Morlvera by Saki (H H Monro)
Short story from The Toys of Peace, collected for publication in 1919
Prominent among the elegantly-dressed dolls that filled an entire section of the window frontage was a large hobble-skirted lady in a confection of peach-coloured velvet, elaborately set off with leopard skin accessories, if one may use such a conveniently comprehensive word in describing an intricate feminine toilette. She lacked nothing that is to be found in a carefully detailed fashion-plate--in fact, she might be said to have something more than the average fashion-plate female possesses; in place of a vacant, expressionless stare she had character in her face. It must be admitted that it was bad character, cold, hostile, inquisitorial, with a sinister lowering of one eyebrow and a merciless hardness about the corners of the mouth. One might have imagined histories about her by the hour, histories in which unworthy ambition, the desire for money, and an entire absence of all decent feeling would play a conspicuous part.
observations: And two little poor children, Emmeline and Bert, do indeed imagine a history for her. By happy chance, a rich boy comes along and completes Morlvera’s story to the satisfaction of all the children, even though they never directly encounter each other. The story is slight, but has all the features that make Saki so satisfying: good dialogue, character-drawing in a few lines, and cold charm and humour.
H H Monro had no children (he never married) but he must have known some well: his pictures of them are convincing and clear-eyed – perhaps he was the ideal godfather or uncle. In the story The Strategist, a child is asked to share her peach: ‘But Agnes was fat first and good-natured afterwards; those were her guiding principles in life.’
Stories and attitude are both rather like Roald Dahl 50 years later.
Links up with: Another Saki story here, and a very splendid doll for the Little Princess.
The picture is a 19th century photo from Wikimedia Commons.