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  ― 163 ―

His Hair.

THE little albino barber was quite a show feature of that small Maoriland township. He was about thirty-nine, unmarried, and without a solitary love-experience, when one morning a girl stepped into his saloon.

“Can you trim my hair, barber?” she asked.

“Not this mornin', miss. I'd'ave t' shut th' room ter gents to do it; but if you'll come ut two-thirty I'll be 'appy t' oblige yer.”

He had all ready when she returned. Enveloping her in a pink wrapper, he let loose the coils of jet black hair, which, as he lightly shook their strands apart, fell about his feet in a profusion of glossy ripples. With a smothered exclamation he stood back for a moment, his pink expressionless eyes growing redder-rimmed, his placid features working with delight in the spectacle before him—so unique, so utterly unexpected.

“I want you to cut a good deal of it off,” she said; “it is so heavy.” And she sighed wearily.

The usually communicative barber did not reply. He brushed and combed the wonderful hair, fingering it as though it were of spun glass; then began to clip.

“You are to take off quite six inches,” she ordered.

Snick! snick!—the frizzy black fragments piled into quite a little heap at the albino's feet, but still those raven tresses swept the floor.

“Thank you,” she said, when he had lifted and re-coiled that abon crown; “I shall work with less sense of oppression now that you have lightened my load,”—and, smiling, she paid her shilling and went out.

Twice during that summer she came again to have her hair cut


  ― 164 ―
At the beginning of the cold weather she came for the fourth time.

“It's 'ardly necessary t' cut any more off,” the albino objected, caressing the falling hair, which now hung some inches from the floor.

“Oh, yes! I simply cannot bear the weight; take off a good length; it's too much, such a mass of hair!” And she settled herself in the big chair, her small face reflected in the mirror.

The albino saw not the face; his thoughts were all of that glorious hair—his heart's first love.

Small and few were the locks he severed; but for over an hour he brushed and smoothed, till the blue-black polish reflected the movement of his broad, flat-nailed fingers, while the girl, dozing, noted not how time passed. Customers were clamouring for entrance when, with a heavy sigh of regret, he drew away the wrapper.

“I'm afraid I've kept you a long time, but you've taken away my headache,” she said, gratefully.

“'Eadache! Do you 'ave 'em?”

“Almost all the time. I'll come again soon to have it charmed away.”

“I'ope yer will. I'm always free early afternoons. Yes, I 'ope yer will,” repeated the albino; not looking at her, but speaking to the hair.

She passed out into the street, and met her headache at the first step on the rude pavement.

The albino, on his knees, carefully gathered every hair from the sheet he had spread to receive them as they fell; and placed the gleanings in a little screw of silver paper upon a shelf, among several similar parcels.

After a month the weather set in cold, bringing sleet and snow. It was at half-past ten that the albino, having warmed his small, limp frame with a pint of beer, turned out his gas and went to bed. He had scarcely got to sleep when a loud banging at his street-door woke him with a start.




  ― 165 ―

As the banging continued he got out of bed, grumbling, and partially opened the door, enquiring, “'Oo's there?”

“Are you the barber?”

“'Oo else d' y' s'pose?”

“Then you are to come with me sharp, and bring along the best case o' razors you've got.”

“'Oo's wantin' me?”

“Oh, shut up, an' look alive! D'ye think I'm goin' to stand 'ere all night answerin' questions?” snarled the man, shivering.

“You're none too bloomin' perlite yerself,” snapped the albino, slamming the door in the face of the man, who retreated to the waiting buggy, cursing the weather.

Presently the albino emerged, well wrapped up.

“Ready?” asked the man.

“Ready.”

“Not forgettin' the razors?”

“Not fergettin' th' razors.” And neither spoke again until, after a long drive into the pitch-black, sodden country, they drew up at a cottage.

The door was opened by a tall man.

“Come in, my man,” he said; and the albino entered, blinking at the light.

It was a small room without a fireplace. Two silent, serious-faced men sat watching him.

“Remove your wet things,” said the tall man; and when the albino had complied, he continued, “Now, barber, are your razors sharp?”

“Yes'ir, sharp as razors,” said the albino, his teeth chattering with cold.

“This is no time for jests,” reproved the tall man; “I want you to shave a patient as soon as you are warm enough to keep a steady hand—a very steady hand, mind.”

The albino, with a low, whistling sigh, drew forth his case and examined its contents.

“Whenever you are ready,” hinted the tall man; and the three


  ― 166 ―
preceded the albino into a larger room adjoining. The lamp was shaded, but a bright fire shed a flickering glow over a bed upon which, moaning at intervals, but tossing, tossing ever, with incessant rolling of her pain-racked, fevered head, lay the girl who had come to him in the summer, the possessor of—his hair.

“This is the patient. You can begin at once!” said the tall man, as the albino made no sign.

“I couldn't do it, sir! Wot a sacrifice!” And all the blood in the albino's lukewarm body flew to his face and set his stiff limbs tingling.

“It must be done,” said the tall man, sternly.

The albino lifted a wisp of her hair, no longer glossy and soft; tangled, tarnished, harsh to the touch of his slow-moving fingers.

They attempted to hold her still, but no efforts could quiet her. Anguished at the sight of that black, dishevelled mass the albino said:

“If I'd a brush I think I'd calm'er down.”

They handed him one, which he drew slowly and regularly from her forehead to the furthest point of hair he could reach. At the end of an hour she lay still.

He clipped every lock, laying each to each as he relinquished them, until you could have supposed them severed at one cut.

The shaving was more difficult: the light was poor.

But after two hours there remained a bald head with a little fringe of black round the face, where a narrow line of hair still grew.

The albino gathered his tools, whispering, “I'spose I'd better take this'ere”—indicating the hair—“an' make it up: 'er mother might like it?”

“Yes, yes, just as you please,” said the tall man.

“Pore young thing,” went on the albino, winding the hair into a neat coil.

“It's very sad,” replied the tall man; “pupil teacher, teaching all day, studying all night, too much for mortal woman: the


  ― 167 ―
result——” Looking towards the bed, as if struck by some thing he saw there, he stepped swiftly to the girl's side.

“Barber, you have left a fringe of hair!”

“Yes'ir, I thought they'd like it, in—in case of anythin 'appenin'—she'd not look so—so 'orrid like.”

“I understand.” And the tall man bowed his head.

Two days later something did happen.

The albino wove the hair into a beautiful plait, secured at each end by a buckle cleverly made from its own strands.

But her mother never got it.

When he came to the end at last, after six weeks of loving toil, and was about to send it away, something snapped at his heart.

He tried to weep: not a tear. Then he rose and cast an enquiring eye upon the beams which braced his roof.

The middle one would do.

He got his step-ladder and placed it beneath the beam, then mounting, found the precious coil just long enough. As he finished his preparations, a verse he had once seen quoted in a weekly paper came into his head:

When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The gods that wanton in the air
Know no such liberty.

It had appealed to him as a barber, and now he understood it as a man. He repeated it softly as he stood.

“Know no such liberty,” he concluded, smiling to himself. Then he kicked away the ladder.

He looked very happy, they said when they found him—“for a hanged man.”

MABEL HOLMES.

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