Master Humphrey's Clock, by by Charles Dickens

Chapter V

Mr. Weller’s Watch

IT SEEMS that the housekeeper and the two Mr. Wellers were no sooner left together on the occasion of their first becoming acquainted, than the housekeeper called to her assistance Mr. Slithers the barber, who had been lurking in the kitchen in expectation of her summons; and with many smiles and much sweetness introduced him as one who would assist her in the responsible office of entertaining her distinguished visitors.

‘Indeed,’ said she, ‘without Mr. Slithers I should have been placed in quite an awkward situation.’

‘There is no call for any hock’erdness, mum,’ said Mr. Weller with the utmost politeness; ‘no call wotsumever. A lady,’ added the old gentleman, looking about him with the air of one who establishes an incontrovertible position, — ‘a lady can’t be hock’erd. Natur’ has otherwise purwided.’

The housekeeper inclined her head and smiled yet more sweetly. The barber, who had been fluttering about Mr. Weller and Sam in a state of great anxiety to improve their acquaintance, rubbed his hands and cried, ‘Hear, hear! Very true, sir;’ whereupon Sam turned about and steadily regarded him for some seconds in silence.

‘I never knew,’ said Sam, fixing his eyes in a ruminative manner upon the blushing barber, — ‘I never knew but vun o’ your trade, but HE wos worth a dozen, and wos indeed dewoted to his callin’!’

‘Was he in the easy shaving way, sir,’ inquired Mr. Slithers; ‘or in the cutting and curling line?’

‘Both,’ replied Sam; ‘easy shavin’ was his natur’, and cuttin’ and curlin’ was his pride and glory. His whole delight wos in his trade. He spent all his money in bears, and run in debt for ‘em besides, and there they wos a growling avay down in the front cellar all day long, and ineffectooally gnashing their teeth, vile the grease o’ their relations and friends wos being re-tailed in gallipots in the shop above, and the first-floor winder wos ornamented vith their heads; not to speak o’ the dreadful aggrawation it must have been to ‘em to see a man alvays a walkin’ up and down the pavement outside, vith the portrait of a bear in his last agonies, and underneath in large letters, “Another fine animal wos slaughtered yesterday at Jinkinson’s!” Hows’ever, there they wos, and there Jinkinson wos, till he wos took wery ill with some inn’ard disorder, lost the use of his legs, and wos confined to his bed, vere he laid a wery long time, but sich wos his pride in his profession, even then, that wenever he wos worse than usual the doctor used to go down-stairs and say, “Jinkinson’s wery low this mornin’; we must give the bears a stir;” and as sure as ever they stirred ‘em up a bit and made ‘em roar, Jinkinson opens his eyes if he wos ever so bad, calls out, “There’s the bears!” and rewives agin.’

‘Astonishing!’ cried the barber.

