by John Steinbeck
fifteen miles below Monterey, on the wild coast, the Torres family had their
farm, a few sloping acres above a cliff that dropped to the brown reefs and to
the hissing white waters of the ocean. Behind the farm the stone mountains stood
up against the sky. The farm buildings huddled like the clinging aphids
on the mountain skirts, crouched low to the ground as though the wind might blow
them into the sea. The little shack, the rattling, rotting barn were gray-bitten
with sea salt, beaten by the damp wind until they had taken on the color of the granite
hills. Two horses, a red cow and a red calf, half a dozen pigs and a flock of
lean, multicolored chickens stocked the place. A little corn was raised on the sterile
slope, and it grew short and thick under the wind, and all the cobs formed on
the landward sides of the stalks.
Mama Torres, a lean, dry woman with ancient eyes, had ruled the farm for ten years, ever since her husband tripped over a stone in the field one day and fell full length on a rattlesnake. When one is bitten on the chest there is not much that can be done.
Mama Torres had three children, two undersized black ones of twelve and
fourteen, Emilio and Rosy, whom Mama kept fishing on the rocks below the farm
when the sea was kind and when the truant officer was in some distant part of
Monterey County. And there was Pepé, the tall smiling son of nineteen, a
gentle, affectionate boy, but very lazy. Pepé had a tall head, pointed at the
top, and from its peak coarse black hair grew down like a thatch all
around. Over his smiling little eyes Mama cut a straight bang so he could see.
Pepé had sharp Indian cheekbones and an eagle nose, but his mouth was as sweet
and shapely as a girl's mouth, and his chin was fragile and chiseled. He was
loose and gangling, all legs and feet and wrists, and he was very lazy.
Mama thought him fine and brave, but she never told him so. She said, “Some
lazy cow must have got into thy father's family, else how could I have a
son like thee.” And she said, “When I carried thee, a sneaking lazy
coyote came out of the brush and looked at me one day. That must have made thee
smiled sheepishly and stabbed at the ground with his knife to keep the blade
sharp and free from rust. It was his inheritance, that knife, his father's
knife. The long heavy blade folded back into the black handle. There was a
button on the handle. When Pepé pressed the button, the blade leaped out ready
for use. The knife was with Pepé always, for it had been his father's knife.
sunny morning when the sea below the cliff was glinting and blue and the white
surf creamed on the reef, when even the stone mountains looked kindly, Mama
Torres called out the door of the shack, “Pepé, I have a labor for thee.”
was no answer. Mama listened. From behind the barn she heard a burst of
laughter. She lifted her full long skirt and walked in the direction of the
was sitting on the ground with his back against a box. His white teeth
glistened. On either
side of him stood the two black ones, tense and expectant. Fifteen feet away a
redwood post was set in the ground. Pepé's right hand lay limply in his lap,
and in the palm the big black knife rested. The blade was closed back into the
handle. Pepé looked smiling at the sky.
Emilio cried, “Ya!”
wrist flicked like the head of a snake. The blade seemed to fly open in midair,
and with a thump the point dug into the redwood post, and the black handle
quivered. The three burst into excited laughter. Rosy ran to the post and pulled
out the knife and brought it back to Pepé. He closed the blade and settled the
knife carefully in his listless palm again. He grinned self-consciously
at the sky.
heavy knife lanced out and sunk into the post again. Mama moved forward like a
ship and scattered the play.
day you do foolish things with the knife, like a toy baby,” she stormed.
“Get up on thy huge feet that eat up shoes. Get up!” She took him by one
loose shoulder and hoisted at him. Pepé grinned sheepishly and came
halfheartedly to his feet. “Look!” Mama cried. “Big lazy, you must catch
the horse and put on him thy father's saddle. You must ride to Monterey. The
medicine bottle is empty. There is no salt. Go thou now, Peanut! Catch the
revolution took place in the relaxed figure of Pepé. “To Monterey, me? Alone?
scowled at him. “Do not think, big sheep, that you will buy candy. No, I will
give you only enough for the medicine and the salt.”
smiled. “Mama, you will put the hatband on the hat?”
relented then. “Yes, Pepé. You may wear the hatband.”
voice grew insinuating. “And the green handkerchief, Mama?”
if you go quickly and return with no trouble, the silk green handkerchief will
go. If you make sure to take off the handkerchief when you eat so no spot may
fall on it.”
Mama. I will be careful. I am a man.”
