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The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber
By Ernest Hemingway
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’s 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 about 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
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 for 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 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 he 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 see even better from here.”
Wilson spoke in Swahili to the driver. He nodded and said, “Yes, Bwana.”
Then they went down the steep bank and across the stream, climbing over and around the boulders and up the other bank, pulling up by some projecting roots, and along it until they found where the lion had been trotting when Macomber first shot. There was dark blood on the short grass that the gun-bearers pointed out with grass stems, and that ran away behind the river bank trees.
“What do we do?” asked Macomber.
“Not much choice,” said Wilson. “We can’t bring the car over. Bank’s too steep. We’ll let him stiffen up a bit and then you and I’ll go in and have a look for him.”
“Can’t we set the grass on fire?” Macomber asked.
“Can’t we send beaters?”
Wilson looked at him appraisingly. “Of course we can,” he said. “But it’s just a touch murderous. You see we know the lion’s wounded. You can drive an unwounded lion—he’ll move on ahead of a noise—but a wounded lion’s going to charge. You can’t see him until you’re right on him. He’ll make himself perfectly flat in cover you wouldn’t think would hide a hare. You can’t very well send boys in there to that sort of a show. Somebody bound to get mauled.”
“What about the gun-bearers?”
“Oh, they’ll go with us. It’s their shauri. You see, they signed on for it. They don’t look too happy though, do they?”
“I don’t want to go in there,” said Macomber. It was out before he knew he‟d said it.
“Neither do I,” said Wilson very cheerily. “Really no choice though.” Then, as an afterthought, he glanced at Macomber and saw suddenly how he was trembling and the pitiful look on his face.
“You don‟t have to go in, of course,” he said. “that’s what I’m hired for, you know. That’s why I’m so expensive.”
“You mean you’d go in by yourself? Why not leave him there?”
Robert Wilson, whose entire occupation had been with the lion ands the problem he presented, and who had not been thinking about Macomber except to note that he was rather windy, suddenly felt as though he had opened the wrong door in a hotel and seen something shameful.
“What do you mean?”
“Why not just leave him?”
“You mean pretend to ourselves he hasn’t been hit?”
“No. Just drop it.
“It isn’t done.”
“For one thing, he’s certain to be suffering. For another, some one else might run on to him.”
“But you don’t have to have anything to do with it.”
“I’d like to,” Macomber said. “I’m just scared, you know.”
“I’ll go ahead when we go in,” Wilson said, “with Kongoni tracking. You keep behind me and a little to one side. Chances are we‟ll hear him growl. If we see him well both shoot. Don’t worry about anything. I’ll keep you backed up. As a matter of fact, you know, perhaps you’d better not go. It might be much better. Why don’t you go over and join the Memsahib while I just get it over with?”
“No, I want to go.”
“All right,” said Wilson. “But don’t go in if you don’t want to. This is my shauri now, you know.”
“I want to go,” said Macomber.
They sat under a tree and smoked.
“What to go back and speak to the Memsahib while we’re waiting?” Wilson asked.
“I’ll just step back and tell her to be patient.”
“Good,” said Macomber. He sat there, sweating under his arms, his mouth dry, his stomach hollow feeling, wanting to find courage to tell Wilson to go on and finish off the lion without him. He could not know that Wilson was furious because he had not noticed the state he was in earlier and sent him back to his wife. While he sat there Wilson came up. “I have your big gun,” he said. “Take it. We’ve given him time, I think. Come on.”
Macomber took the big gun and Wilson said”
“Keep behind me and about five yards to the right and do exactly as I tell you.” Then he spoke in Swahili to the two gun-bearers who looked the picture of gloom.
“Let’s go,” he said.
“Could I have a drink of water?” Macomber asked. Wilson spoke to the older gun-bearer, who wore a canteen on his belt, and the man unbuckled it, unscrewed the top and handed it to Macomber, who took it noticing how heavy it seemed and how hairy and shoddy the felt covering was in his hand. He raised it to drink and looked ahead at the high grass with the flat-topped trees behind it. A breeze was blowing toward them and the grass rippled gently in the wind. He looked at the gun-bearer and he could see the gun-bearer was suffering too with fear.
