Arthur awakes the next morning having slept fitfully—Spider has been at the foot of the bed the whole night through, and Arthur predicts he will be very glad of her company once they arrive at Eel Marsh. At nine, the landlord informs Arthur he has a phone call—it is Mr. Bentley, who tells Arthur that despite the odd-sounding tone of his letter, he must stay and continue work at the Drablow house until he has made some sense of the papers. By nine thirty in the morning, Arthur has packed up his bicycle basket and is on the road to Eel Marsh.
The day begins normally enough, though Arthur, despite his cushy night at the inn, has barely slept. The phone call from Mr. Bentley makes him feel as if he has to return to Eel Marsh House and must push away whatever doubt or dread had poked through in the night.
Back at the manor, Arthur works at creating a more “domestic” environment for himself to work in. He washes and dries some cutlery, stores his provisions in the pantry, and airs out some clean linens and blankets. He opens some windows and sets up a bin for disposing of unimportant papers, and sits down at a desk with a pot of tea to begin working. It is tedious sorting through all of Mrs. Drablow’s papers, which include receipts, prescriptions, letters, Christmas cards, and even shopping lists. Arthur tosses everything but the letters, and, at around two o’clock in the afternoon, takes Spider outside for a little break.
Arthur is determined to conquer Eel Marsh House, and as soon as he returns he sets to making it a more hospitable environment. He is doing so partly to stave off the creeping dread and sense of horror the house engenders within him, to convince himself that he can assert control over his narrative rather than fall victim again to fear.
The air is crisp and fresh, and, feeling emboldened, Arthur returns to the little graveyard. He wanders among the headstones, trying to read some of the names, but everything is so weathered he can hardly make heads or tails of them. He is able to read “Drablow” on a couple of newer stones, and understands that this is the family plot Jerome spoke of.
Arthur is brave (or foolish) enough to return to the burial ground—the place where he last encountered the horrifying woman in black. He is toying with fate, and tempting trouble in doing so, adding to the slow build of dread and horror despite the seemingly uneventful day Arthur is having so far.
Arthur returns to the house, brews some more tea, and settles down again to his dull papers. As the evening settles in and the sky grows dark, Arthur lights more fires and lamps but continues working into the night. At the rate he’s going, he thinks, he will be through by the end of another day and a half at the most. After eating a simple dinner, he locks up the windows throughout the house and heads to bed.
Everything at Eel Marsh House is—at least for the afternoon—more or less normal. Arthur even feels optimistic about the work, and tells himself that he will not have to stay at Eel Marsh much longer and will in fact be able to complete the task he set out to do.
As Arthur prepares for sleep, he feels in a rather calm and unexcitable state of mind. The previous day’s events have nearly left his mind, and he is bolstered by the rather pleasant and uneventful day he’s just had. Arthur begins reading, and the dog settles down to sleep on a rug. At some point, he drifts off, and is awoken by a strange noise some time later. He realizes that the strange noise is Spider—she is at the door, every hair on her body standing on end, and she is emitting a low growl. Arthur sits up in bed, frightened, and as he does, he hears a faint, muffled bumping noise coming from somewhere else inside the house.
Just as Arthur tried to convince himself that the woman in black was not an apparition, he now tries to convince himself that because he has not seen or heard anything strange at the house all day that the terrors are over. All of this is quickly dashed in the middle of the night, when Spider—her heightened animal senses engaged—detects something dangerous somewhere in the house.
Arthur gets out of bed, though he feels shaky and nervous. He musters all his courage and opens the bedroom door—Spider takes off running down the hall, sniffing at each door, grumbling in her throat. Arthur hears the bumping sound again, at the far end of the hallway. He and Spider make their way down the hall to the end of the passageway; at the door, Spider again grows tense and begins growling. The door has no keyhole—Arthur has not opened it yet, and has no idea what’s inside. He hears the sound inside of something gently bumping on the floor. It is a familiar sound, but one that Arthur cannot quite place. He tells himself that there is simply a rat or bird in the room, which has fallen down the chimney and cannot get out.
