September 09, 2022

#08-239: The Open Window

The Open Window by Matisse

Note: Like the American O. Henry, the British author H.H. Munro was brilliant at creating surprise "twists" at the end of his stories, as he did in this one.

Get Ready: Do you know anyone who easily invents clever lies? Is it annoying or amusing?

The British writer H. H. Munro, better known by the pen name "Saki," wrote witty and often sly short stories. "The Open Window" is an excellent example of his style.

Before the story begins, Framton Nuttel suffered from some nervous condition and had come to the countryside for rest. His well-meaning sister, though, insisted that he call on some of her acquaintances instead of "not speaking to a living soul"; that would worsen his nerves.

And so, as the story begins, Framton finds himself at the home of total strangers, the Sappletons, and wonders what good this will do him.

Mrs. Sappleton's fifteen-year-old niece, Vera, informs Framton that the lady would be down presently; the girl must entertain him until her aunt arrives. She asks whether Framton knows many of the people in the area, and he admits that he does not--not even the girl's aunt. This prompts Vera to tell him that three years ago--sometime after his sister's stay--Mrs. Sappleton had suffered a "great tragedy."

The girl points toward a large French window, which is open even though the October weather is cool. She then launches into an account of "the tragedy." On that very day three years ago, she says, Mr. Sappleton went out with Mrs. Sappleton's two young brothers to shoot game birds. Sadly, they sank into a very wet bog, and their bodies were never recovered. As a result, Mrs. Sappleton keeps the French window open every day until dusk, believing that the men and their little brown spaniel dog will return.

As Vera is describing them in detail--including that one of them is carrying a white coat, and another singing a song--Mrs. Sappleton enters, apologizing for her tardiness. She also apologizes for the open window, explaining that "my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way." Framton feels a sense of horror as she talks on nonchalantly about ducks and hunting.

As she prattles on, Framton realizes that she isn't really paying attention to him; instead, her eyes keep straying to that open window. He tries to change the subject by telling her about his condition--that he needs complete rest, and is to avoid any kind of excitement.

Suddenly Mrs. Sappleton cries out, "Here they are at last! Just in time for tea, and don't they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!"

Framton turns toward the girl Vera to express a look of sympathy, but she, too, is staring through the window, with a look of horror. Experiencing a chill of fear, Framton at last turns to look--and here come three figures with guns, one carrying a white coat, another singing, and a little dog at their heels!

Wildly grabbing his stick and his hat, Framton dashes through the hall door, down the gravel drive, and out the front gate, nearly colliding with a passing cyclist.

As Mr. Sappleton enters, he asks who the man was they saw bolting from the house. His wife explains that it was a Mr. Nuttel, who couldn't stop talking about his infirmities, and how rude he was to leave without even saying goodbye.

Vera suggests he might have been frightened of the dog; she said that he had told her about being hunted by a pack of wild dogs in a cemetery in India, where he had to spend the night in a fresh grave as the pack snarled above him.

"Romance at short notice," the story concludes, "was her speciality."


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. acquaintances
  2. dashes
  3. dusk
  4. infirmities
  5. nonchalantly
  6. prattles on
  7. straying
  8. tardiness
  9. well-meaning
  10. witty

  1. sundown
  2. wandering
  3. chatters; babbles
  4. clever
  5. lateness
  6. goes quickly
  7. carelessly
  8. with good intentions
  9. people one knows
  10. illnesses

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 9, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. i; 2. f; 3. a; 4. j; 5. g; 6. c; 7. b; 8. e; 9. h; 10. d