Excerpt of True At First Light by Ernest Hemingway
(Page 6 of 6)
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"Did you get any pictures?" I asked Miss Mary.
"I couldn't. She was right behind us."
"Didn't you get her when she came out?"
"I don't blame you."
"I picked out the Christmas tree though."
"You see why I wanted to cover you," I said unnecessarily and stupidly.
"You didn't know she was in there."
"She lives around here and she goes to the stream at the edge of the swamp for water."
"Everybody was so serious," Miss Mary said. "I never saw all of you joke people get so serious."
"Honey, it would have been awful if I had had to kill her. And I was worried about you."
"Everybody so serious," she said. "And everybody holding on to my arm. I knew how to get back to the car. Nobody had to hold on to my arm."
"Honey," I said, "they were only holding your arm so that you wouldn't step in a hole or trip on something. They were watching the ground all the time. The rhino was very close and might charge anytime and we're not allowed to kill her."
"How did you know it was a female with a calf?"
"It stood to reason. She's been around here for four months."
"I wish she wasn't right in the place where the Christmas trees grow."
"We'll get the tree all right."
"You always promise things," she said. "But things are much simpler and better when Mr. P. is here."
"They certainly are," I said. "And they are much easier when G.C. is here. But there is nobody here but us now and please let's not fight in Africa. Please not."
"I don't want to fight," she said. "I'm not fighting. I simply don't like to see all you private joke people get so serious and so righteous."
"Have you ever seen anybody killed by a rhino?"
"No," she said. "And neither have you."
"That's right," I said. "And I don't intend to. Pop's never seen it either."
"I didn't like it when you all got so serious."
"It was because I couldn't kill the rhino. If you can kill it there's no problem. Then I had to think about you."
"Well, stop thinking about me," she said. "Think about us getting the Christmas tree."
I was beginning to feel somewhat righteous and I wished that Pop was with us to make a diversion. But Pop was not with us anymore.
"We are going back through the gerenuk country at least aren't we?"
"Yes," I said. "We turn to the right at those big stones up ahead across the mud flat at the edge of the high tree bush those baboons are crossing into now and we proceed across the flat to the east until we come to that other rhino drop. Then we go southeast to the old Manyatta and we are in the gerenuk country."
"It will be nice to be there," she said. "But I certainly miss Pop."
"So do I," I said.
There are always mystical countries that are a part of one's childhood. Those we remember and visit sometimes when we are asleep and dreaming. They are as lovely at night as they were when we were children. If you ever go back to see them they are not there. But they are as fine in the night as they ever were if you have the luck to dream of them.
In Africa when we lived on the small plain in the shade of the big thorn trees near the river at the edge of the swamp at the foot of the great mountain we had such countries. We were no longer, technically, children although in many ways I am quite sure that we were. Childish has become a term of contempt.
"Don't be childish, darling."
"I hope to Christ I am. Don't be childish yourself."
It is possible to be grateful that no one that you would willingly associate with would say, "Be mature. Be well-balanced, be well-adjusted."
Africa, being as old as it is, makes all people except the professional invaders and spoilers into children. No one says to anyone in Africa, "Why don't you grow up?" All men and animals acquire a year more of age each year and some acquire a year more of knowledge. The animals that die the soonest learn the fastest. A young gazelle is mature, well-balanced and well-adjusted at the age of two years. He is well-balanced and well-adjusted at the age of four weeks. Men know that they are children in relation to the country and, as in armies, seniority and senility ride close together. But to have the heart of a child is not a disgrace. It is an honor. A man must comport himself as a man. He must fight always preferably and soundly with the odds in his favor but on necessity against any sort of odds and with no thought of the outcome. He should follow his tribal laws and customs insofar as he can and accept the tribal discipline when he cannot. But it is never a reproach that he has kept a child's heart, a child's honesty and a child's freshness and nobility.
Copyright Hemingway 1999. Published with the permission of the publisher. No part of this book may be reproduced without the written permission of the publisher.