It leaped out at her suddenly, like a grin out of the dark, that they had often called England so little—“such a confoundedly hard place to get lost in.”

A confoundedly hard place to get lost in! That had been her husband’s phrase. And now, with the whole machinery of official investigation sweeping its flash-lights from shore to shore, and across the dividing straits; now, with Boyne’s name blazing from the walls of every town and village, his portrait (how that wrung her!) hawked up and down the country like the image of a hunted criminal; now the little compact, populous island, so policed, surveyed, and administered, revealed itself as a Sphinx-like guardian of abysmal mysteries, staring back into his wife’s anguished eyes as if with the malicious joy of knowing something they would never know!

In the fortnight since Boyne’s disappearance there had been no word of him, no trace of his movements. Even the usual misleading reports that raise expectancy in tortured bosoms had been few and fleeting. No one but the bewildered kitchen-maid had seen him leave the house, and no one else had seen “the gentleman” who accompanied him. All inquiries in the neighborhood failed to elicit the memory of a stranger’s presence that day in the neighborhood of Lyng. And no one had met Edward Boyne, either alone or in company, in any of the neighboring villages, or on the road across the downs, or at either of the local railway-stations. The sunny English noon had swallowed him as completely as if he had gone out into Cimmerian night.

Mary, while every external means of investigation was working at its highest pressure, had ransacked her husband’s papers for any trace of antecedent complications, of entanglements or obligations unknown to her, that might throw a faint ray into the darkness. But if any such had existed in the background of Boyne’s life, they had disappeared as completely as the slip of paper on which the visitor had written his name. There remained no possible thread of guidance except—if it were indeed an exception—the letter which Boyne had apparently been in the act of writing when he received his mysterious summons. That letter, read and reread by his wife, and submitted by her to the police, yielded little enough for conjecture to feed on.

“I have just heard of Elwell’s death, and while I suppose there is now no farther risk of trouble, it might be safer—” That was all. The “risk of trouble” was easily explained by the newspaper clipping which had apprised Mary of the suit brought against her husband by one of his associates in the Blue Star enterprise. The only new information conveyed in the letter was the fact of its showing Boyne, when he wrote it, to be still apprehensive of the results of the suit, though he had assured his wife that it had been withdrawn, and though the letter itself declared that the plaintiff was dead. It took several weeks of exhaustive cabling to fix the identity of the “Parvis” to whom the fragmentary communication was addressed, but even after these inquiries had shown him to be a Waukesha lawyer, no new facts concerning the Elwell suit were elicited. He appeared to have had no direct concern in it, but to have been conversant with the facts merely as an acquaintance, and possible intermediary; and he declared himself unable to divine with what object Boyne intended to seek his assistance.

This negative information, sole fruit of the first fortnight’s feverish search, was not increased by a jot during the slow weeks that followed. Mary knew that the investigations were still being carried on, but she had a vague sense of their gradually slackening, as the actual march of time seemed to slacken. It was as though the days, flying horror-struck from the shrouded image of the one inscrutable day, gained assurance as the distance lengthened, till at last they fell back into their normal gait. And so with the human imaginations at work on the dark event. No doubt it occupied them still, but week by week and hour by hour it grew less absorbing, took up less space, was slowly but inevitably crowded out of the foreground of consciousness by the new problems perpetually bubbling up from the vaporous caldron of human experience.

Even Mary Boyne’s consciousness gradually felt the same lowering of velocity. It still swayed with the incessant oscillations of conjecture; but they were slower, more rhythmical in their beat. There were moments of overwhelming lassitude when, like the victim of some poison which leaves the brain clear, but holds the body motionless, she saw herself domesticated with the Horror, accepting its perpetual presence as one of the fixed conditions of life.

