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AN UNEXPECTED MEETING, AND A PROMISING PROSPECT
The laws of sympathy between beards and birds, and the secret source
of that attraction which frequently impels a shaver of the one to be
a dealer in the other, are questions for the subtle reasoning of
scientific bodies; not the less so, because their investigation would
seem calculated to lead to no particular result. It is enough to know
that the artist who had the honour of entertaining Mrs Gamp as
his first-floor lodger, united the two pursuits of barbering and
bird-fancying; and that it was not an original idea of his, but one in
which he had, dispersed about the by-streets and suburbs of the town, a
host of rivals.
The name of the householder was Paul Sweedlepipe. But he was commonly
called Poll Sweedlepipe; and was not uncommonly believed to have been so
christened, among his friends and neighbours.
With the exception of the staircase, and his lodger's private apartment,
Poll Sweedlepipe's house was one great bird's nest. Gamecocks resided in
the kitchen; pheasants wasted the brightness of their golden plumage on
the garret; bantams roosted in the cellar; owls had possession of the
bedroom; and specimens of all the smaller fry of birds chirrupped and
twittered in the shop. The staircase was sacred to rabbits. There in
hutches of all shapes and kinds, made from old packing-cases, boxes,
drawers, and tea-chests, they increased in a prodigious degree, and
contributed their share towards that complicated whiff which, quite
impartially, and without distinction of persons, saluted every nose that
was put into Sweedlepipe's easy shaving-shop.
Many noses found their way there, for all that, especially on Sunday
morning, before church-time. Even archbishops shave, or must be shaved,
on a Sunday, and beards WILL grow after twelve o'clock on Saturday
night, though it be upon the chins of base mechanics; who, not being
able to engage their valets by the quarter, hire them by the job, and
pay them--oh, the wickedness of copper coin!--in dirty pence. Poll
Sweedlepipe, the sinner, shaved all comers at a penny each, and cut the
hair of any customer for twopence; and being a lone unmarried man, and
having some connection in the bird line, Poll got on tolerably well.
He was a little elderly man, with a clammy cold right hand, from which
even rabbits and birds could not remove the smell of shaving-soap. Poll
had something of the bird in his nature; not of the hawk or eagle, but
of the sparrow, that builds in chimney-stacks and inclines to human
company. He was not quarrelsome, though, like the sparrow; but peaceful,
like the dove. In his walk he strutted; and, in this respect, he bore
a faint resemblance to the pigeon, as well as in a certain prosiness of
speech, which might, in its monotony, be likened to the cooing of that
bird. He was very inquisitive; and when he stood at his shop-door in the
evening-tide, watching the neighbours, with his head on one side, and
his eye cocked knowingly, there was a dash of the raven in him. Yet
there was no more wickedness in Poll than in a robin. Happily, too, when
any of his ornithological properties were on the verge of going too
far, they were quenched, dissolved, melted down, and neutralised in
the barber; just as his bald head--otherwise, as the head of a shaved
magpie--lost itself in a wig of curly black ringlets, parted on one
side, and cut away almost to the crown, to indicate immense capacity of
Poll had a very small, shrill treble voice, which might have led
the wags of Kingsgate Street to insist the more upon his feminine
designation. He had a tender heart, too; for, when he had a good
commission to provide three or four score sparrows for a shooting-match,
he would observe, in a compassionate tone, how singular it was that
sparrows should have been made expressly for such purposes. The
question, whether men were made to shoot them, never entered into Poll's
Poll wore, in his sporting character, a velveteen coat, a great deal of
blue stocking, ankle boots, a neckerchief of some bright colour, and
a very tall hat. Pursuing his more quiet occupation of barber, he
generally subsided into an apron not over-clean, a flannel jacket, and
corduroy knee-shorts. It was in this latter costume, but with his apron
girded round his waist, as a token of his having shut up shop for
the night, that he closed the door one evening, some weeks after the
occurrences detailed in the last chapter, and stood upon the steps in
Kingsgate Street, listening until the little cracked bell within
should leave off ringing. For until it did--this was Mr Sweedlepipe's
reflection--the place never seemed quiet enough to be left to itself.
'It's the greediest little bell to ring,' said Poll, 'that ever was. But
it's quiet at last.'
He rolled his apron up a little tighter as he said these words, and
hastened down the street. Just as he was turning into Holborn, he ran
against a young gentleman in a livery. This youth was bold, though
small, and with several lively expressions of displeasure, turned upon
'Now, STOO-PID!' cried the young gentleman. 'Can't you look where you're
a-going to--eh? Can't you mind where you're a-coming to--eh? What do you
think your eyes was made for--eh? Ah! Yes. Oh! Now then!'
