Jack and Vance put in another couple day's work on the Montana wheat ranch. Ernie gets fired, and Vance and Jack get closer to doing some "real work" with Doc.
"Meditation is not a purposeful pursuit which breeds distraction and conflict; it is not the discovery of a toy that will absorb all thought, as a child is absorbed by a toy; it is not the repetition of a word to still the mind. It begins with self-knowing, and goes beyond knowing." Krishnamurti
"You guys sure stayed late last night,” Ernie tells us as he pokes his head out of the blanket Saturday morning.
"You ain't lying, man," Vance answers.
As the three of us ride in the back of Cal's pickup, I renew my vow of silence, and wonder if the others will notice. All through breakfast, Vance and I carry on a normal conversation with our fellow workers, but ignore each other. I fuel my truck, and check the oil without a glance toward my partner. We sit in our separate empties and smoke our second after breakfast cigarettes while the operators finish greasing their combines.
The morning wears on and we exchange trucks without a word between us. Let him be the one to say something first, I keep telling myself. Around mid morning, Ernie's combine clogs up again and he jerks to a stop. I brake along side and watch Ward's pick up race toward us.
"I been keeping my table up. If’n Cal would call you over sooner I wouldn't have to slow down. That's when I'm picking up the shit.…" Ernie shouts down at me.
Ward sweats under the machine pulling out weeds and dusty stubble, while Ernie dances from one foot to the other. "Son of a bitch," the foreman shouts, as he comes out from beneath the machine brushing off chaff with his hat. "Start her rolling for a minute," he calls up. Ernie guns the engine, jerks the elevator clutch, and stalls it.
"You stupid ass! You can't even engage the fucking clutch?"
"I'm doing my God dammed best. If'n Cal wouldn't wait so long on calling the dump, this wouldn't be happening,” Ernie answers flashing an embarrassed eye at me.
"Climb your fucking ass on down!" Ward shouts.
"I can start her.… I can start her.…" Ernie cries in a panic stricken voice as he grinds the starter.
"I said get your fucking ass off my machine!"
Ernie flashes me an embarrassed grin and clamors down while Ward takes his place at the controls. "Tell Doc to pack you on in to town. I might as well run it myself if I got to crawl the fuck under it all day," Ward shouts as he engages the clutch and watches a stream of wheat crash into my truck.
"I can run it O.K. I jus' think it's 'cause I got to slow down when I get full.…" Ernie whines as Ward brushes by him, replaces the cover, and without a word climbs back on the machine. "Why's he wanna go and fire me like that?" Ernie cries looking up with big sad eyes.
"I don't know, man," I answer and catch Ward's wave for me to get moving. I jam it in gear and we take off leaving Ernie in a cloud of chaff and dust.
When I pull in to exchange trucks, Ernie and Vance are standing outside the empty. "Yesterday he told me I was doing a good job. I don't know why he goes and gets so mad at me all the time," Ernie is telling Vance. I pass without a word and climb into the empty dump.
During the noon meal, Ernie is the main topic of conversation. "How come you send that boy packing into town without no lunch?" Cy asks with a puzzled grin on his face.
"I figure it's one hell of a lot easier to run it myself 'stead a climbing under it all day. That boy should'a knowed how to clear a clogged blower. He was too lazy to even climb off his machine."
"You could'a at least fed the boy some lunch. You're getting mighty cruel in your old age letting that boy go away hungry," Cy laughs.
"I know that boy never run no combine. Could tell the first day he climbed on it," Ben tells us.
"Oh, he didn't fool me none. I knew he was lying. Told me he run a twelve footer up in Butte last season. I figured I'd give him a chance. Though, I’ll tell you, I don't like it when a man tells me he run a machine he never stepped foot on. Why if the boy had told me he didn't have no experience, I wouldn't 'a been so hard on him."
"Yea, well he sure seemed puzzled over why he was fired. All the way over he kept asking me. 'Why'd he do that for? Why’d he go and fire me?' I kept telling him I didn't know," Vance tells Ward.
"Oh, he knows dammed well why he got fired. Maybe next time he won't claim to have run a machine he never run."
"I think he was kind'a anxious to get into town anyhow. Seemed to have worked up a pretty good thirst," I say as I spear another piece of breaded veal cutlet.
"Oh, he worked up a thirst all right. Asked for advance on his pay his first day here. Wanted to go all the way into town for a quart a' beer," Ward informs us.
"Why he didn't stay on long enough to earn enough money for a new pair a' socks," Cy says and flashes a wink at Ward.
