Reading Comprehension - Literature: 'Of Mice and Men'

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Published in 1937, this novel narrates the experiences of George Milton and Lennie Small, two displaced migrant ranch workers, who move from place to place in California in search of new job opportunities during the Great Depression in the United States.
2. John Steinbeck’s
Mice and Men
A FEW MILES south of Soledad, the Salinas River drops in close
to the hillside bank and runs deep and green. The water is warm
too, for it has slipped twinkling over the yellow sands in the
sunlight before reaching the narrow pool. On one side of the river
the golden foothill slopes curve up to the strong and rocky Gabilan
mountains, but on the valley side the water is lined with trees -
willows fresh and green with every spring, carrying in their lower
leaf junctures the debris of the winter’s flooding; and sycamores
with mottled, white, recumbent limbs and branches that arch over
the pool. On the sandy bank under the trees the leaves lie deep
and so crisp that a lizard makes a great skittering if he runs
among them. Rabbits come out of the brush to sit on the sand in
the evening, and the damp flats are covered with the night tracks
of ’coons, and with the spread pads of dogs from the ranches, and
with the split-wedge tracks of deer that come to drink in the dark.
There is a path through the willows and among the sycamores, a
path beaten hard by boys coming down from the ranches to swim
in the deep pool, and beaten hard by tramps who come wearily
down from the highway in the evening to jungle-up near water. In
front of the low horizontal limb of a giant sycamore there is an ash
pile made by many fires; the limb is worn smooth by men who
have sat on it.
Evening of a hot day started the little wind to moving among the
leaves. The shade climbed up the hills toward the top. On the sand
banks the rabbits sat as quietly as little gray, sculptured stones.
And then from the direction of the state highway came the sound
of footsteps on crisp sycamore leaves. The rabbits hurried
noiselessly for cover. A stilted heron labored up into the air and
4. pounded down river. For a moment the place was lifeless, and
then two men emerged from the path and came into the opening
by the green pool.
They had walked in single file down the path, and even in the
open one stayed behind the other. Both were dressed in denim
trousers and in denim coats with brass buttons. Both wore black,
shapeless hats and both carried tight blanket rolls slung over
their shoulders. The first man was small and quick, dark of face,
with restless eyes and sharp, strong features. Every part of him
was defined: small, strong hands, slender arms, a thin and bony
nose. Behind him walked his opposite, a huge man, shapeless of
face, with large, pale eyes, with wide, sloping shoulders; and he
walked heavily, dragging his feet a little, the way a bear drags his
paws. His arms did not swing at his sides, but hung loosely.
The first man stopped short in the clearing, and the follower
nearly ran over him. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat-band
with his forefinger and snapped the moisture off. His huge
companion dropped his blankets and flung himself down and
drank from the surface of the green pool; drank with long gulps,
snorting into the water like a horse. The small man stepped
nervously beside him.
"Lennie!" he said sharply. "Lennie, for God’ sakes don’t drink so
much." Lennie continued to snort into the pool. The small man
leaned over and shook him by the shoulder. "Lennie. You gonna be
sick like you was last night."
Lennie dipped his whole head under, hat and all, and then he sat
up on the bank and his hat dripped down on his blue coat and ran
down his back. "Tha’s good," he said. "You drink some, George.
You take a good big drink." He smiled happily.
George unslung his bindle and dropped it gently on the bank. "I
ain’t sure it’s good water," he said. "Looks kinda scummy."
Lennie dabb1ed his big paw in the water and wiggled his fingers
5. so the water arose in little splashes; rings widened across the pool
to the other side and came back again. Lennie watched them go.
"Look, George. Look what I done."
George knelt beside the pool and drank from his hand with quick
scoops. "Tastes all right," he admitted. "Don’t really seem to be
running, though. You never oughta drink water when it ain’t
running, Lennie," he said hopelessly. "You’d drink out of a gutter
if you was thirsty." He threw a scoop of water into his face and
rubbed it about with his hand, under his chin and around the back
of his neck. Then he replaced his hat, pushed himself back from
the river, drew up his knees and embraced them. Lennie, who had
been watching, imitated George exactly. He pushed himself back,
drew up his knees, embraced them, looked over to George to see
whether he had it just right. He pulled his hat down a little more
over his eyes, the way George’s hat was.
George stared morosely at the water. The rims of his eyes were
red with sun glare. He said angrily, "We could just as well of rode
clear to the ranch if that bastard bus driver knew what he was
talkin’ about. ‘Jes’ a little stretch down the highway,’ he says. ‘Jes’
a little stretch.’ God damn near four miles, that’s what it was!
Didn’t wanta stop at the ranch gate, that’s what. Too God damn
lazy to pull up. Wonder he isn’t too damn good to stop in Soledad
at all. Kicks us out and says, ‘Jes’ a little stretch down the road.’ I
bet it wasmore than four miles. Damn hot day."
Lennie looked timidly over to him. "George?"
"Yeah, what ya want?"
"Where we goin’, George?"
The little man jerked down the brim of his hat and scowled over
at Lennie. "So yon forgot that awready, did you? I gotta tell you
again, do I? Jesus Christ, you’re a crazy bastard!"
"I forgot," Lennie said softly. "I tried not to forget. Honest to God I
6. did, George."
"O.K.- O.K. I’ll tell ya again. I ain’t got nothing to do. Might jus’
as well spen’ all my time tellin’ you things and then you forget
’em, and I tell you again."
"Tried and tried," said Lennie, "but it didn’t do no good. I
remember about the rabbits, George."
"The hell with the rabbits. That’s all you ever can remember is
them rabbits. O.K.! Now you listen and this time you got to
remember so we don’t get in no trouble. You remember settin’ in
that gutter on Howard Street and watchin’ that blackboard?"
Lennie’s face broke into a delighted smile. "Why sure, George. I
remember that.... but.... what’d we do then? I remember some girls
come by and you says.... you say."
"The hell with what I says. You remember about us goin’ into
Murray and Ready’s, and they give us work cards and bus
"Oh, sure, George. I remember that now." His hands went quickly
into his side coat pockets. He said gently, "George.... I ain’t got
mine. I musta lost it," He looked down at the ground in despair.
"You never had none, you crazy bastard. I got both of ’em here.
Think I’d let you carry your own work card?"
Lennie grinned with relief. "I.... I thought I put it in my side
pocket." His hand went into the pocket again.
George looked sharply at him. "What’d you take outa that
"Ain’t a thing in my pocket," Lennie said cleverly.
"I know there ain’t. You got it in your hand. What you got in your
7. hand - hidin’ it?"
"I ain’t got nothin’, George, Honest."
"Come on, give it here."
Lennie held his closed hand away from George's direction. "It’s
only a mouse, George."
"A mouse? A live mouse?"
"Uh-uh. Jus’ a dead mouse, George. I didn’ kill it. ’ Honest! I
found it. I found it dead."
"Give it here!" said George.
"Aw, leave me have it, George."
"Give ithere!"
Lennie’s closed hand slowly obeyed. George took the mouse and
threw it across the pool to the other side, among the brush. "What
you want of a dead mouse, anyways?"
"I could pet it with my thumb while we walked along," said
"Well, you ain’t petting no mice while you walk with me. You
remember where we’re goin’ now?"
Lennie looked startled and then in embarrassment hid his face
against his knees. "I forgot again."
"Jesus Christ," George said resignedly. "Well - look, we’re gonna
work on a ranch like the one we come from up north"
"Up north?"
8. "In Weed."
"Oh, sure. I remember. In Weed."
"That ranch we’re goin’ to is right down there about a quarter
mile. We’re gonna go in an’ see the boss. Now, look - I’ll give him
the work tickets, but you ain’t gonna say a word. You jus’ stand
there and don’t say nothing. If he finds out what a crazy bastard
you are, we won’t get no job, but if he sees ya work before he hears
ya talk, we’re set. Ya got that?"
"Sure, George. Sure I got it."
"O.K. Now when we go in to see the boss, what you gonna do?"
"I.... I," Lennie thought. His face grew tight with thought. "I....
ain’t gonna say nothin’. Jus’ gonna stan’ there."
"Good boy. That’s swell. You say that over two, three times so you
sure won’t forget it."
Lennie droned to himself softly, "I ain’t gonna say nothin’.... I
ain’t gonna say nothin’.... I ain’t gonna say nothin’."
"O.K.," said George. "An’ you ain’t gonna do no bad things like you
done in Weed, neither."
Lennie looked puzzled. "Like I done in Weed?"
"Oh, so ya forgot that too, did ya. Well, I ain’t gonna remind ya,
fear ya do it again."
A light of understanding broke on Lennie’s face. "They run us
outa Weed," he exploded triumphantly.
"Run us out, hell," said George disgustedly. "We run. They was
lookin’ for us, but they didn’t catch us.
9. Lennie giggled happily. "I didn’t forget that, you bet."
George lay back on the sand and crossed his hands under his
head, and Lennie imitated him, raising his head to see whether he
were doing it right. "God, you’re a lot of trouble," said George. "I
could get along so easy and so nice if I didn’t have you on my tail. I
could live so easy and maybe have a girl."
For a moment Lennie lay quiet, and then he said hopefully, "We
gonna work on a ranch, George."
"Awright. You got that. But we’re gonna sleep here because I got
a reason."
The day was going fast now. Only the tops of the Gabilan
mountains flamed with the light of the sun that hid gone from the
valley. A water snake slipped along on the pool, its head held up
like a little periscope. The reeds jerked slightly in the current. Far
off toward the highway a man shouted something, and another
man shouted back. The sycamore limbs rustled under a little wind
that died immediately.
"George - why ain’t we goin’ on to the ranch and get some supper?
They got supper at the ranch."
George rolled on his side. "No reason at all for you. I like it here.
Tomorra we’re gonna go to work I seen thrashin’ machines on the
way down. That means we’ll be bucking grain bags, bustin’ a gut.
Tonight I’m gonna lay right here and look up. I like it."
Lennie got up on his knees and looked down at George. "Ain’t we
gonna have no supper?"
"Sure we are, if you gather up some dead willow sticks, I got three
cans of beans in my bindle. You get a fire ready. I’ll give you a
match when you get the sticks together. Then we’ll heat the beans
and have supper."
10. Lennie said, "I like beans with ketchup."
"Well, we ain’t got no ketchup. You go get wood. An’ don’t you fool
around. It’ll be dark before long."
Lennie lumbered to his feet and disappeared in the brush. George
lay where he was and whistled softly to himself. There were
sounds of splashings down the river in the direction Lennie had
taken. George stopped whistling and listened, "Poor bastard," he
said softly, and then went on whistling again.
In a moment Lennie came crashing back through the brush. He
carried one small willow stick in his hand. George sat up.
"Awright," he said brusquely. "Gi’me that mouse!"
But Lennie made an elaborate pantomime of innocence. "What
mouse, George? I ain’t got no mouse."
George held out his hand. "Come on. Give it to me. You ain’t
puttin’ nothing over."
Lennie hesitated, backed away, looked wildly at the brush line as
though he contemplated running for his freedom. George said
coldly, "You gonna give me that mouse or do I have to sock you?"
"Give you what, George?"
"You know God damn well what. I want that mouse."
Lennie reluctantly reached into his pocket. His voice broke a
little. "I don’t know why I can’t keep it. It ain’t nobody’s mouse. I
didn’t steal it. I found it lyin’ right beside the road."
