“You marvel at the complete stillness that attends your stoppage at the stations, broken only by a footstep crunching the gravel.”

“But I see,’ continued the porter, ‘as you’ve got your bystile, and very like you’d find it pleasanter to ride up to the ‘all yourself.”

“I don’t want to talk and walk as well.”

That last bit above is said at some stage by the Squire who, we soon learn, has invited the younger Fanshawe to come by train and to stay, so that the latter can tour the countryside on his ‘bystile’, while the bi-style here is via a narrator who thinks he knows what each of these characters are separately thinking. And it is the narrator I suspect more than Patten — after we are told of  Fanshawe’s pattern of dreams — suspects the late Baxter (“he scented anything, on the ordnance map”), Baxter who was thus once a diviner or dowser of Roman archaeological digs in this area and of ‘war-ditches’ et al, and Baxter’s boiling and sealing and filling for his concoction of ‘beastly heavy’, far-sighted, even time-sighted, glasses like binoculars, but not like binoculars, I guess…but what of  the ‘disgusting Borgia box’?
Fanshawe sees, through these glasses, the extremely haunting ‘tower’ and, separately, a gibbet-with-a-man-hanging, both distant scenes from a hill’s vantage-point near where the Squire lives, scenes that Fanshawe somehow sees at the later cost of serial or even unmendable punctures in his bystile’s tyres….

It was Baxter, soon to be or already scalded by his own devices and with blistered tongue, who in fact walked and talked at the same time, as the Squire once feared… “…arms straight down by his sides, and talking to hisself, and shakin’ his head from one side to the other, and walking in that peculiar way that he appeared to be going as it were against his own will.”


And a hand that stretches out to grab a leg, to become the character itself like the inserted entity in ‘Number 13.’ Creating a new Zeno’s  Paradox of waded-through time, as Fanshawe describes : 

“…I was in an unholy evil sort of graveyard, and I was most profoundly thankful that it was one of the longest days and still sunlight. Well, I had a horrid run, even if it was only a few hundred yards. Everything caught on everything: handles and spokes and carrier and pedals—caught in them viciously, or I fancied so. I fell over at least five times. At last I saw the hedge, and I couldn’t trouble to hunt for the gate.” — yes, someone again ‘walking in that peculiar way that he appeared to be going as it were against his own will.’ And other passages of things here that depict the sluggishly quick, or the quickly sluggish.

“Mr. Baxter never stopped to pick up his ‘at when it fell off, and yet there it was on his head.”

A story depicting a triangle of stones with square holes, like the Three Crowns and a Count’s three  padlocks. And the box with, I infer, corners that pierce you like needles just as something pierces  Fanshawe’s tyres, too. 

I, the reader, was addressed as ‘you’ at the start of this story. Only later to reach a passage about pools of ill-smelling liquid to seal or fill the glasses — to seal or fill my eyes so as to stop or at least slow down things getting into them, via the narrator’s words?

“Well, this was another way of it. But they didn’t like having their bones boiled, I take it, and the end of it was they carried him off whither he would not.”

I read this story, I somehow divine, ‘through a dead man’s eyes’. The narrator’s by-style eyes or via the front of someone’s skull as a mask.

All my M.R James reviews: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/my-ongoing-reviews-of-m-r-james-stories/

2 thoughts on “A VIEW FROM A HILL by M.R. James


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