Standing before a desk in his New York garment district office, Benjamin Schur daily wages his button-manufacturing business with his two fists, a telephone in each. The button game is fiercely competitive, but Schur enjoys it; he bellows into each phone all day long in high good humor. But when he closes his office door each afternoon, he locks in his business. An hour away, in his pink stucco house in Scarsdale, the hard-driving button king becomes a fond, relaxed family man, albeit—in recent weeks—a slightly bewildered one. "I wonder where we'll put all the trophies," is one of Benjamin Schur's most frequent sayings these days.
The reference is to the heads and hides brought home from a two-and-a-half-month safari in Africa last summer—not by Mr. Schur himself, but by his-son and male heir Harvey, 15, a student at Scarsdale High, who traveled all the 5,900 miles alone, hunted on the plains of Angola with professional meat killers and returned triumphantly to Scarsdale with tales of adventure that would make a small volume by some present-day Henty.
"That Harvey," said Benjamin Schur affectionately, "for him, there's nothing but hunting, fishing, fishing and hunting. The wide open spaces, the wider the better. You know where he is this afternoon? He's in New York now, at a movie on Africa."
"It's his life," said Mrs. Schur, sitting on a coral-pink sofa off to one side, a little behind her husband. "Believe me, you can't get him interested in anything else. All he wants to do is hunt and fish—and is he determined!"
January 9, 1956
"I never killed an animal myself," Benjamin Schur said, "because I never saw one. I'm no hunter. But Harvey, it must be in his blood. In 1947, when he's 6—"
"Seven," said Mrs. Schur.
"Whatever he was, a friend of mine and I, we took him along deer hunting in Sullivan County. What happens? We're tired. We go back to the cabin and lie down. Harvey, he's still walkin' around all over the place."
"Don't forget Frank Kesicke," said Mrs. Schur.
"I'm not forgetting Frank Kesicke," Benjamin Schur said, inclining his head toward his prompter. "This Frank Kesicke, he's a retired police captain; he's got a farm near Rhinebeck, New York. He's a good friend of mine. I used to let Harvey go up there weekends by himself up 'til he was about 11-Frank taught him to shoot, handle guns, take care of himself, like, out in the woods. He said to me, 'Ben, the kid's got a natural marksman's eye.' I said, 'How much does that mean he's got in the bank?' " Benjamin Schur winked and lighted one of the Portuguese cigars Harvey had brought him from Angola. "When he was 11—"
"Twelve, then. We let him go up to a camp in Maine deer hunting on his Thanksgiving vacation off from school.
"So he got his first deer up there. You never saw such a proud kid."
Mrs. Schur remarked that she had been worried about the trip.
"Worried," said her husband. "I said, 'What's to worry about? He's going to make his bar mitzvah, isn't he? He's coming into manhood. Rita,' I said, 'don't worry. Let him go.' "
"As soon as he was back with the deer," said Benjamin Schur, "he got the Kodiak bear bug."
"It was the magazines," his wife interjected.
"The magazines," the father agreed. "He saw an ad, and he started pestering me to let him go up to Kodiak Island. I thought, why shouldn't he have the fun? I worked hard when I was a kid.
"So he went all the way up to Terror Bay, by himself. When they saw he was a boy, they didn't want him to go out. But they saw the way he handled a gun, and they said O.K."
"Also," said the mother, attempting an impersonal observation which did not altogether conceal her pride, "Harvey is big for his age."
"Five feet 8½," said Benjamin Schur. "About 180." He puffed his cigar contemplatively. "He got his bear the third day out. Then he got a seal."
"Oh," breathed Mrs. Schur, "what a beautiful sealskin he brought back!"
"Next," said Benjamin Schur, "he started talkin' Africa. Africa, Africa—that was all I heard. I said to him, I said, 'Harvey, maybe we'll go to Africa in 1956 if business is O.K.' Did that keep him quiet?"
"Not him," said Mrs. Schur.