A man? Thou art a peanut.”
went to the rickety barn and brought out a rope, and he walked agilely
enough up the hill to catch the horse.
When he was ready and mounted before the door, mounted on his father's saddle that was so old that the oaken frame showed through torn leather in many places, then Mama brought out the round black hat with the tooled leather band, and she reached up and knotted the green silk handkerchief about his neck. Pepé's blue denim coat was much darker than his jeans, for it had been washed much less often.
handed up the big medicine bottle and the silver coins. “That for the
medicine,” she said, “and that for the salt. That for a candle to burn for
the papa. That for dulces for the little ones. Our friend Mrs. Rodriguez will give you dinner and maybe a
bed for the night. When you go to the church, say only ten
and only twenty-five Ave Marias.
Oh! I know, big coyote. You would sit there flapping your mouth over Aves all
day while you looked at the candles and the holy pictures. That is not good
devotion to stare at the pretty things.”
black hat, covering the high pointed head and black thatched hair of Pepé, gave
him dignity and age. He sat the rangy horse well. Mama thought how
handsome he was, dark and lean and tall. “I would not send thee now alone,
thou little one, except for the medicine,” she said softly. “It is not good
to have no medicine, for who knows when the toothache will come, or the sadness
of the stomach. These things are.”
cried. “I will come back soon. You may send me often alone. I am a man.”
art a foolish chicken.”
straightened his shoulders, flipped the reins against the horse's shoulder, and
rode away. He turned once and saw that they still watched him. Emilio and Rosy
and Mama. Pepé grinned with pride and gladness and lifted the tough buckskin
horse to a trot.
he had dropped out of sight over a little dip in the road, Mama turned to the
black ones, but she spoke to herself. “He is nearly a man now,” she said.
“It will be a nice thing to have a man in the house again.” Her eyes
sharpened on the children. “Go to the rocks now. The tide is going out. There
will be abalones5
to be found.” She put the iron hooks into their hands and saw them down the
steep trail to the reefs. She brought the smooth stone metate6
to the doorway and sat grinding her corn to flour and looking occasionally at
the road over which Pepé had gone. The noonday came and then the afternoon,
when the little ones beat the abalones on a rock to make them tender and Mama
patted the tortillas to make them thin. They ate dinner as the red sun was
plunging down toward the ocean. They sat on the doorsteps and watched a big
white moon come over the mountaintops.
said, “He is now at the house of our friend Mrs. Rodriguez. She will give him
nice things to eat and maybe a present.”
said, “Someday I, too, will ride to Monterey for medicine. Did Pepé come to
be a man today?”
said wisely, “A boy gets to be a man when a man is needed. Remember this
thing. I have known boys forty years old because there was no need for a man:”
afterward they retired, Mama in her big oak bed on one side of the room, Emilio
and Rosy in their boxes full of straw and sheepskins on the other side of the
moon went over the sky and the surf roared on the rocks. The roosters crowed the
first call. The surf subsided to a whispering surge against the reef. The
moon dropped toward the sea. The roosters crowed again.
moon was near down to the water when Pepé rode on a winded horse to his home
flat. His dog bounced out and circled the horse, yelping-with pleasure. Pepé
slid off the saddle to the ground. The weathered little shack was silver in the
moonlight and the square shadow of it was black to the north and east. Against
the east the piling mountains were misty with light; their tops melted into the
walked wearily up the three steps and into the house. It was dark inside.
There was a rustle in the comer.
cried out from her bed. “Who comes? Pepé, is it thou?”
you get the medicine?”
“Well, go to sleep, then. I thought you would be sleeping at the house
of Mrs. Rodriguez.” Pepé stood silently in the dark room. “Why do you stand
there, Pepé? Did you drink wine?”
go to bed then and sleep out the wine.”
voice was tired and patient, but very firm. “'Light the candle, Mama. I must
go away into the mountains.”
is this, Pepé? You are crazy.” Mama struck a sulfur match and held the little
blue burr until the flame spread up the stick. She set light to the candle on
the floor beside her bed. “Now, Pepé, what is this you say?” She looked
anxiously into his face.
was changed. The fragile quality seemed to have gone from his chin. His mouth
was less full than it had been, the lines of the lip were straighter, but in his
eyes the greatest change had taken place. There was no laughter in them anymore,
nor any bashfulness. They were sharp and bright and purposeful.