Thirty-five yards into the grass the big lion lay flattened out along the ground. His ears where back and his only movement was a slight twitching up and down of his long, black-tufted tail. He had turned at bay as soon as he had reached this cover and he was sick with the wound through his full belly, and weakening with the wound through his lungs that brought a thin foamy red to his mouth each time he breathed. His flanks were wet and hot and flies were on the little openings the solid bullets had made in his tawny hide, and his big yellow eyes, narrowed with hate, looked straight ahead, only blinking when the pain came as he breathed, and his claws dug in the soft baked earth. All of him, pain, sickness, hatred and all of his remaining strength, was tightening into an absolute concentration for a rush. He could hear the men talking and he waited, gathering all of himself into this preparation for a charge as soon as the men would come into the grass. As he heard their voices his tail stiffened to twitch up and down, and, as they came into the edge of the grass, he made a coughing grunt and charged.
Kongoni, the old gun-bearer, in the lead watching the blood spoor, Wilson watching the grass for any movement, his big gun ready, the second gun-bearer looking ahead and listening, Macomber close to Wilson, his rifle cocked, they had just moved into the grass when Macomber hear the blood-choked coughing grunt, and saw the swishing rush in the grass. The next thing he knew he was running; running wildly, in panic in the open, running toward the stream.
He heard the ca-ra-wong! of Wilson‟s big rifle, and again in a second crashing carawong! and turning saw the lion, horrible-looking now, with half his head seeming to be gone, crawling toward Wilson in the edge of the tall grass while the red-faced man worked the belt on the short ugly rifle and aimed carefully as another blasting carawong! came from the muzzle, and the crawling, heavy, yellow bulk of the lion stiffened and the huge, mutilated head slid forward and Macomber, standing by himself in the clearing where he had run, holding a loaded rifle, while two black men and a white man looked back at him in contempt, knew the lion was dead. He came toward Wilson, his tallness all seeming a naked reproach, and Wilson looked at him and said:
“What to take pictures?”
“No,” he said.
That was all any one had said until they reached the motor car. Then Wilson had said:
“Hell of a fine lion. Boys will skin him out. We might as well stay here in the shade.”
Macomber’s wife had not looked at him nor he at her and he had sat by her in the back seat with Wilson sitting in the front seat. Once he had reached over and taken his wife’s hand without looking at her and she had removed her hand from his. Looking across the stream to where the gun-bearers were skinning out the lion he could see that she had been able to see the whole thing. While they sat there his wife had reached forward and put her hand on Wilson‟s shoulder. He turned and she had leaned forward over the low seat and kissed him on the mouth. “OH, I say,” said Wilson, going redder than his natural baked color.
“Mr. Robert Wilson,” she said. “The beautiful red-faced Mr. Robert Wilson.”
Then she sat down beside Macomber again and looked away across the stream to where the lion lay, with uplifted, white-muscled, tendon-marked naked forearms, and white bloating belly, as the black men fleshed away the skin. Finally the gun-bearer brought the skin over, wet and heavy, and climbed in behind with it, rolling it up before they got in, and the motor car started. No one had said anything more until they were back in camp.
That was the story of the lion. Macomber did not know how the lion had felt before he started his rush, nor during it when the unbelievable smash of the .505 with a muzzle velocity of two tons had hit him in the mouth, nor what kept him coming after that, when the second ripping crash had smashed his hind quarters and he had come crawling on toward the crashing, blasting thing that had destroyed him. Wilson knew something about it and only expressed it by saying, “Damned fine lion,” but Macomber did not know how Wilson felt abut things either. He did not know how his wife felt except that she was through with him.
His wife had been through with him before but it never lasted. He was very wealthy, and would be much wealthier, and he knew she would not leave him ever now. That was one of the few things that he really knew. He knew about that, about motorcycles—that was earliest—about motor cars, about duck-shooting, about fishing, trout, salmon and big-sea, about sex in books, many books, too many books, about all court games, about dogs, not much about horses, about hanging on to his money, abut most of the other things his world dealt in, and about his wife not leaving him. His wife had been a great beauty and she was still a great beauty in Africa, but she was not a great enough beauty any more at home to be able to leave him and better herself and she knew it and he knew it. She had missed the chance to leave him and he knew it.
