THE HUNTER HIRES OUT AS POACHER
He asked the young man, before he promised him quarters, whether he was a lover of hunting, as his green suit, gun and hunting-bag seemed to indicate. The latter replied that, as far back as he could remember, he had always had a passion amounting to real madness for deer-shooting; in saying which, to be sure, he concealed the fact that, with the exception of a sparrow, a crow, and a cat, no creature of God had ever fallen victim to his powder and lead. This was in reality the case. He could not live without firing a few times a day at something, but he regularly missed his aim; in his eighteenth year he had killed a sparrow, in his twentieth a crow, and in his twenty-fourth a cat. And that was all.
After the Justice had received his guest’s affirmative answer, he came out with his proposition, which was, namely, that the Hunter should every day lie out in the fields a few hours and keep off the wild animals, which were causing a great deal of injury to his corn fields, especially those lying on the slope at the foot of the hills.
“Yonder in the mountains,” said the old peasant, “the noblemen have their great hunting-ranges. The creatures have already in past years eaten up and trampled down enough of my crops, but this is the first year that it has become serious. The reason is, that the young count over there is an ardent hunter and has enlarged his stock of game, so that his stags and roes come out of the forest like sheep and completely ruin the product of my toil and sweat. I myself do not understand the business, and I don’t like to turn it over to my men because it gives them an easy chance, under the pretext of lying in wait, to become disorderly. Consequently the beasts have now and then worked enough havoc to make a man’s heart ache. Your coming now is, therefore, very opportune, and if for these two weeks before harvest you will keep the creatures out of my corn for me, we’ll call that payment for your room and board.”
“What? I a poacher? I a game thief?” cried the man, and he laughed so loudly and heartily that the Justice could not help joining in. Still laughing, the latter ran his hand over the fine cloth of which his guest’s clothing was made.
“That is just why I want you to do it,” he said, “because with you there will be no particular danger even if you are caught. You will know how to get yourself out of it better than one of these poor farm laborers. Flies get caught in a cobweb, but wasps flit straight through them. But what kind of a crime is it anyway to protect your own property against monsters that eat it up and ruin it?” he cried, the laugh on his face suddenly changing into an expression of the most fervent anger. The veins in his brow swelled up, the blood in his cheeks turned deep crimson, and the whites of his eyes became bloodshot; one might have taken fright at the sight of the old man.