Afterward by Edith Wharton – an Off-Beat Horror Tale of Greed & Vengeance

Afterward, by Edith Wharton, is a short story composed of five parts that shuttles back and forth in time, over a six month period. It unravels through the recollection of memories by Mary Boyne, who remains complacent of her husband’s business affairs till he goes missing.

The story begins when Americans Edward and Mary Boyne, after amassing a great deal of wealth through a business transaction in the Blue Star Mine Venture, decide to settle down in England. They lookout for an old, haunted, country house with the help of their English cousin, Alida Stair. After turning down many offers, the couple narrow down on ‘Lyng’ in Dorsetshire whose residents do not become aware of a ghostly presence till long afterward.

As the story progresses, Mary notices a change in her husband’s mood, and supposes that it is due to the influence of the haunted house. She later wards it off on the grounds that they have not encountered it yet.

Mary comes across a hidden stairwell that gives the couple, access to the roof. One day, as they are standing there, they notice a man walking towards their house. Mary follows Ned, who goes down to meet him. By the time she reaches them, the man has disappeared. Though her husband gives her an explanation, she notices that he is perplexed.

In the second part, set about two months after the incident, Mary sees a man walking up the driveway and assumes it to be the ghost. On closer look she discovers that it is Ned. She notices an improvement in his mood later that evening, when they receive a mail. She opens it to find a newspaper clipping about the suit that a man named Elwell had brought against Ned concerning the Blue Star Mine business deal. Ned dismisses it off saying that the suit had been withdrawn.

In the third part, which continues the next day, Mary goes out on a solitary stroll in the grounds, where she meets a young man who has come to visit Ned. Ned says he is busy and that he will meet the guy later. When Mary walks in for lunch, she notices that her husband is missing and upon enquiring with the servants, gets to know that he has left with the visitor.

In the fourth part, set two weeks later, Ned is still missing. Mary discovers the fragment of a letter sent by Ned to a man named Parvis, relating to the legal dispute over the mine. In spite of extensive inquiries, Mary is left in the dark and she slowly begins to adjust to the fact that her husband may not return ever.

In the fifth part, Mr. Parvis arrives from the USA to explain that Robert Elwell, Ned’s partner in the Mine venture had lost all money and died following an attempt to commit suicide. Parvis shows her Elwell’s picture and Mary recognizes him as the man who had visited their house twice. Upon calculation, she discovers that Elwell’s first visit was time around his attempt to commit suicide while the second one was actually at the time he died.

Afterward wraps up with Mary recalling her cousin’s warnings about the ghost, “You won’t know till long, long afterward.”

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