South to Mexico

FROM All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

[Note: The punctuation in this excerpt is faithful to the original.]

They rode out along the fenceline and across the open pastureland. The leather creaked in the morning cold. They pushed the horses into a lope. The lights fell away behind them. They rode out on the high prairie where they slowed the horses to a walk and the stars swarmed around them out of the blackness. They heardsomewhere in that tenantless night a bell that tolled and ceased where no bell was and they rode out on the round dais of the earth which alone was dark and no light to it and which carried their figures and bore them up into the swarming stars so that they rode not under but among them and they rode at once jaunty and circumspect, like thieves newly loosed in that dark electric, like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing.

By noon the day following they’d made some forty miles. Still in country they knew. Crossing the old Mark Fury ranch in the night where they’d dismounted at the crossfences for John Grady to pull the staples with a catspaw and stand on the wires while Rawlins led the horses through and then raise the wires back and beat the staples into the posts and put the catspaw back in his saddlebag and mount up to ride on.

How the hell do they expect a man to ride a horse in this country? said Rawlins.

They dont, said John Grady.

They rode the sun up and ate the sandwiches John Grady had brought from the house and at noon they watered the horses at an old stone stocktank and walked them down a dry creekbed among the tracks of cattle and javelina to a stand of cottonwoods. There were cattle bedded under the trees that rose at their approach and stood looking at them and then moved off.

They lay in the dry chaff under the trees with their coats rolled up under their heads and their hats over their eyes while the horses grazed in the grass along the creekbed.

What did you bring to shoot? said Rawlins.

Just Grandad’s old thumb-buster.

Can you hit anything with it?


Rawlins grinned. We done it, didnt we?


You think they’ll be huntin us?

What for?

I dont know. Just seems too damn easy in a way.

They could hear the wind and they could hear the sound of the horses cropping.

I’ll tell you what, said Rawlins.

Tell me.

I dont give a damn.

John Grady sat up and took his tobacco from his shirtpocket and began making a cigarette. About what? he said.

He wet the cigarette and put it in his mouth and took out his matches and lit the cigarette and blew the match out with the smoke. He turned and looked at Rawlins but Rawlins was asleep.
They rode on again in the late afternoon. By sunset they could hear trucks on a highway in the distance and in the long cool evening they rode west along a rise from which they could see the headlights on the highway going out and coming back random and periodic in their slow exchange. They came to a ranch road and followed it out to the highway where there was a gate. They sat the horses. They could see no gate on the far side of the highway. They watched the lights of the trucks along the fence both east and west but there was no gate there.

What do you want to do? said Rawlins.

I dont know. I’d like to of got across this thing tonight.

I aint leadin my horse down that highway in the dark.

John Grady leaned and spat. I aint either, he said.

It was growing colder. The wind rattled the gate and the horses stepped uneasily.

What’s them lights? said Rawlins.

I’d make it Eldorado.

How far is that do you reckon?

Ten, fifteen miles.

What do you want to do?

They spread their bedrolls in a wash and unsaddled and tied the horses and slept till daybreak. When Rawlins sat up John Grady had already saddled his horse and was strapping on his bedroll. There’s a cafe up the road here, he said. Could you eat some breakfast?

Rawlins put on his hat and reached for his boots. You’re talkin my language, son.

They led the horses up through a midden of old truckdoors and transmissions and castoff motorparts behind the cafe and they watered them at a metal tank used for locating leaks in innertubes. A Mexican was changing a tire on a truck and John Grade walked over and asked him where the men’s room was. He nodded down the side of the building.

He got his shaving things out of his saddlebag and went into the washroom and shaved and washed and brushed his teeth and combed his hair. When he came out the horses were tied to a picnic table under some trees and Rawlins was in the cafe drinking coffee.

He slid into the booth. You ordered? he said.

Waitin on you.
The proprietor came over with another cup of coffee. What’ll you boys have? he said.

Go ahead, said Rawlins.

He ordered three eggs with ham and beans and biscuits and Rawlins ordered the same with a sideorder of hotcakes and syrup.

You better load up good.

You watch me, said Rawlins.

They sat with their elbows propped on the table and looked out the window south across the plains to the distant mountains lying folded in their shadows under the morning sun.

That’s where we’re headed, said Rawlins.

He nodded. They drank their coffee. The man brought their breakfasts on heavy white crockery platters and came back with the coffeepot. Rawlins had peppered his eggs till they were black. He spread butter over the hotcakes.

There’s a man likes eggs with his pepper, said the proprietor.

He poured their cups and went back to the kitchen.

You pay attention to your old dad now, Rawlins said. I’ll show you how to deal with a unruly breakfast.

Do it, said John Grady.

Might just order the whole thing again.

The store had nothing in the way of feed. They bought a box of dried oatmeal and paid their bill and went out. John Grady cut the paper drum in two with his knife and they poured the oatmeal into a couple of hubcaps and sat on the picnic table and smoked while the horses ate. The Mexican came over to look at the horses. He was not much older than Rawlins.

Where you headed? he said.



Published in: on January 2, 2010 at 11:16 AM  Leave a Comment  

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