It was late when Tom Joad drove along a country road looking for the Weedpatch camp. There were few lights in the countryside. Only a sky glare behind showed the direction of Bakersfield. The truck jiggled slowly along and hunting cats left the road ahead of it. At a crossroad there was a little cluster of white wooden buildings.
Ma was sleeping in the seat and Pa had been silent and withdrawn for a long time.
Tom said, "I don' know where she is. Maybe we'll wait till daylight an' ast somebody." He stopped at a boulevard signal and another car stopped at the crossing. Tom leaned out. "Hey, mister. Know where the big camp is at?"
Tom pulled across into the opposite road. A few hundred yards, and then he stopped. A high wire fence faced the road, and a wide-gated driveway turned in. A little way inside the gate there was a small house with a light in the window. Tom turned in. The whole truck leaped into the air and crashed down again.
"Jesus! " Tom said. "I didn' even see that hump."
A watchman stood up from the porch and walked to the car. He leaned on the side. "You hit her too fast," he said. "Next time you'll take it easy."
"What is it, for God's sake?"
The watchman laughed. "Well, a lot of kids play in here. You tell folks to go slow and they're liable to forget. But let 'em hit that hump once and they don't forget."
"Oh! Yeah. Hope I didn' break nothin'. Say - you got any room here for us?"
"Got one camp. How many of you?"
Tom counted on his fingers. "Me an' Pa an' Ma, Al and Rosasharn an' Uncle John an' Ruthie an' Winfiel'. Them last is kids."
"Well, I guess we can fix you. Got any camping stuff?"
"Got a big tarp an' beds."
The watchman stepped up on the running board. "Drive down the end of that line an' turn right. You'll be in Number Four Sanitary Unit."
"Toilets and showers and wash tubs."
Ma demanded, "You got wash tubs - running water?"
"Oh! Praise God," said Ma.
Tom drove down the long dark row of tents. In the sanitary building a low light burned. "Pull in here," the watchman said. "It's a nice place. Folks that had it just moved out."
Tom stopped the car. "Right there?"
"Yeah. Now you let the others unload while I sign you up. Get to sleep. The camp committee'll call on you in the morning and get you fixed up."
Tom's eyes drew down. "Cops?" he asked.
The watchman laughed. "No cops. We got our own cops. Folks here elect their own cops. Come along."
Al dropped off the truck and walked around. "Gonna stay here?"
"Yeah," said Tom. "You an' Pa unload while I go to the office."
"Be kinda quiet," the watchman said. "They's a lot of folks sleeping."
Tom followed through the dark and climbed the office steps and entered a tiny room containing an old desk and a chair. The guard sat down at the desk and took out a form.
"That your father?"
"Tom Joad, too."
The questions went on. Where from, how long in the State, what work done. The watchman looked up. "I'm not nosy. We got to have this stuff."
"Sure," said Tom.
"Now - got any money?"
"You ain't destitute?"
"Got a little. Why?"
"Well, the camp site costs a dollar a week, but you can work it out, carrying garbage, keeping the camp clean - stuff like that."
"We'll work it out," said Tom.
"You'll see the committee tomorrow. They'll show you how to use the camp and tell you the rules."
Tom said, "Say - what is this? What committee is this, anyways? "
The watchman settled himself back. "Works pretty nice. There's five sanitary units. Each one elects a Central Committee man. Now that committee makes the laws. What they say goes."
"S'pose they get tough," Tom said.
"Well, you can vote 'em out jus' as quick as you vote em in. They've done a fine job. Tell you what they did-you know the Holy Roller preachers all the time follow the people around, preachin' an' takin' up collections? Well, they wanted to preach in this camp. And a lot of the older folks wanted them. So it was up to the Central Committee. They went into meeting and here's how they fixed it. They say, 'Any preacher can preach in this camp. Nobody can take up a collection in this camp.' And it was kinda sad for the old folks, 'cause there hasn't been a preacher in since."
Tom laughed and then he asked, "You mean to say the fellas that runs the camp is jus' fellas-campin' here?"
"Sure. And it works."
"You said about cops--"
"Central Committee keeps order an' makes rules. Then there's the ladies. They'll call on your ma. They keep care of kids an' look after the sanitary units. If your ma isn't working, she'll look after kids for the ones that is working, an' when she gets a job-why, there'll be others. They sew, and a nurse comes out an' teaches 'em. All kinds of things like that."
"You mean to say they ain't no cops~"
"No, sir. No cop can come in here without a warrant."
"Well, s'pose a fella is jus' mean, or drunk an' quarrelsome. What then?"
The watchman stabbed the blotter with a pencil. "Well, the first time the Central Committee warns him. And the second time they really warn him. The third time they kick him out of the camp."
"God Almighty, I can't hardly believe it! Tonight the deputies an' them fellas with the little caps, they burned the camp out by the river."
"They don't get in here," the watchman said. "Some nights the boys patrol the fences, 'specially dance nights."
"Dance nights? Jesus Christ!"
"We got the best dances in the county every Saturday night."
"Well, for Christ's sake! Why ain't they more places like this?"
The watchman looked sullen. "You'll have to find that out yourself. Go get some sleep."
"Good night," said Tom. "Ma's gonna like this place. She ain't been treated decent for a long time."
"Good night," the watchman said. "Get some sleep. This camp wakes up early."
Tom walked down the street between the rows of tents. His eyes grew used to the starlight. He saw that the rows were straight and that there was no litter about the tents. The ground of the street had been swept and sprinkled. From the tents came the snores of sleeping people. The whole camp buzzed and snorted. Tom walked slowly. He neared Number Four Sanitary Unit and he looked at it curiously, an unpainted building, low and rough. Under a roof, but open at the sides, the rows of wash trays. He saw the Joad truck standing near by, and went quietly toward it. The tarpaulin was pitched and the camp was quiet. As he drew near a figure moved from the shadow of the truck and came toward him.
Ma said softly, "That you, Tom?"
"Sh!" she said. "They're all asleep. They was tar'd out."
"You ought to be asleep too," Tom said.
"Well, I wanted to see ya. Is it awright?"
"It's nice," Tom said. "I ain't gonna tell ya. They'll tell ya in the mornin'. Ya gonna like it."
She whispered, "I heard they got hot water."
"Yeah. Now you get to sleep. I don' know when you slep' las'.
She begged, "What ain't you a-gonna tell me?"
"I ain't. You get to sleep."
Suddenly she seemed girlish. "How can I sleep if I got to think about what you ain't gonna tell me?"
"No, you don't," Tom said. "First thing in the mornin' you get on your other dress an' then-you'll find out."
"I can't sleep with nothin' like that hangin' over me."
"You got to," Tom chuckled happily. "You jus'got to."
"Good night," she said softly; and she bent down and slipped under the dark tarpaulin.
Tom climbed up over the tail-board of the truck. He lay down on his back on the wooden floor and he pillowed his head on his crossed hands, and his forearms pressed against his ears. The night grew cooler. Tom buttoned his coat over his chest and settled back again. The stars were clear and sharp over his head.
It was still dark when he awakened. A small clashing noise brought him up from sleep. Tom listened and heard again the squeak of iron on iron. He moved stiffly and shivered in the morning air. The camp still slept. Tom stood up and looked over the side of the truck. The eastern mountains were blue-black, and as he watched, the light stood up faintly behind them, colored at the mountain rims with a washed red, then growing colder, grayer, darker, as it went up overhead, until at a place near the western horizon it merged with pure night. Down in the valley the earth was the lavender-gray of dawn.
The clash of iron sounded again. Tom looked down the line of tents, only a little lighter gray than the ground. Beside a tent he saw a flash of orange fire seeping from the cracks in an old iron stove. Gray smoke spurted up from a stubby smoke-pipe.
Tom climbed over the truck side and dropped to the ground. He moved slowly toward the stove. He saw a girl working about the stove, saw that she carried a baby on her crooked arm, and that the baby was nursing, its head up under the girl's shirtwaist. And the girl moved about, poking the fire, shifting the rusty stove lids to make a better draft, opening the oven door; and all the time the baby sucked, and the mother shifted it deftly from arm to arm. The baby didn't interfere with her work or with the quick gracefulness of her movements. And the orange fire licked out of the stove cracks and threw flickering reflections on the tent.
Tom moved closer. He smelled frying bacon and baking bread. From the east the light grew swiftly. Tom came near to the stove and stretched out his hands to it. The girl looked at him and nodded, so that her two braids jerked.
"Good mornin'," she said, and she turned the bacon in the pan.
The tent flap jerked up and a young man came out and an older man followed him. They were dressed in new blue dungarees and in dungaree coats, stiff with filler, the brass buttons shining. They were sharp-faced men, and they looked much alike. The younger man had a dark stubble beard and the older man a white stubble beard. Their heads and faces were wet, their hair dripped, water stood in drops on their stiff beards. Their cheeks shone with dampness. Together they stood looking quietly into the lightening east. They yawned together and watched the light on the hill rims. And then they turned and saw Tom.
"Mornin'," the older man said, and his face was neither friendly nor unfriendly.
"Mornin'," said Tom.
And, "Mornin'," said the younger man.
The water slowly dried on their faces. They came to the stove and warmed their hands at it.
The girl kept to her work. Once she set the baby down and tied her braids together in back with a string, and the two braids jerked and swung as she worked. She set tin cups on a big packing box, set tin plates and knives and forks out. Then she scooped bacon from the deep grease and laid it on a tin platter, and the bacon cricked and rustled as it grew crisp. She opened the rusty oven door and took out a square pan full of big high biscuits.
When the smell of the biscuits struck the air both of the men inhaled deeply. The younger said, "Kee-rist!" softly.
Now the older man said to Tom, "Had your breakfast?"
"Well, no, I ain't. But my folks is over there. They ain't up. Need the sleep."
"Well, set down with us, then. We got plenty-thank God!"
