The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
It was now lunch time and they were all sitting under the double green fly of the dining tent pretending that nothing had happened. ??Will you have lime juice or lemon squash??? Macomber asked. ??I??ll have a gimlet,?? Robert Wilson told him.
??I??ll have a gimlet too. I need something,?? Macomber??s wife said. ??I suppose it??s the thing to do,?? Macomber agreed. ??Tell him to make three gimlets.??
The mess boy had started them already, lifting the bottles out of the canvas cooling bags that sweated wet in the wind that blew through the trees that shaded the tents.
??What had I ought to give them??? Macomber asked.
??A quid would be plenty,?? Wilson told him. ??You don??t want to spoil them.??
??Will the headman distribute it???
Francis Macomber had, half an hour before, been carried to his tent from the edge of the camp in triumph on the arms and shoulders of the cook, the personal boys, the skinner and the porters. The gun-bearers had taken no part in the demonstration. When the native boys put him down at the door of his tent, he had shaken all their hands, received their congratulations, and then gone into the tent and sat on the bed until his wife came in. She did not speak to him when she came in and he left the tent at once to wash his face and hands in the portable wash basin outside and go over to the dining tent to sit in a comfortable canvas chair in the breeze and the shade.
??You??ve got your lion,?? Robert Wilson said to him, ??and a damned fine one too.??
Mrs. Macomber looked at Wilson quickly. She was an extremely handsome and well kept woman of the beauty and social position which had, five years before, commanded five thousand dollars as the price of endorsing, with photographs, a beauty product which she had never used. She had been married to Francis Macomber for eleven years.
??He is a good lion, isn??t he??? Macomber said. His wife looked at him now. She looked at both these men as though she had never seen them before.
One, Wilson, the white hunter, she knew she had never truly seen before. He was about middle height with sandy hair, a stubby mustache, a very red face and extremely cold blue eyes with faint white wrinkles at the corners that grooved merrily when he smiled. He smiled at her now and she looked away from his face at the way his shoulders sloped in the loose tunic he wore with the four big cartridges held in loops where
the left breast pocket should have been, at his big brown hands, his old slacks, his very dirty boots and back to his red face again. She noticed where the baked red of his face stopped in a white line that marked the circle left by his Stetson hat that hung now from one of the pegs of the tent pole.
??Well, here??s to the lion,?? Robert Wilson said. He smiled at her again and, not smiling, she looked curiously at her husband. Francis Macomber was very tall, very well built if you did not mind that length of bone, dark, his hair cropped like an oarsman, rather thin-lipped, and was considered handsome. He was dressed in the same sort of safari clothes that Wilson wore except that his were new, he was thirty-five years old, kept himself very fit, was good at court games, had a number of big-game fishing records, and had just shown himself, very publicly, to be a coward.
??Here??s to the lion,?? he said. ??I can??t ever thank you for what you did.??
Margaret, his wife, looked away from him and back to Wilson. ??Let??s not talk about the lion,?? she said.
Wilson looked over at her without smiling and now she smiled at him. ??It??s been a very strange day,?? she said. ??Hadn??t you ought to put your hat on even under the canvas at noon? You told me that, you know.??
??Might put it on,?? said Wilson.
??You know you have a very red face, Mr. Wilson,?? she told him and smiled again.
??Drink,?? said Wilson.
??I don??t think so,?? she said. ??Francis drinks a great deal, but his face is never red.??
??It??s red today,?? Macomber tried a joke.
??No,?? said Margaret. ??It??s mine that??s red today. But Mr. Wilson??s is always red.
??Must be racial,?? said Wilson. ??I say, you wouldn??t like to drop my beauty as a topic, would you???
??I??ve just started on it.??
??Let??s chuck it,?? said Wilson.
??Conversation is going to be so difficult,?? Margaret said. ??Don??t be silly, Margot,?? her husband said.
??No difficulty,?? Wilson said. ??Got a damn fine lion.?? Margot looked at them both and they both saw that she was going to cry. Wilson had seen it coming for a long time and he dreaded it. Macomber was past dreading it.
??I wish it hadn??t happened. Oh, I wish it hadn??t happened,?? she said and started for her tent. She made no noise of crying but they could see that her shoulders were shaking under the rose-colored,
sun-proofed shirt she wore.
??Women upset,?? said Wilson to the tall man. ??Amounts to nothing. Strain on the nerves and one thing??n another.??
??No,?? said Macomber. ??I suppose that I rate that for the rest of my life now.??