The young gentleman pronounced the two last words in a very loud tone
and with frightful emphasis, as though they contained within themselves
the essence of the direst aggravation. But he had scarcely done so, when
his anger yielded to surprise, and he cried, in a milder tone:
'Why, it an't you, sure!' cried Poll. 'It can't be you!'
'No. It an't me,' returned the youth. 'It's my son, my oldest one. He's
a credit to his father, an't he, Polly?' With this delicate little
piece of banter, he halted on the pavement, and went round and round
in circles, for the better exhibition of his figure; rather to the
inconvenience of the passengers generally, who were not in an equal
state of spirits with himself.
'I wouldn't have believed it,' said Poll. 'What! You've left your old
place, then? Have you?'
'Have I!' returned his young friend, who had by this time stuck his
hands into the pockets of his white cord breeches, and was swaggering
along at the barber's side. 'D'ye know a pair of top-boots when you see
'em, Polly?--look here!'
'Beau-ti-ful' cried Mr Sweedlepipe.
'D'ye know a slap-up sort of button, when you see it?' said the youth.
'Don't look at mine, if you ain't a judge, because these lions' heads
was made for men of taste; not snobs.'
'Beau-ti-ful!' cried the barber again. 'A grass-green frock-coat, too,
bound with gold; and a cockade in your hat!'
'I should hope so,' replied the youth. 'Blow the cockade, though; for,
except that it don't turn round, it's like the wentilator that used to
be in the kitchen winder at Todgers's. You ain't seen the old lady's
name in the Gazette, have you?'
'No,' returned the barber. 'Is she a bankrupt?'
'If she ain't, she will be,' retorted Bailey. 'That bis'ness never can
be carried on without ME. Well! How are you?'
'Oh! I'm pretty well,' said Poll. 'Are you living at this end of the
town, or were you coming to see me? Was that the bis'ness that brought
you to Holborn?'
'I haven't got no bis'ness in Holborn,' returned Bailey, with some
displeasure. 'All my bis'ness lays at the West End. I've got the right
sort of governor now. You can't see his face for his whiskers, and can't
see his whiskers for the dye upon 'em. That's a gentleman ain't it? You
wouldn't like a ride in a cab, would you? Why, it wouldn't be safe to
offer it. You'd faint away, only to see me a-comin' at a mild trot round
To convey a slight idea of the effect of this approach, Mr Bailey
counterfeited in his own person the action of a high-trotting horse and
threw up his head so high, in backing against a pump, that he shook his
'Why, he's own uncle to Capricorn,' said Bailey, 'and brother to
Cauliflower. He's been through the winders of two chaney shops since
we've had him, and was sold for killin' his missis. That's a horse, I
'Ah! you'll never want to buy any more red polls, now,' observed Poll,
looking on his young friend with an air of melancholy. 'You'll never
want to buy any more red polls now, to hang up over the sink, will you?'
'I should think not,' replied Bailey. 'Reether so. I wouldn't have
nothin' to say to any bird below a Peacock; and HE'd be wulgar. Well,
how are you?'
'Oh! I'm pretty well,' said Poll. He answered the question again because
Mr Bailey asked it again; Mr Bailey asked it again, because--accompanied
with a straddling action of the white cords, a bend of the knees, and a
striking forth of the top-boots--it was an easy horse-fleshy, turfy sort
of thing to do.
'Wot are you up to, old feller?' added Mr Bailey, with the same graceful
rakishness. He was quite the man-about-town of the conversation, while
the easy-shaver was the child.
'Why, I am going to fetch my lodger home,' said Paul.
'A woman!' cried Mr Bailey, 'for a twenty-pun' note!'
The little barber hastened to explain that she was neither a young
woman, nor a handsome woman, but a nurse, who had been acting as a kind
of house-keeper to a gentleman for some weeks past, and left her place
that night, in consequence of being superseded by another and a more
legitimate house-keeper--to wit, the gentleman's bride.
'He's newly married, and he brings his young wife home to-night,' said
the barber. 'So I'm going to fetch my lodger away--Mr Chuzzlewit's,
close behind the Post Office--and carry her box for her.'
'Jonas Chuzzlewit's?' said Bailey.
'Ah!' returned Paul: 'that's the name sure enough. Do you know him?'
'Oh, no!' cried Mr Bailey; 'not at all. And I don't know her! Not
neither! Why, they first kept company through me, a'most.'
