Author. – Pray, stop for one moment, Mr. Macpherson, if you please. Let me throw a few more peats on the fire. With the rain still beating thus without, and the picture of the half-drowned shivering chapman brought so vividly before our mind’s eyes by your description, we shall have our teeth rattling in our jaws from very sympathy if we don’t keep up the caloric we have already generated.
Grant. – It is right not to allow it to be too much reduced, certainly; but I declare I am as comfortable here in Inchrory as if I were in my club-house in London.
Clifford. – Much more so, my good fellow, take my word for it. Where is the London club-house in which we could have been so quiet as we are here, especially in such weather as this. Think of the noise in the streets; think, I say, of the eternal thunder of the carriages of all kinds, the hackney-coaches, stage-coaches, omnibuses, and cabs, with the Cherokee yelling and whooping of the drivers, uttering strange and horrible oaths; and, to complete the instrumental part of this mechanical concert, to have it grounded with the grating double bass of the huge carts, drays, and waggons. The mellow roar of the Aven is like the soft music of a flute compared to so terrific a combination of ear-rending sounds. Then think of the crowd of dull and damp fellows, dry to talk to but wet enough to the touch, who are continually coming in and going out, restless and unhappy – miserable when condemned to the house, and yet more wretched when out in the rain – giving you hopes of enjoying a glimpse of the fire at one moment, and then shutting you out entirely from it at the next, with persons so steeped as to make the very evaporation from their bodies by the heat fill the room with clouds of steam – talking and chattering and recognising each other – disputing about politics, or the merits of the last opera, or opera singer, or ballet, or dancer. In vain you try to have some rational talk with some sensible man, or to listen to something of the greatest possible interest which he has to tell you – for you have hardly begun so to do when up comes some fool of a fellow who, at some unfortunate time or another, has sworn eternal friendship to you, and who now, to your great discomfiture as well as to the imminent peril of your good temper and manners, breaks boisterously in upon your tête-a-tête to prove to you how well he keeps his oath by nearly shaking your hand off, or perhaps dislocating your shoulder, by loudly protesting how rejoiced he is to see you, and by most heroically sacrificing himself and his own valuable time in kindly bestowing his fullest tediousness upon you that he may give you the whole history of his life since he last saw you. Then suppose you sit down to read some important speech, or leading article, in your favourite newspaper, or something which you wish to devour out of some much-talked-of pamphlet or review of the day, it is ten to one but you experience a similar interruption from some such kind and much attached friend. But the height of your misery is only attained when you come to take refuge in the writing room in order to write a letter of more than ordinary importance, and requiring great care in the arrangement of its subject as well as in the choice of its expressions. Then it is that among those employed at the different tables you are certain to find some two or more idle scribblers, who go not there really to write, but who, notwithstanding, waste more of the writing materials belonging to the club than all the rest of its members put together in order to give themselves importance by an affectation of much business and high correspondence. Amongst these there is probably one who, after allowing you to get down to the bottom of your first page and fairly into your subject, suddenly, and as if accidentally, descries you, and rushing across to salute you, rivets himself on the floor close to your chair, and goes on earwigging you with his important secrets, whilst he is all the time curiously drinking in your’s from your half-written letter which lies open before him. Or, if you should have the good fortune to escape from such a jackal as this, then you may find the other men of his kidney, who may be sitting at the different tables with the affectation of writing, carrying on such a battery of loud talk across the room as altogether to distract your attention. In vain do you try to control your thoughts within their proper current. They are continually jostled aside by some half-caught sentence, which sets your mind working in some wrong direction, merely to have it again driven off at a tangent into some other which is equally foreign to that subject to which you would confine it. In vain do you rub your brow, cover your eyes, and gnaw your pen; every thought but the right thought is forced upon you, until at last, in utter despair, you start to your feet, snatch up your blotted and often corrected letter, tear it into shreds, commit it to the flames, and, seizing your hat, you abruptly hurry homewards, duly execrating, as you go, all club-houses, and those many men of annoyance with which clubs are so universally afflicted.
Grant. – Your picture is a lively one, Clifford, and in its general features most just. Though our London clubs have many advantages this lonely house of Inchrory is certainly better for our present purpose.
Author. – Gentlemen, unless you mean to enact here the part of some of those London club-annoyance-givers, which you, Clifford, have so well described, I think you had better drop your conversation and allow Mr. Macpherson to proceed with his story.
Clifford. – I stand corrected; – then allow me to light a fresh cigar; and now, Mr. Macpherson, pray go on with Serjeant John Smith.
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