Such an objection, however, could hardly have turned the scale. Great crimes are magnets of smaller ones. It was necessary for Helwyse to alter the whole scheme of his life-voyage; and since he had failed in beating up against the wind, why not make all sail before it? Meanwhile, it was easier to call on Doctor Glyphic than to devise a new course of action; and thus, had matters been allowed to take their natural turn, mere inertia might have brought about their meeting.
But the irony of events turns our sternest resolves to ridicule. On the next street-corner was a hair-dresser’s shop, its genial little proprietor, plump and smug, rubbing his hands and smiling in the doorway. Beholding the commanding figure of the yellow-bearded young aristocrat, afar off, his professional mouth watered over him. What a harvest for shears and razor was here! Dare he hope that to him would be intrusted the glorious task of reaping it?
As Helwyse gained the corner, his weary eyes took in the smiling hair-dresser, the little room beyond cheerful with sunshine and colored paper-hangings, and the padded chair for customers to recline in. Here might he rest awhile, and rise up a new man,—a stranger to himself and to all who had known him. It was fitting that the inward change should take effect without; not to mention that the wearing of so conspicuous a mane was as unsafe as it was unsuitable.
He entered the shop, therefore,—the proprietor backing and bowing before him,—and sat down with a sigh in the padded chair. Immediately he was enveloped in a light linen robe, a towel was tucked in round his neck by deft caressing fingers, the soothing murmur of a voice was in his ear, and presently sounded the click-click of shears. The descendant of the Vikings closed his eyes and felt comfortable.
The peculiar color and luxuriance of Balder’s hair and beard were marked attributes of the Helwyse line. In these days of ponderous genealogies, who would be surprised to learn that the family sprang from that Balder, surnamed the Beautiful, who was the sun-god of Scandinavian mythology? Certain of his distinctive characteristics, both physical and mental, would appear to have been perpetuated with marvellous distinctness throughout the descent; above all, the golden locks, the blue eyes, and the sunny disposition.
For the rest, so far as sober history can trace them back, they seem to have been a noble and adventurous race of men, loving the sea, but often taking a high part in the political affairs of the nation. The sons were uniformly fair, but the daughters dark,—owing, it was said, to the first mother of the line having been a dark-eyed woman. But the advent of a dark-eyed heir had been foretold from the earliest times, not without ominous (albeit obscure) hints as to the part he would play in the family history. The precise wording of none of these old prophecies has come down to us; but they seem in general to have intimated that the dark-eyed Helwyse would bring the race to a ruinous and disgraceful end, saving on the accomplishment of conditions too improbable to deserve recording. The dead must return to life, the living forsake their identity, love unite the blood of the victim to that of the destroyer,—and other yet stranger things must happen before the danger could be averted.