The Barber Talks, by O.Henry
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Friday, 20th January 2012

The Post Man slid into the chair with an apologetic manner, for the barber's gaze was superior and scornful. He was so develish, cool and self-possessed, and held the public in such infinite contempt.

The Post Man's hair had been cut close with the clippers on the day before.

"Haircut?" asked the barber in a quiet but thoroughly dangerous tone.

"Shave," said the Post Man.

The barber raised his eyebrows, gave his victim a look of deep disdain, and hurled the chair with a loud rattle and crash back to a reclining position.

Then he seized a mug and brush and, after bestowing upon the Post Man a look of undying contumely, turned with a sneer to the water faucet. Thence he returned, enveloped the passive victim in a voluminous cloth, and with a pitiless hand daubed a great brushful of sweetish tasting lather across his mouth.

Then he began to talk.

"Ever been in Seattle, Washington Territory?" he asked.

"Blub-a-lub-blub," said the Post Man, struggling against the soap, and then he shook his head feebly.

"Neither have I," said the barber, "but I have a brother named Bill who runs an orange orchard nine miles from St. John, Fla. That's only a split hair on your neck; it's growing the wrong way. They are caused by shaving the neck in the wrong direction. Sometimes whiskey will made [sic] them do that way. Whiskey is a terrible thing. Do you drink it?"

The Post Man only had one eye of all his features uncovered by lather and he tried to throw an appealing expression implying negation into this optic, but the barber was too quick for him and filled the eye with soap by a dextrous flap of his brush.

"My brother Bill used to drink," continued the barber.

"He could drink more whiskey than any man in Houston, but he never got drunk. He had a chair in my shop, but I had to let him go. Bill had a wonderful constitution. When he got all he could hold he would quit drinking. The only way he showed it was in his eyes. They would get kind of glazed and fishy and wouldn't turn in his head. When Bill wanted to look to one side he used to take his fingers and turn his eyeballs a little the way he wanted to see. His eyes looked exactly like those little round windows you see in the dome of the post office. You could hear Bill breathe across the street when he was full. He could shave people when he was drunk as well as he could sober. -- Razor hurt you?"

The Post Man tried to wave one of his hands to disclaim any sense of pain, but the barber's quick eye caught the motion and he leaned his weight against the hand crushing it against the chair.

"I kept noticing," went on the barber, "that Bill was getting about four customers to my one, even if he did drink so much. People would come in three or four at a time and sit down and wait their turns with Bill when my chair was vacant. I didn't know what to make of it. Bill had all he could do, and he was so crowded that he didn't have time to go out to a saloon, but he kept a big jug in the back room, and every few minutes he would slip in there and take a drink.

"One day I noticed a man that got out of Bill's chair acting queer and he staggered as he went out. A day or two afterwards the shop was full of customers from morning till night, and one man came back and had a shave three different times in the forenoon. In a couple of days more there was a crowd of men in the shop, and they had a line formed outside two or three doors down the sidewalk. Bill made $9.00 that day. That evening a policeman came in and jerked me up for running a saloon without a license. It seems that Bill's breath was so full of whiskey that every man he shaved went out feeling pretty hilarious and sent his friends there to be shaved. It cost me $300 to get out of it, and I shipped Bill to Florida pretty soon afterward."

* * *

"I was sent for once," went on the barber, as he seized his victim by the ear and slammed his head over on the other side, "to go out on Piney street and shave a dead man. Barbers don't much like a job of that kind, although they get from $5 to $10 for the work. It was 1908 Piney street. I started about 11 o' clock at night. I found the street all right and I counted from the corner until I found 1908. I had my razors, soap and mug in a little case I use for such purposes. I went in and knocked at the door. An old man opened it and his eye fell on my case.

" ' You've come, have you?' he asked. 'Well, go upstairs; he's in the front room to your right. There's nobody with him. He hasn't any friends or relatives in town; he's only been boarding here about a week.'

" 'How long since he -- since it occurred?' I asked.

" 'About an hour, I guess,' says the old man. I was glad of that because corpses always shave better before they get good and cold. I went in the room and turned up the lamp. The man was laid out on the bed. He was warm yet and he had about a week's growth of beard on. I got to work and in half an hour I had given him a nice clean shave that would have done his heart good if he had been alive. Then I went down stairs and saw the old man.

" 'What success?' he asked.

" 'Good,' says I. 'He's fixed up all right. Who's to pay?'

" 'He gave me $30 to send his folks in Alabama yesterday,' says the old man. 'I guess your fee will have to come out of it.'

" 'It'll be five,' I said.

"The old man handed me a five dollar bill and I went home very well satisfied."

Here the barber seized the chair, hurled it upright, snatched off the cloth, buried his hands in the Post Man's hair and tore out a handful, bumped and thumped his head, shook it violently and hissed sarcastically.

"Bay rum?"

The Post Man nodded stupidly, closed his eyes and tried unsuccessfully to recall a prayer.

"Next day," said the barber, "I heard some news. It seemed that a man had died at 1908 Piney street and just a litle while before a man in the next house had taken poison. The folks in one house sent for a doctor and the ones in the other sent for a barber. The funny part is the doctor and I both made a mistake and got into the wrong house. He went in to see the dead man and found the family doctor just getting ready to leave. The doctor didn't waste any time asking questions, but got out his stomach pump, stuck it into the dead man and went to work pumping the poison out. All this time I was busy shaving the man who had taken poison. And the funniest part of it all is that after the doctor had pumped all the other doctor's medicine out of the dead man, he opened his eyes, raised up in bed and asked for a steak and potatoes.

"This made the family doctor mad, and he and the doctor with a stomach pumpt got into a fight and fell down the stairs and broke the hat rack all to pieces."

"And how about your man who had taken poison?" asked the Post Man timidly.

"Him?" said the barber, "why he died, of course, but he died with one of the beautifulest shaves that ever a man had. -- Brush!"

An African of terrible aspect bore down upon the Post Man, struck him violently with the stub of a whisk broom, seized his coat at the back and ripped it loose from its collar.

"Call again," growled the barber in a voice of the deepest menace, as the scribe made a rush for the door and escaped.