told her in a tired monotone, told her everything just as it had
happened. A few people came into the kitchen of Mrs. Rodriguez. There was wine
to drink. Pepé drank wine. The little quarrel—the man started toward
Pepé and then the knife—it went almost by itself. It flew, it darted before
Pepé knew it. As he talked, Mama's face grew stern, and it seemed to grow more
lean. Pepé finished. I am a man now, Mama. The man said names to me I could not
nodded. “Yes, thou art a man, my poor little Pepé. Thou art a man. I have
seen it coming on thee. I have watched you throwing the knife into the post, and
I have been afraid.” For a moment her face had softened, but now it grew stern
again. “Come! We must get you ready. Go. Awaken Emilio and Rosy. Go quickly.”
stepped over to the corner where his brother and sister slept among the
sheepskins. He leaned down and shook them gently. “Come, Rosy! Come, Emilio! The Mama says you must arise.”
little black ones sat up and rubbed their eyes in the candlelight. Mama was out
of bed now, her long black skirt over her nightgown. “Emilio,” she cried.
“Go up and catch the other horse for Pepé. Quickly, now! Quickly.” Emilio
put his legs in his overalls and stumbled sleepily out the door.
heard no one behind you on the road?” Mama demanded.
Mama. I listened carefully. No one was on the road.”
darted like a bird about the room. From a nail on the wall she took a canvas bag
and threw it on the floor. She stripped a blanket from her bed and rolled it
into a tight tube and tied the ends with string. From a box beside the stove she
lifted a flour sack half full of black string jerky. “Your father's black
coat, Pepé. Here, put it on.”
stood in the middle of the floor watching her activity. She reached behind the
door and brought out the rifle, a long 38-56, worn shiny the whole length of the
barrel. Pepé took it from her and held it in the crook of his elbow.
Mama brought a little leather bag and counted the cartridges into his hand.
“Only ten left,” she warned. “You must not waste them.”
put his head in the door. “ 'Qui 'st 'l caballo,
on the saddle from the other horse. Tie on the blanket. Here, tie the jerky to
the saddle horn.”
Pepé stood silently watching his mother's frantic activity. His chin
looked hard, and his sweet mouth was drawn and thin. His little eyes followed
Mama about the room almost suspiciously.
asked softly, “Where goes Pepé?”
eyes were fierce. “Pepé goes on a journey. Pepé is a man now. He has a man's
thing to do.”
straightened his shoulders. His mouth changed until he looked very much like
last the preparation was finished. The loaded horse stood outside the door. The
water bag dripped a line of moisture down the bay shoulder.
The moonlight was being thinned by the dawn, and the big white moon was near down to the sea. The family stood by the shack. Mama confronted Pepé. “Look, my son! Do not stop until it is dark again. Do not sleep even though you are tired. Take care of the horse in order that he may not stop of weariness. Remember to be careful with the bullets-there are only ten. Do not fill thy stomach with jerky or it will make thee sick. Eat a little jerky and fill thy stomach with grass. When thou comest to the high mountains, if thou seest any of the dark watching men, go not near to them nor try to speak to them. And forget not thy prayers.” She put her lean hands on Pepé's shoulders, stood on her toes and kissed him formally on both cheeks, and Pepé kissed her on both cheeks. Then he went to Emilio and Rosy and kissed both of their cheeks.
turned back to Mama. He seemed to look for a little softness, a little weakness
in her. His eyes were searching, but Mama's face remained fierce. “Go now,”
she said. “Do not wait to be caught like a chicken.”
pulled himself into the saddle. “I am a man,” he said.
was the first dawn when he rode up the hill toward the little canyon which let a
trail into the mountains. Moonlight and daylight fought with each other, and the
two warring qualities made it difficult to see. Before Pepé had gone a hundred
yards, the outlines of his figure were misty; and long before he entered the
canyon, he had become a gray, indefinite shadow.
stood stiffly in front of her doorstep, and on either side of her stood Emilio
and Rosy. They cast furtive glances at Mama now and then.
the gray shape of Pepé melted into the hillside and disappeared, Mama relaxed.
She began the high, whining keen of the death wail. “Our beautiful--our
brave,” she cried. “Our protector, our son is gone.” Emilio and Rosy
moaned beside her. “Our beautiful--our brave, he is gone. “ It was the
formal wail. It rose to a high piercing whine and subsided to a moan. Mama
raised it three times and then she turned and went into the house and shut the
and Rosy stood wondering in the dawn. They heard Mama whimpering in the house.
They went out to sit on the cliff above the ocean. They touched shoulders.
