Friday, July 31, 2015
What ‘Papa’ Hemingway Might Think About The 'Cecil The Lion' Shooting
|Minnesota Dentist Walter Palmer, left.|
The killing of Cecil the Lion in Zimbabwe, by American dentist and bow hunter Walter Palmer, provided a peg for Salon to take its readers “Inside the sick, bizarre world of trophy hunting,” as its hedline put it. It’s worth the read for an understanding of the pressures on guides to “deliver the goods” for wealthy clients. It reminded me of the pressure wealthy would-be summiteers put on their climbing guides in Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, which set the stage for tragedy on Mt Everest back in 1996.
The Salon piece on trophy hunting also brought to mind Hemingway’s The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, published in Cosmopolitan, of all places, in 1936. The Hemingway/Macomber reference seemed especially noteworthy as the fact emerged that the dentist only wounded the lion with his arrows, and had to track him for 40 hours through the bush before finding him and killing him with a high caliber rifle. Something similar happens in the Hemingway short story, providing a setting for Papa to dramatize the themes most dear to him: courage, cowardice and fate, all infused with plenty of testosterone. Below is the key scene, when the Great White Hunting Guide, Robert Wilson, has to explain to the hapless and cowardly Macomber that they have to find the lion they just wounded, as a point of honor as hunters and out of responsibility for the people in the bush who might be hurt if they accidentally came upon him. The excerpt I’ve posted is a long one. But as I read through the story almost every paragraph seemed so classic that I couldn’t bear to put any of them down. Memo to the triumphant-now-hunted Walter Palmer: In the end, Macomber does have his moment of glory only to lose his wife, as well as his own life.
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 br ing 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 chee rily. "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 we'll 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:
"Want 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.