The protagonist in this story is a weak, vainglorious and complaisant man who is nonetheless entrusted with an important package. Sheltering from a blizzard in a low inn, surrounded by brigands whom he feels the unaccountable urge to impress, it is obvious from the beginning that he is going to meet his downfall. But as a reader, my capacity to care was not reduced by the inevitability – in fact it was increased by it. The notion that character is fate is demonstrated beautifully; there’s this sense of clear-eyed empathy for human weakness – but also the sheer romance of folly, its allure and siren song, and the call of the void beneath it.
First published in 1890. Collected in The Horse-Stealers and Other Stories, Macmillan, 1921, latterly Ecco Press, 1986