‘The Optimist’

In the gathering twilight Richard Duncombe rode a tired horse through a seemingly endless succession of fields in what he guessed to be a more or less homeward direction. After the crowd and movement and liveliness of a good day with the hounds there was something still and ghostly about this long, slow ride through a misty world of plough-land, grass-land, and fallow, in which he and his horse seemed to be the only living things. Even when he struck into a road it seemed a deserted highway bordered by long stretches of hedge and coppice, with never a farm-gate or signpost to break its reticence or relieve its sameness. It was with a sense of pleasure that he came suddenly into the glow of lighted windows and drew rein hopefully outside the garden gate of a substantial-sized dwelling. A tall, red-haired girl stood in the doorway of the house, as though keeping watch along what could be seen of the dusky roadway. She returned Duncombe’s greeting with a pleasant “Good evening.”

“I see you have a stable there,” he called out; “do you think you could let me put my horse up there for an hour’s rest and give him a little flour and water? He’s fairly done up, and I don’t think there’s an inn within five miles.”

“Mother will be delighted,” said the girl, and in a few minutes she had helped Duncombe to stable and water his tired animal.

“We are just sitting down to tea,” she said shyly, “and mother hopes you will kindly come in and take a cup.”

It was not the first time that Duncombe had partaken of pleasant wayside hospitality during homeward rides, and he gladly accepted the invitation. The house was evidently one belonging to fairly comfortable yeoman owners, and its mistress was a kindly faced woman, with quiet, friendly manners, who sat in her parlour at a table well laid out with the furnishing of a substantial middle-class tea. Seated also at the table when Duncombe entered was a red-haired boy of about seventeen, evidently the brother of the girl who had played the part of stable-help. Continue reading

Saki in Brazilian Portuguese

Following my blog post about a new translation of Saki into Spanish, I was contacted by Francisco Araujo da Costa, who has translated some of Saki’s stories into (Brazilian) Portuguese. It seems that Saki is known not just in Spanish-speaking South America!

Francisco had already translated 20 of the stories in 2008; they were published in a collection entitled Um Gato Indiscreto e Outros Contos. (Readers ought to have no difficult working out who the “Indiscreet Cat” is.)

That edition had gone out of print but has now been reissued with an additional seven stories. It’s already available for Kindle:

https://www.amazon.com/Tigre-Mrs-Packletide-outros-contos-ebook/dp/B09WNFB8DL/

A print version should be available soon.

Here’s the description from the website:

O Tigre de Mrs. Packletide e outros contos reúne uma série de histórias que satirizam a sociedade inglesa na primeira década do século XX, permeadas às vezes de um certo teor fantástico ou sobrenatural.
O humor ferino e politicamente incorreto de Saki está representado aqui em vinte e sete contos publicados originalmente em jornais e revistas britânicas e em seis coletâneas: Reginald (1904), Reginald in Russia (1910), The Chronicles of Clovis (1911), Beasts and Super-Beasts (1912), The Toys of Peace (1919) e The Square Egg and Other Sketches (1924).
Vinte dos contos foram publicados originalmente sob o título de Um Gato Indiscreto e Outros Contos (Editora Hedra, 2009). Os sete inéditos são A reticência de Lady Anne, O santo e o duende, A dúzia de frade, Hermann, o Irascível: Uma história do Grande Choro, Laura, O quarto de guardados e O ovo quadrado.

Francisco also translated Saki’s second novel When William Came, and you can find this on Amazon too:

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D2CIVVI/

A sample chapter can be read by anyone here:

https://ciscocosta.medium.com/o-retorno-ao-lar-um-cap%C3%ADtulo-de-saki-5e26a97d3d5c

Finally, a sample of the aforementioned collection, the translation of ‘The Background’, was put online at:

https://medium.com/cabine-literaria/a-tela-um-conto-de-saki-ce2967a8e74b

Link

Article link: Reconstructing the Original Beasts and Super-Beasts by “Saki,” or How a Short Story Collection Took Shape

I completely forgot to mention that my article on the genesis of Beasts and Super-Beasts was published last October in the journal Articles, Notes and Queries (ANQ).

It examines the differences between the versions of stories published in periodicals and the revised versions collected in the book. I trace the writing and publication history and speculate a little on the reasons for the changes.

The article can be found here, though access is unfortunately not free: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/0895769X.2021.1979929

Gaston, Bruce. “Reconstructing the Original Beasts and Super-Beasts by ‘Saki,’ or How a Short Story Collection Took Shape.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews. 12 Oct. 2021. Online: https://doi.org/10.1080/0895769X.2021.1979929 (08.02.22)

El ala este : Y otros cuentos (Saki in Spanish)

Saki fan, researcher and contributor to this blog Juan Facundo Araujo has published a book of Spanish translations, including (if I understand correctly) the previously untranslated ‘The East Wing’ and ‘A Jungle Story’. He also wrote an introductory essay.

