The Most Dangerous Game
by Richard Connell
"Off there to the right—somewhere—is a large island," said
Whitney. "It's rather a mystery—"
"What island is it?" Rainsford asked. "The old charts call it
Ship-Trap Island,"' Whitney replied. "A suggestive name, isn't it?
Sailors have a curious dread of the place. I don't know why. Some
"Can't see it," remarked Rainsford, trying to peer through the dank
tropical night that was palpable as it pressed its thick warm blackness
in upon the yacht.
"You've good eyes," said Whitney, with a laugh, "and I've seen you
pick off a moose moving in the brown fall bush at four hundred yards,
but even you can't see four miles or so through a moonless Caribbean
"Nor four yards," admitted Rainsford. "Ugh! It's like moist black
"It will be light enough in Rio," promised Whitney. "We should make
it in a few days. I hope the jaguar guns have come from Purdey's. We
should have some good hunting up the Amazon. Great sport, hunting."
"The best sport in the world," agreed Rainsford.
"For the hunter," amended Whitney. "Not for the jaguar."
"Don't talk rot, Whitney," said Rainsford. "You're a big-game
hunter, not a philosopher.
Who cares how a jaguar feels?"
"Perhaps the jaguar does," observed Whitney.
"Bah! They've no understanding."
"Even so, I rather think they understand one thing—fear. The fear
of pain and the fear of death."
"Nonsense," laughed Rainsford. "This hot weather is making you
soft, Whitney. Be a realist. The world is made up of two classes—the
hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters. Do you think
we've passed that island yet?"
"I can't tell in the dark. I hope so."
"Why? " asked Rainsford.
"The place has a reputation—a bad one."
"Cannibals?" suggested Rainsford.
"Hardly. Even cannibals wouldn't live in such a God-forsaken place.
But it's gotten into sailor lore, somehow. Didn't you notice that the
crew's nerves seemed a bit jumpy today?"
"They were a bit strange, now you mention it. Even Captain
"Yes, even that tough-minded old Swede, who'd go up to the devil
himself and ask him for a light. Those fishy blue eyes held a look I
never saw there before. All I could get out of him was `This place has
an evil name among seafaring men, sir.' Then he said to me, very
gravely, `Don't you feel anything?'—as if the air about us was
actually poisonous. Now, you mustn't laugh when I tell you this—I did
feel something like a sudden chill.
"There was no breeze. The sea was as flat as a plate-glass window.
We were drawing near the island then. What I felt was a—a mental
chill; a sort of sudden dread."
"Pure imagination," said Rainsford.
"One superstitious sailor can taint the whole ship's company with
"Maybe. But sometimes I think sailors have an extra sense that
tells them when they are in danger. Sometimes I think evil is a
tangible thing—with wave lengths, just as sound and light have. An
evil place can, so to speak, broadcast vibrations of evil. Anyhow, I'm
glad we're getting out of this zone. Well, I think I'll turn in now,
"I'm not sleepy," said Rainsford. "I'm going to smoke another pipe
up on the afterdeck."
"Good night, then, Rainsford. See you at breakfast."
"Right. Good night, Whitney."
There was no sound in the night as Rainsford sat there but the
muffled throb of the engine that drove the yacht swiftly through the
darkness, and the swish and ripple of the wash of the propeller.
Rainsford, reclining in a steamer chair, indolently puffed on his
favourite brier. The sensuous drowsiness of the night was on him." It's
so dark," he thought, "that I could sleep without closing my eyes; the
night would be my eyelids—"
An abrupt sound startled him. Off to the right he heard it, and his
ears, expert in such matters, could not be mistaken. Again he heard the
sound, and again. Somewhere, off in the blackness, someone had fired a
gun three times.
Rainsford sprang up and moved quickly to the rail, mystified. He
strained his eyes in the direction from which the reports had come, but
it was like trying to see through a blanket.
He leaped upon the rail and balanced himself there, to get greater
elevation; his pipe, striking a rope, was knocked from his mouth. He
lunged for it; a short, hoarse cry came from his lips as he realised he
had reached too far and had lost his balance. The cry was pinched off
short as the blood-warm waters of the Caribbean Sea dosed over his
He struggled up to the surface and tried to cry out, but the wash
from the speeding yacht slapped him in the face and the salt water in
his open mouth made him gag and strangle. Desperately he struck out
with strong strokes after the receding lights of the yacht, but he
stopped before he had swum fifty feet. A certain coolheadedness had
come to him; it was not the first time he had been in a tight place.
There was a chance that his cries could be heard by someone aboard the
yacht, but that chance was slender and grew more slender as the yacht
raced on. He wrestled himself out of his clothes and shouted with all
The lights of the yacht became faint and ever-vanishing fireflies;
then they were blotted out entirely by the night.
