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Miss Mary's Lion
Ernest Hemingway
December 20, 1971
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December 20, 1971

Miss Mary's Lion

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"Mzuri," he said and went off to the cooking fire.

We both knew how hard Mary had hunted for so many days and it would be good for her to sleep as long as she could and wake of her own accord. She was more tired than she knew. Arap Maina would be in with the real report on the big black-maned lion. There was word from the Masai up in the western hills that he had killed two cows and dragged one away with him. The Masai had suffered under him for a long time. He traveled restlessly and he did not return to his kills as a lion would be expected to. Arap Maina had the theory that this lion had once returned and fed on a kill that had been poisoned by a former Game Ranger and that he had been made terribly sick by it and had learned, or decided, never to return to a kill. That would account for his moving about so much; but not for the haphazard way he visited the various Masai villages or manyata. Now the plain, the salt licks and the bush country were heavy with game since the good grass had come with the violent short rains of November and Arap Maina, Ngui and I all expected the big lion to leave the hills and come down to the plain where he could hunt out of the edge of the swamp. This was his customary way of hunting in this district.

The Masai can be very sarcastic and their cattle are not only their wealth but something much more to them and The Informer had told me that one chief had spoken very badly about the fact that I had two chances to kill this lion and instead had waited to let a woman do it. I had sent word to the chief that if his young men were not women who spent all their time in Loitokitok drinking Golden Jeep sherry he would have no need to ask for me to kill his lion but that I would see he was killed the next time he came into the area where we were. If he cared to bring his young men I would take a spear with them and we would kill him that way. I asked him to come into camp and we would talk it over.

He had turned up at camp one morning with three other elders and I had sent for The Informer to interpret. We had a good talk. The chief explained that The Informer had misquoted him. Bwana Game [G.C.] had always killed the lions that it was necessary to kill and was a very brave and skillful man and they had great confidence in him and affection for him. He remembered too that when we had been here last in the time of the dryness Bwana Game had killed a lion and Bwana Game and I had killed a lioness with the young men. This lioness had done much damage.

I answered that these facts were known and that it was the duty of Bwana Game and, for this period of time, myself to kill any lions that molested cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats or people. This we would always do. It was necessary for the religion of the Memsahib that she kill this particular lion before the birthday of the Baby jesus. We came from a far country and were of a tribe of that country and this was necessary. They would be shown the skin of this Hon before the birthday of the Baby Jesus.

We had all shaken hands and they had gone. I was a little worried about the time element as Christmas was getting close. But the lion would certainly come down to the plain with the amount of game that was here now and you always had to take some chances. To be a successful prophet you had to prophesy. I wondered how many of the Masai would know him by that old scar on his foot. Probably plenty would know him. As always I was a little appalled by my oratory after it was over and had the usual sinking feeling about commitments made....

The rougher pagan element of the camp thought that Miss Mary's tribal religion was one of the sterner branches of religion since it involved the slaying of a gerenuk under impossible conditions, the slaughter of a bad lion and the worship of a special tree which fortunately Miss Mary did not know produced the concoction that excited and maddened the Masai for war and lion hunting. I am not sure that Keiti knew this was one of the properties of the particular Christmas tree that Miss Mary had selected, but about five of us knew it and it was a very carefully kept secret.

They did not believe that the lion was a part of Miss Mary's Christmas duty because they had been with her while she had sought a big lion now for three months. But Ngui had put forth a theory that perhaps Miss Mary had to kill a large black-maned lion in the year sometime before Christmas and being too short to see in the high grass she had started early. She had started in September to kill the lion before the end of the year or whenever the birthday of the Baby Jesus was. Ngui was not sure. But it came before that other great holiday the Birth of the Year which was a payday.

There is as much difference between a wild lion and a marauding lion and the type of lion tourists take pictures of in the national parks as there is between the old grizzly that will follow your trap line and ruin it and tear the roofs off your cabins and eat the supplies and yet never. be seen and the bears that come up alongside the road to be photographed in Yellowstone Park. True the bears in the park injure people every year and if the tourists do not stay in their cars they will get in trouble. They even get in trouble in their cars sometimes and some bears get bad and have to be destroyed.

Picture lions that are accustomed to being fed and photographed sometimes wander away from the area where they are protected and having learned not to fear human beings are easily killed by alleged sportsmen and their wives always, of course, backed up by a professional hunter. But our problem was not to criticize how other people had killed lions or would kill lions but to find and have Miss Mary find and kill an intelligent, destructive and much hunted lion in a way that had been defined if not by our religion by certain ethical standards. Miss Mary had hunted by these standards for a long time now. They were very severe standards and Charo who loved Miss Mary was impatient of them. He had been mauled three times by leopard when things had gone wrong and he thought I was holding Mary to a standard of ethics which was too rigid and slightly murderous. But I had not invented them. I had learned them from Pop and Pop, on his last lion hunt and taking out his last safari, wanted things to be as they were in the old days before the hunting of dangerous game had been corrupted and made easy by what he always called "these bloody cars."

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