Interlopers Essay

This essay has a total of 2242 words and 9 pages.


In a forest of mixed growth somewhere on the eastern spurs of the Karpathians, a man stood
one winter night watching and listening, as though he waited for some beast of the woods
to come within the range of his vision, and, later, of his rifle. But the game for whose
presence he kept so keen an outlook was none that figured in the sportsman's calendar as
lawful and proper for the chase; Ulrich von Gradwitz patrolled the dark forest in quest of
a human enemy.

The forest lands of Gradwitz were of wide extent and well stocked with game; the narrow
strip of precipitous woodland that lay on its outskirt was not remarkable for the game it
harboured or the shooting it afforded, but it was the most jealously guarded of all its
owner's territorial possessions. A famous law suit, in the days of his grandfather, had
wrested it from the illegal possession of a neighbouring family of petty landowners; the
dispossessed party had never acquiesced in the judgment of the Courts, and a long series
of poaching affrays and similar scandals had embittered the relationships between the
families for three generations. The neighbour feud had grown into a personal one since
Ulrich had come to be head of his family; if there was a man in the world whom he detested
and wished ill to it was Georg Znaeym, the inheritor of the quarrel and the tireless
game-snatcher and raider of the disputed border-forest. The feud might, perhaps, have died
down or been compromised if the personal ill-will of the two men had not stood in the way;
as boys they had thirsted for one another's blood, as men each prayed that misfortune
might fall on the other, and this wind-scourged winter night Ulrich had banded together
his foresters to watch the dark forest, not in quest of four-footed quarry, but to keep a
look-out for the prowling thieves whom he suspected of being afoot from across the land
boundary. The roebuck, which usually kept in the sheltered hollows during a storm-wind,
were running like driven things to-night, and there was movement and unrest among the
creatures that were wont to sleep through the dark hours. Assuredly there was a disturbing
element in the forest, and Ulrich could guess the quarter from whence it came.

He strayed away by himself from the watchers whom he had placed in ambush on the crest of
the hill, and wandered far down the steep slopes amid the wild tangle of undergrowth,
peering through the tree trunks and listening through the whistling and skirling of the
wind and the restless beating of the branches for sight and sound of the marauders. If
only on this wild night, in this dark, lone spot, he might come across Georg Znaeym, man
to man, with none to witness - that was the wish that was uppermost in his thoughts. And
as he stepped round the trunk of a huge beech he came face to face with the man he sought.

The two enemies stood glaring at one another for a long silent moment. Each had a rifle in
his hand, each had hate in his heart and murder uppermost in his mind. The chance had come
to give full play to the passions of a lifetime. But a man who has been brought up under
the code of a restraining civilisation cannot easily nerve himself to shoot down his
neighbour in cold blood and without word spoken, except for an offence against his hearth
and honour. And before the moment of hesitation had given way to action a deed of Nature's
own violence overwhelmed them both. A fierce shriek of the storm had been answered by a
splitting crash over their heads, and ere they could leap aside a mass of falling beech
tree had thundered down on them. Ulrich von Gradwitz found himself stretched on the
ground, one arm numb beneath him and the other held almost as helplessly in a tight tangle
of forked branches, while both legs were pinned beneath the fallen mass. His heavy
shooting-boots had saved his feet from being crushed to pieces, but if his fractures were
not as serious as they might have been, at least it was evident that he could not move
from his present position till some one came to release him. The descending twig had
slashed the skin of his face, and he had to wink away some drops of blood from his
eyelashes before he could take in a general view of the disaster. At his side, so near
that under ordinary circumstances he could almost have touched him, lay Georg Znaeym,
alive and struggling, but obviously as helplessly pinioned down as himself. All round them
lay a thick- strewn wreckage of splintered branches and broken twigs.

Relief at being alive and exasperation at his captive plight brought a strange medley of
pious thank-offerings and sharp curses to Ulrich's lips. Georg, who was early blinded with
the blood which trickled across his eyes, stopped his struggling for a moment to listen,
and then gave a short, snarling laugh.

"So you're not killed, as you ought to be, but you're caught, anyway," he cried; "caught
fast. Ho, what a jest, Ulrich von Gradwitz snared in his stolen forest. There's real
justice for you!"

And he laughed again, mockingly and savagely.
"I'm caught in my own forest-land," retorted Ulrich. "When my men come to release us you
will wish, perhaps, that you were in a better plight than caught poaching on a neighbour's
land, shame on you."

Georg was silent for a moment; then he answered quietly:
"Are you sure that your men will find much to release? I have men, too, in the forest
to-night, close behind me, and THEY will be here first and do the releasing. When they
drag me out from under these damned branches it won't need much clumsiness on their part
to roll this mass of trunk right over on the top of you. Your men will find you dead under
a fallen beech tree. For form's sake I shall send my condolences to your family."

"It is a useful hint," said Ulrich fiercely. "My men had orders to follow in ten minutes
time, seven of which must have gone by already, and when they get me out - I will remember
the hint. Only as you will have met your death poaching on my lands I don't think I can
decently send any message of condolence to your family."
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