George’s hand remained outstretched imperiously. Slowly, like a
terrier who doesn’t want to bring a ball to its master, Lennie
approached, drew back, approached again. George snapped his
fingers sharply, and at the sound Lennie laid the mouse in his
11. "I wasn’t doin’ nothing bad with it, George. Jus’ strokin’ it."
George stood up and threw the mouse as far as he could into the
darkening brush, and then he stepped to the pool and washed his
hands. "You crazy fool. Don’t you think I could see your feet was
wet where you went acrost the river to get it?" He heard Lennie’s
whimpering cry and wheeled about. "Blubberin’ like a baby! Jesus
Christ! A big guy like you." Lennie’s lip quivered and tears started
in his eyes. "Aw, Lennie!" George put his hand on Lennie’s
shoulder. "I ain’t takin’ it away jus’ for ' meanness. That mouse
ain’t fresh, Lennie; and besides, you’ve broke it pettin’ it. You get
another mouse that’s fresh and I’ll let you keep it a little while."
Lennie sat down on the ground and hung his head dejectedly, "I
don’t know where there is no other mouse. I remember a lady used
to give ’em to me - ever’ one she got. But that lady ain’t here."
George scoffed. "Lady, huh? Don’t even remember who that lady
was. That was your own Aunt Clara. An’ she stopped givin’ ’em to
ya. You always killed ’em."
Lennie looked sadly up at him. "They was so little," he said,
apologetically. "I’d pet ’em, and pretty soon they bit my fingers
and I pinched their heads a little and then they was dead -
because they was so little.
"I wish’t we’d get the rabbits pretty soon, George. They ain’t so
"The hell with the rabbits. An’ you ain’t to be trusted with no live
mice; Your Aunt Clara give you a rubber mouse and you wouldn’t
have nothing to do with it."
"It wasn’t no good to pet," said Lennie.
The flame of the sunset lifted from the mountain-tops and dusk
came into the valley, and a half darkness came in among the
12. willows and the sycamores. A big carp rose to the surface of the
pool, gulped air and then sank mysteriously into the dark water
again, leaving widening rings on the water. Over-head the leaves
whisked again and little puffs of willow cotton blew down and
landed on the pool’s surface,
"You gonna get that wood?" George demanded. "There’s plenty
right up against the back of that sycamore. Floodwater wood. Now
you get it."
Lennie went behind the tree and brought out a litter of dried
leaves and twigs. He threw them in a heap on the oldash pile and
went back for more and more. It was almost night now. A dove’s
wings whistled over the water. George walked to the fire pile and
lighted the dry leaves. The flame cracked up among the twigs and
fell to work. George undid his bindle and brought out three cans of
beans. He stood them about the fire, close in against the blaze, but
not quite touching the flame.
"There’s enough beans for four men," George said.
Lennie watched him from over the fire. He said patiently, "I like
’em with ketchup."
"Well, we ain’t got any," George exploded. "Whatever we ain’t got,
that’s what you want. God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so
easy. I could go get a job an’ work, an’ no trouble. No mess ' all,
and when the end of the month come I coul' take my fifty bucks
and go into town and get what‘ ever I want. Why, I could stay in a
cat house night. I could eat any place I want, hotel or an place,
and order any damn thing I could think of. An’ I could do all that
every damn month. Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room
and play cards or shoot pool." Lennie knelt and looked over the
fire at the angry George. And Lennie’s face was drawn with terror.
"An’ whatta I got," George went on furiously. "I got you! You can’t
keep a job and you lose me ever’ job I get. Jus’ keep me shovin’ all
over the country all the time. An’ that ain’t the,' worst. You get in
trouble. You do bad things and I got m get you out." His voice rose
13. nearly to a shout. "You crazy son-of-a-bitch. You keep me in hot
water all the time." He took on the elaborate manner of little girls
when they are mimicking one another. "Jus’ wanted to feel that
girl’s dress - jus’ wanted to pet it like it was a mouse - Well, how
the hell did she know you jus’ wanted to feel her dress? She jerks
back and you hold on like it was a mouse. She yells and we got to
hide in a irrigation ditch all day with guys lookin’ for us, and we
got to sneak out in the dark and get outta the country. All the
time somethin’ like that - all the time. I wisht I could put you in a
cage with about a million mice an’ let you have fun." His anger left
him suddenly. He looked across the fire at Lennie’s anguished
face, and then he looked ashamedly at the flames.
It was quite dark now, but the fire lighted the trunks of the trees
and the curving branches overhead. Lennie crawled slowly and
cautiously around the fire until he was close to George. He sat
back on his heels. George turned the bean cans so that another
side faced the fire. He pretended to be un-aware of Lennie so close
beside him.
"George," very softly. No answer. "George!"
"Whatta you want?"
"I was only foolin’, George. I don’t want no ketchup. I wouldn’t eat
no ketchup if it was right here beside me."
"If it was here, you could have some."
"But I wouldn’t eat none, George. I’d leave it all for you. You could
cover your beans with it and I wouldn’t touch none of it."
George still stared morosely at the fire. "When I think of the swell
time I could have without you, I go nuts. I never get no peace."
Lennie still knelt. He looked off into the darkness across the
14. river, "George, you want I should go away and leave you alone?"
"Where the hell could you go?"
"Well, I could. I could go off in the hills there. Some place I’d find
a cave."
"Yeah' How’d you eat. You ain’t got sense enough to find nothing
to eat."
"I’d find things, George. I don’t need no nice food with ketchup. I’d
lay out in the sun and nohody’d hurt me; An’ if I foun’ a mouse, I
could keep it. Nobody’d take it away from me."
George looked quickly and searchingly at him. "I been mean, ain’t
"If you don’ want me I can go off in the hills an’ find a cave. I can
go away any time."
"No - look! I was jus’ foolin’, Lennie. ’Cause'. I want you to stay
with me. Trouble with mice is you always kill ’em." He paused.
"Tell you what I’ll do, Lennie. First chance I get I'll give you a pup.
Maybe you wouldn’t killit. That’d be better than. mice. And you
could pet it harder."
Lennie avoided the bait. He had sensed his advantage, "If you
don’t want me, you only jus’ got to say so, and I’ll go off in those
hills right there - right up in those hills and live by myself. An’ I
won’t get no mice stole from me."
George said, "I want you to stay with me, Lennie. Jesus Christ,
somebody’d shoot you for a coyote if you was by yourself. No, you
stay with me. Your Aunt Clara wouldn’t like you running off by
yourself, even if she is dead."
Lennie spoke craftily, "Tell me - like you done before."
15. "Tell you what?"
"About the rabbits."
George snapped, "You ain’t gonna put nothing over on me."
Lennie pleads "Come on, George. Tell me. Please, George. Like
you done before."
"You get a kick outta that, don’t you? Awright, I’ll tell you, and
then we’ll eat our supper...."
George’s voice became deeper. He repeated his words
rhythmically as though he had said them many times before.
"Guys like us, that work on ranches, are the loneliest guys in the
world. They got no family. They don’t belong no place. They come
to a ranch an’ work up a stake and then they go inta town and
blow their stake, and the first thing you know they’re poundin’
their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothing to look
ahead to."
Lennie was delighted. "That’s it - that’s it. Now tell how it is with
George went on. "With us it ain’t like that. We got a future. We
got somebody to talk to that gives a damn about us. We don’t have
to sit in no bar room blowin’ our jack jus’ because we got no place
else to go. If them other guys gets in jail they can rot for all
anybody gives a damn. But not us."
Lennie broke in."But not us! An’ why? Because .... because I got
you to look after me, and you got me to look after you, and that’s
why." He laughed delightedly. "Go on now, George!"
"You got it by heart. You can do it yourself."
"No, you. I forget some a’ the things. Tell about how it’s gonna
16. "O.K. Someday - we’re gonna get the jack together and we’re
gonna have a little house and a couple of acres an’ a cow and some
pigs and -"
"An’ live off the fatta the lan’,"Lennie shouted. "An’ haverabbits.
Go on, George! Tell about what we’re gonna have in the garden
and about the rabbits in the cages and about the rain in the
winter and the stove, and how thick the cream is an the milk like
you can hardly cut it. Tell about that, George."
"Why’n’t you do it yourself? You know all of it."
"No.... you tell it. It ain’t the same if I tell it. Go on.... George.
How I get to tend the rabbits."
"Well," said George, "we’ll have a big vegetable patch and a rabbit
hutch and chickens. And when it rains in the winter, we’ll just say
the hell with goin’ to work, and we’ll build up a fire in the stove
and set around it an’ listen to the rain comin’ down on the roof -
Nuts!" He took out his pocket knife. "I ain’t got time for no more."
He drove his knife through the top of one of the bean cans, sawed
out the top and passed the can to Lennie. Then he opened a second
can. From his side pocket he brought out two spoons and passed
one of them to Lennie.
They sat by the fire and filled their mouths with beans and
chewed mightily. A few beans slipped out of the side of Lennie’s
mouth. George gestured with his spoon. "What you gonna say
tomorrow when the boss asks you questions?"
Lennie stopped chewing and swallowed. His face was
concentrated. "I.... I ain’t gonna.... say a word."
"Good boy! That’s fine, Lennie! Maybe you’re gettin’ better. When
we get the coupla acres I can let you tend the rabbits all right.
’Specially if you remember as good as that."
17. Lennie choked with pride. "I can remember," he said.
George motioned with his spoon again. "Look, Lennie. I want you
to look around here. You can remember this place, can’t you? The
ranch is about a quarter mile up that way. Just follow the river?"
"Sure," said Lennie. "I can remember this. Di’n’t I remember
about not gonna say a word?"
"’Course you did. Well, look Lennie - if you jus’ happen to get in
trouble like you always done be fore, I want you to come right here
an’ hide in the brush."
"Hide in the brush," said Lennie slowly.
"Hide in the brush till I come for you. Can you remember that?"
"Sure I can, George. Hide in the brush till you come."
"But you ain’t gonna get in no trouble, because if you do, I won’t
let you tend the rabbits." He threw his empty bean can off into the
"I won’t get in no trouble, George. I ain’t gonna say a word."
"O.K. Bring your bindle over here by the fire. It’s gonna be nice
sleepin’ here. Lookin’ up, and the leaves. Don’t build up no more
fire. We’ll let her die down."
They made their beds on the sand, and as the blaze dropped from
the fire the sphere of light grew smaller; the curling branches
disappeared and only a faint glimmer showed where the tree
trunks were. From the darkness Lennie called, "George - you
"No. Whatta you want?"
"Let’s have different color rabbits, George."
18. "Sure we will," George said sleepily. "Red and blue and green
rabbits, Lennie. Millions of ’em."
"Furry ones, George, like I seen in the fair in Sacramento."
"Sure, furry ones."
"’Cause I can jus’ as well go away, George, an’, live in a cave."
"You can jus’ as well go to hell," said George. "Shut up now."
The red light dimmed on the coals. Up the hill from the river a
coyote hammered, and a dog answered from the other side of the
stream. The sycamore leaves whispered in a little night breeze.
THE bunk house was a long, rectangular building. Inside, the
walls were whitewashed and the floor unpainted. In three walls
there were small, square windows, and in the fourth, a solid door
with a wooden larch. Against the walls were eight bunks, five of
them made up with blankets and the other three showing their
burlap ticking. Over each bunk there was nailed an apple box with
the opening forward so that it made two shelves for the personal
belongings of the occupant of the bunk. And these shelves were
loaded with little articles soap and talcum powder, razors and
those Western magazines ranch men love to read and scoff at and
secretly believe. And there were medicines on the shelves, and
19. little vials, combs; and from nails on the box sides, a few neckties.