If he had been better with women she would probably have started to worry about him getting another new, beautiful wife; but she knew too much about him to worry about him either. Also he had always had a great tolerance which seemed the nicest thing about him if it were not the most sinister.
All in all they were known as a comparatively happily married couple, one of those whose disruption is often rumored but never occurs, and as the society columnist put it, they were adding more than a spice of adventure to their much envied and ever enduring romance by a Safari in what was known as Darkest Africa until the Martin Johnsons lighted it on so many silver screens where they were pursuing Old Simba the lion, the buffalo, Tembo the elephant and as well collecting specimens for the Museum of Natural History. This same columnist had reported them on the verge as least three times in the past and they had been. But they always made it up. They had a sound basis of union. Margot was too beautiful for Macomber to divorce her and Macomber had too much money for Margot ever to leave him.
It was now about three o’clock in the morning and Francis macomber, who had been asleep a little while after he had stopped thinking about the lion, wakened and then slept again, woke suddenly, frightened in a dream of the bloody-headed lion standing over him, and listening while his heart pounded, he realized that his wife was not in the other cot in the tent. He lay awake with the knowledge of two hours.
At the end of that time his wife came into the tent, lifted her mosquito bar and crawled cozily into bed.
“Where have you been?” Macomber asked in the darkness.
“Hello,” she said. “Are you awake?”
“Where have you been?”
“I just went out to get a breath of air.”
“You did, like hell.”
“What do you want me to say, darling?”
“Where have you been?”
“Out to get a breath of air.”
“That’s a new name for it. You are a bitch.”
“Well, you’re coward.”
“All right,” he said. “What of it?”
“Nothing as far as I’m concerned. But please let’s not talk, darling, because I’m very sleepy.”
“You think that I’ll take anything.”
“I know you will, sweet.”
“Well, I won’t.”
“Please, darling, let’s not talk. I’m so very sleepy.”
“There wasn’t going to be any of that. You promised there wouldn’t be.”
“Well, there is now,” she said sweetly.
“You said if we made this trip that there would be none of that. You promised.”
“Yes, darling. That’s the way I meant it to be. But the trip was spoiled yesterday. We don’t have to talk about it, do we?”
“You don’t wait long when you have an advantage, do you?”
“Please let’s not talk. I’m so sleepy, darling.”
“I’m going to talk.”
“Don’t mind me then, because I’m going to sleep.” And she did.
At breakfast they were all three at the table before daylight and Francis Macomber found that, of all the many men that he had hated, he hated Robert Wilson the most.
“Sleep well?” Wilson asked in his throaty voice, filling a pipe.
“Topping,” the white hunter told him.
You bastard, thought Macomber, you insolent bastard.
So she woke him when she came in, Wilson thought, looking at them both with his flat, cold eyes. Well, why doesn’ the keep his wife where she belongs?” What does he think I am, a bloody plaster saint? Let him keep her where she belongs. It’s his own fault.
“Do you think we’ll find buffalo?” Margot asked, pushing away a dish of apricots.”
“Chance of it,” Wilson said and smiled at her. “Why don‟t you stay in camp?”
“Not for anything,” she told him.
“Why not order her to stay in camp?” Wilson said to Macomber.
“Your order her,” said Macomber coldly.
“Let’s not have any ordering, nor,” turning to Macomber, “any silliness, Francis,” Margot said quite pleasantly.
“Are you ready to start?” Macomber asked.
“Any time,” Wilson told him. “Do you want the Memsahib to go?”
“Does it make any difference whether I do or not?”
The hell with it, thought Robert Wilson. The utter complete hell with it. So this is what it‟s going to be like. Well, this is what it‟s going to be like, then.
“Makes no difference,” he said.
“You’re sure you wouldn’t like to stay in camp with her yourself and let me go out and hunt the buffalo? Macomber asked.
“Can’t do that,” said Wilson. “Wouldn’t talk rot if I were you.”
“I’m not talking rot. I’m disgusted.”
“Bad word, disgusted.”
