All the Pretty Horses
In his sleep he could hear the horses stepping among the rocks and he could hear them drink from the shallow pools in the dark where the rocks lay smooth and rectilinear as the stones of ancient ruins and the water from their muzzles dripped and rang like water dripping in a well and in his sleep he dreamt of horses and the horses in his dream moved gravely among the tilted stones like horses come upon an antique site where some ordering of the world had failed and if anything had been written on the stones the weathers had taken it away again and the horses were wary and moved with great circumspection carrying in their blood as they did the recollection of this and other places where horses once had been and would be again. Finally what he saw in his dream was that the order in the horse’s heart was more durable for it was written in a place where no rain could erase it.
When he woke there were three men standing over him. They wore serapes over their shoulders and one of them was holding the empty rifle and all of them wore pistols. The fire was burning from brush they’d piled on it but he was very cold and he had no way to know how long he’d been sleeping. He sat up. The man with the rifle snapped his fingers and held out his hand.
Deme las llaves, he said.
He reached into his pocket and took out the keys and handed them up. He and one of the other men walked over to where the captain sat chained to the saddle at the far side of the fire. The third man stood by him. They freed the captain and the one carrying the rifle came back.
Cuáles de los caballos son suyos? he said.
Todos son míos.
The man studied his eyes in the firelight. He walked back to the others and they talked. When they came past with the captain the captain’s hands were cuffed behind him. The man carrying the rifle levered the action open and when he saw that the gun was empty stood it against a rock. He looked at John Grady.
Donde está su serape? he said.
The man loosed the blanket from his own shoulders and swung it in a slow veronica and handed it to him. Then he turned and they passed on out of the firelight to where their horses were standing in the dark with other companions, other horses.
Quiénes son ustedes? he called.
The man who’d given him his serape turned at the outer edge of the light and touched the brim of his hat. Hombres del país, he said. Then all went on.
Men of the country. He sat listening as they rode up out of the ravine and then they were gone. He never saw them again. In the morning he saddled Redbo and driving the other two horses before him he rode up from the ravine and turned north along the mesa.
He rode all day and the day clouded before him and a cool wind was coming downcountry. He’d reloaded the rifle and he carried it across the bow of the saddle and rode with the serape over his shoulders and looseherded the riderless horses before him. By evening all the north country was black and the wind was cold and he picked his way along the rim country through the sparse swales of grass and broken volcanic rock and he sat above a highland bajada in the cold blue dusk with the rifle across his knee while the staked horses grazed behind him and at the last hour light enough by which to see the iron sights of the rifle five deer entered the bajada and pricked their ears and stood and then bent to graze.
He picked out the smallest doe among them and shot her. Blevins’ horse rose howling where he’d tied it and the deer in the bajada leapt away and vanished in the dusk and the little doe lay kicking.
When he reached her she lay in her blood in the grass and he knelt with the rifle and put his hand on her neck and she looked at him and her eyes were warm and wet and there was no fear in them and then she died. He sat watching her for a long time. He thought about the captain and he wondered if he were alive and he thought about Blevins. He thought about Alejandra and he remembered her the first time he ever saw her passing along the ciénaga road in the evening with the horse still wet from her riding it in the lake and he remembered the birds and the cattle standing in the grass and the horses on the mesa. The sky was dark and a cold wind ran through the bajada and in the dying light a cold blue cast had turned the doe’s eyes to but one thing more of things she lay among in that darkening landscape. Grass and blood. Blood and stone. Stone and the dark medallions that the first flat drops of rain caused upon them. He remembered Alejandra and the sadness he’d first seen in the slope of her shoulders which he’d presumed to understand and of which he knew nothing and he felt a loneliness he’d not known since he was a child and he felt wholly alien to the world although he loved it still. He thought that in the beauty of the world were hid a secret. He thought the world’s heart beat at some terrible cost and that the world’s pain and its beauty moved in a relationship of diverging equity and that in this headlong deficit the blood of multitudes might ultimately be exacted for the vision of a single flower.