Paul Jenkins: A Tale of Love and Hair Dye

“Paul Jenkins: A Tale of Love and Hair Dye,”
by Caroline F. Preston (a known pen name for Horatio Alger, Jr.),
published in the Picton Gazette, 10 July, 1863.

Mr. Paul Jenkins would have been a happy man but for a single circumstance. That circumstance was the perverse determination of his hair to turn gray, when he would decidedly have preferred to have it remain its original color, a glossy black. This it was that embittered his existence, in spite of his good health, good income and prosperity in other respects. This it was, as Mr. Jenkins conjectured, which stood in the way of his acceptance by Sophronia Jones, with whom he fancied himself wildly in love.

Mr. Jenkins felt that he had not arrived at an age which justified his Gray hairs.–He had only just passed his fortieth birthday. However, it was a family peculiarity, and he must submit to it with the best grace that he could muster.

But all at once light dawned upon his gloomy dissatisfaction. On one of his quarterly visits to the city, for the purpose of receiving his bank dividends, his attention was called to a placard upon a wall, wherein the merits of Higginbotam’s celebrated hair dye were set forth in large capitals.

“That will be just the thing for me,” thought our friend Paul. “I don’t think it’s at all out of the way to call in art to the assistance of Nature, when Nature don’t do as well by you as she might be reasonably expected to. There’s no good reason why such a good looking young fellow as I am,” (I beg the reader to observe that gentlemen are much more subject to vanity than ladies, although I know that some prejudiced persons hold a different opinion). “There’s no reason why such a good looking young fellow as I am,” continued Mr. Jenkins, “should wear the livery of old age.”

Mr. Paul Jenkins accordingly decided to procure a bottle of the mixture. Proceeding to the store where it was to be procured, he went in and inquired in a low tone for Higginbotam’s celebrated hair dye. While the clerk was wrapping up the bottle, he assured the delighted customer that it was decidedly the best thing of the kind in the market, and would make him look at least ten years younger.

“Sophronia Jones shall yet be mine,” said Mr. Jenkins, exultingly, as he pushed the bottle into his overcoat pocket, and made his way to the railroad station.

He was anxious to be at home in order to test the wonderful effects of the celebrated hair dye. The ride over, and the village reached, Mr. Jenkins rapidly took his way to the residence of Mrs. Selina Wiggin, where he boarded. He seemed in unusual spirits, which led Mrs. Wiggin to imagine that the banks had paid a larger dividend than usual, but how little could she guess that the little bottle which she could see protruding from his pocket, was the sole cause of his good spirits. If she had known that by the help of this he expected to win the hand of Sophronia Jones, her own spirits would have been visibly affected, since she would have been very sorry to lose so profitable and desirable a boarder as Mr. Jenkins had proved to be for the last ten years, during all which he had been an inmate of her establishment.

There had been a time indeed when she hoped that there would become something nearer than a boarder, but that hope Mrs. Wiggin had about given up, finding that he had never seemed to notice the glances of affection which she threw over to him across the table. Her chief desire now was to keep him unmarried, and so retain him as a boarder, since if married, he would without much doubt go to keeping house, and Mrs. Wiggin would lose a very important part of her income.

Mrs. Wiggin did not fail to observe the bottle which her boarder had brought home with him. She felt a strong curiosity to learn its contents, and decided at the very next opportunity that offered to do so. That opportunity was not long in coming. Every morning Mrs. Wiggin sent her servant in to set Mr. Jenkins’ room to rights. But on the morning succeeding his return from the city, she concluded to take this duty upon herself, in order that she might thereby have a chance to find out the mystery which puzzled her.

“Bridget,” she said, as the latter was about to go upstairs on her morning errand, “you have more than usual to do today. You can stay here and I will clear up Mr. Jenkins’ room this morning.”

“Shure ma’am, and you are very kind,” said Bridget, a little surprised at this extraordinary and unexpected kindness on the part of her employer.

“I want you to do too much,” said Mrs. Wiggin. “I am not one of those people that are willing to work their ‘help’ to death.”

When Mrs. Wiggin entered the room of her lodger, her first proceeding was to lock the door –probably in order that none of the dust might get out of the room into the entry. Having done this, she laid down her broom, put on her glasses, and began to look carefully about her.– First she scanned the mantel-piece, next the bureau, and finally she took the liberty of opening the upper bureau drawer.– Here she found what she sought. Before her, wrapped in the same paper, was the mysterious bottle. Hastily unrolling it she learned the fatal truth.

It was hair dye!

Why do I say fatal truth? I will tell you. Mrs. Wiggin at once concluded what was indeed the truth, that this looked towards matrimony. She knew how much the use of the hair dye would improve his appearance, and feared that it would make him irresistible to Sophronia Jones.