??Nonsense. Let??s have a spot of the giant killer,?? said Wilson. ??Forget the whole thing. Nothing to it anyway.??
??We might try,?? said Macomber. ??I won??t forget what you did for me though.??
??Nothing,?? said Wilson. All nonsense.??
So they sat there in the shade where the camp was pitched under some wide-topped acacia trees with a boulder-strewn cliff behind them, and a stretch of grass that ran to the bank of a boulder-filled stream in front with forest beyond it, and drank their just-cool lime drinks and avoided one another??s eyes while the boys all knew about it now and when he saw Macomber??s personal boy looking curiously at his master while he was putting dishes on the table he snapped at him in Swahili. The boy turned away with his face blank.
??What were you telling him??? Macomber asked.
??Nothing. Told him to look alive or I??d see he got about fifteen of the best.??
??What??s that? Lashes???
??It??s quite illegal,?? Wilson said. ??You??re supposed to fine them.??
??Do you still have them whipped???
??Oh, yes. They could raise a row if they chose to complain. But they don??t. They prefer it to the fines.??
??How strange!?? said Macomber.
??Not strange, really,?? Wilson said. ??Which would you rather do? Take a good birching or lose your pay???
Then he felt embarrassed at asking it and before Macomber could answer he went on, ??We all take a beating every day, you know, one way or another.??
This was no better. ??Good God,?? he thought. ??I am a diplomat, aren??t I???
??Yes, we take a beating,?? said Macomber, still not looking at him. ??I??m awfully sorry about that lion business. It doesn??t have to go any further, does it? I mean no one will hear about it, will they??? ??You mean will I tell it at the Mathaiga Club??? Wilson looked at him now coldly. He had not expected this. So he??s a bloody four-letter man as well as a bloody coward, he thought. I rather liked him too until today. But how is one to know abut an American?
??No,?? said Wilson. ??I??m a professional hunter. We never talk about our clients. You can be quite easy on that. It??s supposed to be bad
form to ask us not to talk though.??
He had decided now that to break would be much easier. He would eat, then, by himself and could read a book with his meals. They would eat by themselves. He would see them through the safari on a very formal basis-what was it the French called it? Distinguished consideration-and it would be a damn sight easier than having to go through this emotional trash. He??d insult him and make a good clean break. Then he could read a book with his meals and he??d still be drinking their whisky. That was the phrase for it when a safari went bad. You ran into another while hunter and you asked, ??How is everything going??? and he answered, ??Oh, I??m still drinking their whisky,?? and you knew everything had gone to pot.
??I??m sorry,?? Macomber said and looked at him with his American face that would stay adolescent until it became middle-aged, and Wilson noted his crew-cropped hair, fine eyes only faintly shifty, good nose, thin lips and handsome jaw. ??I??m sorry I didn??t realize that. There are lots of things I don??t know.??
So what could he do, Wilson thought. He was all ready to break it off quickly and neatly and here the beggar was apologizing after he had just insulted him. He made one more attempt. ??Don??t worry about me talking,?? he said. ??I have a living to make. You know in Africa no woman ever misses her lion and no white man ever bolts.
??I bolted like a rabbit,?? Macomber said.
Now what in hell were you going to do about a man who talked like that, Wilson wondered.
Wilson looked at Macomber with his flat, blue, machinegunner??s eyes and the other smiled back at him. He had a pleasant smile if you did not notice how his eyes showed when he was hurt.
??Maybe I can fix it up on buffalo,?? he said. ??We??re after them next, aren??t we?
??In the morning if you like,?? Wilson told him. Perhaps he had been wrong. This was certainly the way to take it. You most certainly could not tell a damned thing about an American. He was all for Macomber again. If you could forget the morning. But, of course, you couldn??t. The morning had been about as bad as they come.
??Here comes the Memsahib,?? he said. She was walking over from her tent looking refreshed and cheerful and quite lovely. She had a very perfect oval face, so perfect that you expected her to be stupid. But she wasn??t stupid, Wilson thought, no, not stupid.
??How is the beautiful red-faced Mr. Wilson? Are you feeling better, Francis, my pearl???
??Oh, much,?? said Macomber.
??I??ve dropped the whole thing,?? she said, sitting down at the table. ??What importance is there to whether Francis is any good at killing
lions? That??s not his trade. That??s Mr. Wilson??s trade. Mr. Wilson is really very impressive killing anything. You do kill anything, don??t you???