Rainsford remembered the shots. They had come from the right, and
doggedly he swam in that direction, swimming with slow, deliberate
strokes, conserving his strength. For a seemingly endless time he
fought the sea. He began to count his strokes; he could do possibly a
hundred more and then— Rainsford heard a sound. It came out of the
darkness, a high screaming sound, the sound of an animal in an
extremity of anguish and terror.
He did not recognise the animal that made the sound; he did not try
to; with fresh vitality he swam toward the sound. He heard it again;
then it was cut short by another noise, crisp, staccato.
"Pistol shot," muttered Rainsford, swimming on.
Ten minutes of determined effort brought another sound to his ears
- the most welcome he had ever heard—the muttering and growling of
the sea breaking on a rocky shore. He was almost on the rocks before he
saw them; on a night less calm he would have been shattered against
them. With his remaining strength he dragged himself from the swirling
waters. Jagged crags appeared to jut up into the opaqueness; he forced
himself upward, hand over hand. Gasping, his hands raw, he reached a
flat place at the top. Dense jungle came down to the very edge of the
cliffs. What perils that tangle of trees and underbrush might hold for
him did not concern Rainsford just then. All he knew was that he was
safe from his enemy, the sea, and that utter weariness was on him. He
flung himself down at the jungle edge and tumbled headlong into the
deepest sleep of his life.
When he opened his eyes he knew from the position of the sun that
it was late in the afternoon. Sleep had given him new vigour; a sharp
hunger was picking at him. He looked about him, almost cheerfully.
"Where there are pistol shots, there are men. Where there are men,
there is food," he thought. But what kind of men, he wondered, in so
forbidding a place? An unbroken front of snarled and ragged jungle
fringed the shore.
He saw no sign of a trail through the closely knit web of weeds and
trees; it was easier to go along the shore, and Rainsford floundered
along by the water. Not far from where he landed, he stopped.
Some wounded thing—by the evidence, a large animal—had thrashed
about in the underbrush; the jungle weeds were crushed down and the
moss was lacerated; one patch of weeds was stained crimson. A small,
glittering object not far away caught Rainsford's eye and he picked it
up. It was an empty cartridge.
"A twenty-two," he remarked. "That's odd. It must have been a
fairly large animal too.
The hunter had his nerve with him to tackle it with a light gun.
It's clear that the brute put up a fight. I suppose the first three
shots I heard was when the hunter flushed his quarry and wounded it.
The last shot was when he trailed it here and finished it."
He examined the ground closely and found what he had hoped to find
- the print of hunting boots. They pointed along the cliff in the
direction he had been going. Eagerly he hurried along, now slipping on
a rotten log or a loose stone, but making headway; night was beginning
to settle down on the island.
Bleak darkness was blacking out the sea and jungle when Rainsford
sighted the lights. He came upon them as he turned a crook in the coast
line; and his first thought was that be had come upon a village, for
there were many lights. But as he forged along he saw to his great
astonishment that all the lights were in one enormous building—a
lofty structure with pointed towers plunging upward into the gloom. His
eyes made out the shadowy outlines of a palatial chateau; it was set on
a high bluff, and on three sides of it cliffs dived down to where the
sea licked greedy lips in the shadows.
"Mirage," thought Rainsford. But it was no mirage, he found, when
he opened the tall spiked iron gate. The stone steps were real enough;
the massive door with a leering gargoyle for a knocker was real enough;
yet above it all hung an air of unreality.
He lifted the knocker, and it creaked up stiffly, as if it had
never before been used. He let it fall, and it startled him with its
booming loudness. He thought he heard steps within; the door remained
closed. Again Rainsford lifted the heavy knocker, and let it fall. The
door opened then—opened as suddenly as if it were on a spring—and
Rainsford stood blinking in the river of glaring gold light that poured
out. The first thing Rainsford's eyes discerned was the largest man
Rainsford had ever seen—a gigantic creature, solidly made and black
bearded to the waist. In his hand the man held a long-barrelled
revolver, and he was pointing it straight at Rainsford's heart.
Out of the snarl of beard two small eyes regarded Rainsford.
"Don't be alarmed," said Rainsford, with a smile which he hoped was
disarming. "I'm no robber. I fell off a yacht. My name is Sanger
Rainsford of New York City."
The menacing look in the eyes did not change. The revolver pointing
as rigidly as if the giant were a statue. He gave no sign that he
understood Rainsford's words, or that he had even heard them. He was
dressed in uniform—a black uniform trimmed with grey astrakhan.
"I'm Sanger Rainsford of New York," Rainsford began again. "I fell
off a yacht. I am hungry."
The man's only answer was to raise with his thumb the hammer of his
revolver. Then Rainsford saw the man's free hand go to his forehead in
a military salute, and he saw him click his heels together and stand at
attention. Another man was coming down the broad marble steps, an
erect, slender man in evening clothes. He advanced to Rainsford and
held out his hand.