'Ah?' said Paul.
'Ah!' said Mr Bailey, with a wink; 'and she ain't bad looking mind you.
But her sister was the best. SHE was the merry one. I often used to have
a bit of fun with her, in the hold times!'
Mr Bailey spoke as if he already had a leg and three-quarters in
the grave, and this had happened twenty or thirty years ago. Paul
Sweedlepipe, the meek, was so perfectly confounded by his precocious
self-possession, and his patronizing manner, as well as by his boots,
cockade, and livery, that a mist swam before his eyes, and he saw--not
the Bailey of acknowledged juvenility from Todgers's Commercial
Boarding House, who had made his acquaintance within a twelvemonth,
by purchasing, at sundry times, small birds at twopence each--but a
highly-condensed embodiment of all the sporting grooms in London; an
abstract of all the stable-knowledge of the time; a something at a
high-pressure that must have had existence many years, and was fraught
with terrible experiences. And truly, though in the cloudy atmosphere
of Todgers's, Mr Bailey's genius had ever shone out brightly in this
particular respect, it now eclipsed both time and space, cheated
beholders of their senses, and worked on their belief in defiance of all
natural laws. He walked along the tangible and real stones of Holborn
Hill, an undersized boy; and yet he winked the winks, and thought the
thoughts, and did the deeds, and said the sayings of an ancient man.
There was an old principle within him, and a young surface without. He
became an inexplicable creature; a breeched and booted Sphinx. There was
no course open to the barber, but to go distracted himself, or to take
Bailey for granted; and he wisely chose the latter.
Mr Bailey was good enough to continue to bear him company, and to
entertain him, as they went, with easy conversation on various sporting
topics; especially on the comparative merits, as a general principle, of
horses with white stockings, and horses without. In regard to the style
of tail to be preferred, Mr Bailey had opinions of his own, which he
explained, but begged they might by no means influence his friend's,
as here he knew he had the misfortune to differ from some excellent
authorities. He treated Mr Sweedlepipe to a dram, compounded agreeably
to his own directions, which he informed him had been invented by a
member of the Jockey Club; and, as they were by this time near the
barber's destination, he observed that, as he had an hour to spare, and
knew the parties, he would, if quite agreeable, be introduced to Mrs
Paul knocked at Jonas Chuzzlewit's; and, on the door being opened by
that lady, made the two distinguished persons known to one another. It
was a happy feature in Mrs Gamp's twofold profession, that it gave her
an interest in everything that was young as well as in everything that
was old. She received Mr Bailey with much kindness.
'It's very good, I'm sure, of you to come,' she said to her landlord,
'as well as bring so nice a friend. But I'm afraid that I must trouble
you so far as to step in, for the young couple has not yet made
'They're late, ain't they?' inquired her landlord, when she had
conducted them downstairs into the kitchen.
'Well, sir, considern' the Wings of Love, they are,' said Mrs Gamp.
Mr Bailey inquired whether the Wings of Love had ever won a plate, or
could be backed to do anything remarkable; and being informed that it
was not a horse, but merely a poetical or figurative expression, evinced
considerable disgust. Mrs Gamp was so very much astonished by his
affable manners and great ease, that she was about to propound to her
landlord in a whisper the staggering inquiry, whether he was a man or
a boy, when Mr Sweedlepipe, anticipating her design, made a timely
'He knows Mrs Chuzzlewit,' said Paul aloud.
'There's nothin' he don't know; that's my opinion,' observed Mrs Gamp.
'All the wickedness of the world is Print to him.'
Mr Bailey received this as a compliment, and said, adjusting his cravat,
'As you knows Mrs Chuzzlewit, you knows, p'raps, what her chris'en name
is?' Mrs Gamp observed.
'Charity,' said Bailey.
'That it ain't!' cried Mrs Gamp.
'Cherry, then,' said Bailey. 'Cherry's short for it. It's all the same.'
'It don't begin with a C at all,' retorted Mrs Gamp, shaking her head.
'It begins with a M.'
'Whew!' cried Mr Bailey, slapping a little cloud of pipe-clay out of his
left leg, 'then he's been and married the merry one!'
As these words were mysterious, Mrs Gamp called upon him to explain,
which Mr Bailey proceeded to do; that lady listening greedily to
everything he said. He was yet in the fullness of his narrative when the
sound of wheels, and a double knock at the street door, announced the
arrival of the newly married couple. Begging him to reserve what more he
had to say for her hearing on the way home, Mrs Gamp took up the candle,
and hurried away to receive and welcome the young mistress of the house.
