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It was a perfect autumn day when Dr. Halasz and I drove northward along the banks of the Danube, which for once was a shimmering, soft blue. Our destination was Visegrad, centuries ago the capital of Hungary and ever since the royal shooting reserve. Today it is used largely by VIPs and officials. Shortly after noon we reached our hunting lodge, built by the present regime in concrete and stone, in a style suggesting a modern Riviera villa. It was furnished in tasteless third-rate modern, not lacking TV. But it was comfortable enough, and the wife of the local gamekeeper turned out to be a superb cook.
I had previously explained to Dr. Halasz that I was more interested in seeing the gamekeepers at work than in shooting, though I would gladly take a crack at any bargain-basement game we chanced upon. The gamekeeper, a bowlegged little man with a walleye—the result of a war wound—suggested I shoot a wild boar. He knew where there was a beauty.
So we set off in the morning in the Haflinger along a narrow forest trail. As we climbed, the track got narrower and muddier, and at spots we were over our axles in clay. But we managed somehow to plow through and eventually reached a hilltop thickly overgrown with young oak and pine. The gamekeeper squinted into the thicket and sniffed.
"They're still here," he announced. "Smell them?" I smelled nothing but didn't say so. We circled the undergrowth, the gamekeeper pausing occasionally for a good sniff. "A herd of yearlings," he finally announced. "Nothing worth shooting." Just how he reached this conclusion was a secret he never divulged.
"Let's go after the big fellow," he said, and set off through the woods to another thicket a mile or so away.
As we crept silently along a well-cleaned path, he turned suddenly and pointed at my boots: "They squeak," he said severely. Whispering, I explained my wife had cleaned them with ordinary shoe wax, and until I could find some badger fat or other suitable grease there was nothing I could do about it.
A hundred yards farther he stopped again and told Dr. Halasz to wait where we were. "Three's a crowd," he said. Then he led me another 200 yards to the edge of a stand of sapling pines and stationed me behind a large oak in a clearing scarcely 20 yards across. Glancing at his watch, he whispered, "In 20 minutes, at five minutes of 5, the big fellow will come out by that beech tree across the glade." It was like a station master announcing the arrival of the Orient Express.
"And when he comes," he said, "don't wait for me to give the word. Just shoot!"
For several minutes we stood motionless. Then he nudged me and tapped his ear. I flipped the safety catch and wiped the front of my telescopic sight, and I, too, heard a twig snap. Suddenly the bushes in front of us parted, and beside the beech tree an enormous boar emerged, its tusks thrust forward. It sniffed the wind and peered about nearsightedly. Its huge head and heavy shoulders and sloping hindquarters looked to me like a big, black grand piano standing on its side.
I jerked my rifle up. It took a split second before I had the boar on the tip of the sight. But it was a split second too long. Catching the movement of the rifle, the grand piano pivoted, leaped into the air and, the last I saw of it, was leaping gracefully over a small pine tree, hind legs waving a derisive goodby. I lowered my rifle, the bullet still in the chamber, and turned cringing to my companion. To me nothing is so humiliating as a gamekeeper's scorn. But he looked at me with his little walleye, smiling, and patted my shoulder.