(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Withers, the story’s narrator and central consciousness, is first aware of Seaton as an unpopular schoolfellow at Gummidge’s. Seaton has money, but he is unattractive and unskillful at games, and he is often the butt of practical jokes. Nevertheless, he manages to persuade Withers to spend the half-term holiday with him at his aunt’s.

When they arrive, Seaton dawdles rather than entering the house directly, acting as if vaguely afraid of something. Finally they approach the house to find his aunt watching them ominously from an upper window as if brooding over them. When she meets them she mispronounces Withers’s name but overwhelms him with attention, in marked contrast to her disdainful treatment of Seaton, of whom she says, “Dust we are, and dust we shall become.” She presides over a lavish and sumptuous lunch, which she attacks with gusto, while Seaton merely nibbles. Taking Withers to a neatly appointed bedroom, she speaks slightingly of her nephew.

That afternoon, during which she pointedly ignores the boys, Seaton confesses uneasily that she sees and knows everything—that she is “in league with the devil.” He adds that she is not his real aunt, that the estate is actually his. At tea she mocks him again, referring to him as “that creature.” Later she deliberately prolongs a chess match with Withers, carefully avoiding mate while praising his play, and sweeping the board clear so that play cannot be resumed. She seems to be toying with him.

That night Seaton awakens Withers shortly after they retire. He hints that the house is full of ghosts, all at his aunt’s command. He suggests further that his aunt was responsible for his mother’s death and that she has the power to suck souls dry. He fears she intends that fate for him. Suddenly he freezes; he has sensed her eavesdropping at the door.

Believing that Seaton is simply trying to scare him, Withers bets that the aunt is still in bed. Seaton takes up the challenge, and the two set off. Noises in the house seem to reinforce Seaton’s fears of ghosts, and when they reach the bedroom, after passing a labyrinth of shadowy corridors, the bed is empty. Worse, they hear her coming. They hide in a cupboard; through a crack they watch her enter. After what seems hours they manage to sneak out, but Seaton seems drained by the experience. Withers helps him back to his dingy, littered, uncomfortable bedroom, then hides underneath the bedcovers. The following morning, Withers finds it easy to believe that Seaton’s aunt knows every word and movement that occurred.

On their return to school, Withers drops...

(The entire section is 1078 words.)