The Pearl (novel) Chapter 1

09 March 09:15pm
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John Steinbeck

"In the town they tell the story of the great pearl- how it was found
and how it was lost again. They tell of Kino, the fisherman, and of his
wife, Juana, and of the baby, Coyotito. And because the story has been
told so often, it has taken root in every man's mind. And, as with all
retold tales that are in people's hearts, there are only good and bad
things and black and white things and good and evil things and no in-
between anywhere.

"If this story is a parable, perhaps everyone takes his own meaning
from it and reads his own life into it. In any case, they say in the
town that..."

Chapter 1

Kino awakened in the near dark. The stars still shone and the day had
drawn only a pale wash of light in the lower sky to the east. The
roosters had been crowing for some time, and the early pigs were
already beginning their ceaseless turning of twigs and bits of wood to
see whether anything to eat had been overlooked. Outside the brush
house in the tuna clump, a covey of little birds chittered and flurried
with their wings.

Kino's eyes opened, and he looked first at the lightening square which
was the door and then he looked at the hanging box where Coyotito
slept. And last he turned his head to Juana, his wife, who lay beside
him on the mat, her blue head shawl over her nose and over her breasts
and around the small of her back. Juana's eyes were open too. Kino
could never remember seeing them closed when he awakened. Her dark eyes
made little reflected stars. She was looking at him as she was always
looking at him when he awakened.

Kino heard the little splash of morning waves on the beach. It was very
good- Kino closed his eyes again to listen to his music. Perhaps he
alone did this and perhaps all of his people did it. His people had
once been great makers of songs so that everything they saw or thought
or did or heard became a song. That was very long ago. The songs
remained; Kino knew them, but no new songs were added. That does not
mean that there were no personal songs. In Kino's head there was a song
now, clear and soft, and if he had been able to speak of it, he would
have called it the Song of the Family.

His blanket was over his nose to protect him from the dank air. His
eyes flicked to a rustle beside him. It was Juana arising, almost
soundlessly. On her hard bare feet she went to the hanging box where
Coyotito slept, and she leaned over and said a little reassuring word.
Coyotito looked up for a moment and closed his eyes and slept again.
Juana went to the fire pit and uncovered a coal and fanned it alive
while she broke little piesh over it.

Now Kino got up and wrapped his blanket about his head and nose and
shoulders. He slipped his feet into his sandals and went outside to
watch the dawn.

Outside the door he squatted down and gathered the blanket ends about
his knees. He saw the specks of Gulf clouds flame high in the air. And
a goat came near and sniffed at him and stared with its cold yellow
eyes. Behind him Juana's fire leaped into flame and threw spears of
light through the chinks of the brush-house wall and threw a wavering
square of light out the door. A late moth blustered in to find the
fire. The Song of the Family came now from behind Kino. And the rhythm
of the family song was the grinding stone where Juana worked the corn
for the morning cakes.

The dawn came quickly now, a wash, a glow, a lightness, and then an
explosion of fire as the sun arose out of the Gulf. Kino looked down to
cover his eyes from the glare. He could hear the pat of the corncakes
in the house and the rich smell of them on the cooking plate. The ants
were busy on the ground, big black ones with shiny bodies, and little
dusty quick ants. Kino watched with the detachment of God while a dusty
ant frantically tried to escape the sand trap an ant lion had dug for
him. A thin, timid dog came close and, at a soft word from Kino, curled
up, arranged its tail neatly over its feet, and laid its chin
delicately on the pile. It was a black dog with yellow-gold spots where
its eyebrows should have been. It was a morning like other mornings and
yet perfect among mornings.

Kino heard the creak of the rope when Juana took Coyotito out of his
hanging box and cleaned him and hammocked him in her shawl in a loop
that placed him close to her breast. Kino could see these things
without looking at them. Juana sang softly an ancient song that had
only three notes and yet endless variety of interval. And this was part
of the family song too. It was all part. Sometimes it rose to an aching
chord that caught the throat, saying this is safety, this is warmth,
this is the Whole.

