‘Prester John’ (1897); ‘At the Article of Death’ (1897); ‘Politics and the May-Fly’ (1896); ‘A Reputation’ (1898); ‘A Journey of Little Profit’ (1896); ‘At the Rising of the Waters’ (1897); ‘The Earlier Affection’; ‘The Black Fishers’; ‘Summer Weather’; ‘An Oasis in the Snow’; ‘The Herd of Standlan’; ‘Streams of Water in the South’; ‘The Moor-Song’ (1897, as ‘The Song of the Moor’); ‘Comedy in the Full Moon’
‘A Journey of Little Profit’
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, 2005
‘Politics and the Mayfly’
It is only at the end of this early short story that Buchan deftly reveals it as a piscatorial version of the Faust legend. Up to that point all is light, wry and full of delicate humour. The farmer of Clachlands is a traditional Tory and his ploughman an ardent radical. At parliamentary elections the farmer seeks to influence the votes of his labourers and the ploughman to rally voters to the rival cause. On a particular election day the farmer bribes the ploughman to stay away from the polling station by making available an opportunity for perfect fishing, and leaving all to the ploughman’s free will. The temptation, beautifully described by an expert, is too great. The joy of fishing outweighs the fleeting interest of politics. Only too late does the now desperate ploughman realise how he has been gulled into a fall from grace.
Isobel M Haslett, 2001
Available to read at https://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks14/1400161h.html