Near one wall there was a black cast-iron stove, its stovepipe
going straight up through the ceiling. In the middle of the room
stood a big square table littered with playing cards, and around it
were grouped boxes for the players to sit on.
At about ten o’clock in the morning the sun threw a bright dust-
laden bar through one of the side windows, and in and out of the
beam flies shot like rushing stars.
The wooden latch raised. The door opened and a tall, stoop-
shouldered old man came in. He was dressed in blue jeans and he
carried a big push broom in his left hand. Behind him came
George, and behind George, Lennie.
"The boss was expectin’ you last night," the old man said. "He was
sore as hell when you wasn’t here to go out this morning." He
pointed with right arm, and out of the sleeve came a round stick
like wrist, but no hand. "You can have them two beds there," he
said, indicating two bunks near the stove.
George stepped over and threw his blankets do on the burlap sack
of straw that was a mattress. He looked into his box shelf and
then picked a small yellow can from it. "Say. What the hell’s this?"
"I don’t know," said the old man.
"Says ‘positively kills lice, roaches and other:, scourges.’ What the
hell kind of bed you giving us, anyways. We don’t want no pants
The old swamper shifted his broom and held it between his elbow
and his side while he held out his hand for the can. He studied the
label carefully. "Tell you what -" he said finally, "last guy that
hadthis bed was a blacksmith - hell of a nice fella and clean a guy
as you want to meet. Used to wash his hands evenafter he ate."
"Then how come he got graybacks?" George working up a slow
20. anger. Lennie put his bindle on the neighboring bunk and sat
down. He watched George with open mouth.
"Tell you what," said the old swamper. "This here blacksmith -
name of Whitey - was the kind of guy that would put that stuff
around even if there wasn’t no bugs - just to make sure, see? Tell
you what he used to do - At meals he’d peel his boil’ potatoes, an’
he’d take out ever’ little spot, no matter what kind, before he’d eat
it. And if there was a red splotch on an egg, he’d scrape it off.
Finally quit about the food. That’s the kinda guy he was - clean.
Used ta dress up Sundays even when he wasn’t going no place, put
on a necktie even, and then set in the bunk house."
"I ain’t so sure," said George skeptically. "What did you say he
quit for?"
The old man put the yellow can in his pocket, and he rubbed his
bristly white whiskers with his knuckles. "Why.... he.... just quit,
the way a guy will. Says it was the food. Just wanted to move.
Didn’t give no other reason but the food. Just says ‘gimme my
time’ one night, the way any guy would."
George lifted his tick and looked underneath it, He leaned over
and inspected the sacking closely. Immediately Lennie got up and
did the same with his bed. Finally George seemed satisfied. He
unrolled his bindle and put things on the shelf, his razor and bar
of soap, his comb and bottle of pills, his liniment and leather
wristband. Then he made his bed up neatly with blankets. The old
man said, "I guess the boss’ll be out here in a minute. He was sure
burned when you wasn’t here this morning. Come right in when
we was eatin’ breakfast and says, ‘Where the hell’s them new
men?’ An’ he give the stable buck hell, too."
George patted a wrinkle out of his bed, and sat ' down. "Give the
stable buck hell?" he asked.
"Sure. Ya see the stable buck’s a nigger."
21. "Nigger, huh?"
"Yeah. Nice fella too. Got a crooked back where. a horse kicked
him. The boss gives him hell when he’s mad. But the stable buck
don’t give a damn about that. He reads a lot. Got books in his
"What kind of a guy is the boss?" George asked.
"Well, he’s a pretty nice fella. Gets pretty mad sometimes, but
he’s pretty nice. Tell ya what - know what he done Christmas?
Brang a gallon of whisky right in here and say "‘Drink hearty
boys. Christmas comes but once a year.’"
"The hell he did! Whole gallon?"
"Yes sir. Jesus, we had fun. They let the nigger come in that
night. Little skinner name of Smithy took after the nigger. Done
pretty good, too. The guys wouldn’t let him use his feet, so the
nigger got him. If he coulda used his feet, Smitty says he woulda
killed the nigger. The guys said on account of the nigger’s got a
crooked back, Smitty can’t use his feet." He paused in relish of the
memory. "After that the guys went into Soledad and raised hell,
didn’t go in there. I ain’t got the poop no more."
Lennie was just finishing making his bed. The wooden latch
raised again and the door opened. A little stocky man stood in the
open doorway. He wore blue jean trousers, a flannel shirt, a black,
unbuttoned vest and a black coat. His thumbs were stuck in his
belt, on each side of a square steel buckle. On his head was a
soiled brown Stetson hat, and he wore high-heeled boots and spurs
to prove he was not a laboring man.
The old swamper looked quickly at him, and then shuffled to the
door rubbing his whiskers with his knuckles as he went. "Them
guys just come," he said, and shuffled past the boss and out the
22. The boss stepped into the room with the short, quick steps of a
fat-legged man. "I wrote Murray and Ready I wanted two men this
morning. You got your work slips?" George reached into his pocket
and produced the slips and handed them to the boss. "It wasn’t
Murray, and Ready’s fault. Says right here on the slip that you
was to be here for work this morning."
George looked down at his feet. "Bus driver give us a bum steer,"
he said. "We hadda walk ten miles. Says we was here when we
wasn’t. We couldn’t get no rides in the morning."
The boss squinted his eyes. "Well, I had to send out the grain
teams short two buckers. Won’t do any good to go out now till after
dinner." He pulled his time book out of his pocket and opened it
where a pencil was stuck between the leaves. George scowled
meaningfully at Lennie, and Lennie nodded to show that he
understood. The boss licked his pencil. "What’s your name?"
"George Milton."
"And what’s yours?"
George said, "His name’s Lennie Small."
The names were entered in the book. "Le’s see, this is the
twentieth, noon the twentieth." He closed the book. "Where you
boys been working?"
"Up around Weed," said George.
"You, too?" to Lennie.
"Yeah, him too," said George.
The boss pointed a playful finger at Lennie." He ain’t much of a
talker, is he?"
"No, he ain’t, but he’s sure a hell of a good worker. Strong as a
23. Lennie smiled to himself. "Strong as a bull," he repeated. George
scowled at him, and Lennie dropped his head in shame at having
The boss said suddenly, "Listen, Small!" Lennie raised his head.
What can you do?"
In a panic, Lennie looked at George for help. "He can do anything
you.tell him," said George. "He’ a good skinner. He can rassel
grain bags, drive cultivator. He can do anything. Just give him a
The boss turned on George. "Then why don’t you let him answer?
What are you trying to put over?"
George broke in loudly, "Oh! I ain’t saying he’s bright. He ain’t,
But I say he’s a God damn good worker. He can put up a four
hundred pound bale."
The boss deliberately put the little book in his pocket. He hooked
his thumbs in his belt and squinted one eye nearly closed. "Say -
what you sellin'?"
"I said what stake you got in this guy? You takin’
his pay away from him?"
"No, ’course I ain’t. Why ya think I’m sellin’ him out?"
"Well, I never seen one guy take so much trouble for another guy.
I just like to know what your interest is."
George said, "He’s my.... cousin. I told his old lady I’d take care of
him. He got kicked in the head by a horse when he was a kid, He’s
24. awright. Just ain’t bright. But he can do anything you tell him."
The boss turned half away. "Well, God knows be don’t need any
brains to buck barley bags. Rut don’t you try to put nothing over,
Milton. I got my eye on you. Why’d you quit in Weed?"
"Job was done," said George promptly.
"What kinda job?"
"We.... we was diggin’ a cesspool."
"All right. But don’t try to put nothing over, ’cause you can’t get
away with nothing. I seen wise guys before. Go on out with the
grain teams after dinner. They’re pickin’ up barley at the
threshing machine. Go out with Slim’s team."
"Yeah. Big tall skinner. You’ll see him at dinner." He turned
abruptly and went to the door, but before he went out he turned
and looked for a long moment at the two men.
When the sound of his footsteps had died away George turned on
Lennie. "So you wasn’t gonna say a word. You was gonna leave
your big flapper shut and leave me do the talkin’. Damn near lost
us the job."
Lennie stared hopelessly at his hands. "I forgot George."
"Yeah, you forgot. You always forget, an’ I got to talk you out of
it." He sat down heavily on. the bunk. "Now he’s got his eye on us.
Now we got to be careful and not make no slips. You keep your big
Rapper shut after this." He fell morosely silent.
"What you want now?"
25. "I wasn’t kicked in the head with no horse, was I, George?"
"Be a damn good thing if you was," George said viciously. "Save
ever’body a hell of a lot of trouble."
"You said I was your cousin, George."
"Well, that was a lie. An’ I’m damn glad it was. If I was a relative
of yours I’d shoot myself." He stopped suddenly, stepped to the
open front door and peered out. "Say, what the hell you doin'
The old man came slowly into the room. He had his broom in his
hand. And at his heels there walked a dragfooted sheepdog, gray
of muzzle, and with pale, blind old eyes. The dog struggled lamely
to .i the side of the room and lay down, grunting softly i to himself
and licking his grizzled, moth-eaten coat. The swamper watched
him until he was settled. "I wasn’t listenin’. I was jus’ standin’ in
the shade a minute scratchin’ my dog. I jus’ now finished
swampin' out the wash house."
"You was pokin’ your big ears into our business," George said. "I
don’t like nobody to get nosey."
The old man looked uneasily from George to Lennie, and then
back "I jus’ come there," he said. "I didn’t hear nothing you guys
was sayin’. I ain’t interested in nothing you was sayin’. A guy on a
ranch don’t never listen nor he don’t ast no questions."
"Damn right he don’t," said George, slightly mollified, "not if he
wants to stay. workin’ long." Rut he was reassured by the
swamper’s defense. "Come on in and set down a minute," he said.
"That’s a hell of an old dog."
"Yeah. I had ’im ever since he was a pup. God, he was a good
sheep dog when he was younger." He stood his broom against the
wall and he rubbed his white bristled cheek with his knuckles.
26. "How’d you like the boss?" he asked.
"Pretty good. Seemed awright."
"He’s a nice fella," the swamper agreed. "You got to take him
At that moment a young man came into the bunk house; a thin
young man with a brown face, with brown eyes and a head of
tightly curled hair. He wore a work glove on his left hand, and,
like the boss, he wore high-heeled boots, "Seen my old man?" he
The swamper said, "He was here jus’ a minute ago, Curley. Went
over to the cook house, I think."
"I’ll try to catch him," said Curley. His eyes passed over the new
men and he stopped. He glanced coldly at George and then at
Lennie. His arms gradually bene at the elbows and his hands
closed into fists. He stiffened and went into a slight crouch. His
glance was at once calculating and pugnacious. Lennie squirmed
under the look and shifted his feet nervously. Curley stepped
gingerly close to him. "You the new guys the old man was waitin'
"We just come in," said George.
"Let the big gay talk."
Lennie twisted with embarrassment.
George said, "S’pose he don't want to talk?"
Curley lashed his body around. "By Christ,' he's gotta talk when
he’s spoke to. What the hell are you gettin’ into it for?"
"We travel together," said George coldly.
27. "Oh, so it’s that way."
George was tense, and motionless. "Yeah, it’s that way."
Lennie was looking helplessly to George for instruction.
"An’ yon won’t let the big guy talk, is that it?"
"He can talk if he wants to tell you anything." He nodded slightly
to Lennie.
"We jus’ come in," said Lennie softly.
Curley stared levelly at him. "Well, nex’ time you answer when
you’re spoke to." He turned toward the door and walked out, and
his elbows were bent out a little.
