Excerpt from True At First Light by Ernest Hemingway, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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True At First Light

by Ernest Hemingway

True At First Light
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  • First Published:
    Jul 1999, 320 pages
    Jul 2000, 320 pages

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"What are you going to do?"

"Bring the car up and make a quick swing to check for tracks at the big water and then go into that place in the forest where it borders the swamp and check and then get out. We'll be downwind of the elephant and you might see him. Probably not."

"Can we go back through the gerenuk country?"

"Of course. I'm sorry we started late. But with Pop going away and everything."

"I like to go in there in that bad place. I can study what we need for a Christmas tree. Do you think my lion is in there?"

"Probably. But we won't see him in that kind of country."

"He's such a smart bastard lion. Why didn't they let me shoot that easy beautiful lion under the tree that time. That's the way women shoot lions."

"They shoot them that way and the finest black-maned lion ever shot by a woman had maybe forty shots fired into him. Afterwards they have the beautiful pictures and then they have to live with the god-damn lion and lie about him to all their friends and themselves the rest of their lives."

"I'm sorry I missed the wonderful lion at Magadi."

"Don't you be sorry. You be proud."

"I don't know what made me this way. I have to get him and he has to be the real one."

"We overhunted him, honey. He's too smart. I have to let him get confidence now and make a mistake."

"He doesn't make mistakes. He's smarter than you and Pop both."

"Honey, Pop wanted you to get him or lose him straight. If he didn't love you you could have shot any sort of a lion."

"Let's not talk about him," she said. "I want to think about the Christmas tree. We're going to have a wonderful Christmas."

Mthuka had seen Ngui start down the trail for him and brought up the car. We got in and I motioned Mthuka toward the far water at the corner across the swamp. Ngui and I both hung out over the side watching for tracks. There were the old wheel tracks and the game trails to and from the papyrus swamp. There were fresh wildebeest tracks and the tracks of the zebra and Tommy.

Now we were going closer to the forest as the road swung and then we saw the tracks of a man. Then of another man wearing boots. These tracks had been rained on lightly and we stopped the car to check on foot.

"You and me," I said to Ngui.

"Yes," he grinned. "One of them has big feet and walks as though he is tired."

"One is barefooted and walks as though the rifle were too heavy for him. Stop the car," I said to Mthuka. We got out.

"Look," said Ngui. "One walks as though he were very old and can hardly see. The one with shoes."

"Look," I said. "The barefoot one walks as though he has five wives and twenty cows. He has spent a fortune on beer."

"They will get nowhere," Ngui said. "Look, the one with shoes walks as though he might die at any time. He staggers under the weight of the rifle."

"What do you think they are doing here?"

"How would I know? Look, the one with shoes is stronger now."

"He is thinking about the Shamba," Ngui said.

"Kwenda na Shamba."

"Ndio," Ngui said. "How old would you say the old one with the shoes is?"

"None of your damn business," I said. We motioned for the car and when it got up we got in and I motioned Mthuka toward the entrance to the forest. The driver was laughing and shaking his head.

"What were you two doing tracking yourselves?" Miss Mary said. "I know it's funny because everybody was laughing. But it looked quite silly."

"We were having fun."

I was always depressed by this part of the forest. The elephants had to eat something and it was proper that they should eat trees rather than destroy the native farms. But the destruction was so great in proportion to the amount they ate from the trees they pulled down that it was depressing to see it. Elephants were the only animal that were increasing steadily throughout their present range in Africa. They increased until they became such a problem to the natives that they had to be slaughtered. Then they were killed off indiscriminately. There were men who did this and enjoyed it. They killed old bulls, young bulls, cows and calves and many liked their work. There had to be some sort of elephant control. But seeing this damage to the forest and the way the trees were pulled down and stripped and knowing what they could do in a native Shamba in a night, I started to think about the problems of control. But all the time I was watching for the tracks of the two elephants we had seen leading into this part of the forest. I knew those two elephants and where they would probably go for the day, but until I had seen their tracks and was sure they were past us I must be careful about Miss Mary wandering around looking for a suitable Christmas tree.

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.

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