"Why, thank ya," Tom said. "Smells so darn good I couldn' say no."
"Don't she?" the younger man asked. "Ever smell anything so good in ya life?" They marched to the packing box and squatted around it.
"Workin' around here?" the young man asked.
"Aim to," said Tom. "We jus' got in las' night. Ain't had no chance to look aroun'."
"We had twelve days' work," the young man said.
The girl, working by the stove, said, "They even got new clothes." Both men looked down at their stiff blue clothes, and they smiled a little shyly. The girl set out the platter of bacon and the brown, high biscuits and a bowl of bacon gravy and a pot of coffee, and then she squatted down by the box too. The baby still nursed, its head up under the girl's shirtwaist.
They filled their plates, poured bacon gravy over the biscuits, and sugared their coffee.
The older man filled his mouth full, and he chewed and chewed and gulped and swallowed. "God Almighty, it's good!" he said, and he filled his mouth again.
The younger man said, "We been eatin' good for twelve days now. Never missed a meal in twelve days-none of us. Workin' an' gettin' our pay an' eatin'." He fell to again, almost frantically, and refilled his plate. They drank the scalding coffee and threw the grounds to the earth and filled their cups again.
There was color in the light now, a reddish gleam. The father and son stopped eating. They were facing to the cast and their faces were lighted by the dawn. The image of the mountain and the light coming over it were reflected in their eyes. And then they threw the grounds from their cups to the earth, and they stood up together.
"Got to git goin'," the older man said.
The younger turned to Tom. "Lookie," he said. "We're layin' some pipe. 'F you want to walk over with us, maybe we could get you on."
Tom said, "Well, that's mighty nice of you. An' I sure thank ya for the breakfast."
Glad to have you," the older man said. "We'll try to git you workin' if you want."
"Ya goddam right I want," Tom said. "Jus' wait a minute. I'll tell my folks." He hurried to the Joad tent and bent over and looked inside. In the gloom under the tarpaulin he saw the lumps os sleeping figures. But a little movement started among the bedclothes. Ruthie came wriggling out like a snake, her hair down over her eyes and her dress wrinkled and twisted. She crawled carefully out and stood up. Her gray eyes were clear and calm from sleep, and mischief was not in them. Tom moved off from the tend and beckoned her to follow, and when he turned, she looked up at him.
"Lord God, you're growin' up," he said.
She looked away in sudden embarrassment. "Listen here," Tom said. "Don't you wake nobody up, but when they get up, you tell 'em I got a chancet at a job, an' I'm a-goin' for it. Tell Ma I et breakfas' with some neighbors. You hear that?"
Ruthie nodded and turned her head away, and her eyes were little girl's eyes. "Don't you wake 'em up," Tom cautioned. He hurried back to his new friends. And Ruthie cautiously approached the sanitary unit and peeked in the open doorway.
The two men were waiting when Tom came back. The young woman had dragged a mattress out and put the baby on it while she cleaned up the dishes.
Tom said, "I wanted to tell my folks where-at I was. They wasn't awake." The three walked down the street between the tents.
The camp had begun to come to life. At the new fires the women worked, slicing meat, kneading the dough for the morning's bread. And the men were stirring about the tents and about the automobiles. The sky was rosy now. In front of the office a lean old man raked the ground carefully. He so dragged his rake that the tine marks were straight and deep.
"You're out early, Pa," the young man said as they went by.
"Yep, yep. Got to make up my rent."
"Rent, hell!" the young man said. "He was drunk last Sat'dy night Sung in his tent all night. Committee give him work for it." They walked along the edge of the oiled road; a row of walnut trees grew beside the way. The sun shoved its edge over the mountains.
Tom said, "Seems funny. I've et your food, an' I ain't tol' you my name--nor you ain't mentioned yours. I'm Tom Joad."
The older man looked at him, and then he smiled a little. "You ain't been out here long?"
"Hell, no! Jus' a couple days."
"I knowed it. Funny, you git outa the habit a mentionin' your name. They's so gaddamn many. Jist fellas. Well, sir--I'm Timothy Wallace, an' this here's my boy Wilkie."
"Proud to know ya," Tom said. "You been out here long?"
"Ten months," Wilkie said. "Got here right on the tail a the floods las' year. Jesus! We had a time, a time! Goddam near starve' to death." Their feet rattled on the oiled road. A truckload of men went by, and each man was sunk into himself. Each man braced himself in the truck bed and scowled down.
"Goin' out for the Gas Company," Timothy said. "They got a nice job of it."
"I could of took our truck," Tom suggested.
"No." Timothy leaned down and picked up a green walnut. He tested it with his thumb and then shied it at a blackbird sitting on a fence wire. The bird flew up, let the nut sail under it, and then settled back on the wire and smoothed its shining black feathers with its beak.
Tom asked, "Ain't you got no car?"
Both Wallaces were silent, and Tom, looking at their faces, saw that they were ashamed.
Wilkie said, "Place we work at is on'y a mile up the road."
Timothy said angrily, "No, we ain't got no car. We sol' our car. Had to. Run outa food, run outa ever'thing. Couldn' git no job. Fellas come aroun' ever' week, buyin' cars. Come aroun', an' if you're hungry, why, they'll buy your car. An' if you're hungry enough, they don't hafta pay nothin' for it. An'-we was hungry enough. Give us ten dollars for her." He spat into the road.
Wilkie said quietly, "I was in Bakersfiel' las' week. I seen her-a-settin' in a use'-car lot-settin' right there, an' seventy-five dollars was the sign on her."
"We had to," Timothy said. "It was either us let 'em steal our car or us steal somepin from them. We ain't had to steal yet, but, goddamn it, we been close!"
Tom said, "You know, 'fore we lef' home, we heard they was plenty work out here. Seen han'bills askin' folks to coi ne out."
"Yeah," Timothy said. "We seen 'em too. An' they ain't much work. An' wages is comin' down all a time. I git so goddamn tired jus' figgerin' how to eat."
"You got work now," Tom suggested.
"Yeah, but it ain't gonna las' long. Workin' for a nice fella. Got a little place. Works 'longside of us. But, hell-it ain't gonna las' no time."
Tom said, "Why in hell you gonna git me on? I'll make it shorter. What you cuttin' your own throat for?"
Timothy shook his head slowly. "I dunno. Got no sense, I guess. We figgered to get us each a hat. Can't do it, I guess. There's the place, off to the right there. Nice job, too. Gettin' thirty cents an hour. Nice frien'ly fella to -work for."
They turned off the highway and walked down a graveled road, through a small kitchen orchard; and behind the trees they came to a small white farm house, a few shade trees, and a barn; behind the barn a vineyard and a field of cotton. As the three men walked past the house a screen door banged, and a stocky sunburned man came down the back steps. He wore a paper sun helmet, and he rolled up his sleeves as he came across the yard. His heavy sunburned eye-brows were drawn down in a scowl. His checks were sunburned a beef red.
"Mornin', Mr. Thomas," Timothy said.
"Morning." The man spoke irritably.
Timothy said, "This here's Tom Joad. We wondered if you could see your way to put him on?"
Thomas scowled at Tom. And then he laughed shortly, and his brows still scowled. "Oh, sure! I'll put him on. I'll put everybody on. Maybe I'll get a hundred men on."
"We jus' thought-" Timothy began apologetically.
Thomas interrupted him. "Yes, I been thinkin' too." He swung around and faced them. "I've got some things to tell you. I been paying you thirty cents an hour-that right?" "Why, sure, Mr. Thomas-but--"
"And I been getting thirty cents' worth of work." His heavy hard hands clasped each other.
"We try to give a good day of work."
"Well, goddamn it, this morning you're getting twenty-five cents an hour, and you take it or leave it." The redness of his face deepened with anger.
Timothy said, "We've give you good work. You said so yourself."
"I know it. But it seems like I ain't hiring my own men any more." He swallowed. "Look," he said. "I got sixty-five acres here. Did you ever hear of the Farmers' Association?"
"Well, I belong to it. We had a meeting last night. Now, do you know who runs the Farmers' Association? I'll tell you. The Bank of the West. That bank owns most of this valley, and it's got paper on everything it don't own. So last night the member from the bank told me, he said, 'You're paying thirty cents an hour. You'd better cut it down to twenty-five.' I said, 'I've got good men. They're worth thirty.' And he says, 'It isn't that,' he says. 'The wage is twenty-five now. If you pay thirty, it'll only cause unrest. And by the way,' he says, 'you going to need the usual amount for a crop loan next year?"' Thomas stopped. His breath was panting through his lips. "You see? The rate is twenty-five cents-and like it."
"We done good work," Timothy said helplessly.
"Ain't you got it yet? Mr. Bank hires two thousand men an' I hire three. I've got paper to meet. Now if you can figure some way out, by Christ, I'll take it! They got me."
Timothy shook his head. "I don' know what to say."
"You wait here." Thomas walked quickly to the house.
The door slammed after him. In a moment he was back, and he carried a newspaper in his hand. "Did you see this? Here, I'll read it: 'Citizens, angered at red agitators, burn squatters' camp. Last night a band of citizens, infuriated at the agitation going on in a local squatters' camp, burned the tents to the ground and warned agitators to get out of the county."'
Torn began, "Why, I-" and then he closed his mouth and was silent.
Thomas folded the paper carefully and put it in his pocket. He had himself in control again. He said quietly, "Those men were sent out by the Association. Now I'm giving 'ern away. And if they ever find out I told, I won't have a farm next year."
"I jus' don't know what to say," Timothy said. "If they was agitators, I can see why they was mad."
Thomas said, "I watched it a long time. There's always red agitators just before a pay cut. Always. Goddamn it, they got me trapped. Now, what are you going to do? Twenty-five cents?"
Timothy looked at the ground. "I'll work," he said.
"Me too," said Wilkie.