“Francis, will you please try to speak sensibly!” his wife said.
“I speak too damned sensibly,” Macomber said. “Did you ever eat such filthy food?”
“Something wrong with the food?” asked Wilson quietly.
“No more than with everything else.”
“I’d pull yourself together, laddybuck,” Wilson said very quietly.
“There’s a boy waits at table that understands a little English.”
“The hell with him.”
Wilson stood up and puffing on his pipe strolled away, speaking a few words in Swahili to one of the gun-bearers who was standing waiting for him. Macomber and his wife sat on at the table. He was staring at his coffee cup.
“If you make a scene I’ll leave you, darling,” Margot said quietly.
“No, you won’t.”
“You can try it and see.”
“You won’t leave me.”
“No,” she said. “I won’t leave you and you’ll behave yourself.”
“Behave myself? That’s a way to talk. Behave myself.”
“Yes. Behave yourself.”
“Why don’t you try behaving?”
“I’ve tried it so long. So very long.”
“I hate that red-faced swine,” Macomber said. “I loathe the sight of him.”
“He’s really very nice.”
“Oh, shut up,” Macomber almost shouted. Just then the car came up and stopped in front of the dining tent and the driver and the two gun-bearers got out. Wilson walked over and looked at the husband and wife sitting there at the table.
“Going, shooting?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Macomber, standing up. “Yes.”
“Better bring a woolly. It will be cool in the car,” Wilson said.
“I’ll get my leather jacket,” Margot said.
“The boy has it,” Wilson told her. He climbed into the front with the driver and Francis Macomber and his wife sat, not speaking, in the back seat.
Hope the silly beggar doesn’t take a notion to blow the back of my head off, Wilson thought to himself. Women are a nuisance on safari.
The car was grinding down to cross the river at a pebbly ford in the gray daylight and then climbed, angling up the steep bank, where Wilson had ordered a way shoveled out the day before so they could reach the parklike wooded rolling country on the far side.
It was a good morning, Wilson thought. There was a heavy dew and as the wheels went through the grass and low bushes he could smell the odor of the crushed fronds. It was an odor like verbena and he liked this early morning smell of the dew, the crushed bracken and the look of the tree trunks showing black through the early morning mist, as the car made its way through the untracked, parklike country. He had put the two in the back seat out of his mind now and was thinking about buffalo. The buffalo that he was after stayed in the daytime in a thick swamp where it was impossible to get a shot, but in the night they fed out into an open stretch of country and if he could come between them and their swamp with the car, Macomber would have a good chance at them in the open. He did not want to hunt buff or anything else with Macomber at all, but he was a professional hunter and he had hunted with some rare ones in his time. If they got buff today there would only be rhino to come and the poor man would have gone through his dangerous game and things might pick up. He’d have nothing more to do with the woman and Macomber would get over that too. He must have gone through plenty of that before by the look of things. Poor beggar. He must have a way of getting over it. Well, it was the poor sod’s own bloody fault.
He, Robert Wilson, carried a double size cot on safari to accommodate any windfalls he might receive. He had hunted for a certain clientele, the international, fast, sporting set, where the women did not feel they were getting their money’s worth unless they had shared that cot with the white hunter. He despised them when he was away from them although he liked some of them well enough at the time, but he made his living by them; and their standards were his standards as long as they were hiring him.
They were his standards in all except the shooting. He had his own standards about the killing and they could live up to them or get some one else to hunt them. He knew, too, that they all respected him for this. This Macomber was an odd one though. Damned if he wasn’t. Now the wife. Well, the wife. Yes, the wife. Hm, the wife. Well he’s dropped all that. He looked around at them. Macomber sat grim and furious. Margot smiled at him. She looked younger today, more innocent and fresher and not so professionally beautiful. What’s in her heart God knows, Wilson thought. She hadn‟t talked much last night. At that it was a pleasure to see her.
The motor car climbed up a slight rise and went on through the trees and then out into a grassy prairie-like opening and kept in the shelter of the trees along the edge, the driver going slowly and Wilson looking carefully out across the prairie and all along its far side. He stopped the car and studied the opening with his field glasses. Then he motioned to the driver to go on and the car moved slowly along, the driver avoiding wart-hog holes and driving around the mud castles ants had built. Then, looking across the opening, Wilson suddenly turned and said,
“By God, there they are!”
