Ulrich von Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym were bitter enemies. In the days of Ulrich’s grandfather, a famous lawsuit had occurred. The bone of contention was a strip of forest land that lay between their two properties. Ulrich’s grandfather had won the case, but the neighbor refused to abide by the decision. Since the days of Ulrich’s grandfather, the Znaeym family hunted in the disputed land, just as if it were still their possession.
During one stormy winter night, Ulrich noticed that something was scaring the roebuck, so he figured that his neighbors were poaching again. He led his foresters to the disputed territory and prepared an ambush. He himself went ahead, hoping to meet Georg face to face. His wish was granted.
The two men gripped their rifles and stood glaring at one another. Since the days of Homer, enemies have often exchanged words before engaging in mortal combat, and it was the intention of Ulrich and Georg to do the same.
An act of God prevented them. The fierce storm caused a beech tree to come crashing down on the two men. Both men were pinned down by the fallen tree and could not free themselves. A few of Ulrich’s bones were fractured. Some twigs had injured his face, so he had to wipe the blood away from his eyes before he could see.
Georg also had serious injuries on his face. He could hardly see anything because of the blood in his eyes. Since his hands were pinned down, he could not wipe it away.
The two men expressed their hostility to one another. Ulrich told Georg that his men would soon come. Georg would then suffer the consequences of poaching on his land.
Georg said that he also had men in the forest. When they arrived, they would roll the trunk of the beech tree on Ulrich and crush him to death.
Ulrich said that Georg had given him a good idea. When his men arrived, they would push the trunk on Georg.
It pleased Georg that they were going to fight it out to the end. One of them would die, and no interlopers could prevent it.
The two men actually knew that it would be a long time before their men came looking for them.
Ulrich managed to reach his wine cask with his one arm that was partially free. He drank a refreshing draft. He began to feel sorry for Georg and offered him some wine, saying: “Let us drink, even if tonight one of us dies.”
In response, Georg said that he would not be able to drink it because he had too much blood in his eyes. He continued with the words: “In any case I don’t drink with an enemy.”
Ulrich and Georg gradually lost their hatred for one another. Ulrich told Georg that it was foolish for them to continue to fight over a strip of land that was practically worthless. He asked Georg to be his friend.
Georg agreed to be Ulrich’s friend. He agreed never to hunt on Ulrich’s land unless he was invited, and suggested that Ulrich could come down to his marsh to shoot wild ducks. He contemplated the surprise people would experience when they saw the two feuding families walking together in amity. They would henceforth be friends, and no interlopers could prevent it.
Each of the two men resolved to do a kindness to his new friend. If his men arrived on the scene first, he would instruct him to free his former enemy before himself.
Ulrich suggested that they call for help. After a while, Ulrich saw some figures coming through the woods. He could not see them distinctly, but there were nine or ten approaching. Georg said that they must be Ulrich’s men because he had only seven with him.
The figures approached at a rapid rate. When they emerged into view, Ulrich was stricken with terror. When Georg again asked who was approaching, Ulrich said” “Wolves.”
In this story, it is easy to understand that the wolves are the interlopers who frustrate the plans of the two men. Some of Saki’s stories are not so transparent.
“The Collected Stories of Saki” by Hector Hugh Munro