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Produced by Richard E. Henrich, Jr. HTML version by Al Haines.




with an Introduction by A. A. MILNE


H. H. M.

August, 1911


There are good things which we want to share with the world and good
things which we want to keep to ourselves. The secret of our favourite
restaurant, to take a case, is guarded jealously from all but a few
intimates; the secret, to take a contrary case, of our infallible
remedy for seasickness is thrust upon every traveller we meet, even if
he be no more than a casual acquaintance about to cross the Serpentine.
So with our books. There are dearly loved books of which we babble to a
neighbour at dinner, insisting that she shall share our delight in
them; and there are books, equally dear to us, of which we say nothing,
fearing lest the praise of others should cheapen the glory of our
discovery. The books of "Saki" were, for me at least, in the second

It was in the WESTMINSTER GAZETTE that I discovered him (I like to
remember now) almost as soon as he was discoverable. Let us spare a
moment, and a tear, for those golden days in the early nineteen
hundreds, when there were five leisurely papers of an evening in which
the free-lance might graduate, and he could speak of his Alma Mater,
whether the GLOBE or the PALL MALL, with as much pride as, he never
doubted, the GLOBE or the PALL MALL would speak one day of him. Myself
but lately down from ST. JAMES', I was not too proud to take some
slight but pitying interest in men of other colleges. The unusual name
of a freshman up at WESTMINSTER attracted my attention; I read what he
had to say; and it was only by reciting rapidly with closed eyes the
names of our own famous alumni, beginning confidently with Barrie and
ending, now very doubtfully, with myself, that I was able to preserve
my equanimity. Later one heard that this undergraduate from overseas
had gone up at an age more advanced than customary; and just as
Cambridge men have been known to complain of the maturity of Oxford
Rhodes scholars, so one felt that this WESTMINSTER free-lance in the
thirties was no fit competitor for the youth of other colleges.
Indeed, it could not compete.

Well, I discovered him, but only to the few, the favoured, did I speak
of him. It may have been my uncertainty (which still persists) whether
he called himself Sayki, Sahki or Sakki which made me thus ungenerous
of his name, or it may have been the feeling that the others were not
worthy of him; but how refreshing it was when some intellectually
blown-up stranger said "Do you ever read Saki?" to reply, with the same
pronunciation and even greater condescension: "Saki! He has been my
favourite author for years!"

A strange exotic creature, this Saki, to us many others who were trying
to do it too. For we were so domestic, he so terrifyingly
cosmopolitan. While we were being funny, as planned, with collar-studs
and hot-water bottles, he was being much funnier with werwolves and
tigers. Our little dialogues were between John and Mary; his, and how
much better, between Bertie van Tahn and the Baroness. Even the most
casual intruder into one of his sketches, as it might be our Tomkins,
had to be called Belturbet or de Ropp, and for his hero, weary
man-of-the-world at seventeen, nothing less thrilling than Clovis
Sangrail would do. In our envy we may have wondered sometimes if it
were not much easier to be funny with tigers than with collar-studs; if
Saki's careless cruelty, that strange boyish insensitiveness of his,
did not give him an unfair start in the pursuit of laughter. It may
have been so; but, fortunately, our efforts to be funny in the Saki
manner have not survived to prove it.

What is Saki's manner, what his magic talisman? Like every artist
worth consideration, he had no recipe. If his exotic choice of subject
was often his strength, it was often his weakness; if his
insensitiveness carried him through, at times, to victory, it brought
him, at times, to defeat. I do not think that he has that "mastery of
the CONTE" - in this book at least - which some have claimed for him.
Such mastery infers a passion for tidiness which was not in the boyish
Saki's equipment. He leaves loose ends everywhere. Nor in his
dialogue, delightful as it often is, funny as it nearly always is, is
he the supreme master; too much does it become monologue judiciously
fed, one character giving and the other taking. But in comment, in
reference, in description, in every development of his story, he has a
choice of words, a "way of putting things" which is as inevitably his
own vintage as, once tasted, it becomes the private vintage of the

Let us take a sample or two of "Saki, 1911."

