illustration of a young girl looking out a window at ghostly figures

The Open Window

by Saki

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Student Question

In "The Open Window," how do Mrs. Sappleton's comments about hunters contribute to the plot complications?

Expert Answers

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Vera has set Framton Nuttel up to believe that Mrs. Sappleton's husband and her two brothers were killed exactly three years ago when they were sucked into a bog while hunting on the moor. The cunning girl has also made Framton believe that her aunt lost her mind as a result of the tragedy and for the past two years has been leaving the big French window open and waiting for the three men to return for tea. Not only that, but Saki, the author, has convinced the reader that Vera has told Framton the absolute truth.

Then when Vera's rather silly, dithering aunt appears in order to take over the hostess role from her fifteen-year-old niece, Framton naturally assumes that Mrs. Sappleton is insane. She only confirms Vera's assessment of her when:

"I hope you don't mind the open window," said Mrs. Sappleton briskly; "my husband and brothers will be home directly from shooting, and they always come in this way. They've been out for snipe in the marshes today, so they'll make a fine mess over my poor carpets. So like you menfolk, isn't it?"

Framton Nuttel, as has been well established, is suffering from a "nervous condition" and is only staying in this region as part of his "nerve cure." Vera's story about the three men being killed in a horrible manner (similar to the way the villainous Mr. Stapleton is killed in Grimpen Mire at the end of "The Hound of the Baskervilles") has already upset the nervous visitor, and Mrs. Sappleton's apparent insanity upsets him even further. Mrs. Sappleton is so positive that the three presumably dead men will be returning imminently that she plants that gruesome image indelibly in Framton's mind. Then:

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

"Up to the eyes" is good because it makes them seem as if they have been buried in the bog for all these years. This is all told through Framton's point of view. He is seated in such a way that he cannot see the open window. He is looking at Mrs. Sappleton. Then he turns to look at Vera, expecting her to be showing by her facial expression that she shares Framton's pity and tolerance for the demented woman. But Vera is staring at the window with a totally unexpected expression.

Framton shivered slightly and turned towards the niece with a look intended to convey sympathetic comprehension. The child was staring out through the open window with a dazed horror in her eyes. 

The reader still isn't in on the joke. He thinks Vera's look of "dazed horror" is genuine. This expression on the face of the formerly "self-possessed" and apparently innocent young girl, makes Framton turn to look at the open window. And he sees what Vera expected him to see. Surely these men walking toward the open window are the dead hunters returned from the bog that killed them three years earlier!

Three ghosts would be bad enough, but three ghosts carrying guns are too much for poor Framton. He flees from the house without a word and is last seen running up the country road for his life. The reader does not realize Vera has played a trick on the visitor until Mrs. Sappleton's husband and two brothers enter through the open window and show that they are only ordinary mortals.

"Here we are, my dear," said the bearer of the white mackintosh, coming in through the window, "fairly muddy, but most of it's dry. Who was that who bolted out as we came up?"

"A most extraordinary man, a Mr. Nuttel," said Mrs. Sappleton; "could only talk about his illnesses, and dashed off without a word of goodby or apology when you arrived. One would think he had seen a ghost."

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