“When did Pepé come to be a man?” Emilio asked
night,” said Rosy. “Last night in Monterey.” The ocean clouds turned red
with the sun that was behind the mountains.
will have no breakfast,” said Emilio. “Mama will not want to cook.” Rosy
did not answer him. “Where is Pepé gone?” he asked.
looked around at him. She drew her knowledge from the quiet air. “He has gone
on a journey. He will never come back.”
he dead? Do you think he is dead?”
looked back at the ocean again. A little steamer, drawing a line of smoke, sat
on the edge of the horizon. “He is not dead,” Rosy explained. “Not yet.”
rested the big rifle across the saddle in front of him. He let the horse walk up
the hill and he didn't look back. The stony slope took on a coat of short brush
so that Pepé found the entrance to a trail and entered it.
he came to the canyon opening, he swung once in his saddle and looked back, but
the houses were swallowed in the misty light. Pepé jerked forward again. The
high shoulder of the canyon closed in on him. His horse stretched out its neck
and sighed and settled to the trail.
was a well-worn path, dark soft leaf-mold earth strewn with broken pieces
of sandstone. The trail rounded the shoulder of the canyon and dropped steeply
into the bed of the stream. In the shallows the water ran smoothly, glinting in
the first morning sun. Small round stones on the bottom were as brown as rust
with sun moss. In the sand along the edges of the stream the tall, rich wild
mint grew, while in the water itself the cress,
old and tough, had gone to heavy seed.
path went into the stream and emerged on the other side. The horse sloshed into
the water and stopped. Pepé dropped his bridle and let the beast drink of the
the canyon sides became steep and the first giant sentinel redwoods
guarded the trail, great round red trunks bearing foliage as green and
lacy as ferns. Once Pepé was among the trees, the sun was lost. A perfumed and
purple light lay in the pale green of the underbrush. Gooseberry bushes and
blackberries and tall ferns lined the stream, and overhead the branches of the
redwoods met and cut off the sky.
drank from the water bag, and he reached into the flour sack and brought out a
black string of jerky. His white teeth gnawed at the string until the tough meat
parted. He chewed slowly and drank occasionally from the water bag. His little
eyes were slumberous and tired, but the muscles of his face were hard-set. The
earth of the trail was black now. It gave up a hollow sound under the walking
stream fell more sharply. Little waterfalls splashed on the stones.
Five-fingered ferns hung over the water and dropped spray from their fingertips.
Pepé rode half over his saddle, dangling one leg loosely. He picked a bay leaf
from a tree beside the way and put it into his mouth for a moment to flavor the
dry jerky. He held the gun loosely across the pommel.
he squared in his saddle, swung the horse from the trail and kicked it hurriedly
up behind a big redwood tree. He pulled up the reins tight against the bit to
keep the horse from whinnying. His face was intent and his nostrils quivered a
hollow pounding came down the trail, and a horseman rode by, a fat man with red
cheeks and a white stubble beard. His horse put down his head and blubbered at
the trail when it came to the place where Pepé had turned off. “Hold up!”
said the man, and he pulled up his horse's head.
the last sound of the hoofs died away, Pepé came back into the trail again. He
did not relax in the saddle any more. He lifted the big rifle and swung the
lever to throw a shell into the chamber, and then he let down the hammer to half
The trail grew very steep. Now the redwood trees were smaller and their
tops were dead, bitten dead where the wind reached them. The horse plodded
on; the sun went slowly overhead and started down toward the afternoon.
the stream came out of a side canyon, the trail left it. Pepé dismounted and
watered his horse and filled up his water bag. As soon as the trail had parted
from the stream, the trees were gone and only the thick brittle sage and
and the chaparral edged the trail. And the soft black earth was gone, too, leaving only
the light tan broken rock for the trail bed. Lizards scampered away into the
brush as the horse rattled over the little stones.
turned in his saddle and looked back. He was in the open now: he could be seen
from a distance. As he ascended the trail the country grew more rough and
terrible and dry. The way wound about the bases of great square rocks. Little
gray rabbits skittered in the brush. A bird made a monotonous high creaking.
Eastward the bare rock mountaintops were pale and powder-dry under the dropping
sun. The horse plodded up and up the trail toward the little v in the ridge
which was the pass.
