Late that night lying in his bunk in the dark he heard the kitchen door close and heard the screendoor close after it. He lay there. Then he sat and swung his feet to the floor and got his boots and his jeans and pulled them on and put on his hat and walked out. The moon was almost full and it was cold and late and no smoke rose from the kitchen chimney. Mr Johnson was sitting on the back stoop in his duckingcoat smoking a cigarette. He looked up at John Grady and nodded. John Grady sat on the stoop beside him. What are you doin' out here without your hat? he said.
I don't know.
You all right?
Yeah. I'm all right. Sometimes you miss bein' outside at night. You want a cigarette?
Could you not sleep either?
No sir. I guess not.
How's them new horses?
I think he done all right.
Them was some boogerish colts I seen penned up in the corral.
I think he's goin' to sell off some of them.
Horsetradin', the old man said. He shook his head. He smoked.
Did you used to break horses, Mr Johnson?
Some. Mostly just what was required. I was never a twister in any sense of the word. I got hurt once pretty bad. You can get spooked and not know it. Just little things. You don't hardly even know it.
But you like to ride.
I do. Margaret could outride me two to one though. As good a woman with a horse as I ever saw. Way better'n me. Hard thing for a man to admit but it's the truth.
You worked for the Matadors didn't you?
Yep. I did.
How was that?
Hard work. That's how it was.
I guess that ain't changed.
Oh it probably has. Some. I was never in love with the cattle business. It's just the only one I ever knew.
Can I ask you somethin'? said John Grady.
How old were you when you got married?
I was never married. Never found anybody that'd have me.
He looked at John Grady.
Margaret was my brother's girl. Him and his wife both was carried off in the influenza epidemic in nineteen and eighteen.
I didn't know that.
She never really knowed her parents. She was just a baby. Well, five. Where's your coat at?
I'm all right.
I was in Fort Collins Colorado at the time. They sent for me. I shipped my horses and come back on the train with em. Don't catch cold out here now.
No sir. I wont. I ain't cold.
I had ever motivation in the world but I never could find one I thought would suit Margaret.
Wife. One wife. We finally just give it up. Probably a mistake. I don't know. Socorro pretty much raised her. She spoke better Spanish than Socorro did. It's just awful hard. It liked to of killed Socorro. She still ain't right. I don't expect she ever will be.
We tried ever way in the world to spoil her rotten but it didn't take. I don't know why she turned out the way she did. It's just a miracle I guess you could say. I don't take no credit for it, I'll tell you that.
Look yonder. The old man nodded toward the moon.
You cant see em now. Wait a minute. No. They're gone.
What was it?
Birds flyin' across the moon. Geese maybe. I don't know.
I didn't see em. Which way were they headed?
Upcountry. Probably headed for that marsh country on the river up around Belen.
I used to love to ride of a night.
I did too.
You'll see things on the desert at night that you cant understand. Your horse will see things. He'll see things that will spook him of course but then he'll see things that don't spook him but still you know he seen somethin'.
Use of this excerpt from Cities of the Plain by Cormac McCarthy may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice: Copyright© 1998 by Cormac McCarthy. All rights reserved.
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