Stories | The Interlopers by Saki

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What is this episode about?

Listen to this masterpiece of a short story by Saki. The Interlopers is a short story that will definitely make you think about some grudges you might have and whether it is worth it.

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Show Notes

What’s wrong with holding a grudge?

Both history and literature are full of individuals who bear grudges, or feelings of great resentment, against others. Recall, for example, the Montagues and Capulets—Romeo and Juliet’s warring relatives. In “The Interlopers,” you will read about two neighboring families whose ongoing feud has dire consequences.

literary analysis: theme and setting

In a short story, a theme is a message about life or human nature that the writer wants to communicate to readers. Often, the setting of a story, or where and when it takes place, helps convey this message. To understand how setting might contribute to theme, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What aspects of the setting are emphasized?
  • How does the setting affect the characters?
  • How does the setting relate to the story’s main conflict?

“The Interlopers” takes place in a forest whose ownership has been disputed by two families for generations. As you read, think about what Saki is saying about human nature and how the story’s setting helps make this message clear.

reading strategy: monitor

Good readers automatically check, or monitor, their comprehension of what they read. One way they accomplish this is by clarifying difficult passages. Strategies such as rereading, reading aloud, and summarizing can make tough parts easier to understand.

As you read “The Interlopers,” make sure to stop and clarify those points in the story that are confusing to you.

The Interlopers by Saki

In a forest of mixed growth somewhere on the eastern spurs of the Carpathians, 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 sportman’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 harbored or the shooting it afforded, but it was the most jealously guarded of all its owner’s territorial possessions. A famous lawsuit, in the days of his grandfather, had wrested it from the illegal possession of a neighboring 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 neighbor 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 lookout 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 tonight, 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 or 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 around 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 civilization cannot easily nerve himself to shoot down his neighbor in cold blood and without a word spoken, except for an offense against his hearth and honor. 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 someone came to release him. The descending twigs 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 around 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 nearly 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 neighbor’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 tonight, close behind me, and they will be here first and do the releasing. When they drag me out from under these 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.”

“Good,” snarled Georg, “good. We fight this quarrel out to the death, you and I and our foresters, with no cursed interlopers to come between us. Death . . . to you, Ulrich von Gradwitz.”

“The same to you, Georg Znaeym, forest thief, game-snatcher.”

Both men spoke with the bitterness of possible defeat before them, for each knew that it might be long before his men would seek him out or find him; it was a bare matter of chance which party would arrive first on the scene.

Both had now given up the useless struggle to free themselves from the mass of wood that held them down; Ulrich limited his endeavors to an effort to bring his one partially free arm near enough to his outer coat pocket to draw out his wine flask. Even when he had accomplished that operation, it was long before he could manage the unscrewing of the stopper or get any of the liquid down his throat. But what a heaven-sent draft it seemed! It was an open winter, and little snow had fallen as yet, hence the captives suffered less from the cold than might have been the case at that season of the year; nevertheless, the wine was warming and reviving to the wounded man, and he looked across with something like a throb of pity to where his enemy lay, just keeping the groans of pain and weariness from crossing his lips.

“Could you reach this flask if I threw it over to you?” asked Ulrich suddenly; “there is good wine in it, and one may as well be as comfortable as one can. Let us drink, even if tonight one of us dies.”

“No, I can scarcely see anything; there is so much blood caked around my eyes,” said Georg, “and in any case I don’t drink wine with an enemy.”

Ulrich was silent for a few minutes and lay listening to the weary screeching of the wind. An idea was slowly forming and growing in his brain, an idea that gained strength every time that he looked across at the man who was fighting so grimly against pain and exhaustion. In the pain and languor that Ulrich himself was feeling the old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down.

“Neighbor,” he said presently, “do as you please if your men come first. It was a fair compact. But as for me, I’ve changed my mind. If my men are the first to come, you shall be the first to be helped, as though you were my guest. We have quarreled like devils all our lives over this stupid strip of forest, where the trees can’t even stand upright in a breath of wind. Lying here tonight, thinking, I’ve come to think we’ve been rather fools; there are better things in life than getting the better of a boundary dispute. Neighbor, if you will help me to bury the old quarrel I—I will ask you to be my friend.”

Georg Znaeym was silent for so long that Ulrich thought, perhaps, he had fainted with the pain of his injuries. Then he spoke slowly and in jerks. “How the whole region would stare and gabble if we rode into the market square together. No one living can remember seeing a Znaeym and a von Gradwitz talking to one another in friendship. And what peace there would be among the forester folk if we ended our feud tonight. And if we choose to make peace among our people, there is none other to interfere, no interlopers from outside. . . . You would come and keep the Sylvester night beneath my roof, and I would come and feast on some high day at your castle. . . . I would never fire a shot on your land, save when you invited me as a guest; and you should come and shoot with me down in the marshes where the wildfowl are. In all the countryside there are none that could hinder if we willed to make peace. I never thought to have wanted to do other than hate you all my life, but I think I have changed my mind about things too, this last half-hour. And you offered me your wine flask. . . . Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend.”

For a space both men were silent, turning over in their minds the wonderful changes that this dramatic reconciliation would bring about. In the cold, gloomy forest, with the wind tearing in fitful gusts through the naked branches and whistling around the tree trunks, they lay and waited for the help that would now bring release and succor to both parties. And each prayed a private prayer that his men might be the first to arrive, so that he might be the first to show honorable attention to the enemy that had become a friend.

Presently, as the wind dropped for a moment, Ulrich broke silence.

“Let’s shout for help,” he said; “in this lull our voices may carry a little way.”

“They won’t carry far through the trees and undergrowth,” said Georg, “but we can try. Together, then.”

The two raised their voices in a prolonged hunting call.

“Together again,” said Ulrich a few minutes later, after listening in vain for an answer halloo.

“I heard something that time, I think,” said Ulrich.

“I heard nothing but the pestilential wind,” said Georg hoarsely.

There was silence again for some minutes, and then Ulrich gave a joyful cry.

“I can see figures coming through the wood. They are following in the way I came down the hillside.”

Both men raised their voices in as loud a shout as they could muster.

“They hear us! They’ve stopped. Now they see us. They’re running down the hill towards us,” cried Ulrich.

“How many of them are there?” asked Georg.

“I can’t see distinctly,” said Ulrich; “nine or ten.”

“Then they are yours,” said Georg; “I had only seven out with me.”

“They are making all the speed they can, brave lads,” said Ulrich gladly.

“Are they your men?” asked Georg. “Are they your men?”

“No,” said Ulrich with a laugh, the idiotic chattering laugh of a man unstrung with hideous fear.

“Who are they?” asked Georg quickly, straining his eyes to see what the other would gladly not have seen.

“Wolves.”

acquiesce

If you acquiesce in something, you agree to do what someone wants or to accept what they do even though you may not agree with it.

condolence

A message of condolence is a message in which you express your sympathy for someone because one of their friends or relatives has died recently.

draft

A draft is a gulp or swallow.

interloper

If you describe someone as an interloper, you mean that they have come into a situation or a place where they are not wanted or do not belong.

languor

Languor is a pleasant feeling of being relaxed and not having any energy or interest in anything.

marauder

If you describe a group of people or animals as marauders, you mean they are unpleasant and dangerous, because they wander around looking for opportunities to steal or kill.

pestilential

Pestilential is used to refer to things that cause disease or are caused by disease.

pinioned

If you are pinioned, someone prevents you from moving or escaping, especially by holding or tying your arms.

precipitous

A precipitous slope or drop is very steep and often dangerous.

succor

Succor is help given to people who are suffering or in difficulties.

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