These moments lengthened into hours and days, till she passed into a phase of stolid acquiescence. She watched the familiar routine of life with the incurious eye of a savage on whom the meaningless processes of civilization make but the faintest impression. She had come to regard herself as part of the routine, a spoke of the wheel, revolving with its motion; she felt almost like the furniture of the room in which she sat, an insensate object to be dusted and pushed about with the chairs and tables. And this deepening apathy held her fast at Lyng, in spite of the urgent entreaties of friends and the usual medical recommendation of “change.” Her friends supposed that her refusal to move was inspired by the belief that her husband would one day return to the spot from which he had vanished, and a beautiful legend grew up about this imaginary state of waiting. But in reality she had no such belief: the depths of anguish inclosing her were no longer lighted by flashes of hope. She was sure that Boyne would never come back, that he had gone out of her sight as completely as if Death itself had waited that day on the threshold. She had even renounced, one by one, the various theories as to his disappearance which had been advanced by the press, the police, and her own agonized imagination. In sheer lassitude her mind turned from these alternatives of horror, and sank back into the blank fact that he was gone.

No, she would never know what had become of him—no one would ever know. But the house knew; the library in which she spent her long, lonely evenings knew. For it was here that the last scene had been enacted, here that the stranger had come, and spoken the word which had caused Boyne to rise and follow him. The floor she trod had felt his tread; the books on the shelves had seen his face; and there were moments when the intense consciousness of the old, dusky walls seemed about to break out into some audible revelation of their secret. But the revelation never came, and she knew it would never come. Lyng was not one of the garrulous old houses that betray the secrets intrusted to them. Its very legend proved that it had always been the mute accomplice, the incorruptible custodian of the mysteries it had surprised. And Mary Boyne, sitting face to face with its portentous silence, felt the futility of seeking to break it by any human means.


  1. The adjective “garrulous” means excessively talkative. Again, Lyng is portrayed as a character in its own right, more of a silent observer than a participant in the action. Mary is convinced that the house could tell her what happened to Ned if she could only find a way to force it to reveal its secrets. The mystery of Ned’s disappearance deepens, and readers begin to wonder if they will ever find out what happened to him.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The adjective “insensate” means lacking in awareness, feeling, or understanding. Mary feels as though she has become part of the house: she exists simply for decoration, not for any greater purpose. Her husband’s disappearance has numbed her to old feelings of terror as she becomes more accustomed to the ever-present feeling of dread.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. Mary compares the pain of not knowing her husband’s fate to being paralyzed by a poison. She perceives herself as being in the grip of “Horror,” unable to move beyond it but freely capable of pondering the implications of its existence. Her fate is one of domestication—ruled and ordered about by the terror of her home rather than in control of her own fate, speaking again to the subservient role of women.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. The Cimmerians mentioned here likely references the Cimmerians (Greek Kimmerioi) of Homer’s Odyssey, a civilization portrayed as living in a dark, foggy land near the entrance to Hades, the Greek underworld. In the 1930s, Cimmeria and its darkness would be adopted as the homeland of literature’s Conan the Barbarian. Invoking Cimmerian darkness suggests that Mary is considering the possibility that Ned is dead, or beyond her reach for some reason.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The Sphinx is a mythical creature made up of the body of a lion and the head of a human (sometimes also including the wings of a bird). Greek mythology based its own version of the Sphinx on that of the Egyptians’. While the Egyptian Sphinx was largely benevolent, the Greek version was known for asking difficult riddles. To answer wrongly was to die, and the Sphinx gave no hints to the correct answer. To compare England to the Sphinx suggests that Mary views it as a malicious secret-keeper that may be responsible for Ned’s potentially terrible fate.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. The purpose of this sentence is twofold: it acts as an introduction to the section, which focuses on the investigation of Ned’s disappearance and the mystery of his continued absence, and also continues to further the eeriness established in the previous section. Since England is so small (in comparison to the USA), Mary reasons that Ned should be fairly easy to find—the question then becomes why no one has found him yet. The opening simile—“leaped like a grin out of the dark”—suggests a lurking danger, hiding unseen from its prey, contributing to the story’s foreboding tone.

    — Kim, Owl Eyes Staff