Thursday, September 8, 2016





Sredni Vashtar

Conradin was ten years old, and the doctor had pronounced his professional opinion that the boy would not live another five years. The doctor was silky and effete, and counted for little, but his opinion was endorsed by Mrs. De Ropp, who counted for nearly everything. 

Mrs. De Ropp was Conradin's cousin and guardian, and in his eyes she represented those three-fifths of the world that are necessary and disagreeable and real; the other two-fifths, in perpetual antagonism to the foregoing, were summed up in himself and his imagination. One of these days Conradin supposed he would succumb to the mastering pressure of wearisome necessary things---such as illnesses and coddling restrictions and drawn-out dulness. Without his imagination, which was rampant under the spur of loneliness, he would have succumbed long ago.


Mrs. De Ropp would never, in her honestest moments, have confessed to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him “for his good” was a duty which she did not find particularly irksome. 

Conradin hated her with a desperate sincerity which he was perfectly able to mask. Such few pleasures as he could contrive for himself gained an added relish from the likelihood that they would be displeasing to his guardian, and from the realm of his imagination she was locked out –– an unclean thing, which should find no entrance.

In the dull, cheerless garden, overlooked by so many windows that were ready to open with a message not to do this or that, or a reminder that medicines were due, he found little attraction. The few fruit-trees that it contained were set jealously apart from his plucking, as though they were rare specimens of their kind blooming in an arid waste; it would probably have been difficult to find a market-gardener who would have offered ten shillings for their entire yearly produce. 

In a forgotten corner, however, almost hidden behind a dismal shrubbery, was a disused tool-shed of respectable proportions, and within its walls Conradin found a haven, something that took on the varying aspects of a playroom and a cathedral. He had peopled it with a legion of familiar phantoms, evoked partly from fragments of history and partly from his own brain, but it also boasted two inmates of flesh and blood. 




In one corner lived a ragged-plumaged Houdan hen, on which the boy lavished an affection that had scarcely another outlet. Further back in the gloom stood a large hutch, divided into two compartments, one of which was fronted with close iron bars. This was the abode of a large polecat-ferret, which a friendly butcher-boy had once smuggled, cage and all, into its present quarters, in exchange for a long-secreted hoard of small silver. 

Conradin was dreadfully afraid of the lithe, sharp-fanged beast, but it was his most treasured possession. Its very presence in the tool-shed was a secret and fearful joy, to be kept scrupulously from the knowledge of the Woman, as he privately dubbed his cousin. And one day, out of Heaven knows what material, he spun the beast a wonderful name, and from that moment it grew into a god and a religion. 

The Woman indulged in religion once a week at a church near by, and took Conradin with her, but to him the church service was an alien rite in the House of Rimmon. Every Thursday, in the dim and musty silence of the tool-shed, he worshipped with mystic and elaborate ceremonial before the wooden hutch where dwelt Sredni Vashtar, the great ferret. 

Red flowers in their season and scarlet berries in the winter-time were offered at his shrine, for he was a god who laid some special stress on the fierce impatient side of things, as opposed to the Woman's religion, which, as far as Conradin could observe, went to great lengths in the contrary direction. And on great festivals powdered nutmeg was strewn in front of his hutch, an important feature of the offering being that the nutmeg had to be stolen. 

These festivals were of irregular occurrence, and were chiefly appointed to celebrate some passing event. On one occasion, when Mrs. De Ropp suffered from acute toothache for three days, Conradin kept up the festival during the entire three days, and almost succeeded in persuading himself that Sredni Vashtar was personally responsible for the toothache. If the malady had lasted for another day the supply of nutmeg would have given out.


The Houdan hen was never drawn into the cult of Sredni Vashtar. Conradin had long ago settled that she was an Anabaptist. He did not pretend to have the remotest knowledge as to what an Anabaptist was, but he privately hoped that it was dashing and not very respectable. Mrs. De Ropp was the ground plan on which he based and detested all respectability.

