It is wonderful the way a little town keeps track of itself and of all
its units. If every single man and woman, child and baby, acts and
conducts itself in a known pattern and breaks no walls and differs with
no one and experiments in no way and is not sick and does not endanger
the ease and peace of mind or steady unbroken flow of the town, then
that unit can disappear and never be heard of. But let one man step out
of the regular thought or the known and trusted pattern, and the nerves
of the townspeople ring with nervousness and communication travels over
the nerve lines of the town. Then every unit communicates to the whole.
Thus, in La Paz, it was known in the early morning through the whole
town that Kino was going to sell his pearl that day. It was known among
the neighbors in the brush huts, among the pearl fishermen; it was
known among the Chinese grocery-store owners; it was known in the
church, for the altar boys whispered about it. Word of it crept in
among the nuns; the beggars in front of the church spoke of it, for
they would be there to take the tithe of the first fruits of the luck.
The little boys knew about it with excitement, but most of all the
pearl buyers knew about it, and when the day had come, in the offices
of the pearl buyers, each man sat alone with his little black velvet
tray, and each man rolled the pearls about with his fingertips and
considered his part in the picture.
It was supposed that the pearl buyers were individuals acting alone,
bidding against one another for the pearls the fishermen brought in.
And once it had been so. But this was a wasteful method, for often, in
the excitement of bidding for a fine pearl, too great a price had been
paid to the fishermen. This was extravagant and not to be countenanced.
Now there was only one pearl buyer with many hands, and the men who sat
in their offices and waited for Kino knew what price they would offer,
how high they would bid, and what method each one would use. And
although these men would not profit beyond their salaries, there was
excitement among the pearl buyers, for there was excitement in the
hunt, and if it be a man's function to break down a price, then he must
take joy and satisfaction in breaking it as far down as possible. For
every man in the world functions to the best of his ability, and no one
does less than his best, no matter what he may think about it. Quite
apart from any reward they might get, from any word of praise, from any
promotion, a pearl buyer was a pearl buyer, and the best and happiest
pearl buyer was he who bought for the lowest prices.
The sun was hot yellow that morning, and it drew the moisture from the
estuary and from the Gulf and hung it in shimmering scarves in the air
so that the air vibrated and vision was insubstantial. A vision hung in
the air to the north of the city- the vision of a mountain that was
over two hundred miles away, and the high slopes of this mountain were
swaddled with pines and a great stone peak arose above the timber line.
And the morning of this day the canoes lay lined up on the beach; the
fishermen did not go out to dive for pearls, for there would be too
much happening, too many things to see, when Kino went to sell the
In the brush houses by the shore Kino's neighbors sat long over their
breakfasts, and they spoke of what they would do if they had found the
pearl. And one man said that he would give it as a present to the Holy
Father in Rome. Another said that he would buy Masses for the souls of
his family for a thousand years. Another thought he might take the
money and distribute it among the poor of La Paz; and a fourth thought
of all the good things one could do with the money from the pearl, of
all the charities, benefits, of all the rescues one could perform if
one had money. All of the neighbors hoped that sudden wealth would not
turn Kino's head, would not make a rich man of him, would not graft
onto him the evil limbs of greed and hatred and coldness. For Kino was
a well-liked man; it would be a shame if the pearl destroyed him. "That
good wife Juana," they said, "and the beautiful baby Coyotito, and the
others to come. What a pity it would be if the pearl should destroy
For Kino and Juana this was the morning of mornings of their lives,
comparable only to the day when the baby had been born. This was to be
the day from which all other days would take their arrangement. Thus
they would say, "It was two years before we sold the pearl," or, "It
was six weeks after we sold the pearl." Juana, considering the matter,
threw caution to the winds, and she dressed Coyotito in the clothes she
had prepared for his baptism, when there would be money for his
baptism. And Juana combed and braided her hair and tied the ends with
two little bows of red ribbon, and she put on her marriage skirt and
waist. The sun was quarter high when they were ready. Kino's ragged
white clothes were clean at least, and this was the last day of his
raggedness. For tomorrow, or even this afternoon, he would have new
The neighbors, watching Kino's door through the crevices in their brush
houses, were dressed and ready too. There was no self-consciousness
about their joining Kino and Juana to go pearl selling. It was expected, it
- was an historic moment, they would be crazy if they didn't go. It would
- be almost a sign of unfriendship.