George watched him out, and then he turned back to the
swamper. "Say, what the hell’s he got on his shoulder? Lennie
didn’t do nothing to him."
The old man looked cautiously at the door to make sure no one
was listening. "That’s the boss’s son," he said quietly. "Curley’s
pretty handy. He done quite a bit in the ring. He’s a lightweight,
and he’s handy."
"Well, let him be handy," said George, "He don’t have to take after
Lennie. Lennie didn’t do nothing to him. What’s he got against
The swamper considered..... "Well.... tell you what. Curley’s like a
lot of little guys. He hates big guys. He’s alla time picking scraps
with big guys. Kind of like he's mad at ’em because he ain’t a big
guy. You seen little guys like that, ain’t you? Always scrappy?"
"Sure," said George. "I seen plenty tough little guys. But this
Curley better not make no mistakes about Lennie. Lennie ain’t
handy, but this Curley punk is gonna get' hurt if he messes
28. around with Lennie."
"Well, Curley’s pretty handy," the swamper said skeptically.
"Never did seem right to me. S'pose Curley jumps a big guy an’
licks him. Ever’body says what a game guy Curley is. And s’pose
he does the same thing and gets licked. Then ever’body says the
big guy oughtta pick somebody his own size, and maybe they gang
up on the big guy. Never did seem right to me. Seems like Curley
ain’t givin’ nobody a chance."
George was watching the door. He said ominously, "Well, he
better watch out for Lennie. Lennie ain’t no fighter, but Lennie’s
strong and quick, and Lennie don’t know no rules." He walked to
the square table and sat down on one of the boxes. He gathered
some of the cards together and shuffled them.
The old man sat down on another box. "Don’t tell Curley I said
none of this. He’d slough me. He just don’t give a damn. Won’t
ever get canned ’cause his old man’s the boss."
George cut the cards and began turning them over, looking at
each one and throwing it down on a pile. He said, "This guy Curley
sounds like a son-of-a-bitch to me. I don’t like mean little guys."
"Seems to me like he’s worse lately," said the swamper. "He got
married a couple of weeks ago. Wife lives over in the boss’s house.
Seems like CurIey is cockier’n ever since he got married."
George grunted, "Maybe he’s showin’ off for his wife."
The swamper warmed to his gossip. "You seen that glove on his
left hand?"
"Yeah. I seen it."
"Well, that glove’s fulla vaseline."
"Vaseline? What the hell for?"
29. "Well, I tell ya what - Curley says he’s keepin’ that hand soft for
his wife."
George studied the cards absorbedly. "That’s a dirty thing to tell
around," he said.
The old man was reassured. He had drawn a derogatory
statement from George. He felt safe now, and be spoke more
confidently. "Wait'll you see Curley's wife."
George cut the cards again and put out a solitaire lay, slowly and
deliberately. "Purty?" he asked casually.
"Yeah. Purty . . . . but-"
George studied his cards. "But what?"
"Well--she got the eye."
"Yeah? Married two weeks and got the eye? Maybe that's why
Curley's pants is full of ants."
"I seen her give Slim the eye. Slim's a jerkline skinner. Hell of a
nice fella. Slim don't need to wear no high-heeled boots on a grain
team. I seen her give Slim the eye. Curley never seen it. An' I seen
her give Carlson the eye."
George pretended a lack of interest. "Looks like we was gonna
have fun."
The swamper stood up from his box. "Know what I think?" George
did not answer. "Well, I think Curley's married . . . . a tart."
"He ain't the first," said George. "There's plenty done that."
The old man moved toward the door, and his ancient dog lifted his
head and peered about, and then got painfully to his feet to follow.
30. "I gotta be settin' out the wash basins for the guys. The teams'll be
in before long. You guys gonna buck barley?"
"You won't tell Curley nothing I said?"
"Hell no."
"Well, you look her over, mister. You see if she ain't a tart." He
stepped out the door into the brilliant sunshine.
George laid down his cards thoughtfully, turned his piles of three.
He built four clubs on his ace pile. The sun square was on the floor
now, and the flies whipped through it like sparks. A sound of
jingling harness and the croak of heavy-laden axles sounded from
outside. From the distance came a clear call. "Stable Buck--ooh,
sta-able Buck!" And then, " Where the hell is that God damn
George stared at his solitaire lay, and then he flounced the cards
together and turned around to Lennie. Lennie was lying down on
the bunk watching him.
"Look, Lennie! This here ain't no set up. I'm scared. You gonna
have trouble with that Curley guy. I seen that kind before. He was
kinda feelin' you out. He figures he's got you scared and he's
gonna take a sock at you the first chance he gets."
Lennie's eyes were frightened. "I don't want no trouble," he said
plaintively. "Don't let him sock me, George."
George got up and went over to Lennie's bunk and sat down on it.
"I hate that kinda bastard," he said. "I seen plenty of 'em. Like the
old guy says, Curley don't take no chances. He always wins." He
thought for a moment. "If he tangles with you, Lennie, we're
gonna get the can. Don't make no mistake about that. He's the
boss's son. Look, Lennie. You try to keep away from him, will you?
31. Don't never speak to him. If he comes in here you move clear to
the other side of the room. Will you do that, Lennie?"
"I don't want no trouble," Lennie mourned. "I never done nothing
to him."
"Well, that won't do you no good if Curley wants to plug himself
up for a fighter. Just don't have nothing to do with him. Will you
"Sure, George. I ain't gonna say a word."
The sound of the approaching grain teams was louder, thud of big
hooves on hard ground, drag of brakes and the jingle of trace
chains. Men were calling back and forth from the teams. George,
sitting on the bunk beside Lennie, frowned as he thought Lennie
asked timidly, "You ain't mad, George?"
"I ain't mad at you. I'm mad at this here Curley bastard. I hoped
we was gonna get a little stake together-maybe a hundred
dollars." His tone grew decisive. "You keep away from Curley,
"Sure I will, George. I won't say a word."
"Don't let him pull you in-but-if the son-of-abitch socks you-let 'im
have it."
"Let 'im have what, George?"
"Never mind, never mind. I'll tell you when. I hate that kind of a
guy. Look, Lennie, if you get in any kind of trouble, you remember
what I told you to do?"
Lennie raised up on his elbow. His face contorted with thought.
Then his eyes moved sadly to George's face. "If I get in any
trouble, you ain't gonna let me tend the rabbits."
32. "That's not what I meant. You remember where we slep' last
night? Down by the river?"
"Yeah. I remember. Oh, sure I remember! I go there an' hide in
the brush."
"Hide till I come for you. Don't let nobody see you. Hide in the
brush by the river. Say that over."
"Hide in the brush by the river, down in the brush by the river."
"If you get in trouble."
"If I get in trouble."
A brake screeched outside. A call came, "StableBuck. Oh! Sta-able
George said, "Say it over to yourself, Lennie, so you won't forget
Both men glanced up, for the rectangle of sunshine in the
doorway was cut off. A girl was standing there looking in. She had
full, rouged lips and wide-spaced eyes, heavily made up. Her
fingernails were red. Her hair hung in little rolled clusters, like
sausages. She wore a cotton house dress and red mules, on the
insteps of which were little bouquets of red ostrich feathers. "I'm
lookin' for Curley," she said. Her voice had a nasal, brittle quality.
George looked away from her and then back. "He was in here a
minute ago, but he went."
"Oh!" She put her hands behind her back and leaned against the
door frame so that her body was thrown forward. "You're the new
fellas that just come, ain't ya?"
33. Lennie's eyes moved down over her body, and though she did not
seem to be looking at Lennie she bridled a little. She looked at her
fingernails. "Sometimes Curley's in here," she explained.
George said brusquely, "Well he ain't now."
"If he ain't, I guess I better look some place else," she said
Lennie watched her, fascinated. George said, "If I see him, I'll
pass the word you was looking for him.
She smiled archly and twitched her body. "Nobody can't blame a
person for lookin'," she said. There were footsteps behind her,
going by. She turned her head. "Hi, Slim," she said.
Slim's voice came through the door. "Hi, Goodlookin'."
"I'm tryin' to find Curley, Slim."
"Well, you ain't tryin' very hard. I seen him goin' in your house."
She was suddenly apprehensive. "Bye, boys," she called into the
bunk house, and she hurried away.
George looked around at Lennie. "Jesus, what a tramp," he said.
"So that's what Curley picks for a wife."
"She's purty," said Lennie defensively.
"Yeah, and she's sure hidin' it. Curley got his work ahead of him.
Bet she'd clear out for twenty bucks."
Lennie still stared at the doorway where she had been. "Gosh, she
was purty." He smiled admiringly. George looked quickly down at
him and then he took him by an ear and shook him.
"Listen to me, you crazy bastard," he said fiercely. "Don't you
34. even take a look at that bitch. I don't care what she says and what
she does. I seen 'em poison before, but I never seen no piece of jail
bait worse than her. You leave her be."
Lennie tried to disengage his ear. "I never done nothing, George."
"No, you never. But when she was standin' in the doorway
showin' her legs, you wasn't lookin' the other way, neither."
"I never meant no harm, George. Honest I never."
"Well, you keep away from her, 'cause she's a rattrap if I ever
seen one. You let Curley take the rap. He let himself in for it.
Glove fulla vaseline," George said disgustedly. "An' I bet he's eatin'
raw eggs and writin' to the patent medicine houses."
Lennie cried out suddenly-"I don' like this place, George. This
ain't no good place. I wanna get outa here."
"We gotta keep it till we get a stake. We can't help it, Lennie.
We'll get out jus' as soon as we can. I don't like it no better than
you do." He went back to the table and set out a new solitaire
hand. "No, I don't like it," he said. "For two bits I'd shove out of
here. If we can get jus' a few dollars in the poke we'll shove off and
go up the American River and pan gold. We can make maybe a
couple of dollars a day there, and we might hit a pocket."
Lennie leaned eagerly toward him. "Le's go, George. Le's get outta
here. It's mean here."
"We gotta stay," George said shortly. "Shut up now. The guys'll be
cumin' in."
From the washroom nearby came the sound of running water and
rattling basins. George studied the cards. "Maybe we oughtta
wash up," he said. "But we ain't done nothing to get dirty."
A tall man stood in the doorway. He held a crushed Stetson hat
35. under his arm while he combed his long, black, damp hair straight
back. Like the others he wore blue jeans and a short denim jacket.
When he had finished combing his hair he moved into the room,
and he moved with a majesty only achieved by royalty and master
craftsmen. He was a jerkline skinner, the prince of the ranch,
capable of driving ten, sixteen, even twenty mules with a single
line to the leaders. He was capable of killing a fly on the wheeler's
butt with a bull whip without touching the mule. There was a
gravity in his manner and a quiet so profound that all talk
stopped when he spoke. His authority was so great that his word
was taken on any subject, be it politics or love. This was Slim, the
jerkline skinner. His hatchet face was ageless. He might have
been thirty-five or fifty. His ear heard more than was said to him,
and his slow speech had overtones not of thought, but of
understanding beyond thought. His hands, large and lean, were as
delicate in their action as those of a temple dancer.
He smoothed out his crushed hat, creased it in the middle and put
it on. He looked kindly at the two in the bunk house. "It's
brighter'n a bitch outside," he said gently. "Can't hardly see
nothing in here. You the new guys?"
"Just come," said George.
"Gonna buck barley?"
"That's what the boss says."
