Frampton Nuttel suffers from a nervous condition. He travels to a rural community to seek a treatment, his path ostensibly being paved through the well-intentioned intervention of his sister, who has lived in this particular community and knows its inhabitants. H.H. Munro’s (Saki) protagonist is clearly an individual on edge, his mental stability a matter of some concern. As Munro’s introduction to Frampton indicates, his is a lonely and anxious existence, with human interaction kept to a self-imposed minimum. His sister provides him letters of introduction to the town’s people so that Frampton will not be without resources:
“I’ll just give you letters to all the people I know there,” his sister had said. “Otherwise, you’ll bury yourself and not speak to a soul and your nerves will worse than ever from moping.”
That the first person Frampton encounters should be the precocious and mischievous Vera, then, can only be considered a cruel twist of fate. Vera is quick and not afraid to play practical jokes on total strangers. A hint of this occurs early in these two characters’ meeting. Conceding that he knows nobody in town, including Vera’s aunt, the young girl immediately senses an opportunity:
“Then you know practically nothing about my aunt?” pursued the self-possessed young lady.
We do not yet know of Vera’s nature, let alone her intentions, but Munro’s description of her as “self-possessed” indicates that she will play an important role in the story, and that that role will not necessarily be beneficial to the story’s outcome. Vera’s manipulation of the adults for her own gratification and entertainment may be the innocent jocularity of an immature child, but it could also be indicative of a deeper psychological condition on her part. Inferences that could be drawn regarding Vera, then, can run the gamut from innocent playfulness to psychotic tendencies towards duplicity. The extremely rapid rate at which she adapts to changing situations or environments with false testimony suitable for the moment can suggest a propensity towards deception that will manifest itself in more grave situations as she matures as an adult. The jokes she plays on Frampton and on her aunt are humorous, and she’s too young (presumably) to appreciate the consequences of her actions, but there is something troubling about her ability to navigate her deceptions so fluidly and without any sense of remorse. Such is the stuff of which psychopaths are made.
All the adult characters in the story would regard Framton Nuttel as a terrible bore, a nuisance, and a pain in the neck. The fact is that nobody likes to hear about other people's aches and pains, or doctor visits, or diagnoses. He is imposing on these total strangers, and he must be aware that he is doing it. They hardly knew his sister, and they don't know him at all. The sister is imposing on them because she had a relationship with their local vicar. Vera is the only one who is still not "civilized," and we instinctively like her because we identify with her feelings, her rebellious spirit, and her bizarre sense of humor. The unique thing about this particular story is that it is actually very funny but none of the characters laughs. The adults don't understand what is going on. Vera understands but she can't betray her amusement. Poor Framton Nuttel is only observed in his headlong flight by the reader.
Framton grabbed wildly at his stick and hat; the hall-door, the gravel-drive, and the front gate were dimly-noted stages in his headlong retreat. A cyclist coming along the road had to run into the hedge to avoid an imminent collision.