And looking where he pointed, while the car jumped forward and Wilson spoke in rapid Swahili to the driver, Macomber saw three huge, black animals looking almost cylindrical in their long heaviness, like big black tank cars, moving at a gallop across the far edge of the open prairie. They moved at a stiff-necked, stiff bodied gallop and he could see the upswept wide black horns on their heads as they galloped heads out; the heads not moving.
“They’re three old bulls,” Wilson said. “We’ll cut them off before they get to the swamp.”
The car was going a wild forty-five miles an hour across the open and as Macomber watched, the buffalo got bigger and bigger until he could see the gray, hairless, scabby look of one huge bull and how his neck was a part of his shoulders and the shiny black of his horns as he galloped a little behind the others that were strung out in that steady plunging gait; and then, the car swaying as though it had just jumped a road, they drew up close ands he could see the plunging hugeness of the bull, and the dust in his sparsely haired hide, the wide boss of horn and his outstretched, wide-nostrilled muzzle, and he was raising his rifle when Wilson shouted, “Not from the car, you fool!” and he had no fear, only hatred of Wilson, while the brakes clamped on and the car skidded, plowing sideways to an almost stop and Wilson was out on one side and he on the other, stumbling as his feet hit the still speeding-by of the earth, and then he was shooting at the bull as he moved away, hearing the bullets whunk into him, emptying his riffle at him as he moved steadily away, finally remembering to get his shots forward into the shoulder, and as he fumbled to reload, he saw the bull was down. Down on his knees, his big head tossing, and seeing the other two still galloping he shot at the leader and hit him. He shot again and missed and he heard the carawonging roar as Wilson shot and saw the leading bull slide forward onto his nose.
“Get that other,” Wilson said. “Now you’re shooting!”
But the other bull was moving steadily at the same gallop and he missed, throwing a spout of dirt, and Wilson missed and the dust rose in a cloud and Wilson shouted, “Come on.” He’s too far!” and grabbed his arm and they were in the car again, Macomber and Wilson hanging on the sides and rocketing swayingly over the uneven ground, drawing up on the steady, plunging, heavy-necked, straight-moving gallop of the bull.
They were behind him and Macomber was filling his rifle, dropping shells onto the ground, jamming it, clearing the jam, then they were almost up with the bull when Wilson yelled “Stop,” and the car skidded so that it almost swung over and Macomber fell forward as he aimed into the galloping, rounded black back, aimed and shot again, then again, then again, and the bullets, all of them hitting, had no effect on the buffalo that he could see. Then Wilson shot, the roar deafening him, and he could see the bull stagger. Macomber shot again, aiming carefully, and down he came, onto his knees.
“All right,” Wilson said. “Nice work. That’s the three.”
Macomber felt a drunken elation.
“How many times did you shoot?” he asked.
“Just three,” Wilson said. “You killed the first bull. The biggest one. I helped you finish the other two. Afraid they might have got into cover. You had them killed. I was just mopping up a little. You shot damn well.
“Let’s go to the car,” said Macomber. “I want a drink.”
“Got to finish off that buff first,” Wilson told him. The buffalo was on his knees and he jerked his head furiously and bellowed in pig-eyed, roaring rage as they came toward him.
“Watch he doesn’t get up,” Wilson said. Then, “Get a little broadside and take him in the neck just behind the ear.”
Macomber aimed carefully at the center of the huge, jerking, rage-driven neck and shot. At the shot the head dropped forward.
“That does it,” said Wilson. “Got the spine. They’re a hell of a fine-looking thing, aren’t they?”
“Let’s get the drink,” said Macomber. In his life he had never felt so good.
“In the car Macomber’s wife sat very white-faced. “You were marvelous, darling,” she said to Macomber. “What a ride.”
“Was it rough?” Wilson asked.
“It was frightful. I’ve never been more frightened in my life.”
“Let’s all have a drink,” Macomber said.