Juana put on her head shawl carefully, and she draped one long end
under her right elbow and gathered it with her right hand so that a
hammock hung under her arm, and in this little hammock she placed
Coyotito, propped up against the head shawl so that he could see
everything and perhaps remember. Kino put on his large straw hat and
felt it with his hand to see that it was properly placed, not on the
back or side of his head, like a rash, unmarried, irresponsible man,
and not flat as an elder would wear it, but tilted a little forward to
show aggressiveness and seriousness and vigor. There is a great deal to
be seen in the tilt of a hat on a man. Kino slipped his feet into his
sandals and pulled the thongs up over his heels. The great pearl was
wrapped in an old soft piece of deerskin and placed in a little leather
bag, and the leather bag was in a pocket in Kino's shirt. He folded his
blanket carefully and draped it in a narrow strip over his left
shoulder, and now they were ready.
Kino stepped with dignity out of the house, and Juana followed him,
carrying Coyotito. And as they marched up the freshet-washed alley
toward the town, the neighbors joined them. The houses belched people;
the doorways spewed out children. But because of the seriousness of the
occasion, only one man walked with Kino, and that was his brother, Juan
Juan Tomas cautioned his brother. "You must be careful to see they do
not cheat you," he said.
And, "Very careful," Kino agreed.
"We do not know what prices are paid in other places," said Juan Tomas.
"How can we know what is a fair price, if we do not know what the pearl
buyer gets for the pearl in another place."
"That is true," said Kino, "but how can we know? We are here, we are
As they walked up toward the city the crowd grew behind them, and Juan
Tomas, in pure nervousness, went on speaking.
"Before you were born, Kino," he said, "the old ones thought of a way
to get more money for their pearls. They thought it would be better if
they had an agent who took all the pearls to the capital and sold them
there and kept only his share of the profit."
Kino nodded his head. "I know," he said. "It was a good thought."
"And so they got such a man," said Juan Tomas, "and they pooled the
pearls, and they started him off. And he was never heard of again and
the pearls were lost. Then they got another man, and they started him
off, and he was never heard of again. And so they gave the whole thing
up and went back to the old way."
"I know," said Kino. "I have heard our father tell of it. It was a good
idea, but it was against religion, and the Father made that very clear.
The loss of the pearl was a punishment visited on those who tried to
leave their station. And the Father made it clear that each man and
woman is like a soldier sent by God to guard some part of the castle of
the Universe. And some are in the ramparts and some far deep in the
darkness of the walls. But each one must remain faithful to his post
and must not go running about, else the castle is in danger from the
assaults of Hell."
"I have heard him make that sermon," said Juan Tomas. "He makes it
The brothers, as they walked along, squinted their eyes a little, as
they and their grandfathers and their great-grandfathers had done for
four hundred years, since first the strangers came with argument and
authority and gunpowder to back up both. And in the four hundred years
Kino's people had learned only one defense- a slight slitting of the
eyes and a slight tightening of the lips and a retirement. Nothing
could break down this wall, and they could remain whole within the
The gathering procession was solemn, for they sensed the importance of
this day, and any children who showed a tendency to scuffle, to scream,
to cry out, to steal hats and rumple hair, were hissed to silence by
their elders. So important was this day that an old man came to see,
riding on the stalwart shoulders of his nephew. The procession left the
brush huts and entered the stone and plaster city where the streets
were a little wider and there were narrow pavements beside the
building. And as before, the beggars joined them as they passed the
church; the grocers looked out at them as they went by; the little
saloons lost their customers and the owners closed up shop and went
along. And the sun beat down on the streets of the city and even tiny
stones threw shadows on the ground.
The news of the approach of the procession ran ahead of it, and in
their little dark offices the pearl buyers stiffened and grew alert.
They got out papers so that they could be at work when Kino appeared,
and they put their pearls in the desks, for it is not good to let an
inferior pearl be seen beside a beauty. And word of the loveliness of
Kino's pearl had come to them. The pearl buyers' offices were clustered
together in one narrow street, and they were barred at the windows, and
wooden slats cut out the light so that only a soft gloom entered the
A stout slow man sat in an office waiting. His face was fatherly and
benign, and his eyes twinkled with friendship. He was a caller of good
mornings, a ceremonious shaker of hands, a jolly man who knew all jokes
and yet who hovered close to sadness, for in the midst of a laugh he
could remember the death of your aunt, and his eyes could become wet
with sorrow for your loss. This morning he had placed a flower in a
vase on his desk, a single scarlet hibiscus, and the vase sat beside
the black velvet-lined pearl tray in front of him. He was shaved close
to the blue roots of his beard, and his hands were clean and his nails
polished. His door stood open to the morning, and he hummed under his
breath while his right hand practiced legerdemain. He rolled a coin
back and forth over his knuckles and made it appear and disappear, made
it spin and sparkle. The coin winked into sight and as quickly slipped
out of sight, and the man did not even watch his own performance. The
fingers did it all mechanically, precisely, while the man hummed to
himself and peered out the door. Then he heard the tramp of feet of the
approaching crowd, and the fingers of his right hand worked faster and
faster until, as the figure of Kino filled the doorway, the coin
flashed and disappeared.
