Saturday, June 1, 2024

A thriller

I am re-reading one of my favorite John Buchan adventures. Huntingtower is the first of three novels about the adventures of Dickson McCunn, my favorite among Buchan's protagonists. It can be found, nicely formatted, and available to be downloaded or read online, at Standard Ebooks. I just discovered that the BBC made a six-episode television video of the story and that it is available on YouTube. I haven't watched it and can't vouch for the quality. But I thoroughly enjoy the book, especially Buchan's descriptions, for instance:
It was such a day as only a Scots April can show. The cobbled streets of Kirkmichael still shone with the night’s rain, but the storm clouds had fled before a mild south wind, and the whole circumference of the sky was a delicate translucent blue. Homely breakfast smells came from the houses and delighted Mr. McCunn’s nostrils; a squalling child was a pleasant reminder of an awakening world, the urban counterpart to the morning song of birds; even the sanitary cart seemed a picturesque vehicle. He bought his ration of buns and ginger biscuits at a baker’s shop whence various ragamuffin boys were preparing to distribute the householders’ bread, and took his way up the Gallows Hill to the Burgh Muir almost with regret at leaving so pleasant a habitation. ....

I will not dwell on his leisurely progress in the bright weather, or on his luncheon in a coppice of young firs, or on his thoughts which had returned to the idyllic. I take up the narrative at about three o’clock in the afternoon, when he is revealed seated on a milestone examining his map. For he had come, all unwitting, to a turning of the ways, and his choice is the cause of this veracious history.

The place was high up on a bare moor, which showed a white lodge among pines, a white cottage in a green nook by a burnside, and no other marks of human dwelling. To his left, which was the east, the heather rose to a low ridge of hill, much scarred with peat-bogs, behind which appeared the blue shoulder of a considerable mountain. Before him the road was lost momentarily in the woods of a shooting-box, but reappeared at a great distance climbing a swell of upland which seemed to be the glacis of a jumble of bold summits. There was a pass there, the map told him, which led into Galloway. It was the road he had meant to follow, but as he sat on the milestone his purpose wavered. For there seemed greater attractions in the country which lay to the westward. Mr. McCunn, be it remembered, was not in search of brown heath and shaggy wood; he wanted greenery and the Spring. ....
C.S. Lewis particularly liked Buchan's ability to describe the safe and homely—if only temporary—havens from danger that his heroes would discover.
A quarter of an hour later the two travelers, having been introduced to two spotless beds in the loft, and having washed luxuriously at the pump in the backyard, were seated in Mrs. Morran’s kitchen before a meal which fulfilled their wildest dreams. She had been baking that morning, so there were white scones and barley scones, and oaten farles, and russet pancakes. There were three boiled eggs for each of them; there was a segment of an immense currant cake (“a present from my guid brither last Hogmanay”); there was skim-milk cheese; there were several kinds of jam, and there was a pot of dark-gold heather honey. “Try hinny and aitcake,” said their hostess. “My man used to say he never fund onything as guid in a’ his days.”

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