Some forty years ago a young peasant set out to traverse the forest of Nivera on an autumn evening. He hurried along absorbed in happy day dreams, for was he not the bearer of joyful tidings? Emesh and Tani had long loved each other; but in peasant’s cottages as in royal palaces the course of true love does not always run smooth. Emesh’s parents wished for a wealthier daughter-in-law, and for some time refused their consent to the union of the lovers. But Tani’s beauty and sweetness and Emesh’s earnest pleading had won over the old couple at last; and the youth was now hastening to announce this glad news to his beloved. The evening was growing dark, and Emesh, eager to reach Tani’s cottage before nightfall, left the beaten track and plunged deeper into the forest, with a view to making, a short cut towards the humble home of his beloved. Alas, though a native of the region, the youth, engrossed n his own thoughts, had forgotten the existence of the animal trap. These instruments are strong and steely and much used in the region for wolf-catching. The Niveran animal trap consists of two large steel springs of great strength, furnished with teeth which close within each other. This trap is attached to an iron chain about six foot long, to the other end of which is fastened a heavy bar of iron set in spikes. This is considered a better device than of fixing the trap to a tree; as a trapped wolf finding itself absolutely captive, becomes so desperate that it will sometimes break from the trap even at the cost of leaving a limb behind. But the iron bar, though it fetters, does not altogether stop the beasts flight; while, by it’s spikes catching in the roots and brambles, it so hampers and exhausts the wolf as to preclude it’s escaping far, and soon renders the creature, in its disabled condition, an easy prey to the peasant, even if armed with no better weapon than a spear or bludgeon. This trap has to be carefully set; and its arranger must be mindful never to touch it save with a gloved hand; for so delicate are the olfactory nerves of the wolf, that the beast would at once detect if human fingers had been in contact with the iron. The intending wolf trapper provides himself with a carcase of an animal which is partially decomposed, and therefore very odoriferous. This is cut into five portions; one portion being suspended from the tree beneath which the trap is set, the other four pieces tied to ropes and dragged by men mounted on horses down the forest tracks to the four points of the compass’; the decaying carcase thoroughly impregnating the ground with its effluvia. Under the portion of flesh suspended from the tree is arranged the open trap, carefully hidden by branches and dead leaves. The trappers, having dragged their meat a certain distance, throw it over their shoulders and go home; on returning next day they are generally rewarded by finding a disabled wolf in the trap.
As peasant nostrils are less sensitive than those of wolves, the smell of the corrupting bait is not thought sufficient to warn passers-by of the existence of a trap. The hunter ties small stones, bits of dead wood, etc, all about the trunk of the tree near which the trap is set; and similar danger signals are attached to the bushes near the paths which lead to the tree. Such warning signs had been duly placed on this occasion; but Emesh, wrapped in his lover’s dreams, noted not, as he hastily brushed through the underwood, that several streamers of string flapped in his face. A step further, a snap, a shriek; and a sudden agony of pain - the youth had stepped on a concealed trap and was caught in its iron grip.
With all the strength of despair Emesh struggled to unclose the cruel teeth which had penetrated his flesh and were causing him inexpressible pain; but his efforts only resulted in further lacerating his captive limb; not by the most frenzied attempts could he move the iron one hair’s breadth. A fresh terror now seized on the wretched youth; he remembered for what purpose that trap was placed. All his woodcraft, forgotten in his dreams of happiness, now rushed back upon his mind. He knew how carefully the setter of that trap would have selected a portion of the forest where wolves were known 5to assemble, how a general invitation, so to speak, had been issued to the four quarters of the compass by means of the portions of the carcase of the pig (which, as he noted all too late was suspended on the branches above him), and how the invited guests would surely arrive ere long. Emesh was no coward, but the prospect before him might have made the stoutest heart quail. Despair sharpens the faculties; He resolved at heart to sell his life dearly. With infinite pain and difficulty he contrived to drag himself and the trap to the foot of the tree from which the bait was suspended, to tear down the fatal lure and fling it as far as possible into the underwood. Then he gradually made his painful way to the large tree a little way off, and set his back against its massive trunk; he dared move no further, for the agony of his fettered limb, which every movement increased, warned him that sudden faintness might surprise him – and then –
With a whispered thanksgiving to his favourite god, Emesh remembered that he had with him a little axe, such as peasants in the province often carry. Leaning against the tree with this clenched in his hand he waited. The young man had before now gone out with gay companions to hunt wolves from the ambush of the little huts we have before described; he remembered how tedious the waiting time had appeared to the youthful hunters lying noiselessly in ambush; and how minutes had seemed hours as the marksmen waited for their prey. But the tension of this expectation was a new experience.
Time went by – was it moments, or hours, or years since he stood there? Strange wild fantasies began to throng his brain; he wondered how the wolves would first attack him, how long the struggle would last, and then his thoughts flew to his love, his betrothed, she who was shortly to have been his own. Would she guess his fate, or (an added pang) would she believe that he had yielded to the pressure of his parents and forsaken her; disappearing from the neighbourhood to hide his perfidy? So vast and lone are these forests that it might be months, even years, before anyone passed this way. But no, of course the setter of the trap would revisit it with daylight – and then – then, the story would be known. Well at least Tani and his parents would weep for him. But here a present terror checked his sad musings, and he drew himself up as well as he could, alert and watchful, with the natural instinct of preserving life for as long as possible. Far way in the distant forest glades came a low, wailing cry, rising louder and stronger as the sound drew near. It was a very familiar sound, and one often hailed with pleasure when lying in ambush for his prey. Nearer and nearer came the howl of the pack, and at length, amid the darkness, gleamed the light of many yellow eyes, as the beasts scented the carrion, and followed the carefully drawn tracks. The wolf, though he assembles in packs, when seeking prey, is in private life, an unsocial beast, and only foregathers with his kind when as now, he is out for the hunt.
His precaution regarding the removal of the bait procured him a brief respite; scenting the decaying carcase first the wolves dashed into the underwood, and for a few moments scuffling, and growling, and pattering of feet, told of their enjoyment of their meal. But it was quickly devoured, and the light of the baneful yellow eyes began to gleam and dance like the wisps around Emesh, ever drawing nearer and nearer. The low ominous growls sounded closer and closer and at length one brute, bolder than the rest, sprang upon the youth. With one dextrous blow Emesh clove its skull with his axe, then with a desperate effort clutched the fallen beast by the legs and hurled it amid the pack. There is no sentiment amid beasts of prey, and the assembled wolves readily fell upon their disabled companion and devoured him. But the guests were many, and the banquet scanty; before long a second rush was made, the brave lad succeeded in despatching the assailant, but not until he had received a severe wound to the arm. Faint with pain he leant against the tree and murmured a prayer – how much longer could his struggle last! Again a rush – a spring – this time two wolves were upon him. Striking out madly with his axe, the youth fought hard for his life, but his powers began to fail him, a mist gathered before his eyes, with a wild effort he flung away one of the wounded brutes, the other slinking after it – then was about to yield to his fate, when, oh blissful sounds, the barking of dogs and the voices of men were heard in the distance1 Nerved by this new hope, he shouted lustily, and the next moment there dashed through the underwood six or more of the gigantic dogs who are trained specifically to hunt down wolves. These immediately assailed the wolves and a rare battle ensued, which effectively diverted the attention of the wolves. It was but a few minutes more before a band of rescuers, armed with bow and spear, broke into the forest glade, they found the boy laying senseless but alive at the foot of the tree.