After a while Conradin's absorption in the tool-shed began to attract the notice of his guardian. “It is not good for him to be pottering down there in all weathers,” she promptly decided, and at breakfast one morning she announced that the Houdan hen had been sold and taken away overnight. With her short-sighted eyes she peered at Conradin, waiting for an outbreak of rage and sorrow, which she was ready to rebuke with a flow of excellent precepts and reasoning. But Conradin said nothing: there was nothing to be said. 


Something perhaps in his white set face gave her a momentary qualm, for at tea that afternoon there was toast on the table, a delicacy which she usually banned on the ground that it was bad for him; also because the making of it “gave trouble,” a deadly offence in the middle-class feminine eye.

“I thought you liked toast,” she exclaimed, with an injured air, observing that he did not touch it.

“Sometimes,” said Conradin.

In the shed that evening there was an innovation in the worship of the hutch-god. Conradin had been wont to chant his praises, tonight be asked a boon.

“Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”

The thing was not specified. As Sredni Vashtar was a god he must be supposed to know. And choking back a sob as he looked at that other empty comer, Conradin went back to the world he so hated.

And every night, in the welcome darkness of his bedroom, and every evening in the dusk of the tool-shed, Conradin's bitter litany went up: “Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”

Mrs. De Ropp noticed that the visits to the shed did not cease, and one day she made a further journey of inspection.

“What are you keeping in that locked hutch?” she asked. “I believe it's guinea-pigs. I'll have them all cleared away.”

Conradin shut his lips tight, but the Woman ransacked his bedroom till she found the carefully hidden key, and forthwith marched down to the shed to complete her discovery. 

It was a cold afternoon, and Conradin had been bidden to keep to the house. From the furthest window of the dining-room the door of the shed could just be seen beyond the corner of the shrubbery, and there Conradin stationed himself. 

He saw the Woman enter, and then be imagined her opening the door of the sacred hutch and peering down with her short-sighted eyes into the thick straw bed where his god lay hidden. Perhaps she would prod at the straw in her clumsy impatience. And Conradin fervently breathed his prayer for the last time. But he knew as he prayed that he did not believe. He knew that the Woman would come out presently with that pursed smile he loathed so well on her face, and that in an hour or two the gardener would carry away his wonderful god, a god no longer, but a simple brown ferret in a hutch. And he knew that the Woman would triumph always as she triumphed now, and that he would grow ever more sickly under her pestering and domineering and superior wisdom, till one day nothing would matter much more with him, and the doctor would be proved right. And in the sting and misery of his defeat, he began to chant loudly and defiantly the hymn of his threatened idol:

Sredni Vashtar went forth,
His thoughts were red thoughts 
And his teeth were white.   
His enemies called for peace, 
But he brought them death.   
Sredni Vashtar the Beautiful.

And then of a sudden he stopped his chanting and drew closer to the window-pane. The door of the shed still stood ajar as it had been left, and the minutes were slipping by. They were long minutes, but they slipped by nevertheless. He watched the starlings running and flying in little parties across the lawn; he counted them over and over again, with one eye always on that swinging door. 

A sour-faced maid came in to lay the table for tea, and still Conradin stood and waited and watched. Hope had crept by inches into his heart, and now a look of triumph began to blaze in his eyes that had only known the wistful patience of defeat. Under his breath, with a furtive exultation, he began once again the p├Žan of victory and devastation. And presently his eyes were rewarded: out through that doorway came a long, low, yellow-and-brown beast, with eyes a-blink at the waning daylight, and dark wet stains around the fur of jaws and throat.

Conradin dropped on his knees. The great polecat-ferret made its way down to a small brook at the foot of the garden, drank for a moment, then crossed a little plank bridge and was lost to sight in the bushes. Such was the passing of Sredni Vashtar.

“Tea is ready,” said the sour-faced maid; “where is the mistress?”' 

“She went down to the shed some time ago,” said Conradin. 