Tom said, "Seems like I walked work. I got to work."
Thomas pulled a bandanna out of his hip pocket and wiped his mouth and chin. "I don't know how long it can go on. I don't know how you men can feed a family on what you get now."
"We can while we work," Wilkie said. "It's when we don't git work."
Thomas looked at his watch. "Well, let's go out and dig some ditch. By God," he said, "I'm a-gonna tell you. You fellas live in that government camp, don't you?"
Timothy stiffened. "Yes, sir."
"And you have dances every Saturday night?"
Wilkie smiled. "We sure do."
"Well, look out next Saturday night."
Suddenly Timothy straightened. He stepped close. "What you mean? I belong to the Central Committee. I got to know."
Thomas looked apprehensive. "Don't you ever tell I told."
"What is it?" Timothy demanded.
"Well, the Association don't like the government camps. Can't get a deputy in there. The people make their own laws, I hear, and you can't arrest a man without a warrant. Now, if there was a big fight and maybe shooting-a bunch of deputies could go in and clean out the camp."
Timothy had changed. His shoulders were straight and his eyes cold. "What you mean?"
"Don't you ever tell where you heard," Thomas said uneasily. "There's going to be a fight in the camp Saturday night. And there's going to be deputies ready to go in."
Tom demanded, "Why, for God's sake? Those folks ain't bothering nobody."
"I'll tell you why," Thomas said. "Those folks in the camp are getting used to being treated like humans. When they go back to the squatters' camps they'll be hard to handle." He wiped his face again. "Go on out to work now. Jesus, I hope I haven't talked myself out of my farm. But I like you people."
Timothy stepped in front of him and put out a hard lean hand, and Thomas took it. "Nobody won't know who tol'. We thank you. They won't be no fight."
"Go on to work," Thomas said. "And it's twenty-five cents an hour."
"We'll take it," Wilkie said, "from you."
Thomas walked away toward the house. "I'll be out in a piece," he said. "You men get to work." The screen door slammed behind him.
The three men walked out past the little white-washed barn, and along a field edge. They came to a long narrow ditch with sections of concrete pipe lying beside it.
"Here's where we're a-workin'," Wilkie said.
His father opened the barn and passed out two picks and three shovels. And he said to Tom, "Here's your beauty."
Tom hefted the pick. "Jumping Jesus! If she don't feel good!"
"Wait'll about 'leven o'clock," Wilkie suggested. "See how good she feels then."
They walked to the end of the ditch. Tom took off his coat and dropped it on the dirt pile. He pushed up his cap and stepped into the ditch. Then he spat on his hands. The pick arose into the air and flashed down. Tom grunted softly. The pick rose and fell, and the grunt came at the moment it sank into the ground and loosened the soil.
Wilkie said, "Yes, sir, Pa, we got here a first-grade muckstick man. This here boy been married to that there little digger."
Tom said, "I put in time (umph). Yes, sir, I sure did (umph). Put in my years (umph!). Kinda like the feel (Umph!)." The soil loosened ahead of him. The sun cleared the fruit trees now and the grape leaves were golden green on the vines. Six feet along and Tom stepped aside and wiped his forehead. Wilkie came behind him. The shovel rose and fell and the dirt flew out to the pile beside the lengthening ditch.
"I heard about this here Central Committee," said Tom. "So you're one of 'em."
"Yes, sir," Timothy replied. "And it's a responsibility. All them people. We're doin' our best. An' the people in the camp a-doin' their best. I wisht them big farmers wouldn' plague us so. I wisht they wouldn'."
Tom climbed back into the ditch and Wilkie stood aside. Tom said, "How 'bout this fight (umph!) at the dance, he tol' about (umph)? What they wanta do that for?"
Timothy followed behind Wilkie, and Timothy's shovel beveled the bottom of the ditch and smoothed it ready for the pipe. "Seems like they got to drive us," Timothy said. "They're scairt we'll organize, I guess. An' maybe they're right. This here camp is a organization. People there look out for theirselves. Got the nicest strang band in these parts. Got a little charge account in the store for folks that's hungry. Fi' dollars-you can git that much food an' the camp'll stan' good. We ain't never had no trouble with the law. I guess the big farmers is scairt of that. Can't throw us in jail -why, it scares 'em. Figger maybe if we can gove'n ourselves, maybe we'll do other things."
Tom stepped clear of the ditch and wiped the sweat out of his eyes. "You hear what that paper said 'bout agitators up north a Bakersfiel'?"
"Sure," said Wilkie. "They do that all a time."
"Well, I was there. They wasn't no agitators. What they call reds. What the hell is these reds anyways?"
Timothy scraped a little hill level in the bottom of tile ditch. The sun made his white bristle beard shine. "They's a lot a fellas wanta know what reds is." He laughed. "One of our boys foun' out." He patted the piled earth gently with his shovel. "Fella named Hines-got 'bout thirty thousan' acres, peaches and grapes-got a cannery an' a winery. Well, he's all a time talkin' about 'them goddamn reds.' 'Goddamn reds is drivin' the country to ruin,' he says, an" 'We got to drive these here red bastards out.' Well, they were a young fella jus' come out west here, an' he's listenin' one day. He kinda scratched his head an' he says, 'Mr. Hines, I ain't been here long. What is these goddamn reds?' Well, sir, Hines says, 'A red is any son-of-a-bitch that wants thirty cents an hour when we're payin' twenty-five!' Well, this young fella he thinks about her, an' he scratches his head, an' he says, 'Well, Jesus, Mr. Hines. I ain't a son-of-a-bitch, but if that's what a red is-why, I want thirty cents an hour. Ever'body does. Hell, Mr. Hines, we're all reds.'" Timothy drove his shovel along the ditch bottom, and the solid earth shone where the shovel cut it.
Tom laughed. "Me too, I guess." His pick arced up and drove down, and the earth cracked under it. The sweat roiled down his forehead and down the sides of his nose, and it glistened on his neck. "Damn it," he said, "a pick is a nice tool (umph), if you.don' fight it (umph). You an' the pick (umph) workin' together (umph)."
In line, the three men worked, and the ditch inched along, and the sun shone hotly down on them in the growing morning.
When Tom left her, Ruthie gazed in at the door of the sanitary unit for a while. Her courage was not strong without Winfield to boast for. She put a bare foot in on the concrete floor, and then withdrew it. Down the line a woman came out of a tent and started a fire in a tin camp stove. Ruthie took a few steps in that direction, but she could not leave. She crept to the entrance of the Joad tent and looked in. On one side, lying on the ground, lay Uncle John, his mouth open and his snores bubbling spittily in his throat. Ma and Pa were covered with a comfort, their heads in, away from the light. Al was on the far side from Uncle John, and his arm was flung over his eyes. Near the front of the tent Rose of Sharon and Winfield lay, and there was the space where Ruthie had been, beside Winfield. She squatted down and peered in. Her eyes remained on Winfield's tow head; and as she looked, the little boy opened his eyes and stared out at her, and his eyes were solemn. Ruthie put her finger to her lips and beckoned with her other hand. Winfield rolled his eyes over to Rose of Sharon. Her pink flushed face was near to him, and her mouth was open a little. Winfield carefully loosened the blanket and slipped out. He crept out of the tent cautiously and joined Ruthie. "How long you been up?" he whispered.
She led him away with elaborate caution, and when they were safe, she said, "I never been to bed. I was up all night."
"You was not," Winfield said. "You're a dirty liar."
"Awright," she said. "If I'm a liar I ain't gonna tell you nothin' that happened. I ain't gonna tell how the fella got killed with a stab knife an' how they was a bear come in an' took off a little chile."
"They wasn't no bear," Winfield said uneasily. He brushed up his hair with his fingers and he pulled down his overalls at the crotch.
"All right-they wasn't no bear," she said sarcastically. "An' they ain't no white things made outa dish-stuff, like in the catalogues."
Winfield regarded her gravely. He pointed to the sanitary unit. "In there?" he asked.
"I'm a dirty liar," Ruthie said. "It ain't gonna do me no good to tell stuff to you."
"Le's go look," Winfield said.
"I already been," Ruthie said. I already set on 'em. I even pee'd in one."
"You never neither," said Winfield.
They went to the unit building, and that time Ruthie was not afraid. Boldly she led the way into the building. The toilets lined one side of the large room, and each toilet had its compartment with a door in front of it. The porcelain was gleaming white. Hand basins lined another wall, while on the third wall were four shower compartments.
"There," said Ruthie. "Them's the toilets. I seen 'em in the catalogue." The children drew near to one of the toilets. Ruthie, in a burst of bravado, boosted her skirt and sat down.
"I tol' you I been here," she said. And to prove it, there was a tinkle of water in the bowl.
Winfield was embarrassed. His hand twisted the flushing Lever. There was a roar of water. Ruthie leaped into the air and jumped away. She and Winfield stood in the middle of the room and looked at the toilet. The hiss of water continued in it.
"You done it," Ruthie said. "You went an' broke it. I seen you."
"I never. Honest I never."
"I seen you," Ruthie said. "You jus' ain't to be trusted with no nice stuff."
Winfield sunk his chin. He looked up at Ruthie and his eyes filled with tears. His chin quivered. And Ruthie was instantly contrite.
"Never you mind," she said. "I won't tell on you. We'll pretend like she was already broke. We'll pretend we ain't even been in here." She led him out of the building.
The sun lipped over the mountain by now, shone on the corrugated-iron roofs of the five sanitary units, shone on the gray tents and on the swept ground of the streets between the tents. And the camp was waking up. The fires were burning in camp stoves, in the stoves made of kerosene cans and of sheets of metal. The smell of smoke was in the air. Tent flaps were thrown back and people moved about in the streets. In front of the Joad tent Ma stood looking up and down the street. She saw the children and came over to them.
"I was worryin'," Ma said. "I didn' know where you was."
"We was jus' lookin'," Ruthie said.
