using her - and I can only imagine the likes of where he gets it from."
The insult levelled at him did little to calm his nerves and Sweeney clenched his fist. "You know nothing of my family or being a mother Mrs Sykes - your own daughter gets not a shred of affection from you. Of course, she looks elsewhere for it! Toby is there to give it to her and you call a pure, loving infatuation sordid, you foul wench?"
"Enough!" Richard bellowed, stepping in front of him before Eliza could retort "Do not speak to her that way, this is still my home and she is my wife so you will mind your tongue."
The two men stared each other down but Sweeney did not retort further even though the triumphant smirk from Eliza made him want to rip it off her pretty face. Richard inhaled deeply and Sweeney had never seen him look so angry, he turned to his wife "Eliza, calm yourself - Mr Todd clearly has had nothing to do with Beth staying at the bakery - he's been with us for the better part of a week. We will not scream and holler insults at each other and especially not at children."
The pair quietened but levelled glares at each other. After taking a moment to compose himself Richard turned to Eliza again and spoke calmly "Where is she now, Eliza?"
"At the bakery." She snapped "She came home earlier today and I confronted her with this letter and she admitted it- saying that Lovett woman had allowed her to stay in her shop during school hours." She chose her words carefully, if this would turn her husband against the foul-mouthed baker she would be most pleased - she simply couldn't stand the hold the woman had over her daughter. It would be a huge kick to her ego.
She stepped closer, morphing her face into something less angry and more regretful "There was, something else...but I do not wish to tell you while Mr Todd is here..."
Sweeney growled at her "Oh for god's sake-"
"Please!" Richard ordered, his frustrations growing and obligingly Sweeney kept his mouth shut.
Richard stood in silence for a moment, his mind processing everything - he looked enraged- Sweeney could tell from the tightness of his jaw and he looked determined. "Eliza," He spoke eventually "I'm going to the bakery to get her, she can explain herself to me."
He turned and grabbed his coat that he had hung up and quickly threw it on. Gliding down the steps to his home he approached the carriage that had dropped him and Sweeney home and climbed inside.
"Wait Richard! I'm coming with you!" His wife cried, grabbing her own coat. Before she threw it on she stopped to address Sweeney "Mr Todd, when we come home I will expect you to be elsewhere for the night. My husband does not need the added stress of catering to your needs tonight, our family needs peace - this is a private matter."
Sweeney felt the urge to grab one of his razors and slash off her yellow locks, maybe then she wouldn't be so condescending. He wondered how on earth he had ever thought she was an attractive woman, her eyes were too cold and beady and her mouth too crooked when she smiled. She was clever he'd give her that - this incident involving Toby was all likely one big ploy for her to get Richard to fall out of favour with him and Nellie - she wanted him gone after all - he knew from the first night he had been here.
Gritting his teeth he cocked his head at her, of course, he had every intention of returning to the factory and proceeding with his revenge tonight but the audacity of her to demand that he find different lodgings for the night was deliberately to get under his skin given his situation and it worked. "And just where do you suggest I go, Mrs Sykes?"
She made an amused sound at the back of her throat as she threw on a scarf, "I'm sure the baker will have no problem letting you warm her bed tonight Mr Todd. You'll think of something."
Before Sweeney could even retort in outrage she was out of the door and running to an impatient Richard in the carriage before he could even muster up a response. He watched her close the door as her husband barked at the driver to take them to Fleet Street.
He followed the direction of the carriage with his eyes and decided to follow, he knew plenty of shortcuts and if he was fast enough he would potentially make it to the shop right after they did. He did not want Nellie to face whatever was approaching by herself.
A/N: I know, poor Beth :( I have already started writing the next chapter so be sure to stick around and stay tuned for more. Thanks again to everyone who's still reviewing - more to come soon.