Pepé looked suspiciously back every minute or so, and his eyes sought the tops of the ridges ahead. Once, on a white barren spur, he saw a black figure for a moment; but he looked quickly away, for it was one of the dark watchers. No one knew who the watchers were, nor where they lived, but it was better to ignore them and never to show interest in them. They did not bother one who stayed on the trail and minded his own business.
air was parched and full of light dust blown by the breeze from the eroding
mountains. Pepé drank sparingly from his bag and corked it tightly and hung it
on the horn again. The trail moved up the dry shale hillside, avoiding
rocks, dropping under clefts, climbing in and out of old water scars. When he
arrived at the little pass he stopped and looked back for a long time. No dark
watchers were to be seen now. The trail behind was empty. Only the high tops of
the redwoods indicated where the stream flowed.
rode on through the pass. His little eyes were nearly closed with weariness, but
his face was stern, relentless, and manly. The high mountain wind coasted
sighing through the pass and whistled on the edges of the big blocks of broken
granite. In the air, a red-tailed hawk sailed over close to the ridge and
screamed angrily. Pepé went slowly through the broken jagged pass and looked
down on the other side.
trail dropped quickly, staggering among broken rock. At the bottom of the slope
there was a dark crease, thick with brush, and on the other side of the crease a
little flat, in which a grove of oak trees grew. A scar of green grass
cut across the flat. And behind the flat another mountain rose, desolate with
dead rocks and starving little black bushes. Pepé drank from the bag again, for
the air was so dry that it encrusted his nostrils and burned his lips. He put
the horse down the trail. The hoofs slipped and struggled on the steep way,
starting little stones that rolled off into the brush. The sun was gone behind
the westward mountain now, but still it glowed brilliantly on the oaks and on
the grassy flat. The rocks and the hillsides still sent up waves of the heat
they had gathered from the day's sun.
looked up to the top of the next dry withered ridge. He saw a dark form
against the sky, a man's figure standing on top of a rock, and he glanced away
quickly not to appear curious. When a moment later he looked up again, the
figure was gone.
the trail was quickly covered. Sometimes the horse floundered for
footing, sometimes set his feet and slid a little way. They came at last to the
bottom where the dark chaparral was higher than Pepé's head. He held up his
rifle on one side and his arm on the other to shield his face from the sharp
brittle fingers of the brush.
and out of the crease he rode, and up a little cliff. The grassy flat was before
him, and the round comfortable oaks. For a moment he studied the trail down
which he had come, but there was no movement and no sound from it. Finally he
rode out over the flat, to the green streak, and at the upper end of the damp he
found a little spring welling out of the earth and dropping into a dug basin
before it seeped out over the flat.
filled his bag first, and then he let the thirsty horse drink out of the pool.
He led the horse to the clump of oaks, and in the middle of the grove, fairly
protected from sight on all sides, he took off the saddle and the bridle and
laid them on the ground. The horse stretched his jaws sideways and yawned. Pepé
knotted the lead rope about the horse's neck and tied him to a sapling
among the oaks, where he could graze in a fairly large circle.
the horse was gnawing hungrily at the dry grass, Pepé went to the saddle
and took a black string of jerky from the sack and strolled to an oak tree on
the edge of the grove, from under which he could watch the trail. He sat down in
the crisp dry oak leaves and automatically felt for his big black knife to cut
the jerky, but he had no knife. He leaned back on his elbow and gnawed at the
tough strong meat. His face was blank, but it was a man's face.
bright evening light washed the eastern ridge, but the valley was darkening.
Doves flew down from the hills to the spring, and the quail came running out of
the brush and joined them, calling clearly to one another.
of the corner of his eye Pepé saw a shadow grow out of the bushy crease. He
turned his head slowly. A big spotted wildcat was creeping toward the spring,
belly to the ground, moving like thought.
cocked his rifle and edged the muzzle slowly around. Then he looked apprehensively
up the trail and dropped the hammer again. From the ground beside him he picked
an oak twig and threw it toward the spring. The quail flew up with a roar and
the doves whistled away. The big
cat stood up; for a long moment he looked at Pepé with cold yellow eyes, and
then fearlessly walked back into the gulch.
dusk gathered quickly in the deep valley. Pepé muttered his prayers, put his
head down on his arm and went instantly to sleep.
moon came up and filled the valley with cold blue light, and the wind swept
rustling down from the peaks. The owls worked up and down the slopes looking for
rabbits. Down in the brush of the gulch a coyote gabbled. The oak trees
whispered softly in the night breeze.
started up, listening. His horse had whinnied. The moon was just slipping behind
the western ridge, leaving the valley in darkness behind it. Pepé sat tensely
gripping his rifle. From far up the trail he heard an answering whinny and
the crash of shod hoofs on the broken rock. He jumped to his feet, ran to his
horse and led it under the trees. He threw on the saddle and cinched it tight
for the steep trail, caught the unwilling head and forced the bit into the
mouth. He felt the saddle to make sure the water bag and the sack of jerky were
there. Then he mounted and turned up the hill.
was velvet-dark. The horse found the entrance to the trail where it left the
flat, and started up, stumbling and slipping on the rocks. Pepé's hand rose up
to his head. His hat was gone. He had left it under the oak tree.