But what was she to do? Was she to stand quietly by and suffer this to take place? No. Mrs. Wiggin was a woman of resource, and she sat down with her head between her hands to consider what she should do.

An idea struck her. She would empty out the hair dye and substitute something else in its place. She remembered that she had in the cupboard, in her own room a large pint bottle of blue ink. Scarcely stopping to think she stole out of the room and brought it back with her. Her next proceeding was to empty the bottle of hair dye out of the window, and fill it instead with blue ink.

“There,” said she, when this was accomplished, “I don’t believe Mr. Jenkins will improve his appearance much by the use of this.”

Her conscience reproached her somewhat with what she had done, but she felt that desperate emergencies required desperate remedies, and this certainly was.

Mr. Jenkins, meanwhile, had concluded not to make immediate use of his hair dye, but to defer it till the next Thursday evening, when he had received an invitation to attend a party at the House of Squire Jones, the father of his beloved Sophronia. He felt that the unexpected youthfulness of his appearance on that occasion would be decidedly in his favor.

As might naturally be expected he longed to have the time come, but Time will not hasten his flight even for impatient lovers. He is much more likely to retard it. Immediately after tea on Thursday afternoon, Mr. Jenkins went up to his room, locked the door, took his bottle of hair dye from the drawer, and proceeded to use it. He had only a faint candle to assist him in his task, and this prevented his discovering the deception which had been practised upon him. In fact, in the dim light, the mixture looked dark and he supposed it was all right. After rubbing in what he supposed would be sufficient for the first application, and I may remark that upon this point he certainly did not exhibit any remarkable economy, Mr. Jenkins leisurely preceded to dress himself in his most becoming attire.

His toilet was somewhat protracted, and I should be afraid to tell you how many minutes he expended in adjusting his cravat. But the fact was that our hero had made-up his mind to make this evening the declaration which he had long contemplated, provided he could find a favorable opportunity.

But there is an end to all things, and so there was an end to Mr. Jenkins’ toilet. About eight o’clock he came downstairs, and merely opened the sitting-room door to say:

“I am going out to a party this evening, Mrs. Wiggin, and shan’t be at home very early. You need not set up for me as you know I have a pass key.”

Mrs. Wiggin could scarcely keep her countenance while her lodger was speaking, for she saw at once that he had fallen into the trap that she had laid for him, and in consequence that both his hair and whiskers had become a decided blue.

“I guess,” she laughed to herself, “that Sophronia won’t fancy that colour any better than the other.”

Quite unconscious of what had befallen him, Mr. Jenkins proceeded to the party. Going up to the gentleman’s room, he took off his hat and coat and went down to the parlors, where most of the company had already assembled. Somehow he seemed to attract a great deal of attention, but this he expected, and very naturally attributed it to what he considered the very decided improvement which had taken [place] in his appearance.

“No doubt,” he thought, proudly, “they scarcely recognize me. I look so much younger than before.”

And he glanced around the room with a look of complacent self-satisfaction. But there was one thing that puzzled him not a little. The expression of every face that looked at him seemed to be struggling with laughter. Now what there was to laugh at in his appearance was more than he could divine. To dye the hair was quite a common thing, and not at all amusing.

He looked towards Sophronia but she too had a smile upon her face. He flattered himself, however, that it was from a different cause. No doubt she was happy to see him looking so well. He would go up and speak with her.

“It is a beautiful evening, Sophro—Miss Jones,” he said, stammering in some confusion.

“Very,” said she, casting down her eyes and toying with the fan which she carried.

“I need not ask if you are well, for I have seldom seen you looking better,” he continued in a tone of gallantry, recovering his self-command as he observed her evident embarrassment.

“Thank you,” said Sophronia still looking down.

Paul looked hastily about him. He saw that no one was near, and determined to seize this opportunity to decide his fate.

“Sophronia,” said he, “you may think me precipitate, but you must excuse it when you consider my feelings. I love you ardently–devotedly. Will you be mine?”

“I have one objection,” she said, slowly.

“I know it, the colour of my hair. But don’t you see how much it is improved?”

“I see a change–but, but I can’t think blue an improvement.”

“Blue!” shrieked Mr. Jenkins, rushing to the mirror.

One glance was enough. He rushed for his hat, and left the house with frantic speed. Arriving at his boarding place he seized the unlucky bottle, dashed it to pieces on the brick hearth and seriously contemplated having his head shaved.–But Time, the great restorer, together with frequent champooings, removed the fatal hue, and he at length recovered his peace of mind. And as all stories ought to end well, I have to relate that Sophronia at last relented and now writes her name Jenkins, much to the dissatisfaction of Mrs. Wiggin.