Much of Saki's work contrasts the conventions and hypocrisies of Edwardian England with the ruthless but straightforward life-and-death struggles of nature. Writing in The Guardian to mark the centenary of Saki's death, Stephen Moss noted, "In many of his stories, stuffy authority figures are set against forces of nature – polecats, hyenas, tigers. Even if they are not eaten, the humans rarely have the best of it".
"The Interlopers" is a story about two men, Georg Znaeym and Ulrich von Gradwitz, whose families have fought over a forest in the eastern Carpathian Mountains for generations. Ulrich's family legally owns the land, and so considers Georg an interloper when he hunts in the forest. But Georg, believing that the forest rightfully belongs to his family, hunts there often and believes that Ulrich is the real interloper for trying to stop him. One winter night, Ulrich catches Georg hunting in the forest. Neither man can shoot the other without warning, as they would soil their family's honour, so they hesitate to acknowledge one another. In an "act of God", a tree branch suddenly falls on each of them, trapping them both under a log. Gradually they realize the futility of their quarrel, become friends and end the feud. They then call out for their men's assistance and, after a brief period, Ulrich makes out nine or ten figures approaching over a hill. The story ends with Ulrich's realization that the approaching figures on the hill are actually hungry wolves. The wolves, it seems, are the true owners of the forest, while both humans are interlopers.
"Gabriel-Ernest" starts with a warning: "There is a wild beast in your woods …" Gabriel, a naked boy sunbathing by the river, is "adopted" by well-meaning Townspeople. Lovely and charming, but also rather vague and distant, he seems bemused by his "benefactors." Asked how he managed by himself in the woods, he replies that he hunts "on four legs," which they take to mean that he has a dog. The climax comes when a small child disappears while walking home from Sunday school. A pursuit ensues, but Gabriel and the child disappear near a river. The only items found are Gabriel's clothes, and the two are never seen again. The story includes many of the author's favourite themes: good intentions gone awry, the banality of polite society, the attraction of the sinister, and the allure of the wild and the forbidden. There is also a recognition of basic decency, upheld when the story's protagonist 'flatly refuses' to subscribe to a Gabriel-Ernst memorial, for his supposedly gallant attempt to save a drowning child, and drowning himself, as well. He realises that Gabriel-Ernst was actually a werewolf, who had eaten the child, then run off.
"The Schartz-Metterklume Method"
At a railway station an arrogant and overbearing woman, Mrs Quabarl, mistakes the mischievous Lady Carlotta, who has been inadvertently left behind by a train, for the governess, Miss Hope, whom she has been expecting, Miss Hope having erred about the date of her arrival. Lady Carlotta decides not to correct the mistake, acknowledges herself as Miss Hope, a proponent of "the Schartz-Metterklume method" of making children understand history by acting it out themselves, and chooses the Rape of the Sabine Women (exemplified by a washerwoman's two girls) as the first lesson. After creating chaos for two days, she departs, explaining that her delayed luggage will include a leopard cub.
"The Toys of Peace"
Preferring not to give her young sons toy soldiers or guns, and having taken away their toy depicting the Siege of Adrianople, Eleanor instructs her brother Harvey to give them innovative "peace toys" as an Easter present. When the packages are opened young Bertie shouts "It's a fort!" and is disappointed when his uncle replies "It's a municipal dustbin." The boys are initially baffled as to how to obtain any enjoyment from models of a school of art and a public library, or from little figures of John Stuart Mill, Felicia Hemans and Sir John Herschel. Youthful inventiveness finds a way, however, as the boys combine their history lessons on Louis XIV with a lurid and violent play-story about the invasion of Britain and the storming of the Young Women's Christian Association. The end of the story has Harvey reporting failure to Eleanor, explaining "We have begun too late.", not realising he was doomed to failure whenever he had begun.
An aunt is travelling by train with her two nieces and a nephew. The children are inquisitive and mischievous. A bachelor is also travelling in the same compartment. The aunt starts telling a moralistic story, but is unable to satisfy the children's curiosity. The bachelor butts in and tells a story in which a "good" person ends up being devoured by a wolf, to the children's delight. The aunt calls it "A most improper story to tell to young children!" and the bachelor is amused by the thought that in the future the children will embarrass their guardian by begging to be told "an improper story."
