With his creative imagination, Nicholas is viewed as and treated like a naughty child by his strict aunt. In reality, he is an innocent youth and his aunt is the guilty party for lying to and abusing her power over him and his cousins. She delights in restricting their freedom to explore their surroundings. She strives to stifle their curiosity and withhold enjoyable activities as punishment.
One day, Nicholas enters a storage area (the lumber room) that his aunt has locked in order to prevent people (besides herself) from entering—“secure from unauthorized intrusion.” His surreptitious act of breaking into the lumber room initially seems like a crime; through imagery, however, Saki emphasizes the theme of innocence. The objects that Nicholas discovers demonstrate the guileless wonderment of exploration.
In contrast to the forbidden gooseberry garden (“a stale delight, a mere material pleasure”), the lumber room is dim and dusty. It contains, however, incredible objects of beauty. First, Nicholas spies a tapestry “glowing in wonderful colours” with a scene of
A man, dressed in the hunting costume of some remote period, [who] had just transfixed a stag with an arrow… and the two spotted dogs that were springing forward to join in the chase… [and] four galloping wolves were coming in his direction through the wood.
This scene inspires the boy to imagine questions about the action and unleashes his imagination.
Nicholas sat for many golden minutes revolving the possibilities of the scene; he was inclined to think that there were more than four wolves and that the man and his dogs were in a tight corner.
The boy then finds in the lumber room
quaint twisted candlesticks in the shape of snakes and a teapot fashioned like a china duck, out of whose open beak the tea was supposed to come.
Although imagery of “twisted” candlesticks resembling “snakes” conjures up thoughts of evil and Satan, Saki does not dwell on or develop this description to emphasize corruption. Instead, he juxtaposes it with the comically duck-shaped teapot that spits out tea from its beak. This humorous image contrasts the “dull and shapeless” teapot normally used by Nicholas’s family.
The boy also sees
a carved sandal-wood box packed tight with aromatic cotton-wool, and between the layers of cotton-wool were little brass figures, hump-necked bulls, and peacocks and goblins
Unlike Pandora’s box, filled with evil spirits, this box contains harmless and inert small metal figurines of fanciful creatures. The final object that Nicholas examines initially appears dull—“a large square book with plain black covers.” Nonetheless, it contains colorful pictures of an incredible array of birds:
herons and bustards, kites, toucans, tiger-bitterns, brush turkeys, ibises, golden pheasants, a whole portrait gallery of undreamed-of creatures.
In contrast to what the boy ordinarily sees in his limited walks in the garden and nearby lanes—the “occasional magpie or wood-pigeon”—the book displays bright birds of various shapes, colors, and sizes.
The real guilt lies with the aunt for hiding all of these beautiful objects. She
was one of those people who think that things spoil by use and consign them to dust and damp by way of preserving them.
Essentially, she wastes these items by not allowing others to see and enjoy them; instead, she ruins them by allowing them to gather dust and moisture in a closed room.