And thereupon began to clip and coo and whisk softly about, in the highest state of barberic joy. As he worked, inspired by the curly, flowing glossy locks which, to his eye, called inarticulately for the tools of his trade, his undulating monologue welled forth until Coleridge might have envied him. Helwyse heard the sound, but let the words go by to that unknown limbo whither all sounds, good or bad, have been flying since time began.
By and by the hair was done; there ensued a plying of brushes, a blowing down the neck, and a shaking out of the linen apron.
“Will you cast your eyes on the mirror now, sir, please?”
“No,—go on and finish, first,” replied Helwyse; and forthwith a cushion was insinuated beneath his head, and his feet were elevated upon a rest. He heard the preparation of the warm lather, and anon the knowing strapping of a razor. He put up his hand and stroked his beard for the last time, wondering how he would look without it.
“Never saw the like before, sir; must have annoyed you dreadful!” remarked the commiserating barber, as he passed the preparatory scissors round his customer’s jaw, mowing the great golden sheaf at one sweep. He spoke of it as though it were a cancer or other painful excrescence, the removal of which would be to the sufferer a boon unspeakable.
Helwyse’s face expressed neither anguish nor relief; he presently lost himself in thoughts of his own, only returning to the perception of outside things when the barber asked him whether he, also, had ever attended camp-meeting; the subject being evidently one which had been held forth upon for some time past.
“No?” continued the little man who by long practice had acquired a wonderful power of interpreting silence. “Well, it’s a great thing, sir; and a right curious thing is experiencing religion, too! A great blessing I’ve found it, sir; there’s a peace dwells with me, as the minister says, right along all the time now. Does the razor please you, sir? Ah! I was a wild and godless being once, although always reckoned a smart hand with the razor;—Satan never took my cunning hand, as the poet says, away from me. Yes, there was a time when I was how-d’ y’-do with all the bloods around the place, and a good business I used to do out of them, too, sir; but religion is a peace there’s no understanding, as the Good Book says; and if I don’t make all I used to, I save twice as much,—and that’s the good of it, sir. Beau-ti-ful chin is yours, sir, I declare!”
“Do you believe in the orthodox faith?” demanded Helwyse; “in miracles, and the Trinity, and so forth?”
“Everything we’re told to believe in I believe, I hope, sir; and as quick as I hear anything more, why, I’m ready to believe that also, provided only it comes through orthodox channels, as the saying is. Ah, sir, it’s the unquestioning belief that brings the happiness. I wouldn’t have anything explained to me, not if I could! and my faith is such, that what goes against it I never would believe, not if you proved it to me black and white, sir! Love-ly skin you’ve got, sir,—it’s just like a woman’s. The intellect is a snare, that’s what it is,—ah, yes! You think with me, sir, don’t you?”