"The Open Window"
Framton Nuttel, a nervous man, has come to stay in the country for his health. His sister, who thinks he should socialise while he is there, has given him letters of introduction to families in the neighbourhood whom she got to know when she was staying there a few years previously. Framton goes to visit Mrs Sappleton and, while he is waiting for her to come down, is entertained by her fifteen-year-old, witty niece. The niece tells him that the French window is kept open, even though it is October, because Mrs Sappleton believes that her husband and her brothers, who were drowned in a bog three years before, will come back one day. When Mrs Sappleton comes down she talks about her husband and her brothers, and how they are going to come back from shooting soon, and Framton, believing that she is deranged, tries to distract her by talking about his health. Then, to his horror, Mrs Sappleton points out that her husband and her brothers are coming, and he sees them walking towards the window with their dog. He thinks he is seeing ghosts and runs away. Mrs Sappleton cannot understand why he has run away and, when her husband and her brothers come in, she tells them about the odd man who has just left. The niece explains that Framton Nuttel ran away because of the spaniel: he is afraid of dogs since he was hunted by a pack of stray dogs in India and had to spend a night in the newly dug grave with creatures grinning and foaming just above him. The last line summarizes the situation, saying of the niece, "Romance at short notice was her speciality."
Saki's recurring hero Clovis Sangrail, a clever, mischievous young man, overhears the complacent middle-aged Huddle complaining of his own addiction to routine and aversion to change. Huddle's friend makes the wry suggestion that he needs an "unrest-cure" (the opposite of a rest cure), to be performed, if possible, in the home. Clovis takes it upon himself to "help" the man and his sister by involving them in an invented outrage that will be a "blot on the twentieth century".
A baroness tells Clovis a story about a hyena that she and her friend Constance encountered while out fox hunting. Later, the hyena follows them, stopping briefly to eat a gypsy child. Shortly after this, the hyena is killed by a motorcar. The baroness immediately claims the corpse as her beloved dog Esmé, and the guilty owner of the car gets his chauffeur to bury the animal and later sends her a diamond brooch to make up for her loss.
A sickly child named Conradin is raised by his aunt and guardian, Mrs De Ropp, who "would never... have confessed to herself that she disliked Conradin, though she might have been dimly aware that thwarting him 'for his good' was a duty which she did not find particularly irksome". Conradin rebels against his aunt and her choking authority. He invents a religion in which his polecat ferret is imagined as a vengeful deity, and Conradin prays that "Sredni Vashtar" will deliver retribution upon De Ropp. When De Ropp attempts to dispose of the animal, it attacks and kills her. The entire household is shocked and alarmed; Conradin calmly butters another piece of toast.
At a country-house party, one guest, Cornelius Appin, announces to the others that he has perfected a procedure for teaching animals human speech. He demonstrates this on his host's cat, Tobermory. Soon it is clear that animals are permitted to view and listen to many private things on the assumption that they will remain silent, such as the host Sir Wilfred's commentary on one guest's intelligence and the hope that she will buy his car, or the implied sexual activities of some of the other guests. The guests are angered, especially when Tobermory runs away to pursue a rival cat, but plans to poison him fail when Tobermory is instead killed by the rival cat. "An archangel ecstatically proclaiming the Millennium, and then finding that it clashed unpardonably with Henley and would have to be indefinitely postponed, could hardly have felt more crestfallen than Cornelius Appin at the reception of his wonderful achievement." Appin is killed shortly afterwards when attempting to teach an elephant in a zoo in Dresden to speak German. His fellow house party guest, Clovis Sangrail (Saki's recurring hero), remarks that if he was teaching "the poor beast" irregular German verbs, he deserved no pity.
Tom Yorkfield, a farmer, receives a visit from his half-brother Laurence. Tom has no great liking for Laurence or respect for his profession as a painter of animals. Tom shows Laurence his prize bull and expects him to be impressed, but Laurence nonchalantly tells Tom that he has sold a painting of a different bull, which Tom has seen and does not like, for three hundred pounds. Tom is angry that a mere picture of a bull should be worth more than his real bull. This and Laurence's condescending attitude give him the urge to strike him. Laurence, running away across the field, is attacked by the bull, but is saved by Tom from serious injury. Tom, looking after Laurence as he recovers, feels no more rancour because he knows that, however valuable Laurence's painting might be, only a real bull like his can attack someone.
"The East Wing"
This is a "rediscovered" short story that was previously cited as a play. A house party is beset by a fire in the middle of the night in the east wing of the house. Begged by their hostess to save "my poor darling Eva – Eva of the golden hair," Lucien demurs, on the grounds that he has never even met her. It is only on discovering that Eva is not a flesh-and-blood daughter but Mrs Gramplain's painting of the daughter she wished that she had had, and which she has faithfully updated with the passing years, that Lucien declares a willingness to forfeit his life to rescue her, since "death in this case is more beautiful," a sentiment endorsed by the Major. As the two men disappear into the blaze, Mrs Gramplain recollects that she "sent Eva to Exeter to be cleaned". The two men have lost their lives for nothing.