The narrator is called to the town of Daalbergen after the death of his uncle, Dominie Johannes Vanderhoof, to inherit his estate. The locals recount the strange behavior of the Dominie and his Sexton Abel Foster that led them to suspect he was in league with unseen spirits. Though warned against going up at night the narrator is unperturbed and crosses the swamp to reach the church and confront Foster.
Passing the fresh grave of his uncle he enters the church at sundown and finds Foster sitting catatonic in a room lined with ancient, occult manuscripts and jarred animals. Despite having his eyes open Foster was heavily intoxicated and only sensed the narrators presence when he was tapped on the shoulder. Initially mistaking the Narrator for the risen corpse of Dominie Vanderhoof he begins babbling that the Reverend isn't truly dead and will return for revenge. Initially unconvinced the narrator realises that his uncle's cross has begun to topple.
After further interrogation Foster reveals that he'd learned the secrets of demonology and occult rites from the long dead Dominie Slott. Using his new found power he cursed the townsfolk and manipulated Dominie Vanderhoof before trapping his soul in a black bottle and burying his body. Convinced by the reality of the coming threat the Narrator demands that Foster return the Dominie's soul but without the formula the old Sexton explains that they'll both be killed. To keep the Narrator from getting to the bottle Foster attempts to extract his soul with a low chant but the Narrator manages to tackle him breaking the bottle that held the old man's soul, killing him.
Fleeing the church, the Narrator makes it back to Daalbergen where the locals seem not to believe him but an old man accompanies him back to refill the now abandoned grave and burn the cursed documents. To this day the gigantic figure roams the graveyard clutching its bottle.
Dominie Johannes Vanderhoof
The Narrators uncle is descried as a large and imposing man with a weak heart. After the arrival of Foster (who'd stare at the Reverend through the eyes of a painting of the devil in the church) he quickly fell under his dark influence giving bizarre sermons about "region of hideous, unseen spirits" that scared off his congregation. Despite the efforts of the local deacons they couldn't afford to replace him and he continued to preach to an empty hall.
The cautious Grocery store owner who called the narrator into town and explained his uncle's demise.
Initially believed to have arrived 10 years before the death of Dominie Vanderhoof he was in fact ancient and had served under Dominie Slott 200 years before during which time he found and read the Dominie's collection of occult materials, becoming a practitioner himself. Upon his return he he quickly became close to the new Reverend and he was reemployed as the church sexton. Foster's arrival unsettled the townsfolk and brought a wave of misfortune to the local area. After Dominie Vanderhoof went into isolation he was responsible for collecting provisions and only dropped his hateful demeanor when he buried the Dominie. Though it doesn't keep him from becoming bent and shriveled his life was unnaturally and indefinitely extended when Dominie Slott placed his soul in a bottle. However when the bottle was broken he was almost instantly reduced to a pile of yellow dust.
A villager who saw Foster talking to Dominie Slott's grave.
Dominie Guilliam Slott
The first pastor of the church who took the position in 1701, despite this he was obsessed with the occult.
Daalbergen is a likely Dutch community (given their names and the use of "Hoffman" and "Dominie") in the Ramapo Chain of the Appalachian Mountains. Leading out of the town is a main road that winds through a great swamp before a path splits up off past an impoverished collection of huts. Following the path takes you under a tunnel of drooping willows towards the isolated church. Once a thriving mining town Foster's curses caused the iron vein to give out leaving only those with large land holdings to scrape by on farming the rocky hills.
Behind the Mythos
Unusually for Lovecraft the Christian god has influence in this story as Foster admitted that it limited his power over the town. This makes it one of the only cosmic horror tales by Lovecraft that actually incorporates Judeo-Christian concepts alongside "The Dreams in the Witch-House".