And while the maid went to summon her mistress to tea, Conradin fished a toasting-fork out of the sideboard drawer and proceeded to toast himself a piece of bread. And during the toasting of it and the buttering of it with much butter and the slow enjoyment of eating it, Conradin listened to the noises and silences which fell in quick spasms beyond the dining-room door. 

The loud foolish screaming of the maid, the answering chorus of wondering ejaculations from the kitchen region, the scuttering footsteps and hurried embassies for outside help, and then, after a lull, the scared sobbings and the shuffling tread of those who bore a heavy burden into the house.

“Whoever will break it to the poor child? I couldn't for the life of me!” exclaimed a shrill voice. 

And while they debated the matter among themselves, Conradin made himself another piece of toast.



 Saki - Hector Hugh Munro (1870-1916)

15 comments:

  1. The Women that knows muchSeptember 8, 2016 at 7:14 AM

    Interesting but IRRELEVANT At this time in America's election time

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Is it really? Perhaps you ought to read the story, which you obviously did not, and try to imagine why I would post it at this juncture.

      The LITERALISTIC approach to analyzing and interpreting events is STULTIFYING.

      Who does "The Woman," persistently victimizing ten-year-old Conradin, remind you of?

      By the way, what do you think of Conradin? Do you find him sympathetic, repugnant, or somewhere in between? What is it about the way Conrad is portrayed by Saki that inspires whatever feelings you may have about the boy?

      Do you empathize with The Woman? Why or why not?

      What do you see as the underlying theme of this fanciful tale? What is it really ABOUT?

      If you are cooking for a typical exchange of insults and canned opposition rhetoric about the impending election, you will not find it here.

      Delete
    2. The underlying theme? How about "Sic semper tyrannis?"

      Mrs. Clinton would like to do to us what "The Woman" was doing to the boy Conradin. Isn't that what you had in mind?

      Delete
    3. Yes. That thought occurred to me, but just this morning. I'd known the story for many years before that, and always found it riveting aside from any political or allegorical connotations.

      Really good literature can always be read on many different levels and from man different vantage points. Saki was nothing if not a first-rate story teller

      Delete
    4. How about reading it as an inquiry into the nature of "dominance" in social relations... and its "sinthome" from the "subject". :p

      Delete
  2. The Women that Knows MuchSeptember 8, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    If you are saying that this "women" should remind me of Hillary Clinton, perhaps..I've been saying this for years. I've never seen a woman so obsessed with power as Hitlery Clinton. It's frightening actually. It very much mirrors people like Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il.
    There have been rumors flying around for months surrounding her declining health, and every coughing fit, every image of the candidate needing help to walk up the stairs, every time she falls down, every lengthy break she takes from the trail, every piece of evidence must lead an observant person to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton is not exactly a picture of health and vitality.
    Hillary Clinton revealed on Friday that, while being interviewed by the FBI, Clinton cited brain damage and a blood clotting problem as reasons why she couldn’t remember vital details from her time at the State Department. Her health was so bad, she claimed, that she was forced to stay home and illegally conduct government business on her secret private servers.
    The pitiful thing is that she — a sick old lady with a lifetime of scandal and corruption to her name, an unofficial criminal record, a sex predator husband, and a closet full of skeletons and dirty laundry that have been and will continue to be uncovered and aired publicly, at least on the internet if not on CNN — is still so desperate for control and authority that she cannot give up the pursuit, even if it kills her. We are all witnessing this disgraced and despised woman as she scratches and bites and kicks and crawls through the muck and the mud, coughing and gasping for breath along the way, hoping to drink from the Cup of Absolute Power just one time before she goes.
    Hillary Clinton Is A Sick Woman Addicted To Power, And It’s Pitiful To Watch

    ReplyDelete
  3. At the hole where he went in
    Red-Eye called to Wrinkle-Skin.
    Hear what little Red-Eye saith:
    “Nag, come up and dance with death!”
    Eye to eye and head to head,
    (Keep the measure, Nag.)
    This shall end when one is dead;
    (At thy pleasure, Nag.)
    Turn for turn and twist for twist —
    (Run and hide thee, Nag.)
    Hah! The hooded Death has missed!
    (Woe betide thee, Nag!)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tell me, Thersites, what the differences may be between polecats, mongooses and ferrets? WIKI gives separate articles about each, and doesn't speak of them as being closely related, but they LOOK a great deal alike.

