In an area near the Ukraine, Ulrich von Gradwitz ventures out on a windy night to find his loathed enemy; in fact, his foresters are watching the forest for prowling thieves suspected of having crossed the land boundary. There has been a longstanding feud between the family of Gradwitz and that of Georg Znaeym. As Ulrich strays away from the others of his group, he wishes that he could find his foe alone on this night. This is the wish that fills his thoughts. Suddenly, then, he is face to face with Georg Zaeym.
However, in the split seconds that the two gentlemen hesitate before letting their primal urges takeover, "a deed of Nature’s own violence overwhelmed them both" and lightning strikes a tree, causing a huge branch to come crashing upon them, and they are pinioned under the branches; neither can touch the other. However, each man has workers of his who should come looking for them in a few minutes, so they taunt each other.
“Good,” snarled Georg, “good. We fight this quarrel out to the death, you and I and our foresters, with no cursed interlopers to come between us. Death and damnation to you, Ulrich von Gradwitz.” “The same to you, Georg Znaeym, forest thief, game snatcher.”
Here are the obstacles that are in the way of their revenge upon each other:
- A "code of restraining civilization" has prevented them from instantly shooting each other.
- The storm causes huge ash tree branch to split and fall upon them both, pinning their limbs so that they still cannot do anything to each other.
- Both have men in the area, but they have each been given instructions not to search for the men for several minutes.
- It is a matter of chance whose men will come first.
- Placed in a life-and-death situation, Ulrich's perspective begins to change. "In the pain and languor that Ulrich himself was feeling, the old fierce hatred seemed to be dying down."
- Von Gradwitz, too, has a change of heart. "I have changed my mind about things too, this last half-hour. And you offered me your wine flask. . . . Ulrich von Gradwitz, I will be your friend."
- Neither of their groups of men appears before another group--wolves.