"The earlier stages of the dinner had worn off. The wine lists had
been consulted, by some with the blank embarrassment of a schoolboy
suddenly called upon to locate a Minor Prophet in the tangled
hinterland of the Old Testament, by others with the severe scrutiny
which suggests that they have visited most of the higher-priced wines
in their own homes and probed their family weaknesses."

"Locate" is the pleasant word here. Still more satisfying, in the
story of the man who was tattooed "from collar-bone to waist-line with
a glowing representation of the Fall of Icarus," is the word

"The design when finally developed was a slight disappointment to
Monsieur Deplis, who had suspected Icarus of being a fortress taken by
Wallenstein in the Thirty Years' War, but he was more than satisfied
with the execution of the work, which was acclaimed by all who had the
privilege of seeing it as Pincini's masterpiece."

This story, THE BACKGROUND, and MRS PACKLETIDE'S TIGER seem to me to be
the masterpieces of this book. In both of them Clovis exercises,
needlessly, his titular right of entry, but he can be removed without
damage, leaving Saki at his best and most characteristic, save that he
shows here, in addition to his own shining qualities, a compactness and
a finish which he did not always achieve. With these I introduce you
to him, confident that ten minutes of his conversation, more surely
than any words of mine, will have given him the freedom of your house.





"All hunting stories are the same," said Clovis; "just as all Turf
stories are the same, and all - "

"My hunting story isn't a bit like any you've ever heard," said the
Baroness. "It happened quite a while ago, when I was about
twenty-three. I wasn't living apart from my husband then; you see,
neither of us could afford to make the other a separate allowance. In
spite of everything that proverbs may say, poverty keeps together more
homes than it breaks up. But we always hunted with different packs.
All this has nothing to do with the story."

"We haven't arrived at the meet yet. I suppose there was a meet," said

"Of course there was a meet," said the Baroness; all the usual crowd
were there, especially Constance Broddle. Constance is one of those
strapping florid girls that go so well with autumn scenery or Christmas
decorations in church. 'I feel a presentiment that something dreadful
is going to happen,' she said to me; 'am I looking pale?'

"She was looking about as pale as a beetroot that has suddenly heard
bad news.

"'You're looking nicer than usual,' I said, 'but that's so easy for
you.' Before she had got the right bearings of this remark we had
settled down to business; hounds had found a fox lying out in some

"I knew it," said Clovis, "in every fox-hunting story that I've ever
heard there's been a fox and some gorse-bushes."

"Constance and I were well mounted," continued the Baroness serenely,
"and we had no difficulty in keeping ourselves in the first flight,
though it was a fairly stiff run. Towards the finish, however, we must
have held rather too independent a line, for we lost the hounds, and
found ourselves plodding aimlessly along miles away from anywhere. It
was fairly exasperating, and my temper was beginning to let itself go
by inches, when on pushing our way through an accommodating hedge we
were gladdened by the sight of hounds in full cry in a hollow just
beneath us.

"'There they go,' cried Constance, and then added in a gasp, 'In
Heaven's name, what are they hunting?'

"It was certainly no mortal fox. It stood more than twice as high, had
a short, ugly head, and an enormous thick neck.

"'It's a hyaena,' I cried; 'it must have escaped from Lord Pabham's

"At that moment the hunted beast turned and faced its pursuers, and the
hounds (there were only about six couple of them) stood round in a
half-circle and looked foolish. Evidently they had broken away from
the rest of the pack on the trail of this alien scent, and were not
quite sure how to treat their quarry now they had got him.

"The hyaena hailed our approach with unmistakable relief and
demonstrations of friendliness. It had probably been accustomed to
uniform kindness from humans, while its first experience of a pack of
hounds had left a bad impression. The hounds looked more than ever
embarrassed as their quarry paraded its sudden intimacy with us, and
the faint toot of a horn in the distance was seized on as a welcome
signal for unobtrusive departure. Constance and I and the hyaena were
left alone in the gathering twilight.

