I couldn’t have been older than eight when Dad sat me down to read me a story. The story was called Sredni Vashtar.
The main (really only proper) character was a young, frail Edwardian boy named Conradin, living with a domineering female cousin, who seemed determined to joylessly coddle, thwart and repress him into the grave. His only consolation was a shed down at the bottom of the barren garden, which to him was a ‘playroom and a cathedral’, populated by his own imagination.
(Having read The Secret Garden, I thought I knew where this was going. Conradin even rather resembled Colin Craven.)
The shed also housed Conradin’s pet hen; and, in a hutch in the corner, a large polecat-ferret that he’d bought off a friendly butcher’s boy and hid fervently from his cousin, dubbed in his hostile mind ‘The Woman’.
(Having read Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, I definitely thought I knew where this was going.)
Conradin, in his loneliness and mixed fear and awe of the polecat-ferret, named it – what else but Sredni Vashtar? And proceeded to worship the animal, giving it offerings of flowers and berries, and occasionally nutmeg, believing it to be responsible for the various ailments of The Woman.
(I still thought I knew where this was going.)
The Woman noticed Conradin’s trips down to the shed, ruled them contrary to her desires, and had the hen sold. Conradin’s hate grew ever fiercer, and he prayed to Sredni-Vashtar to ‘do one thing for me’. “The thing was not specified.
(I…was curious about where this was going.) Continue reading “Sorting through Dad’s hoard, part 5: Saki”