"Well, where's Tom? You seen him?"
Ruthie became important. "Yes, ma'am. Tom, he got me up an' he tol' me what to tell you." She paused to let her importance be apparent.
"Well-what?" Ma demanded.
"He said tell you-" She paused again and looked to see that Winfield appreciated her position.
Ma raised her hand, the back of it toward Ruthie. "What?"
"He got work," said Ruthie quickly. "Went out to work."
She looked apprehensively at Ma's raised hand. The hand sank down again, and then it reached out for Ruthie. Ma embraced Ruthie's shoulders in a quick convulsive hug, and then released her.
Ruthie stared at the ground in embarrassment, and changed the subject. "They got toilets over there," she said. "White ones."
"You been in there?" Ma demanded.
"Me an' Winfiel'," she said; and then, treacherously, "Winfiel', he bust a toilet."
Winfield turned red. He glared at Ruthie. "She pee'd in one," he said viciously.
Ma was apprehensive. "Now what did you do? You show me." She forced them to the door and inside. "Now what'd you do?"
Ruthie pointed. "It was a-hissin' and a-swishin'. Stopped now."
"Show me what you done," Ma demanded.
Winfield went reluctantly to the toilet. "I didn' push it hard," he said. "I jus' had aholt of this here, an'-" The swish of water came again. He leaped away.
Ma threw back her head and laughed, while Ruthie and Winfield regarded her resentfully. "Tha's the way she works," Ma said. "I seen them before. When you finish, you push that."
The shame of their ignorance was too great for the children. They went out the door, and they walked down the street to stare at a large family eating breakfast.
Ma watched them out of the door. And then she looked about the room. She went to the shower closets and looked in. She walked to the wash basins and ran her finger over the white porcelain. She turned the water on a little and held her finger in the stream, and jerked her hand away when the water came hot. For a moment she regarded the basin, and then, setting the plug, she filled the bowl a little from the hot faucet, a little from the cold. And then she washed her hands in the warm water, and she washed her face. She was brushing water through her hair with her fingers when a step sounded on the concrete floor behind her. Ma swung around. An elderly man stood looking at her with an expression of righteous shock.
He said harshly, "How you come in here?
Ma gulped, and she felt the water dripping from her chin and soaking through her dress. "I didn' know," she said apologetically. "I thought this here was for folks to use."
The elderly man frowned on her. "For men folks," he Said sternly. He walked to the door and pointed to a sign on it: MEN. "There," he said. "That proves it. Didn' you see that?
"No," Ma said in shame, "I never seen it. Ain't they a place where I can go?"
The man's anger departed. "You jus' come?" he asked more kindly.
"Middle of the night," said Ma.
"Then you ain't talked to the Committee?"
"Why, the Ladies' Committee."
"No, I ain't."
He said proudly, "The Committee'll call on you purty soon an' fix you up. We take care of folks that jus' come in. Now, if you want a ladies' toilet, you jus' go on the other side of the building. That side's yourn."
Ma said uneasily, "Ya say a ladies' committee-comin' to my tent? "
He nodded his head. "Purty soon, I guess."
"Thank ya," said Ma. She hurried out and half ran to the tent.
"Pa," she called. "John, git up! You, Al. Git up an' git washed." Startled sleepy eyes looked out at her. "All of you," Ma cried. "You git up an' git your face washed. An' comb your hair."
Uncle John looked pale and sick. There was a red bruised place on his chin.
Pa demanded, "What's the matter?"
"The Committee," Ma cried. "They's a committee-a ladies' committee a-comin' to visit. Git up now, an' git washed. An' while we was a-sleepin' an' a-snorin', Tom's went out an' got work. Git up, now."
They came sleepily out of the tent. Uncle John staggered a little, and his face was pained. "Git over to that house and wash up," Ma ordered. "We got to get breakfus' an' be ready for the Committee." She went to a little pile of split wood in the camp lot. She started a fire and put up her cooking irons. "Pone," she said to herself. "Pone an' gravy. That's quick. Got to be quick." She talked on to herself, and Ruthie and Winfield stood by, wondering.
The smoke of the morning fires arose all over the camp, and the mutter of talk came from all sides.
Rose of Sharon, unkempt and sleepy-eyed, crawled out of the tent. Ma turned from the cornmeal she was measuring in fistfuls. She looked at the girl's wrinkled dirty dress, at her frizzled uncombed hair. "You got to clean up," she said briskly. "Go right over and clean up. You got a clean dress. I washed it. Git your hair combed. Git the seeds out a your eyes." Ma was excited.
Rose of Sharon said sullenly, "I don' feel good. I wisht Connie would come. I don't feel like doin' nothin' 'thout Connie."
Ma turned full around on her. The yellow cornmeal clung to her hands and wrists. "Rosasharn," she said sternly, "you git upright. You jus' been mopin' enough. They's a ladies' committee a-comin', an' the fambly ain't gonna be frawny when they get here."
"But I don' feel good."
Ma advanced on her, mealy hands held out. "Git," Ma said. "They's times when how you feel got to be kep' to yourself."
"I'm a-goin' to vomit," Rose of Sharon whined.
"Well, go an' vomit. 'Course you're gonna vomit. Ever'body does. Git it over an' then you clean up, an' you wash your legs an' put on them shoes of yourn." She turned back to her work. "An' braid your hair," she said.
A frying pan of grease sputtered over the fire, and it splashed and hissed when Ma dropped the pone in with a spoon. She mixed flour with grease in a kettle and added water and salt and stirred the gravy. The coffee began to turn over in the gallon can, and the smell of coffee rose from it.
Pa wandered back from the sanitary unit, and Ma looked critically up. Pa said, "Ya say Tom's got work?"
"Yes, sir. Went out 'fore we was awake. Now look in that box an' get you some clean overhalls an' a shirt. An', Pa, I'm awful busy. You git in Ruthie an' Winfiel's ears. They's hot water. Will you do that? Scrounge aroun' in their ears good, an' their necks. Get 'em red an' shinin'."
"Never seen you so bubbly," Pa said.
Ma cried, "This here's the time the fambly got to get decent. Comin' acrost they wasn't no chancet. But now we can. Th'ow your dirty overhalls in the tent an' I'll wash 'em out."
Pa went inside the tent, and in a moment he came out with pale blue, washed overalls and shirt on. And he led the sad and startled children toward the sanitary unit.
Ma called after him, "Scrounge aroun' good in their ears."
Uncle John came to the door of the men's side and looked out, and then he went back and sat on the toilet a long time and held his aching head in his hands.
Ma had taken up a panload of brown pone and was dropping spoons of dough in the grease for a second pan when a shadow fell on the ground beside her. She looked over her shoulder. A little man dressed all in white stood behind her -a man with a thin, brown, lined face and merry eyes. He was lean as a picket. His white clean clothes were frayed at the seams. He smiled at Ma. "Good morning," he said.
Ma looked at his white clothes and her face hardened with suspicion. "Mornin'," she said.
"Are you Mrs. Joad?
"Well, I'm Jim Rawley. I'm camp manager. Just dropped by to see if everything's all right. Got everything you need?
Ma studied him suspiciously. "Yes," she said.
Rawley said, "I was asleep when you came last night. Lucky we had a place for you." His voice was warm.
Ma said simply, "It's nice. 'Specially them wash tubs."
"You wait till the women get to washing. Pretty soon now. You never heard such a fuss. Like a meeting. Know what they did yesterday, Mrs. Joad? They had a chorus. Singing a hymn tune and rubbing the clothes all in time. That was something to hear, I tell you."
The suspicion was going out of Ma's face. "Must a been nice. You're the boss?"
"No," he said. "The people here worked me out of a job. They keep the camp clean, they keep order, they do everything. I never saw such people. They're making clothes in the meeting hall. And they're making toys. Never saw such people."
Ma looked down at her dirty dress. "We ain't clean yet," she said. "You jus' can't keep clean a-travelin'."
"Don't I know it," he said. He sniffed the air. "Say-is that your coffee smells so good?"
Ma smiled. "Does smell nice, don't it? Outside it always smells nice." And she said proudly, "We'd take it in honor'f you'd have some breakfus' with us."
He came to the fire and squatted on his hams, and the last of Ma's resistance went down. "We'd be proud to have ya," she said. "We ain't got much that's nice, but you're welcome."
The little man grinned at her. "I had my breakfast. But I'd sure like a cup of that coffee. Smells so good."
"Don't hurry yourself."
Ma poured a tin cup of coffee from the gallon can. She said, "We ain't got sugar yet. Maybe we'll get some today. If you need sugar, it won't taste good."
"Never use sugar," he said. "Spoils the taste of good coffee."
"Well, I like a little sugar," said Ma. She looked at him suddenly and closely, to see how he had come so close so quickly. She looked for motive on his face, and found nothing but friendliness. Then she looked at the frayed seams on his white coat, and she was reassured.
He sipped the coffee. "I guess the ladies'll be here to see you this morning."
"We ain't clean," Ma said. "They shouldn't be comin' till we get cleaned up a little."
"But they know how it is," the manager said. "They came in the same way. No, sir. The committees are good in this camp because they do know." He finished his coffee and stood up. "Well, I got to go on. Anything you want, why, come over to the office. I'm there all the time. Grand coffee. Thank you." He put the cup on the box with the others, waved his hand, and walked down the line of tents. And Ma heard him speaking to the people as he went.
Ma put down her head and she fought with a desire to cry.
Pa came back leading the children, their eyes still wet with pain at the ear-scrounging. They were subdued and shining. The sunburned skin on Winfield's nose was scrubbed off. "There," Pa said. "Got dirt an' two layers a skin. Had to almost lick 'em to make 'em stan' still."
Ma appraised them. "They look nice," she said. "He'p yaself to pone an' gravy. We got to get stuff outa the way an' the tent in order."
