The Woman in Black starts off in the present day. Arthur Kipps is gearing up to tell us about a terrible incident from his youth, which sets us up for a good old-fashioned ghost story:
The young solicitor Arthur Kipps is sent on a trip to Crythin Gifford to settle the affairs of a recently deceased woman named Alice Drablow, who lived at the cheerfully named Eel Marsh House. She's an old widow, so this should be pretty simple, right? Wrong.
The first hint that all is not what it seems comes on the train, when Arthur meets a man named Sam Daily, who's all ears as soon as he sees that Arthur is taking care of Alice Drablow's estate. Next, he notices that the people of Crythin Gifford seem a bit, well, on edge when he mentions the Eel Marsh House. And then it gets really weird when Arthur attends Alice's funeral and sees a sick-looking woman dressed all in black. But when he asks what's up with her, the people in town just deny that anyone was there at all.
And then, he finds that things aren't so simple at the house after all. In fact, there are piles upon piles of paper to sort through. He sees flashes of the woman in black, whom he is slowly starting suspect might be a supernatural being. After some terrifying encounters and things that go bump in the night (way to stay overnight at the creepy house, Arthur), he finally confronts Sam Daily, who tells him the whole story.
Apparently, Alice Drablow had an unmarried sister named Jennet who had a child out of wedlock. The Drablows adopted the boy, and kept the secret of his real mother. And then, one day, the boy and his nanny were out riding with a pony and trap. There was an accident, and they both drowned. Jennet saw the whole thing (natch, this is a horror story), went crazy with grief and anger, blamed her sister, and then died—only to return in haunted, demented ghost form. Every time she's been sighted a child dies.
So has a child died this time? Sam says no, so maybe Arthur has broken the spell. (Uh-huh. That sounds likely.) But Arthur is relieved and scoots off back to London soon as possible. He marries his fiancée, Stella, and they later have a child named Joseph. Happy ending?
Not quite. One day, the family goes to a fair. Joseph insists on going on a pony and trap, so Stella takes him while Arthur stands nearby and watches. Just then, he sees the woman in black. As the pony and trap rounds the corner, the woman in black steps in front of it and spooks the horse. There is a terrible accident and both Stella and Joseph die from their wounds. And thus ends the sad, scary tale of The Woman in Black.