The horse had struggled far up the trail when the first change of dawn
came into the air, a steel grayness as light mixed thoroughly with dark. Gradually
the sharp snaggled edge of the ridge stood out above them, rotten granite
tortured and eaten by the winds of time. Pepé had dropped his reins on the
horn, leaving direction to the horse. The brush grabbed at his legs in the dark
until one knee of his jeans was ripped.
the light flowed down over the ridge. The starved brush and rocks stood out in
the half-light, strange and lonely in high perspective. Then there came
warmth into the light. Pepé drew up and looked back, but he could see nothing
in the darker valley below. The sky turned blue over the coming sun. In the
waste of the mountainside, the poor dry brush grew only three feet high. Here
and there, big outcroppings of unrotted granite stood up like moldering
houses. Pepé relaxed a little. He drank from his water bag and bit off a piece
of jerky. A single eagle flew over, high in the light.
warning Pepé's horse screamed and fell on its side. He was almost down before
the rifle crash echoed up from the valley. From a hole behind the struggling
shoulder, a stream of bright crimson blood pumped and stopped and pumped
and stopped. The hoofs threshed on the ground. Pepé lay half stunned beside the
horse. He looked slowly down the hill. A piece of sage clipped off beside his
head and another crash echoed up from side to side of the canyon. Pepé flung
himself frantically behind a bush.
crawled up the hill on his knees and one hand. His right hand held the rifle up
off the ground and pushed it ahead of him. He moved with the instinctive care of
an animal. Rapidly he wormed his way toward one of the big outcroppings of
granite on the hill above him. Where the brush was high he doubled up and ran;
but where the cover was slight he wriggled forward on his stomach, pushing the
rifle ahead of him. In the last little distance there was no cover at all. Pepé
poised and then he darted across the space and flashed around the corner
of the rock.
He leaned panting against the stone. When his breath
came easier he moved along behind the big rock until he came to a narrow split
that offered a thin section of vision down the hill. Pepé lay on his stomach
and pushed the rifle barrel through the slit and waited.
sun reddened the western ridges now. Already the buzzards were settling down
toward the place where the horse lay. A small brown bird scratched in the dead
sage leaves directly in front of the rifle muzzle. The coasting eagle flew back
toward the rising sun.
Pepé saw a little movement in the brush far below. His grip tightened
on the gun. A little brown doe stepped daintily out on the trail and crossed it
and disappeared into the brush again. For a long time Pepé waited. Far below he
could see the little flat and the oak trees and the slash of green. Suddenly his
eyes flashed back at the trail again. A quarter of a mile down there had been a
quick movement in the chaparral. The rifle swung over. The front sight nestled
in the v of the rear sight. Pepé studied for a moment and then raised the rear
sight a notch. The little movement in the brush came again. The sight settled on
it. Pepé squeezed the trigger. The explosion crashed down the mountain and up
the other side, and came rattling back. The whole side of the slope grew still.
No more movement. And then a white streak cut into the granite of the slit and a
bullet whined away and a crash sounded up from below. Pepé felt a sharp pain in
his right hand. A sliver of granite was sticking out from between his
first and second knuckles and the point protruded from his palm.
Carefully he pulled out the sliver of stone. The wound bled evenly and gently.
No vein or artery was cut.
looked into a little dusty cave in the rock and gathered a handful of spider
web, and he pressed the mass into the cut, plastering the soft web into the
blood. The flow stopped almost at once.
rifle was on the ground. Pepé picked it, up, levered a new shell into the
chamber. And then he slid into the brush on his stomach. Far to the right he
crawled, and then up the hill, moving slowly and carefully, crawling to cover
and resting and then crawling again.