In a cultivated voice marked by a slight accent that gave it added
precision and deliberateness, he said, "It is a very great pleasure and
honour to welcome Mr. Sanger Rainsford, the celebrated hunter, to my
Automatically Rainsford shook the man's hand.
"I've read your book about hunting snow leopards in Tibet, you
see," explained the man.
"I am General Zaroff."
Rainsford's first impression was that the man was singularly
handsome; his second was that there was an original, almost bizarre
quality about the general's face. He was a tall man past middle age,
for his hair was a vivid white; but his thick eyebrows and pointed
military moustache were as black as the night from which Rainsford had
come. His eyes, too, were black and very bright. He had high
cheekbones, a sharpcut nose, a spare, dark face—the face of a man
used to giving orders, the face of an aristocrat. Turning to the giant
in uniform, the general made a sign. The giant put away his pistol,
"Ivan is an incredibly strong fellow," remarked the general, "but
he has the misfortune to be deaf and dumb. A simple fellow, but, I'm
afraid, like all his race, a bit of a savage."
"Is he Russian?"
"He is a Cossack," said the general, and his smile showed red lips
and pointed teeth. "So am I."
"Come," he said, "we shouldn't be chatting here. We can talk later.
Now you want clothes, food, rest. You shall have them. This is a
Ivan had reappeared, and the general spoke to him with lips that
moved but gave forth no sound.
"Follow Ivan, if you please, Mr. Rainsford," said the general. "I
was about to have my dinner when you came. I'll wait for you. You'll
find that my clothes will fit you, I think."
It was to a huge, beam-ceilinged bedroom with a canopied bed big
enough for six men that Rainsford followed the silent giant. Ivan laid
out an evening suit, and Rainsford, as he put it on, noticed that it
came from a London tailor who ordinarily cut and sewed for none below
the rank of duke.
The dining room to which Ivan conducted him was in many ways
remarkable. There was a medieval magnificence about it; it suggested a
baronial hall of feudal times with its oaken panels, its high ceiling,
its vast refectory tables where twoscore men could sit down to eat.
About the hall were mounted heads of many animals—lions, tigers,
elephants, moose, bears; larger or more perfect specimens Rainsford had
never seen. At the great table the general was sitting, alone.
"You'll have a cocktail, Mr. Rainsford," he suggested. The cocktail
was surpassingly good; and, Rainsford noted, the table appointments
were of the finest—the linen, the crystal, the silver, the china.
They were eating borsch, the rich, red soup with whipped cream so
dear to Russian palates. Half apologetically General Zaroff said, "We
do our best to preserve the amenities of civilisation here. Please
forgive any lapses. We are well off the beaten track, you know. Do you
think the champagne has suffered from its long ocean trip?"
"Not in the least," declared Rainsford. He was finding the general
a most thoughtful and affable host, a true cosmopolite. But there was
one small trait of .the general's that made Rainsford uncomfortable.
Whenever he looked up from his plate he found the general studying him,
appraising him narrowly.
"Perhaps," said General Zaroff, "you were surprised that I
recognised your name. You see, I read all books on hunting published in
English, French, and Russian. I have but one passion in my life, Mr.
Rains. ford, and it is the hunt."
"You have some wonderful heads here," said Rainsford as he ate a
particularly well-cooked filet mignon. " That Cape buffalo is the
largest I ever saw."
"Oh, that fellow. Yes, he was a monster."
"Did he charge you?"
"Hurled me against a tree," said the general. "Fractured my skull.
But I got the brute."
"I've always thought," said Rainsford, "that the Cape buffalo is
the most dangerous of all big game."
For a moment the general did not reply; he was smiling his curious
Then he said slowly, "No. You are wrong, sir. The Cape buffalo is
not the most dangerous big game." He sipped his wine. "Here in my
preserve on this island," he said in the same slow tone, "I hunt more
Rainsford expressed his surprise. "Is there big game on this
The general nodded. "The biggest."
"Oh, it isn't here naturally, of course. I have to stock the
"What have you imported, general?" Rainsford asked. "Tigers?"
The general smiled. "No," he said. "Hunting tigers ceased to
interest me some years ago.
I exhausted their possibilities, you see. No thrill left in tigers,
no real danger. I live for danger, Mr. Rainsford."
The general took from his pocket a gold cigarette case and offered
his guest a long black cigarette with a silver tip; it was perfumed and
gave off a smell like incense.
"We will have some capital hunting, you and I," said the general.
"I shall be most glad to have your society."
"But what game—" began Rainsford.
"I'll tell you," said the general. "You will be amused, I know. I
think I may say, in all modesty, that I have done a rare thing. I have
invented a new sensation. May I pour you another glass of port?"
"Thank you, general."
