With her characteristic stream-of-consciousness narration employed for all the personages of this narrative, Virginia Woolf creates a ghostly and melodramatic tone to her story about the return of the former occupants of a house in order to retrieve "the light in the heart," their emotional treasure of deep, true love.
The narrator, who is apparently a woman, notices signs that there are secret occupants in her house as she hears doors closing in distant rooms. Somehow, the narrator has learned that the apparitions occupied the house hundreds of years ago. When the wife died, her husband abandoned the place, but now that he has died, the two return "whispering not to wake us, [they] seek their joy."
As they wander through the house in the forms of shadows of birds, and pass through the garden on a breeze, the ghostly couple recall tender moments they have shared together. When the narrator remarks, "...the beam I sought always burned behind the glass," Woolf points to the symbolism of the glass as the barrier between life and death. She needs the "beam" of recognition in order to learn the meaning of the ghosts' secret words, "Safe, safe, safe. The treasure yours." Eventually, the old ghosts happen upon the narrator and her husband who are asleep in their bedroom. When they shine the lantern upon them, the beam emitted provides the narrator the beam that she has sought, and she realizes that the treasure they seek is now buried within her and her husband:
"Safe! safe! safe!" the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry "Oh, is this your buried treasure? The light in the heart."
The tender, unselfish love of the old couple is now within the hearts of the new occupants of the house.