"'What are we to do?' asked Constance.

"'What a person you are for questions,' I said.

"'Well, we can't stay here all night with a hyaena,' she retorted.

"'I don't know what your ideas of comfort are,' I said; 'but I
shouldn't think of staying here all night even without a hyaena. My
home may be an unhappy one, but at least it has hot and cold water laid
on, and domestic service, and other conveniences which we shouldn't
find here. We had better make for that ridge of trees to the right; I
imagine the Crowley road is just beyond.'

"We trotted off slowly along a faintly marked cart-track, with the
beast following cheerfully at our heels.

"'What on earth are we to do with the hyaena?' came the inevitable

"'What does one generally do with hyaenas?' I asked crossly.

"'I've never had anything to do with one before,' said Constance.

"'Well, neither have I. If we even knew its sex we might give it a
name. Perhaps we might call it Esmé. That would do in either case.'

"There was still sufficient daylight for us to distinguish wayside
objects, and our listless spirits gave an upward perk as we came upon a
small half-naked gipsy brat picking blackberries from a low-growing
bush. The sudden apparition of two horsewomen and a hyaena set it off
crying, and in any case we should scarcely have gleaned any useful
geographical information from that source; but there was a probability
that we might strike a gipsy encampment somewhere along our route. We
rode on hopefully but uneventfully for another mile or so.

"'I wonder what that child was doing there,' said Constance presently.

"'Picking blackberries. Obviously.'

"'I don't like the way it cried,' pursued Constance; 'somehow its wail
keeps ringing in my ears.'

"I did not chide Constance for her morbid fancies; as a matter of fact
the same sensation, of being pursued by a persistent fretful wail, had
been forcing itself on my rather over-tired nerves. For company's sake
I hulloed to Esmé, who had lagged somewhat behind. With a few springy
bounds he drew up level, and then shot past us.

"The wailing accompaniment was explained. The gipsy child was firmly,
and I expect painfully, held in his jaws.

"'Merciful Heaven!' screamed Constance, 'what on earth shall we do?
What are we to do?'

"I am perfectly certain that at the Last Judgment Constance will ask
more questions than any of the examining Seraphs.

"'Can't we do something?' she persisted tearfully, as Esmé cantered
easily along in front of our tired horses.

"Personally I was doing everything that occurred to me at the moment.
I stormed and scolded and coaxed in English and French and gamekeeper
language; I made absurd, ineffectual cuts in the air with my thongless
hunting-crop; I hurled my sandwich case at the brute; in fact, I really
don't know what more I could have done. And still we lumbered on
through the deepening dusk, with that dark uncouth shape lumbering
ahead of us, and a drone of lugubrious music floating in our ears.
Suddenly Esmé bounded aside into some thick bushes, where we could not
follow; the wail rose to a shriek and then stopped altogether. This
part of the story I always hurry over, because it is really rather
horrible. When the beast joined us again, after an absence of a few
minutes, there was an air of patient understanding about him, as though
he knew that he had done something of which we disapproved, but which
he felt to be thoroughly justifiable.

"'How can you let that ravening beast trot by your side?' asked
Constance. She was looking more than ever like an albino beetroot.

"'In the first place, I can't prevent it,' I said; 'and in the second
place, whatever else he may be, I doubt if he's ravening at the present

"Constance shuddered. 'Do you think the poor little thing suffered
much?' came another of her futile questions.

"'The indications were all that way,' I said; 'on the other hand, of
course, it may have been crying from sheer temper. Children sometimes

"It was nearly pitch-dark when we emerged suddenly into the highroad.
A flash of lights and the whir of a motor went past us at the same
moment at uncomfortably close quarters. A thud and a sharp screeching
yell followed a second later. The car drew up, and when I had ridden
back to the spot I found a young man bending over a dark motionless
mass lying by the roadside.

"'You have killed my Esmé,' I exclaimed bitterly.

