The Bag by Saki
“The Major is coming in to tea,” said Mrs.
Hoopington to her niece. “He’s just gone round
to the stables with his horse. Be as bright and lively as
you can; the poor man’s got a fit of the glooms.”
Major Pallaby was a victim of circumstances, over which he had
no control, and of his temper, over which he had very
little. He had taken on the Mastership of the Pexdale
Hounds in succession to a highly popular man who had fallen foul
of his committee, and the Major found himself confronted with the
overt hostility of at least half the hunt, while his lack of tact
and amiability had done much to alienate the remainder.
Hence subscriptions were beginning to fall off, foxes grew
provokingly scarcer, and wire obtruded itself with increasing
frequency. The Major could plead reasonable excuse for his
fit of the glooms.
In ranging herself as a partisan on the side of Major
Pallaby Mrs. Hoopington had been largely influenced by the fact
that she had made up her mind to marry him at an early
date. Against his notorious bad temper she set his three
thousand a year, and his prospective succession to a baronetcy
gave a casting vote in his favour. The Major’s plans
on the subject of matrimony were not at present in such an
advanced stage as Mrs. Hoopington’s, but he was beginning
to find his way over to Hoopington Hall with a frequency that was
already being commented on.
“He had a wretchedly thin field out again
yesterday,” said Mrs. Hoopington. “Why you
didn’t bring one or two hunting men down with you, instead
of that stupid Russian boy, I can’t think.”
“Vladimir isn’t stupid,” protested her
niece; “he’s one of the most amusing boys I ever
met. Just compare him for a moment with some of your heavy
“Anyhow, my dear Norah, he can’t ride.”
“Russians never can; but he shoots.”
“Yes; and what does he shoot? Yesterday he brought
home a woodpecker in his game-bag.”
“But he’d shot three pheasants and some
rabbits as well.”
“That’s no excuse for including a woodpecker in
“Foreigners go in for mixed bags more than we do.
A Grand Duke pots a vulture just as seriously as we should stalk
a bustard. Anyhow, I’ve explained to Vladimir that
certain birds are beneath his dignity as a sportsman. And
as he’s only nineteen, of course, his dignity is a sure
thing to appeal to.”
Mrs. Hoopington sniffed. Most people with whom Vladimir
came in contact found his high spirits infectious, but his
present hostess was guaranteed immune against infection of that
“I hear him coming in now,” she observed.
“I shall go and get ready for tea. We’re going
to have it here in the hall. Entertain the Major if he
comes in before I’m down, and, above all, be
Norah was dependent on her aunt’s good graces for many
little things that made life worth living, and she was conscious
of a feeling of discomfiture because the Russian youth whom she
had brought down as a welcome element of change in the
country-house routine was not making a good
impression. That young gentleman, however, was supremely
unconscious of any shortcomings, and burst into the hall, tired,
and less sprucely groomed than usual, but distinctly
radiant. His game-bag looked comfortably full.
“Guess what I have shot,” he demanded.
“Pheasants, woodpigeons, rabbits,” hazarded
“No; a large beast; I don’t know what you call it
in English. Brown, with a darkish tail.” Norah
“Does it live in a tree and eat nuts?” she asked,
hoping that the use of the adjective “large” might be
“Oh no; not a biyelka.”
“Does it swim and eat fish?” asked Norah, with a
fervent prayer in her heart that it might turn out to be an
“No,” said Vladimir, busy with the straps of his
game-bag; “it lives in the woods, and eats rabbits and
Norah sat down suddenly, and hid her face in her hands.
“Merciful Heaven!” she wailed; “he’s
shot a fox!”
Vladimir looked up at her in consternation. In a
torrent of agitated words she tried to explain the horror of the
situation. The boy understood nothing, but was thoroughly
“Hide it, hide it!” said Norah frantically,
pointing to the still unopened bag. “My aunt and the
Major will be here in a moment. Throw it on the top of that
chest; they won’t see it there.”
Vladimir swung the bag with fair aim; but the strap caught in
its flight on the outstanding point of an antler fixed in the
wall, and the bag, with its terrible burden, remained suspended
just above the alcove where tea would presently be laid. At
that moment Mrs. Hoopington and the Major entered the hall.
“The Major is going to draw our covers to-morrow,”
announced the lady, with a certain heavy satisfaction.
“Smithers is confident that we’ll be able to show him
some sport; he swears he’s seen a fox in the nut copse
three times this week.”
