Halasz looked at
me, dismayed. The coachman swore. Only the warden seemed to understand my
bewildered, questioning look. Why had he offered me a stag far beyond my limit?
And why had he consented to my shooting a champion long after the season for
capital stags closed?
His voice was
still choked when he finally answered the questions: "He was the greatest
we've had here, and you are our first American guest. I couldn't deny you the
I thanked him,
and silently I thanked the coachman—his mention of Mercedes-Benz had just saved
me a good many thousand dollars.
As we drove home
in silence I began to understand Herr Ohlig's passion. And that evening as we
reviewed the great moment, Dr. Halasz reproachfully intimated that I had
deliberately refused an honor given to few. It was as though I had rejected a
Croix de Guerre.
The warden was
more understanding. "Trophies aren't everything," he said. "We all
have our limits. And, as for me, I never regret it when I see a beast like that
go free in my forest." And then he began to talk of some of the trophy
hunters who had come to his reserve from Germany and France. Most of them, he
said, were good sportsmen and excellent hunters. "There's only one type I
resent—the competers. The moment they arrive they announce they are interested
in nothing less than an 18- or 19-pound antler. Invariably, it turns out that
their neighbor or business competitor has just brought back from Hungary or
Yugoslavia a stag with antlers weighing 16 or 17 pounds, so they can't go home
with anything less." He wagged his head scornfully. "That's got nothing
to do with sport."
readiness to pay small fortunes for a moment's thrill springs from a compelling
urge, which particularly exists among the newly rich, to emulate their seniors
in the industrial hierarchy—the Krupps and Siemens and Thyssens. Throughout
their climb to wealth and power, the self-made men have gazed with envy at the
great antlers adorning the mantels of the pseudo-Gothic castles of the original
tycoons. They believe that, until they can similarly adorn the mantels of their
new villas in the Ruhr, they have not really reached the top. And when one
brings home a silver-medal trophy, his competitors cannot rest until they have
shot—or bought—a gold medal.
But they are not
all that way, the warden hastened to add. The best hunters are usually the
poorest. They are apt to spend as much effort and energy stalking a beast
within their limited means as the very rich do with the cream of the crop.
Back in Budapest
when I settled my account with MAVAD, I found the total cost of my three days'
hunting to be just $29.75. I wonder whether any wealthy tycoon had enjoyed
My next stop was
to be Bucharest. In my son's school atlas, which was all I had when I planned
my trip, Bucharest looks like a hop, skip and jump from Budapest, but from the
driver's seat of my 40-mph jeep it seemed halfway to the moon.
When I finally
reached their capital, after dodging gypsy carts and slithering about on
oil-slick highways, the Rumanians greeted me even more warmly than had the
Hungarians and Czechs.