Here’s the Spanish description from Amazon:

“El ala este” incluye tres relatos inéditos en español del genial autor inglés, con un estudio preliminar de Facundo Araujo y una elegante selección anotada de cuentos, ilustrados por los artistas Néstor Martín y Pablo Castillo.

‘Reginald on Christmas Presents’

I wish it to be distinctly understood (said Reginald) that I don’t want a “George, Prince of Wales” Prayer-book1 as a Christmas present. The fact cannot be too widely known.

There ought (he continued) to be technical education classes on the science of present-giving. No one seems to have the faintest notion of what anyone else wants, and the prevalent ideas on the subject are not creditable to a civilised community.

There is, for instance, the female relative in the country who “knows a tie is always useful,” and sends you some spotted horror that you could only wear in secret or in Tottenham Court Road.2 It might have been useful had she kept it to tie up currant bushes with, when it would have served the double purpose of supporting the branches and frightening away the birds—for it is an admitted fact that the ordinary tomtit of commerce has a sounder æsthetic taste than the average female relative in the country.

Then there are aunts. They are always a difficult class to deal with in the matter of presents. The trouble is that one never catches them really young enough. By the time one has educated them to an appreciation of the fact that one does not wear red woollen mittens in the West End, they die, or quarrel with the family, or do something equally inconsiderate. That is why the supply of trained aunts is always so precarious. Continue reading

‘The East Wing’

“I’m so glad you have come,” she said; “servants are so little help in an emergency of this kind. My husband has gone off in the car to summon the fire-brigade.”

“Haven’t you telephoned to them?” asked the Major.

“The telephone unfortunately is in the east wing,” said the hostess; “so is the telephone-book. Both are being devoured by the flames at this moment. It makes one feel dreadfully isolated. Now if the fire had only broken out in the west wing instead, we could have used the telephone and had the fire-engines here by now.”

“On the other hand,” objected Lucien, “Canon Clore and Major Boventry and myself would probably have met with the fate that has overtaken the telephone-book. I think I prefer the present arrangement.”

“The butler and most of the other servants are in the dining-room, trying to save the Raeburns and the alleged Van Dyke,”1 continued Mrs Gramplain, “and in that little room on the first landing, cut off from us by the cruel flames, is my poor darling Eva. Eva of the golden hair. Will none of you save her?”

“Who is Eva of the golden hair?” asked Lucien.

“My daughter,” said Mrs Gramplain.

“I didn’t know you had a daughter,” said Lucien, “and really I don’t think I can risk my life to save some one I’ve never met or even heard about. You see, my life is not only wonderful and beautiful to myself, but if my life goes, nothing else really matters to me. I don’t suppose you can realise that, to me, the whole world as it exists to-day, the Ulster problem, the Albanian tangle, the Kikuyu controversy,2 the wide field of social reform and Antarctic exploration, the realms of finance, and research and international armaments, all this varied and crowded and complex world, all comes to a complete and absolute end the moment my life is finished. Eva might be snatched from the flames and live to be the grandmother of brilliant and charming men and women; but, as far as I should be concerned, she and they would no more exist than a vanished puff of cigarette smoke or a dissolved soda-water bubble. And if, in losing my life, I am to lose her life and theirs, as far as I personally am concerned with them, why on earth should I, personally, risk my life to save hers and theirs?” Continue reading

Link

Voltaire of the Suburbs

Cover of The Argosy magazine 1937 edition

In good company! Scan from http://www.philsp.com/data/images/a/argosy_uk_193709.jpg

On the internet, if you dig beneath the pictures of people’s food or cats and the anonymous abuse of figures in public life, you sometimes come across herculean efforts of single-interest obsessiveness like the Fiction Mags Index, which indexes thousands of magazines, including “pulp” magazines, and their contents. It has listings for both “H.H. Munro” and “Saki”, which are interesting because the details given mostly refer to reprints of the stories, usually in American or Australian magazines — information that is (as far as I know) not to be found elsewhere.

My title comes from an (anonymous) article on Munro published in The Argosy in September 1937, which also republished ‘The Mouse’ (from Reginald in Russia). I may have a go at tracking down the article — the title is intriguing, to say the least.

‘The Penance’

Octavian Ruttle was one of those lively cheerful individuals on whom amiability had set its unmistakable stamp, and, like most of his kind, his soul’s peace depended in large measure on the unstinted approval of his fellows. In hunting to death a small tabby cat he had done a thing of which he scarcely approved himself, and he was glad when the gardener had hidden the body in its hastily dug grave under a lone oak-tree in the meadow, the same tree that the hunted quarry had climbed as a last effort towards safety. It had been a distasteful and seemingly ruthless deed, but circumstances had demanded the doing of it. Octavian kept chickens; at least he kept some of them; others vanished from his keeping, leaving only a few bloodstained feathers to mark the manner of their going. The tabby cat from the large grey house that stood with its back to the meadow had been detected in many furtive visits to the hen-coops, and after due negotiation with those in authority at the grey house a sentence of death had been agreed on: “The children will mind, but they need not know,” had been the last word on the matter.

