John Steinbeck
Chapter 4
John Steinbeck
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 
great pearl. 

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 
them all." 

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 
not there." 

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 
every year." 

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 
had nothing. 

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 
have offered." 

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 
was valueless." 

"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 
protect me." 

"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 
the darkness. 

"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. 

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