‘Not a bit,’ said Sam, ‘human natur’ neat as imported. Vun day the doctor happenin’ to say, “I shall look in as usual to-morrow mornin’,” Jinkinson catches hold of his hand and says, “Doctor,” he says, “will you grant me one favour?” “I will, Jinkinson,” says the doctor. “Then, doctor,” says Jinkinson, “vill you come unshaved, and let me shave you?” “I will,” says the doctor. “God bless you,” says Jinkinson. Next day the doctor came, and arter he’d been shaved all skilful and reg’lar, he says, “Jinkinson,” he says, “it’s wery plain this does you good. Now,” he says, “I’ve got a coachman as has got a beard that it ‘ud warm your heart to work on, and though the footman,” he says, “hasn’t got much of a beard, still he’s a trying it on vith a pair o’ viskers to that extent that razors is Christian charity. If they take it in turns to mind the carriage when it’s a waitin’ below,” he says, “wot’s to hinder you from operatin’ on both of ‘em ev’ry day as well as upon me? you’ve got six children,” he says, “wot’s to hinder you from shavin’ all their heads and keepin’ ‘em shaved? you’ve got two assistants in the shop down-stairs, wot’s to hinder you from cuttin’ and curlin’ them as often as you like? Do this,” he says, “and you’re a man agin.” Jinkinson squeedged the doctor’s hand and begun that wery day; he kept his tools upon the bed, and wenever he felt his-self gettin’ worse, he turned to at vun o’ the children who wos a runnin’ about the house vith heads like clean Dutch cheeses, and shaved him agin. Vun day the lawyer come to make his vill; all the time he wos a takin’ it down, Jinkinson was secretly a clippin’ avay at his hair vith a large pair of scissors. “Wot’s that ‘ere snippin’ noise?” says the lawyer every now and then; “it’s like a man havin’ his hair cut.” “It IS wery like a man havin’ his hair cut,” says poor Jinkinson, hidin’ the scissors, and lookin’ quite innocent. By the time the lawyer found it out, he was wery nearly bald. Jinkinson wos kept alive in this vay for a long time, but at last vun day he has in all the children vun arter another, shaves each on ‘em wery clean, and gives him vun kiss on the crown o’ his head; then he has in the two assistants, and arter cuttin’ and curlin’ of ‘em in the first style of elegance, says he should like to hear the woice o’ the greasiest bear, vich rekvest is immediately complied with; then he says that he feels wery happy in his mind and vishes to be left alone; and then he dies, previously cuttin’ his own hair and makin’ one flat curl in the wery middle of his forehead.’

This anecdote produced an extraordinary effect, not only upon Mr. Slithers, but upon the housekeeper also, who evinced so much anxiety to please and be pleased, that Mr. Weller, with a manner betokening some alarm, conveyed a whispered inquiry to his son whether he had gone ‘too fur.’

‘Wot do you mean by too fur?’ demanded Sam.

‘In that ‘ere little compliment respectin’ the want of hock’erdness in ladies, Sammy,’ replied his father.

‘You don’t think she’s fallen in love with you in consekens o’ that, do you?’ said Sam.

‘More unlikelier things have come to pass, my boy,’ replied Mr. Weller in a hoarse whisper; ‘I’m always afeerd of inadwertent captiwation, Sammy. If I know’d how to make myself ugly or unpleasant, I’d do it, Samivel, rayther than live in this here state of perpetival terror!’

Mr. Weller had, at that time, no further opportunity of dwelling upon the apprehensions which beset his mind, for the immediate occasion of his fears proceeded to lead the way down-stairs, apologising as they went for conducting him into the kitchen, which apartment, however, she was induced to proffer for his accommodation in preference to her own little room, the rather as it afforded greater facilities for smoking, and was immediately adjoining the ale-cellar. The preparations which were already made sufficiently proved that these were not mere words of course, for on the deal table were a sturdy ale-jug and glasses, flanked with clean pipes and a plentiful supply of tobacco for the old gentleman and his son, while on a dresser hard by was goodly store of cold meat and other eatables. At sight of these arrangements Mr. Weller was at first distracted between his love of joviality and his doubts whether they were not to be considered as so many evidences of captivation having already taken place; but he soon yielded to his natural impulse, and took his seat at the table with a very jolly countenance.

‘As to imbibin’ any o’ this here flagrant veed, mum, in the presence of a lady,’ said Mr. Weller, taking up a pipe and laying it down again, ‘it couldn’t be. Samivel, total abstinence, if YOU please.’

‘But I like it of all things,’ said the housekeeper.

‘No,’ rejoined Mr. Weller, shaking his head, — ‘no.’

‘Upon my word I do,’ said the housekeeper. ‘Mr. Slithers knows I do.’