"Hell, a man can get by without no socks," Ward says and fastens his eyes on Vance and me. "Found that out from old Mr. Bentley. I noticed one day, a few years back this was, ole Harry, ole Mr. Bentley had on a new suit, shirt and tie, freshly shined black shoes, but no socks. Well, I didn't pay it too much mind. Figured he forgot 'em or something. Over the next year or two when ever I run into him on a Saturday night, all dressed to kill he never had no socks on. It always struck me as kind'a strange, ‘specially with his black shoes shined up like two new pennies. Finally, my curiosity got the best a’ me. At a town dance, it was that I asked him. I said, ' Mr. Bentley, I’ve been meaning to ask you. I see you in town all dressed to kill, a brand new shine on your shoes. I was wondering why it is you're never wearing no socks?'
"'Socks!' he says. 'Oh, I bought a pair a' socks once. Bought 'em brand new. Wore 'em 'bout three months. One morning, I'm getting out'a bed and they fall off the top bunk and shatter to pieces. I ain't bought a pair since!’”
Ward's story gets a big laugh around the table and we finish our noon meal.
Riding in the back of Cal's pick up after our evening meal, Vance and I are still not speaking. I leave him and Dick listening to the radio news and get ready for bed. On the way out to the outhouse just before dark, I meet Vance coming up the path. I stop and start a joke about the one seater, but he brushes right by me. Fuck the cocksucker, I tell myself.
Behind the outhouse as I stand watching it get dark, a deep sense of loneliness strikes me. Here I am miles from Anne, and at odds with my very best friend. The wind blows off the Sweetgrass Mountains and ripples through the golden stubble. Last rays of the setting sun linger beyond the Rockies. Light years away, stars appear one by one. From the vastness comes a deep sense of peace.
I bathe in the silence for several minutes before my fears retake me. What the hell's gonna become of me? I ask in a frightened voice. What have I gotten Anne into? It flashes through my mind that the border guard might be making his stop for coffee at this very minute. How's she gonna get home tonight?
The latest news on the Berlin crisis flashes through my mind. They must'a activated all the guys, I tell myself and think how I got out of the old guard unit just in time. Christ, you still got two years on the eight year enlistment. That could make you one A, I continue and picture myself a month from now standing guard duty in a field somewhere in Germany,
Again, the overwhelming silence drives the words out of my mind. Myriads of stars flash into view. It strikes me that these very same stars shine in the skies of Germany, and I connect up to the vastness for a moment.
In the bunkhouse, Vance and Dick are still at the kitchen table. "Going to bed already?" Dick asks as I walk toward the back room.
"Yea, I guess so," I answer pausing in the doorway.
"Way down yonder in the Indian Nation. I left my pony on the reservation. In them Oklahoma hills where I was born!" comes from the radio.
"Christ, it's Saturday Night!" Vance tells me.
"It sure don't seem like Saturday Night," I answer.
"Well, Sunday here is just the same as Monday. We don't get no time off during harvest," Dick tells us.
"That's what I figured," I say and head for my bed.
Sunday morning, Vance and I are acting like nothing ever happened. We finish servicing our trucks and sit in Vance's cab watching the combine men grease their machines.
"All right you guys, we ain't got all fucking day. Let's get these machines rolling," Vance yells acting like a movie ramrod. "Christ, Daley, can you believe working straight time on a Sunday? There ought'a be a fucking law!"
"Well, the sooner we finish up the better. Finish up, and get back on the road," I say reaching for the pack of little cigars on the dash.
"On the road my ass, Daley. Finish up here, and get started on some real work. I know Doc's gonna ask us to stay on. Christ, man, you won't believe how tight we're getting. Telling me about his family. He's got a daughter that's just the right age. In Europe for the summer. Goes to school back East. Tells me his God dammed family spends the money faster'n he can make it.
"The daughter's spending a week at home before she heads back to school. I'd told Doc I'd like to meet her. Take her out a couple times and give her some lessons in economy. Christ, if she's a good looking chick, Doc can keep his money right in the family."
"Man, you are really thinking ahead, ain't you?"
"Got to keep thinking all the time."
The combine men gun their engines and start out for the field. "It's about time you got those fucking machines rolling. You know we ain't got all fucking day!" Vance yells after the combines.
"Damm, I think Ward heard you," I tell Vance as I catch a glance of Ward turning our way with an angry scowl.
