Tuesday Terror! Basil Netherby by AC Benson

If music be the food of evil…

Apparently the famous EF Benson had two ghost-story-writing brothers – AC and RH (their parents were clearly big on initials). This collection includes stories from both of them, turn and turn about. So in a future post I’ll highlight one of RH’s, but AC takes the stage for this week’s…

Basil Netherby
by AC Benson

AC Benson

“…for God’s sake, dear Leonard, if you would help a friend who is on the edge (I dare not say of what), come to me tomorrow, UNINVITED. You will think this very strange, but do not mind that – only come – unannounced, do you see…”

This forms the postscript to a letter our narrator, Leonard Ward, receives from his old friend, Basil Netherby. They had studied music together, and since then Netherby has been travelling from place to place working on his compositions. Now he is lodging in an old house called Treheale, in Cornwall. The main body of the letter gives a glowing account of the work Netherby is doing there – only the postscript worries Ward…

My first thought was that Basil was mad; my next thought that he had drifted into some awkward situation, fallen under some unfortunate influence – was perhaps being blackmailed – and I knew his sensitive character well enough to feel sure that whatever the trouble was it would be exaggerated ten times over by his lively and apprehensive mind.

Netherby has also enclosed a sample of the music he had been writing, and this worries Ward even more…

…what music it was! It was like nothing of which I’d ever even dreamed. There was a wild, intemperate voluptuousness about it, a kind of evil relish of beauty which gave me a painful thrill.

So Ward rushes off to Cornwall. But, to his surprise, when he gets there, Netherby is looking fine – more than fine, in fact. He has a vigour and glow he never before possessed and seems in high spirits. But Ward worries that this change in his friend is a sign of something troubling and he begins to connect it with the house. This feeling grows stronger when, while walking around the wooded grounds, he comes across a path that takes him to a strange-looking little door at a corner of the house…

I do not know what was the obsession that fell on me at the sight of this place. A cold dismay seemed to spring from the dark and clutch me; there are places which seem so soaked, as it were, in malign memories that they give out a kind of spiritual aroma of evil. I have seen in my life things which might naturally seem to produce in the mind associations of terror and gloom. I have seen men die; I have seen a man writhe in pain on the ground from a mortal injury; but I never experienced anything like the thrill of horror which passed through my shuddering mind at the sight of the little door with its dark eye-holes.

* * * * *

I’ve only read a few of the stories from each of the two brothers so far, but AC is winning hands down, not least because of this excellent tale. There’s no great mystery to it – Ward is soon told that the malign influence Netherby is suffering under is the ghost of the house’s previous owner, a dissolute man who had spent his life corrupting the youth of the village and seems intent on continuing after death.

The writing is great and soon creates a real atmosphere of evil and dread. AC uses the idea of Netherby’s music very effectively, showing it both as having resulted from corruption and of being, in itself, corrupting. As Ward says…

Heard upon the piano, the accent of subtle evil that ran through the music became even more obvious. I seemed to struggle between two feelings – an over-powering admiration, and a sense of shame at my own capacity for admiring it.

There’s a distinct but distinctly Edwardian suggestion that the corruption is of a sensual nature, turning these decent young men’s thoughts to something slightly more earthy than a well-turned ankle, and thus leading them from the path of righteousness into temptation. (All the stories so far have had a religious element underpinning them; sometimes broadly, especially in RH’s; sometimes, as in this one, rather more subtly.) The question is whether Ward will be able to save his friend and get him away from the house before it’s too late, but the ghost doesn’t take too kindly to that idea. As the story reaches its crescendo it becomes tense indeed! Good stuff!

(The porpentine became obsessed with the music…)

Fretful Porpentine rating:  😱 😱 😱 😱

Overall story rating:           😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

NB The collection Ghosts in the House was provided for review by the publisher, Collins Chillers.

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17 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Basil Netherby by AC Benson

  1. The porpy is clearly multi-talented, FictionFan! I am impressed. And the story really does sound well written. The writing style, just from the bit you’ve shared, certainly invites the reader to engage, and it’s interesting to see how that letter acts, both to set up the story, and to get Ward involved in the events. Glad you enjoyed this one.

    • Absolutely! He plays piano about as well as I play guitar! 😉 The writing of both brothers is very good, but AC has the more interesting stories so far, for my tastes at least. I loved the idea of the corruption showing through in the music… *shudders*

  2. Oooh, that sounds thrilling! I’ve never read EF Benson but always thought I should – I had no idea he had brothers who also wrote. And at least the porpy is getting some exercise walking over those keys! 🙂

    • I’ve hardly read any EF Benson either but have enjoyed the little I have. To be honest, I’m enjoying AC’s stuff more, though – probably just personal taste, but I find him distinctly more-ish. I’ll maintain a tactful silence over poor old RH… 😀 The porpy is multi-talented – next week I’ll see if he’ll play clarinet for us… 😉

  3. This story has a good ‘voice’ to it although I’m not a huge fan of moralistic stories they were very popular at this time but from the bit you’ve shared I think I could possibly get passed this bit.
    Good to know it rates high on both scales – on which note I have to say I’m simply loving the piano playing porcupine!

    • RH’s stories are very religious – all priests and churches – but AC’s are a bit more subtle in their moralising. I’m finding I’m enjoying his stories a lot – some of them are more like fables or even folk-tales than out-and-out horror.

      The porpy is so talented – he says next week he might give us a clarinet concerto… 😉

  4. I watched the porpy over and over! Hooray to a wonderfully-written, horror-filled story, FF! Loved your review! I’m reading some horror stories- not my norm, but so far, so good. Have you read The Sea Was a Fair Master?

    • The porpy plays piano much better than I play guitar! 😉 I’m enjoying these Collins Chillers anthologies – they’re introducing me to great writers I wasn’t aware of. No, but I checked it out on Amazon – looks like an intriguing mix of genres. Looking forward to your review! 😀

    • The older horror stories are great – the quality of the writing is usually high and they go more for spookiness than gruesomeness. These Collins Chillers anthologies are turning out to be loads of fun, introducing me to lots of writers I’d never heard of… 😀

  5. “There’s a distinct but distinctly Edwardian suggestion that the corruption is of a sensual nature, turning these decent young men’s thoughts to something slightly more earthy than a well-turned ankle.”–As usual you make me laugh. 😁 I hope Porpy is composing something appropriately atmospheric to go with this story.

    • Hahaha – well, since these writers never spell things out in all their sordid detail, I feel I have to go along… 😉 Having mastered the piano, the porpy is now learning the violin…

  6. I must say I am a big fan of the spooky reads you’ve been posting about lately. If I didn’t have outside commitments to publishers, I would read way more of these…

    The idea of the piano bringing about corruption is a wonderful one-mainly because I played piano for ten years when my Dad forced me to (sigh) so I have a love/hate relationship with the instrument. Yet, I have one in my living room, and if it started playing by itself one night-yikes!!!!

    • I’ve been really lucky this year in the spooky reading department – some great anthologies. Unfortunately it means less of them have had online links though – some I simply can’t find online.

      Haha – that would be spooky! I vaguely remember from childhood someone – an old aunt or somebody – had a pianola. Have you ever come across one? You stick a kind of perforated roll in it, and it plays all by itself! Kinda takes away the point a bit, I feel…

    • I do too – I love that they get such a clear sense of corruption from the music. That kinda happens to me when I listen to some rappers… 😉 *hobbles off to the Old Folks’ Home*

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