"He was over at the taxidermist in Mount Vernon, seeing about his bear head," said Benjamin Schur, "when he ran into this fellow George Hott, a Miami fellow, travels a lot; he'd been out to Africa in 1945, he was going again. He said he would take Harvey along or meet him there. I checked into him. He was a trustworthy fellow. His wife was going along. They were going out to Angola to visit a missionary they knew, Everett Jewell."
"From then on until it was time to go," said Mrs. Schur, "there was hardly any living with Harvey. He couldn't wait. He was half-crazy with excitement. All he did was read up on Angola. You never saw a kid so excited in your—" She stopped abruptly when the subject, as though on cue, came precipitously through the pink front door.
Harvey Schur's softly boyish face, with round, almost pudgy cheeks and the brown curly hair above it, looked incongruous atop his brawny body. He was attired in khaki pants and a khaki shirt, both of which he had worn in Africa. He moved with a springy clumsiness, like a young beast that, having achieved nearly full growth, has not quite learned to manage it. Speaking, he mamboed from foot to foot, letting his shy, breathless sentences fly like buckshot; sitting and listening, he stared at his fidgeting, unresting hands in something close to wonder, as though he had grown them only a moment before. He seemed impatiently expectant, as though he were both wishing to get this conversation over with and at the same time hoping that, miraculously, some magician from the comic books he habitually reads would appear, sweep away those coral-and-ebony pieces, those subtly indirect lights and those marbleized tabletops and plant in their stead the tangled, sunburnt bush and the sweeping vistas of his recently beloved Angola. Yet he was enough his practical father's son to know that the dream's existence was at once its denial; and so he sat with the adults exercising that tolerance which being a boy sometimes demands.
"So how was the African movie?" his father asked.
"Swell," he said, his bright eyes instantly making clear that anything that had anything to do with hunting was, so to speak, his meat.
"Harvey," said his mother, "are you hungry? Show your room, please."
"Not hungry," he said, and stood up gladly, leading the way to his bedroom. It was a warm, paneled cubicle. A bright primitive spread covered the bed, which was placed so that the instant Harvey Schur, the boy hunter, opened his eyes in the mornings he would be confronted by the scowling, ferocious, terrifyingly lifelike head of the Kodiak bear he had killed. A few feet away was the head of Harvey's Maine deer, hanging in a darker corner as if seeking protection there from the Kodiak. The deer's feet supported the lamp on Harvey's bureau. A hassock was covered with his sealskin. On the wall to the left of his bed was a rack of shotguns and rifles, with the wide-brimmed hunter's hat he had bought in Angola hanging from one of the hooks.
Entering the room (and stumbling slightly over the threshold), Harvey went immediately to the television set on the table to the right of his bed, switching it on absently in the conditioned reflex of a child of the '50s. For the next 10 minutes or more, while recounting his African trip, he kept shooting glances at the Grade-Z melodrama on the screen, as if the violence there could somehow transmit to him strength for the ordeal of narration.
GOT LEOPARD FIRST DAY
"Do you want to see some of the pictures?" he asked, bending to the desk beneath the malevolent Kodiak. "You can look through these," he said, handing over a box of slides and a small viewer. He turned toward the television set, where four rough-looking men were scuffling with a disheveled fifth. He took his eyes from the screen reluctantly to gaze at one transparency.
"That's my leopard," he said, his voice taking on shades of interest and excitement. "I got him the first day. When I got to Nova Lisboa, the Hotts hadn't arrived yet. Their friends, the Jewells, the missionaries, had a room fixed up for me, and for a couple days I just went around Nova Lisboa looking at the sights. I was wishing I could get out and see some animals, but all I saw was dogs. One day Mr. Jewell took me down to a general store there and I got my gun—1075 X-68, FN Belgian. It was the biggest gun they had there.
"The Hotts got there a couple days later. We finally started out for Cuchi [a town about 250 miles north of Nova Lisboa] with the Jewells and two native cooks and Senhor Beltran, a hotelkeeper who was going to be our guide.
"The country was different than I'd expected. It was like plains—savannas, they call them—more like our western plains than like the African jungle I'd expected. They told me that jungle is only in the Belgian Congo, where the gorillas and snakes are. But this was flat country, with a lot of scrubby bushes running for miles and clumps of trees here and there.