Pa served plates for the children and for himself. "Wonder where Tom got work?"
"Well, if he can, we can."
Al came excitedly to the tent. "What a place!" he said. He helped himself and poured coffee. "Know what a fella's doin'? He's buildin' a house trailer. Right over there, back a them tents. Got beds an' a stove-ever'thing. Jus' live in her. By God, that's the way to live! Right where you stop- tha's where you live."
Ma said, "I ruther have a little house. Soon's we can, I want a little house."
Pa said, "Al-after we've et, you an' me an' Uncle John'll take the truck an' go out lookin' for work."
"Sure," said Al. "I like to get a job in a garage if they's any jobs. Tha's what I really like. An' get me a little ol' cut-down Ford. Paint her yella an' go a-kyoodlin' aroun'. Seen a purty girl down the road. Give her a big wink, too. Purty as hell, too."
Pa.said sternly, "You better get you some work 'fore you go a-tom-cattin'."
Uncle John came out of the toilet and moved slowly near. Ma frowned at him.
"You ain't washed-" she began, and then she saw how sick and weak and sad he looked. "You go on in the tent an' lay down," she said. "You ain't well."
He shook his head. "No," he said. "I sinned, an' I got to take my punishment." He squatted down disconsolately and poured himself a cup of coffee.
Ma took the last pones from the pan. She said casually, "The manager of the camp come an' set an' had a cup a coffee."
Pa looked over slowly. "Yeah? What's he want awready?
"Jus' come to pass the time," Ma said daintily. "Jus' set down an' had coffee. Said he didn' get good coffee so often, an' smelt our'n."
"What'd he want?" Pa demanded again.
"Didn' want nothin'. Come to see how we was gettin' on."
"I don' believe it," Pa said. "He's probably a-snootin' an' a-smellin' aroun'."
"He was not!" Ma cried angrily. "I can tell a fella that's snootin' aroun' quick as the nex' person."
Pa tossed his coffee grounds out of his cup.
"You got to quit that," Ma said. "This here's a clean place."
"You see she don't get so goddamn clean a fella can't live in her," Pa said jealously. "Hurry up, Al. We're goin' out lookin' for a job."
Al wiped his mouth with his hand. "I'm ready," he said.
Pa turned to Uncle John. "You a-comin'?"
"Yes, I'm a-comin'."
"You don't look so good."
"I ain't so good, but I'm comin!."
Al got in the truck. "Have to get gas," he said. He started the engine. Pa and Uncle John climbed in beside him and the truck moved away down the street.
Ma watched them go. And then she took a bucket and went to the wash trays under the open part of the sanitary unit. She filled her bucket with hot water and carried it back to her camp. And she was washing the dishes in the bucket when Rose of Sharon came back.
"I put your stuff on a plate," Ma said. And then she looked closely at the girl. Her hair was dripping and combed, and her skin was bright and pink. She had put on the blue dress printed with little white flowers. On her feet she wore the heeled slippers of her wedding. She blushed under Ma's gaze. "You had a bath," Ma said.
Rose of Sharon spoke huskily. "I was in there when a lady come in an' done it. Know what you do? You get in a little stall-like, an' you turn handles, an' water comes a-floodin' down on you-hot water or col' water, jus' like you want it- an' I done it!"
"I'm a-goin' to myself," Ma cried. "Jus' soon as I get finish' here. You show me how."
"I'm a-gonna do it ever' day," the girl said. "An' that lady -she seen me, an' she seen about the baby, an'-know what she said? Said they's a nurse comes ever' week. An' I'm to go see that nurse an' she'll tell me jus' what to do so's the baby'll be strong. Says all the ladies here do that. An' I'm a-gonna do it." The words bubbled out. "An'-know what-? Las' week they was a baby borned an' the whole camp give a party, an' they give clothes, an' they give stuff for the baby-even give a baby buggy-wicker one. Wasn't new, but they give it a coat a pink paint, an' it was jus' like new. An' they give the baby a name, an' had a cake. Oh, Lord! " She subsided, breathing heavily.
Ma said, "Praise God, we come home to our own people. I'm a-gonna have a bath."
"Oh, it's nice," the girl said.
Ma wiped the tin dishes and stacked them. She said, "We're Joads. We don't look up to nobody. Grampa's grampa, he fit in the Revolution. We was farm people till the debt. And then-them people. They done somepin to us. Ever' time they come seemed like they was a-whippin' me- all of us. An' in Needles, that police. He done somepin to me, made me feel mean. Made me feel ashamed. An' now I ain't ashamed. These folks is our folks-is our folks. An' that manager, he come an' set an' drank coffee, an' he says, 'Mrs. Joad' this, an' 'Mrs. Joad' that-an' 'How you gettin' on, Mrs. Joad?"' She stopped and sighed. "Why, I feel like people again." She stacked the last dish. She went into the tent and dug through the clothes box for her shoes and a clean dress. And she found a little paper package with her earrings in it. As she went past Rose of Sharon, she said, "If them ladies comes, you tell 'ern I'll be right back." She disappeared around the side of the sanitary unit.
Rose of Sharon sat down heavily on a box and regarded her wedding shoes, black patent leather and tailored black bows. She wiped the toes with her finger and wiped her finger on the inside of her skirt. Leaning down put a pressure on her growing abdomen. She sat up straight and touched herself with exploring fingers, and she smiled a little as she did it.
Along the road a stocky woman walked, carrying an apple box of dirty clothes toward the wash tubs. Her face was brown with sun, and her eyes were black and intense. . She wore a great apron, made from a cotton bag, over her gingham dress, and men's brown oxfords were on her feet. She saw that Rose of Sharon caressed herself, and she saw the little smile on the girl's face.
"So!" she cried, and she laughed with pleasure. "What you think it's gonna be?"
Rose of Sharon blushed and looked down at the ground, and then peeked up, and the little shiny black eyes of the woman took her in. "I don' know," she mumbled.
The woman plopped the apple box on the ground. "Got a live tumor," she said, and she cackled like a happy hen. "Which'd you ruther?" she demanded.
"I dunno-boy, I guess. Sure-boy."
"You jus' come in, didn' ya?"
"I don' know. 'F we can get work, guess we will."
A shadow crossed the woman's face, and the little black eyes grew fierce. "'F you can git work. That's what we all say."
"My brother got a job already this mornin'."
"Did, huh? Maybe you're lucky. Look out for luck. You can't trus' luck." She stepped close. "You can only git one kind a luck. Cain't have more. You be a good girl," she said fiercely. "You be good. If you got sin on you-you better watch out for that there baby." She squatted down in front of Rose of Sharon. "They's scandalous things goes on in this here camp," she said darkly. "Ever' Sat'dy night they's dancin', an' not only squar' dancin', neither. They's some does clutch-an'-hug dancin'! I seen 'em."
Rose of Sharon said guardedly, "I like dancin', squar' dancin'." And she added virtuously, "I never done that other kind."
The brown woman nodded her head dismally. "Well, some does. An' the Lord ain't lettin' it get by, neither; an' don' you think He is."
"No, ma'am," the girl said softly.
The woman put one brown wrinkled hand on Rose of Sharon's knee, and the girl flinched under the touch. "You let me warn you now. They ain't but a few deep down Jesus-lovers lef'. Ever' Sat'dy night when that there strang ban' starts up an' should be a-playin' hymnody, they're a-reclin, -yes, sir, a-reelin'. I seen 'em. Won't go near, myself, nor I don' let my kin go near. They's clutch-an'-hug, I tell ya." She paused for emphasis and then said, in a hoarse whisper, "They do more. They give a stage play." She backed away and cocked her head to see how Rose of Sharon would take such a revelation.
"Actors?" the girl said in awe.
"No, sir!" the woman exploded. "Not actors, not them already damn' people. Our own kinda folks. Our own people. An' they was little children didn' know no better, in it, an' they was pertendin' to be stuff they wasn't. I didn' go near. But I hearn 'em talkin 'what they was a-doin'. The devil was jus' a-struttin' through this here camp."
Rose of Sharon listened, her eyes and mouth open. "Oncet in school we give a Chris' chile play-Christmus."
"Well-I ain' sayin' tha's bad or good. They's good folks thinks a Chris' chile is awright. But-well, I wouldn' care to come right out flat an' say so. But this here wasn' no Chris' chile. This here was sin an' delusion an' devil stuff. Struttin' an' paradin' an' speakin' like they're somebody they ain't. An' dancin' an' clutchin' an' a-huggin'."
Rose of Sharon sighed.
"An' not jus' a few, neither," the brown woman went on. "Gettin' so's you can almos' count the deep-down lamb-blood folks on your toes. An' don' you think them sinners is puttin' nothin' over on God, neither. No, sir, He's a-chalkin' 'em up sin by sin, an' He's drawin' His line an' addin' 'em up sin by sin. God's a-watchin', an' I'm a-watchin'. He's awready smoked two of 'em out."
Rose of Sharon panted, "Has?"
The brown woman's voice was rising in intensity. "I seen it. Girl a-carryin' a little one, jes' like you. An' she play-acted, an' she hug-danced. And"-the voice grew bleak and orninous-"she thinned out and she skinnied out, an'-she dropped that baby, dead."
"Oh, my!" The girl was pale.
