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'A Journey of Little Profit' - Fiction
Published in The Yellow Book 9, 189-201April1896
Subsequent Short Story Collection: Grey Weather (1899)


John Buchan was beginning to earn money from his pen while at Oxford when he wrote this short story based on the Faust legend. The author's early command of Scottish moorland atmosphere, the world of sheep and cattle sales and the characters associated with them is well brought out.

The publisher John Lane selected the story for the April 1896 issue of The Yellow Book, the first of three Buchan contributions to that avant-garde publication. It also appeared in Grey Weather and in a subsequent Yellow Book selection published by Spring Books in 1949, and in the first volume of Andrew Lownie's Buchan Complete Short Stories published by Thistle in 1996.

The tale is told by Duncan Stewart, a 'wild young lad', who had taken to droving ignoring the advice of his betters. Having bought a flock of sheep cheaply from a 'drunken bonnet-laird', he sets out hoping to make a profit, but on the way stops at an inn with an old friend. As dusk falls, rather the worse for drink, he takes to the road again, and comes across 'a big square dwelling, half farm and half pleasure-house'. He enters to find a richly furnished interior presided over by a man dressed in the height of fashion who knows all about the drover's chequered past life. The details are revealed in some sharp dialogue while the drover continues to eat and drink his fill. Eventually invited to sign away his soul, he refuses, instead giving up his sheep as payment for the night's lodging. He awakens next morning among green braes.

'Journey' is not only an entertaining read but also an early indicator of the quality to come. John Buchan was 20 years of age at the time of writing this, one of his earliest short stories.

John Bridle 30 October 2005

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