??Oh, anything,?? said Wilson. ??Simply anything.?? They are, he thought, the hardest in the world; the hardest, the cruelest, the most predatory and the most attractive and their men have softened or gone to pieces nervously as they have hardened. Or is it that they pick men they can handle? They can??t know that much at the age they marry, he thought. He was grateful that he had gone through his education on American women before now because this was a very attractive one. ??We??re going after buff in the morning,?? he told her. ??I??m coming,?? she said.
??No, you??re not.??
??Oh, yes, I am. Mayn??t I, Francis???
??Why not stay in camp??
??Not for anything,?? she said. ??I wouldn??t miss something like today for anything.
When she left, Wilson was thinking, when she went off to cry, she seemed a hell of a fine woman. She seemed to understand, to realize, to be hurt to him and for herself and to know how things really stood. She is away for twenty minutes and now she is back, simply enameled in that American female cruelty. They are the damnedest women. Really the damnedest.
??We??ll put on another show for you tomorrow,?? Francis Macomber said. ??You??re not coming,?? Wilson said.
??You??re very mistaken,?? she told him. ??And I want so to see you perform again. You were lovely this morning. That is if blowing things?? heads of is lovely.??
??Here??s the lunch,?? said Wilson. ??You??re very merry, aren??t you???
??Why not? I didn??t come out here to be dull.??
??Well, it hasn??t been dull,?? Wilson said. He could see the boulders in the river and the high bank beyond with the trees and he remembered the morning.
??Oh, no,?? she said. ??It??s been charming. And tomorrow. You don??t know how I look forward to tomorrow.??
??That??s eland he??s offering you,?? Wilson said.
??They??re the big cowy things that jump like hares, aren??t they??? ??I suppose that describes them,?? Wilson said.
??It??s very good meat,?? Macomber said.
They??re not dangerous, are they???
??Only if they fall on you,?? Wilson told her.
??I??m so glad.??
??Why not let up on the bitchery just a little, Margot,?? Macomber said, cutting the eland steak and putting some mashed potato, gravy and carrot on the down=-turned fork that tined through the piece of meat. ??I suppose I could,?? she said, ??since you put it so prettily.?? ??Tonight we??ll have champagne for the lion,?? Wilson said. ??It??s a bit too hot at noon.??
??Oh, the lion,?? Margot said. ??I??d forgotten the lion!?? So, Robert Wilson thought to himself, she is giving him a ride, isn??t she? Or do you suppose that??s her idea of putting up a good show? How should a woman act when she discovers her husband is a bloody coward? She??s damn cruel but they??re all cruel. They govern, of course, and to govern one has to be cruel sometimes. Still, I??ve seen enough of their damn terrorism.
??Have some more eland,?? he said to her politely.
That afternoon, late, Wilson and Macomber went out in the motor car with the native driver and the two gun-bearers. Mrs. Macomber stayed in the camp. It was too hot to go out, she said, and she was going with them in the early morning. As they drove off Wilson saw her standing under the the big tree, looking pretty rather than beautiful in her faintly rosy khaki, her dark hair drawn back off her forehead and gathered in a knot low on her neck, her face as fresh, he thought, as though she were in England. She waved to them as the car went off through the swale of high grass and curved around through the trees into the small hills of orchard bush.
In the orchard bush they found a herd of impala, and leaving the car they stalked one old ram with long, wide-spread horns and Macomber killed it with a very creditable shot that knocked the buck down at a good two hundred yards and sent the herd off bounding wildly and leaping over one another??s backs in long, leg-drawn-up leaps as unbelievable and as floating as those one makes sometimes in dreams.
??That was a good shot,?? Wilson said. ??They??re a small target.?? ??Is it a worth-while head??? Macomber asked.
??It??s excellent,?? Wilson told him. ??You shoot like that and you??ll have no trouble.??
??Do you think we??ll find buffalo tomorrow???
??There??s good chance of it. They feed out early in the morning and with luck we may catch them in the open.??
I??d like to clear away that lion business,?? Macomber said. ??It??s not very pleasant to have your wife see you do something like that.??
I should think it would be even more unpleasant to do it, Wilson thought, wife or no wife, or the talk about it having done it. But he said, ??I wouldn??t think about that any more. Any one could be upset by his first lion. That??s all over.??