Hill builds a sense of visceral, spine-chilling horror here through Arthur, who is narrating his memories from a time in the future—a time when he has just listened to his own step-children’s hair-raising ghost stories. The metatextual work happening in this passage as Arthur revisits one of the most terrifying moments of his life makes this moment’s creeping Gothic dread stand out.
Arthur hears another, fainter sound behind him, this time towards the front of the house. He turns away from the locked door and goes back towards his bedroom—there is nothing disturbed within it at all. He realizes that the sound is coming from outside—he looks out the window, but can’t see or hear anything but the ruffling of the breeze in the reeds.
The house—or whatever or whoever haunts it—seems to be playing tricks on Arthur, attempting to blindside him and wear him out.
Arthur returns to the locked door, but finds that the room has gone silent. Arthur tries to open the door, but finds that it is still locked. He returns to bed and reads two more chapters of his book—he cannot, however, fall back asleep.
The terror is over, but Arthur is so traumatized that he is robbed of sleep. No longer is Arthur excited or confident about his stay at the house.
In the morning, the weather has changed—the air is damp and cold, and a thick fog has settled around the house. Arthur lets Spider out, builds a fire, takes a bath, and begins feeling like his “everyday self.” He goes back to the locked room, but hears no strange sound coming from within. At nine in the morning, Arthur takes his bicycle and goes back into town for more food. He speaks pleasantly with Mr. Jerome on the street and does not mention Eel Marsh House. At the inn, he receives a fond letter from Stella, and by the time he cycles back to the marshes he is whistling and feeling fine.
A fog has rolled in to Eel Marsh House, once again portending trouble and even doom—yet Arthur remains oblivious to this sign, and even feels cheerful as he goes about his day. The high of having survived a night at Eel Marsh House gives him a boosted but false sense of confidence.
Back at the manor, Arthur returns to Mrs. Drablow’s papers. He has found one interesting-looking packet of documents, and as he reads through them, he finds that they are all written in the same hand. They are letters dated between February sixty years ago and the summer of the following year. The letters are often addressed to “Dearest Alice” and signed “J” or “Jennet.” The letters reveal that Jennet, a young woman and a blood relative of Mrs. Drablow, was unmarried and with child. She was sent away, and rarely made mention of her child’s father. In Scotland, she bore a son, and wrote of him with “desperate, clinging affection.” The letters ceased for several months, but started up again in “passionate outrage” as Jennet faced pressure to give up her child for adoption. Jennet revealed her desire to “kill us both before I let him go.”
The “desperate, clinging affection” contained within the letters Arthur finds are reminiscent, in a strange, through-the-looking-glass way, of the passion and desperate need Arthur sensed when he encountered the woman in black in the Drablow family burial ground. The murderous desires within the later letters contribute to the uncanny sense of familiarity between Jennet and the wasted-faced woman, causing Arthur, perhaps, to wonder—or to willfully ignore—the similarities.
The letters soften as time goes on—Arthur intuits that Alice and her husband agreed to take in Jennet’s child and raise him as their own. The final letter urges Alice to love the child, but to remember that he belongs to Jennet alone, and will “never” truly be Alice’s. In the same packet of letters, Arthur finds a legal document declaring that the son of Jennet Humfrye—Nathaniel Pierston—had been adopted by Alice and her husband, Morgan Thomas Drablow. Arthur is about to open the rest of the documents in the packet when he hears Spider’s low growl again.
The letters vacillate between sadness, empathy, and violence rather unpredictably, and the last letter’s tone suggests that, whoever Jennet was—and whatever she has become—a lingering desire for revenge and justice usurped whatever emotions of goodwill and love were once within her.
Arthur turns around and sees Spider at the door, tense and growling. He is terrified, but remembers his decision to confront the ghosts of Eel Marsh House—he is afraid that the harder he runs from them, the more they will come for him. Arthur opens the parlor door and Spider runs up the staircase, growling all the way, to the locked room at the end of the hall. The bumping noise is coming from within once again. Arthur is determined to break in, but cannot find anything to get through the door with. He steps outside with his torch to look for an axe he spotted earlier in the outhouse.