"Right away, we had an accident. Mr. Hott was thrown from the car and cracked some ribs—but we continued."
KILLS VILLAGE MARAUDER
"All that day we saw a lot of game far out on the plains. It was a big thrill to see the antelope out there, running wild, just like in the movies. I could hardly believe I was really there and seeing it all. And I was anxious to try my new gun, but all that game was too far off for me to get a shot."
Benjamin Schur had come into the bedroom, followed at a pace or two by his wife. The father stood listening to his boy's recital with a mixture of amazement and humor. "Wasn't that first day the day you shot the leopard, Harvey?"
"I'm tellin' about the leopard," Harvey said, tearing his eyes away from the television screen. "It was toward evening, we were riding along, and all of a sudden Mr. Hott pointed and said, 'There's your leopard, Harvey.' The minute I heard him I saw the leopard's eyes shining—like diamonds, only green. He was there at the side of the road, crouched there waiting. He was waiting for a native, we found out later—he'd already mauled several natives around there, including the Chefe do Posto at Cuchi.
"When Mr. Hott stopped the truck, I jumped right down. I raised my gun and took aim and bang! Then I started to run toward him because I didn't want to lose him. Behind me they were yelling for me to watch out, but I couldn't stop—I had to see if I'd bagged him. Ten yards away from him I stopped and picked up a big rock, and I threw it at him and kept my gun ready in case he came after me. But he didn't move a bit, so I went up and looked at him and saw my first shot had got him right under the left eye."
"He's giving the skin to his sister for a coat," Mrs. Schur said.
"Not that skin," said Harvey. "One we got later. That one wasn't much good. The leopard was very skinny—he'd been hungry, and he'd been trying to raid the Bantu villages around there."
Now he riffled through a small pile of transparencies, most of which showed him posing with various heads and sets of antlers. "From Cuchi we went to camp about 50 miles away," he said. "Antonio took us there—Antonio Ferreira, he was our guide that trip. We stayed six days, hunting antelope on the plains—lechwe and a kind that they call bambi out there.
"The second day in that camp, I got this," Harvey said, handing over a color slide of a huge wild boar. "A pair of those warthogs jumped up ahead of us, running hard as they could. They were about 300 yards away. I didn't have any bullets for my gun right then, so Mr. Jewell gave me his Springfield. It's hard for me to hit a moving target with a telescope sight, so I missed. Antonio shot and he missed, too. On my fourth shot I was lucky—I got the boar just as he was making a dive for the bushes. He was a big one—300 pounds and two sets of warts. I brought his head back home with me."
"Where we'll put those heads, I don't know," said Benjamin Schur again.
The excitement of reliving his adventure seemed finally to have drawn Harvey's attention from the television.
"I got a roan antelope as we were going back to Nova Lisboa after that camp," Harvey said. "The roan is one of the biggest antelopes, one of the hardest to kill. He can be dangerous, I found out later. This one was standing in the road about 75 yards ahead. When I shot him he gave a big tremendous jump, and I was sure I'd missed. I didn't—I got him right through the heart. He weighed over 500 pounds—boy, was he big! I'd never thought I'd get an antelope that big. We had a heck of a time loading him on the truck. When we all finally got him heaved up there, the tires started to blow out, one by one. We had to wait for a ride back in to Nova Lisboa. That roan was the best-tasting meat I ever ate. Much better than steak. AH that game is better than steak, if you ask me."
"Give me a steak any time," said Benjamin Schur.
"The Hotts and I stayed around Nova Lisboa about a week and then went to the second camp, also nearer Cuchi but about 60 miles south," Harvey said, still gazing at the screen. "Mr. Hott still wasn't feeling so good, but he said I could go out with Senhor Alfredo—Antonio's brother—and Senhor Bert√£o. They're meat hunters for the railroad that runs across Angola. They shoot meat and sell it to the railroad and the railroad gives it to the native gangs along the tracks. Every day we went out after roan, waterbuck, kudu, bambi or reedbuck. We'd go in the jeep, one driving and the other two watching. When we saw a herd we would go as fast as we could until we got close enough to make a shot, but those antelope were all very fast. We never stayed on the roads—we went across country in the jeep. Roads! Those roads aren't roads—they're just trails. In the whole time we were there, the Hotts and I broke 22 springs in our vehicles and blew out about a dozen tires.
