(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

On a pleasant March Saturday in the Sussex countryside, Mrs. Ashcroft entertains her old friend Mrs. Feetley for afternoon tea. At the outset, talk quickly turns to memories of the past, and the story unfolds entirely through the ensuing dialogue. Mrs. Ashcroft recalls the death of her husband many years earlier. She hints that it had not been the happiest of marriages, and that both sides carried their share of the blame. Her husband had warned her on his deathbed that retribution lay in store: “I can see what’s comin’ to you.” However, this ominous note does not fully prepare the reader for the strange story, involving mysterious and supernatural events, that Mrs. Ashcroft now relates to her spellbound friend.

After her husband’s unlamented death, Mrs. Ashcroft, who combines the practical worldliness of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath with the simplicity of the countrywoman, traveled to London, finding a job as a cook in an upper-class home. It was an easy life, and she fared well. After a year, she moved back to Smalldene, a village in Sussex, where she worked on a farm. It is there that she met Harry Mockler, and their lives were destined to become entwined in a curious and baffling manner. Mrs. Ashcroft regarded Harry as her master, although, looking back, she certainly holds no illusions about romantic love. “What did ye get out of it?” Mrs. Feetley asks. “The usuals. Everythin’ at first—worse than naught after,” is the reply. Although she loved Harry unquestioningly, far more than she had ever loved her husband, eventually he deserted her, and she suffered greatly.

Now her story takes an unexpected turn. She relates that one day, suffering from a bad headache, she found the playful company of young Sophy Ellis, the daughter of the local charwoman, irksome. Sophy, having discovered the reason for Mrs. Ashcroft’s irritability, immediately promised to relieve her headache, as if to do so was the easiest thing in the world. She promptly left the house. Within ten minutes, the headache vanished. Mrs. Ashcroft naturally assumed this to be a coincidence, but Sophy insisted on her return that it was she who was responsible for the cure, and that she was now suffering from the same headache herself. As Mrs. Ashcroft questioned the child, she heard with increasing amazement about the Wish House, a deserted house in nearby Wadloes Road, in which a spirit, known as a...

(The entire section is 986 words.)