'Wishing you appiness and joy with all my art,' said Mrs Gamp, dropping
a curtsey as they entered the hall; 'and you, too, sir. Your lady looks
a little tired with the journey, Mr Chuzzlewit, a pretty dear!'
'She has bothered enough about it,' grumbled Mr Jonas. 'Now, show a
light, will you?'
'This way, ma'am, if you please,' said Mrs Gamp, going upstairs before
them. 'Things has been made as comfortable as they could be, but there's
many things you'll have to alter your own self when you gets time
to look about you! Ah! sweet thing! But you don't,' added Mrs Gamp,
internally, 'you don't look much like a merry one, I must say!'
It was true; she did not. The death that had gone before the bridal
seemed to have left its shade upon the house. The air was heavy and
oppressive; the rooms were dark; a deep gloom filled up every chink and
corner. Upon the hearthstone, like a creature of ill omen, sat the aged
clerk, with his eyes fixed on some withered branches in the stove. He
rose and looked at her.
'So there you are, Mr Chuff,' said Jonas carelessly, as he dusted his
boots; 'still in the land of the living, eh?'
'Still in the land of the living, sir,' retorted Mrs Gamp. 'And Mr
Chuffey may thank you for it, as many and many a time I've told him.'
Mr Jonas was not in the best of humours, for he merely said, as he
looked round, 'We don't want you any more, you know, Mrs Gamp.'
'I'm a-going immediate, sir,' returned the nurse; 'unless there's
nothink I can do for you, ma'am. Ain't there,' said Mrs Gamp, with
a look of great sweetness, and rummaging all the time in her pocket;
'ain't there nothink I can do for you, my little bird?'
'No,' said Merry, almost crying. 'You had better go away, please!'
With a leer of mingled sweetness and slyness; with one eye on the
future, one on the bride, and an arch expression in her face, partly
spiritual, partly spirituous, and wholly professional and peculiar
to her art; Mrs Gamp rummaged in her pocket again, and took from it a
printed card, whereon was an inscription copied from her signboard.
'Would you be so good, my darling dovey of a dear young married lady,'
Mrs Gamp observed, in a low voice, 'as put that somewheres where you can
keep it in your mind? I'm well beknown to many ladies, and it's my card.
Gamp is my name, and Gamp my nater. Livin' quite handy, I will make
so bold as call in now and then, and make inquiry how your health and
spirits is, my precious chick!'
And with innumerable leers, winks, coughs, nods, smiles, and curtseys,
all leading to the establishment of a mysterious and confidential
understanding between herself and the bride, Mrs Gamp, invoking a
blessing upon the house, leered, winked, coughed, nodded, smiled, and
curtseyed herself out of the room.
'But I will say, and I would if I was led a Martha to the Stakes for
it,' Mrs Gamp remarked below stairs, in a whisper, 'that she don't look
much like a merry one at this present moment of time.'
'Ah! wait till you hear her laugh!' said Bailey.
'Hem!' cried Mrs Gamp, in a kind of groan. 'I will, child.'
They said no more in the house, for Mrs Gamp put on her bonnet, Mr
Sweedlepipe took up her box; and Mr Bailey accompanied them towards
Kingsgate Street; recounting to Mrs Gamp as they went along, the origin
and progress of his acquaintance with Mrs Chuzzlewit and her sister. It
was a pleasant instance of this youth's precocity, that he fancied Mrs
Gamp had conceived a tenderness for him, and was much tickled by her
As the door closed heavily behind them, Mrs Jonas sat down in a chair,
and felt a strange chill creep upon her, whilst she looked about the
room. It was pretty much as she had known it, but appeared more dreary.
She had thought to see it brightened to receive her.
'It ain't good enough for you, I suppose?' said Jonas, watching her
'Why, it IS dull,' said Merry, trying to be more herself.
'It'll be duller before you're done with it,' retorted Jonas, 'if you
give me any of your airs. You're a nice article, to turn sulky on first
coming home! Ecod, you used to have life enough, when you could plague
me with it. The gal's downstairs. Ring the bell for supper, while I take
my boots off!'
She roused herself from looking after him as he left the room, to do
what he had desired; when the old man Chuffey laid his hand softly on
'You are not married?' he said eagerly. 'Not married?'
'Yes. A month ago. Good Heaven, what is the matter?'
He answered nothing was the matter; and turned from her. But in her fear
and wonder, turning also, she saw him raise his trembling hands above
his head, and heard him say:
'Oh! woe, woe, woe, upon this wicked house!'
It was her welcome--HOME.