What sort of things?
I don't know.
You mean like ghosts or somethin'?
No. I don't know what. You just knows he sees em. They're out there.
Not just some class of varmint?
Not somethin' that will booger him?
No. It's more like somethin' he knows about.
But you don't.
But you don't. Yes.
The old man smoked. He watched the moon. No further birds flew. After a while he said: I ain't talkin about spooks. It's more like just the way things are. If you only knew it.
We was up on the Platte River out of Ogallala one night and I was bedded down in my soogan out away from the camp. It was a moonlit night just about like tonight. Cold. Spring of the year. I woke up and I guess I'd heard em in my sleep and it was just this big whisperin' sound all over and it was geese just by the thousands headed up the river. They passed for the better part of a hour. They blacked out the moon. I thought the herd would get up off the grounds but they didn't. I got up and walked out and stood watchin' em and some of the other young waddies in the outfit they had got up too and we was all standin' out there in our longjohns watchin'. It was just this whisperin' sound. They was up high and it wasn't loud or nothin' and I wouldn't of thought about somethin' like that a wakin' us wore out as we was. I had a nighthorse in my string named Boozer and old Boozer he come to me. I reckon he thought the herd'd get up too but they didn't. And they was a snuffy bunch, too.
Did you ever have a stampede?
Yes. We was drivin' to Abilene in eighteen and eighty-five. I wasn't much more than a button. And we had got into it with a rep from one of the outfits and he followed us to where we crossed the Red River at Doane's store into Indian Territory. He knew we'd have a harder time gettin' our stock back there and we did but we caught the old boy and it was him for you could still smell the coaloil on him. He come by in the night and set a cat on fire and throwed it onto the herd. I mean slung it. Walter Devereaux was comin in off the middle watch and he heard it and looked back. Said it looked like a comet goin' out through there and just a squallin'. Lord didn't they come up from there. It took us three days to shape that herd back and whenever we left out of there we was still missin' forty some odd head lost or crippled or stole and two horses.
What happened to the boy?
That threw the cat.
Oh. Best I remember he didn't make out too well.
I guess not.
People will do anything.
Yessir. They will.
You live long enough you'll see it.
Yessir. I have.
Mr Johnson didn't answer. He flipped the butt of his cigarette out across the yard in a slow red arc.
Ain't nothin' to burn out there. I remember when you could have grassfires in this country.
I didn't mean I'd seen everything, John Grady said.
I know you didn't.
I just meant I'd seen things I'd as soon not of.
I know it. There's hard lessons in this world.
What's the hardest?
I don't know. Maybe it's just that when things are gone they're gone. They ain't comin back.
They sat. After a while the old man said: The day after my fiftieth birthday in March of nineteen and seventeen I rode into the old headquarters at the Wilde well and there was six dead wolves hangin' on the fence. I rode along the fence and ran my hand along em. I looked at their eyes. A government trapper had brought em in the night before. They'd been killed with poison baits. Strychnine. Whatever. Up in the Sacramentos. A week later he brought in four more. I ain't heard a wolf in this country since. I suppose that's a good thing. They can be hell on stock. But I guess I was always what you might call superstitious. I know I damn sure wasn't religious. And it had always seemed to me that somethin' can live and die but that the kind of thing that they were was always there. I didn't know you could poison that. I ain't heard a wolf howl in thirty odd years. I don't know where you'd go to hear one. There may not be any such a place.
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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