THE OTHER BED by E.F. Benson

“…a cold ugly wind was complaining among the pines…”

This is the potentially chilling story of the narrator’s stay, during a ten-day snowstorm, at a Swiss resort, and assigned, strangely, in an overbooked hotel, a room with an extra bed. Room no. 23, it must be noted. And gradually the sticky stain of someone  else of a spectral nature sleeping in it, having been recurrently delivered a bottle of whiskey by a ‘Sensitive’ ‘in-looking’ waiter — a waiter who was sent away because nobody had ordered it! Straightforward ghost story with a cursed spectral rationale? Yes and no.

“But at the time I made no guess as to any coherence between these isolated facts;”


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8 responses to “THE OTHER BED by E.F. Benson

  1. Spoilers!

    THE CAT by E.F. Benson

    This is a strange story of the sickness of love, its cure or remission by an involuntary parting from the woman loved, and later its recurrence by some force beyond the wit of man but conceivable within the autonomous arts of fiction-truth, as this story with its imputed irresistible ‘master thought’ surely is. A man — under the mental mentorship of a knowledgeable male friend — had been besotted with a woman with his body but mainly his soul: “She was one of those blonde, lithe, silken girls, who, happily for the peace of men’s minds, are rather rare, and who remind one of some humanised yet celestial and bestial cat.” But she is tempted elsewhere by a Lord, and our man is devastated, but somehow cured by both a ‘fairy godmother’ of chance and love’s lesion of the brain, leaving him happy and somehow miraculously capable of emulating the colours and soul of Titian when painting. Until she, now as Lady something or other, asks him to complete his portrait of her that she had once sat for, and when he takes the completed portrait back to his country home to further paint, with the highly felt Aesthetics of the words describing the process, yes, to paint the background to her image, a background of striking purples and greens, after the ‘July suns’ that had made London “reel in a maze of heat”, as with us recently in my own reel-time, amazingly culminating today, with what culminates with him, too, i.e. the “heat of summer had given place to a heat no less intense, but full of the menace of storm. A few big hot drops, too, of rain…” and the appearance of a big grey cat, and its eyes as her eyes, and he is subsumed again, as the cat gnaws a captured thrush and mangles our man’s neck beyond repair….his fingers ‘choked’ with paint.

  2. CATERPILLARS by E.F. Benson

    “I did not at all recover from the horror of dream : it did not seem to me that I had dreamed.”

    Indeed, the state I am in currently, I was probably infected by this story the first time I read it years ago. Got into my own “hinge-crack” then, I guess. Little more to add about this horror story that everyone remembers, especially for its eponymous creatures and the truly truly truly nightmarish aspects of them in an Italian Villa, beset right from the start with a sense of unease. As it says in ’Corstophine’ above, as read by me for the first time through blind chance about an hour an ago, this ‘Caterpillars’ story is perfectly described by an expression that I thought then, in ‘Corstophine’, was slightly awkward: …somehow disquieting and appalling. Can it be both simultaneously?
    Not forgetting the ‘disordering’ Sirocco and the “crawling pyramid”.


    “….it was wiser to leave rocking-turns alone than to be frozen in their quest.”

    Amid the strains of Puccini, this is a Swiss hotel to match that of the sanatorium in the Swiss mountain snow of Mann’s ‘The Magic Mountain’ (reviewed by me at length in 2013 HERE), and Benson has somehow turned one scene into the Swiss snowy mountain of a very effective horror story, perhaps expressing the human fears then of the bestial that many white men feared in those days, and which came out in history.
    Benson removed the cannibalism of Mann (see passage quoted from the Mann below), and replaced it with the ripped-off hindleg of a chamois, shame!

    “Young men also had been raped by them, to be mated with the females of their tribe.”

    “With one hand it scratched the thick hair on its belly, in the other it held one of these bones, which presently split in half beneath the pressure of its finger and thumb.”


    “Scarcely daring to venture, but following an inner compulsion, he passed behind the statuary, and through the double row of columns beyond. The bronze door of the sanctuary stood open, and the poor soul’s knees all but gave way beneath him at the sight within. Two grey old women, witchlike, with hanging breasts and dugs of fingerlength, were busy there, between flaming braziers, most horribly. They were dismembering a child. In dreadful silence they tore it apart with their bare hands—Hans Castorp saw the bright hair blood-smeared—and cracked the tender bones between their jaws, their dreadful lips dripped blood. An icy coldness held him. He would have covered his eyes and fled, but could not. They at their gory business had already seen him, they shook their reeking fists and uttered curses—soundlessly, most vilely, with the last obscenity, and in the dialect of Hans Castorp’s native Hamburg. It made him sick, sick as never before. He tried desperately to escape; knocked into a column with his shoulder—and found himself, with the sound of that dreadful whispered brawling still in his ears,…”
    – Thomas Mann (The Magic Mountain — published in 1924 the same year as The Horror- Horn? The preternaturality of the literary gestalt!?)


    “It’s all subject to known laws. But the guess, the conjecture: there’s the thrill and the excitement of life. […] You have to guess before you know.”

    And that is perhaps why I genuinely often find myself saying ‘I guess’ in my guesstalt reviews! So, I do not depend on this story’s stated ‘cushion of coincidence’ nor on the golfing narrator’s preoccupation with chess problems to the exclusion of what darker, more serious things are portended by such lightsome, entertaining exteriors. This the cosy ghost story by what we often find to be a writer of comforting tales of terror as well as of women called Mapp and Lucia! There is no map without light, I guess. This being the story of a charming woman but one who also harbours an evil reincarnation, terrifying a dog called Fungus as well as the narrator’s wife, but intriguing the narrator’s ‘brother-in-law as guessing guest. This supposedly cosy ghost story indeed holds real evil within it, if you dig deep enough in it.
    The sea gave the body up. But, then, until you dig deep enough you cannot hide its coffinful of stated “knees and elbows” within the earth upon which someone once lived to write it …. cast out indeed.

    “I felt that I must know that earth had gone to earth,…”

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