"Dead and bloody. 'Course nobody wouldn' speak to her no more. She had a go away. Can't tech sin 'thout catchin' it. No, sir. An' they was another, done the same thing. An' she skinnied out, an'-know what? One night she was gone. An' two days, she's back. Says she was visitin'. But-she ain't got no baby. Know what I think? I think the manager, he took her away to drop her baby. He don' believe in sin. Tol' me hisself. Says the sin is bein' hungry. Says the sin is bein' cold. Says-I tell ya, he tol' me hisself-can't see God in them things. Says them girls skinnied out 'cause they didn' git 'nough food. Well, I fixed him up." She rose to her feet and stepped back. Her eyes were sharp. She pointed a rigid forefinger in Rose of Sharon's face. "I says, 'Git back!' I says. I says, 'I knowed the devil was rampagin' in this here camp. Now I know who the devil is. Git back, Satan,' I says. An', by Chris', he got back! Tremblin' he was, an' sneaky. Says, 'Please," Says, 'Please don' make the folks unhappy.' I says, 'Unhappy? How 'bout their soul? How 'bout them dead babies an' them poor sinners ruint 'count of play-actin'?' He jes' looked, an' he give a sick grin an' went away. He knowed when he met a real testifier to the Lord. I says, a-helpin' Jesus watch the goin's-on. An' you an' them other sinners ain't gittin' away with it." She picked up her box of dirty clothes. "You take heed. I warned you. You take heed a that pore chile in your belly an' keep outa sin." And she strode away titanically, and her eyes shone with virtue.
Rose of Sharon watched her go, and then she put her head down on her hands and whimpered into her palms. A soft voice sounded beside her. She looked up, ashamed. It was the little white-clad manager. "Don't worry," he said. "Don't you worry."
Her eyes blinded with tears. "But I done it," she cried. "I hug-danced. I didn' tell her. I done it in Sallisaw. Me an' Connie."
"Don't worry," he said.
"She says I'll drop the baby."
"I know she does. I kind of keep my eye on her. She's a good woman, but she makes people unhappy."
Rose of Sharon sniffled wetly. "She knowed two girls los' their baby right in this here camp."
The manager squatted down in front of her. "Look!" he said. "Listen to me. I know them too. They were too hungry and too tired. And they worked too hard. And they rode on a truck over bumps. They were sick. It wasn't their fault."
"But she said--"
"Don't worry. That woman likes to make trouble."
"But she says you was the devil."
"I know she does. That's because I won't let her make people miserable." He patted her shoulder. "Don't you worry. She doesn't know." And he walked quickly away.
Rose of Sharon looked after him; his lean shoulders jerked as he walked. She was still watching his slight figure when Ma came back, clean and pink, her hair combed and wet, and gathered in a knot. She wore her figured dress and the old cracked shoes; and the little earrings hung in her ears.
"I done it," she said. "I stood in there an' let warm water come a-floodin' an' a-flowin' down over me. An' they was a lady says you can do it ever' day if you want. An'-them ladies' committee come yet?"
"Uh-uh!" said the girl.
"An' you jes' set there an' didn' redd up the camp none!" Ma gathered up the tin dishes as she spoke. "We got to get in shape," she said. "Come on, stir! Get that sack and kinda sweep along the groun'." She picked up the equipment, put the pans in their box and the box in the tent. "Get them beds neat, she ordered. "I tell ya I ain't never felt nothin' so nice as that water."
Rose of Sharon listlessly followed orders. "Ya think Connie'll be back today?"
"Maybe-maybe not. Can't tell."
"You sure he knows where-at to come?"
"Ma-ya don' think-they could a killed him when they burned-?"
"Not him," Ma said confidently. "He can travel when he wants-jackrabbit-quick an' fox-sneaky."
"I wisht he'd come."
"He'll come when he comes."
"I wisht you'd get to work."
"Well, do you think dancin' an' play-actin' is sins an'll make me drop the baby?"
Ma stopped her work and put her hands on her hips.
"Now what you talkin' about? You ain't done no play-actin'."
"Well, some folks here done it, an' one girl, she dropped her baby -dead-an' bloody like it was a judgment."
Ma stared at her. "Who tol' you?"
"Lady that come by. An' that little fella in white clothes, he come by an' he says that ain't what done it."
Ma frowned. "Rosasharn," she said, "you stop pickin' at yourself. You're jest a-teasin' yourself up to cry. I don' know what's come at you. Our folks ain't never did that. They took what come to 'em dry-eyed. I bet it's that Connie give you all them notions. He was jes' too big for his over-halls." And she said sternly, "Rosasharn, you're jest one person, an' they's a lot of other folks. You git to your proper Place. I knowed people built theirself up with sin till they figgered they was big mean shucks in the sight a the Lord."
"No. Jes' shut up an' git to work. You ain't big enough or mean enough to worry God much. An' I'm gonna give you the back a my han' if you don' stop this pickin' at yourself." She swept the ashes into the fire hole and brushed the stones on its edge. She saw the committee coming along the road. "Git workin'," she said. "Here's the ladies comin'. Git a-workin' now, so's I can be proud." She didn't look again, but she was conscious of the approach of the committee.
There could be no doubt that it was the committee; three ladies, washed, dressed in their best clothes: a lean woman with stringy hair and steel-rimmed glasses, a small stout lady with curly gray hair and a small sweet mouth, and a mammoth lady, big of hock and buttock, big of breast, muscled like a dray-horse, powerful and sure. And the committee walked down the road with dignity.
Ma managed to have her back turned when they arrived. They stopped, wheeled, stood in a line. And the great woman boomed, "Mornin', Mis' Joad, ain't it?"
Ma whirled around as though she had been caught off guard. "Why, yes-yes. How'd you know my name?"
"We're the committee," the big woman said. "Ladies' Committee of Sanitary Unit Number Four. We got your name in the office."
Ma flustered, "We ain't in very good shape yet. I'd be proud to have you ladies come an' set while I make up some coffee."
The pump committee woman said, "Give our names, Jessie. Mention our names to Mis' Joad. Jessie's the Chair," she explained.
Jessie said formally, "Mis' Joad, this here's Annie Littlefield an' Ella Summers, an' I'm Jessie Bullitt."
"I'm proud to make your acquaintance," Ma said. "Won't you set down? They ain't nothin' to set on yet," she added. "But I'll make up some coffee."
"Oh, no," said Annie formally. "Don't put yaself out. We jes' come to call an' see how you was, an' try to make you feel at home."
Jessie Bullitt said sternly, "Annie, I'll thank you to remember I'm Chair."
"Oh! Sure, sure. But next week I am."
"Well, you wait'll next week then. We change ever' week," she explained to Ma.
"Sure you wouldn' like a little coffee?" Ma asked helplessly.
"No, thank you." Jessie took charge. "We gonna show you 'bout the sanitary unit fust, an' then if you wanta, we'll sign you up in the Ladies' Club an' give you a duty. Course you don' have to join."
"Does-does it cost much?"
"Don't cost nothing but work. An' when you're knowed, maybe you can be 'lected to this committee," Annie interrupted. "Jessie, here, is on the committee for the whole camp. She's a big committee lady."
Jessie smiled with pride. "'Lected unanimous," she said. "Well, Mis' Joad, I guess it's time we tol' you 'bout how the camp runs."
Ma said, "This here's my girl, Rosasharn."
"How do," they said.
"Better come 'long too."
The huge Jessie spoke, and her manner was full of dignity and kindness, and her speech was rehearsed.
"You shouldn' think we're a-buttin' into your business, Mis' Joad. This here camp got a lot of stuff ever'body uses. An' we got rules we made ourself. Now we're a-goin' to the unit. That there, ever'body uses, an' ever'body got to take care of it." They strolled to the unroofed section where the wash trays were, twenty of them. Eight were in use, the women bending over, scrubbing the clothes, and the piles of wrung-out clothes were heaped on the clean concrete floor. "Now you can use these here any time you want," Jessie said. "The ony thing is, you got to leave 'em clean."
The women who were washing looked up with interest.
Jessie said loudly, "This here's Mis' Joad an' Rosasharn, come to live." They greeted Ma in a chorus, and Ma made a dumpy little bow at them and said, "Proud to meet ya."
Jessie led the committee into the toilet and shower room.
"I been here awready," Ma said. "I even took a bath." "That's what they're for," Jessie said. "An' they's the same rule. You got to leave 'em clean. Ever' week they's a new committee to swab out oncet a day. Maybe you'll git on that committee. You got to bring your own soap."
"We got to get some soap," Ma said. "We're all out."
Jessie's voice became almost reverential. "You ever used this here kind?" she asked, and pointed to the toilets.
"Yes, ma'am. Right this mornin'."
Jessie sighed. "That's good."
Ella Summers said, "Jes' las' week--"
Jessie interrupted sternly, "Mis' Summers-I'll tell."
Ella gave ground. "Oh, awright."
Jessie said, "Las' week, when you was Chair, you done it all. I'll thank you to keep out this week."
"Well, tell what that lady done," Ella said.
"Well," said Jessie, "it ain't this committee's business to go a-blabbin', but I won't pass no names. Lady come in las' week, an' she got in here 'fore the committee got to her, an' she had her ol' man's pants in the toilet, an' she says, 'It's too low, an' it ain't big enough. Bust your back over her,' she says. 'Why couldn' they stick her higher?'" The committee smiled superior smiles.
Ella broke in, "Says, 'Can't put 'nough in at oncet.'" And Ella weathered Jessie's stern glance.
Jessie said, "We got our troubles with toilet paper. Rule says you can't take none away from here." She clicked her tongue sharply. "Whole camp chips in for toilet paper." For a moment she was silent, and then she confessed. "Number Four is usin' more than any other. Somebody's a-stealin' it. Come up in general ladies' meetin'. 'Ladies' side, Unit Number Four is usin' too much.' Come right up in meetin'!"
Ma was following the conversation breathlessly. "Stealin it-what for? "
"Well," said Jessie, "we had trouble before. Las' time they was three little girls cuttin' paper dolls out of it- Well, we caught them. But this time we don't know. Hardly put a roll out 'fore it's gone. Come right up in meetin'. One lady says we oughta have a little bell that rings ever' time the roll turns oncet. Then we could count how many ever'body takes." She shook her head. "I jes' don' know," she said. "I been worried all week. Somebody's a-stealin' toilet paper from Unit Four."
From the doorway came a whining voice, "Mis' Bullitt."