"'I'm so awfully sorry,' said the young man; I keep dogs myself, so I
know what you must feel about it. I'll do anything I can in

"'Please bury him at once,' I said; 'that much I think I may ask of

"'Bring the spade, William,' he called to the chauffeur. Evidently
hasty roadside interments were contingencies that had been provided

"The digging of a sufficiently large grave took some little time. 'I
say, what a magnificent fellow,' said the motorist as the corpse was
rolled over into the trench. 'I'm afraid he must have been rather a
valuable animal.'

"'He took second in the puppy class at Birmingham last year,' I said

"Constance snorted loudly.

"'Don't cry, dear,' I said brokenly; 'it was all over in a moment. He
couldn't have suffered much.'

"'Look here,' said the young fellow desperately, 'you simply must let
me do something by way of reparation.'

"I refused sweetly, but as he persisted I let him have my address.

"Of course, we kept our own counsel as to the earlier episodes of the
evening. Lord Pabham never advertised the loss of his hyaena; when a
strictly fruit-eating animal strayed from his park a year or two
previously he was called upon to give compensation in eleven cases of
sheep-worrying and practically to re-stock his neighbours'
poultry-yards, and an escaped hyaena would have mounted up to something
on the scale of a Government grant. The gipsies were equally
unobtrusive over their missing offspring; I don't suppose in large
encampments they really know to a child or two how many they've got."

The Baroness paused reflectively, and then continued:

"There was a sequel to the adventure, though. I got through the post a
charming little diamond brooch, with the name Esmé set in a sprig of
rosemary. Incidentally, too, I lost the friendship of Constance
Broddle. You see, when I sold the brooch I quite properly refused to
give her any share of the proceeds. I pointed out that the Esmé part
of the affair was my own invention, and the hyaena part of it belonged
to Lord Pabham, if it really was his hyaena, of which, of course, I've
no proof."


The grill-room clock struck eleven with the respectful unobtrusiveness
of one whose mission in life is to be ignored. When the flight of time
should really have rendered abstinence and migration imperative the
lighting apparatus would signal the fact in the usual way.

Six minutes later Clovis approached the supper-table, in the blessed
expectancy of one who has dined sketchily and long ago.

"I'm starving," he announced, making an effort to sit down gracefully
and read the menu at the same time.

"So I gathered;" said his host, "from the fact that you were nearly
punctual. I ought to have told you that I'm a Food Reformer. I've
ordered two bowls of bread-and-milk and some health biscuits. I hope
you don't mind."

Clovis pretended afterwards that he didn't go white above the
collar-line for the fraction of a second.

"All the same," he said, "you ought not to joke about such things.
There really are such people. I've known people who've met them. To
think of all the adorable things there are to eat in the world, and
then to go through life munching sawdust and being proud of it."

"They're like the Flagellants of the Middle Ages, who went about
mortifying themselves."

"They had some excuse," said Clovis. "They did it to save their
immortal souls, didn't they? You needn't tell me that a man who
doesn't love oysters and asparagus and good wines has got a soul, or a
stomach either. He's simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly

Clovis relapsed for a few golden moments into tender intimacies with a
succession of rapidly disappearing oysters.

"I think oysters are more beautiful than any religion," he resumed
presently. "They not only forgive our unkindness to them; they justify
it, they incite us to go on being perfectly horrid to them. Once they
arrive at the supper-table they seem to enter thoroughly into the
spirit of the thing. There's nothing in Christianity or Buddhism that
quite matches the sympathetic unselfishness of an oyster. Do you like
my new waistcoat? I'm wearing it for the first time to-night."

"It looks like a great many others you've had lately, only worse. New
dinner waistcoats are becoming a habit with you."

"They say one always pays for the excesses of one's youth; mercifully
that isn't true about one's clothes. My mother is thinking of getting


"It's the first time."

"Of course, you ought to know. I was under the impression that she'd
been married once or twice at least."

"Three times, to be mathematically exact. I meant that it was the
first time she'd thought about getting married; the other times she did
it without thinking. As a matter of fact, it's really I who am doing
the thinking for her in this case. You see, it's quite two years since
her last husband died."

"You evidently think that brevity is the soul of widowhood."