Slim sat down on a box across the table from
George. He studied the solitaire hand that was upside down to
him. "Hope you get on my team," he said. His voice was very
gentle. "I gotta pair of punks on my team that don't know a barley
bag from a blue ball. You guys ever bucked any barley?"
"Hell, yes," said George. "I ain't nothing to scream about, but that
big bastard there can put up more grain alone than most pairs
36. Lennie, who had been following the conversation back and forth
with his eyes, smiled complacency at the compliment. Slim looked
approvingly at George for having given the compliment. He leaned
over the table and snapped the corner of a loose card. "You guys
travel around together?" His tone was friendly. It invited
confidence without demanding it.
"Sure," said George. "We kinda look after each other." He
indicated Lennie with his thumb. "He ain't bright. Hell of a good
worker, though. Hell of a nice fella, but he ain't bright. I've knew
him for a long time."
Slim looked through George and beyond him. "Ain't many guys
travel around together," he mused. "I don't know why. Maybe
ever'body in the whole damn world is scared of each other."
"It's a lot nicer to go around with a guy you know," said George.
A powerful, big-stomached man came into the bunk house. His
head still dripped water from the scrubbing and dousing. "Hi,
Slim," he said, and then stopped and stared at George and Lennie.
"These guys jus' come," said Slim by way of introduction.
"Glad to meet ya," the big man said. "My name's Carlson."
"I'm George Milton. This here's Lennie Small."
"Glad to meet ya," Carlson said again. "He ain't very small." He
chuckled softly at his joke. "Ain't small at all," he repeated.
"Meant to ask you, Slim-how's your bitch? I seen she wasn't under
your wagon this morning."
"She slang her pups last night," said Slim. "Nine of 'em. I
drowned four of 'em right off. She couldn't feed that many."
"Got five left, huh?"
37. "Yeah, five. I kept the biggest"
"What kinda dogs you think they're gonna be?"
"I dunno," said Slim. "Some kinda shepherds, I guess. That's the
most kind I seen around here when she was in heat."
Carlson went on, "Got five pups, huh. Gonna keep all of 'em?"
"I dunno. Have to keep 'em a while so they can drink Lulu's milk."
Carlson said thoughtfully, "Well, looka here, Slim. I been thinkin'.
That dog of Candy's is so God damn old he can't hardly walk.
Stinks like hell, too. Ever' time he comes into the bunk house I can
smell him for two, three days. Why'n't you get Candy to shoot his
old dog and give him one of the pups to raise up? I can smell that
dog a mile away. Got no teeth, damn near blind, can't eat. Candy
feeds him milk. He can't chew nothing else."
George had been staring intently at Slim. Suddenly a triangle
began to ring outside, slowly at first and then faster and faster
until the beat of it disappeared into one ringing sound. It stopped
as suddenly as it had started.
"There she goes," said Carlson.
Outside, there was a burst of voices as a group of men went by.
Slim stood up slowly and with dignity. "You guys better come on
while they's still something to eat. Won't be nothing left in a
couple of minutes."
Carlson stepped back to let Slim precede him, an then the two of
them went out the door.
Lennie was watching George excitedly. George rumpled his cards
into a messy pile. "Yeah!" George said, "I heard him, Lennie. I'll
38. ask him."
"A brown and white one," Lennie cried excitedly.
"Come on. Le's get dinner. I don't know whether he got a brown
and white one."
Lennie didn't move from his bunk. "You ask him right away,
George, so he won't kill no more of em."
"Sure. Come on now, get up on your feet."
Lennie rolled off his bunk and stood up, and the two of them
started for the door. Just as they reached it, Curley bounced in.
"You seen a girl around here?" he demanded angrily.
George said coldly. "'Bout half an hour ago maybe."
"Well what the hell was she doin'?"
George stood still, watching the angry little man. He said
insultingly, "She said--she was lookin' for you."
Curley seemed really to see George for the first time. His eyes
flashed over George, took in his height, measured his reach,
looked at his trim middle. "Well, which way'd she go?" he
demanded at last.
"I dunno," said George. "I didn' watch her go."
Curley scowled at him, and turning, hurried out the door.
George said, "Ya know, Lennie, I'm scared I'm gonna tangle with
that bastard myself. I hate his guts. Jesus Christ! Come on. They
won't be a damn thing left to eat."
They went out the door. The sunshine lay in a thin line under the
39. window. From a distance there could be heard a rattle of dishes.
After a moment the ancient dog walked lamely in through the
open door. He gazed about with mild, half-blind eyes. He sniffed,
and then lay down and put his head between his paws. Curley
popped into the doorway again and stood looking into the room.
The dog raised his head, but when Curley jerked out, the grizzled
head sank to the floor again.
ALTHOUGH there was evening brightness showing through the
windows of the bunk house, inside it was dusk. Through the open
door came the thuds and occasional clangs of a horseshoe game,
and now and then the sound of voices raised in approval or
Slim and George came into the darkening bunk house together.
Slim reached up over the card table and turned on the tin-shaded
electric light. Instantly the table was brilliant with light, and the
cone of the shade threw its brightness straight downward, leaving
the corners of the bunk house still in dusk. Slim sat down on a box
and George took his place opposite.
"It wasn't nothing," said Slim. "I would of had to drowned most of
'em anyways. No need to thank me about that."
George said, "It wasn't much to you, maybe, but it was a hell of a
lot to him. Jesus Christ, I don't know how we're gonna get him to
40. sleep in here. He'll want to sleep right out in the barn with 'em.
We'll have trouble keepin' him from getting right in the box with
them pups."
"It wasn't nothing," Slim repeated. "Say, you sure was right about
him. Maybe he ain't bright, but I never seen such a worker. He
damn near killed his partner buckin' barley. There ain't nobody
can keep up with him. God awmighty I never seen such a strong
George spoke proudly. "Jus' tell Lennie what to do an' he'll do it if
it don't take no figuring. He can't think of nothing to do himself,
but he sure can take orders."
There was a clang of horseshoe on iron stake outside and a little
cheer of voices.
Slim moved back slightly so the light was not on his face. "Funny
how you an' him string along together." It was Slim's calm
invitation to confidence.
"What's funny about it?" George demanded defensively.
"Oh, I dunno. Hardly none of the guys ever travel together. I
hardly never seen two guys travel together. You know how the
hands are, they just come in and get their bunk and work a
month, and then they quit and go out alone. Never seem to give a
damn about nobody. It jus' seems kinda funny a cuckoo like him
and a smart little guy like you travelin' together."
"He ain't no cuckoo," said George. "He's dumb as hell, but he ain't
crazy. An' I ain't so bright neither, or I wouldn't be buckin' barley
for my fifty and found. If I was bright, if I was even a little bit
smart, I'd have my own little place, an' I'd be bringin' in my own
crops, 'stead of doin' all the work and not getting what comes up
outa the ground." George fell silent. He wanted to talk. Slim
neither encouraged nor discouraged him. He just sat back quiet
and receptive.
41. "It ain't so funny, him an' me goin' aroun' together," George said
at last. "Him and me was both born in Auburn. I knowed his Aunt
Clara. She took him when he was a baby and raised him up. When
his Aunt Clara died, Lennie just come along with me out workin'.
Got kinda used to each other after a little while."
"Umm," said Slim.
George looked over at Slim and saw the calm, Godlike eyes
fastened on him. "Funny," said George. "I used to have a hell of a
lot of fun with 'im. Used to play jokes on 'im 'cause he was too
dumb to take care of 'imself. But he was too dumb even to know he
had a joke played on him. I had fun. Made me seem God damn
smart alongside of him. Why he'd do any damn thing I tol' hits. If I
tol' him to walk over a cliff, over he'd go. That wasn't so damn
much fun after a while. He never got mad about it, neither. I've
beat the hell outa him, and he coulda bust every bone in my body
jus' with his han's, but he never lifted a finger against me."
George's voice was taking on the tone of confession. "Tell you what
made me stop that. One day a bunch of guys was standin' around
up on the Sacramento River. I was feelin' pretty smart. I turns to
Lennie and says, 'Jump in.' An' he jumps. Couldn't swim a stroke.
He damn near drowned before we could get him. An' he was so
damn nice to me for pullin' him out. Clean forgot I told him to
jump in. Well, I ain't done nothing like that no more."
"He's a nice fella," said Slim. "Guy don't need no sense to be a nice
fella. Seems to me sometimes it jus' works the other way around.
Take a real smart guy and he ain't hardly ever a nice fella."
George stacked the scattered cards and began to lay out his
solitaire hand. The shoes thudded on the ground outside. At the
windows the light of the evening still made the window squares
"I ain't got no people," George said. "I seen the guys that go
around on the ranches alone. That ain't no good. They don't have
42. no fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin' to fight
all the time.
"Yeah, they get mean," Slim agreed. "They get so they don't want
to talk to nobody."
"'Course Lennie's a God damn nuisance most of the time," said
George. "But you get used to goin' around with a guy an' you can't
get rid of him."
"He ain't mean," said Slim. "I can see Lennie ain't a bit mean."
"'Course he ain't mean. But he gets in trouble alla time because
he's so God damn dumb. Like what happened in Weed-" he
stopped, stopped in the middle of turning over a card. He looked
alarmed and peered over at Slim. "You wouldn't tell nobody?"
"What'd he do in Weed?" Slim asked calmly.
"You wouldn' tell? . . . . No, 'course you wouldn'."
"What'd he do in Weed?" Slim asked again.
"Well, he seen this girl in a red dress. Dumb bastard like he is, he
wants to touch ever'thing he likes. Just wants to feel it. So he
reaches out to feel this red dress an' the girl lets out a squawk,
and that gets Lennie all mixed up, and he holds on 'cause that's
the only thing he can think to do. Well, this girl squawks and
squawks. I was jus' a little bit off, and I heard all the yellin', so I
comes running, an' by that time Lennie's so scared all he can
think to do is jus' hold on. I socked him over the head with a fence
picket to make him let go. He was so scairt he couldn't let go of
that dress. And he's so God damn strong, you know."
Slim's eyes were level and unwinking. He nodded very slowly. "So
what happens?"
George carefully built his line of solitaire cards. "Well, that girl
43. rabbits in an' tells the law she been raped. The guys in Weed start
a party out to lynch Lennie. So we sit in a irrigation ditch under
water all the rest of that day. Got on'y our heads sticking outa
water, an' up under the grass that sticks out from the side of the
ditch. An' that night we scrammed outa there."
Slim sat in silence for a moment. "Didn't hurt the girl none, huh?"
he asked finally.
"Hell, no. He just scared her. I'd be scared too if he grabbed me.
But he never hurt her. He jus' wanted to touch that red dress, like
he wants to pet them pups all the time."
"He ain't mean," said Slim. "I can tell a mean guy a mile off."
"'Course he ain't, and he'll do any damn thing I-"
Lennie came in through the door. He wore his blue denim coat
over his shoulders like a cape, and he walked hunched way over.
"Hi, Lennie," said George. "How you like the pup now?"
Lennie said breathlessly, "He's brown an' white jus' like I
wanted." He went directly to his bunk and lay down and turned
his face to the wall and drew up his knees.
George put down his cards very deliberately. "Lennie," he said
Lennie twisted his neck and looked over his shoulder. "Huh?
What you want, George?"
"I tol' you you couldn't bring that pup in here."
"What pup, George? I ain't got no pup."
George went quickly to him, grabbed him by the shoulder and
rolled him over. He reached down and picked the tiny puppy from
44. where Lennie had been concealing it against his stomach.
Lennie sat up quickly. "Give 'um to me, George."
George said, "You get right up an' take this pup back to the nest.