“By all means,” said Wilson. “Give it to the Memsahib.” She drank the neat whisky from the flask and shuddered a little when she swallowed. She handed the flask to Macomber who handed it to Wilson.
“It was frightfully exciting,” she said. “It’s given me a dreadful headache. I didn’t know you were allowed to shoot them from cars though.”
“No one shot from cars,” said Wilson coldly.
“I mean chase them from cars.”
“Wouldn’t ordinarily,” Wilson said. “Seemed sporting enough to me though while we were doing it. Taking more chance driving that way across the plain full of holes and one thing and another than hunting on foot. Buffalo could have charged us each time we shot if he liked. Gave him every chance. Wouldn’t mention it to anyone though. It’s illegal if that’s what you mean.”
“It seemed very unfair to me,” Margot said, “chasing those big helpless things in a motor car.”
“Did it?” said Wilson.
“What would happen if they heard about it in Nairobi?”
“I’d lose my license for one thing. Other unpleasantnesses,” Wilson said, taking a drink from the flask. “I’d be out of business.”
“Well,” said Macomber, and he smiled for the first time all day.
“Now she has something on you.”
“You have such a pretty way of putting things, Francis,” Margot Macomber said. Wilson looked at them both. If a four-letter man marries a five-letter woman, he was thinking, what number of letters would their children be? What he said was, “We lost a gun-bearer. Did you notice it?”
“My God, no,” Macomber said.
“Here he comes,” Wilson said. “He’s all right. He must have fallen off when we left the first bull.”
Approaching them was the middle-aged gun-bearer, limping along in his
knitted cap, khaki tunic, shorts and rubber sandals, gloomy-faced and disgusted looking. As he came up he called out to Wilson in Swahili and they all saw the change in the white hunter’s face.
“What does he say?” asked Margot.
“He says the first bull got up and went into the bush,” Wilson said with no expression in his voice.
“Oh,” said Macomber blankly.
“Then it’s going to be just like the lion,” said Margot, full of anticipation.
“It’s not going to be a dammed bit like the lion,” Wilson told her. “Did you want another drink Macomber?”
“Thanks, yes, Macomber said. He expected the feeling he had had about the lion to come back but it did not. For the first time in his life he rally felt wholly without fear. Instead of fear he had a feeling of definite elation.
“We’ll go and have a look at the second bull,” Wilson said. “I’ll tell the driver to put the car in the shade.”
“What are you going to do?” asked Margaret Macomber.
“Take a look at the buff,” Wilson said.
The three of them walked over to where the second buffalo bulked blackly in the open, head forward on the grass, the massive horns swung wide.
“He’s a very good head,” Wilson said. “That’s close to a fifty-inch spread.”
Macomber was looking at him with delight.
“He‟s hateful looking,” said Margot.
“Can’t we go into the shade?”
“Of course,” Wilson said. “Look,” he said to Macomber, and pointed.
“See that patch of bush?”
“That’s where the first bull went in. The gun-bearer said when he fell off the bull was down. He was watching us helling along and the other two buff galloping. When he looked up there was the bull up and looking at him. Gun-bearer ran like hell and the bull went off slowly into the bush.”
“Can we go in after him now?” asked Macomber eagerly.
Wilson looked at him appraisingly. Damned if this isn’t a strange one, he thought. Yesterday he’s scared sick and today he’s a ruddy fire eater.
“No, we’ll give him a while.”
“Let’s please go into the shade,” Margot said. Her face was white and she looked ill.
They made their way to the car where it stood under a single, wide-spreading tree and all climbed in.
“Chances are he’s dead in there,” Wilson remarked. “After a little we’ll have a look.”
Macomber felt a wild unreasonable happiness that he had never known before.
“By God, that was a chase,” he said. “I’ve never felt any such feeling.
Wasn’t it marvelous, Margot?”
“I hated it.”
“I hated it,” she said bitterly. “I loathed it.”
“You know I don’t think I’d ever be afraid of anything again,”
Macomber said to Wilson. “Something happened in me after we first saw the buff and started after him. Like a dam bursting. It was pure excitement.”
“Cleans out your liver,” said Wilson.” Damn funny things happen to people.”
