Amy, Lady Monchensey, is reluctant to have the lights turned on. She has to sit in the house from October until June, for in winter the sun rarely warms the cold earth of northern England. Since all she can do is measure time, she hardly wants to make night come too soon.
The whole family, except her three sons, gathers to celebrate her birthday, and the sons are expected that evening. The conversation while they wait out the time is tasteless. Gerald and Charles, Amy’s brothers-in-law, feel that the younger generation does not accept its responsibilities. Ivy and Violet, her younger sisters, agree that youth is becoming decadent. When they ask Mary her opinion, as a representative of the new generation, Amy’s ward is nettled. Nearing thirty, she was always poor and remains unmarried; she thinks she belongs to no generation.
Amy lives only to keep Wishwood, the family estate, together. Since her husband’s death, she has been head of the house. She knows her family, settled in its ways, is getting older; soon death will come as a surprise for them all. Only Agatha, her older sister, seems to find a meaning in death. Harry, the oldest son, was gone eight years. Amy hopes he can drop back into the old routine at the family home, but Agatha is doubtful. The past is over; the future can be built only on the present. When Harry comes back he cannot take up life where he left off, because he would be a new Harry.
The others begin speculating. They do not like Harry’s wife, a demanding woman who persuaded him to take her away from Wishwood. On their travels she was lost at sea, apparently swept overboard in a storm. Amy says they must feel no remorse for her death.
Harry surprises them by being the first of the sons to arrive. When he seems upset because the blinds are not drawn, the others remind him that in the country there is no one to look in. Nevertheless, Harry keeps staring at the window. He can see the Eumenides, the vengeful spirits. They were with him a long time, but only at Wishwood can he see them. He greets the assembled company with an effort.
Harry becomes impatient when the relatives begin talking of all the old things waiting at home for him. Nothing ever happens to them; they go through life half asleep. Harry, however, is doing some soul searching. In mid-Atlantic he pushed his wife overboard. Now the Furies are always with him.
Only Agatha seems to understand him. The others think him overtired and urge him to go lie down for a while. When he leaves, they decide to invite Dr. Warburton for dinner so that the family doctor can have a look at him.
Charles and Gerald call in Downing, Harry’s servant, to question him. Violet...
(The entire section is 1113 words.)