The two boys creep through the Trask’s yard with bows and arrows, hunting wild rabbits. They kill one—Cal offers to let Aron tell everyone he shot the rabbit, though Cal’s arrow is clearly the one that hit it. There is something taunting in Cal’s voice—Aron can never understand why Cal acts this way.
Now we see that Cal possesses some of the manipulative, hypercompetitive tendencies that both Catherine and Charles have demonstrated over the course of the novel. Cal and Aron become the new figures for Cain and Abel.
Cal tells Aron he heard some men saying that their mother didn’t die—that she is still alive, and that she’d run away from them. Aron says these men must be liars—father has told them their mother is in heaven. Cal says he believes their mother is alive, and vows to one day bring her home. Aron is deeply upset by the thought of his father and Lee lying to him, but Cal shows no emotion.
Aron, like Adam, has trouble imagining that his loved ones are capable of evil. His mother could not have left him, his father and Lee could not have lied to him. Cal, on the other hand, already seems comfortable with the reality of human shortcomings—perhaps because he has already recognized these same shortcomings in himself.
A storm comes on suddenly, and the rain pours down on the boys. They run back to the house and notice a strange carriage in their drive—they have visitors. When they go in Adam explains to the boys that their visitors got lost in the storm and have taken cover with them. The family consists of a husband and wife and a young girl. Aron is struck by the girl and is almost too shy to introduce himself. Cal snickers at Aron’s awkwardness. The young girl’s name is Abra. The two boys and girl go out to play. As they leave they hear the visiting couple asking Adam if he is interested in moving closer to the city to get his sons a better education.
We see Aron begin to fall in love—he is rendered speechless by Abra. Cal’s laughter at his brother’s expense is deeply familiar—he seems to scorn this weakness in his brother just as Catherine scorned the same kind of weakness in his father. Aron is already portrayed as sweet and innocent, Cal as cruel and vindictive. But, as we will see, the picture is far more complicated than this.
The three children test their power over one another once they get outside. Abra clearly wants control, and gains it quickly, bossing the twins around. Cal can tell immediately that Abra likes Aron—he can see the beginnings of love forming in her eyes, for Aron is a strikingly beautiful boy. He decides to punish her for liking Aron better.
Cal, like Cain, wants to punish his brother for being better liked. Cain killed his brother because he didn’t feel loved by God—loneliness and rejection beget evil and violence in Cain, and the same is true of Cal.
Aron offers to give Abra the rabbit they shot as a gift—when he goes inside to wrap it up, Cal tells Abra that there will be something vicious in the box—that Aron is putting in something alive along with the dead rabbit. Aron finally brings the box out and hands it to Abra—she looks scared, and Cal accuses her of wetting her pants. She climbs in the carriage with her parents, and Aron sees her throw the box out by the side of the road without opening it. He had put something in there besides the rabbit—a note, asking her to marry him.
Cal plays a cruel joke on his brother and Abra. He exploits both of their weaknesses to scare and humiliate them. His cruelty is remarkable, but the readers should note how natural it is, too—there is nothing unusual or unfamiliar about jealousy between brothers, or about a young boy teasing a young girl. Steinbeck is making sense of Cal’s evil by pointing out that it is deeply human, and very natural.