"Good morning, my friend," the stout man said. "What can I do for you?"
Kino stared into the dimness of the little office, for his eyes were
squeezed from the outside glare. But the buyer's eyes had become as
steady and cruel and unwinking as a hawk's eyes, while the rest of his
face smiled in greeting. And secretly, behind his desk, his right hand
practiced with the coin.
"I have a pearl," said Kino. And Juan Tomas stood beside him and
snorted a little at the understatement. The neighbors peered around the
doorway, and a line of little boys clambered on the window bars and
looked through. Several little boys, on their hands and knees, watched
the scene around Kino's legs.
"You have a pearl," the dealer said. "Sometimes a man brings in a
dozen. Well, let us see your pearl. We will value it and give you the
best price." And his fingers worked furiously with the coin.
Now Kino instinctively knew his own dramatic effects. Slowly he brought
out the leather bag, slowly took from it the soft and dirty piece of
deerskin, and then he let the great pearl roll into the black velvet
tray, and instantly his eyes went to the buyer's face. But there was no
sign, no movement, the face did not change, but the secret hand behind
the desk missed in its precision. The coin stumbled over a knuckle and
slipped silently into the dealer's lap. And the fingers behind the desk
curled into a fist. When the right hand came out of hiding, the
forefinger touched the great pearl, rolled it on the black velvet;
thumb and forefinger picked it up and brought it near to the dealer's
eyes and twirled it in the air.
Kino held his breath, and the neighbors held their breath, and the
whispering went back through the crowd. "He is inspecting it- No price
has been mentioned yet- They have not come to a price."
Now the dealer's hand had become a personality. The hand tossed the
great pearl back in the tray, the forefinger poked and insulted it, and
on the dealer's face there came a sad and contemptuous smile.
"I am sorry, my friend," he said, and his shoulders rose a little to
indicate that the misfortune was no fault of his.
"It is a pearl of great value," Kino said.
The dealer's fingers spurned the pearl so that it bounced and rebounded
softly from the side of the velvet tray.
"You have heard of fool's gold," the dealer said. "This pearl is like
fool's gold. It is too large. Who would buy it? There is no market for
such things. It is a curiosity only. I am sorry. You thought it was a
thing of value, and it is only a curiosity."
Now Kino's face was perplexed and worried. "It is the Pearl of the
World," he cried. "No one has ever seen such a pearl."
"On the contrary," said the dealer, "it is large and clumsy. As a
curiosity it has interest; some museum might perhaps take it to place
in a collection of seashells. I can give you, say, a thousand pesos."
Kino's face grew dark and dangerous. "It is worth fifty thousand," he
said. "You know it. You want to cheat me."
And the dealer heard a little grumble go through the crowd as they
heard his price. And the dealer felt a little tremor of fear.
"Do not blame me," he said quickly. "I am only an appraiser. Ask the
others. Go to their offices and show your pearl- or better, let them
come here, so that you can see there is no collusion. Boy," he called.
And when his servant looked through the rear door, "Boy, go to such a
one, and such another one and such a third one. Ask them to step in
here and do not tell them why. Just say that I will be pleased to see
them." And his right hand went behind the desk and pulled another coin
from his pocket, and the coin rolled back and forth over the knuckles.
Kino's neighbors whispered together. They had been afraid of something
like this. The pearl was large, but it had a strange color. They had
been suspicious of it from the first. And after all, a thousand pesos
was not to be thrown away. It was comparative wealth to a man who was
not wealthy. And suppose Kino took a thousand pesos. Only yesterday he
But Kino had grown tight and hard. He felt the creeping of fate, the
circling of wolves, the hover of vultures. He felt the evil coagulating
about him, and he was helpless to protect himself. He heard in his ears
the evil music. And on the black velvet the great pearl glistened, so
that the dealer could not keep his eyes from it.
The crowd in the doorway wavered and broke and let the three pearl
dealers through. The crowd was silent now, fearing to miss a word, to
fail to see a gesture or an expression. Kino was silent and watchful.
