Conradin at ten is told by the doctor that he may only live another five years. His Cousin and guardian, Mrs De Ropp, confirms this is the case. Conradin hates living in the house with his cousin, whom he refers to as 'the Woman'. He escapes regularly to the tool-shed in the garden, which he shares with a hen named Houdan and a pole-cat ferret he names Sredni Vashtar, his most prized possession, and possibly the key to releasing his from his misery.
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