"Well, it struck me that she was getting moped, and beginning to settle
down, which wouldn't suit her a bit. The first symptom that I noticed
was when she began to complain that we were living beyond our income.
All decent people live beyond their incomes nowadays, and those who
aren't respectable live beyond other peoples. A few gifted individuals
manage to do both."

"It's hardly so much a gift as an industry."

"The crisis came," returned Clovis, "when she suddenly started the
theory that late hours were bad for one, and wanted me to be in by one
o'clock every night. Imagine that sort of thing for me, who was
eighteen on my last birthday."

"On your last two birthdays, to be mathematically exact."

"Oh, well, that's not my fault. I'm not going to arrive at nineteen as
long as my mother remains at thirty-seven. One must have some regard
for appearances."

"Perhaps your mother would age a little in the process of settling

"That's the last thing she'd think of. Feminine reformations always
start in on the failings of other people. That's why I was so keen on
the husband idea."

"Did you go as far as to select the gentleman, or did you merely throw
out a general idea, and trust to the force of suggestion?"

"If one wants a thing done in a hurry one must see to it oneself. I
found a military Johnny hanging round on a loose end at the club, and
took him home to lunch once or twice. He'd spent most of his life on
the Indian frontier, building roads, and relieving famines and
minimizing earthquakes, and all that sort of thing that one does do on
frontiers. He could talk sense to a peevish cobra in fifteen native
languages, and probably knew what to do if you found a rogue elephant
on your croquet-lawn; but he was shy and diffident with women. I told
my mother privately that he was an absolute woman-hater; so, of course,
she laid herself out to flirt all she knew, which isn't a little."

"And was the gentleman responsive?"

"I hear he told some one at the club that he was looking out for a
Colonial job, with plenty of hard work, for a young friend of his, so I
gather that he has some idea of marrying into the family."

"You seem destined to be the victim of the reformation, after all."

Clovis wiped the trace of Turkish coffee and the beginnings of a smile
from his lips, and slowly lowered his dexter eyelid. Which, being
interpreted, probably meant, "I DON'T think!"


It was a chill, rain-washed afternoon of a late August day, that
indefinite season when partridges are still in security or cold
storage, and there is nothing to hunt - unless one is bounded on the
north by the Bristol Channel, in which case one may lawfully gallop
after fat red stags. Lady Blemley's house-party was not bounded on the
north by the Bristol Channel, hence there was a full gathering of her
guests round the tea-table on this particular afternoon. And, in spite
of the blankness of the season and the triteness of the occasion, there
was no trace in the company of that fatigued restlessness which means a
dread of the pianola and a subdued hankering for auction bridge. The
undisguised openmouthed attention of the entire party was fixed on the
homely negative personality of Mr. Cornelius Appin. Of all her guests,
he was the one who had come to Lady Blemley with the vaguest
reputation. Some one had said he was "clever," and he had got his
invitation in the moderate expectation, on the part of his hostess,
that some portion at least of his cleverness would be contributed to
the general entertainment. Until tea-time that day she had been unable
to discover in what direction, if any, his cleverness lay. He was
neither a wit nor a croquet champion, a hypnotic force nor a begetter
of amateur theatricals. Neither did his exterior suggest the sort of
man in whom women are willing to pardon a generous measure of mental
deficiency. He had subsided into mere Mr. Appin, and the Cornelius
seemed a piece of transparent baptismal bluff. And now he was claiming
to have launched on the world a discovery beside which the invention of
gunpowder, of the printing-press, and of steam locomotion were
inconsiderable trifles. Science had made bewildering strides in many
directions during recent decades, but this thing seemed to belong to
the domain of miracle rather than to scientific achievement.

"And do you really ask us to believe," Sir Wilfrid was saying, "that
you have discovered a means for instructing animals in the art of human
speech, and that dear old Tobermory has proved your first successful

"It is a problem at which I have worked for the last seventeen years,"
said Mr. Appin, "but only during the last eight or nine months have I
been rewarded with glimmerings of success. Of course I have

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