In “The Dreamer,” snobby Adela Chemping asks her seventeen-year old nephew Cyprian to accompany her on an expedition of store sales. Not wanting to miss bargains, she invites him for one purpose: to carry all of the items she anticipates purchasing. Saki uses this tale with a surprising ending to...
illustrate a moral: do not prejudge and underestimate others.
Treating him like a little kid, she throws “in the additional allurement of a cinematograph theatre and the prospect of light refreshment” to entice him. When she first sees him, she notices only superficial details (like his clothes and hair) and is immediately disturbed that he is not wearing a hat. She shudders,
“You are not going to be what they call a Nut, are you?” she inquired with some anxiety, partly with the idea that a Nut would be an extravagance … [and] would refuse to carry parcels.
Her biased assumption is upended by Cyprian’s more thoughtful and logical explanation that he chose not to wear a hat because
It is such a nuisance when one is shopping; I mean it is so awkward if one meets anyone one knows and has to take one's hat off when one's hands are full of parcels. If one hasn't got a hat on one can't take it off.
In contrast to his aunt—who superficially dismisses him as good for only providing physical labor—Cyprian is indeed observant and contemplative. He has the
wondering look of a dreamer, the eyes of one who sees things that are not visible to ordinary mortals, and invests the commonplace things of this world with qualities unsuspected by plainer folk—the eyes of a poet or a house agent.
Cyprian notices yet does not prejudge things or people. For example, even though he cannot understand the pleasure his aunt has in examining napkins, he does not criticize her but merely follows along silently and obediently. Near the end, when a lady mistakes him for a shop boy, he is “neither startled nor embarrassed” like his class-conscious aunt who exclaims,
She takes him for one of the shop assistants because he hasn't got a hat on.
In fact, Cyprian uses his powers of observation and lack of prejudgment to his advantage. He tells the lady,
It will be a matter of a few minutes to get it wrapped up, there is such a crush
He successfully fools her into paying him cash on the spot (instead of having her sale rung up by an actual clerk and thus exposing his ruse).
At the end, Adele sees Cyprian continuing his sham by the book counter. Having fooled yet another customer and pocketing money from the sale of two books, he has a
dream look [that] was deeper than ever in his eyes.
Cyprian proves himself to be more clever than his aunt ever gives him credit for, all as a result of his skills of observation, imagination, and strategy.