He's gotta sleep with his mother. You want to kill him? Just born
last night an' you take him out of the nest. You take him back or
I'll tell Slim not to let you have him."
Lennie held out his hands pleadingly. "Give 'um to me, George.
I'll take 'um back. I didn't mean no harm, George. Honest I didn't.
I jus' wanted to pet 'um a little."
George handed the pup to him. "Awright. You get him back there
quick, and don't you take him out no more. You'll kill him, the
first thing you know." Lennie fairly scuttled out of the room.
Slim had not moved. His calm eyes followed Lennie out the door.
"Jesus," he said. "He's jes' like kid, ain't he."
"Sure he's jes' like a kid. There ain't no more harm in him than a
kid neither, except he's so strong. I bet he won't come in here to
sleep tonight. He'd sleep right alongside that box in the barn.
Well-let 'im. He ain't doin' no harm out there."
It was almost dark outside now. Old Candy, the swamper, came
in and went to his bunk, and behind him struggled his old dog.
"Hello, Slim. Hello, George. Didn't neither of you play
"I don't like to play ever' night," said Slim.
Candy went on, "Either you guys got a slug of whisky? I gotta gut
"I ain't," said Slim. "I'd drink it myself if I had, an' I ain't got a
gut ache neither."
45. "Gotta bad gut ache," said Candy. "Them God! damn turnips give
it to me. I knowed they was going to before I ever eat 'em."
The thick-bodied Carlson came in out of the darkening yard. He
walked to the other end of the bunk house and turned on the
second shaded light. "Darker'n hell in here," he said. "Jesus, how
that nigger can pitch shoes."
"He's plenty good," said Slim.
"Damn right he is," said Carlson. "He don't give nobody else a
chance to win-" He stopped and sniffed the air, and still sniffing,
looked down at the old dog. "God awmighty, that dog stinks. Get
him outa here, Candy! I don't know nothing that stinks as bad as
an old dog. You gotta get him out."
Candy rolled to the edge of his bunk. He reached over and patted
the ancient dog, and he apologized, "I been around him so much I
never notice how he stinks."
"Well, I can't stand him in here," said Carlson. "That stink hangs
around even after he's gone." He walked over with his heavy-
legged stride and looked down at the dog. "Got no teeth," he said.
"He's all stiff with rheumatism. He ain't no good to you, Candy.
An' he ain't no good to himself. Why'n't you shoot him, Candy?"
The old man squirmed uncomfortably. "Well-hell! I had him so
long. Had him since he was a pup. I herded sheep with him." He
said proudly, "You wouldn't think it to look at him now, but he
was the best damn sheep dog I ever seen."
George said, "I seen a guy in Weed that had an Airedale could
herd sheep. Learned it from the other dogs."
Carlson was not to be put off. "Look, Candy. This of dog jus'
suffers hisself all the time. If you was to take him out and shoot
him right in the back of the head-" he leaned over and pointed, "-
right there, why he'd never know what hit him."
46. Candy looked about unhappily. "No," he said softly. "No, I
couldn't do that. I had 'im too long."
"He don't have no fun," Carlson insisted. "And he stinks to beat
hell. Tell you what. I'll shoot him for you. Then it won't be you
that does it."
Candy threw his legs off his bunk. He scratched the white stubble
whiskers on his check nervously.
"I'm so used to him," he said softly. "I had him from a pup."
"Well, you ain't bein' kind to him keepin' him alive," said Carlson.
"Look, Slim's bitch got a litter right now. I bet Slim would give you
one of them pnps to raise up, wouldn't you, Slim?"
The skinner had been studying the old dog with his calm eyes.
"Yeah," he said. "You can have a pup if you want to." He seemed to
shake himself free for speech. "Carl's right, Candy. That dog ain't
no good to himself. I wisht somebody'd shoot me if I get old an' a
Candy looked helplessly at him, for Slim's opinions were law.
"Maybe it'd hurt him," he suggested. "I don't mind takin' care of
Carlson said, "The way I'd shoot him, he wouldn't feel nothing. I'd
put the gun right there." He pointed with his toe. "Right back of
the head. He wouldn't even quiver."
Candy looked for help from face to face. It was quite dark outside
by now. A young laboring man came in. His sloping shoulders
were bent forward and he walked heavily on his heels, as though
he carried the invisible grain bag. He went to his bunk and put his
hat on his shelf. Then he picked up a pulp magazine from his shelf
47. and brought it to the light over the table. "Did I show you this,
Slim?" he asked.
"Show me what?"
The young man turned to the back of the magazine, put it down
on the table and pointed with his finger. "Right there, read that."
Slim bent over it.
"Go on," said the young man. "Read it out loud."
"Dear Editor"': Slim read slowly. " 'I read your mag for six years
and I think it is the best on the market. I like stories by Peter
Rand. I think he is a whingding. Give us more like the Dark Rider.
I don't write many letters. Just thought I would tell you I think
your mag is the best dime's worth I ever spent.' "
Slim looked up questioningly. "What you want me to read that
Whit said, "Go on. Read the name at the bottom."
Slim read, "'Yours for success, William Tenner.'" He glanced up at
Whit again. "What you want me to read that for?"
Whit closed the magazine impressively. "Don't you remember Bill
Termer? Worked here about three months ago?"
Slim thought . . . . "Little guy?" he asked. "Drove a cultivator?"
"That's him," Whit cried. "That's the guy!"
"You think he's the guy wrote this letter?"
48. "I know it. Bill and me was in here one day. Bill had one of them
books that just come. He was lookin' in it and he says, 'I wrote a
letter. Wonder if they put it in the book!' But it wasn't there. Bill
says, `Maybe they're savin' it for later.' An' that's just what they
done. There it is."
"Guess you're right," said Slim. "Got it right in the book."
George held out his hand for the magazine. "Let's look at it?"
Whit found the place again, but he did not surrender his hold on
it. He pointed out the letter with his forefinger. And then he went
to his box shelf and laid the magazine carefully in. "I wonder if
Bill seen it," he said. "Bill and me worked in that patch of field
peas. Run cultivators, both of us. Bill was a hell of a nice fella."
During the conversation Carlson had refused to be drawn in. He
continued to look down at the old dog. Candy watched him
uneasily. At last Carlson said, "if you want me to, I'll put the old
devil out of his misery right now and get it over with. Ain't
nothing left for him. Can't eat, can't see, can't even walk without
Candy said hopefully, "You ain't got no gun."
"The hell I ain't. Got a Luger. It won't hurt him none at all."
Candy said, "Maybe tomorra. Le's wait till tomorra."
"I don't see no reason for it," said Carlson. He went to his bunk,
pulled his bag from underneath it and took out a Luger pistol.
"Le's get it over with," he said. "We can't sleep with him stinkin'
around in here." He put the pistol in his hip pocket.
Candy looked a long time at Slim to try to find some reversal. And
Slim gave him none. At last Candy said softly and hopelessly,
"Awright--take 'im." He did not look down at the dog at all. He lay
back on his bunk and crossed his arms behind his head and stared
49. at the ceiling.
From his pocket Carlson took a little leather thong. He stooped
over and tied it around the old dog's neck. All the men except
Candy watched him.
"Come boy. Come on, boy," he said gently. And he said
apologetically to Candy, "He won't even feel it." Candy did not
move nor answer him. He twitched the thong. "Come on, boy." The
old dog got slowly and stiffly to his feet and followed the gently
pulling leash.
Slim said, "Carlson."
"You know what to do."
"What ya mean, Slim?"
"Take a shovel," said Slim shortly.
"Oh, sure! I get you." He led the dog out into the darkness.
George followed to the door and shut the door and set the latch
gently in its place. Candy lay rigidly on his bed staring at the
Slim said loudly, "One of my lead mules got a bad hoof. Got to get
some tar on it." His voice trailed off. It was silent outside.
Carlson's footsteps died away. The silence come into the room.
And the silence lasted.
George chuckled, "I bet Lennie's right out there in the barn with
his pup. He won't want to come in here no more now he's got a
Slim said, "Candy, you can have any one of them pups you want."
50. Candy did not answer. The silence fell on the room again. It came
out of the night and invaded the room. George said, "Anybody like
to play a little euchre?"
"I'll play out a few with you," said Whit.
They took places opposite each other at the table under the light,
but George did not shuffle the cards. He rippled the edge of the
deck nervously, and the little snapping noise drew.the eyes of all
the men in the room, so that he stopped doing it. The silence fell
on the room again. A minute passed, and another minute. Candy
lay still, staring at the ceiling. Slim gazed at him for a moment
and then looked down at his hands; he subdued one hand with the
other, and held it down. There came a little gnawing sound from
under the floor and all the men looked down toward it gratefully.
Only Candy continued to stare at the ceiling.
"Sounds like there was a rat under there," said Geoge. "We ought
to get a trap down there."
Whit broke out, "What the hell's takin' him so long? Lay out some
cards, why don't you? We ain't going to get no euchre played this
George brought the cards together tightly and studied the backs
of them. The silence was in the room again.
A shot sounded in the distance. The men looked quickly at the old
man. Every head turned toward him.
For a moment he continued to stare at the ceiling. Then he rolled
slowly over and faced the wall and lay silent.
George shuffled the cards noisily and dealt them. Whit drew a
scoring board to him and set the pegs to start. Whit said, "I guess
you guys really come here to work."
51. "How do ya mean?" George asked.
Whit laughed. "Well, ya come on a Friday. You got two days to
work till Sunday."
"I don't see how you figure," said George.
Whit laughed again. "You do if you been around these big ranches
much. Guy that wants to look over a ranch comes in Sat'day
afternoon. He gets Sat'day tight supper an' three meals on
Sunday, and he can quit Monday mornin' after breakfast without
turning his hand. But you come to work Friday noon. You got to
put in a day an' a half no matter how you figure.
George looked at him levelly. "We're gonna stick aroun' a while,"
he said. "Me an' Lennie's gonna roll up a stake."
The door opened quietly and the stable buck put in his head; a
lean Negro head, lined with pain, the eyes patient. "Mr. Slim."
Slim took his eyes from old Candy. "Huh? Oh! Hello, Crooks.
What's'a matter?"
"You told me to warm up tar for that mule's foot. I got it warm."
"Oh! Sure, Crooks. I'll come right out an' put it on."
"I can do it if you want, Mr. Slim."
"No. I'll come do it myself." He stood up.
Crooks said, "Mr. Slim."
"That big new guy's messin' around your pups out in the barn."
"Well, he ain't doin' no harm. I give him one of them pups."
52. "Just thought I'd tell ya," said Crooks. "He's takin' 'em outs the
nest and handlin' them. That won't do them no good."
"He won't hurt 'em," said Slim. "I'll come along with you now."
George looked up. "If that crazy bastard's foolin' around too much,
jus' kick him out, Slim."
Slim followed the stable buck out of the room.
George dealt and Whit picked up his cards and examined them.
"Seen the new kid yet?" he asked.
"What kid?" George asked.
"Why, Curley's new wife."
"Yeah, I seen her."
"Well, ain't she a looloo?"
"I ain't seen that much of her," said George.
Whit laid down his cards impressively. " Well, stick around an'
keep your eyes open. You'll see plenty. She ain't concealin'
nothing. I never seen nobody like her. She got the eye goin' all the
time on everybody. I bet she even gives the stable buck the eye. I
don't know what the hell she wants."
George asked casually, "Been any trouble since she got here?"
It was obvious that Whit was not interested in his cards. He laid
his hand down and George scooped it in. George laid out his
deliberate solitaire handseven cards, and six on top, and five on
top of those.
