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
    Paperback:
    Jul 2000, 320 pages

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"Oh go to hell."

"I shall go to prepare a place for thee," Pop said.

"And elephants?"

"Never give them a thought," Pop said. "Enormous silly beasts. Harmless everyone says. Just remember how deadly you are with all other beasts. After all they are not the woolly mastodon. I've never seen one with a tusk that made two curves."

"Who told you about that?"

"Keiti," Pop said. "He told me you bag thousands of them in the off-season. Those and your saber-toothed tiger and your brontosauruses."

"The son of a bitch," I said.

"No. He more than half believes it. He has a copy of the magazine and they look very convincing. I think he believes it some days and some days not. It depends on whether you bring him any guinea fowl and how you're shooting in general."

"It was a pretty well illustrated article on prehistoric animals."

"Yes. Very. Most lovely pictures. And you made a very rapid advance as a white hunter when you told him you had only come to Africa because your mastodon license was filled at home and you had shot over your limit on saber-toothed tiger. I told him it was God's truth and that you were a sort of escaped ivory poacher from Rawlins, Wyoming, which was rather like the Lado Enclave in the old days and that you had come out here to pay reverence to me who had started you in as a boy, barefoot of course, and to try to keep your hand in for when they would let you go home and take out a new mastodon license."

"Pop, please tell me one sound thing about elephants. You know I have to do away with them if they are bad behaving and if they ask me to."

"Just remember your old mastodon technique," Pop said. "Try and get your first barrel in between that second ring of the tusk. On frontals the seventh wrinkle on the nose counting down from the first wrinkle on the high forehead. Extraordinary high foreheads they have. Most abrupt. If you are nervous stick it in his ear. You will find it's simply a pastime."

"Thank you," I said.

"I've never worried ever about you taking care of the Memsahib but take care of yourself a little bit and try to be as good a boy as you can."

"You try too."

"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 looked at the dining tent and at our own tent. Then back to the small tents and the men moving around the cooking fire and then at the trucks and the hunting car, the vehicles seeming frosted in the heavy dew. Then I looked through the trees at the Mountain showing very big and near this morning with the new snow shining in the first sunlight.

"Will you be all right in the truck?"

"Quite. It's a good road you know when it's dry."

"You take the hunting car. I won't need it."

"You're not that good," Pop said. "I want to turn this truck in and send you one that is sound. 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. Now no one would have minded if I had used the word. 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 the 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 gun bearers 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.

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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