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Miss Mary's Lion
Ernest Hemingway
January 03, 1972
The scene is southern Kenya in December 1953, where the Hemingways are on safari. Ernest is now leading the hunt and has become a quasi-official of the Kenya Game Department, a serious responsibility in this time of the Mau Mau uprisings. He has further complicated matters with a prophecy that Miss Mary will kill a great rogue lion by "the birthday of the Baby Jesus." That date is near at hand. So is the lion, and this dangerous business has gone on far too long.
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January 03, 1972

Miss Mary's Lion

The scene is southern Kenya in December 1953, where the Hemingways are on safari. Ernest is now leading the hunt and has become a quasi-official of the Kenya Game Department, a serious responsibility in this time of the Mau Mau uprisings. He has further complicated matters with a prophecy that Miss Mary will kill a great rogue lion by "the birthday of the Baby Jesus." That date is near at hand. So is the lion, and this dangerous business has gone on far too long.

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PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS

Miss Mary, who meets her lion under less than ideal conditions, to the considerable hazard of all.

G.C., the head Game Ranger for the area, who takes Miss Mary to her moment of confrontation.

Hairy Steele, a Kenya police official with grave concerns who is on hand as the shooting begins.

Ngui, Ernest's gunbearer, who is more of a comrade in arms when the time comes to celebrate.

Charo, Miss Mary's gunbearer, who tries to convince her that what has happened has happened.

I sat by the fire in an old pair of pajamas from Idaho, tucked into a pair of worn mosquito boots made in Hong Kong and wearing a warm wool robe from Pendleton, Oregon and drank a whisky and soda made from a bottle of whisky Mr. Singh had given me as a present and boiled water from the stream that ran down from the mountain animated by a syphon cartridge made in Nairobi.

"I'm a stranger here." I thought. But the whisky said no and it was the time of day for the whisky to be right. Whisky can be as right as it can be wrong and it said I was not a stranger and I knew it was correct at this time of night. Anyway my boots had come home because they were made of ostrich hide and I remembered the place where I had found the leather in the bootmaker's in Hong Kong. No it was not me who found the leather. It was someone else and then I thought about who had found the leather and about those days and then I thought about different women and how they would be in Africa and how lucky I had been to have known fine women that loved Africa. I had known some really terrible ones who had only gone there to have been there and I had known some true bitches and several alcoholics to whom Africa had just been another place for more ample bitchery or fuller drunkenness. The bitches only hunted men although they shot other animals and the alcoholics blamed their rummyhood on the altitude. But they were just as drunk at sea level.

The alcoholics always had some great tragedy which had caused them to drink beyond reason but all of those I had known before their great tragedies had been rummies then too. The white male rummies in Africa were about as boring as the ex-rummies. With one exception I know no greater bore than the former alcoholic. Beside him the impotent man, the former forger, the retired panderer, the reformed card cheat, the ex-chief of police, the former Labor Government minister, a former noncareer ambassador to a Central American country, an aging official of Moral Re-Armament, an interim French Premier, ex-royalty, a former radio political commentator, a retired evangelist, a dedicated big game angler complete with statistics, an unfrocked priest or a professional ex-Communist are figures of blinding interest and charm.

I thought of that last former alcoholic I had met in Nairobi. He was very hearty and at once asked me to have a drink. They hang about bars at crowded hours taking up the place that might be occupied by an honest drinker and while they sip their tomato juice or barley water and nutmeg they look at the drinkers with that look of the ex-alcoholic which is compounded of Moral Re-Armament, crossed with one third marabou stork and a third of the curiosity of the fashionable undertaker who is a little overdrawn at his bank.

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