He felt a little tugging at his back, and he turned and looked in
Juana's eyes, and when he looked away he had renewed strength.
The dealers did not glance at one another nor at the pearl. The man
behind the desk said, "I have put a value on this pearl. The owner here
does not think it fair. I will ask you to examine this- this thing and
make an offer. Notice," he said to Kino, "I have not mentioned what I
The first dealer, dry and stringy, seemed now to see the pearl for the
first time. He took it up, rolled it quickly between thumb and
forefinger, and then cast it contemptuously back into the tray.
"Do not include me in the discussion," he said dryly. "I will make no
offer at all. I do not want it. This is not a pearl- it is a monstrosity."
- His thin lips curled.
Now the second dealer, a little man with a shy soft voice, took up the
pearl, and he examined it carefully. He took a glass from his pocket
and inspected it under magnification. Then he laughed softly.
"Better pearl are made of paste," he said. "I know these things. This
is soft and chalky, it will lose its color and die in a few months.
Look-" He offered the glass to Kino, showed him how to use it, and
Kino, who had never seen a pearl's surface magnified, was shocked at
the strange-looking surface.
The third dealer took the pearl from Kino's hands. "One of my clients
likes such things," he said. "I will offer five hundred pesos, and
perhaps I can sell it to my client for six hundred."
Kino reached quickly and snatched the pearl from his hand. He wrapped
it in the deerskin and thrust it inside his shirt.
The man behind the desk said, "I'm a fool, I know, but my first offer
stands. I still offer one thousand. What are you doing?" he asked, as
Kino thrust the pearl out of sight.
"I am cheated," Kino cried fiercely. "My pearl is not for sale here. I
will go, perhaps even to the capital."
Now the dealers glanced quickly at one another. They knew they had
played too hard; they knew they would be disciplined for their failure,
and the man at the desk said quickly, "I might go to fifteen hundred."
But Kino was pushing his way through the crowd. The hum of talk came to
him dimly, his rage blood pounded in his ears, and he burst through and
strode away. Juana followed, trotting after him.
When the evening came, the neighbors in the brush houses sat eating
their corncakes and beans, and they discussed the great theme of the
morning. They did not know, it seemed a fine pearl to them, but they
had never seen such a pearl before, and surely the dealers knew more
about the value of pearls than they. "And mark this," they said. "Those
dealers did not discuss these things. Each of the three knew the pearl
"But suppose they had arranged it before?"
"If that is so, then all of us have been cheated all of our lives."
Perhaps, some argued, perhaps it would have been better if Kino took
the one thousand five hundred pesos. That is a great deal of money,
more than he has ever seen. Maybe Kino is being a pigheaded fool.
Suppose he should really go to the capital and find no buyer for his
pearl. He would never live that down.
And now, said other fearful ones, now that he had defied them, those
buyers will not want to deal with him at all. Maybe Kino has cut off
his own head and destroyed himself.
And others said, Kino is a brave man, and a fierce man; he is right.
From his courage we may all profit. These were proud of Kino.
In his house Kino squatted on his sleeping mat, brooding. He had buried
his pearl under a stone of the fire hole in his house, and he stared at
the woven tules of his sleeping mat until the crossed design danced in
his head. He had lost one world and had not gained another. And Kino
was afraid. Never in his life had he been far from home. He was afraid
of strangers and of strange places. He was terrified of that monster of
strangeness they called the capital. It lay over the water and through
the mountains, over a thousand miles, and every strange terrible mile
was frightening. But Kino had lost his old world and he must clamber on
to a new one. For his dream of the future was real and never to be
destroyed, and he had said "I will go," and that made a real thing too.
To determine to go and to say it was to be halfway there.
Juana watched him while he buried his pearl, and she watched him while
she cleaned Coyotito and nursed him, and Juana made the corncakes for
Juan Tomas came in and squatted down beside Kino and remained silent
for a long time, until at last Kino demanded, "What else could I do?
They are cheats."
Juan Tomas nodded gravely. He was the elder, and Kino looked to him for
wisdom. "It is hard to know," he said. "We do know that we are cheated
from birth to the overcharge on our coffins. But we survive. You have
defied not the pearl buyers, but the whole structure, the whole way of
life, and I am afraid for you."
"What have I to fear but starvation?" Kino asked.
But Juan Tomas shook his head slowly. "That we must all fear. But
suppose you are correct- suppose your pearl is of great value- do you
think then the game is over?"
"What do you mean?"