But that night after dinner and a whisky and soda by the fire before going to bed, as Francis Macomber lay on his cot with the mosquito bar over him and listened to the night noises it was not all over. It was neither all over nor was it beginning. It was there exactly as it happened with some parts of it indelibly emphasized and he was miserably ashamed at it. But more than shame he felt cold, hollow fear in him. The fear was still there like a cold slimy hollow in all the emptiness where once his confidence had been and it made him feel sick. It was still there with him now.
It had started the night before when he had wakened and heard the lion roaring somewhere up along the river. It was a deep sound and at the and there were sort of coughing grunts that made him seem just outside the tent, and when Francis Macomber woke in the night to hear it he was afraid. He could hear his wife breathing quietly, asleep. There was no one to tell he was afraid, nor to be afraid with him, and, lying alone, he did not know the Somali proverb that says a brave man is always frightened three times by a lion; when he first sees his track, when he first hears him roar and when he first confronts him. Then while they were eating breakfast by lantern light out in the dining tent, before the sun was up, the lion roared again and Francis thought he was just at the edge of camp.
??Sounds like an old-timer,?? Robert Wilson said, looking up from his kippers and coffee. ??Listen to him cough.??
??Is he very close???
??A mile or so up the stream.??
??Will we see him???
??We??ll have a look.??
??Does his roaring carry that far? It sounds as though he were right in camp.??
??Carries a hell of a long way,?? said Robert Wilson. ??It??s strange the way it carries. Hope he??s a shootable cat. The boys said there was a very big one about here.??
??If I get a shot, where should I hit him,?? Macomber asked. ??to stop him???
??In the shoulders,?? Wilson said. ??In the neck if you can make it. Shoot for bone. Break him down.??
??I hope I can place it properly,?? Macomber said.
??You shoot very well, ??Wilson told him. ??Take your time. Make sure of him. The first one in is the one that counts.??
??What range will it be???
??Can??t tell. Lion has something to say about that. Won??t shoot unless it??s close enough so you can make sure.??
??At under a hundred yards??? Macomber asked.
Wilson looked at him quickly.
??Hundred??s about right. Might have to take him a bit under. Shouldn??t chance a shot at much over that. A hundred??s a decent range. You can hit him wherever you want at that. Here comes the Memsahib.?? ??Good morning,?? she said. ??Are we going after that lion??? ??As soon as you deal with your breakfast,?? Wilson said. ??How are you feeling???
??Marvelous,?? she said. ??I??m very excited.??
??I??ll just go and see that everything is ready,?? Wilson went off. As he left the lion roared again.
??Noisy beggar,?? Wilson said. ??We??ll put a stop to that.?? ??What??s the matter, Francis??? his wife asked him.
??Nothing,?? Macomber said.
??Yes, there is,?? she said. ??What are you upset about??? ??Nothing,?? he said.
??Tell me,?? she looked at him. ??Don??t you feel well??? ??It??s that damned roaring,?? she said. ??It??s been going on all night, you know.??
??Why didn??t you wake me, she said. I??d love to heard it. ??I??ve got to kill the damned thing,?? Macomber said, miserably. ??Well, that??s what you??re out here for, isn??t it??? ??Yes. But I??m nervous. Hearing the thing roar gets on my nerves.?? ??Well then, as Wilson said, kill him and stop his roaring.?? ??Yes, darling,?? said Francis Macomber. ??It sounds easy, doesn??t it???
??You??re not afraid, are you???
??Of course not. But I??m nervous from hearing him roar all night.?? ??You??ll kill him marvelously,?? she said. ??I know you will. I??m awfully anxious to see it.??
??Finish your breakfast and we??ll be starting.??
It??s not light yet,?? she said. ??This is a ridiculous hour.?? Just then as the lion roared in a deep-chested moaning, suddenly guttural, ascending vibration that seemed to shake the air and ended in a sigh and a heavy, deep-chested grunt.
??He sounds almost here,?? Macomber??s wife said.
??My God,?? said Macomber. ??I hate that damned noise.?? ??It??s very impressive.??
??Impressive. It??s frightful.??
Robert Wilson came up then carrying his short, ugly, shockingly big-bored .505 Gibbs and grinning.
??Come on,?? he said. ??Your gun-bearer has your Springfield and the big gun. Everything??s in the car. Have you solids???
??I??m ready,?? Mrs. Macomber said.
??Must make him stop that racket,?? Wilson said. ??You got in front.
The Memsahib can sit back here with me.??