Mr. Weller coughed, and notwithstanding the barber’s confirmation of the statement, said ‘No’ again, but more feebly than before. The housekeeper lighted a piece of paper, and insisted on applying it to the bowl of the pipe with her own fair hands; Mr. Weller resisted; the housekeeper cried that her fingers would be burnt; Mr. Weller gave way. The pipe was ignited, Mr. Weller drew a long puff of smoke, and detecting himself in the very act of smiling on the housekeeper, put a sudden constraint upon his countenance and looked sternly at the candle, with a determination not to captivate, himself, or encourage thoughts of captivation in others. From this iron frame of mind he was roused by the voice of his son.

‘I don’t think,’ said Sam, who was smoking with great composure and enjoyment, ‘that if the lady wos agreeable it ‘ud be wery far out o’ the vay for us four to make up a club of our own like the governors does up-stairs, and let him,’ Sam pointed with the stem of his pipe towards his parent, ‘be the president.’

The housekeeper affably declared that it was the very thing she had been thinking of. The barber said the same. Mr. Weller said nothing, but he laid down his pipe as if in a fit of inspiration, and performed the following manoeuvres.

Unbuttoning the three lower buttons of his waistcoat and pausing for a moment to enjoy the easy flow of breath consequent upon this process, he laid violent hands upon his watch-chain, and slowly and with extreme difficulty drew from his fob an immense double-cased silver watch, which brought the lining of the pocket with it, and was not to be disentangled but by great exertions and an amazing redness of face. Having fairly got it out at last, he detached the outer case and wound it up with a key of corresponding magnitude; then put the case on again, and having applied the watch to his ear to ascertain that it was still going, gave it some half-dozen hard knocks on the table to improve its performance.

‘That,’ said Mr. Weller, laying it on the table with its face upwards, ‘is the title and emblem o’ this here society. Sammy, reach them two stools this vay for the wacant cheers. Ladies and gen’lmen, Mr. Weller’s Watch is vound up and now a-goin’. Order!’

By way of enforcing this proclamation, Mr. Weller, using the watch after the manner of a president’s hammer, and remarking with great pride that nothing hurt it, and that falls and concussions of all kinds materially enhanced the excellence of the works and assisted the regulator, knocked the table a great many times, and declared the association formally constituted.

‘And don’t let’s have no grinnin’ at the cheer, Samivel,’ said Mr. Weller to his son, ‘or I shall be committin’ you to the cellar, and then p’r’aps we may get into what the ‘Merrikins call a fix, and the English a qvestion o’ privileges.’

Having uttered this friendly caution, the President settled himself in his chair with great dignity, and requested that Mr. Samuel would relate an anecdote.

‘I’ve told one,’ said Sam.

‘Wery good, sir; tell another,’ returned the chair.

‘We wos a talking jist now, sir,’ said Sam, turning to Slithers, ‘about barbers. Pursuing that ‘ere fruitful theme, sir, I’ll tell you in a wery few words a romantic little story about another barber as p’r’aps you may never have heerd.’

‘Samivel!’ said Mr. Weller, again bringing his watch and the table into smart collision, ‘address your obserwations to the cheer, sir, and not to priwate indiwiduals!’

‘And if I might rise to order,’ said the barber in a soft voice, and looking round him with a conciliatory smile as he leant over the table, with the knuckles of his left hand resting upon it, — ‘if I MIGHT rise to order, I would suggest that “barbers” is not exactly the kind of language which is agreeable and soothing to our feelings. You, sir, will correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there IS such a word in the dictionary as hairdressers.’

‘Well, but suppose he wasn’t a hairdresser,’ suggested Sam.

‘Wy then, sir, be parliamentary and call him vun all the more,’ returned his father. ‘In the same vay as ev’ry gen’lman in another place is a Honourable, ev’ry barber in this place is a hairdresser. Ven you read the speeches in the papers, and see as vun gen’lman says of another, “the Honourable member, if he vill allow me to call him so,” you vill understand, sir, that that means, “if he vill allow me to keep up that ‘ere pleasant and uniwersal fiction.”’

