Colonel Mortimer and his family are newly returned from India, and have taken a lease on Brentwood House, near Edinburgh. The colonel's only son Roland adapts well at first, but then becomes dangerously ill, feverish and perhaps delirious. He finally tells his father his secret, of a haunting crying voice coming from the nearby ruins of the old castle. And then he asks his father to do a seemingly impossible task.
Biographical and other notes
The dedication reads: "Inscribed to a dear and happy memory. E.B. 1881." This refers to a visit Mrs Oliphant paid to the Blackwood family at Colinton House, near Edinburgh, where her current Blackwood publisher, William Blackwood III, was living with his mother Emma (the E.B. above) and his two sisters. It was a delightful visit; but sadly Emma Blackwood died a short time later.
Colinton House and its grounds were the inspiration for Brentwood House in the story. Near the house stood the ruins of old Colinton Castle, and also a lone gable wall, once part of a nearby building. In 1896 John Geddie described the scene (in his book The Water of Leith from Source to Sea) as follows:
"Under the shadow of the deserted castle and the sombre holly grove, standing on the edge of a park . . . is a forlorn and eery scrap of ruin - a lowly gable wall with the dead trunk and skeletal limbs of an ivy tree twined around the staring window and 'Open Door.' Readers of Mrs Oliphant will remember this vacant threshold as the scene of one of the most powerful of modern ghost stories."
(The photo of an open door shown above is a part of the Colinton Castle ruins - though not the open door of the story.)
British publishing information
Periodical: Blackwood's Magazine Jan 1882
First edition: Blackwood and Sons (collected in Stories of the Seen and Unseen) 1902