In the mountains the sun is high in its arc before it penetrates the gorges. The hot face looked over the hill and brought instant heat with it. The white light beat on the rocks and reflected from them and rose up quivering from the earth again, and the rocks and bushes seemed to quiver behind the air.
crawled in the general direction of the ridge peak, zigzagging for cover. The
deep cut between his knuckles began to throb. He crawled close to a rattlesnake
before he saw it, and when it raised its dry head and made a soft beginning
whir, he backed up and took another way. The quick gray lizards flashed in front
of him, raising a tiny line of dust. He found another mass of spider web and
pressed it against his throbbing hand.
was pushing the rifle with his left hand now. Little drops of sweat ran to the
ends of his coarse black hair and rolled down his cheeks. His lips and
tongue were growing thick and heavy. His lips writhed to draw saliva into
his mouth. His little dark eyes were uneasy and suspicious. Once when a gray
lizard paused in front of him on the parched ground and turned its head
sideways, he crushed it flat with a stone.
the sun slid past noon he had not gone a mile. He crawled exhaustedly a last
hundred yards to a patch of high sharp manzanita, crawled desperately, and when
the patch was reached he wriggled in among the tough gnarly trunks and dropped
his head on his left arm. There was little shade in the meager brush, but there
was cover and safety. Pepé went to sleep as he lay and the sun beat on his
back. A few little birds hopped close to him and peered and hopped away. Pepé
squirmed in his sleep and he raised and dropped his wounded hand again and
The sun went down behind the peaks and the cool evening came, and then the dark. A coyote yelled from the hillside. Pepé started awake and looked about with misty eyes. His hand was swollen and heavy; a little thread of pain ran up the inside of his arm and settled in a pocket in his armpit. He peered about and then stood up, for the mountains were black and the moon had not yet risen. Pepé stood up in the dark. The coat of his father pressed on his arm. His tongue was swollen until it nearly filled his mouth. He wriggled out of the coat and dropped it in the brush, and then he struggled up the hill, falling over rocks and tearing his way through the brush. The rifle knocked against stones as he went. Little dry avalanches of gravel and shattered stone went whispering down the hill behind him.
a while the old moon came up and showed the jagged ridgetop ahead of him. By
moonlight Pepé, traveled more easily. He bent forward so that his throbbing arm
hung away from his body. The journey uphill was made in dashes and rests, a
frantic rush up a few yards and then a rest. The wind coasted down the slope,
rattling the dry stems of the bushes.
moon was at meridian when Pepé came at last to the sharp backbone of the
ridgetop. On the last hundred yards of the rise no soil had clung under the
wearing winds. The way was on solid rock. He clambered to the top and
looked down on the other side. There was a draw like the last below him, misty
with moonlight, brushed- with dry struggling sage and chaparral. On the other
side the hill rose up sharply and at the top the jagged rotten teeth of the
mountain showed against the sky. At the bottom of the cut the brush was thick
stumbled down the hill. His throat was almost closed with thirst. At first he
tried to run, but immediately he fell and rolled. After that he went more
carefully. The moon was just disappearing behind the mountains when he came to
the bottom. He crawled into the heavy brush, feeling with his fingers for water.
There was no water in the bed of the stream, only damp earth. Pepé laid his gun
down and scooped up a handful of mud and put it in his mouth, and then he
spluttered and scraped the earth from his tongue with his finger, for the mud
drew at his mouth like a poultice. He dug a hole in the stream bed with
his fingers, dug a little basin to catch water; but before it was very deep his
head fell forward on the damp ground and he slept.
dawn came and the heat of the day fell on the earth, and still Pepé slept. Late
in the afternoon his head jerked up. He looked slowly around. His eyes were
slits of weariness. Twenty feet away in the heavy brush a big tawny
mountain lion stood looking at him. Its long thick tall waved gracefully; its
ears were erect with interest, not laid back dangerously. The lion squatted down
on its stomach and watched him.
looked at the hole he had dug in the earth. A half-inch of muddy water had
collected in the bottom. He tore the sleeve from his hurt arm, with his teeth
ripped out a little square, soaked it in the water and put it in his mouth. Over
and over he filled the cloth and sucked it.
the lion sat and watched him. The evening came down but there was no movement on
the hills. No birds visited the dry bottom of the cut. Pepé looked occasionally
at the lion. The eyes of the yellow beast drooped as though he were about to
sleep. He yawned and his long thin red tongue curled out. Suddenly his head
jerked around and his nostrils quivered. His big tail lashed. He stood up and
slunk like a tawny shadow into the thick brush.