It is a common remark, confirmed by history and experience, that great men rise with the circumstances in which they are placed. Mr. Weller came out so strong in his capacity of chairman, that Sam was for some time prevented from speaking by a grin of surprise, which held his faculties enchained, and at last subsided in a long whistle of a single note. Nay, the old gentleman appeared even to have astonished himself, and that to no small extent, as was demonstrated by the vast amount of chuckling in which he indulged, after the utterance of these lucid remarks.

‘Here’s the story,’ said Sam. ‘Vunce upon a time there wos a young hairdresser as opened a wery smart little shop vith four wax dummies in the winder, two gen’lmen and two ladies — the gen’lmen vith blue dots for their beards, wery large viskers, oudacious heads of hair, uncommon clear eyes, and nostrils of amazin’ pinkness; the ladies vith their heads o’ one side, their right forefingers on their lips, and their forms deweloped beautiful, in vich last respect they had the adwantage over the gen’lmen, as wasn’t allowed but wery little shoulder, and terminated rayther abrupt in fancy drapery. He had also a many hair-brushes and tooth-brushes bottled up in the winder, neat glass-cases on the counter, a floor-clothed cuttin’-room up-stairs, and a weighin’- macheen in the shop, right opposite the door. But the great attraction and ornament wos the dummies, which this here young hairdresser wos constantly a runnin’ out in the road to look at, and constantly a runnin’ in again to touch up and polish; in short, he wos so proud on ‘em, that ven Sunday come, he wos always wretched and mis’rable to think they wos behind the shutters, and looked anxiously for Monday on that account. Vun o’ these dummies wos a favrite vith him beyond the others; and ven any of his acquaintance asked him wy he didn’t get married — as the young ladies he know’d, in partickler, often did — he used to say, “Never! I never vill enter into the bonds of vedlock,” he says, “until I meet vith a young ‘ooman as realises my idea o’ that ‘ere fairest dummy vith the light hair. Then, and not till then,” he says, “I vill approach the altar.” All the young ladies he know’d as had got dark hair told him this wos wery sinful, and that he wos wurshippin’ a idle; but them as wos at all near the same shade as the dummy coloured up wery much, and wos observed to think him a wery nice young man.’

‘Samivel,’ said Mr. Weller, gravely, ‘a member o’ this associashun bein’ one o’ that ‘ere tender sex which is now immedetly referred to, I have to rekvest that you vill make no reflections.’

‘I ain’t a makin’ any, am I?’ inquired Sam.

‘Order, sir!’ rejoined Mr. Weller, with severe dignity. Then, sinking the chairman in the father, he added, in his usual tone of voice: ‘Samivel, drive on!’

Sam interchanged a smile with the housekeeper, and proceeded:

‘The young hairdresser hadn’t been in the habit o’ makin’ this avowal above six months, ven he en-countered a young lady as wos the wery picter o’ the fairest dummy. “Now,” he says, “it’s all up. I am a slave!” The young lady wos not only the picter o’ the fairest dummy, but she was wery romantic, as the young hairdresser was, too, and he says, “O!” he says, “here’s a community o’ feelin’, here’s a flow o’ soul!” he says, “here’s a interchange o’ sentiment!” The young lady didn’t say much, o’ course, but she expressed herself agreeable, and shortly artervards vent to see him vith a mutual friend. The hairdresser rushes out to meet her, but d’rectly she sees the dummies she changes colour and falls a tremblin’ wiolently. “Look up, my love,” says the hairdresser, “behold your imige in my winder, but not correcter than in my art!” “My imige!” she says. “Yourn!” replies the hairdresser. “But whose imige is THAT?” she says, a pinting at vun o’ the gen’lmen. “No vun’s, my love,” he says, “it is but a idea.” “A idea! “ she cries: “it is a portrait, I feel it is a portrait, and that ‘ere noble face must be in the millingtary!” “Wot do I hear!” says he, a crumplin’ his curls. “Villiam Gibbs,” she says, quite firm, “never renoo the subject. I respect you as a friend,” she says, “but my affections is set upon that manly brow.” “This,” says the hairdresser, “is a reg’lar blight, and in it I perceive the hand of Fate. Farevell!” Vith these vords he rushes into the shop, breaks the dummy’s nose vith a blow of his curlin’-irons, melts him down at the parlour fire, and never smiles artervards.’