The general filled both glasses, and said, "God makes some men
poets. Some He makes kings, some beggars. Me He made a hunter. My hand
was made for the trigger, my father said. He was a very rich man with a
quarter of a million acres in the Crimea, and he was an ardent
sportsman. When I was only five years old he gave me a little gun,
specially made in Moscow for me, to shoot sparrows with. When I shot
some of his prize turkeys with it, he did not punish me; he
complimented me on my marksmanship. I killed my first bear in the
Caucasus when I was ten. My whole life has been one prolonged hunt. I
went into the army—it was expected of noblemen's sons—and for a
time commanded a division of Cossack cavalry, but my real interest was
always the hunt. I have hunted every kind of game in every land. It
would be impossible for me to tell you how many animals I have killed."
The general puffed at his cigarette.
"After the debacle in Russia I left the country, for it was
imprudent for an officer of the Czar to stay there. Many noble Russians
lost everything. I, luckily, had invested heavily in American
securities, so I shall never have to open a tea-room in Monte Carlo or
drive a taxi in Paris. Naturally, I continued to hunt—grizzliest in
your Rockies, crocodiles in the Ganges, rhinoceroses in East Africa. It
was in Africa that the Cape buffalo hit me and laid me up for six
months. As soon as I recovered I started for the Amazon to hunt
jaguars, for I had heard they were unusually cunning. They weren't."
The Cossack sighed. "They were no match at all for a hunter with his
wits about him, and a high-powered rifle. I was bitterly disappointed.
I was lying in my tent with a splitting headache one night when a
terrible thought pushed its way into my mind. Hunting was beginning to
bore me! And hunting, remember, had been my life. I have heard that in
America businessmen often go to pieces when they give up the business
that has been their life."
"Yes, that's so," said Rainsford.
The general smiled. "I had no wish to go to pieces," he said. "I
must do something. Now, mine is an analytical mind, Mr. Rainsford.
Doubtless that is why I enjoy the problems of the chase."
"No doubt, General Zaroff."
"So," continued the general, "I asked myself why the hunt no longer
fascinated me. You are much younger than I am, Mr. Rainsford, and have
not hunted as much, but you perhaps can guess the answer."
"What was it?"
"Simply this: hunting had ceased to be what you call `a sporting
proposition.' It had become too easy. I always got my quarry. Always.
There is no greater bore than perfection."
The general lit a fresh cigarette.
"No animal had a chance with me any more. That is no boast; it is a
mathematical certainty. The animal had nothing but his legs and his
instinct. Instinct is no match for reason. When I thought of this it
was a tragic moment for me, I can tell you."
Rainsford leaned across the table, absorbed in what his host was
"It came to me as an inspiration what I must do," the general went
"And that was?"
The general smiled the quiet smile of one who has faced an obstacle
and surmounted it with success. "I had to invent a new animal to hunt,"
"A new animal? You're joking." "Not at all," said the general. "I
never joke about hunting. I needed a new animal. I found one. So I
bought this island built this house, and here I do my hunting. The
island is perfect for my purposes—there are jungles with a maze of
traits in them, hills, swamps—"
"But the animal, General Zaroff?"
"Oh," said the general, "it supplies me with the most exciting
hunting in the world. No other hunting compares with it for an instant.
Every day I hunt, and I never grow bored now, for I have a quarry with
which I can match my wits."
Rainsford's bewilderment showed in his face.
"I wanted the ideal animal to hunt," explained the general. "So I
said, `What are the attributes of an ideal quarry?' And the answer was,
of course, `It must have courage, cunning, and, above all, it must be
able to reason."' "But no animal can reason," objected Rainsford.
"My dear fellow," said the general, "there is one that can."
"But you can't mean—" gasped Rainsford.
"And why not?"
"I can't believe you are serious, General Zaroff. This is a grisly
"Why should I not be serious? I am speaking of hunting."
"Hunting? Great Guns, General Zaroff, what you speak of is murder."
The general laughed with entire good nature. He regarded Rainsford
quizzically. "I refuse to believe that so modern and civilised a young
man as you seem to be harbours romantic ideas about the value of human
life. Surely your experiences in the war—"
"Did not make me condone cold-blooded murder," finished Rainsford
Laughter shook the general. "How extraordinarily droll you are!" he
said. "One does not expect nowadays to find a young man of the educated
class, even in America, with such a naive, and, if I may say so,
mid-Victorian point of view. It's like finding a snuffbox in a
limousine. Ah, well, doubtless you had Puritan ancestors. So many
Americans appear to have had. I'll wager you'll forget your notions
when you go hunting with me. You've a genuine new thrill in store for
you, Mr. Rainsford."
"Thank you, I'm a hunter, not a murderer."
"Dear me," said the general, quite unruffled, "again that
unpleasant word. But I think I can show you that your scruples are
quite ill founded."
"Life is for the strong, to be lived by the strong, and, if needs
be, taken by the strong.
The weak of the world were put here to give the strong pleasure. I
am strong. Why should I not use my gift? If I wish to hunt, why should
I not? I hunt the scum of the earth: sailors from tramp ships—
lassars, blacks, Chinese, whites, mongrels—a thoroughbred horse or
hound is worth more than a score of them."