The committee turned. "Mis' Bullitt, I hearn what you says." A flushed, perspiring woman stood in the doorway. "I couldn't git up in meetin', Mis' Bullitt. I jes' couldn'. They'd a-laughed or somepin."
"What you talkin' about?" Jessie advanced.
"Well, we-all-maybe-it's us. But we ain't a-stealin', Mis' Bullitt."
Jessie advanced on her, and the perspiration beaded out on the flustery confessor. "We can't he'p it, Mis' Bullitt."
"Now you tell what you're tellin'," Jessie said. "This here unit's suffered a shame 'bout that toilet paper."
"All week, Mis'Bullitt. We couldn't he'p it. You know I got five girls."
"What they been a-doin' with it?" Jessie demanded ominously. "Jes' usin' it. Hones', jes' usin' it."
"They ain't got the right! Four-five sheets is enough. What's the matter'th 'em?"
The confessor bleated, "Skitters. All five of 'em. We been low on money. They et green grapes. They all five got the howlin' skitters. Run out ever' ten minutes." She defended them, "But they ain't stealin' it."
Jessie sighed. "You should a tol'," she said. "You got to tell. Here's Unit Four sufferin' shame 'cause you never tol'. Anybody can git the skitters."
The meek voice whined, "I jes' can't keep 'em from eatin' them green grapes. An' they're a-gettin' worse all a time."
Ella Summers burst out, "The Aid. She oughta git the Aid."
"Ella Summers," Jessie said, "I'm a-tellin' you for the las' time, you ain't the Chair." She turned back to the raddled little woman. "Ain't you got no money, Mis' Joyce?"
She looked ashamedly down. "No, but we might git work any time."
"Now you hol' up your head," Jessie said. "That ain't no crime. You jes' waltz right over t' the Weedpatch store an' git you some grocteries. The camp got twenty dollars' credit there. You git yourself fi' dollars' worth. An' you kin pay it back to the Central Committee when you git work. Mis' Joyce, you knowed that," she said sternly. "How come you let your girls git hungry?"
"We ain't never took no charity," Mrs. Joyce said.
"This ain't charity, an' you know it," Jessie raged. "We had all that out. They ain't no charity in this here camp. We won't have no charity. Now you waltz right over an' git you some grocteries, an' you bring the slip to me."
Mrs. Joyce said timidly, "S'pose we can't never pay? We ain't had work for a long time."
"You'll pay if you can. If you can't, that ain't none of our business, an' it ain't your business. One fella went away, an' two months later he sent back the money. You ain't got the right to let your girls git hungry in this here camp."
Mrs. Joyce was cowed. "Yes, ma'am," she said.
"Git you some cheese for them girls," Jessie ordered. "That'll take care a them skitters."
"Yes, ma'am." And Mrs. Joyce scuttled out of the door.
Jessie turned in anger on the committee. "She got no right to be stiff-necked. She got no right, not with our own people."
Annie Littlefield said, "She ain't been here long. Maybe she don't know. Maybe she's took charity one time-another. Nor," Annie said, "don't you try to shut me up, Jessie. I got a right to pass speech." She turned half to Ma. "If a body's ever took charity, it makes a burn that don't come out. This ain't charity, but if you ever took it, you don't forget it. I bet Jessie ain't ever done it."
"No, I ain't," said Jessie.
"Well, I did," Annie said. "Las' winter; an' we was a-starvin'-me an' Pa an' the little fellas. An' it was a-rainin'. Fella tol' us to go to the Salvation Army." Her eyes grew fierce. "We was hungry-they made us crawl for our dinner. They took our dignity. They-I hate 'em! An'-maybe Mis', Joyce took charity. Maybe she didn' know this ain't charity. Mis' Joad, we don't allow nobody in this camp to build their self up that-a-way. We don't allow nobody to give nothing to another person. They can give it to the camp, an' the camp can pass it out. We won't have no charity!" Her voice was fierce and hoarse. "I hate 'em," she said. "I ain't never seen my man beat before, but them-them Salvation Army done it to 'im."
Jessie nodded. "I heard," she said softly, "I heard. We got to take Mis' Joad aroun'."
Ma said, "It sure is nice."
"Le's go to the sewin' room," Annie suggested. "Got two machines. They's a-quiltin', an' they're makin' dresses. You might like ta work over there."
When the committee called on Ma, Ruthie and Winfield faded imperceptibly back out of reach.
"Whyn't we go along an' listen?" Winfield asked.
Ruthie gripped his arm. "No," she said. "We got washed for them sons-a-bitches. I ain't goin' with 'em."
Winfield said, "You tol' on me 'bout the toilet. I'm a-gonna tell what you called them ladies."
A shadow of fear crossed Ruthie's face. "Don' do it. I tol' cause I knowed you didn' really break it."
"You did not," said Winfield.
Ruthie said, "Le's look aroun'." They strolled down the line of tents, peering into each one, gawking self-consciously. At the end of the unit there was a level place on which a croquet court had been set up. Half a dozen children played seriously. In front of a tent an elderly lady sat on a bench and watched. Ruthie and Winfield broke into a trot. "Leave us play," Ruthie cried. "Leave us get in."
The children looked up. A pig-tailed little girl said, "Nex' game you kin."
"I wanta play now," Ruthie cried.
"Well, you can't. Not till nex' game."
Ruthic moved menacingly out on the court. "I'm a-gonna play." The pig-tails gripped her mallet tightly. Ruthie sprang at her, slapped her, pushed her, and wrested the mallet from her hands. "I says I was gonna play," she said triumphantly.
The elderly lady stood up and walked onto the court. Ruthie scowled fiercely and her hands tightened on the mallet. The lady said, "Let her play-like you done with Ralph las' week."
The children laid their mallets on the ground and trooped silently off the court. They stood at a distance and looked on with expressionless eyes. Ruthie watched them go. Then she hit a ball and ran after it. "Come on, Winfiel'. Get a stick," she called. And then she looked in amazement. Winfield had joined the watching children, and he too looked at her with expressionless eyes. Defiantly she hit the ball again. She kicked up a great dust. She pretended to have a good time. And the children stood and watched. Ruthie lined up two balls and hit both of them, and she turned her back on the watching eyes, and then turned back. Suddenly she advanced on them, mallet in hand. "You come an' play," she demanded. They moved silently back at her approach. For a. moment she stared at them, and then she flung down the mallet and ran crying for home. The children walked back on the court.
Pigtails said to Winfield, "You can git in the nex' gaine."
The watching lady warned them, "When she comes back an' wants to be decent, you let her. You was mean yourself, Amy." The game went on, while in the Joad tent Ruthie wept miserably.
The truck moved along the beautiful roads, past orchards where the peaches were beginning to color, past vineyards with the clusters pale and green, under lines of walnut trees whose branches spread half across the road. At each entrance-gate Al slowed; and at each gate there was a sign: "No help wanted. No trespassing."
Al said, "Pa, they's boun' to be work when them fruits gets ready. Funny place-they tell ya they ain't no work 'fore you ask 'em." He drove slowly on.
Pa said, "Maybe we could go in anyways an' ask if they know where they's any work. Might do that."
A man in blue overalls and a blue shirt walked along the edge of the road. Al pulled up beside him. "Hey, mister," Al said. "Know where they's any work?"
The man stopped and grinned, and his mouth was vacant of front teeth. "No," he said. "Do you? I been walkin' all week, an' I can't tree none."
"Live in that gov'ment camp?" Al asked.
"Come on, then. Git up back, an' we'll all look." The man climbed over the side-boards and dropped in the bed.
Pa said, "I ain't got no hunch we'll find work. Guess we got to look, though. We don't even know where-at to look."
"Shoulda talked to the fellas in the camp," Al said. "How you feelin', Uncle John?"
"I ache," said Uncle John. "I ache all over, an' I got it comin'. I oughta go away where I won't bring down punishment on my own folks."
Pa put his hand on John's knee. "Look here," he said, "don' you go away. We're droppin' folks all the time- Grampa an' Granma dead, Noah an' Connie-run out, an' the preacher-in jail."
"I got a hunch we'll see that preacher agin," John said.
Al fingered the ball on the gear-shift lever. "You don' feel good enough to have no hunches," he said. "The hell with it. Le's go back an' talk, an' find out where they's some work. We're jus' huntin' skunks under water." He stopped the truck and leaned out the window and called back, "Hey! Lookie! We're a-goin' back to the camp an' try an' see where they's work. They ain't no use burnin' gas like this."
The man leaned over the truck side. "Suits me," he said. "My dogs is wore clean up to the ankle. An' I ain't even got a nibble."
Al turned around in the middle of the road and headed back.
Pa said, "Ma's gonna be purty hurt, 'specially when Tom got work so easy."
"Maybe he never got none," Al said. "Maybe he jus'went lookin', too. I wisht I could get work in a garage. I'd learn that stuff quick, an' I'd like it."
Pa grunted, and they drove back toward the camp in silence.
When the committee left, Ma sat down on a box in front of the Joad tent, and she looked helplessly at Rose of Sharon. "Well-" she said, "well-I ain't been so perked up in years. Wasn't them ladies nice?"
"I get to work in the nursery," Rose of Sharon said. "Thev tol' me. I can find out all how to do for babies, an' then I'll know."
Ma nodded in wonder. "Wouldn' it be nice if the menfolks all got work?" she asked. "Them a-workin', an' a little money comin' in?" Her eyes wandered into space. "Them a-workin', an' us a-workin' here, an' all them nice people. Fust thing we get a little ahead I'd get me a little stove-nice one. They don' cost much. An' then we'd get a tent, big enough, an' maybe secon'-han' springs for the beds. An' we'd use this here tent jus' to eat under. An' Sat'dy night we'll go to the dancin'. They says you can invite folks if vou want. I wisht we had some frien's to invite. Maybe the men'll know somebody to invite."