Across the brush fence were other brush houses, and the smoke came from
them too, and the sound of breakfast, but those were other songs, their
pigs were other pigs, their wives were not Juana. Kino was young and
strong and his black hair hung over his brown forehead. His eyes were
warm and fierce and bright and his mustache was thin and coarse. He
lowered his blanket from his nose now, for the dark poisonous air was
gone and the yellow sunlight fell on the house. Near the brush fence
two roosters bowed and feinted at each other with squared wings and
neck feathers ruffed out. It would be a clumsy fight. They were not
game chickens. Kino watched them for a moment, and then his eyes went
up to a flight of wild doves twinkling inland to the hills. The world
was awake now, and Kino arose and went into his brush house.

As he came through the door Juana stood up from the glowing fire pit.
She put Coyotito back in his hanging box and then she combed her black
hair and braided it in two braids and tied the ends with thin green
ribbon. Kino squatted by the fire pit and rolled a hot corncake and
dipped it in sauce and ate it. And he drank a little pulque and that
was breakfast. That was the only breakfast he had ever known outside of
feast days and one incredible fiesta on cookies that had nearly killed
him. When Kino had finished, Juana came back to the fire and ate her
breakfast. They had spoken once, but there is not need for speech if it
is only a habit anyway. Kino sighed with satisfaction- and that was

The sun was warming the brush house, breaking through its crevices in
long streaks. And one of the streaks fell on the hanging box where
Coyotito lay, and on the ropes that held it. It was a tiny movement
that drew their eyes to the hanging box. Kino and Juana froze in their
positions. Down the rope that hung the baby's box from the roof support
a scorpion moved slowly. His stinging tail was straight out behind him,
but he could whip it up in a flash of time.

Kino's breath whistled in his nostrils and he opened his mouth to stop
it. And then the startled look was gone from him and the rigidity from
his body. In his mind a new song had come, the Song of Evil, the music
of the enemy, of any foe of the family, a savage, secret, dangerous
melody, and underneath, the Song of the Family cried plaintively.
The scorpion moved delicately down the rope toward the box. Under her
breath Juana repeated an ancient magic to guard against such evil, and
on top of that she muttered a Hail Mary between clenched teeth. But
Kino was in motion. His body glided quietly across the room,
noiselessly and smoothly. His hands were in front of him, palms down,
and his eyes were on the scorpion. Beneath it in the hanging box
Coyotito laughed and reached up his hand toward it. It sensed danger
when Kino was almost within reach of it. It stopped, and its tail rose
up over its back in little jerks and the curved thorn on the tail's end

Kino stood perfectly still. He could hear Juana whispering the old
magic again, and he could hear the evil music of the enemy. He could
not move until the scorpion moved, and it felt for the source of the
death that was coming to it. Kino's hand went forward very slowly, very
smoothly. The thorned tail jerked upright. And at that moment the
laughing Coyotito shook the rope and the scorpion fell.

Kino's hand leaped to catch it, but it fell past his fingers, fell on
the baby's shoulder, landed and struck. Then, snarling, Kino had it,
had it in his fingers, rubbing it to a paste in his hands. He threw it
down and beat it into the earth floor with his fist, and Coyotito
screamed with pain in his box. But Kino beat and stamped the enemy
until it was only a fragment and a moist place in the dirt. His teeth
were bared and fury flared in his eyes and the Song of the Enemy roared
in his ears.

But Juana had the baby in her arms now. She found the puncture with
redness starting from it already. She put her lips down over the
puncture and sucked hard and spat and sucked again while Coyotito

Kino hovered; he was helpless, he was in the way.

The screams of the baby brought the neighbors. Out of their brush
houses they poured- Kino's brother Juan Tomas and his fat wife Apolonia
and their four children crowded in the door and blocked the entrance,
while behind them others tried to look in, and one small boy crawled
among legs to have a look. And those in front passed the word back to
those behind- "Scorpion. The baby has been stung."