"But they are men," said Rainsford hotly.
"Precisely," said the general. "That is why I use them. It gives me
pleasure. They can reason, after a fashion. So they are dangerous."
"But where do you get them?"
The general's left eyelid fluttered down in a wink. "This island is
called Ship Trap," he answered. "Sometimes an angry god of the high
seas sends them to me. Sometimes, when Providence is not so kind, I
help Providence a bit. Come to the window with me."
Rainsford went to the window and looked out toward the sea.
"Watch! Out there!" exclaimed the general, pointing into the night.
Rainsford's eyes saw only blackness, and then, as the general pressed a
button, far out to sea Rainsford saw the flash of lights.
The general chuckled. "They indicate a channel," he said, "where
there's none; giant rocks with razor edges crouch like a sea monster
with wide-open jaws. They can crush a ship as easily as I crush this
nut." He dropped a walnut on the hardwood floor and brought his heel
grinding down on it. "Oh, yes," he said, casually, as if in answer to a
question, "I have electricity. We try to be civilised here."
"Civilised? And you shoot down men?"
A trace of anger was in the general's black eyes, but it was there
for but a second; and he said, in his most pleasant manner, "Dear me,
what a righteous young man you are! I assure you I do not do the thing
you suggest. That would be barbarous. I treat these visitors with every
consideration. They get plenty of good food and exercise. They get into
splendid physical condition. You shall see for yourself tomorrow."
"What do you mean?"
"We'll visit my training school," smiled the general. "It's in the
cellar. I have about a dozen pupils down there now. They're from the
Spanish bark San Lucar that had the bad luck to go on the rocks out
there. A very inferior lot, I regret to say. Poor specimens and more
accustomed to the deck than to the jungle." He raised his hand, and
Ivan, who served as waiter, brought thick Turkish coffee. Rainsford,
with an effort, held his tongue in check.
"It's a game, you see," pursued the general blandly. "I suggest to
one of them that we go hunting. I give him a supply of food and an
excellent hunting knife. I give him three hours' start. I am to follow,
armed only with a pistol of the smallest calibre and range. If my
quarry eludes me for three whole days, he wins the game. If I find him
"—the general smiled—" he loses."
"Suppose he refuses to be hunted?"
"Oh," said the general, "I give him his option, of course. He need
not play that game if he doesn't wish to. If he does not wish to hunt,
I turn him over to Ivan. Ivan once had the honour of serving as
official knouter to the Great White Czar, and he has his own ideas of
sport. Invariably, Mr. Rainsford, invariably they choose the hunt."
"And if they win?"
The smile on the general's face widened. "To date I have not lost,"
he said. Then he added, hastily: "I don't wish you to think me a
braggart, Mr. Rainsford. Many of them afford only the most elementary
sort of problem. Occasionally I strike a tartar. One almost did win.
I eventually had to use the dogs."
"This way, please. I'll show you."
The general steered Rainsford to a window. The lights from the
windows sent a flickering illumination that made grotesque patterns on
the courtyard below, and Rainsford could see moving about there a dozen
or so huge black shapes; as they turned toward him, their eyes
"A rather good lot, I think," observed the general. "They are let
out at seven every night.
If anyone should try to get into my house—or out of it—
something extremely regrettable would occur to him." He hummed a snatch
of song from the Folies Bergere.
"And now," said the general, "I want to show you my new collection
of heads. Will you come with me to the library?"
"I hope," said Rainsford, "that you will excuse me tonight, General
Zaroff. I'm really not feeling well."
"Ah, indeed?" the general inquired solicitously. "Well, I suppose
that's only natural, after your long swim. You need a good, restful
night's sleep. Tomorrow you'll feel like a new man, I'll wager. Then
we'll hunt, eh? I've one rather promising prospect—" Rainsford was
hurrying from the room.
"Sorry you can't go with me tonight," called the general. "I expect
rather fair sport—a big, strong, black. He looks resourceful—Well,
good night, Mr. Rainsford; I hope you have a good night's rest."
The bed was good, and the pyjamas of the softest silk, and he was
tired in every fibre of his being, but nevertheless Rainsford could not
quiet his brain with the opiate of sleep. He lay, eyes wide open. Once
he thought he heard stealthy steps in the corridor outside his room. He
sought to throw open the door; it would not open. He went to the window
and looked out. His room was high up in one of the towers. The lights
of the chateau were out now, and it was dark and silent; but there was
a fragment of sallow moon, and by its wan light he could see, dimly,
the courtyard. There, weaving in and out in the pattern of shadow, were
black, noiseless forms; the hounds heard him at the window and looked
up, expectantly, with their green eyes. Rainsford went back to the bed
and lay down. By many methods he tried to put himself to sleep. He had
achieved a doze when, just as morning began to come, he heard, far off
in the jungle, the faint report of a pistol.
