Phileas slouched under the archway with the heavy countenance of a man whose natural state of repose had been rudely and unceremoniously shaken. The head man, whose last name, perhaps a little cruelly, was Butler, took his coat with the detached silence of a professional serviceman. Phileas was sure he could sense disapproving words lurking at the base of Butler’s throat: the same way he saw everyone now only in the light of their disappointment of him. Butler would be free to speak ill of him soon enough. Phileas knew that his blackballing would be in motion already, and that before the sun had set would no longer be a member of the Reform Club.
He rounded the corner, letting his fingertips trace the cool marble of the countertops as he went. The Reading Room was his destination. No point delaying the inevitable, he thought. As he entered, fingers twitched at the edges of broadsheets, throats cleared, teeth clinked on whisky glasses. It was as if no time had passed at all. Phineas’s heart pounded. Of all the worst shames. It had seemed so plausible when he had boasted of it that fateful morning. The article in the newspaper. Trains going at incredibly speeds. It was so attainable, a trip around the entire world in less than a minute and a half. They said he was mad. And so he was.
Phineas bravely said, “Here I am gentlemen.”
And the white-haired heads raised, and the piercing, judging eyes met his.
One face said, “Back already?” and another grumbled something, and another nodded, and soon they were back buried deep in the newsprint, expectorating guttural melodies, and swallowing single-malt. As if they had already forgotten.