moment later Pepé heard the sound, the faint far crash of horses' hoofs on
gravel. And he heard something else, a high whining yelp of a dog.
took his rifle in his left hand and he glided into the brush almost as quietly
as the lion had. In the darkening evening he crouched up the hill toward the
next ridge. Only when the dark came did he stand up. His energy was short. Once
it was dark he fell over the rocks and slipped to his knees on the steep slope,
but he moved on and on up the hill, climbing and scrambling over the broken
When he was far up toward the top, he lay down and slept for a little
while. The withered moon, shining on his face, awakened him. He stood up
and moved up the hill. Fifty yards away he stopped and turned back, for he had
forgotten his rifle. He walked heavily down and poked about in the brush, but he
could not find his gun. At last he lay down to rest. The pocket of pain in his
armpit had grown more sharp. His arm seemed to swell out and fall with every
heartbeat. There was no position lying down where the heavy arm did not press
against his armpit.
With the effort of a hurt beast, Pepé got up and moved again toward the top of the ridge. He held his swollen arm away from his body with his left hand. Up the steep hill he dragged himself, a few steps and a rest, and a few more steps. At last he was nearing the top. The moon showed the uneven sharp back of it against the sky.
brain spun in a big spiral up and away from him. He slumped to the ground and
lay still. The rock ridgetop was only a hundred feet above him.
moon moved over the sky. Pepé half turned on his back. His tongue tried to make
words, but only a thick hissing came from between his lips.
the dawn came, Pepé pulled himself up. His eyes were sane again. He drew his
great puffed arm in front of him and looked at the angry wound. The black line
ran up from his wrist to his armpit. Automatically he reached in his pocket for
the big black knife, but it was not there. His eyes searched the ground. He
picked up a sharp blade of stone and scraped at the wound, sawed at the proud
flesh and then squeezed the green juice out in big drops. Instantly he threw
back his head and whined like a dog. His whole right side shuddered at the pain,
but the pain cleared his head.
the gray light he struggled up the last slope to the ridge and crawled over and
lay down behind a line of rocks. Below him lay a deep canyon exactly like the
last, waterless and desolate. There was no flat, no oak trees, not even
heavy brush in the bottom of it. And on the other side a sharp ridge stood up,
thinly brushed with starving sage, littered with broken granite. Strewn over the
hill there were giant outcroppings, and on the top the granite teeth stood out
against the sky.
new day was light now. The flame of the sun came over the ridge and fell on Pepé
where he lay on the ground. His coarse black hair was littered with twigs and
bits of spider web. His eyes had retreated back into his head. Between his lips
the tip of his black tongue showed.
sat up and dragged his great arm into his lap and nursed it, rocking his body
and moaning in his throat. He threw back his head and looked up into the pale
sky. A big black bird circled nearly out of sight, and far to the left another
was sailing near.
lifted his head to listen, for a familiar sound had come to him from the valley
he had climbed out of; it was the crying yelp of hounds, excited and feverish,
on a trail.
Pepé bowed his head quickly. He tried to speak rapid words but only a thick hiss carne from his lips. He drew a shaky cross on his breast with his left hand. It was a long struggle to get to his feet. He crawled slowly and mechanically to the top of a big rock on the ridge peak. Once there, he arose slowly, swaying to his feet, and stood erect. Far below he could see the dark brush where he had slept. He braced his feet and stood there, black against the morning sky.
There came a ripping sound at his feet. A piece of stone flew up and a
bullet droned off into the next gorge. The hollow crash echoed up from
below. Pepé looked down for a moment and then pulled himself straight again.
body jarred back. His left hand fluttered helplessly toward his breast.
The second crash sounded from below. Pepé swung forward arid toppled from the
rock. His body struck and rolled over and over, starting a little avalanche. And
when at last he stopped against a bush, the avalanche slid slowly down and
covered up his head.
1. aphids:small insects that live on plants and their juices.
2. dulces: sweets
3. ten paternosters: ten repetitions of the Lord's Prayer.
4. Ave Marias: prayers to the Virgin Mary, beginning “Hail Mary.”
5 abalones: large shellfish
6 metate: a stone used in the southwestern United States for grinding cereal seeds
7. 'Qui 'st'l caballo: Here is the horse (colloquial Spanish)
8 cress (or watercress): an edible white-flowered plant that grows in clear running water.
9. Manzanita : shrubs.
10. chaparral : a thicket of shrubs, thorny bushes, or dwarf trees.