General Zaroff did not appear until luncheon. He was dressed
faultlessly in the tweeds of a country squire. He was solicitous about
the state of Rainsford's health.
"As for me," sighed the general, "I do not feel so well. I am
worried, Mr. Rainsford. Last night I detected traces of my old
To Rainsford's questioning glance the general said, "Ennui.
Then, taking a second helping of crpes Suzette, the general
explained: "The hunting was not good last night. The fellow lost his
head. He made a straight trail that offered no problems at all. That's
the trouble with these sailors; they have dull brains to begin with,
and they do not know how to get about in the woods. They do excessively
stupid and obvious things. It's most annoying. Will you have another
glass of Chablis, Mr. Rainsford?"
"General," said Rainsford firmly, "I wish to leave this island at
The general raised his thickets of eyebrows; he seemed hurt. "But,
my dear fellow," the general protested, "you've only just come. You've
had no hunting—"
"I wish to go today," said Rainsford. He saw the dead black eyes of
the general on him, studying him. General Zaroff's face suddenly
He filled Rainsford's glass with venerable Chablis from a dusty
"Tonight," said the general, "we will hunt—you and I."
Rainsford shook his head. "No, general," he said. "I will not
The general shrugged his shoulders and delicately ate a hothouse
grape. "As you wish, my friend," he said. "The choice rests entirely
with you. But may I not venture to suggest that you will find my idea
of sport more diverting than Ivan's?"
He nodded toward the corner to where the giant stood, scowling, his
thick arms crossed on his hogshead of chest.
"You don't mean—" cried Rainsford.
"My dear fellow," said the general, "have I not told you I always
mean what I say about hunting? This is really an inspiration. I drink
to a foeman worthy of my steel—at last." The general raised his
glass, but Rainsford sat staring at him.
"You'll find this game worth playing," the general said
enthusiastically." Your brain against mine. Your woodcraft against
mine. Your strength and stamina against mine.
Outdoor chess! And the stake is not without value, eh?"
"And if I win—" began Rainsford huskily.
"I'll cheerfully acknowledge myself defeat if I do not find you by
midnight of the third day," said General Zaroff. "My sloop will place
you on the mainland near a town." The general read what Rainsford was
"Oh, you can trust me," said the Cossack. "I will give you my word
as a gentleman and a sportsman. Of course you, in turn, must agree to
say nothing of your visit here."
"I'll agree to nothing of the kind," said Rainsford.
"Oh," said the general, "in that case—But why discuss that now?
Three days hence we can discuss it over a bottle of Veuve Cliquot,
The general sipped his wine.
Then a businesslike air animated him. "Ivan," he said to Rainsford,
"will supply you with hunting clothes, food, a knife. I suggest you
wear moccasins; they leave a poorer trail. I suggest, too, that you
avoid the big swamp in the southeast corner of the island. We call it
Death Swamp. There's quicksand there. One foolish fellow tried it. The
deplorable part of it was that Lazarus followed him. You can imagine my
feelings, Mr. Rainsford. I loved Lazarus; he was the finest hound in my
pack. Well, I must beg you to excuse me now. I always' take a siesta
after lunch. You'll hardly have time for a nap, I fear. You'll want to
start, no doubt. I shall not follow till dusk. Hunting at night is so
much more exciting than by day, don't you think? Au revoir, Mr.
Rainsford, au revoir." General Zaroff, with a deep, courtly bow,
strolled from the room.
From another door came Ivan. Under one arm he carried khaki hunting
clothes, a haversack of food, a leather sheath containing a long-bladed
hunting knife; his right hand rested on a cocked revolver thrust in the
crimson sash about his waist.
Rainsford had fought his way through the bush for two hours. "I
must keep my nerve. I must keep my nerve," he said through tight teeth.
He had not been entirely clearheaded when the chateau gates snapped
shut behind him.
His whole idea at first was to put distance between himself and
General Zaroff; and, to this end, he had plunged along, spurred on by
the sharp rowers of something very like panic.
Now he had got a grip on himself, had stopped, and was taking stock
of himself and the situation. He saw that straight flight was futile;
inevitably it would bring him face to face with the sea. He was in a
picture with a frame of water, and his operations, clearly, must take
place within that frame.
"I'll give him a trail to follow," muttered Rainsford, and he
struck off from the rude path he had been following into the trackless
wilderness. He executed a series of intricate loops; he doubled on his
trail again and again, recalling all the lore of the fox hunt, and all
the dodges of the fox. Night found him leg-weary, with hands and face
lashed by the branches, on a thickly wooded ridge. He knew it would be
insane to blunder on through the dark, even if he had the strength. His
need for rest was imperative and he thought, "I have played the fox,
now I must play the cat of the fable." A big tree with a thick trunk
and outspread branches was near by, and, taking care to leave not the
slightest mark, he climbed up into the crotch, and, stretching out on
one of the broad limbs, after a fashion, rested. Rest brought him new
confidence and almost a feeling of security. Even so zealous a hunter
as General Zaroff could not trace him there, he told himself; only the
devil himself could follow that complicated trail through the jungle
after dark. But perhaps the general was a devil— An apprehensive night
crawled slowly by like a wounded snake and sleep did not visit
Rainsford, although the silence of a dead world was on the jungle.
