The Gradwitz and Znaeym families are long-time enemies. Many years ago the families battled in the courthouse over rights to a strip of land. The Gradwitzes ultimately prevailed though the Znaeyms refused to recognize the court order. Consequently, generations of Znaeyms continued to trespass onto Gradwitz land, claiming they’ve been unjustly dispossessed.
Ulrich Gradwitz and Georg Znaeym inherit this animosity and are born enemies. They feud as boys and war as men. One winter night, Ulrich stands armed in his forest awaiting Georg, his “human enemy,” who he suspects is once again trespassing and hunting on his land (391). Ulrich anxiously awaits the chance to catch his sworn enemy in the act of trespass and punish him accordingly. In pursuit of his target, Ulrich separates form his hunting party to seek out the “prowling thieves” (392). Suddenly Ulrich circles a tree trunk and finds himself face to face with his enemy.
Both men are armed, but neither can bring himself to shoot even a sworn enemy in cold blood without fresh provocation. As the men stare angrily at one another, lightning strikes overhead and causes a large tree to fall. The tree falls on top of both men and traps them.
Blood covers Georg’s eyes and obscures his vision. Ulrich suffers several fractures and groans and curses under the weight of the tree. Hearing Ulrich’s exclamations, Georg rejoices at the downfall of his enemy, though wishes he’d been killed and not merely trapped. Ulrich cautions Georg against voicing his pleasure and reminds Georg that he too is immobilized.
Ulrich also shares that he anticipates his foresters will arrive shortly and punish Georg for poaching on his land. Georg mentions his party of foresters and promises that when they arrive he will have them roll the trunk over Ulrich and leave him for dead. Georg promises to send condolences to Ulrich’s family should he meet such a fate. Ulrich retorts that it will be Georg who meets death and refuses to send Georg’s family condolences because he died in the act of stealing from someone else’s land.
Georg expresses gratitude that they will remain enemies until death “with no cursed interlopers” to interfere (393). He then curses Ulrich and wishes death upon him. Ulrich returns the sentiment.
After considerable effort Ulrich retrieves a flask of wine from his coat pocket. He generously offers some to Georg. Georg stubbornly declines both because he cannot see through the blood to catch the flask and because he refuses to drink with enemies.
Like many of Saki’s short stories, “The Interlopers” includes a frame narrative structure. That is, there is a story within the story. The story embedded within the present story is that of the border dispute between the families of Znaeym and von Gradwitz. In the beginning of the story, Saki recounts the tale of a court battle, public disputes, raids, and embittered relations dating back three generations. This helps to establish the degree of hatred the two men feel toward one another which ultimately leads them into the forest to hunt one another.
Beyond the frame narrative, “The Interlopers” also features another of Saki’s regularly used styles: an omniscient narrator. By employing an omniscient narrator, Saki presents an objective history of the feuding families and frees the reader of the burden of taking sides. Early on then, Saki presents the futility of knowing the "right" or "wrong" side of the feud between the two men. He accomplishes this in part by describing the story of the feud with detached and passive language—the land is “wrested from” one party and given to another. Since the original owners “never acquiesced,” the resulting disagreements ultimately “embittered the relationshi[p]” (391). The omniscient narrator, all-knowing by definition, nevertheless describes the feud with passivity and thus resists choosing sides or signaling to the reader that she should favor one family over the other. This foreshadows that there won’t be a human victor in the story.
The omniscient narrator also exposes the thoughts the two men harbor toward one another. For example, as the story opens, the narrator first reveals that a man (who we later learn is Ulrich) is in the midst of a hunt (391). Almost immediately upon introducing Ulrich and his motive, the omniscient narrator further reveals that Ulrich isn’t searching for any forest animal but rather pursues a “human enemy” (391). Given that there is very little dialogue in the beginning scene as the men wander the forest alone, the omniscient narrator is essential in both revealing the plot of the story and also establishing the suspenseful and perilous tone at the story’s opening.
The main action of Part One occurs once the focus moves away from the family history and onto the present-day hunt. This happens almost instantaneously when, in a single sentence, the two men come face-to-face with one another. The shift is sudden. Just as the reader learns about the generational hate between these two men, they immediately confront one another. However, Saki slows the pace of the plot with a wordy sentence explaining why both men are unable to act. Though both men are armed and prepared to kill the other, neither does so. Instead, a strike of lightning brings a large branch of a beech tree onto them.
This scene surfaces a major theme of the story that continues in Part Two: nature is more powerful than man both in its strength and in its decisiveness. As readers begin to see in Part One, there is a third party to the feud over the land—nature itself—and it views both men as "interlopers" on its land.