In "The Open Window," what makes Vera's story credible?

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William Delaney eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Vera appears to be a nice young girl who is playing hostess and has no ulterior motive in telling Framton Nuttel her story. She does not present it as a ghost story. She only claims that her aunt believes the three men are still alive and will return through the open window, even though they have been dead for three years. Here is the essential part of Vera's story:

"Out through that window, three years ago to a day, her husband and her two young brothers went off for their day's shooting. They never came back. In crossing the moor to their favourite snipe-shooting ground they were all three engulfed in a treacherous piece of bog. It had been that dreadful wet summer, you know, and places that were safe in other years gave way suddenly without warning. Their bodies were never recovered. . . . Poor aunt thinks that they will come back some day, they and the little brown spaniel that was lost with them and walk in at that window just as they used to do."

Vera is preparing Framton to think that Mrs. Sappleton became insane with grief over her tragic loss. No one would suspect that a fifteen-year-old girl would make up such a gruesome tale involving, not just the three men, but her aunt as well.

Vera is described as "a very self-possessed young lady of fifteen" and again as "the self-possessed young lady"--i.e., poised, calm, relaxed, at ease. When Mrs. Sappleton makes her appearance and tells Framton, "I hope you don't mind the open window, my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way," he naturally takes this as proof that the woman is harmless but insane.

She makes him feel more and more uneasy because she keeps talking about "the shooting and the scarcity of birds, and the prospects for duck in the winter." Obviously there is little else to talk about in this dull country setting, and no doubt Mrs. Sappleton thinks that Framton, being a male, will be interested in such a topic, since that is the only topic that interests her husband and her two  brothers.

Vera has heard so much talk about men shooting birds that she is sick of it. That is what inspires her mischief. Framton is sitting facing Mrs. Sappleton and the open window, and Vera is off to one side. Suddenly the aunt says,

"Here they are at last! Just in time for tea, and don't they look as if they were muddy up to the eyes!"

Framton turns to look at Vera, who has been so self-possessed.

The child was staring out through the open window with dazed horror in her eyes.

This look of horror on the innocent young face gives her story its ultimate credibility. He turns and sees three men approaching with a little spaniel. All three are carrying guns. Ghosts might be bad enough, but ghosts carrying guns make them terrifying. Framton panics, grabs his stick and hat, and flees the haunted house.

The reader has also been taken in by Vera's story until the very end. The three men are obviously not ghosts but just three tired hunters returning for tea. And Vera makes it clear that she was lying by inventing another story to explain Framton's impulsive exit.

"I expect it was the spaniel . . . . he told me he had a horror of dogs. He was once hunted into a cemetery somewhere on the banks of the Ganges by a pack of pariah dogs, and had to spend the night in a newly dug grave with the creatures snarling and grinning and foaming just above him."

And the self-possessed Vera is such a good story-teller that she convinces all four adults.