Buchan’s stories of solid characters clad in tweeds and braving all odds armed only with a stout walking stick have become popular classics. Perhaps it is therefore no surprise that the same character types populate his highly entertaining tales of the strange and weird – here collected into a feast of supernatural delights. In a Buchan story the hauntings and other manifestations are far more subtle than the usual blood-curdling phantoms. The author brings finely crafted detail and a profound sense of the spirit of landscape (especially that of his native Scotland) and place to locales that are as disparate as the stories themselves. Whether they are acknowledged or not, ancient other-worldly creatures, deities and people intrude into Buchan’s settings to influence and effect the lives of “modern” man. These wonderful tales of hidden threat and menace make dealing with the mundane concerns of our own world seem like child’s play.
After breakfast next morning I made my way to the Hall. It was the same leaden weather, and when I entered the gates the air seemed to grow bitterer and the skies darker. The place was muffled in great trees which even in their winter bareness made a pall about it. There was a long avenue of ancient sycamores, through which one caught only rare glimpses of the frozen park. I took my bearings, and realised that I was walking nearly due south, and was gradually descending. The house must be in a hollow. Presently the trees thinned, I passed through an iron gate, came out on a big untended lawn, untidily studden with laurels and rhododendrons, and there before me was the house front.
I had expected something beautifulóan old Tudor or Queen Anne faÁade or a dignified Georgian portico. I was disappointed, for the front was simply mean. It was low and irregular, more like the back parts of a house, and I guessed that at some time or another the building had been turned round, and the old kitchen door made the chief entrance. I was confirmed in my conclusion by observing that the roofs rose in tiers, like one of those recessed New York sky-scrapers, so that the present back parts of the building were of an impressive height.
The oddity of the place interested me, and still more its dilapidation. What on earth could the owner have spent his money on? Everythingólawn, flower-beds, pathsówas neglected. There was a new stone doorway, but the walls badly needed pointing, the window woodwork had not been painted for ages, and there were several broken panes. The bell did not ring, so I was reduced to hammering on the knocker, and it must have been ten minutes before the door opened. A pale butler, one of the men I had seen at the carrierís cart the October before, stood blinking in the entrance.
He led me in without question, when I gave my name, so I was evidently expected. The hall was my second surprise. What had become of my picture of the collector? The place was small and poky, and furnished as barely as the lobby of a farm-house. The only thing I approved was its warmth. Unlike most English country houses there seemed to be excellent heating arrangements.
I was taken into a little dark room with one window that looked out on a shrubbery, while the man went to fetch his master. My chief feeling was of gratitude that I had not been asked to stay, for the inn was paradise compared with this sepulchre. I was examining the prints on the wall, when I heard my name spoken and turned round to greet Mr. Dubellay.
He was my third surprise. I had made a portrait in my mind of a fastidious old scholar, with eye-glasses on a black cord, and a finical weltkind-ish manner. Instead I found a man still in early middle age, a heavy fellow dressed in the roughest country tweeds. He was as untidy as his demesne, for he had not shaved that morning, his flannel collar was badly frayed, and his fingernails would have been the better for a scrubbing brush. His face was hard to describe. It was high-coloured, but the colour was not healthy; it was friendly, but it was also wary; above all, it was unquiet. He gave me the impression of a man whose nerves were all wrong, and who was perpetually on his guard.