'Why, you look smarter by day,' said Poll, 'than you do by candle- light. I never see such a tight young dasher.'
'Reether so, Polly. How's our fair friend, Sairah?'
'Oh, she's pretty well,' said Poll. 'She's at home.'
'There's the remains of a fine woman about Sairah, Poll,' observed Mr Bailey, with genteel indifference.
'Oh!' thought Poll, 'he's old. He must be very old!'
'Too much crumb, you know,' said Mr Bailey; 'too fat, Poll. But there's many worse at her time of life'
'The very owl's a-opening his eyes!' thought Poll. 'I don't wonder at it in a bird of his opinions.'
He happened to have been sharpening his razors, which were lying open in a row, while a huge strop dangled from the wall. Glancing at these preparations, Mr Bailey stroked his chin, and a thought appeared to occur to him.
'Poll,' he said, 'I ain't as neat as I could wish about the gills. Being here, I may as well have a shave, and get trimmed close.'
The barber stood aghast; but Mr Bailey divested himself of his neck- cloth, and sat down in the easy shaving chair with all the dignity and confidence in life. There was no resisting his manner. The evidence of sight and touch became as nothing. His chin was as smooth as a new-laid egg or a scraped Dutch cheese; but Poll Sweedlepipe wouldn't have ventured to deny, on affidavit, that he had the beard of a Jewish rabbi.
'Go WITH the grain, Poll, all round, please,' said Mr Bailey, screwing up his face for the reception of the lather. 'You may do wot you like with the bits of whisker. I don't care for 'em.'
The meek little barber stood gazing at him with the brush and soap- dish in his hand, stirring them round and round in a ludicrous uncertainty, as if he were disabled by some fascination from beginning. At last he made a dash at Mr Bailey's cheek. Then he stopped again, as if the ghost of a beard had suddenly receded from his touch; but receiving mild encouragement from Mr Bailey, in the form of an adjuration to 'Go in and win,' he lathered him bountifully. Mr Bailey smiled through the suds in his satisfaction. 'Gently over the stones, Poll. Go a tip-toe over the pimples!'
Poll Sweedlepipe obeyed, and scraped the lather off again with particular care. Mr Bailey squinted at every successive dab, as it was deposited on a cloth on his left shoulder, and seemed, with a microscopic eye, to detect some bristles in it; for he murmured more than once 'Reether redder than I could wish, Poll.' The operation being concluded, Poll fell back and stared at him again, while Mr Bailey, wiping his face on the jack-towel, remarked, 'that arter late hours nothing freshened up a man so much as a easy shave.'
He was in the act of tying his cravat at the glass, without his coat, and Poll had wiped his razor, ready for the next customer, when Mrs Gamp, coming downstairs, looked in at the shop-door to give the barber neighbourly good day. Feeling for her unfortunate situation, in having conceived a regard for himself which it was not in the nature of things that he could return, Mr Bailey hastened to soothe her with words of kindness.
'Hallo!' he said, 'Sairah! I needn't ask you how you've been this long time, for you're in full bloom. All a-blowin and a-growin; ain't she, Polly?'
'Why, drat the Bragian boldness of that boy!' cried Mrs Gamp, though not displeased. 'What a imperent young sparrow it is! I wouldn't be that creetur's mother not for fifty pound!'
Mr Bailey regarded this as a delicate confession of her attachment, and a hint that no pecuniary gain could recompense her for its being rendered hopeless. He felt flattered. Disinterested affection is always flattering.
'Ah, dear!' moaned Mrs Gamp, sinking into the shaving chair, 'that there blessed Bull, Mr Sweedlepipe, has done his wery best to conker me. Of all the trying inwalieges in this walley of the shadder, that one beats 'em black and blue.'
It was the practice of Mrs Gamp and her friends in the profession, to say this of all the easy customers; as having at once the effect of discouraging competitors for office, and accounting for the necessity of high living on the part of the nurses.