The children in question were a standing puzzle to Octavian; in the course of a few months he considered that he should have known their names, ages, the dates of their birthdays, and have been introduced to their favourite toys. They remained however, as non-committal as the long blank wall that shut them off from the meadow, a wall over which their three heads sometimes appeared at odd moments. They had parents in India—that much Octavian had learned in the neighbourhood; the children, beyond grouping themselves garment-wise into sexes, a girl and two boys, carried their life-story no further on his behoof. And now it seemed he was engaged in something which touched them closely, but must be hidden from their knowledge.

The poor helpless chickens had gone one by one to their doom, so it was meet that their destroyer should come to a violent end, yet Octavian felt some qualms when his share of the violence was ended. The little cat, headed off from its wonted tracks of safety, had raced unfriended from shelter to shelter, and its end had been rather piteous. Octavian walked through the long grass of the meadow with a step less jaunty than usual. And as he passed beneath the shadow of the high blank wall he glanced up and became aware that his hunting had had undesired witnesses. Three white set faces were looking down at him, and if ever an artist wanted a threefold study of cold human hate, impotent yet unyielding, raging yet masked in stillness, he would have found it in the triple gaze that met Octavian’s eye.

“I’m sorry, but it had to be done,” said Octavian, with genuine apology in his voice. Continue reading

‘Reginald’s Peace Poem’

“I’m writing a poem on Peace,”1 said Reginald, emerging from a sweeping operation through a tin of mixed biscuits, in whose depths a macaroon or two might yet be lurking.

“Something of the kind seems to have been attempted already,” said the Other.

“Oh, I know; but I may never have the chance again. Besides, I’ve got a new fountain pen. I don’t pretend to have gone on any very original lines; in writing about Peace the thing is to say what everybody else is saying, only to say it better. It begins with the usual ornithological emotion:

‘When the widgeon westward winging
Heard the folk Vereeniginging,2
Heard the shouting and the singing—’”

“Vereeniginging is good, but why widgeon?”

“Why not? Anything that winged westward would naturally begin with a w.”

“Need it wing westward?”

“The bird must go somewhere. You wouldn’t have it hang around and look foolish. Then I’ve brought in something about the heedless hartebeest3 galloping over the deserted veldt.”

“Of course you know it’s practically extinct in those regions?” Continue reading

‘The Easter Egg’

It was distinctly hard lines for Lady Barbara, who came of good fighting stock, and was one of the bravest women of her generation, that her son should be so undisguisedly a coward. Whatever good qualities Lester Slaggby may have possessed, and he was in some respects charming, courage could certainly never he imputed to him. As a child he had suffered from childish timidity, as a boy from unboyish funk, and as a youth he had exchanged unreasoning fears for others which were more formidable from the fact of having a carefully thought-out basis. He was frankly afraid of animals, nervous with firearms, and never crossed the Channel without mentally comparing the numerical proportion of lifebelts to passengers. On horseback he seemed to require as many hands as a Hindu god, at least four for clutching the reins, and two more for patting the horse soothingly on the neck. Lady Barbara no longer pretended not to see her son’s prevailing weakness; with her usual courage she faced the knowledge of it squarely, and, mother-like, loved him none the less.

Continental travel, anywhere away from the great tourist tracks, was a favoured hobby with Lady Barbara, and Lester joined her as often as possible. Eastertide usually found her at Knobaltheim,1 an upland township in one of those small princedoms that make inconspicuous freckles on the map of Central Europe.

A long-standing acquaintanceship with the reigning family made her a personage of due importance in the eyes of her old friend the Burgomaster,2 and she was anxiously consulted by that worthy on the momentous occasion when the Prince made known his intention of coming in person to open a sanatorium outside the town. All the usual items in a programme of welcome, some of them fatuous and commonplace, others quaint and charming, had been arranged for, but the Burgomaster hoped that the resourceful English lady might have something new and tasteful to suggest in the way of loyal greeting. The Prince was known to the outside world, if at all, as an old-fashioned reactionary, combating modern progress, as it were, with a wooden sword; to his own people he was known as a kindly old gentleman with a certain endearing stateliness which had nothing of standoffishness about it. Knobaltheim was anxious to do its best. Lady Barbara discussed the matter with Lester and one or two acquaintances in her little hotel, but ideas were difficult to come by.

“Might I suggest something to the Gnädige Frau?”3 asked a sallow high-cheek-boned lady to whom the Englishwoman had spoken once or twice, and whom she had set down in her mind as probably a Southern Slav.4

“Might I suggest something for the Reception Fest?” she went on, with a certain shy eagerness. “Our little child here, our baby, we will dress him in little white coat, with small wings, as an Easter angel, and he will carry a large white Easter egg, and inside shall be a basket of plover eggs, of which the Prince is so fond, and he shall give it to his Highness as Easter offering. It is so pretty an idea; we have seen it done once in Styria.” Continue reading