Rose of Sharon peered down the road. "That lady that says I'll lose the baby-" she began.
"Now you stop that," Ma warned her.
Rose of Sharon said softly, "I seen her. She's a-comin' here, I think. Yeah! Here she comes. Ma, don't let her--"
Ma turned and looked at the approaching figure.
"Howdy," the woman said. "I'm Mis' Sandry-Lisbeth Sandry. I seen your girl this mornin'."
"Howdy do," said Ma.
"Are you happy in the Lord?"
"Pretty happy," said Ma.
"Are you saved?"
"I been saved." Ma's face was closed and waiting.
"Well, I'm glad," Lisbeth said. "The sinners is awful strong aroun' here. You come to a awful place. They's wicketness all around about. Wicket people, wicket goin's-on that a lamb'-blood Christian jes' can't hardly stan'. They's sinners all around us."
Ma colored a little, and shut her mouth tightly. "Seems to me they's nice people here," she said shortly.
Mrs. Sandry's eyes stared. "Nice!" she cried. "You think they're nice when they's dancin' an' huggin'? I tell ya, ya eternal soul ain't got a chancet in this here camp. Went out to a meetin' in Weedpatch las' night. Know what the preacher says? He says, 'They's wicketness in that camp.' He says, 'The poor is tryin' to be rich.' He says, 'They's dancin' an' huggin' when they should be wailin' an' moanin' in sin.' That's what he says. 'Ever'body that ain't here is a black sinner,' he says. I tell you it made a person feel purty good to bear 'im. An' we knowed we was safe. We ain't danced."
Ma's face was red. She stood up slowly and faced Mrs. Sandry. "Git!" she said. "Git out now, 'fore I git to be a sinner a-tellin' you where to go. Git to your wailin' an' moanin'."
Mrs. Sandry's mouth dropped open. She stepped back, And then she became fierce. "I thought you was Christians."
"So we are," Ma said.
"No, you ain't. You're hell-burnin' sinners, all of you! An' I'll mention it in meetin', too. I can see your black soul a-burnin.' I can see that innocent child in that there girl's belly a-burnin'."
A low wailing cry escaped from Rose of Sharon's lips. Ma stooped down and picked up a stick of wood.
"Git!" she said coldly. "Don' you never come back. I seen your kind before. You'd take the little pleasure, wouldn' you?" Ma advanced on Mrs. Sandry.
For a moment the woman backed away and then suddenly she threw back her head and howled. Her eyes rolled up, her shoulders and arms flopped loosely at her side, and a string of thick ropy saliva ran from the corner of her mouth. She howled again and again, long deep animal howls. Men and women ran up from the other tents, and they stood near- frightened and quiet. Slowly the woman sank to her knees and the howls sank to a shuddering, bubbling moan. She fell sideways and her arms and legs twitched. The white eyeballs showed under the open eyelids.
A man said softly, "The sperit. She got the sperit." Ma stood looking down at the twitching form.
The little manager strolled up casually. "Trouble?" he asked. The crowd parted to let him through. He looked down at the woman. "Too bad," he said. "Will some of you help get her back to her tent?" The silent people shuffled their feet. Two men bent over and lifted the woman, one held her under the arms and the other took her feet. They carried her away, and the people moved slowly after them. Rose of Sharon went under the tarpaulin and lay down and covered her face with a blanket.
The manager looked at Ma, looked down at the stick in her hand. He smiled tiredly. "Did you clout her?" he asked.
Ma continued to stare after the retreating people. She shook her head slowly. "No-but I would a. Twicet today she worked my girl up."
The manager said, "Try not to hit her. She isn't well. She just isn't well." And he added softly, "I wish she'd go away, and all her family. She brings more trouble on the camp than all the rest together."
Ma got herself in hand again. "If she comes back, I might hit her. I ain't sure. I won't let her worry my girl no more."
"Don't worry about it, Mrs. Joad," he said. "You won't ever see her again. She works over the newcomers. She won't ever come back. She thinks you're a sinner."
"Well, I am," said Ma.
"Sure. Everybody is, but not the way she means. She isn't well, Mrs. Joad."
Ma looked at him gratefully, and she called, "You hear that, Rosasharn? She ain't well. She's crazy." But the girl did not raise her head. Ma said, "I'm warnin' you, mister. If she comes back, I ain't to be trusted. I'll hit her."
He smiled wryly. "I know how you feel," he said. "But just try not to. That's all I ask-just try not to." He walked slowly away toward the tent where Mrs. Sandry had been carried.
Ma went into the tent and sat down beside Rose of Sharon. "Look up," she said. The girl lay still. Ma gently lifted the blanket from her daughter's face. "That woman's kinda crazy," she said. "Don't you believe none of them things."
Rose of Sharon whispered in terror, "When she said about burnin', I-felt burnin'."
"That ain't true," said Ma.
"I'm tar'd out," the girl whispered. "I'm tar'd a things happenin'. I wanta sleep. I wanta sleep."
"Well, you sleep, then. This here's a nice Place. You can sleep."
"But she might come back."
"She won't," said Ma. "I'm a-gonna set right outside, an' I won't let her come back. Res' up now, 'cause you got to get to work in the nu'sery purty soon."
Ma struggled to her feet and went to sit in the entrance to the tent. She sat on a box and put her elbows on her knees and her chin in her cupped hands. She saw the movement in the camp, heard the voices of the children, the hammering of an iron rim; but her eyes were staring ahead of her.
Pa, coming back along the road, found her there, and he squatted near her. She looked slowly over at him. "Git work? " she asked.
"No," he said, ashamed. "We looked."
"Where's Al and John and the truck?"
"Al's fixin' somepin. Had ta borry some tools. Fella says Al got to fix her there."
Ma said sadly, "This here's a nice place. We could be happy here awhile."
"If we could get work."
"Yeah! If you could get work."
He felt her sadness, and studied her face. "What you a-mopin' about? If it's sech a nice place why have you got to mope?"
She gazed at him, and she closed her eyes slowly. "Funny, ain't it. All the time we was a-movin' an' shovin', I never thought none. An' now these here folks been nice to me, been awful nice; an' what's the first thing I do? I go right back over the sad things-that night Grampa died an' we buried him. I was all full up of the road, and bumpin' and movin', an' it wasn't so bad. But now I come out here, an' it's worse now. An' Granma-an' Noah walkin' away like that! Walkin' away jus' down the river. Them things was part of all an now they come a-flockin' back. Granma a pauper, an' buried a pauper. That's sharp now. That's awful sharp. An' Noah walkin' away down the river. He don' know what's there. He jus' don' know. An' we don' know. We ain't never gonna know if he's alive or dead. Never gonna know. An' Connie sneakin' away. I didn' give 'em brain room before, but now they're a-flockin' back. An' I oughta be glad 'cause we're in a nice place." Pa watched her mouth while she talked. Her eyes were closed. "I can remember how them mountains was, sharp as ol' teeth beside the river where Noah walked. I can remember how the stubble was on the groun' where Grampa lies. I can remember the choppin' block back home with a feather caught on it, all criss-crossed with cuts, ar.' black with chicken blood."
Pa's voice took on her tone. "I seen the ducks today," he said. "Wedgin' south-high up. Seems like they're awful dinky. An' I seen the blackbirds a-settin' on the wires, an' the doves was on the fences." Ma opened her eyes and looked at him. He went on, "I seen a little whirlwin', like a man a-spinnin' acrost a fiel'. An' the ducks drivin' on down, wedgin' on down to the southward."
Ma smiled. "Remember?" she said. "Remember what we'd always say at home? 'Winter's a-comin' early,' we said, when the ducks flew. Always said that, an' winter come when it was ready to come. But we always said, 'She's a-comin' early.' I wonder what we meant."
"I seen the blackbirds on the wires," said Pa. "Settin' so close together. An' the doves. Nothin' sets so still as a dove- on the fence wires-maybe two, side by side. An' this little whirlwin'-big as a man, an' dancin' off acrost a fiel'. Always did like the little fellas, big as a man."
"Wisht I wouldn't think how it is home," said Ma. "It ain't our home no more. Wisht I'd forget it. An' Noah."
"He wasn't ever right-I mean-well, it was my fault."
"I tol' you never to say that. Wouldn' a lived at all, maybe."
"But I should a knowed more."
"Now stop," said Ma. "Noah was strange. Maybe he'll have a nice time by the river. Maybe it's better so. We can't do no worryin'. This here is a nice place, an' maybe you'll get work right off."
Pa pointed at the sky. "Look-more ducks. Big bunch. An' Ma, 'Winter's a-comin' early."
She chuckled. "They's things you do, an'you don'know why."
"Here's John," said Pa. "Come on an' set, John."
Uncle John joined them. He squatted down in front of Ma. "We didn't get nowheres," he said. "Jus' run aroun'. Say, Al wants to see ya. Says he got to git a tire. Only one layer a cloth lef', he says."
Pa stood up. "I hope he can git her cheap. We ain't got much lef'. Where is Al?"
"Down there, to the nex' cross-street an' turn right. Says gonna blow out an' spoil a tube if we don' get a new one." Pa strolled away, and his eyes followed the giant V of ducks down the sky.
Uncle John picked a stone from the ground and dropped it from his palm and picked it up again. He did not look at Ma. "They ain't no work," he said.
"You didn' look all over," Ma said.
"No, but they's signs out."
"Well, Tom musta got work. He ain't been back."
Uncle John suggested, "Maybe he went away-like Connie, or like Noah."
Ma glanced sharply at him, and then her eyes softened.
"They's things you know," she said. "They's stuff you're sure of. Tom's got work, an' he'll come in this evenin'. That's true." She smiled in satisfaction. "Ain't he a fine boy!" she said. "Ain't he a good boy!"
The cars and trucks began to come into the camp, and the men trooped by toward the sanitary unit. And each man carried clean overalls and shirt in his hand.