The superstitious reverence paid to enigmatical utterances of this kind has long ago passed away; and, if any meaning ever attaches to them, it is apt to be sadly commonplace. Nevertheless, when Balder was born, and the hereditary blue eyes were found wanting, the circumstance was doubtless the occasion of much half-serious banter among those to whom the ominous prophecies were familiar. Certainly the young man had already made one grave mistake; and he could hardly have followed it up by a more disgraceful retreat than this to the hair-dresser’s saloon. The ghosts of his heroic forefathers in Valhalla would disown his shorn head with indignant scorn; for their golden locks had ever been sacred to them as their honor. When the Roman Empire was invaded by the Goths and Vandals, a Helwyse—so runs the tale—was taken prisoner and brought before the Roman General. The latter summoned a barber and a headsman, and informed the captive that he might choose between forfeiting his head, and that which grew upon it. As to the precise words in which the Northern warrior couched his reply, historians vary; but they are agreed on the important point that his head was chopped off without delay!
Did the memory of these things bring no blush to Balder’s cheeks? There he sat, as indifferent, to all outward seeming, as though he were asleep. But this may have been the apathy consequent on the abandonment of lofty pretensions and sublime ambitions; betraying proud sensitiveness rather than base lack of feeling. Balder Helwyse was not the first man of parts to appear in an undignified and unheroic light. The foremost man of all this world once whined like a sick girl for his physic, and preposterously overestimated his swimming powers; yet his greatness found him out!
In sober earnest, however, what real importance attaches to Helwyse’s doings at this juncture? Physically and mentally weary, he may have acted from the most ordinary motives. As to his entertaining any superstitious crotchets about having his hair cut,—the spirit of the age forbid it!
Through A glass.
The hair-dresser had the quality—now rare among his class—of unlimited and self-enjoying loquacity; soothing, because its little waves lapsed in objectless prattle on the beach of the apprehension, to be attended to or not at pleasure. The sentences were without regular head or tail, and were connected by a friendly arrangement between themselves, rather than by any logical sequence; while the recurring pauses at interesting epochs of work wrought a recognition of how caressing had been the easy voice, and accumulated a lazy disposition to hear it continue.
After decking Helwyse for the sacrifice, he had murmured confidentially in his ear, “Hair, sir?—or beard, sir?—or both?—little of both, sir? Just so. Hair first, please, sir. Love-ly morning!”