Macomber’s face was shining. “You know something did happen to me,” he said. “I feel absolutely different.” His wife said nothing and eyed him strangely. She was sitting far back in the seat and Macomber was sitting forward talking to Wilson who turned sideways talking over the back of the front seat.
“You know, I’d like to try another lion,” Macomber said. “I’m really not afraid of them now. After all, what can they do to you?”
“That’s it,” said Wilson. “Worst one can do is kill you. How does it go? Shakespeare. Damned good. See if I can remember. Oh, damned good. Used to quote it to myself at one time. Let’s see. „By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death and let it go which way it will he that dies this year is quit for the next. ‟ Damned fine, oh?”
He was very embarrassed, having brought out this thing he had lived by, but he had seen men come of age before and it always moved him. It was not a matter of their twenty-first birthday.
It had taken a strange chance of hunting, a sudden precipitation into action without opportunity for worrying beforehand, to bring this about with Macomber, but regardless of how it had happened it had most certainly happened. Look at the beggar now, Wilson thought. It’s that some of them stay little boys so long, Wilson thought. Sometimes all their lives. Their figures stay boyish when they‟re fifty. The great American boy-men. Damned strange people. But he like this Macomber now. Damned strange fellow. Probably meant the end of cuckoldry too. Well, that would be a damned good thing. Damned good thing. Beggar had probably been afraid all his life. Don’t know what started it. But over now. Hadn’t had time to be afraid with the buff. That and being angry too. Motor car too. Motor cars made it familiar. Be a damn fire eater now. He’d seen it in the war work the same way. More of a change than any loss of virginity. Fear gone like an operation. Something else grew in its place. Main thing a man had. Made him into a man. Women knew it too. No bloody fear.
From the far corner of the seat Margaret Macomber looked at the two of them. There was no change in Wilson. She saw Wilson as she had seen him the day before when she had first realized what his great talent was. But she saw the change in Francis Macomber now. “Do you have that feeling of happiness about what’s going to happen?”
Macomber asked, still exploring his new wealth.
“You’re not supposed to mention it,” Wilson said, looking in the other’s face. “Much more fashionable to say you’re scared. Mind you, you’ll be scared too, plenty of times.”
But you have a feeling of happiness about action to come?”
“Yes,” said Wilson. “There’s that. Doesn’t do to talk too much about all this. Talk the whole thing away. No pleasure in anything if you mouth it up too much.
“You’re both talking rot,” said Margot. “Just because you’ve chased some helpless animals in a motor car you talk like heroes.
“Sorry,” said Wilson. “I have been gassing too much.” She’s worried about it already, he thought.
“If you don’t know what we’re talking about why not keep out of it?” Macomber asked his wife.
“You’ve gotten awfully brave, awfully suddenly,” his wife said contemptuously, but her contempt was not secure. She was very afraid of something.
Macomber laughed, a very natural hearty laugh. “You know I have,” he said. “I really have.”
“Isn’t it sort of late?” Margot said bitterly. Because she had done the best she could for many years back and the way they were together now was no one person’s fault.
“Not for me,” said Macomber.
Margot said nothing but sat back in the corner of the seat.
“Do you think we’ve given him time enough?” Macomber asked Wilson cheerfully.
“We might have a look,” Wilson said. “Have you any solids left?”
“The gun-bearer has some.”
Wilson called in Swahili and the older gun-bearer, who was skinning out one of the heads, straightened up, pulled a box of solids out of his pocket end brought them over to Macomber, who filled his magazine and put the remaining shells in his pocket.
“You might as well shoot the Springfield,” Wilson said. “You’re used to it. We’ll leave the Mannlicher in the car with the Memsahib. Your gun-bearer can carry your heavy gun. I’ve this damned cannon. Now let me tell you about them.” He had saved this until the last because he did not want to worry Macomber. “When a buff comes he comes with his head high and thrust straight out. The boss of the horns covers any sort of a brain shot. The only shot is straight into the nose. The only other shot is into his chest or, if you’re to one side, into the neck or the shoulders.
After they’ve been hit once they take a hell of a lot of killing. Don’t try anything fancy. Take the easiest shot there is. They’ve finished skinning out that head now. Should we get started.?”
