“It is my invariable custom to examine the bed to see that everything is in order, and any one sleeping in Kilbogie Manse will find the good of such a precaution. I trust that I am not a luxurious person—it would ill become one who came out in ’43—but I have certainly become accustomed to the use of sheets. When I saw there were none on the bed, I declined to sleep without them, and I indicated my mind very distinctly on the condition of the manse.
“Would you believe it?” the Doctor used to go on. “Saunderson explained, as if it were a usual occurrence, that he had given away all the spare linen in his house to a girl that had to marry in . . . urgent circumstances, and had forgotten to get more. And what do you think did he offer as a substitute for sheets?” No one could even imagine what might not occur to the mind of Saunderson.
“Towels, as I am an honourable man; a collection of towels, as he put it, ‘skilfully attached together, might make a pleasant covering.’ That is the first and last time I ever slept in the Free Church Manse of Kilbogie. As regards Saunderson’s study, I will guarantee that the like of it cannot be found within Scotland;” and at the very thought of it that exact and methodical ecclesiastic realized the limitations of language.
His boys boasted of the Rabbi’s study as something that touched genius in its magnificent disorderliness, and Carmichael was so proud of it that he took me to see it as to a shrine. One whiff of its atmosphere as you entered the door gave an appetite and raised the highest expectations. For any bookman can estimate a library by scent—if an expert he could even write out a catalogue of the books and sketch the appearance of the owner. Heavy odour of polished mahogany, Brussels carpets, damask curtains, and tablecloths; then the books are kept within glass, consist of sets of standard works in half calf, and the owner will give you their cost wholesale to a farthing. Faint fragrance of delicate flowers, and Russia leather, with a hint of cigarettes; prepare yourself for a marvellous wall-paper, etchings, bits of oak, limited editions, and a man in a velvet coat. Smell of paste and cloth binding and general newness means yesterday’s books and a reviewer racing through novels with a paper-knife. Those are only book-rooms by courtesy, and never can satisfy any one who has breathed the sacred air. It is a rich and strong spirit, not only filling the room, but pouring out from the door and possessing the hall, redeeming an opposite dining-room from grossness, and a more distant drawing-room from frivolity, and even lending a goodly flavour to bedrooms on upper floors. It is distilled from curious old duodecimos packed on high shelves out of sight, and blows over folios, with large clasps, that once stood in monastery libraries, and gathers a subtle sweetness from parchments that were illuminated in ancient scriptoriums that are now grass-grown, and it is fortified with good old musty calf. The wind was from the right quarter on the first day I visited Kilbogie Manse, and as we went up the garden walk the Rabbi’s library already bade us welcome, and assured us of our reward for a ten-miles’ walk.