A different kind of ghost story written by Robert S. Hichens. Hichens, the author of The Garden Of Allah , was born in 1864 and died in 1950. He was Oscar Wilde’s confidant and a friend of the young Somerset Maugham. He is most famous for this strange tale, selected by Dorothy L. Sayers for her anthology of detective, mystery and horror stories.
Two very different men, one a priest, the other a scientist and researcher, become friends.
Dull people often wondered how it came about that Father Murchison and Professor Guildea were intimate friends. The one was all faith, the other all scepticism.
These two discover an instant intimacy that surprises them both. They share dinners and long philosophical discussions about human behavior, faith and rationalism. Then, one cool evening, everything changes for Professor Guildea and Father Murchison is forced to witness an unexplainable decline.
Father Murchison suddenly remembered the first evening he had spent with Guildea, and the latter’s expression of disgust, at the idea of receiving warm affection from anyone. In the light of the long-ago conversation, the present event seemed supremely strange, and almost like a punishment for an offence committed by the Professor against humanity. But, looking up at his friend’s twitching face, the Father resolved not to be caught in the net of his hideous belief.
Is Guildea going mad? Is his house haunted? If so, it is a very unusual kind of ghost. Hichens’s writing is dense and descriptive, the dialogue between these two men is perfect in tone. They hold each other at a distance but admire and like each other. This makes the ending to this story even more disturbing. Sayers spoke of the “delirious nausea” it provoked in her. I agree with that sentiment, the story is chilling. After learning a bit about Hichens’ friendships with Wilde and Maugham, I find the story of this relationship even more intriguing.
How Love Came to Professor Guildea comes from a fabulous anthology called Black Water: The Book of Fantastic Literature, edited by Alberto Manguel and published by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. in 1983. I cribbed the bits about Hichens from Manguel’s short biography of the author.