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, Good-lookin'."
"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
bunkhouse, 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 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't 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 outa
here. It's mean here."
"We gotta stay," George said shortly. "Shut up now. The guys'll be
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 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 achieved only 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 bunkhouse. "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 can."
Lennie, who had been following the conversation back and forth
with his eyes, smiled complacently 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 bunkhouse. 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 ta meet ya," the big man said. "My name's Carlson."
"I'm George Milton. This here's Lennie Small."
"Glad ta 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
"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?"
"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
Carlson stepped back to let Slim precede him, and 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 ask
"A brown and white one," Lennie cried excitedly.
"Come on. Le's get dinner. I don't know whether he got a brown and
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
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
Although there was evening brightness showing through the windows of
the bunkhouse, 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 derision.
Slim and George came into the darkening bunkhouse 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 bunkhouse 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
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
"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 guy."
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
"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.
"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' him. 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 bright.
"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 no
fun. After a long time they get mean. They get wantin' to fight all
"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
George carefully built his line of solitaire cards. "Well, that girl
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."
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