A Malay mancatcher is made from a dead tree resting on a living one.
In this story, Rainsford finds himself accidentally trapped on an island with a homicidal maniac, General Zaroff. Zaroff got bored with hunting animals and decided that hunting humans is more fun. He made his home on this island, mostly using sailors as his prey. Even they were getting boring, however, so he was very excited when Rainsford showed up. Rainsford was not interested in playing his game as a fellow hunter, so he became prey.
At this point in the story, Rainsford is alone in the forest trying to evade capture and death by Zaroff. He is also trying not to lose his nerve. Rainsford is a talented hunter himself, having been to many countries and written several books. He sees something that gives him an idea, “a huge dead tree leaned precariously on a smaller, living one.” This gives him the idea to make a Malay mancatcher. He thinks that if he can capture or kill Zaroff, he can save himself. He gets to work and sets the trap.
Rainsford waits, and Zaroff comes. His foot touches the trigger, a “protruding bough” and he leaps back because he senses danger.
But he was not quite quick enough; the dead tree, delicately adjusted to rest on the cut living one, crashed down and struck the general a glancing blow on the shoulder as it fell; but for his alertness, he must have been smashed beneath it.
The general escapes, just in time. He is impressed, and congratulates Rainsford. He does not know exactly where he is, but he knows that he is nearby watching. Then he leaves. The trap has earned Rainsford some peace for the rest of the day, while Zaroff leaves to get his wound dressed.
Zaroff’s reaction to the trap is interesting. He is almost happy, because he feels he has met a worthy ally. He salutes Rainsford. He also demonstrates his own cunning, because he has been to Malacca and seen the trap before. It shows that as clever as Rainsford is, Zaroff is not going to be easy to evade. It also shows that Zaroff is more than just a killer. He really does enjoy sport for sport’s sake.