Toward morning when a dingy grey was varnishing the sky, the cry of
some startled bird focused Rainsford's attention in that direction.
Something was coming through the bush, coming slowly, carefully, coming
by the same winding way Rainsford had come. He flattened himself down
on the limb and, through a screen of leaves almost as thick as
tapestry, he watched. . . . That which was approaching was a man.
It was General Zaroff. He made his way along with his eyes fixed in
utmost concentration on the ground before him. He paused, almost
beneath the tree, dropped to his knees and studied the ground.
Rainsford's impulse was to hurl himself down like a panther, but he saw
that the general's right hand held something metallic—a small
The hunter shook his head several times, as if he were puzzled.
Then he straightened up and took from his case one of his black
cigarettes; its pungent incenselike smoke floated up to Rainsford's
Rainsford held his breath. The general's eyes had left the ground
and were travelling inch by inch up the tree. Rainsford froze there,
every muscle tensed for a spring. But the sharp eyes of the hunter
stopped before they reached the limb where Rainsford lay; a smile
spread over his brown face. Very deliberately he blew a smoke ring into
the air; then he turned his back on the tree and walked carelessly
away, back along the trail he had come. The swish of the underbrush
against his hunting boots grew fainter and fainter.
The pent-up air burst hotly from Rainsford's lungs. His first
thought made him feel sick and numb. The general could follow a trail
through the woods at night; he could follow an extremely difficult
trail; he must have uncanny powers; only by the merest chance had the
Cossack failed to see his quarry.
Rainsford's second thought was even more terrible. It sent a
shudder of cold horror through his whole being. Why had the general
smiled? Why had he turned back?p
Rainsford did not want to believe what his reason told him was
true, but the truth was as evident as the sun that had by now pushed
through the morning mists. The general was playing with him! The
general was saving him for another day's sport! The Cossack was the
cat; he was the mouse. Then it was that Rainsford knew the full meaning
"I will not lose my nerve. I will not."
He slid down from the tree, and struck off again into the woods.
His face was set and he forced the machinery of his mind to function.
Three hundred yards from his hiding place he stopped where a huge dead
tree leaned precariously on a smaller, living one. Throwing off his
sack of food, Rainsford took his knife from its sheath and began to
work with all his energy.
The job was finished at last, and he threw himself down behind a
fallen log a hundred feet away. He did not have to wait long. The cat
was coming again to play with the mouse.
Following the trail with the sureness of a bloodhound came General
Zaroff. Nothing escaped those searching black eyes, no crushed blade of
grass, no bent twig, no mark, no matter how faint, in the moss. So
intent was the Cossack on his stalking that he was upon the thing
Rainsford had made before he saw it. His foot touched the protruding
bough that was the trigger. Even as he touched it, the general sensed
his danger and leaped back with the agility of an ape. 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. He staggered, but he did not fall; nor did he drop
his revolver. He stood there, rubbing his injured shoulder, and
Rainsford, with fear again gripping his heart, heard the general's
mocking laugh ring through the jungle.
"Rainsford," called the general, "if you are within sound of my
voice, as I suppose you are, let me congratulate you. Not many men know
how to make a Malay mancatcher.
Luckily for me I, too, have hunted in Malacca. You are proving
interesting, Mr. Rainsford. I am going now to have my wound dressed;
it's only a slight one. But I shall be back. I shall be back."
When the general, nursing his bruised shoulder, had gone, Rainsford
took up his flight again. It was flight now, a desperate, hopeless
flight, that carried him on for some hours.
Dusk came, then darkness, and still he pressed on. The ground grew
softer under his moccasins; the vegetation grew ranker, denser; insects
bit him savagely.
Then, as he stepped forward, his foot sank into the ooze. He tried
to wrench it back, but the muck sucked viciously at his foot as if it
were a giant leech. With a violent effort, he tore his feet loose. He
knew where he was now. Death Swamp and its quicksand.
His hands were tight closed as if his nerve were something tangible
that someone in the darkness was trying to tear from his grip. The
softness of the earth had given him an idea.
He stepped back from the quicksand a dozen feet or so and, like
some huge prehistoric beaver, he began to dig.
Rainsford had dug himself in in France when a second's delay meant
death. That had been a placid pastime compared to his digging now. The
pit grew deeper; when it was above his shoulders, he climbed out and
from some hard saplings cut stakes and sharpened them to a fine point.
