Mr. Williams worked in the museum, which was located at the Oxford University. The man expanded the collection of monuments of the English culture of this institution: notes, drawings of churches and country houses. Mr. Williams thought that his work would be the most serene in his life, but even here he found unpleasant surprises. He found many good exhibits for the museum and sent the list to regular customers several times a year – in case some of them wanted to buy something. In response, he received letters with the numbers of photos. On that day, he received another message in which it was reported that he should carefully study one of the pictures. The author of the picture was unknown. It was an image of a country house with a rather high price.
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The Picture by M. R. James
For several years, Mr Williams worked for the museum at the University of Oxford, enlarging its already famous collection of drawings and pictures of English country houses and churches. It is hard to imagine anything less alarming than collecting pictures of houses and churches, but Mr Williams found that even this peaceful work had its unexpected dark corners.
He bought many pictures for the museum from the London shop of Mr J. W. Britnell. Twice a year Mr Britnell sent a list of pictures to all his regular customers, who could then choose which pictures they wanted to look at before deciding whether to buy.
In February 1895, Mr Williams received a list from Mr Britnell with the following letter:
I think you might be interested in Picture Number 978 in our list, which I will be happy to send to you if you wish.
J. W. Britnell
Mr Williams turned to Number 978 in the list and found the following note:
Number 978. Artist unknown. Picture of an English country house, early nineteenth century. 25 centimetres by 40 centimetres. 20 pounds.
It did not sound very interesting and the price seemed high. However, Mr Williams added it to the pictures that he asked Mr Britnell to send to him.
The pictures arrived at the museum one Saturday afternoon, just after Mr Williams had left. They were brought round to his rooms in college so that he could look at them over the weekend. Mr Williams found them on his table when he and his friend, Mr Binks, came in to have tea.
Picture Number 978 showed the front of quite a large country house. It had three rows of windows with the door in the middle of the bottom row. There were trees on both sides of the house and a large lawn in front of it. The letters A. W. F. were written in the corner of the picture. Mr Williams thought that it was not very well done, probably the work of an amateur artist, and he could not understand why Mr Britnell thought it was worth twenty pounds. He turned it over and saw that there was a piece of paper on the back with part of a name on it. All he could read were the ends of two lines of writing. The first said, ‘-ngly Hall’; the second, ‘-ssex’…