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

Miss Mary's Lion

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"Do you remember the morning with the buff, Kittner?" I asked.

She looked across the mess table and said, "Don't ask me things like that. I'm thinking about the lion."

So now we had her lion coming up as soon as the rain would be over and there was the leopard I had promised and guaranteed to kill, honorably, by a certain date.

Those were the only fixed engagements in the book. There would be many duties and interruptions I knew. But those were the two fixtures. So we sat reading in the rain knowing that those were two things that must happen.


In spite of the steady noise of the rain I did not sleep well and I woke twice sweating with nightmares. The last one was a very bad one and I reached out under the mosquito net and felt for the water bottle and the square flask of gin. I brought it into the bed with me and then tucked the netting back under the blanket and the air mattress of the cot. In the dark I rolled my pillow up so I could lay back with my head against it and found the small balsam needle pillow and put it under my neck. Then I felt for my pistol alongside my leg and for the electric torch and then unscrewed the top of the flask of gin.

In the dark with the heavy noise of the rain I took a swallow of the gin. It tasted clean and friendly and made me brave against the nightmare. The nightmare had been about as bad as they come and I have had some bad ones in my time. I knew I could not drink while we were hunting Miss Mary's lion; but we would not be hunting him tomorrow in the wet. Tonight was a bad night for some reason. I had been spoiled by too many good nights and I had come to think that I did not have nightmares anymore. Well I knew now. Perhaps it was because the tent was so battened down against the rain that there was no proper ventilation. Perhaps it was because I had had no exercise all day.

I took another swallow of the gin and it tasted even better and more like the old Giant Killer. It had not been such an exceptional nightmare, I thought. I've had much worse than that. But what I knew was that I had been through with nightmares, the real ones that could drench you in sweat, for a long time and I had only had good or bad dreams and most of the nights they were good dreams.

In the morning it was cold with heavy clouds over all the mountain. There was a high wind again and the rain came in patches but the heavy solid rain was over. I went out to the lines to talk with Keiti and found him very cheerful. He was wearing a raincoat and an old felt hat. He said the weather would probably be good by the next day and I told him we would wait until Memsahib woke before driving in the tent pegs and loosening the wet ropes. He was pleased that the ditching had turned out so well and that neither the sleeping tent nor the mess tent had been wet. He had already sent for a fire to be built and everything was looking better. I told him I had a dream that it had rained heavily up in the reserve. This was a lie but I thought it was good to weigh in with a good heavy lie. If you are going to prophesy it is good to prophesy with the odds in your favor and I thought this dream was much sounder to weigh in with than one of my nightmares.

Keiti heard my dream through with attention and with simulated respect. Then he told me that he had dreamed that it had rained heavily all the way to the Tana River, which was on the edge of the desert, and that six safaris were cut off and would not be able to move for weeks. This, as it was calculated to do, made a very small thing of my dream. I knew that my dream had been registered and would be checked on but I thought I ought to back it up. So I told him, quite truly, that I dreamed that we hanged The Informer. Recounting this I gave him the exact procedure; where, how, why; how he had taken it and how we had taken him out, afterwards, in the hunting car to leave him to be eaten by the hyenas.

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