The Interlopers Summary
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The Interlopers is a short story by British Author Saki (also known as H.H. Munro) first published in his 1919 collection The Toys of Peace, and Other Papers. Set in the eastern Carpathian Mountains and focusing on two men, Georg Znaeym and Ulrich von Gradwitz, it tracks a territorial conflict between their families that has grown out of control until their current confrontation. Focusing primarily on themes of revenge and the futility of holding grudges, it takes the two men’s’ feud and escalates it until it reaches a tragic conclusion. It focuses on how the two men, in their obsession with and pursuit of each other, have become alike in their actions and blind to the true threats facing them. Although only seven pages long, it is considered one of Saki’s most memorable and effective stories.
The Interlopers begins on a stormy winter night as an armed Ulrich roams the outskirts of his family’s property. Although Ulrich’s family owns the territory, Georg insists that he has the right to hunt there, and disputes a generations-old court ruling granting rights to the Von Gradwitz family. Now they exist in a standoff, with Georg insistent on hunting on this corner of the territory, despite it not being the best place to hunt. Meanwhile, Ulrich wastes valuable hunting time stalking this parcel of land looking for Georg.
Although Ulrich has brought a group of men to help him hunt the interloper, he heads off into the woods himself, hoping to locate and corner his long-time enemy on his own and take his revenge away from the eyes of his companions. As he descends into the cold, windy wilderness, he comes face to face with his rival. Ulrich and Georg, both armed and brimming with long-cultivated hatred for the other, face off, neither having the nerve to shoot the other on sight. However, as they hesitate, a sudden gust of wind comes and breaks off a branch from the tree above them. The heavy branch falls off and pins them both to the ground underneath it.
Injured and trapped, but both relieved to be alive, Ulrich and Georg insult and threaten each other. Ulrich calls Georg a poacher invading another man’s land, while Georg repeats his claims of ownership and calls Ulrich a thief. Both are caught up in their own narrative and unable to see any other perspective. Each claim that their other men will be along soon, and if their group arrives first they will kill the other. Georg states that he is glad their feud will finally come to a final end with death one way or another.
Although they both struggle to get free at first, they soon give up the fight and realize they are truly trapped. Facing death, the rage between them begins to thaw slightly. Ulrich pulls out a flask of wine and drinks it. Seeing Georg wounded, he takes pity on him and offers him a drink as well. Georg refuses, but both men realize the dispute between them was ultimately pointless. Facing death, they no longer care about such trivial things as a disputed forest. Ulrich even says that if his men arrive, he will ask them to free Georg first.
Georg begins to fantasize out-loud how things would be if he and Ulrich had the opportunity to end their feud and become friends. He imagines them hunting together and feasting at the rich Ulrich’s castle. He states that he is turning his back on hate and he and Ulrich will be friends from here on out. They each reflect on their new understanding, and hope that their men will be the first to arrive so that their allies can lift the tree from the other man.
Soon, the wind dies down and the men decide to call for help together, uniting their voices in a prolonged hunting call. They make noise until they see figures begin to appear over the hill. For a moment, they are united in relief, until Ulrich begins to laugh a terrified laugh as the figures come into view. When Georg asks him who the men are, Ulrich says a final word. “Wolves.” The implication is that they will both soon be devoured by the wild animals, the end to their feud coming too late to help either of them.
Saki was a prolific short-story writer, publishing hundreds of stories and twelve collections during his forty-six years of life. Although his career was cut short by his death, he left many unpublished short stories behind, leading to the publication of sixteen collections posthumously – one as recently as 2010. His short stories have been adapted into radio dramas, television dramas (including an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents), and most notably, British stage productions. He has been cited as a significant influence for iconic British writers such as A.A. Milne and P.G. Wodehouse.
This fablelike story of vendetta and reconciliation begins with a short history of conflict between two families in the Carpathian Mountains of Eastern Europe. Ulrich von Gradwitz, the local nobleman, is patrolling a narrow stretch of scrubby woodland that borders his much larger and more valuable holdings of forestland. The land that he patrols, however, acquires its value in his eyes because it was the subject of a lawsuit between his grandfather and the grandfather of a neighbor, Georg Znaeym, now his archenemy. At the origin of the conflict, each family held that the other claimed the woodland illegally; now, although Ulrich patrols the land as his, Georg regularly hunts its poor woods, simply to indicate his continued claim of rightful possession. What began as a legal battle generations before has become a personal and hate-filled conflict between the two current representatives of the families in the dispute.
On this particular night, both Ulrich and Georg, assisted by their retainers and huntsmen, have come out onto the land. Each comes nominally to defend his claim, but actually to destroy his great enemy by shooting him down in his tracks on the land over which they have disputed for so long. Despite a windstorm that would usually keep the wildlife in secure hiding, many animals are abroad, and Ulrich is sure that this restlessness indicates the presence of his enemy on the slopes.
Straying from his party of retainers and wandering through the woods, Ulrich unexpectedly comes face-to-face with Georg. Each is armed with a rifle, and each intends to use it because no interlopers will interfere, but not without some parting words of vengeance and hatred. Before either can speak, however, a sharp blast of wind tears from the ground the giant beech tree under which they stand, pinning them underneath.
After the impact and first physical shock that leaves them speechless, Ulrich and Georg realize that they are both still alive, and they pick up their conflict in words rather than rifle shots. Each threatens the other with the possibility that his retainers will arrive first, in which case it will be easy for an “accident” to be arranged in which the tree will have apparently crushed the hapless victim, leaving the survivor free of the charge of murder. Their threats made, they relapse into silence and discomfort as they stoically await the arrival of one or the other party of retainers.
After some effort, Ulrich frees an arm and reaches into his pocket for a wine flask that he carries, greatly enjoying the restorative effect of the drink as it warms his body. As he looks across at his enemy, some unaccountable change comes over him. He offers Georg a drink from the flask, which the other is barely able to reach. Under the combined effects of the situation, the shock, and the wine, Ulrich sees the similarity between him and his fellow sufferer, and a sudden transformation alters his old hatred. He tells Georg that, although the other is free to do as he pleases, if Ulrich’s men arrive first, they shall be instructed to free Georg; at first surprised, Georg is then caught up in the change of attitude and makes a similar promise to Ulrich.
Each now awaits his retainers more eagerly than before, but instead of eagerness for vengeance, each feels anxious that he may be the first to demonstrate his magnanimity. Instead of raging at each other, the two now reflect together on the impact that their reconciliation will have on the surrounding countryside—how amazed the other landholders and peasants will be when they see the sworn enemies in the marketplace as friends! The two begin planning the ways in which they will demonstrate their reconciliation by sharing holidays and visits back and forth between their two houses.
During a lull in the wind, Ulrich suggests that they shout together for help. After no response, they call again, and Ulrich thinks that he hears an answering cry. A few minutes pass before Ulrich cries out that he can see figures coming down the hill, and the two shout again to attract the attention of the hunters. In the last few sentences of the story, Georg, anxious to know whose party will arrive first, asks Ulrich if they are his men. The figures are not men but wolves.