Of Mice and Men

Page 7


“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 awright. Just ain’t bright. But he can do anything you tell him.”
The boss turned half away. “Well, God knows he don’t need any brains to buck barley bags. But 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 flapper shut after this.” He fell morosely silent.
“What you want now?”
“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’ listenin’?”
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 the side of the room and lay down, grunting softly 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.” But 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 sheepdog when he was younger.” He stood his broom against the wall and he rubbed his white bristled cheek with his knuckles. “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 right.”
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 asked.
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 bent 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’ for?”
“We just come in,” said George.
“Let the big guy 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.
“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’ you 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.