What, Hunter Gracchus, have you been sailing in this old boat for centuries?"
"Fifteen hundred years by now."
"And always in this same ship?"
"In this same bark. Bark, I believe, is the right word. You're not familiar with nautical matters, are you?"
"No. Today's the first time I've ever taken any interest in them--only since I know about you, since I boarded your ship."
"No apologies necessary. I come from inland too. I was no seafarer, and never wanted to be one. The mountains and woods used to be my friends, and now:--oldest of seafarers, Hunter Gracchus, patron deity of sailors, Hunter Gracchus, to whom cabin boys pray, wringing their hands, when frightened in crow's nests on stormy nights. Don't laugh."
"Why should I laugh? No, not at all. I stood at the door of your cabin with beating heart, and with beating heart I entered it. Your friendly manner makes me feel a little calmer, but I shall never forget whose guest I am."
"You're right, of course. Come what may, I'm Hunter Gracchus. Don't you want to taste some of this wine? I don't know the brand, but it's sweet and heavy--the boss takes good care of me."
"Not just now, thanks, I feel too restless. Maybe later, if you allow me to stay that long. Besides, I don't dare drink out of your glass. Who is the boss?"
"The owner of the bark. These bosses are certainly remarkable people. Only I don't understand them. I don't mean their language--although, of course, I often don't understand their language either. But that's beside the point--I've learned enough languages in the course of the centuries and could act as an interpreter between the present generation and its ancestors. But what I don't understand is the thought processes of the bosses. Perhaps you can explain them to me."
"I'm not very hopeful of that. How can I explain anything to you, when I'm not even a babbling infant in comparison?"
"That's not so, once and for all that's not so. You would be doing me a favor if you spoke up with a little more manliness, with a little more self-assurance. What good is it having a shadow for a guest? I'd blow him through the hatchway into the lake. I'm in need of a variety of explanations. You, who run around outside, can give them to me. But if you want to tremble here at my table and deceive yourself into forgetting what little you do know, why, you can get out immediately. I mean exactly what I say."
"There's something in what you say. Really, I am superior to you in many ways. So I'll try to control myself. Ask on!"
"That's better, much better. Now you're straining too far in the opposite direction and imagining that you're superior in some sorts of ways. But you must understand me correctly. I'm a human being like you, only more impatient by the few centuries by which I'm older. So let us talk about bosses. Pay attention! Drink some wine to sharpen your wits. Don't be timid. Drink up. There's a big cargo of it still left."
"This wine is excellent, Gracchus. May your boss be happy."
"A pity that he died today. He was a good man, and he went peacefully. His healthy, grown children stood around his deathbed, his wife lay fainting at its foot; his last thought, however, was for me. A good man, a Hamburger."
"Good God, a Hamburger, and here in the South you know that he died today?"
"What? Why shouldn't I know it when my boss dies? But really, you are quite simple-minded."
"Are you trying to insult me?"
"No, not at all, I'm doing so against my will. But you shouldn't be so amazed and you should drink more wine. As for bosses, the situation is as follows: Originally the bark belonged to no one."
"Gracchus, a request. First tell me briefly but coherently how things are with you. To tell the truth I actually don't know. Naturally, you take it all for granted and assume, as is your habit, that the whole world knows everything. But in this short human life of ours--life really is short, Gracchus, try to conceive of that for yourself-one has one's hands full trying to make something of oneself and one's family. As interesting as Gracchus the Hunter is-and that's conviction on my part, not servile flattery-one has no time to think about him, to find out about him, not to mention going to any trouble about him. Perhaps on the deathbed like your Hamburger--but I don't know. There perhaps a busy man has his first chance to take time to stretch out, and then Gracchus the green hunter may at last stray into his idle thoughts. But otherwise it s the way I've said. I knew nothing about you. Business brought me here to the harbor, I saw the bark, the gang-plank was down, I crossed it-- But now I'd like very much to know something coherent about you."
"Ah, coherent. The old, old stories. All the books are full of it; teachers draw it on the blackboards in every school; mothers dream about it while babies drink at their breasts; it's whispered in embraces; merchants tell it to their customers, their customers tell it to merchants, soldiers sing it on the march; preachers shout it in church; in their studies historians see with open mouths that which happened long ago, and describe it unceasingly; it's printed in newspapers and people pass it from hand to hand; the telegraph was invented so that it could circle the earth faster; it's excavated from buried cities, and elevators speed to the tops of skyscrapers with it. Railroad passengers announce it from train windows to the regions they travel through, but previously savages howled it at them-- it can be read in the stars, and lakes carry its refection; brooks bring it from the mountains, and you sit here man, and ask me for coherence. You must have spent an exceptionally wasteful youth."
"Possibly, as is characteristic of all youth. But it would be very useful to you, I believe, if you once looked around m the world a bit. As peculiar as it may seem to you--and sitting here, I almost marvel at it myself--nevertheless it's true that you are not the subject of talk in the cities; no matter how many things get talked about, you're not among them. The world goes its way and you make your journeys, but not until today did I ever notice that they crossed each other."
"My dear fellow, that's what you have noticed. Other people have noticed other things. At this point there are only two possibilities. Either you are keeping quiet about what you know about me and in doing that have some definite purpose in mind. In that case I can tell you quite frankly: you're on the wrong track. Or else you really believe that you can't remember anything about me because you've confused my story with someone else's. In that case all I can tell you is: I am--no, I can't, everybody knows it, and why should I be the one to tell you! It was all so long ago. Ask the historians! In their studies they see with open mouths that which happened long ago, and describe it unceasingly. Go to them and then come back. It was all so long ago. How can I be expected to keep it all inside this overcrowded brain?"
"Wait, Gracchus, I'll make it easier for you. I'll ask you questions. Where did you come from?"
"From the Black Forest, as is universally known."
"Naturally, from the Black Forest. And you did some hunting there in the fourth century?"
"Man, do you know the Black Forest?"
"Really, you don't know anything. The helmsman's little child knows as much as you, probably much more. Who on earth sent you here? It was fate. Actually, your obtrusive modesty was only too well justified. You are a nullity that I am filling up with wine. So you don't even know the Black Forest. And I was born there. Until my twenty-fifth year I hunted there. Had the chamois not led me on-so now you know it-I would have had a long and beautiful hunter's life. But the chamois led me on, I fell and was killed on the rocks. Do not ask any more. Here I am, dead, dead, dead. I don't know why I'm here. At that time I was laid on board the ferry of death, as was fitting for a dead man. The three or four businesses were done about me, as with everybody else-why make an exception of the Hunter Gracchus? Everything was in order, outstretched I lay in the boat."