Juana stopped sucking the puncture for a moment. The little hole was
slightly enlarged and its edges whitened from the sucking, but the red
swelling extended farther around it in a hard lymphatic mound. And all
of these people knew about the scorpion. An adult might be very ill
from the sting, but a baby could easily die from the poison. First,
they knew, would come swelling and fever and tightened throat, and then
cramps in the stomach, and then Coyotito might die if enough of the
poison had gone in. But the stinging pain of the bite was going away.
Coyotito's screams turned to moans.

Kino had wondered often at the iron in his patient, fragile wife. She,
who was obedient and respectful and cheerful and patient, she could
arch her back in child pain with hardly a cry. She could stand fatigue
and hunger almost better than Kino himself. In the canoe she was like a
strong man. And now she did a most surprising thing.

"The doctor," she said. "Go to get the doctor."

The word was passed out among the neighbors where they stood close
packed in the little yard behind the brush fence. And they repeated
among themselves, "Juana wants the doctor." A wonderful thing, a
memorable thing, to want the doctor. To get him would be a remarkable
thing. The doctor never came to the cluster of brush houses. Why should
he, when he had more than he could do to take care of the rich people
who lived in the stone and plaster houses of the town.

"He would not come," the people in the yard said.

"He would not come," the people in the door said, and the thought got
into Kino.

"The doctor would not come," Kino said to Juana.

She looked up at him, her eyes as cold as the eyes of a lioness. This
was Juana's first baby- this was nearly everything there was in Juana's
world. And Kino saw her determination and the music of the family
sounded in his head with a steely tone.

"Then we will go to him," Juana said, and with one hand she arranged
her dark blue shawl over her head and made of one end of it a sling to
hold the moaning baby and made of the other end of it a shade over his
eyes to protect him from the light. The people in the door pushed
against those behind to let her through. Kino followed her. They went
out of the gate to the rutted path and the neighbors followed them.

The thing had become a neighborhood affair. They made a quick soft-
footed procession into the center of the town, first Juana and Kino,
and behind them Juan Tomas and Apolonia, her big stomach jiggling with
the strenuous pace, then all the neighbors with the children trotting
on the flanks. And the yellow sun threw their black shadows ahead of
them so that they walked on their own shadows.

They came to the place where the brush houses stopped and the city of
stone and plaster began, the city of harsh outer walls and inner cool
gardens where a little water played and the bougainvillaea crusted the
walls with purple and brick-red and white. They heard from the secret
gardens the singing of caged birds and heard the splash of cooling
water on hot flagstones. The procession crossed the blinding plaza and
passed in front of the church. It had grown now, and on the outskirts
the hurrying newcomers were being softly informed how the baby had been
stung by a scorpion, how the father and mother were taking it to the

And the newcomers, particularly the beggars from the front of the
church who were great experts in financial analysis, looked quickly at
Juana's old blue skirt, saw the tears in her shawl, appraised the green
ribbon on her braids, read the age of Kino's blanket and the thousand
washings of his clothes, and set them down as poverty people and went
along to see what kind of drama might develop. The four beggars in
front of the church knew everything in the town. They were students of
the expressions of young women as they went in to confession, and they
saw them as they came out and read the nature of the sin. They knew
every little scandal and some very big crimes. They slept at their
posts in the shadow of the church so that no one crept in for
consolation without their knowledge. And they knew the doctor. They
knew his ignorance, his cruelty, his avarice, his appetites, his sins.

They knew his clumsy abortions and the little brown pennies he gave
sparingly for alms. They had seen his corpses go into the church. And,
since early Mass was over and business was slow, they followed the
procession, these endless searchers after perfect knowledge of their
fellow men, to see what the fat lazy doctor would do about an indigent
baby with a scorpion bite.

The scurrying procession came at last to the big gate in the wall of
the doctor's house. They could hear the splashing water and the singing
of caged birds and the sweep of the long brooms on the flagstones. And
they could smell the frying of good bacon from the doctor's house.

