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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We stopped the car and I took the big gun and helped Miss Mary out of the car.

"I don't need any help," she said.

"Look, honey," I started to explain. "I have to stay with you with the big gun."

"I'm just going to pick out a Christmas tree."

"I know. But there could be every kind of stuff in here. There has been too."

"Let Ngui stay with me then and Charo's here."

"Honey, I'm responsible for you."

"You can be an awful bore about it too."

"I know it." Then I said, "Ngui."


The joking was all suspended.

"Go and see if the two elephants went into the far forest. Go as far as the rocks."


He went off across the open space watching ahead for tracks in the grass and carrying my Springfield in his right hand.

"I only want to pick one out," Miss Mary said. "Then we can come out some morning and dig it up and get it back to camp and plant it while it is still cool."

"Go ahead," I said. I was watching Ngui. He had stopped once and listened. Then he went on walking very carefully. I followed Miss Mary who was looking at the different silvery thorn shrubs trying to find one with the best size and shape but I kept looking back at Ngui over my shoulder. He stopped again and listened then waved toward the deep forest with his left arm. He looked around at me and I waved him back to us. He came in fast; as fast as he could walk without running.

"Where are they?" I asked.

"They crossed and went into the forest. I could hear them. The old bull and his askari."

"Good," I said.

"Listen," he whispered. "Faro." He pointed toward the thick forest on the right. I had heard nothing. "Mzuri motocah," he said, meaning, in shorthand, "Better get into the car."

"Get Miss Mary."

I turned toward where Ngui had pointed. I could see only the silvery shrubs, the green grass and the line of tall trees with vines and creepers hanging from them. Then I heard the noise like a sharp deep purr. It was the noise you would make if you held your tongue against the roof of your mouth and blew out strong so your tongue vibrated as a reed. It came from where Ngui had pointed. But I could see nothing. I slipped the safety catch forward on the .577 and turned my head to the left. Miss Mary was coming at an angle to get behind where I stood. Ngui was holding her by the arm to guide her and she was walking as though she were treading on eggs. Charo was following her. Then I heard the sharp rough purr again and I saw Ngui fall back with the Springfield ready and Charo move forward and take Miss Mary's arm. They were even with me now and were working toward where the car must be. I knew the driver, Mthuka, was deaf and would not hear the rhino. But when he saw them he would know what was happening. I did not want to look around. But I did and saw Charo urging Miss Mary toward the hunting car. Ngui was moving fast with them carrying the Springfield and watching over his shoulder. It was my duty not to kill the rhino. But I would have to if he or she charged and there was no way out. I planned to shoot the first barrel into the ground to turn the rhino. If it did not turn I would kill it with the second barrel. Thank you very much I said to myself. It is easy.

Just then I heard the motor of the hunting car start and heard the car coming fast in low gear. I started to fall back figuring a yard was a yard and feeling better with each yard gained. The hunting car swung alongside in a tight turn and I pushed the safety and jumped for the handhold by the front seat as the rhino came smashing out through the vines and creepers. It was the big cow and she came galloping. From the car she looked ridiculous with her small calf galloping behind her.

She gained on us for a moment but the car pulled away. There was a good open space ahead and Mthuka swung the car sharply to the left. The rhino went straight on galloping then slowed to a trot and the calf trotted too.

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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