der jager gracchus
And I have lain here ever since the time when, as the hunter Gracchus living in the Foret Noire, I followed a chamois and fell from a precipice. Everything happened in good order. I pursued, I fell, bled to death in a ravine, died, and this ship should have conveyed me to the next world. I can still remember how gladly I stretched myself out on this pallet for the first time. Never did the mountains listen to such songs from me as these shadowy walls did then.
I had been glad to live and I was glad to die. Before I stepped aboard, I joyfully flung away my wretched load of ammunition, my knapsack, my hunting rifle that I had always been proud to carry, and I slipped into my winding sheet like a girl into her marriage dress. I lay and waited. Then came the mishap.
“A terrible fate,” said the Conjuror, while raising his hand defensively. “And you bear no blame for it?”
“None,” said the hunter. “I was a hunter; was there any sin in that? I followed my calling as a hunter in the Foret Noire, where there were still wolves in those days. I lay in ambush, shot, hit my mark, flayed the skins from my victims: was there any sin in that? My labors were blessed. The great hunter of the Foret Noire was the name I was given. Was there any sin in that?”
“I am not called upon to decide that,” said the Conjuror, “but to me also there seems to be no sin in such things. But, then whose is the guilt?”
“The boatman’s,” said the hunter. “Nobody will read what I say here, no one will come to help me; even if all the people were commanded to help me, every door and window would remain shut, everybody would take to bed and draw the bedclothes over his head the whole earth would become an inn for the night. And there is sense in that, for nobody knows of me, and if anyone knew he would not know where I could be found, and if he knew where I could be found, he would not know how to deal with me, he would not know how to help me. The thought of helping me is an illness that has to be cured by taking to one’s bed. “I know that, and so I do not shout to summon help, even though at moments–when I lose control over myself, as I have done just now, for instance–I think seriously of it. But to drive out such thoughts I need only look round me and verify where I am, and–I can safely assert–have been for hundreds of years.” “Extraordinary,” said the Conjuror, “extraordinary. –And now do you think of staying here in Riva with us?”
“I think not,” said the hunter with a smile, and, to excuse himself, he laid his hand on the Conjuror’s knee. “I am here, more than that I do not know, further than that I cannot go. My ship has no rudder, and it is driven by the wind that blows in the undermost regions of death.”