'Pays, as he speaks, my dear child — through the nose,' replied Miss Mowcher. 'None of your close shavers the Prince ain't. You'd say so, if you saw his moustachios. Red by nature, black by art.'
'By your art, of course,' said Steerforth.
Miss Mowcher winked assent. 'Forced to send for me. Couldn't help it. The climate affected his dye; it did very well in Russia, but it was no go here. You never saw such a rusty Prince in all your born days as he was. Like old iron!' 'Is that why you called him a humbug, just now?' inquired Steerforth.
'Oh, you're a broth of a boy, ain't you?' returned Miss Mowcher, shaking her head violently. 'I said, what a set of humbugs we were in general, and I showed you the scraps of the Prince's nails to prove it. The Prince's nails do more for me in private families of the genteel sort, than all my talents put together. I always carry 'em about. They're the best introduction. If Miss Mowcher cuts the Prince's nails, she must be all right. I give 'em away to the young ladies. They put 'em in albums, I believe. Ha! ha! ha! Upon my life, "the whole social system" (as the men call it when they make speeches in Parliament) is a system of Prince's nails!' said this least of women, trying to fold her short arms, and nodding her large head.
Steerforth laughed heartily, and I laughed too. Miss Mowcher continuing all the time to shake her head (which was very much on one side), and to look into the air with one eye, and to wink with the other.
'Well, well!' she said, smiting her small knees, and rising, 'this is not business. Come, Steerforth, let's explore the polar regions, and have it over.'
She then selected two or three of the little instruments, and a little bottle, and asked (to my surprise) if the table would bear. On Steerforth's replying in the affirmative, she pushed a chair against it, and begging the assistance of my hand, mounted up, pretty nimbly, to the top, as if it were a stage.
'If either of you saw my ankles,' she said, when she was safely elevated, 'say so, and I'll go home and destroy myself!'
'I did not,' said Steerforth.
'I did not,' said I.
'Well then,' cried Miss Mowcher,' I'll consent to live. Now, ducky, ducky, ducky, come to Mrs. Bond and be killed.'
This was an invocation to Steerforth to place himself under her hands; who, accordingly, sat himself down, with his back to the table, and his laughing face towards me, and submitted his head to her inspection, evidently for no other purpose than our entertainment. To see Miss Mowcher standing over him, looking at his rich profusion of brown hair through a large round magnifying glass, which she took out of her pocket, was a most amazing spectacle.
'You're a pretty fellow!' said Miss Mowcher, after a brief inspection. 'You'd be as bald as a friar on the top of your head in twelve months, but for me. Just half a minute, my young friend, and we'll give you a polishing that shall keep your curls on for the next ten years!'
With this, she tilted some of the contents of the little bottle on to one of the little bits of flannel, and, again imparting some of the virtues of that preparation to one of the little brushes, began rubbing and scraping away with both on the crown of Steerforth's head in the busiest manner I ever witnessed, talking all the time.
'There's Charley Pyegrave, the duke's son,' she said. 'You know Charley?' peeping round into his face.
'A little,' said Steerforth.
'What a man HE is! THERE'S a whisker! As to Charley's legs, if they were only a pair (which they ain't), they'd defy competition. Would you believe he tried to do without me — in the Life-Guards, too?'
'Mad!' said Steerforth.
'It looks like it. However, mad or sane, he tried,' returned Miss Mowcher. 'What does he do, but, lo and behold you, he goes into a perfumer's shop, and wants to buy a bottle of the Madagascar Liquid.'
'Charley does?' said Steerforth.
'Charley does. But they haven't got any of the Madagascar Liquid.'
'What is it? Something to drink?' asked Steerforth.
'To drink?' returned Miss Mowcher, stopping to slap his cheek. 'To doctor his own moustachios with, you know. There was a woman in the shop — elderly female — quite a Griffin — who had never even heard of it by name. "Begging pardon, sir," said the Griffin to Charley, "it's not — not — not ROUGE, is it?" "Rouge," said Charley to the Griffin. "What the unmentionable to ears polite, do you think I want with rouge?" "No offence, sir," said the Griffin; "we have it asked for by so many names, I thought it might be." Now that, my child,' continued Miss Mowcher, rubbing all the time as busily as ever, 'is another instance of the refreshing humbug I was speaking of. I do something in that way myself — perhaps a good deal — perhaps a little — sharp's the word, my dear boy — never mind!'
'In what way do you mean? In the rouge way?' said Steerforth.