(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story begins with an extract from The Vienna Gazette that tells the story of a European murder that parallels the one in “Somnambulism” in every detail. When the narrative begins, the narrator and protagonist, a young man later identified as Althorpe, tells of a dinner party at his family’s home. His guest, Mr. Davis, receives an urgent letter calling him away. Though it is late at night, Davis resolves to leave immediately, and his daughter Constantia insists on going with him.

Althorpe becomes agitated at the suggestion. He is in love with Constantia; she esteems him but is betrothed to another. He warns Mr. Davis and Constantia not to ride out that night and not to go near a particular oak tree, without saying why the tree is dangerous. Mr. Davis brushes aside Althorpe’s warnings, partly from the urgency of his errand but also largely from his suspicion that Althorpe’s intimations of danger are merely smokescreens for his affections, of which Constantia’s father does not approve.

Unable to persuade Constantia and her father to delay their trip until morning, Althorpe offers to accompany them as guide. Althorpe’s insistence and his inability to explain any rational basis for his fears confirm Davis in his decision to leave immediately and without Althorpe. Davis, along with Althorpe’s uncle, finally convinces Althorpe to stay behind. After Davis and his daughter leave, Althorpe is even more agitated. He cannot...

(The entire section is 499 words.)