The trick, he thought to himself, was to take his time. Yes, the lighting could be better; the sun’s rays slanting in through the windows at the top of his garret bedroom helped; it was just the right hour for the task, but had he accepted the bedroom one floor below, there would be more light overall.Further teasers will be dropped as the whim may strike.
But then he would not have had the backstairs entrance, allowing him to come home late from his cramming sessions without disturbing the household. And—truth be told—he did not feel entirely comfortable living en famille with the Finns now that he was going to be called to the bar, and would be practicing as a junior barrister with the younger of his two mentors. He needed some room of his own, and the two large rooms making up his quarters were ample, albeit the little bathroom could be somewhat dim, making it difficult for a man to shave, especially when his hands were trembling just a bit with excitement.
For today was the day. No longer would he be Ifor Powlett-Jones the coal miner, the defendant, the convict reprieved, or even the student he had been these past years. No, he would be Ifor Powlett-Jones, barrister-at-law. If, in fact, people used that term—a question he had meant to ask Mr. Low, but had omitted to, he realized.
Powlett-Jones drew the razor upwards, rasping against his throat, until it reached the cleft of his chin. And then again, and again. With the swift, economical movements he had learned as a youth in Pontnewydd, mimicking the deft, small strokes of his Da before he died in a cave-in all too similar to the one that had changed Ifor’s destiny forever. He applied more soap with the brushes, and began the all-too-familiar task of scraping his cheeks clean—only to pause at the new obstacle: the slightly drooping moustache he had grown. He quite liked it, really, and felt that a barrister should be a man of note, not a cherubic stripling. But for all the dignity the moustache conferred, the sobering of his features came at a cost: the perpetual fear that he would cut the damned ends unevenly. No matter how hard he tried, he could not be sure of success until it was too late to remedy any defect.
Phineas Finn, who had not only defended Ifor when accused of crimes ranging from riot to assault, but had gambled his own political future to secure the young Welshman’s pardon and release, had not been helpful when Powlett-Jones had sought his guidance on the matter of the moustache over breakfast yesterday. He had, rather, bubbling with laughter, merely said “Why the deuce do you think I just gave up and grew a full beard, Ifor?”
Mrs. Finn had smilingly suggested a valet, or, at least, a barber. But that seemed wrong to Ifor—surely a man could learn to attend his own daily needs without a servant he could ill afford. Yes, yes, the Finns made him a generous allowance, and very grateful he was, too, but it he could not take such largesse for granted. It was not, after all, as if he was the Finns’ son.
“A valet, Marie?”
“Why not, my dear?” The ever-practical Marie Finn replied to her husband’s question. He raised the coffee cup to his lips, and drank, and replaced the cup, meeting his wife’s amused glance from the other side of the breakfast table.
“For a white-wig?” At his wife’s interrogatorily raised eyebrow, Phineas rephrased his sentence. “A newly-called barrister. A young man with his way to make. A young man,” Phineas continued, unaware that the young man in question, on his way to being impeccably dressed, but still in shirtsleeves, had entered the room and was behind him, “whom I mean to see settled in life, as he deserves, and of whom I could not be more proud if her were my own--”
Something dancing in his wife’s eyes—her features were otherwise immobile—alerted him, and the older man’s manner changed. More gruffly, he concluded the thought: “Pupil. My own pupil.” Phineas Finn stood, and turned to face his pupil, whose eyes bore a suspicious sheen. He smiled at the boy, remembering what it was to be young, and on the verge of being called to the bar. And unlike the young man who stood before him, Phineas had enjoyed a comfortable upbringing, as the son of a doctor who had earned the patronage of the local magnate. No digging in the coal mines for young Phineas Finn! The memory of inspecting, albeit briefly, that hellish underground flickered across the screen of Phineas’s mind, and he dropped the bantering tone he had been adopting.
“It’s all right, Ifor. We’re Celts, not Englishmen, after all, so the Queen won’t have to abdicate if I admit to being proud of you today. But where’s your frockcoat?”
“I, er, left it upstairs, d’ye see, Mr. Finn,” the young man was clearly embarrassed, “because I might have to go back upstairs.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“I can’t tell if my moustache is even, and tonight is Call Night, and--” Phineas, observing the young man’s dreadful earnestness in this matter, as in all matters touching upon his new social status, forbore to smile. Instead, Phineas simply turned to his wife, even as Ifor spoke, and said, “A valet, then. D’you think Meier can turn one up at short notice?”
“I am quite sure he can,” she answered in the tone that informed him, based on their many years together, that the valet had already been engaged, and was due to report later in the day.
“Well, then you may as well break your fast, Ifor—all will be taken care of before you have to leave for Call Night.” Phineas resumed his chair and Marie rang for another pot of coffee, as Ifor helped himself to eggs and bacon from the sideboard.
Some things, Phineas Finn reflected gratefully, never changed.