Whit said, "I see what you mean. No, they ain't been nothing yet.
53. Curley's got yella-jackets in his drawers, but that's all so far. Ever'
time the guys is around she shows up. She's lookin' for Curley, or
she thought she lef' sotnethin' layin' around and she's lookin' for
it. Seems like she can't keep away from guys. An' Curley's pants is
just crawlin' with ants, but they ain't nothing come of it yet."
George said, "She's gonna make a mess. They's gonna be a bad
mess about her. She's a jail bait all set on the trigger. That Curley
got his work cut out for him. Ranch with a bunch of guys on it
ain't no place for a girl, specially like her."
Whit said, "If you got idears, you ought to come in town with us
guys tomorra night."
"Why? What's doin'?"
"Jus' the usual thing. We go in to old Susy's place. Hell of a nice
place. Old Susy's a laugh always crackin' jokes. Like she says
when we come up on the front porch las' Sat'day night. Susy opens
the door and then she yells over her shoulder, 'Get yor coats on,
girls, here comes the sheriff.' She never talks dirty, neither. Got
five girls there."
"What's it set you back?" George asked.
"Two an' a half. You can get a shot for two hits. Susy got nice
chairs to set in, too. If a guy don't want a flop, why he can just set
in the chairs and have a couple or three shots and pass the time of
day and Susy don't give a damn. She ain't rushin' guys through
and kickin' 'em out if they don't want a flop."
"Might go in and look the joint over," said George.
"Sure. Come along. It's a hell of a lot of fun-her crackin' jokes all
the time. Like she says one time, she says, 'I've knew people that
if they got a rag rug on the floor an' a kewpie doll lamp on the
phonograph they think they're running a parlor house.'
54. That's Clara's house she's talkin' about. An' Susy says, 'I know
what you boys want; she says. 'My girls is clean,' she says, 'an'
there ain't no water in my whisky,' she says. 'If any you guys
wanta look at a kewpie doll lamp an' take your own chance gettin'
burned, why you know where to go.' An' she says, 'There's guys
around here walkin' bow-legged 'cause they like to look at a
kewpie doll lamp."'
George asked, "Clara runs the other house, huh?"
"Yeah," said Whit. "We don't never go there. Clara gets three
bucks a crack and thirty-five cents a shot, and she don't crack no
jokes. But Susy's place is clean and she got nice chairs. Don't let
no googoos in, neither."
"Me an' Lennie's rollin' up a stake," said George. "I might go in
an' set and have a shot, but I ain't puffin' out no two and a half."
"Well, a guy got to have some fun sometime," said Whit.
The door opened and Lennie and Carlson came in together.
Lennie crept to his bunk and sat down, trying not to attract
attention. Carlson reached under his bunk and brought out his
bag. He didn't look at old Candy, who still faced the wall. Carlson
found a little cleaning rod in the bag and a can of oil. He laid them
on his bed and then brought out the pistol, took out the magazine
and snapped the loaded shell from the chamber. Then he fell to
cleaning the barrel with the little rod. When the ejector snapped,
Candy turned over and looked for a moment at the gun before he
turned back to the wall again.
Carlson said casually, "Curley been in yet?"
"No," said Whit. "What's eatin' on Curley?"
55. Carlson squinted down the barrel of his gun. "Lookin' for his old
lady. I seen him going round and round outside."
Whit said sarcastically, "He spends half his time lookin' for her,
and the rest of the time she's lookin' for him."
Curley burst into the room excitedly. "Any you guys seen my
wife?" he demanded.
"She ain't been here," said Whit.
Curley looked threateningly about the room. "Where the hell's
"Went out in the barn," said George. "He was gonna put some tar
on a split hoof."
Curley's shoulders dropped and squared. "How long ago'd he go?"
"Five-ten minutes."
Curley jumped out the door and banged it after him.
Whit stood up. "I guess maybe I'd like to see this," he said.
"Curley's just spoilin' or he wouldn't start for Slim. An' Curley's
handy, God damn handy. Got in the finals for the Golden Gloves.
He got newspaper clippings about it." He considered. "But jus' the
same, he better leave Slim alone. Nobody don't know what Slim
can do."
"Thinks Slim's with his wife, don't he?" said George.
"Looks like it," Whit said. "'Course Slim ain't. Least I don't think
Slim is. But I like to see the fuss if it comes off. Come on, le's go."
George said, "I'm stayin' right here. I don't want to get mixed up
in nothing. Lennie and me got to make a stake."
56. Carlson finished the cleaning of the gun and put it in the bag and
pushed the bag under his bunk. "I guess I'll go out and look her
over," he said. Old Candy lay still, and Lennie, from his bunk,
watched George cautiously.
When Whit and Carlson were gone and the door closed after
them, George turned to Lennie. "What you got on your mind?"
"I ain't done nothing, George. Slim says I better not pet them
pups so much for a while. Slim says it ain't good for them; so I
come right in. I been good, George."
"I coulda told you that," said George.
"Well, I wasn't hurtin' 'em none. I jus' had mine in my lap pettin'
George asked, "Did you see Slim out in the barn?"
"Sure I did. He tol' me I better not pet that pup no more."
"Did you see that girl?"
"You mean Curley's girl?"
"Yeah. Did she come in the barn?"
"No. Anyways I never seen her."
"You never seen Slim talkin' to her?"
"Uh-uh. She ain't been in the barn."
"O.K.," said George. "I guess them guys ain't gonna see no fight. If
there's any fightin', Lennie, you keep out of it."
"I don't want no fights," said Lennie. He got up from his bunk and
57. sat down at the table, across from George. Almost automatically
George shuffled the cards and laid out his solitaire hand. He used
a deliberate, thoughtful, slowness.
Lennie reached for a face card and studied it, then turned it
upside down and studied it. "Both ends the same," he said.
"George, why is it both end's the same?"
"I don't know," said George. "That's jus' the way they make 'em.
What was Slim doin' in the barn when you seen him?"
"Sure. You seen him in the barn, an' he tol' you not to pet the
pups so much."
"Oh, yeah. He had a can a' tar an' a paint brush. I don't know
what for."
"You sure that girl didn't come in like she come in here today?"
"No. She never come."
George sighed. "You give me a good whore house every time," he
said. "A guy can go in an' get drunk and get ever'thing outa his
system all at once, an' no messes. And he knows how much it's
gonna set him back. These here jail baits is just set on the trigger
of the hoosegow."
Lennie followed his words admiringly, and moved his lips a little
to keep up. George continued, "You remember Andy Cushman,
Lennie? Went to grammar school?"
"The one that his old lady used to make hot cakes for the kids?"
Lennie asked.
"Yeah. That's the one. You can remember anything if there's
anything to eat in it." George looked carefully at the solitaire
58. hand. He put an ace up on his scoring rack and piled a two, three
and four of diamonds on it. "Andy's in San Quentin right now on
account of a tart," said George.
Lennie drummed on the table with his fingers. "George?"
"George, how long's it gonna be till we get that little place an' live
on the fatta the lan-an' rabbits?"
"I don' know," said George. "We gotta get a big stake together. I
know a little place we can get cheap, but they ain't givin' it away."
Old Candy turned slowly over. His eyes were wide open. He
watched George carefully.
Lennie said, "Tell about that place, George."
"I jus' tol' you, jus' las' night."
"Go on-tell again, George."
"Well, it's ten acres," said George. "Got a little win'mill. Got a
little shack on it, an' a chicken run. Got a kitchen, orchard,
cherries, apples, peaches, 'cots, nuts, got a few berries. They's a
place for alfalfa and plenty water to flood it. They's a pig pen-'
"An' rabbits, George."
"No place for rabbits now, but I could easy build a few hutches
and you could feed alfalfa to the rabbits."
"Damn right, I could," said Lennie. "You God damn right I could."
George's hands stopped working with the cards. His voice was
growing warmer. "An' we could have a few pigs. I could build a
smoke house like the one gran'pa had, an' when we kill a pig we
59. can smoke the bacon and the hams, and make sausage an' all like
that. An' when the salmon run up river we could catch a hundred
of 'em an' salt 'em down or smoke 'em. We could have them for
breakfast. They ain't nothing so nice as smoked salmon. When the
fruit come in we could can it-and tomatoes, they're easy to can.
Ever' Sunday we'd kill a chicken or a rabbit. Maybe we'd have a
cow or a goat, and the cream is so God damn thick you got to cut it
with a knife and take it out with a spoon."
Lennie watched him with wide eyes, and old Candy watched him
too. Lennie said softly, "We could live offa the fatta the lan'."
"Sure," said George. "All kin's a vegetables in the garden, and if
we want a little whisky we can sell a few eggs or something, or
some milk. We'd jus' live there. We'd belong there. There wouldn't
be no more runnin' round the country and gettin' fed by a Jap
cook. No, sir, we'd have our own place where we belonged and not
sleep in no bunt house."
"Tell about the house, George," Lennie begged.
"Sure, we'd have a little house an' a room to ourself. Little fat iron
stove, an' in the winter we'd keep a fire goin' in it. It ain't enough
land so we'd have to work too hard. Maybe six, seven hours a day.
We wouldn't have to buck no barley eleven hours a day. An' when
we put in a crop, why, we'd be there to take the crop up. We'd
know what come of our planting."
"An' rabbits," Lennie said eagerly. "An' I'd take care of 'em. Tell
how I'd do that, George."
"Sure, you'd go out in the alfalfa patch an' you'd have a sack.
You'd fill up the sack and bring it in an' put it in the rabbit cages."
"They'd nibble an' they'd nibble," said Lennie, "the way they do. I
"Ever' six weeks or so," George continued, "them does would
60. throw a litter so we'd have plenty rabbits to eat an' to sell. An'
we'd keep a few pigeons to go flyin' around the win'mill like they
done when I was a kid." He looked raptly at the wall over Lennie's
head. "An' it'd be our own, an 'nobody could can us. If we don't like
a guy we can say, 'Get the hell out,' and by God he's got to do it.
An' if a fren' come along, why we'd have an extra bunk, an' we'd
say, 'Why don't you spen' the night?' an' by God he would. We'd
have a setter dog and a couple stripe cats, but you gotta watch out
them cats don't get the little rabbits."
Lennie breathed hard. "You jus' let 'em try to get the rabbits. I'll
break their God damn necks. I'll . . . . I'll smash 'em with a stick."
He subsided, grumbling to himself, threatening the future cats
which might dare to disturb the future rabbits.
George sat entranced with his own picture.
When Candy spoke they both jumped as though they had been
caught doing something reprehensible. Candy said, "You know
where's a place like that?"
George was on guard immediately. "S'pose I do," he said. "What's
that to you?"
"You don't need to tell me where it's at. Might be any place."
"Sure," said George. "That's right. You couldn't find it in a
hundred years."
Candy went on excitedly, "How much they want for a place like
George watched him suspiciously. "Well-I could get it for six
hundred bucks. The ol' people that owns it is flat bust an' the of
lady needs an operation. Say-what's it to you? You got nothing to
do with us."
61. Candy said, "I ain't much good with on'y one hand. I lost my hand
right here on this ranch. That's why they give me a job swampin'.
An' they give me two hundred an' fifty dollars 'cause I los' my
hand An' I got fifty more saved up right in the bank, right now.
Tha's three hunderd, and I got fifty more comin' the end a the
month. Tell you what-" He leaned forward eagerly. "S'pose I went
in with you guys. Tha's three hunderd an' fifty bucks I'd put in. I
ain't much good, but I could cook and tend the chickens and hoe
the garden some. How'd that be?"