"Well, somebody's got to run the show now that he's driving combine," Vance says giving off a Jean Shepard laugh. "I'm telling ya, Daley, in a few months we'll be running operations that 'll make this one look like child's play.…"
About three o’clock, it begins to rain. Big slow drops come one by one looking like it won’t amount to much. But, the drops get smaller and fall a little faster. When everything is good and wet, Ward decides we’d better wait it out in the bunkhouse. This give Vance and me a chance to break out the coffee pot and some old Trivia cups and saucers. While the others sit around the table, the two of us play host.
“Mighty fancy cups.” Cy tells us as I pour a round.
“Yea, we picked ‘em up when we were in the coffee house business back in Trenton,“ I tell Cy.
“Well, I’ll have to say, you make a pretty darned good cup of coffee. Ain’t often one of my hands serves me up like this,” Ward tells us after taking a sip.
“Hell, these boys don’t know you like we do,” Cy tells ward with a big laugh.
We sit around drinking coffee and shooting the bull for a half hour or so as the rain comes down harder and harder. Ward gets up and looks out the door a couple times before deciding to call it quits for the day. He tells us he’ll send Cal over to pick us up and takes off with the regulars.
God damm! I tell myself as I pour from our third pot for Vance, Dick, and myself, and picture us in town by eight P.M.
“Looks like we'll be able to clean up before we eat. Head into town right after dinner.…” Vance tells me with visions of cowgirls dancing in his head.
“You can heat up water in the tub, if'n you want a hot bath,” Dick says pointing toward the stove.
“You wanna go in, we could drop you off some place,” I tell Dick as I guzzle my coffee.
“No, I don't reckon.… Figure I'll jus' rest up a bit. Maybe listen to the radio.”
Vance and I take quick turns with the tub. By the time we've changed into our Sunday clothes, long sleeved white shirts, kaki paints and white sneakers, Cal pulls up and gives a long honk. “Super's early tonight,” Dick tells us.
Hot damm, I ‘m telling myself thinking how I'll be sitting in the Shelby dinner talking with Anne before dark. Finish a couple coffees, and then bop around to some of them Wild West bars and share a couple brews with some real working ass cowboys.
"Well, look at the boys. If'n I had knowed they was dressing up for dinner, I would'a put on some socks," Cy tell us as we enter the kitchen porch where he and Ben are waiting. He is still wearing the same clothes that he wore on Wednesday, but his face is clean-shaven.
"Figure we'll head into town right after dinner," Vance tells Ward when we take our seats.
"Oh, I wouldn't try it tonight. This rain will soften up that bunkhouse road pretty much. Liable to tear it up getting back in," Ward says.
Son of a bitch, I tell myself as I suddenly lose my appetite. I can't believe it.
"Yea, well it really doesn't matter. Good night to rest up and listen to the radio, huh?" Vance asks winking at Dick.
Listen to the rain on a real God dammed bunkhouse roof, I'm thinking, but then I get a picture of Anne looking out the window and wondering what time I'll show up.
The meal drags on and the rain keeps falling. I listen to Ward's old West stories and to the rain falling. And, the rain keeps falling and the stories keep coming. Finally, Ben excuses himself, and the rest of us follow.
"Ain't this a fucking bitch," I tell Vance as we enter our kitchen.
"Keeps up like this and we might not even work tomorrow. Wouldn't it be something if we got a two or three day rain? Get a lot a reading done.…"
"Oh showers like this don't never 'mount to much. You'll be surprised at how fast she dries up when the sun comes up."
"You figure we could make it out?" I ask Dick.
"Depends on how much longer she keeps falling.… Say if'n you fellows are done with the tub, I think I'll heat up a little water," Dick answers.
Vance and I nod our O.K.'s and head for the back room.
"You know with the top unpacked and all, I don't think we'd have any trouble getting out. Christ, if it's too muddy when we get back we can park and walk it.…"
"Yea, we could probably make it all right. But, if we put a rut or two in the road, Ward 'll be mighty pissed.…"
"You know, with all this rain, the fair crowd'll be mighty sparse. Anne might even be able to get off early. Have a beer with us and then, we'd shot right back.…"
"I don't think we ought’ a risk it. Go tomorrow for sure..…"
"I guess you're right, but it sure
seems a shame to waste a night off like this," I tell Vance and cock an ear to see if the rain hasn't stopped. Just a faint patter blows across the corrugated sheet metal roof.
"Might as well see what we have for reading here," Vance says as he looks over the books on the dresser.
"Yea, I wanted to read that Durrell book," I tell Vance and picture the place where I slid it under the front seat with Henry Miller, Jung, Freud, Dostoyevsky, and a dozen or so other books. Too wet to go out to the car, I think and follow Vance to the dresser instead. Vance picks out a Zane Gray novel and carries it his bunk. Scanning the titles, I discover a copy of All’s Quiet On the Western Front.