      Delete
    2. The ferret (Mustela putorius furo) is the domesticated form of the European polecat, a mammal belonging to the same genus as the weasel, Mustela of the family Mustelidae.[1] They typically have brown, black, white, or mixed fur. They have an average length of 51 cm (20 in) including a 13 cm (5.1 in) tail, weigh about 1.5–4 pounds (0.7–2 kg), and have a natural lifespan of 7 to 10 years.[2] Ferrets are sexually dimorphic predators with males being substantially larger than females.

      Several other Mustelids also have the word ferret in their common names, including an endangered species, the black-footed ferret.

      The history of the ferret's domestication is uncertain, like that of most other domestic animals, but it is likely that ferrets have been domesticated for at least 2,500 years. They are still used for hunting rabbits in some parts of the world, but increasingly, they are kept only as pets.

      Being so closely related to polecats, ferrets easily hybridize with them, and this has occasionally resulted in feral colonies of polecat-ferret hybrids that have caused damage to native fauna, especially in New Zealand.[3] As a result, some parts of the world have imposed restrictions on the keeping of ferrets.
      ---

      Mongoose is the popular English name for 29 of the 34[2] species in the 14 genera of the family Herpestidae, which are small feliform (see below) carnivorans that are native to southern Eurasia and mainland Africa. The other five species in the family are the four kusimanses in the genus Crossarchus, and the only species in the genus Suricata: Suricata suricatta, commonly called meerkat in English.

      Six species in the family Eupleridae, endemic to the island of Madagascar, are also called "mongoose" and were originally classified as a genus within the family Herpestidae, but genetic evidence has since shown that they are more closely related to other Madagascar carnivorans in the family Eupleridae; they have, since 2006, been classified in the subfamily Galidiinae within Eupleridae.

      Herpestidae is placed within the suborder Feliformia, together with the cat, hyena, and civet families.
      ---

      The mongoose and the meerkat bear a striking resemblance to many mustelids, but belong to a distinctly different suborder—the Feliformia (all those carnivores sharing more recent origins with the Felidae) and not the Caniformia (those sharing more recent origins with the Canidae). Because the mongooses and the mustelids occupy similar ecological niches, convergent evolution has led to some similarity in form and behavior.

      Delete
  4. A sweet revenge for sure. Great story! If thoughts could kill ...

    ReplyDelete
  5. Was Hillary Clinton wearing an earpiece during last night’s presidential forum? That’s the latest question swirling around the Internet after pictures appeared to show Hillary with some kind of flesh-colored device embedded inside her ear.

    ReplyDelete
  6. If Hillary Clinton is The Woman, who could we find to act the part of Sredni Vahtar?

    KItty Pann

    ReplyDelete
  7. The theme of the story has already been discussed, so I'll simply say I agree.

    Another wonderful aspect of this type of literature is how it provides us a taste of time and place that would otherwise be impossible for us to experience.

    ReplyDelete

IF YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND THE FOLLOWING, YOU DON'T BELONG HERE, SO KINDLY GET OUT AND STAY OUT.

We welcome Conversation
But without Vituperation.
If your aim is Vilification ––
Other forms of Denigration ––
Unfounded Accusation --
Determined Obfuscation ––
Alienation with Self-Justification ––
We WILL use COMMENT ERADICATION.


IN ADDITION

Gratuitous Displays of Extraneous Knowledge Offered Not To Shed Light Or Enhance the Discussion, But For The Primary Purpose Of Giving An Impression Of Superiority are obnoxiously SELF-AGGRANDIZING, and therefore, Subject to Removal at the Discretion of the Censor-in-Residence.