George half-closed his eyes. "I gotta think about that. We was
always gonna do it by ourselves."
Candy interrupted him, "I'd make a will an' leave my share to you
guys in case I kick off, 'cause I ain't got no relatives nor nothing.
You guys got any money? Maybe we could do her right now?"
George spat on the floor disgustedly. "We got ten bucks between
us." Then he said thoughtfully, "Look, if me an' Lennie work a
month an' don't spen' nothing, we'll have a hunderd bucks. That'd
be four fifty. I bet we could swing her for that. Then you an'
Lennie could go get her started an' I'd get a job an' make up the
res', an' you could sell eggs an' stuff like that."
They fell into a silence. They looked at one another, amazed. This
thing they had never really believed in was coming true. George
said reverently, "Jesus Christ! I bet we could swing her." His eyes
were full of wonder. "I bet we could swing her," he repeated softly.
Candy sat on the edge of his bunk. He scratched the stump of his
wrist nervously. "I got hurt four year ago," he said. "They'll can me
purty soon. Jus' as soon as I can't swamp out no bunk houses
they'll put me on the county. Maybe if I give you guys my money,
you'll let me hoe in the garden even after I ain't no good at it. An'
I'll wash dishes an' little chicken stuff like that. But I'll be on our
own place, an' I'll be let to work on our own place." He said
miserably, "You seen what they done to my dog tonight? They says
62. he wasn't no good to himself nor nobody else. When they can me
here I wisht somebody'd shoot me. But they won't do nothing like
that. I won't have no place to go, an' I can't get no more jobs. I'll
have thirty dollars more comin', time you guys is ready to quit."
George stood up. "We'll do her," he said. "We'll fix up that little
old place an' we'll go live there." He sat down again. They all sat
still, all bemused by the beauty of the thing, each mind was
popped into the future when this lovely thing should come about.
George said wonderingly, "S'pose they was a carnival or a circus
come to town, or a ball game, or any damn thing." Old Candy
nodded in appreciation of the idea. "We'd just go to her," George
said. "We wouldn't ask nobody if we could. Jus' say, 'We'll go to
her,' an' we would. Jus' milk the cow and sling some grain to the
chickens an' go to her."
"An' put some grass to the rabbits," Lennie broke in. "I wouldn't
never forget to feed them. When we gon'ta do it, George?"
"In one month. Right squack in one month. Know what I'm gon'ta
do? I'm gon'ta write to them old people that owns the place that
we'll take it. An' Candy'll send a hunderd dollars to bind her."
"Sure will," said Candy. "They got a good stove there?"
"Sure, got a nice stove, burns coal or wood."
"I'm gonna take my pup," said Lennie. "I bet by Christ he likes it
there, by Jesus."
Voices were approaching from outside. George said quickly,
"Don't tell nobody about it. Jus' us three an' nobody else. They
li'ble to can us so we can't make no stake. Jus' go on like we was
gonna buck barley the rest of our lives, then all of a sudden some
day we'll go get our pay an' scram outa here."
Lennie and Candy nodded, and they were grinning with delight.
63. "Don't tell nobody," Lennie said to himself.
Candy said, "George."
"I ought to of shot that dog myself, George. I shouldn't ought to of
let no stranger shoot my dog."
The door opened. Slim came in, followed by Curley and Carlson
and Whit. Slim's hands were black with tar and he was scowling.
Curley hung close to his elbow.
Curley said, "Well, I didn't mean nothing, Slim. I just ast you."
Slim said, "Well, you been askin' me too often. I'm gettin' God
damn sick of it. If you can't look after your own God damn wife,
what you expect me to do about it? You lay offa me."
"I'm jus' tryin' to tell you I didn't mean nothing," said Curley. "I
jus' thought you might of saw her."
"Why'n't you tell her to stay the hell home where she belongs?"
said Carlson. "You let her hang around bunk houses and pretty
soon you're gonna have som'pin on your hands and you won't be
able to do nothing about it."
Curley whirled on Carlson. "You keep outta this les' you wanta
step outside."
Carlson laughed. "You God damn punk," he said. "You tried to
throw a scare into Slim, an' you couldn't make it stick. Slim
throwed a scare inta you. You're yella as a frog belly. I don't care if
you're the best welter in the country. You come for me, an' I'll kick
your God damn head off."
Candy joined the attack with joy. "Glove fulla vaseline," he said
disgustedly. Curley glared at him. His eyes slipped on past and
64. lighted on Lennie; and Lennie was still smiling with delight at the
memory of the ranch.
Curley stepped over to Lennie like a terrier. "What the hell you
laughin' at?"
Lennie looked blankly at him. "Huh?"
Then Curley's rage exploded. "Come on, ya big bastard. Get up on
your feet. No big son-of-a-bitch is gonna laugh at me. I'll show ya
who's yella."
Lennie looked helplessly at George, and then he got up and tried
to retreat. Curley was balanced and poised. He slashed at Lennie
with his left, and then smashed down his nose with a right.
Lennie gave a cry of terror. Blood welled from his nose. "George,"
he cried. "Make 'um let me alone, George." He backed until he was
against the wall, and Curley followed, slugging him in the face.
Lennie's hands remained at his sides; he was too frightened to
defend himself.
George was on his feet yelling, "Get him, Lennie. Don't let him do
Lennie covered his face with his huge paws and bleated with
terror. He cried, "Make 'um stop, George." Then Curley attacked
his stomach and cut off his wind.
Slim jumped up. "The dirty little rat," he cried, "I'll get 'um
George put out his hand and grabbed Slim. "Wait a minute," he
shouted. He cupped his hands around his mouth and yelled, "Get
'em, Lennie! "
Lennie took his hands away from his face and looked about for
George, and Curley slashed at his eyes. The big face was covered
with blood. George yelled again, "I said get him."
65. Curley's fist was swinging when Lennie reached for it. The next
minute Curley was flopping like a fish on a line, and his closed fist
was lost in Lennie's big hand. George ran down the room. "Leggo
of him, Lennie. Let go."
But Lennie watched in terror the flopping little man whom he
held. Blood ran down Lennie's face; one of his eyes was cut and
closed. George slapped him in the face again and again, and still
Lennie held on to the closed fist. Curley was white and shrunken;
by now, and his struggling had become weak. He stood crying, his
fist lost in Lennie's paw.
George shouted over and over, "Leggo his hand, Lennie. Leggo.
Slim, come help me while the guy got any hand left."
Suddenly Lennie let go his hold. He crouch cowering against the
wall. "You tol' me to, George," he said miserably.
Curley sat down on the floor, looking in wonder at his crushed
hand. Slim and Carlson bent over him. Then Slim straightened up
and regarded Lennie with horror. "We got to get him in to a
doctor," he said. "Looks to me like ever' bone in his han' is bust."
"I didn't wanta," Lennie cried. "I didn't wanta hurt him."
Slim said, "Carlson, you get the candy wagon hitched up. We'll
take 'um into Soledad an' get 'um fixed up." Carlson hurried out.
Slim turned to the whimpering Lennie. "It ain't your fault," he sai
"This punk sure had it comin' to him. But-Jesus! He ain't hardly
got no han' left." Slim hurried out, and in a moment returned with
a tin cup of water. He held it to Curley's lips.
George said, "Slim, will we get canned now? We need the stake.
Will Curley's old man can us now?"
66. Slim smiled wryly. He knelt down beside Curley. "You got your
senses in hand enough to listen?" he asked. Curley nodded. "Well,
then listen," Slim went on. "I think you got your han' caught in a
machine. If you don't tell nobody what happened, we ain't going to.
But you jus' tell an' try to get this guy canned and we'll tell
ever'body, an' then will you get' the laugh."
"I won't tell," said Curley. He avoided looking at Lennie.
Buggy wheels sounded outside. Slim helped Curley up. "Come on
now. Carlson's gonna take you to a doctor." He helped Curley out
the door. The sound of wheels drew away. In a moment Slim came
back into the bunk house. He looked at Lennie, still crouched
fearfully against the wall. "Le's see your hands," he asked.
Lennie stuck out his hands.
"Christ awmighty, I hate to have you mad at me," Slim said.
George broke in, "Lennie was jus' scairt," he explained. "He didn't
know what to do. I told you nobody ought never to fight him. No, I
guess it was Candy I told."
Candy nodded solemnly. "That's jus' what you done," he said.
"Right this morning when Curley first lit into your fren', you says,
'He better not fool with Lennie if he knows what's good for 'um.'
That's jus' what you says to me."
George turned to Lennie. "It ain't your fault," he said. "You don't
need to be scairt no more. You done jus' what I tol' you to. Maybe
you better go in the ' wash room an' clean up your face. You look
like' hell."
Lennie smiled with his bruised mouth. "I didn't want no trouble,"
he said. He walked toward the door, but just before he came to it,
he turned back. "George?"
"What you want?"
67. "I can still tend the rabbits, George?"
"Sure. You ain't done nothing wrong."
"I di'n't mean no harm, George."
"Well, get the hell out and wash your face."
CROOKS, the Negro stable buck, had his bunk in the harness
room; a little shed that leaned off the wall of the barn. On one side
of the little room there was a square four-paned window, and on
the other, a narrow plank door leading into the barn. Crooks' bunk
was a long box filled with straw, on which his blankets were flung.
On the wall by the window there were pegs on which hung broken
harness in process of being mended; strips of new leather; and
under the window itself a little bench for leatherworking tools,
curved knives and needles and balls of linen thread, and a small
hand riveter. On pegs were also pieces of harness, a split collar
with the horsehairstuffing sticking out, a broken hame, and a
trace chain with its leather covering split. Crooks had his apple
box over his bunk, and in it a range of medicine bottles, both for
himself and for the horses. There were cans of saddle soap and a
drippy can of tar with its paint brush sticking over the edge. And
scattered about the floor were a number of personal possessions;
for, being alone, Crooks could leave his things about, and being a
stable buck and a cripple, he was more permanent than the other
68. men, and he had accumulated more possessions than he could
carry on his back.
Crooks possessed several pairs of shoes, a pair of rubber boots, a
big alarm clock and a single-barreled shotgun. And he had books,
too; a tattered dictionary and a mauled copy of the California civil
code for 1905. There were battered magazines and a few dirty
books on a special shelf over his bunk. A pair of large gold-rimmed
spectacles hung from a nail on the wall above his bed.
This room was swept and fairly neat, for Crooks was a proud,
aloof man. He kept his distance and demanded that other people
keep theirs. His body was bent over to the left by his crooked
spine, and his eyes lay deep in his head, and because of their
depth seemed to glitter with intensity. His lean face was lined
with deep black wrinkles, and he had thin, pain-tightened lips
which were lighter than his face.
It was Saturday night. Through the open door that led into the
barn came the sound of moving horses, of feet stirring, of teeth
champing on hay, of the rattle of halter chains. In the stable
buck's room a small electric globe threw a meager yellow light.
Crooks sat on his bunk. His shirt was out of his jeans in back. In
one hand he held a bottle of liniment, and with the other he
rubbed his spine. Now and then he poured a few drops of the
liniment into his pink-palmed hand and reached up under his
shirt to rub again. He flexed his muscles against his back and
Noiselessly Lennie appeared in the open doorway and stood there
looking in, his big shoulders nearly filling the opening. For a
moment Crooks did not see him, but on raising his eyes he
stiffened and a scowl came on his face. His hand came out from
under his shirt.
Lennie smiled helplessly in an attempt to make friends.