"There were always lobos around that camp," the young Nimrod went on, speaking more quickly. "Lobos, they called them—big black wolves. They weigh about 100 pounds out there, and are so fierce even lions are scared of them. One night we roped two big skins over a load of meat on the ground, and the lobos came right into camp while we were all asleep and dragged it away. Next day we found the rope about a mile down the plains, chewed to pieces."
WAITING FOR LION
"After we'd been at that camp for a while, a native came in and said that two lions were raiding a native settlement about 20 miles off. They wanted to know if we would come and get rid of them. It was a rough trip—it took us over four hours—and when we got there we found the natives really scared. The lions had been coming right into the village in the broad daylight, and they'd killed a donkey, four goats and a pig. We waited for them a whole afternoon. I was hoping like crazy they'd come, but they never did. They were too smart.
"Later we went back and spent three whole days hanging around, but they still didn't come. I never did get a lion. I didn't even see one, but one night I did hear one roaring near camp. It was a long, loud howl, and when it came the natives jumped up and began jabbering. It sort of went all through you and seemed to shake the ground. I wasn't scared, but it made me feel funny."
"Were you scared?" his father prodded. "You must have been a little scared."
"I was not," said the boy stoutly. "Not then. Later on...."
"When was that?"
"The second leopard."
"So come on, tell," said his father.
"Harvey," said his mother, "turn off the television, please."
"Aw," said the hunter, "all right." He trundled his body (tripping once as he got to his feet) across the room to the set and switched it off.
"Now, the leopard," said Benjamin Schur.
"It was the third time out," Harvey said. "Mr. Hott was still feeling sort of lousy, so when the time came for us to break up the second camp he got the white hunters to take me with them. We went on to a camp about 50 miles away. Now I really felt like I was on my own. The hunters couldn't speak English. I couldn't speak Portuguese. We used sign language, like Indians. It was fun." His face grew suddenly somber and wistful, as though he were secretly contrasting this loathsome civilized situation, with its necessity for language, with the simple, silent life he and his hunter friends had endured on the savannas.
"The leopard, Harvey," said Benjamin Schur.
"I'm getting to that, for cripesake," Harvey said. "One day we saw about 10 waterbuck up in the bush about 500 yards away. We started for them in the jeep as fast as it would go, and within 50 yards we started to shoot. Two bucks fell, and the rest were scared off. We put some branches over them to pick them up the next day. Well, in the morning, when we got back there, there was only one buck. The other one was gone. We found him about 20 yards away, all chewed up except for his head, and covered with branches the way a lion covers up something he's eating.
"It was plain that we'd scared some big cat off his dinner. Senhores Alfredo and Bert√£o were very tense, looking all around the landscape. I held my gun ready, trying to see if I could see anything moving in the bush."
Harvey's hands went up, holding his imaginary gun, and in that gesture he carried his audience the 5,900 miles back to Angola. His father had stopped puffing on his cigar; his mother wore a fearful expression.
"The natives with us were really scared," Harvey said, drawing a quick breath. "They went back toward the jeep. The three of us started walking forward and then, without making a sound, Senhor Alfredo stopped and began firing.
"We saw it right away—a leopard, standing in a clearing about 100 yards ahead. As the shots banged away, he jumped and disappeared into a clump of trees.
"Now we started running, fast as we could, Senhor Bert√£o to the left, Senhor Alfredo to the right, running parallel toward the trees where the leopard had gone. I'd never run that fast or that hard in my life. When we couldn't go any further, we stopped. There was a tree a few yards to our left, and we started toward it to rest in the shade. As we did, crack!"
He paused, unconsciously timing his narrative.
