This week’s winter tale, by Lord Dunsany (1878-1957), is a bit of a companion piece to last week’s sinister Christmas dinner.
In front of a spacious fireplace of the old kind, when the logs were well alight, and men with pipes and glasses were gathered before it in great easeful chairs, and the wild weather outside and the comfort that was within, and the season of the year—for it was Christmas—and the hour of the night, all called for the weird or uncanny, then out spoke the ex-master of foxhounds and told this tale.
What starts as a paean to the English countryside and the fox-hunt in Spring turns into a tale of haunting; but is it supernatural, psychological, or both? Mr. Linton, the narrator of the tale, gets lost while chasing a fox and must ask the reclusive Sir Richard Arlen for an evening’s shelter. Reluctantly, Sir Richard allows Mr. Linton to stay, and invites him to a most interesting dinner party….
Rats in the wainscoting? Bats in the belfry? Too much champagne? You decide. A beautifully worded, slightly creepy but gently humorous tale, told as only Lord Dunsany could.
The story was collected in Tales of Wonder (1916), and I would guess that it is set about five or ten years before that, so the reference to Sir Richard’s “‘Varsity days” (I always wondered where the term “varsity” came from) in the early seventies would have been about thirty-five or so years previous.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.