"I don't know," said Juan Tomas, "but I am afraid for you. It is new
ground you are walking on, you do not know the way."
"I will go. I will go soon," said Kino.
"Yes," Juan Tomas agreed. "That you must do. But I wonder if you will
find it any different in the capital. Here, you have friends and me,
your brother. There, you will have no one."
"What can I do?" Kino cried. "Some deep outrage is here. My son must
have a chance. That is what they are striking at. My friends will
"Only so long as they are not in danger or discomfort from it," said
Juan Tomas. He arose, saying, "Go with God."
And Kino said, "Go with God," and did not even look up, for the words
had a strange chill in them.
Long after Juan Tomas had gone Kino sat brooding on his sleeping mat. A
lethargy had settled on him, and a little gray hopelessness. Every road
seemed blocked against him. In his head he heard only the dark music of
the enemy. His senses were burningly alive, but his mind went back to
the deep participation with all things, the gift he had from his people. He
- heard every little sound of the gathering night, the sleepy complaint of
- settling birds, the love agony of cats, the strike and withdrawal of little
- waves on the beach, and the simple hiss of distance. And he could smell
- the sharp odor of exposed kelp from the receding tide. The little flare
- of the twig fire made the design on his sleeping mat jump before his
- entranced eyes.
Juana watched him with worry, but she knew him and she knew she could
help him best by being silent and by being near. And as though she too
could hear the Song of Evil, she fought it, singing softly the melody
of the family, of the safety and warmth and wholeness of the family.
She held Coyotito in her arms and sang the song to him, to keep the
evil out, and her voice was brave against the threat of the dark music.
Kino did not move nor ask for his supper. She knew he would ask when he
wanted it. His eyes were entranced, and he could sense the wary,
watchful evil outside the brush house; he could feel the dark creeping
things waiting for him to go out into the night. It was shadowy and
dreadful, and yet it called to him and threatened him and challenged
him. His right hand went into his shirt and felt his knife; his eyes
were wide; he stood up and walked to the doorway.
Juana willed to stop him; she raised her hand to stop him, and her
mouth opened with terror. For a long moment Kino looked out into the
darkness and then he stepped outside. Juana heard the little rush, the
grunting struggle, the blow. She froze with terror for a moment, and
then her lips drew back from her teeth like a cat's lips. She set
Coyotito down on the ground. She seized a stone from the fireplace and
rushed outside, but it was over by then. Kino lay on the ground,
struggling to rise, and there was no one near him. Only the shadows and
the strike and rush of waves and the hiss of distance. But the evil was
all about, hidden behind the brush fence, crouched beside the house in
the shadow, hovering in the air.
Juana dropped her stone, and she put her arms around Kino and helped
him to his feet and supported him into the house. Blood oozed down from
his scalp and there was a long deep cut in his cheek from ear to chin,
a deep, bleeding slash. And Kino was only half conscious. He shook his
head from side to side. His shirt was torn open and his clothes half
pulled off. Juana sat him down on his sleeping mat and she wiped the
thickening blood from his face with her skirt. She brought him pulque
to drink in a little pitcher, and still he shook his head to clear out
"Who?" Juana asked.
"I don't know," Kino said. "I didn't see."
Now Juana brought her clay pot of water and she washed the cut on his
face while he stared dazed ahead of him.
"Kino, my husband," she cried, and his eyes stared past her. "Kino, can
you hear me?"
"I hear you," he said dully.
"Kino, this pearl is evil. Let us destroy it before it destroys us. Let
us crush it between two stones. Let us- let us throw it back in the sea
where it belongs. Kino, it is evil, it is evil!"
And as she spoke the light came back in Kino's eyes so that they glowed
fiercely and his muscles hardened and his will hardened.
"No," he said. "I will fight this thing. I will win over it. We will
have our chance." His fist pounded the sleeping mat. "No one shall take
our good fortune from us," he said. His eyes softened then and he
raised a gentle hand to Juana's shoulder. "Believe me," he said. "I am
a man." And his face grew crafty.
"In the morning we will take our canoe and we will go over the sea and
over the mountains to the capital, you and I. We will not be cheated. I
am a man."
"Kino," she said huskily, "I am afraid. A man can be killed. Let us
throw the pearl back into the sea."
"Hush," he said fiercely. "I am a man. Hush." And she was silent, for
his voice was command. "Let us sleep a little," he said. "In the first
light we will start. You are not afraid to go with me?"
"No, my husband."
His eyes were soft and warm on her then, his hand touched her cheek.
"Let us sleep a little," he said.