It is a very hot day on the train. Three little children and their aunt are traveling together and it is at least another hour before they will have a stop. This is beginning of “The Storyteller” by Saki, who cleverly inserts a story within a story, characteristic of his writing style.
The precocious and somewhat misbehaved children are not entertained. The aunt’s continual scolding and warnings make no impact. Trying to focus the attention of her nephew does no good. One of the little girls is repeating the first line of the poem “On the Road to Mandalay.”
Finally, the aunt agrees to tell a story. The children ask so many questions that the aunt has to add silly details to the story. In the end, one of the children labels the story as “the stupidest story I’ve ever heard.”
Also traveling in the railway carriage is a bachelor. The aunt has noticed that the children are getting on his nerves. The aunt describes him as hard and unsympathetic. With the children’s behavior, the bachelor frowns and then begins to scowl.
“You don’t seem to be a success as a storyteller," said the bachelor suddenly from his corner. The aunt bristled in instant defense at this unexpected attack.
The aunt challenges the bachelor to tell the children a story and see if he can keep their attention. What the aunt forgets is that this is a man who has no children and will walk away from them at the end of the train ride.
Accepting the dare to tell a better story to the children, the bachelor begins with great intonation in his voice. The bachelor becomes the omniscient narrator of the story that he tells. The bachelor provides a seemingly innocuous story in the beginning; however, as the story progresses, it becomes violent.
The children interrupt him with questions which he does not seem to mind answering. His story rivets the children’s attention. His characters are intense and interesting. As he answers the boy’s questions, it is obvious that the man has a quick wit and intelligence.
He impresses both the children and the aunt with his storytelling abilities. Surprisingly, the bachelor is just as patient with the children as is the aunt. He brings logic and information in his story with its beginning, middle, and end.
Although the aunt is impressed with his storytelling, she accosts him for telling the children am improper story with such a violent ending. The little girl who dies is killed by a wolf who hears her drop her good behavior and character medals. When the bachelor leaves the train, he tells the aunt that he kept the children quiet for ten minutes longer than she did.
The bachelor’s view of the world, although harsh and violent, seems more accurate than the aunts. Her story ended with a little girl being rescued. The moral of his story is that goodness does not always triumph and sometimes good behavior is not rewarded.
As he leaves the train calling the aunt “an unhappy woman,” the bachelor seems glad that for the future the children will be begging for his style of story.