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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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"I don't know, honey."

Then she was asleep. I occupied a small part of the big cot and listened to the lion. He was silent until about three o'clock when he killed. After that the hyenas all started to speak and the lion fed and from time to time spoke gruffly. There was no talk from his lionesses. One I knew was about to have cubs and would have nothing to do with him and the other was her girl friend. I thought it was still too wet to find him when it was light, but there was always a chance.

Long before it was light Mwendi woke us with the tea. He said "hodi" and left the tea outside the door of the tent on the table. I took a cup in to Mary and dressed outside. It was overcast and you could not see the stars.

Charo and Ngui came in the dark to get the guns and the cartridges and I took my tea out to the table where one of the boys who served the mess tent was building up the fire. Mary was washing and getting dressed, still between sleeping and waking. I walked out and found the ground was still quite damp underfoot. It had dried during the night and it would be much drier than the day before. But I still doubted if we could take the car much past where I figured the lion had killed and I was sure it would be too wet beyond there and between there and the swamp.

The swamp was really misnamed. There was an actual papyrus swamp with much flowing water in it that was a mile and a half across and perhaps four miles long. But the locality that we referred to as the swamp also consisted of the area of big trees that surrounded it. Many of these were on comparatively high ground and some were very beautiful. They made a band of forest around the true swamp but there were parts of this timber that had been pulled down by feeding elephants that were almost impassable. There were several rhino that lived in the forest, there were nearly always some elephant now and sometimes there was a great herd of elephant. Two herds of buffalo used it. Leopards lived in the deep part of this forest and hunted out of it. And it was the refuge of this particular lion when he came down to feed on the game of the plains.

This forest of great, tall and fallen trees was the western boundary of the open and wooded plain and the beautiful glades that were bounded on the north by the salt flats and the broken lava rock country that led to the other great marsh that lay between our country and the Chyulu hills. On the east was the miniature desert that was the gerenuk country and farther to the east was a country of bushy broken hills that later rose in height toward the flanks of Mount Kilimanjaro. It was not as simple as that, but that was how it seemed from camp or from the center of the plain and the glades.

The lion's habit was to kill on the plain or in the broken glades during the night and then, having eaten, retire to the belt of forest that lay to the westward. Our plan was to locate him on his kill and stalk him there, or to have the luck to intercept him on his way to the forest. If he got enough confidence so that he would not go all the way to the forest we could track him from the kill to wherever he might lie up after he had gone for water.

While Mary was dressing and then making her way across the meadow to the belt of trees where the green canvas latrine tent was hidden I was thinking about the lion. We must take him on if there was any chance of success. But if there was only a chance of frightening him or of spooking him into high grass or difficult country where she could not see him because of her height we should leave him alone to become confident. I hoped we would find that he had gone off after he had fed, drunk at some of the surface water that still lay in the mud-holes of the plain, and then gone to sleep in one of the brush islands of the plain or the patches of trees in the glades.

The car was ready with Muthoka at the wheel and I had checked all the guns when Mary came back. It was light now but not light enough to shoot. The clouds were still well down the slopes of the mountain and there was no sign of the sun except that the light was strengthening. I looked through the sights of my rifle but it was still too dark to shoot. Charo and Ngui were both very serious and formal.

"How do you feel, Kitten?" I said to Mary.

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