The Woman in Black

by Susan Hill

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"In the Nursery" and "Whistle and I'll Come to You" Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1159

"In the Nursery"

With a renewed sense of optimism—and a rapidly developing affection for Spider—Arthur spends the following morning packing to relocate to Eel Marsh House for the next several days. After a quick morning call with Mr. Bentley, who gives his blessing for the extended sojourn, Arthur loads up the landlord's bicycle and sets out across the causeway at low tide. Spider, already a faithful companion, follows obediently, and the two quickly make themselves at home at the Drablow estate.

Taking Spider outside after lunch, Arthur finds himself wandering through the burial ground. Curious, he tries to make out the writing on the deteriorating headstone the woman in black had been leaning on when he saw her at a distance. It is faded and weather-worn, but he is able to decipher part of a name:

In L ... g Mem ...... net Drablow... 190 .......nd of He.......iel ...low....Bor

As the light begins to fade, Arthur collects Spider, and they return to the house to continue working on Mrs. Drablow's papers. Before long, it is dark and cold, and Arthur searches the house for lamps to light, rebuilds his fires, and continues his task. For most of the evening, the work is calm, even tedious—sorting late into the night, Arthur grows lethargic and bored, and thinks solely of his eagerness to return home to Stella.

Retiring after a late, boring night, Arthur falls into a deep sleep. Before long, he wakes with a start. He is unsure why—everything seems quiet and still, but soon he realizes that Spider is behaving unusually. The dog is standing at the door with her hackles raised, and Arthur realizes what she is reacting to: a very, very faint rumbling sound coming from outside the door.

Nervously, Arthur rises and opens the door to the hallway. At once, Spider bolts through it and begins sniffing around and growling. The noise, Arthur realizes, is coming from the door at the end of the hall—the one door in the house that remains locked, as the key is missing from the set given to him by Mr. Bentley.

The sound is unsettling but familiar, a combination between a gentle bumping and rumbling. Unable to place it, Arthur is struck by the strange notion that in another context, it might once have been comforting. Noticing that Spider now seems calmed, he decides it must be a bird lost in the room's chimney and returns to bed. This time, he sleeps much less soundly.

The next day, all seems normal enough. Despite some hesitation, and a brief notion that he could still quit, Arthur continues his work as planned. Soon, he uncovers an interesting-looking cache of letters and begins to read. The first collection of letters, written by a young woman named Jennet about sixty years before, reveals a tragic story: Jennet, finding herself unmarried and pregnant, was sent away to have her baby in secret. At the behest of her family, and despite her strong objections, she gave up her son for adoption. "Take care of him as your own," the final letter reads.

Finding an adoption document alongside the letters, Arthur continues to read: the infant Nathaniel Pierston, son of Jennet Humphreye, is to become the legally adopted son of Morgan Thomas Drablow and his wife, Alice, of Eel Marsh House. Attached is a professional recommendation for Rose Judd, a nursemaid from Hyde Park Gate.

Before Arthur can continue his research, he is jolted out of his concentration by Spider—the little dog is growling at the door once again. Tentatively, Arthur rises to...

(This entire section contains 1159 words.)

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open it, and Spider bolts back into the hallway. The rumbling sound, Arthur realizes, is again coming from behind the locked door.

Determined to find answers, Arthur goes outside to fetch an axe. With horror, he realizes he is hearing another familiar noise now, too—the clip-clop, and then sucking and churning, and then terrified whinnying, of a pony and trap being lost in the marsh.

Grabbing the bristling Spider as she howls desperately at the marsh, he returns inside. The rumbling noise is louder now, and as he comes closer, he realizes why: the locked door he had wanted an axe to break through is now wide open.

Unsettled, Arthur investigates the room and realizes it is a nursery. The room is empty, and suddenly the sound makes sense: a rocking chair in the middle of the room is unoccupied, yet gently rocking back and forth.

"Whistle and I'll Come to You"

Late into the night, gusts of wind batter the house. Arthur hears cries from outside—the cries from the child in the marsh—and even though he knows they are not real, he can't bring himself to ignore them. After a time he musters the courage to go back outside, determined to face his fear, and Spider accompanies him.

Suddenly, a clear, distinctive whistle rings out in the distance. Before he can stop her, Spider sets out running into the marsh and begins to yelp as she struggles against the mud. Arthur runs out into the marsh to find her and feels the ground give way beneath his feet. Every time he lunges for her, he starts to go under himself. Finally, desperately, he grabs her by the neck and manages to drag her back to solid ground.

Cradling the dog in his arms as he stumbles back to the house, he looks up and sees that he is not alone—the woman in black is watching them both, and the faint sound of a pony and trap is clip-clopping yet again in the distance.


"In the Nursery" and "Whistle and I'll Come to You" represent the narrative climax of The Woman in Black. For the first time, Arthur's experience with the ghosts feels targeted—he hasn't just happened upon one in a graveyard or overheard one losing its way in the marsh. Instead, the ghosts have engaged with him in a way that is actively malicious—they not only come into the house, but deliberately lure Spider into the marsh. The dog nearly dies, and Arthur, too, could have easily been killed while saving her. This experience is what it takes for Arthur to finally come to terms with what he is facing at Eel Marsh House, and it is only afterward that he is willing to abandon the property and admit defeat.

At the end of "Whistle and I'll Come to You," Hill cleverly inverts a narrative tool she has been using all along to trick the reader into viscerally understanding the uncertainty. When Arthur hears the pony and trap, he is sure it's the ghosts yet again. When it turns out to be Mr. Daily, the established formula is broken, and the reader is given a glimpse into the firsthand experience that Arthur is having within the narrative: the inability to know for sure which stimuli are real and which are paranormal.


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