The Open Window
Saki (H. H. Munro)
"My aunt will be down presently, Mr. Nuttel," said a very self-possessed young
lady of fifteen; "in the meantime you must try and put up with me."
Framton Nuttel endeavored to say the correct something which should duly
Hatter the niece of the moment without unduly discounting the aunt that was to
come. Privately he doubted more than ever whether these formal visits on a
succession of total strangers would do much towards helping the nerve cure which
he was supposed to be undergoing
"I know how it will be," his sister had said when he was preparing to
migrate to this rural retreat; "you will bury yourself down there and not speak
to a living soul, and your nerves will be worse than ever from moping. I shall
just give you letters of introduction to all the people I know there. Some of
them, as far as I can remember, were quite nice."
Framton wondered whether Mrs. Sappleton, the lady to whom he was presenting
one of the letters of introduction came into the nice division.
"Do you know many of the people round here?" asked the niece, when she
judged that they had had sufficient silent communion.
"Hardly a soul," said Framton. "My sister was staying here, at the rectory,
you know, some four years ago, and she gave me letters of introduction to some
of the people here."
He made the last statement in a tone of distinct regret.
"Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?" pursued the
self-possessed young lady.
"Only her name and address," admitted the caller. He was wondering whether
Mrs. Sappleton was in the married or widowed state. An undefinable something
about the room seemed to suggest masculine habitation.
"Her great tragedy happened just three years ago," said the child; "that
would be since your sister's time."
"Her tragedy?" asked Framton; somehow in this restful country spot tragedies
seemed out of place.
"You may wonder why we keep that window wide open on an October afternoon,"
said the niece, indicating a large French window that opened on to a lawn.
"It is quite warm for the time of the year," said Framton; "but has that
window got anything to do with the tragedy?"
"Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two
young brothers went off for their day's shooting. They never came back. In
crossing the moor to their favorite snipe-shooting ground they were all three
engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer,
you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without
warning. Their bodies were never recovered. That was the dreadful part of it."
Here the child's voice lost its self-possessed note and became falteringly
human. "Poor aunt always thinks that they will come back someday, they and the
little brown spaniel that was lost with them, and walk in at that window just as
they used to do. That is why the window is kept open every evening till it is
quite dusk. Poor dear aunt, she has often told me how they went out, her husband
with his white waterproof coat over his arm, and Ronnie, her youngest brother,
singing 'Bertie, why do you bound?' as he always did to tease her, because she
said it got on her nerves. Do you know, sometimes on still, quiet evenings like
this, I almost get a creepy feeling that they will all walk in through that
window--"<BR> <BR> She broke off with a little shudder. It was a relief to
Framton when the aunt bustled into the room with a whirl of apologies for being
late in making her appearance.
"I hope Vera has been amusing you?" she said.
"She has been very interesting," said Framton.
"I hope you don't mind the open window," said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; "my
husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come
in this way. They've been out for snipe in the marshes today, so they'll make a
fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you menfolk, isn't it?"
She rattled on cheerfully about the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and
the prospects for duck in the winter. To Framton it was all purely horrible. He
made a desperate but only partially successful effort to turn the talk on to a
less ghastly topic, he was conscious that his hostess was giving him only a
fragment of her attention, and her eyes were constantly straying past him to the
open window and the lawn beyond. It was certainly an unfortunate coincidence
that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.
"The doctors agree in ordering me complete rest, an absence of mental
excitement, and avoidance of anything in the nature of violent physical
exercise," announced Framton, who labored under the tolerably widespread
delusion that total strangers and chance acquaintances are hungry for the least
detail of one's ailments and infirmities, their cause and cure. "On the matter
of diet they are not so much in agreement," he continued.
"No?" said Mrs. Sappleton, in a voice which only replaced a yawn at the last
moment. Then she suddenly brightened into alert attention--but not to what
Framton was saying.
"Here they are at last!" she cried. "Just in time for tea, and don't they
look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!"
Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended
to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open
window with a dazed horror in her eyes. In a chill shock of nameless fear
Framton swung round in his seat and looked in the same direction.
In the deepening twilight three figures were walking across the lawn towards
the window, they all carried guns under their arms, and one of them was
additionally burdened with a white coat hung over his shoulders. A tired brown
spaniel kept close at their heels. Noiselessly they neared the house, and then a
hoarse young voice chanted out of the dusk: "I said, Bertie, why do you bound?"
Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall door, the gravel
drive, and the front gate were dimly noted stages in his headlong retreat. A
cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid imminent
"Here we are, my dear," said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in
through the window, "fairly muddy, but most of it's dry. Who was that who
bolted out as we came up?"
"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only
talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of goodby or apology
when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."
"I expect it was the spaniel," said the niece calmly; "he told me he had a
horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the
Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave
with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him. Enough to
make anyone lose their nerve."
Romance at short notice was her speciality.