Tuesday Terror! Sredni Vashtar by Saki

Beware the child…

 

Many moons ago when I first started my journey into horror, regular commenter BigSister (who coincidentally is my big sister) recommended a story that she described as “seriously scary”. So it seems like a good choice for this week’s…

TUESDAY TERROR!

Sredni Vashtar by Saki

 

sredni vashtar

Conradin is ten years old, an orphan under the care of his cousin, Mrs de Ropp. He is a sickly child, though the impression is quickly given that that has more to do with nurture than nature. Though she provides him with the basics…

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.

In return, Conradin hates her. Deprived of everything that might be enjoyable in life, Conradin has found himself a little bolthole in the tool-shed in the dismal garden, where he keeps two treasures hidden – a hen which he loves and a polecat-ferret which he both fears and treasures. In his loneliness, Conradin lives within his imagination, and he has spun a story around the ferret that he has almost come to believe himself…

…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…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.

Slowly Conradin develops rituals around his new god, making offerings at his shrine, especially when he feels grateful for something – such as when Mrs de Ropp is suffering from severe toothache. This escape into his imagination is the only thing in his life that Conradin cherishes.

But Mrs de Ropp soon notices that Conradin is disappearing more and more into the garden and sets out to discover what he does there. It’s not long before she discovers his hiding place in the tool-shed and, although in the gloom she fails to spot Sredni Vashtar in his hutch, she finds the boy’s beloved hen…

… 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…

Polecat3_cpt_Elliot_Smith

In his rage and sorrow, Conradin turns to his god, this time not to praise him, but to ask a boon. He doesn’t feel he needs to specify its nature, since surely his god will know, so he simply asks…

“Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”

And, half-believing, he repeats this request each night. Until one day, having noticed that Conradin was still visiting the tool-shed regularly, Mrs de Ropp decides to investigate further. As she disappears inside, Conradin stands watching from a window in the house, and fervently repeats his prayer…

“Do one thing for me, Sredni Vashtar.”

…then chants the hymn he has made for his 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…

* * * * * * *

Ooh, this is a scary one! Although it’s always fairly clear where the story is heading, Saki builds up an atmosphere of oppression and dread, and given that it’s only a few pages long, he packs in enough character development for us to hate Mrs de Ropp nearly as much as Conradin does. The horrific climax is beautifully played out off the page, with us working out the course of events from noises heard through a door. But it’s not so much what happens in the tool-shed as Conradin’s reaction to it that provides the chilling effect (and a generous dollop of blackish humour). I feel it may be a while before I can look at toast and butter in quite the same way again…

Good choice, BigSister! The Fretful Porpentine thanks you…

Want to read it? http://www.classichorrorstories.com/texts/sredni.txt

Or enjoy this fabulous reading as the wonderful Tom Baker brings out all the horror and humour in the story…

 

Fretful Porpentine Rating:      😯 😯 😯 😯

Overall story rating:                😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

46 thoughts on “Tuesday Terror! Sredni Vashtar by Saki

  1. A good choice, indeed, FictionFan! I haven’t read any of Saki’s stories in a very long time, but I agree he had real skill at building a climate of fear and then horror. So very atmospheric. The only trouble with this one for me is that we used to have ferrets when my daughter was young. They were absolutely adorable, and not at all like this story. Or maybe we just appeased them properly… 😉

    • Haha! I have to admit when I was looking for an image of a scary looking ferret, I found they all looked incredibly cute! This was the fiercest I could find, and even he’s kinda cuddly! Still, the one in the story sounds beautifully scary… 😉

  2. This sounds absolutely brilliant. I am going to have a little read of it now… I will save the Tom Baker narration for a pre-bedtime treat, I think 🙂 Fretful Porpentines quiver in anticipation :D…

  3. I read and really enjoyed this week’s Tuesday Terror – it’s a long time since I’ve read Saki! After Thrawn Janet, and this one, Tuesday Terror is definitely something to look forward to! Thanks FictionFan!

    • I’ve always loved Tom Baker -my favourite Doctor Who! And he’s a great narrator, just right for this kind of story. I must look on youtube to see if he’s done any more…

  4. Glad you enjoyed this one – it isn’t so much what he tells you, but what he doesn’t that makes this story work. I hadn’t heard the Tom Baker reading, so thanks for the reference – I think he enjoyed the toast too.

    • Yes, I love when the author doesn’t feel the need to spell everything out – what you don’t see is usually more scary than what you do. It’s a great reading, isn’t it? He’s got just the right mix of horror and humour…

    • It’s good, isn’t it? I always like when the horror comes through without there having to be lots of gory descriptions.

      Thanks for the link – I’m just popping over now…

  5. Okay, just printed this out to read it… (If I read on the computer my eyes could fall out.) The professor has always liked ferrets, and I’m quite interested to see what happens. Maybe something wonderfully bloody. You know, BUS has great tastes, I do think.

    • I know, I hate reading on the computer too – you need a Kindle (complete with Collected Works of Jane Austen). I’d suggest you ask Santa for one, but…have you been a good boy this year? Ah, you’ll like Sredni Vashtar then – he’s awfully cute! She does, but don’t tell her I said so! You must tell me what you think of the story…

      • What’s the difference between a kindle and an iPad air thingy? Don’t tell anyone I asked this, you know! I’d catch it–for like forever.

        I loved the story! *laughs* Nice and short. And for once, the wicked one got what she deserved. I don’t know why, but Mr. Vashtar reminds me of Zez.

        • Hmm… well, really, I’d say the main difference is what you’d use it for. For keen readers the Kindle is probably better since it all links into Amazon – in fact, if you buy music or audiobooks via Amazon it’s great too, since it all works seamlessly together (that’s the Kindle Fire – the tablet. The other Kindles are really just for reading.) But if you use iTunes for music and only read on it occasionally, then I’d go the iPad route. In fact, given that you have a Mac rather than a Windows PC, I’d think the iPad would be better for you, since you would be able to sync them more easily. You can get a Kindle App for the iPad as far as I know, which would mean you could get books from Amazon if you wanted to…

          Glad you enjoyed it. *smiles bigly* Yes! Definitely a Zez resemblance there! I wonder if he can gurgle…?

          • Thanks, FEF! iPad then. I think. Yes, but I still wouldn’t get Northanger Abbey! Hey, which reminds me, do you like that Downtown thingy?

            You know, that beast didn’t make a sound. Even when he was killing her! Cool. It makes me think he saw the woman before.

            • Yes, definitely iPad, I think – much cooler than the Kindle anyway. No, you’d be much better to get the Collected Works so you could read them all. I enjoyed the first series, but I kinda lost track of it after that. Nice dresses though…

              Have you noticed quite a lot of these stories end up with pets eating people? It’s…worrying… *offers Tuppence extra cat treats*

            • *smiles* And the professor must have cool things–like katanas, for instance. I’ve just been hearing lots about it. And I thought you’d probably like it.

              *laughs* Very good point! But I think Tuppence is held in check by Tommy.

            • Just don’t get them mixed up whatever you do! Yes, I don’t really know why I didn’t stick with it – I’m hopeless at following things on TV.

              If only! She is a law unto herself!

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