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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've tried for many years," he said. Then, in the classic formula he said, "Now it is all yours."

So it was. It was all mine on a windless morning of the last day of the month of the next to the last month of the year.

"I want to turn this truck in and send you one that is good," Pop had said. "They don't trust this truck."

It was always they. They were the people; the watu. Once they had been "the boys." They still were to Pop. But he had either known them all when they were boys in age or had known their fathers when their fathers were children. Twenty years ago I had called them boys too and neither they nor I had any thought that I had no right to. No one would have minded if I had used the word now. But the way things were now you did not do it. Everyone had his duties and everyone had a name. Not to know a name was both impolite and a sign of sloppiness. There were special names too of all sorts and shortening of names and friendly and unfriendly nicknames. Pop still cursed them in English or in Swahili and they loved it. I had no right to curse them and I never did. We also all, since our Magadi expedition, had certain secrets and certain things privately shared. Now there were many things that were secrets and there were things that went beyond secrets and were understandings. Some of the secrets were not at all gentle and some were so comic that you would see one of the three gunbearers suddenly laughing and look toward him and know what it was and you would both be laughing so hard that trying to hold in the laughter your diaphragm would ache.

"What are you crazies laughing about?" my wife would ask.

"Strange and funny things," I'd say. "Some very horrible."

"Will you tell me sometime?"


She had studied Swahili diligently and spoke it grammatically and better each day and I always deferred to her knowledge of the language and had her interpret for me in all routine matters. The people enjoyed her Swahili and sometimes I would see laughter start in the corner of the eyes or at the edge of the mouth. But it was always rigidly swallowed. They really loved Miss Mary and when I rejected something that all of us, we bad ones, wanted to do on the grounds that it would hurt Miss Mary it was a valid excuse. We had split into the goods and the bads a long time before this morning when Pop was leaving and he knew about this. Actually there was a third group, the anake or mwanake, the young unspoiled boys that he had trained who according to Kamba law were not yet entitled to drink beer. They were allies of ours, that is to say of the bads. This was especially so in the matter of my fianc�e.

The matter, or as it would be in French, the question or the affair of my fianc�e was not yet a serious one. Debba was very beautiful and quite young and more than perfectly developed. She was the best dancer at the ngoma and both Ngui and I were deeply moved by her. One of the goods had told us, innocently, that he was thinking seriously of taking her as his second wife. This was one of the things which, when we thought of them while out on our duties, made us suddenly happy and provoked laughter.

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