He could not believe that he looked forty-three and a half. And yet he had recently had an idea of shaving off his beard, partly to defy time, but partly also (I must admit) because a friend had suggested to him, wildly, perhaps—that if he dispensed with a beard his hair might grow more sturdily ... Yes, there was one weak spot in the middle of the top of his head, where the crop had of late disconcertingly thinned! The hairdresser had informed him that the symptom would vanish under electric massage, and that, if he doubted the bona-fides of hairdressers, any doctor would testify to the value of electric massage. But now Edward Henry Machin, strangely discouraged, inexplicably robbed of the zest of existence, decided that it was not worth while to shave off his beard. Nothing was worth while. If he was forty-three and a half, he was forty-three and a half! To become bald was the common lot. Moreover, beardless, he would need the service of a barber every day. And he was absolutely persuaded that not a barber worth the name could be found in the Five Towns. He actually went to Manchester—thirty-six miles—to get his hair cut. The operation never cost him less than a sovereign and half a day’s time ... And he honestly deemed himself to be a fellow of simple tastes! Such is the effect of the canker of luxury. Happily he could afford these simple tastes, for, although not rich in the modern significance of the term, he paid income tax on some five thousand pounds a year, without quite convincing the Surveyor of Taxes that he was an honest man.
He brushed the thick hair over the weak spot, he turned down his wristbands, he brushed the collar of his jacket, and lastly, his beard; and he put on his jacket—with a certain care, for he was very neat. And then, reflectively twisting his moustache to military points, he spied through the smaller window to see whether the new high hoarding of the football-ground really did prevent a serious observer from descrying wayfarers as they breasted the hill from Hanbridge. It did not. Then he spied through the larger window upon the yard, to see whether the wall of the new rooms which he had lately added to his house showed any further trace of damp, and whether the new chauffeur was washing the new motor car with all his heart. The wall showed no further trace of damp, and the new chauffeur’s bent back seemed to symbolize an extreme conscientiousness.
Then the clock on the landing struck six and he hurried off to put the household to open shame.