Kino hesitated a moment. This doctor was not of his people. This doctor
was of a race which for nearly four hundred years had beaten and
starved and robbed and despised Kino's race, and frightened it too, so
that the indigene came humbly to the door. And as always when he came
near to one of this race, Kino felt weak and afraid and angry at the
same time. Rage and terror went together. He could kill the doctor more
easily than he could talk to him, for all of the doctor's race spoke to
all of Kino's race as though they were simple animals. And as Kino
raised his right hand to the iron ring knocker in the gate, rage
swelled in him, and the pounding music of the enemy beat in his ears,
and his lips drew tight against his teeth- but with his left hand he
reached to take off his hat. The iron ring pounded against the gate.

Kino took off his hat and stood waiting. Coyotito moaned a little in
Juana's arms, and she spoke softly to him. The procession crowded close
the better to see and hear.

After a moment the big gate opened a few inches. Kino could see the
green coolness of the garden and little splashing fountain through the
opening. The man who looked out at him was one of his own race. Kino
spoke to him in the old language. "The little one- the first born- has
been poisoned by the scorpion," Kino said. "He requires the skill of
the healer."

The gate closed a little, and the servant refused to speak in the old
language. "A little moment," he said. "I go to inform myself," and he
closed the gate and slid the bolt home. The glaring sun threw the
bunched shadows of the people blackly on the white wall.

In his chamber the doctor sat up in his high bed. He had on his
dressing gown of red watered silk that had come from Paris, a little
tight over the chest now if it was buttoned. On his lap was a silver
tray with a silver chocolate pot and a tiny cup of eggshell china, so
delicate that it looked silly when he lifted it with his big hand,
lifted it with the tips of thumb and forefinger and spread the other
three fingers wide to get them out of the way. His eyes rested in puffy
little hammocks of flesh and his mouth drooped with discontent. He was
growing very stout, and his voice was hoarse with the fat that pressed
on his throat. Beside him on a table was a small Oriental gong and a
bowl of cigarettes. The furnishings of the room were heavy and dark and
gloomy. The pictures were religious, even the large tinted photograph
of his dead wife, who, if Masses willed and paid for out of her own
estate could do it, was in Heaven. The doctor had once for a short time
been a part of the great world and his whole subsequent life was memory
and longing for France. "That," he said, "was civilized living"- by
which he meant that on a small income he had been able to keep a
mistress and eat in restaurants. He poured his second cup of chocolate
and crumbled a sweet biscuit in his fingers. The servant from the gate
came to the open door and stood waiting to be noticed.

"Yes?" the doctor asked.

"It is a little Indian with a baby. He says a scorpion stung it."

The doctor put his cup down gently before he let his anger rise.
"Have I nothing better to do than cure insect bites for 'little
Indians'? I am a doctor, not a veterinary."

"Yes, Patron," said the servant.

"Has he any money?" the doctor demanded. "No, they never have any
money. I, I alone in the world am supposed to work for nothing- and I
am tired of it. See if he has any money!"

At the gate the servant opened the door a trifle and looked out at the
waiting people. And this time he spoke in the old language.

"Have you money to pay for the treatment?"

Now Kino reached into a secret place somewhere under his blanket. He
brought out a paper folded many times. Crease by crease he unfolded it,
until at last there came to view eight small misshapen seed pearls, as
ugly and gray as little ulcers, flattened and almost valueless. The
servant took the paper and closed the gate again, but this time he was
not gone long. He opened the gate just wide enough to pass the paper

"The doctor has gone out," he said. "He was called to a serious case."
And he shut the gate quickly out of shame.

And now a wave of shame went over the whole procession. They melted
away. The beggars went back to the church steps, the stragglers moved
off, and the neighbors departed so that the public shaming of Kino
would not be in their eyes.

For a long time Kino stood in front of the gate with Juana beside him.
Slowly he put his suppliant hat on his head. Then, without warning, he
struck the gate a crushing blow with his fist. He looked down in wonder
at his split knuckles and at the blood that flowed down between his
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