"Up above us in the tree, there was a crashing, breaking noise, and the leopard dropped right down, almost at our feet. I jumped, holding my gun, but he was dead. Then I got a little scared—I realized he'd been waiting there in the tree for us, and if it hadn't been for Senhor Bert√£o's good eyesight, we'd have been in a heck of a spot. Why," said Harvey, his eyes round with an identifiable although unexpressed eagerness, "he might have clawed all of us!"
His mother cleared her throat uneasily.
"That wasn't the narrowest escape, though," Harvey said. "The second close call came on the last day of my hunting trip, as we were going back from a camp near Kyundu, a town down south near the desert. We saw a herd of roan antelope and got within 150 yards of them. Senhor Bert√£o took a shot and hit one. The roan jumped up, circled around and started to run. I fired, and the roan fell over but jumped up and started to run again. I shot him a second time. He staggered up and was still running, and by then I was within 10 feet of him. There was no killing that roan. As I started toward him, he got up and charged me. I stood and squeezed off two shots, and this time I knew I had him. He was still, and I went up to have a look at the head.
"I was reaching out to grab one of the ears when he made one final effort. His head turned quickly, hooked the gun out of my hand, and threw it about 20 feet away. I made a dive for it, and as I picked it up I saw that the wooden part under the barrel had been splintered and smashed. The roan was just trying to get up and come after me again when I got off the last shot and killed it. Meanwhile, two hunters were standing over to one side, laughing at me. I didn't feel much like laughing. Not then." But now, in recollection, he grinned and flushed, looking, as he did, even younger than his actual age.
MAY RETURN AFTER SCHOOL
"I had to leave right soon after that," he said, regretfully. "I wanted to stay—"
"He even told the Jewells he wanted to stay," Mrs. Schur said, the reproach meant for her son.
He smiled again. "I told Mr. Hott, not Mr. Jewell," he corrected. "He said, 'Harvey, go home and finish school. Three years or so, and maybe you can come out here for good if you want to.' "
"He says," said Benjamin Schur, "he's going out there to raise cattle. Imagine, a boy of mine, a cattle raiser in Africa."
"You can come and see me," Harvey said.
"Harvey," said his mother, "tell what Mr. Jewell said when you left."
"Aw," said Harvey, toeing the rug like the modest hero of one of his favorite western dramas on TV.
"Mr. Jewell," said Mrs. Schur, with a kind of defiant pride, "said Harvey could go back any time he wants to. He said to Harvey, 'Harvey, if all the kids in the States are like you, they can handle anything that comes up.' "
"Is that what he said, Harvey?" Benjamin Schur asked.
"Something like that," said the boy, reddening.
"He wrote it to me, in a letter," said Mrs. Schur.
"I hated to leave," Harvey said. "If I could have done it, I would've got right on a plane the day I got back home and gone right back out there."
"So you weren't glad to see your parents," said the father, challengingly but jokingly.
"Oh, sure," Harvey said, nodding seriously. "Sure, I was glad. But out there—" He stopped, his command of English failing him. "Around here, there's nothing to do," he said. "It's nothing but homework and all that junk. I can't wait for my next vacation—I'm going up to Maine, again. And next summer I'm going back out to Angola—"
"Maybe," said Benjamin Schur.
"Maybe," Harvey amended, hopefully. "But if I don't go then, I'll go after I'm out of school. For good."
Mr. Schur shook his head. His wife again became, in face and in demeanor, the everlastingly fearful mother. Harvey was now sitting silently: it was clear that he had no intention of swerving from his decision. "What else can I tell you?" he asked respectfully, as though additional details would lend weight to his position. "There's much more—I keep remembering stuff all the time. Every night I dream I'm back there."
"You see?" said Benjamin Schur. "It's his whole life. It's all he thinks about." He led the way to the living room. At the foyer he stopped and surveyed the coral-and-black pieces and the thick carpet. "I wonder," he said, "where we'll put...."
From the bedroom a shot rang out, and there was the sound of angry voices and a motor starting, and then another shot.
Benjamin Schur looked up, realized what it was, and smiled to himself. His head moved from side to side. "That Harvey," he said softly.