These stakes he planted in the bottom of the pit with the points
With flying fingers he wove a rough carpet of weeds and branches
and with it he covered the mouth of the pit. Then, wet with sweat and
aching with tiredness, he crouched behind the stump of a
He knew his pursuer was coming; he heard the padding sound of feet
on the soft earth, and the night breeze brought him the perfume of the
general's cigarette. It seemed to Rainsford that the general was coming
with unusual swiftness; he was not feeling his way along, foot by foot.
Rainsford, crouching there, could not see the general, nor could he see
the pit. He lived a year in a minute. Then he felt an impulse to cry
aloud with joy, for he heard the sharp crackle of the breaking branches
as the cover of the pit gave way; he heard the sharp scream of pain as
the pointed stakes found their mark. He leaped up from his place of
concealment. Then he cowered back. Three feet from the pit a man was
standing, with an electric torch in his hand.
"You've done well, Rainsford," the voice of the general called.
"Your Burmese tiger pit has claimed one of my best dogs. Again you
score. I think, Mr. Rainsford, I'll see what you can do against my
whole pack. I'm going home for a rest now. Thank you for a most amusing
At daybreak Rainsford, lying near the swamp, was awakened by a
sound that made him know that he had new things to learn about fear. It
was a distant sound, faint and wavering, but he knew it. It was the
baying of a pack of hounds.
Rainsford knew he could do one of two things. He could stay where
he was and wait.
That was suicide. He could flee. That was postponing the
inevitable. For a moment he stood there, thinking. An idea that held a
wild chance came to him, and, tightening his belt, he headed away from
The baying of the hounds drew nearer, then still nearer, nearer,
ever nearer. On a ridge Rainsford climbed a tree. Down a watercourse,
not a quarter of a mile away, he could see the bush moving. Straining
his eyes, he saw the lean figure of General Zaroff; just ahead of him
Rainsford made out another figure whose wide shoulders surged through
the tall jungle weeds; it was the giant Ivan, and he seemed pulled
forward by some unseen force; Rainsford knew that Ivan must be holding
the pack in leash.
They would be on him any minute now. His mind worked frantically.
He thought of a native trick he had learned in Uganda. He slid down the
tree. He caught hold of a springy young sapling and to it he fastened
his hunting knife, with the blade pointing down the trail; with a bit
of wild grapevine he tied back the sapling. Then he ran for his life.
The hounds raised their voices as they hit the fresh scent. Rainsford
knew now how an animal at bay feels.
He had to stop to get his breath. The baying of the hounds stopped
abruptly, and Rainsford's heart stopped too. They must have reached the
He shinned excitedly up a tree and looked back. His pursuers had
stopped. But the hope that was in Rainsford's brain when he climbed
died, for he saw in the shallow valley that General Zaroff was still on
his feet. But Ivan was not. The knife, driven by the recoil of the
springing tree, had not wholly failed.
Rainsford had hardly tumbled to the ground when the pack took up
the cry again.
"Nerve, nerve, nerve!" he panted, as he dashed along. A blue gap
showed between the trees dead ahead. Ever nearer drew the hounds.
Rainsford forced himself on toward that gap. He reached it. It was the
shore of the sea. Across a cove he could see the gloomy grey stone of
the chateau. Twenty feet below him the sea rumbled and hissed.
He heard the hounds. Then he leaped far out into the sea. . . .
When the general and his pack reached the place by the sea, the
Cossack stopped. For some minutes he stood regarding the blue-green
expanse of water. He shrugged his shoulders. Then be sat down, took a
drink of brandy from a silver flask, lit a cigarette, and hummed a bit
from Madame Butterfly.
General Zaroff had an exceedingly good dinner in his great panelled
dining hall that evening. With it he had a bottle of Pol Roger and half
a bottle of Chambertin. Two slight annoyances kept him from perfect
enjoyment. One was the thought that it would be difficult to replace
Ivan; the other was that his quarry had escaped him; of course, the
American hadn't played the game—so thought the general as he tasted
his after-dinner liqueur. In his library he read, to soothe himself,
from the works of Marcus Aurelius. At ten he went up to his bedroom. He
was deliciously tired, he said to himself, as he locked himself in.
There was a little moonlight, so, before turning on his light, he went
to the window and looked down at the courtyard. He could see the great
hounds, and he called, "Better luck another time," to them. Then he
switched on the light.
A man, who had been hiding in the curtains of the bed, was standing
"Rainsford!" screamed the general. "How in God's name did you get
"Swam," said Rainsford. "I found it quicker than walking through
The general sucked in his breath and smiled. "I congratulate you,"
he said. "You have won the game."
Rainsford did not smile. "I am still a beast at bay," he said, in a
low, hoarse voice. "Get ready, General Zaroff."
The general made one of his deepest bows. "I see," he said.
"Splendid! One of us is to furnish a repast for the hounds. The other
will sleep in this very excellent bed. On guard, Rainsford." . . .
He had never slept in a better bed, Rainsford decided.