Two Bottles of Relish


I’ve long been a fan of Lord Dunsany’s beautiful prose, and I can’t get as much of it as I would like. Much of his early work, now in the public domain, is high fantasy, which is a genre I’m not fond of. His later (non-public domain) work isn’t much published anymore. So I was overjoyed to discover that Harper Collins has reprinted Dunsany’s only volume of crime stories, Two Bottles of Relish: The Little Tales of Smethers and Other Stories — and at a very reasonable price. An early Christmas gift to me! Continue reading

Thirteen at Table

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.

You can read Thirteen at Table, here.

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.

Image: Original photo by Jorge Royan, some rights reserved. Photo remix by Nina Zumel, distributed under CC-BY-SA-3.0.

Tom o’the Roads

Today’s winter tale isn’t quite a traditional ghost story, nor is it Christmas themed, but it’s a story I’ve always liked; one that feels made to be read out loud. So why not read it to your loved ones in front of the Yule Log?

Edward Plunkett, Lord Dunsany: Irish fantasist and weird fiction author, and just a beautiful writer. Despite the subject matter, I think this one is particularly beautiful: The Highwaymen (1908).

For Tom tonight had nought but the wind to ride; they had taken his true black horse on the day when they took from him the green fields and the sky, men’s voices and the laughter of women, and had left him alone with chains about his neck to swing in the wind for ever. And the wind blew and blew.


It’s a story of friendship, and (in its own way) of goodwill, and redemption, and peace. That’s Christmasy, no?


  • “The Highwaymen” was published originally in The Sword of Welleran and Other Stories, 1908. The illustration above is by the great Sidney Sime, for the collection.
  • You can find a scan of The Sword of Welleran (with all Sime’s illustrations) at the Internet Archive. If you want a readable ebook version, however, you should pick it up at Project Gutenberg. Unfortunately, the Gutenberg version doesn’t have the illustrations.
  • The story reminds me — just a little — of Georg Heym’s “The Dissection”, which is also quite beautiful (and a bit more gruesome). I’ve blogged about it before, and you can read it here.