He called to the gun-bearers, who came up wiping their hands, and the older one got into the back.
“I’ll only take Kongoni,” Wilson said. “The other can watch to keep the birds away.”
As the car moved slowly across the open space toward the island of brushy trees that ran in a tongue of foliage along a dry water course that cut the open swale, Macomber felt his heart pounding and his mouth was dry again, but it was excitement, not fear.
“Here’s where he went in,” Wilson said. Then to the gun-bearer in Swahili, “Take the blood spoor.”
The car was parallel to the patch of bush. Macomber, Wilson and the gun-bearer got down. Macomber, looking back, saw his wife, with the rifle by her side, looking at him. He waved to her and she did not wave back.
The brush was very thick ahead and the ground was dry. The middle-aged gun-bearer was sweating heavily and Wilson had his hat down over his eyes and his red neck showed just ahead of Macomber. Suddenly the gun-bearer said something in Swahili to Wilson and ran forward.
“He’s dead in there,” Wilson said. “Good work,” and he turned to grip. Macomber’s hand and as they shook hands, grinning at each other, the gun-bearer shouted wildly and they saw him coming out of the bush sideways, fast as a crab, and the bull coming, nose out, mouth tight closed, blood dripping, missive head straight out, coming in a charge, his little pig eyes bloodshot as he looked at them. Wilson who was ahead was kneeling shooting, and Macomber, as he fired, unhearing his shot in the roaring of Wilson’s gun, saw fragments like slate burst from the huge boss of the horns, and the head jerked, he shot again at the wide nostrils and saw the horns jolt again and fragment fly, and he did not see Wilson now and, aiming carefully, shot again with the buffalo’s huge bulk almost on him and his rifle almost level with the on-coming head, nose out, and he could see the little wicked eyes and the head started to lower and he felt a sudden white-hot, blinding flash explode inside his head and that was all he ever felt. Wilson had ducked to one side to get in a shoulder shot. Macomber had stood solid and shot for the nose, shooting a touch high each time and hitting the heavy horns, splintering and chipping them like hitting a slate roof, and Mrs. Macomber, in the car, had shot at the buffalo with the 6.5 Mannlicher as it seemed about to gore Macomber and had hit her husband about two inches up and a little to one side of the base of his skull.
Francis Macomber lay now, face down, not two yards from where the buffalo lay on his side and his wife knelt over him with Wilson beside her.
“I wouldn’t turn him over,” Wilson said.
The woman was crying hysterically.
“I’d get back in the car,” Wilson said. “Where’s the rifle?”
She shook her head, her face contorted. The gun-bearer picked up the rifle.
Leave it as it is,” said Wilson. Then, “Go get Abdulla so that he may
witness the manner of the accident.”
He knelt down, took a handkerchief from his pocket, and spread it over Francis Macomber’s crew-cropped head where it lay. The blood sank into the dry, loose earth.
Wilson stood up and saw the buffalo on his side, his legs out, his thinly-haired belly crawling with ticks. “Hell of a good bull,” his brain registered automatically. “A good fifty inches, or better. Better.” He called to the driver and told him to spread a blanket over the body and stay by it. Then he walked over to the motor car where the woman sat crying in the corner.
“That was a pretty thing to do,” he said in a toneless voice. “He would have left you too.”
“Stop it,” she said.
“Of course it’s an accident,” he said. “I know that.”
“Stop it,” she said.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “There will be a certain amount of unpleasantness but I will have some photographs taken that will be very useful at the inquest. There’s the testimony of the gun-bearer and the driver too. You’re perfectly all right.”
“Stop it,” she said.
“There’s a hell of a lot to be done,” he said. “And I’ll have to send a truck off to the lake to wireless for a plane to take the three of us into Nairobi. Why didn’t you poison him? That’s what they do in England.”
“Stop it. Stop it. Stop it,” the woman cried.
Wilson looked at her with his flat blue eyes.
“I’m through now,” he said. “I was a little angry. I’d begun to like your husband.”
“Oh, please stop it,” she said. “Please, please stop it.”
“That’s better,” Wilson said. “Please is much better. Now I’ll stop.”
— THE END –