Arthur is so determined to confront the ghosts of Eel Marsh House that, here, his bravery begins to slip into foolishness. Despite Spider’s clear warnings that something terrible is afoot, Arthur worries that ignoring the haunting will only worsen it. Rather than simply extricating himself from the situation and preventing further harm, Arthur seeks to traumatize himself further.
Arthur retrieves the axe, and is making his way back to the house when he hears the sound of pony’s hooves. He goes around to the front of the house, and the noise intensifies—Arthur realizes that the sound of the pony trap drowning in the muck he heard before was indeed a ghostly apparition. Arthur stands still waiting out the pattern of noises—the hooves, the squelching of the muck, the crying of a child, and a woman’s scream of terror.
Even though this time Arthur knows what is coming and has nearly memorized the sequence of noises associated with the pony trap accident, the moment is perhaps even more horrific for this reason; the event is repeating itself over and over on a loop as if to preserve the memory of the event in a twisted, repetitious ode.
Arthur is deeply distressed by the realization that such a dreadful thing did actually take place on Eel Marsh, and that the event repeats itself over and over in some ghostly realm. Arthur realizes that Spider is at his side when she lets out a long howling call. Arthur attempts to get Spider to come back inside, but she will not be called; Arthur picks her up and carries her back in, and when they are back inside the house, Spider fearfully sticks to Arthur’s heels. Spider’s fear motivates Arthur to remain in control of his own emotions. He pets the dog to soothe her, but soon she bolts back upstairs. Arthur follows her down the hall to the locked room at the end—and finds that the door is standing wide open.
The traumas and horrors at Eel Marsh House are throwing themselves at Arthur unceasingly, almost as if to point out how foolish he was to have come at all. As Arthur confronts the realization that a deeper, more pervasive kind of haunting is at work—one that rends the very fabric of space and time—he becomes less and less certain of his ability to conquer the manor’s demons.
Arthur can still hear the bumping noise in the room, but is too afraid to proceed down the hall. After standing immobile for several minutes, he identifies the sound—it is a rocking chair. The sound of a rocker, Arthur notes, ordinarily signifies comfort, safety, and routine—even now, the noise seems to hypnotize him into state of drowsiness and rest. Recalling the comfort of his own childhood nursery drives away just for a moment the sinister, evil nature of the house.
In this passage, Susan Hill’s authorial inversions of Gothic horror narratives are at work. As Arthur slowly begins to understand what is inside the room, the horror of the moment comes not from the discovery of a monster, beast, or ghost, but from the unsettling and overturning of a deeply held comfort.
Arthur musters the courage to go into the room and face whatever is in there. He lights his torch and heads inside—it is indeed a child’s nursery. In the corner, the rocking chair is rocking gently and with gradually decreasing speed, as if someone has just got up out of it. Arthur shines his torch around the room, and is surprised to find that it is in immaculate order. There are finely laid-out clothes in the chest of drawers, as well as beautiful and numerous toys in a wardrobe. Everything is in pristine condition—not as if it has been sitting dusty and untouched for fifty years, but as if it was all just played with that very day. Though Arthur moves through the room and realizes that though there is nothing inside it to harm him, he feels a profound sense of desolation and grief.
As Arthur enters the nursery for the first time, he is confronted with a confusing tableau. The horrific image of the rocker moving back and forth of its own accord unsettles his positive, comforting connotations with the object; the pristine nature of the room suggests that someone or something has preserved it for many years out of reverence for whatever child once occupied it. This cacophony of distress and tenderness is further complicated by the overwhelming atmosphere of despair in the room, which suggests something terrible happened inside of it—or to its prior occupant.
Unable to bear the sad atmosphere any longer, Arthur leaves the room and closes the door behind him. He pours himself a brandy and goes up to bed—the nursery at the end of the hall is silent for the rest of the night.
Arthur has been shaken by the night’s events, but at least takes comfort in the fact that whatever is haunting the nursery seems to be done with him—for now.