"The Keeper of Cademuir" is usually collected as one of John Buchan’s supernatural stories. A keeper of hunting grounds gets his hand caught in a poacher’s trap, is unable to get help, and spends hours thinking about his doom, passes out twice, and is then rescued by the poacher, who then makes a speech about not minding going to jail or anything else:

Beside him on the grass, with wild eyes, sat the poacher, shedding hysterical tears. ‘Dae onything ye like wi’ me,’ he was saying, ‘kick me or kill me, an’ I’m ready. I’ll gang to jail wi’ ye, to Peebles or the Calton, an’ no say a word. But oh—! ma God, I thocht ye were bye wi't.’

Two questions:

  • Why is this considered a supernatural story? Nothing out of the ordinary seems to happen.

  • What is the poacher going on about with his speech? It looks like a punchline, but there doesn’t seem to be an actual punch.

  • "bye" = "done for, finished" Jan 24 at 22:02
  • According to Google's infobox, it's a "romance novel" (!)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 24 at 22:02
  • @Randal'Thor thank you for the edits (the book I have here does show the title as The Keeper of Cademuir).
    – entonio
    Jan 24 at 22:58
  • 1
    @entonio Ah, the story title edit wasn't me. I've changed it back to your version, which is also in the Project Gutenberg link that I added. Asking whether both story titles are correct, or why the same story has two different titles, might be worth its own question.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jan 25 at 8:05

1 Answer 1


Certainly at first glance "The Keeper of Cademuir" does not look like a typical horror story. As the OP summarised, a gamekeeper finds a poacher's trap, gets his hand caught in it while he investigates its mechanism, and spends hours in a state of despair until he is finally released when the poacher returns.

Like many of Buchan's protagonists, the keeper is physically strong and vigorous, a "man of a bold carriage, with the indescribable air of one whose life is connected with sport and rough moors". So it seems very exaggerated how rapidly he is reduced to despair. He first panics, and then rages, after which he sleeps for an hour, dreaming that “he seemed to be dead and in torment... a thousand evil spirits were mocking his anguish”. He then hallucinates, “all the wholesome sights of a summer day were wrought by his frenzied brain into terrible phantoms”, and imagines how he will die, and his wife will forget him and remarry. Before he falls into unconsciousness, he weeps "unnatural tears, which, if any one had been there to see him, would have been far more terrible than his frantic ravings.”

Why would a physically strong man be reduced to this condition over the course of an afternoon? Having a hand trapped in a snare is painful and annoying, but the descent into delirium is extremely rapid - the keeper is almost dead by the time the poacher returns. In her thesis on The fiction of John Buchan, Kate MacDonald argues that

an intimation of evil is strongly present in the atmosphere

and that that is the cause of the keeper's "unnatural terror". This is certainly supported by the keeper's feeling of evil spirits mocking him, and that the tears he shed are stated to be "unnatural". A formless evil, driving the keeper insane, would certainly be grounds to classify the story as a subtle example of the supernatural genre.

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