Of Mice and Men

Page 6


“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.”
“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 room.”
“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 says, ‘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 Smitty 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. I 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 door.
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 bull.”
Lennie smiled to himself. “Strong as a bull,” he repeated.
George scowled at him, and Lennie dropped his head in shame at having forgotten.
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’s a good skinner. He can rassel grain bags, drive a cultivator. He can do anything. Just give him a try.”
The boss turned on George. “Then why don’t you let him answer? What 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?”