"You know a little wine would go mighty good right now," Vance says as he lights up a little cigar and leans back in his bunk. "For Christ's sake, Daley, forget about the girl and relax. We might as well make the best of the situation.…"
"Yea, but you know she must be worrying about us. Thinking something happened. I told her I'd be in last night.…"
"Ahhhh, she'll understand. You know, Daley, in another week or so we're gonna have a chance to knock down some really big bread. I don't think we ought'a risk fucking up our chance. I'm telling ya, man, we break our ass for the doc., and we are going to be sitting pretty.…"
"Ya, but, remember, we didn't come on this trip jus' to make money. I mean, we could'a split to the City, if we wanted to make bread. Isn't our purpose to free ourselves from the system? To find out what it's all about?"
"You ain't wrong, man. You ain’t wrong. But, the bread we're gonna make with Doc isn't an end in itself. It's a ticket to freedom, man. Money to fund our further adventures. We need to have a financial base.… Once we get some money working for us, then we'll be able to do the things we want, read, write, sit on our God dammed ass and grow a beard. And besides, working for Doc ain't gonna be no nine to five rinky dink junior flip kind’a job.…"
"Yea, that's true , man, it makes sense that we'd be his leg men. You know, even working on this ranch is one unique experience. It would be worth it even if we didn't get paid. I mean, a real Montana wheat harvest, and we're hired hands.… That's what's important the experience, to experience every experience you can.…"
"You're right, Daley, but it doesn't hurt getting paid for it. The money doesn't poison the experience. There's nothing wrong with money itself. What's wrong is wasting your whole life working for it.… Working at some depressing mind dulling routine. The thing is out here we're living by our wits. Ever since we started this trip, we've been living by our wits.…
"You don't have to be tied down to some safe secure position on Madison Avenue to make a bundle. You can go out into the world, experience the world and still make it. You hustle your ass a little bit and the opportunities come. I mean, we start off for Anchorage, right? We get detoured to Shelby, Montana. But if we can make a bundle with the doc., why not?"
"Right, and when the next opportunity comes, we move on. I mean, look at these poor cats here. Ward was the best bronc buster in the whole state of Montana, and what did it get him? He's stuck on this God dammed ranch for the rest of his life, doing the same old thing. Same thing's gonna happen to Cal. He'll end up some rich cat's foreman. Hell, man, they're born in one place and they spend their whole life there."
"Yea, and even that wouldn't be so bad if they saw what was there. They don't see the magic of this wild northwest piece of God's earth. I mean, shit, Dick gets around a little, but what the hell does he see? For him one place is just like the next. You get so dead that you don't even make it in to town on Friday night. Take someone like your friend, Ollie. Why he went clean around the world when he was in the navy. What did he see? The inside of the most American-like bar in every country with his drinking buddies from the ship.…"
"What it is, man, is they're too taken up with their every day existence. Too into the clog combines, and the spilt grain. Take Doc. With all his money, does he ever stop for a second to look at the Sweetgrass Mountains? Study the sky?"
"Well, I don't think I'd put ole Doc in with the others. He sees a lot more than you might think. I mean, he might be out at the ranch every day, but that's exactly where he wants to be during harvest. He’s watching his grains flow into the silos. And every grain of wheat means that many more acres of land that he can purchase at a future date.…"
"Yea, but for what? I mean, he's working his life away buying and selling, increasing his investments, making more and more money.… For what? So his daughter can piss it away in Europe?"
"That may be so.… But, if you enjoy what you're doing. If you enjoy out foxing the real estate brokers, out witting the other money men, then it isn't a myopic routine existence. You know it's a game to him, a hard ball competition.…"
"I don't know, man, it jus' seems that there's got to be more to life than making money.… More than getting rich.…"
"You know, Daley, most people in this world are living miserable lives. Hating their jobs. Stuck in a never-ending dull routine day after day. Scratching out a bare existence. Take my old man, working day and night to make it to foreman. Every weekend working to jack up the value of his house.… But, if a man can make a little bread by his wits, take a little pleasure out of life, see the world a bit, I think he's gone a long way. Look at Doc. He built the town a new hospital, was the hospital's chief surgeon, served the city as mayor. Christ, Shelby would'a been one hell of a lot worse off without the doc.
"Yea, I guess you're right man. But, I don't know.… I don't know," I tell Vance, and get off my bunk to put on another pot of coffee.