Arthur Christopher Benson was born in England in 1862 to an Archbishop of Canterbury. Although he and his siblings endured a tumultuous upbringing, their family still produced a surprising number of successful writers. His brother Robert Hugh, his sister Maggie and the most successful of them, Edward Frederic all had works published. You can find my article on Edward (E.F. Benson) at https://horrordelve.com/2014/07/03/13-haunting-tales-by-e-f-benson/. Arthur was educated at Eton and Kings College before teaching and later becoming Master of Magdalene College. He wrote poems, essays, biographies, short stories and is probably best remembered for writing the lyrics to the British patriotic song “Land of Hope and Glory”. He died in June of 1925. Of the horror stories I have included below, I found “Basil Netherby” (also called “The House at Treheale” in some anthologies), “The Grey Cat” and “Out of the Sea” to be the most engaging of them.
1. “The Temple of Death” (?) – A traveling Christian evangelist named Paullinus stops at the house of an old tribal warrior in Gaul. Paullinus works to convert the people as he goes from village to village. He is warned by the warrior to stay away from a place they call The Temple of the Grey Death, a place where criminals are taken to be fed to a dark god of the forest. He agrees to avoid it, but when traveling to the next village, he begins to hear a pack of wolves nearby and ends up seeking shelter in the house of the temple’s priest. He soon encounters the devouring beast first hand.
2. “Basil Netherby” or “The House at Treheale” (1903) – A man receives a letter from an old friend named Basil Netherby. The envelope is distressed and stained in spots but more bizarre are the crosses roughly sketched in ink in all four of its corners. In it Basil, a musician, writes about how well his life is going and includes some samples of music he’s been working on. On the letter’s final page, its theme changes. It’s written in a small, weak hand. The friend begs him to come to the house he recently moved into at Treheale and to come unannounced, indicting he’s in dire need of help. Inside more crosses are drawn as is the credo “He descended into Hell”. The man decides to follow his friend’s request and goes to spend some time there. When he has his friend’s music looked at by a professor, it’s found to be a work of genius but seems evil in some way. What follows at the house at Treheale is a good ghost story with several unnerving events including a surreal vision of the spirit world and the dark beings that reside there.
3. “The Closed Window” (1903) – A man takes possession of a house with an old tower attached to it. The tower has a bad reputation with the locals. The man and a friend decide to enter a room in the tower which has been shut up for a long time. Their dog is nervous in the chamber, and once the window is opened, they find it looks out into a world not their own.
4. “The Grey Cat” (1903) – A young boy feels himself drawn to a secluded pool of water that has an evil reputation. He goes to it despite promising his parents not to. He finds a grey cat there that’s very affectionate towards him and he becomes fond of it. He starts to have strange dreams involving the pool of water and sneak off there whenever possible to see the cat. The cat refuses to follow him beyond a point where a large cross becomes visible. As time passes the cat seems to grow larger, and the boy finds himself in grave danger.
5. “The Slype House” (1904) – A man whose mother died at a young age is raised by a father who has little use for him. He goes to school abroad and learns of dark arts from an old master. After the death of his father, he moves into Slype House. He has no friends, and those he passes on the street view him with fear. One night when in his fifties, he looks back on his life and regrets having no wife or children. He goes into a secret room he keeps and attempts to summon the spirit of the only woman who ever loved him, his mother. Unfortunately, in this attempt he encounters something else and crosses over into a dark realm where he is pursued by some demonic being, putting his soul in jeopardy.
6. “The Red Camp” (1903) – A man inherits his family’s large estate with its expansive lands, but can barely afford to live there and run it. When he hears rumors of ancient buried treasure located within its boarders that once served as an enemy campsite, he determines to find it despite the spooky legends its garnered over the years.
7. “Out of the Sea” (1904) – A priest who serves a poor seaside village is approached by the richest family in the destitute place. They tell him they keep catching glimpses of a strange goat-like creature that they never see clearly. It smells of sea salt and death and gives off an evil aura. They have glimpsed it ever since a wrecked ship drifted ashore. They even saw it cavorting about in devilish fashion around the site. They plead with the priest to help them get rid of it. He agrees and goes to their house. He soon becomes convinced they’re hiding some dark secret that may explain the reason for the demonic creature’s interest in them.
Article by Matt Cowan