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read a short story


The Open Window
by Saki (H.H. Munro)

MY  AUNT  will  be  down  presently,  Mr  Nuttel,’  said  a  self-possessed  young  lady  of
fifteen. ‘In the meantime, you must put up with me.’
Framton Nuttel tried to make pleasant conversation while waiting for the Aunt.
Privately,  he  doubted  more  than  ever  whether  these  formal  visits  on  total  strangers
would  help  the  nerve  cure  which  he  was  supposed  to  be  undergoing  in  this  rural
‘I’ll  just  give  you  letters  to  all  the  people  I  know  there,’  his  sister  had  said.
‘Otherwise you’ll bury yourself and not speak to a soul and your nerves will be worse
than ever from moping.’
‘Do you know many people around here?’ asked the niece.
‘Hardly a soul. My sister gave me letters of introduction to some people here.’
‘Then you know practically nothing about my Aunt?’ continued the self-possessed
young lady.
‘Only her name and address,’ admitted the caller.
‘Her great tragedy happened just three years ago,’ said the child.
‘Her  tragedy?’  asked  Framton.  Somehow,  in  this  restful  spot,  tragedies  seemed
out of place.
‘You  may  wonder  why  we  keep  that  window  open  so  late  in  the  year,’  said  the
niece,  indicating  a  large  French  window  that  opened  on  a  lawn.  ‘Out  through  that
window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for
their  day’s  shooting.  In  crossing  the  moor,  they  were  engulfed  in  a  treacherous  bog.
Their bodies were never recovered.’
Here  the  child’s  voice  faltered.  ‘Poor  Aunt  always  thinks  that  they’ll  come  back
someday,  they  and  the  little  brown  spaniel  that  was  lost  with  them,  and  walk  in  the
window. That is why it is kept open every evening till dusk. She has often told me how
they  went  out,  her  husband  with  his  white  waterproof  coat  over  his  arm.  You  know,
sometimes  on  still  evenings  like  this  I  get  a  creepy  feeling  that  they  will  all  walk  in
through that window —’
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 keeping him waiting.
‘I hope you don’t mind the open window,’ she said. ‘My husband and brothers will
be home directly from shooting and they always come in this way.’
She  rattled  on  cheerfully  about  the  prospects  for  duck  shooting  in  the  winter.
Framton made a desperate effort to turn the talk to a less ghastly topic, conscious that
his  hostess  was  giving  him  only  a  fragment  of  her  attention,  and  that  her  eyes  were
constantly  straying  past  him  to  the  open  window.  It  was  certainly  an  unfortunate
coincidence that he should have paid his visit on this tragic anniversary.
‘The  doctors  ordered  me  a  complete  rest  from  mental  excitement  and  physical
exercise,’ announced Framton, who imagined that everyone — even a complete
stranger — was interested in his illness.
‘Oh?’  said  Mrs  Sappleton,  vaguely.  Then  she  suddenly  brightened  into  attention
— but not to what Framton was saying.
‘Here they are at last!’ she cried. ‘In time for tea, and muddy up to the eyes.’
Framton  shivered  slightly  and  turned  towards  the  niece  with  a  look  intended  to
convey  sympathetic  understanding.  The  child  was  staring  through  the  open  window
with dazed horror in her eyes. Framton swung round and looked in the same direction.

In the deepening twilight three figures were walking noiselessly across the lawn,
a tired brown spaniel close at their heels. They all carried guns, and one had a white
coat over his shoulders.
Framton  grabbed  his  stick;  the  hall  door  and  the  gravel  drive  were  dimly  noted
stages in his headlong retreat.
‘Here  we  are,  my  dear,’  said  the  bearer  of  the  white  mackintosh.  ‘Who  was  that
who bolted out as we came up?’
‘An  extraordinary  man,  a  Mr  Nuttel,’  said  Mrs  Sappleton,  ‘who  could  only  talk
about  his  illness,  and  dashed  off  without  a  word  of  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  on  the  banks  of  the  Ganges  by  a  pack  of
stray  dogs  and  had  to  spend  the  night  in  a  newly-dug  grave  with  the  creatures
snarling and foaming above him. Enough to make anyone lose his nerve.’

(from the book ‘The Short Stories of Saki’ © 1930, The Viking Press)


1. What is the problem with Framton Nuttel?

2. What is it about Mrs Sappleton’s niece that causes Framton additional distress?

3. Describe in your own words what happens from the time Framton comes into the
Sappleton household, with particular attention to why things happen as they do.

4. What is the climax (or high point) of the story, and at what point do we
understand what the niece is really like?

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