Her will-power and strategy had prevailed; Mortimer would stay. Outside the morning-room windows was a triangular slope of turf, which the indulgent might call a lawn, and beyond its low hedge of neglected fuschia bushes a steeper slope of heather and bracken dropped down into cavernous combes overgrown with oak and yew. In its wild open savagery there seemed a stealthy linking of the joy of life with the terror of unseen things. Sylvia smiled complacently as she gazed with a School-of-Art appreciation at the landscape, and then of a sudden she almost shuddered.
“It is very wild,” she said to Mortimer, who had joined her; “one could almost think that in such a place the worship of Pan had never quite died out.”
“The worship of Pan never has died out,” said Mortimer. “Other newer gods have drawn aside his votaries from time to time, but he is the Nature-God to whom all must come back at last. He has been called the Father of all the Gods, but most of his children have been stillborn.”
Sylvia was religious in an honest, vaguely devotional kind of way, and did not like to hear her beliefs spoken of as mere aftergrowths, but it was at least something new and hopeful to hear Dead Mortimer speak with such energy and conviction on any subject.
“You don’t really believe in Pan?” she asked incredulously.
“I’ve been a fool in most things,” said Mortimer quietly, “but I’m not such a fool as not to believe in Pan when I’m down here. And if you’re wise you won’t disbelieve in him too boastfully while you’re in his country.”
Saki captures here the dangerously smug self satisfaction of his protagonist the wealthy Sylvia, who ironically has nothing of the ‘Sylvan’ about her. Her ignorance about the perils of the real countryside where she is merely a visitor provides the darkly humorous, yet macabre aspect of the tale.
If this proves a moral tale in a lurking sort of way, then Saki’s predilection for savage catharsis has never been bettered than in this story.
Of course characters consumed by their own sense of authority and righteousness litter Saki’s tales, and they never leave them unscathed. Their arrogance impales them satirically and in this famous tale, even murderously, reminding us how the macabre is veiled beneath the neatly polished surfaces of Saki’s elected milieu of wealthy idleness and fastidious ennui.
In this story we are shown a landscape where a city dweller’s ‘civilized’ complacency yields to the pagan wilderness of the untamed countryside.
Shrubberies are no protection against a rampant Pan!
The ‘neglected fuschias’ above, signify the fragile boundary at which they yield to the wild chaos beyond. Cold sterility‘a triangular slope of turf’ must give way to the rampant, devouring sexual energies (‘cavernous combes‘) of a world ‘beyond’ the safety of the shrubbery!
Desires must be assuaged….
I joke not!
Sylvia instinctively recognizes the otherness of this world,’almost shuddered’ yet remains ‘boastfully’ attached to her own beliefs, ‘vaguely devotional‘ precipitating disaster in a sinister, yet insistently erotic Lawrentian manner!
I don’t wish to spoil this tale but Saki superbly creates a mounting sense of unease as Sylvia strays further and further from what she can control and know, into a primal kingdom utterly contemptuous of her social position and feminine vulnerability.
The denouement is savage, carnal and devoid of mercy.
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