The Toys of Peace and Other Stories HTML version

The Interlopers
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