The narrative flashes back to the beginning of Arthur’s terrible tale. It is a Monday afternoon in November, and though it is only three o’clock in the afternoon, it is already growing dark. London is enveloped in a thick fog, and has been for three days. It is a “filthy, evil-smelling fog”—neither sight nor sound can penetrate it. The fog is menacing and sinister and turns the city into a veritable maze.
Just as in the start of the frame story, the story of Arthur’s youth begins with a thick blanket of fog. The fog in this passage, however, is odious and sinister—it clearly signifies doom and horror, and seems to be cloaking London in an attempt, perhaps, to keep Arthur from travelling out of town and exposing himself to danger.
The fog, however, does not give Arthur a sense of foreboding as he makes his way in a carriage through London towards King’s Cross station. Mr. Bentley, his boss (Arthur has not yet been made partner at the firm) has sent him out on a journey to a remote part of England. Arthur is barely twenty-three, and is excited by the prospect of a journey by train.
Arthur is so excited to take a train trip that he ignores the poor weather and the danger the fog presents, and presses on happily. Already, young Arthur seems much more cheerful and naïve than the aging Arthur in the frame story—it seems that whatever is about to unfold at Crythin Gifford is responsible for this change.
Earlier that morning, Arthur was summoned to his boss Mr. Bentley’s office, where Bentley began telling Arthur about “the extraordinary Mrs. Drablow” of Eel Marsh House. Mrs. Alice Drablow has recently died at eighty-seven years old, but was a loyal client of the firm for many, many years. An odd woman, she lived in an equally odd house in a small market town called Crythin Gifford—a house only accessible at low tide after crossing the Nine Lives Causeway. When the tide comes in, Bentley says, one is “cut off” until it goes out again. Bentley informs Arthur that Arthur is to travel to Crythin Gifford to represent the firm at Mrs. Drablow’s funeral, and must then go on to Eel Marsh House to locate the “disorganized” Mrs. Drablow’s private papers and bring them back to London.
As Mr. Bentley describes the mission he is about to send Arthur on, his assessment of Crythin Gifford and the odd Mrs. Drablow ring of familiar Gothic tropes: a large manor, cut off from the town around it; an old woman, confined to her manse; and a mysterious set of papers, necessary but hidden in a veritable maze.
Mr. Bentley assures Arthur that the business will take a day or two at most. Arthur is amused by the idea of a “reclusive old woman having hidden a lot of ancient documents” in her old, creaky house; he thinks the assignment sounds like something out of a Victorian novel. Mr. Bentley, too, encourages Arthur to “treat the whole thing as a jaunt.” Mr. Bentley tells Arthur to stay in a hotel this evening and be ready to attend the funeral tomorrow morning at eleven—a local man will help Arthur from there. Arthur asks for more details, but is hurried out when a client of Mr. Bentley’s arrives for a meeting. Arthur gathers his things and leaves the office, heading out into the “choking” fog.
Arthur himself finds Mr. Bentley’s description to be something out of fiction—this causes him to gravely and foolishly underestimate the seriousness of the quest he is about to set out on, and to ignore the potential warning signs along the way. Meanwhile, the sinister nature of the fog intensifies, indicating that Arthur is getting closer and closer to his doom.