“I’m sure I hope so; I hope so,” said the
Major moodily. “I must break this sequence of blank
days. One hears so often that a fox has settled down as a
tenant for life in certain covers, and
then when you go to turn him out there isn’t a trace of
him. I’m certain a fox was shot or trapped in Lady
Widden’s woods the very day before we drew them.”
“Major, if any one tried that game on in my woods
they’d get short shrift,” said Mrs. Hoopington.
Norah found her way mechanically to the tea-table and made her
fingers frantically busy in rearranging the parsley round the
sandwich dish. On one side of her loomed the morose
countenance of the Major, on the other she was conscious of the
scared, miserable eyes of Vladimir. And above it all hung
that. She dared not raise her eyes above the level
of the tea-table, and she almost expected to see a spot of
accusing vulpine blood drip down and stain the whiteness of the
cloth. Her aunt’s manner signalled to her the
repeated message to “be bright”; for the present she
was fully occupied in keeping her teeth from chattering.
“What did you shoot to-day?” asked Mrs. Hoopington
suddenly of the unusually silent Vladimir.
“Nothing—nothing worth speaking of,” said
Norah’s heart, which had stood still for a space, made up for lost time with a most disturbing
“I wish you’d find something that was worth
speaking about,” said the hostess; “every one seems
to have lost their tongues.”
“When did Smithers last see that fox?” said the
“Yesterday morning; a fine dog-fox, with a dark
brush,” confided Mrs. Hoopington.
“Aha, we’ll have a good gallop after that brush
to-morrow,” said the Major, with a transient gleam of good
humour. And then gloomy silence settled again round the
tea-table, a silence broken only by despondent munchings and the
occasional feverish rattle of a teaspoon in its saucer. A
diversion was at last afforded by Mrs. Hoopington’s
fox-terrier, which had jumped on to a vacant chair, the better to
survey the delicacies of the table, and was now sniffing in an
upward direction at something apparently more interesting than
“What is exciting him?” asked his mistress, as the
dog suddenly broke into short angry barks, with a running
accompaniment of tremulous whines.
“Why,” she continued, “it’s your
game-bag, Vladimir! What have you got in
“By Gad,” said the Major, who was now
standing up; “there’s a pretty warm scent!”
And then a simultaneous idea flashed on himself and Mrs.
Hoopington. Their faces flushed to distinct but harmonious
tones of purple, and with one accusing voice they screamed,
“You’ve shot the fox!”
Norah tried hastily to palliate Vladimir’s misdeed in
their eyes, but it is doubtful whether they heard her. The
Major’s fury clothed and reclothed itself in words as
frantically as a woman up in town for one day’s shopping
tries on a succession of garments. He reviled and railed at
fate and the general scheme of things, he pitied himself with a
strong, deep pity too poignent for tears, he condemned every one
with whom he had ever come in contact to endless and abnormal
punishments. In fact, he conveyed the impression that if a
destroying angel had been lent to him for a week it would have
had very little time for private study. In the lulls of his
outcry could be heard the querulous monotone of Mrs. Hoopington
and the sharp staccato barking of the fox-terrier.
Vladimir, who did not understand a tithe of what was being said,
sat fondling a cigarette and repeating under his breath from time
to time a vigorous English adjective which he had long
ago taken affectionately into his vocabulary. His mind
strayed back to the youth in the old Russian folk-tale who shot
an enchanted bird with dramatic results. Meanwhile, the
Major, roaming round the hall like an imprisoned cyclone, had
caught sight of and joyfully pounced on the telephone apparatus,
and lost no time in ringing up the hunt secretary and announcing
his resignation of the Mastership. A servant had by this
time brought his horse round to the door, and in a few seconds
Mrs. Hoopington’s shrill monotone had the field to
itself. But after the Major’s display her best
efforts at vocal violence missed their full effect; it was as
though one had come straight out from a Wagner opera into a
rather tame thunderstorm. Realising, perhaps, that her
tirades were something of an anticlimax, Mrs. Hoopington broke
suddenly into some rather necessary tears and marched out of the
room, leaving behind her a silence almost as terrible as the
turmoil which had preceded it.
“What shall I do with—that?” asked
Vladimir at last.
“Bury it,” said Norah.
“Just plain burial?” said Vladimir, rather relieved. He had almost expected that some of the
local clergy would have insisted on being present, or that a
salute might have to be fired over the grave.
And thus it came to pass that in the dusk of a November
evening the Russian boy, murmuring a few of the prayers of his
Church for luck, gave hasty but decent burial to a large polecat
under the lilac trees at Hoopington.