They climbed into the motor car and, in the gray first day-light, moved off up the river through the trees. Macomber opened the breech of his rifle and saw had metal-cased bullets, shut the bolt and put the rifle on safety. He saw his hand was trembling. He felt in his pocket for more cartridges and moved his fingers over the cartridges in the loops of his tunic front. He turned back to where Wilson sat in the rear seat of the doorless, box-bodied motor car beside his wife, them both grinning with excitement, and Wilson leaned forward and whispered, ??See the birds dropping. Means the old boy has left his kill.??
On the far bank of the stream Macomber could see, above the trees, vultures circling and plummeting down.
??Chances are he??ll come to drink along here,?? Wilson whispered. Before he goes to lay up. Keep an eye out.??
They were driving slowly along the high bank of the stream which here cut deeply to its boulder-filled bed, and they wound in and out through big trees as they drove. Macomber was watching the opposite bank when he felt Wilson take hold of his arm. The car stopped.
??There he is,?? he heard the whisper. ??Ahead and to the right. Get out and take him. He??s marvelous lion.??
Macomber saw the lion now. He was standing almost broadside, his great head up and turned toward them. The early morning breeze that blew toward them was just stirring his dark mane, and the lion looked huge, silhouetted on the rise of bank in the gray morning light, his shoulders heavy, his barrel of a body bulking smoothly.
??How far is he??? asked Macomber, raising his rifle.
??About seventy-five. Get out and take him.??
??Why not shoot from where I am???
??You don??t shoot them from cars,?? he heard Wilson saying in his car. ??Get out. He??s not going to stay there all day.??
Macomber stepped out of the curved opening at the side of the front seat, onto the step and down onto the ground. The lion still stood looking majestically and coolly toward this object that his eyes only showed in silhouette, bulking like some superrhino. There was no man smell carried toward his and he watched the object, moving his great head a little from side to side. Then watching the object, not afraid, but hesitating before going down the bank to drink with such a thing opposite him, he saw a man figure detach itself from it and he turned his heavy head and swung away toward the cover for the trees as he heard a cracking crash and felt the slam of a .30-06 220-grain solid bullet that bit his flank and ripped in sudden hot scalding nausea through his stomach. He trotted, heavy, big-footed, swinging wounded lull-bellied, the trees toward the tall grass and cover, and the crash came again to go past him ripping the air apart. Then it crashed again and he felt the blow
as it hit his lower ribs and ripped on through, blood sudden hot and frothy in his mouth, and he galloped toward the high grass where he could crouch and not be seen and make them bring the crashing thing close enough so he could make a rush and get the man that held it. Macomber had not thought how the lion felt as he got out of the car. He only knew his hands were shaking and as he walked away from the car it was almost impossible for him to make his legs move. They were stiff in the thighs, but he could feel the muscles fluttering. He raised the rifle, sighted on the junction of the lion??s head and shoulders and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened though he pulled until he thought his finger would break. Then he knew he had the safety on and as he lowered the rifle to move the safety over he moved another frozen pace forward, and the lion seeing his silhouette now clear of the silhouette of the car, turned an started off at a trot, and, as Macomber fired, he heard a whunk that meant that the bullet was home; but the lion kept on going. Macomber shot again and every one saw the bullet throw a spout of dirt beyond the trotting lion. He shot again, remembering to lower his aim, and they all heard the bullet hit, and the lion went into a gallop and was in the tall grass before he had the bolt pushed forward. Macomber stood there feeling sick at his stomach, his hands that held the springfield still cocked, shaking, and his wife and Robert Wilson were standing by him. Beside him too were the two gun-bearers chattering in Wakamba.
??I hit him,?? Macomber said. ??I hit him twice.??
??You gut-shot him and you hit him somewhere forward,?? Wilson said without enthusiasm. The gun-bearers looked very grave. They were silent now.
??You may have killed him?? Wilson went on. ??We??ll have to wait a while before we go in to find out.??
??What do you mean???
??Let him get sick before we follow him up.??
??Oh,?? said Macomber.
??He??s a hell of a fine lion,?? Wilson said cheerfully. ??He??s gotten into a bad place though.??
??Why is it bad???
??Can??t see him until you??re on him.??
??Oh,?? said Macomber.
??Come on,?? said Wilson. ??The Memsahib can stay here in the car. We??ll go to have a look at the blood spoor.??
??Stay here, Margot,?? Macomber said to his wife. His mouth was very dry and it was hard for him to talk.
??Why??? she asked.
??Wilson says to.??
??We??re going to have a look,?? Wilson said. ??You stay her. You can