‘The young lady, Mr. Weller?’ said the housekeeper.

‘Why, ma’am,’ said Sam, ‘finding that Fate had a spite agin her, and everybody she come into contact vith, she never smiled neither, but read a deal o’ poetry and pined avay, — by rayther slow degrees, for she ain’t dead yet. It took a deal o’ poetry to kill the hair-dresser, and some people say arter all that it was more the gin and water as caused him to be run over; p’r’aps it was a little o’ both, and came o’ mixing the two.’

The barber declared that Mr. Weller had related one of the most interesting stories that had ever come within his knowledge, in which opinion the housekeeper entirely concurred.

‘Are you a married man, sir?’ inquired Sam.

The barber replied that he had not that honour.

‘I s’pose you mean to be?’ said Sam.

‘Well,’ replied the barber, rubbing his hands smirkingly, ‘I don’t know, I don’t think it’s very likely.’

‘That’s a bad sign,’ said Sam; ‘if you’d said you meant to be vun o’ these days, I should ha’ looked upon you as bein’ safe. You’re in a wery precarious state.’

‘I am not conscious of any danger, at all events,’ returned the barber.

‘No more wos I, sir,’ said the elder Mr. Weller, interposing; ‘those vere my symptoms, exactly. I’ve been took that vay twice. Keep your vether eye open, my friend, or you’re gone.’

There was something so very solemn about this admonition, both in its matter and manner, and also in the way in which Mr. Weller still kept his eye fixed upon the unsuspecting victim, that nobody cared to speak for some little time, and might not have cared to do so for some time longer, if the housekeeper had not happened to sigh, which called off the old gentleman’s attention and gave rise to a gallant inquiry whether ‘there wos anythin’ wery piercin’ in that ‘ere little heart?’

‘Dear me, Mr. Weller!’ said the housekeeper, laughing.

‘No, but is there anythin’ as agitates it?’ pursued the old gentleman. ‘Has it always been obderrate, always opposed to the happiness o’ human creeturs? Eh? Has it?’

At this critical juncture for her blushes and confusion, the housekeeper discovered that more ale was wanted, and hastily withdrew into the cellar to draw the same, followed by the barber, who insisted on carrying the candle. Having looked after her with a very complacent expression of face, and after him with some disdain, Mr. Weller caused his glance to travel slowly round the kitchen, until at length it rested on his son.

‘Sammy,’ said Mr. Weller, ‘I mistrust that barber.’

‘Wot for?’ returned Sam; ‘wot’s he got to do with you? You’re a nice man, you are, arter pretendin’ all kinds o’ terror, to go a payin’ compliments and talkin’ about hearts and piercers.’

The imputation of gallantry appeared to afford Mr. Weller the utmost delight, for he replied in a voice choked by suppressed laughter, and with the tears in his eyes,

‘Wos I a talkin’ about hearts and piercers, — wos I though, Sammy, eh?’

‘Wos you? of course you wos.’

‘She don’t know no better, Sammy, there ain’t no harm in it, — no danger, Sammy; she’s only a punster. She seemed pleased, though, didn’t she? O’ course, she wos pleased, it’s nat’ral she should be, wery nat’ral.’

‘He’s wain of it!’ exclaimed Sam, joining in his father’s mirth. ‘He’s actually wain!’

‘Hush!’ replied Mr. Weller, composing his features, ‘they’re a comin’ back, — the little heart’s a comin’ back. But mark these wurds o’ mine once more, and remember ‘em ven your father says he said ‘em. Samivel, I mistrust that ‘ere deceitful barber.’

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:30