Hmm, I like the theory behind this story. What I'm not a fan of is how James inserts the narrator into the story. Either make him a character, or make the story omniscient, but there was too much flip-flopping for me to truly enjoy the story.
"Our Englishman", or Dennistoun as his name is revealed to be, travels to the little town of St. Bertrand de Comminges to explore an old, historic cathedral. During his exploration, he notices that the sacristan (which sounds to me like a housekeeper or servant of the cathedral) appears as if there is someone behind him. He is jumpy and anxious, and clearly on the border of freaking out and running as far from the place as possible. Insert joke about an overbearing wife here, which M. R. James in fact does.
So, it turns out that this little sacristan guy has a scrapbook from the times of the Canon Alberic de Mauleon (so pretty old). There's one picture, of King Solomon dealing with a creepy, intensely disturbing demon thing. We never really know what this thing is, other than that just this drawing is enough to keep grown men up late at night, or sleeping with the lights on. I'm picturing a disturbing blend of old coworkers, and mythical hairy beast animals. Basically, this demon thing is pretty evil, pretty bad, pretty much scary as hell itself. SPOILER this is really what this whole story is about.
The Englishman, drawn toward anything old, musty, or sentimentally but not practically valuable, takes it off the sacristan's hands for a mere 250 francs. Plus the sacristan's daughter throws in a crucifix, free of charge. I guess she really wanted to get rid of the image of Christ on a crucifix, or maybe she thought he was going to need it more than her now. GET IT YET?! It's a supernatural horror story, I bet you can guess what's going to happen.
SURE ENOUGH later that night, the Englishman notices something on his end table. Lo and behold, IT'S THE DEMON'S HAND, ATTACHED TO THE DEMON ITSELF. (shock shock) So now the Englishman realizes the curse attached to the scrapbook, and spends the rest of his miserable and short life 'obsessing', in his daughter's own terms.
This was a pretty good story. Like I said, I really didn't like the format and perspective in the story. Sometimes the reader was omniscient and you knew everything that was going on, other times the narrator is reminded of something that the Englishman said to him (in person), thereby inserting the narrator INTO the story and not just making him a narrator. It was confusing. And also, why didn't anybody just try burning the picture? Why can't anyone in a horror story or movie just do the smart thing? Keeping this drawing is the equivalent of running up the stairs, instead of out the front door. Yeah, let's just trap ourselves and do all the work from our killer.. Dumb. Or, trade this scrapbook off to someone much earlier than the sacristan seems to have done. He must have been carrying this curse around for years! (in my opinion, anyway.. he seems pretty old and experienced with the curse). Man, if only I lived in a horror story, then everyone would be so much smarter.
I do have to give this author his props, though. The description alone of this demon gave me the shivers. I could only imagine actually seeing this demon thing, or even just the drawing of it. Maybe I'll just look at creepy/terrifying pictures on Halloween night..