Stanley walks back to his hole. The boys from D tent are farthest away from the Warden’s house today, so it is a long walk. He knows that, once again today, he will be digging long after the other boys are finished. He hopes he finishes before Mr. Sir recovers. After the scene in the Warden’s cabin, Stanley does not want to be alone out on the dry lake bed with Mr. Sir.
As he walks, Stanley thinks about his great-grandfather, the one who was robbed by Kissin’ Kate Barlow and left stranded in the desert. Stanley feels stranded, too, although he is more scared of Mr. Sir than he is of the desert weather.
According to Stanley’s family legend, his great-grandfather survived alone in the desert for seventeen days before some rattlesnake hunters found him. By that time, he was insane. He claimed he had “found refuge on God’s thumb.” Nobody ever knew what that meant, nor did he remember after he recovered in the hospital. He ended up marrying one of the nurses he met there.
Stanley is so absorbed in thinking about his great-grandfather’s story that he nearly steps on a rattlesnake. Its rattle warns him, and he runs away before it strikes.
When Stanley returns to the other boys, he tells them that he did not rat on them and that the Warden got mad at Mr. Sir for bothering her. He does not tell them what the Warden did to Mr. Sir. He turns to his hole and gets his first good surprise of the day: it is nearly finished. Nobody admits to doing the work, but Stanley sees that Zero—who is normally the fastest digger—has the smallest hole.
Stanley knows that Zero did most of his digging, but he doesn’t know why. The other boys suggest that Zero just likes to dig. Stanley finishes his hole first for once, then he heads back to camp to shower and change. When Zero arrives later, Stanley thanks him and asks why he helped with the hole. Zero points out that Stanley did not steal the sunflower seeds. He also says he knows Stanley did not do the crime that got him sent to camp.
Stanley is not as worn out as usual because Zero dug most of his hole. He offers to give Zero a reading lesson, and Zero grins. Stanley is not sure how to teach, so he starts with the alphabet. Zero does not know all of it, so Stanley recites it. He is surprised when Zero is able to say the whole thing back with no mistakes. Stanley explains that each letter has a capital and lower-case form, and Zero says automatically that there are fifty-two of them. Stanley wants to know how Zero knew that, but Zero cannot explain; he is just naturally good at math. He offers to work on Stanley’s hole for an hour every day in exchange for an hour’s reading lesson every afternoon. Stanley knows X-Ray will not like it if Stanley gets a break every day, but he decides to go ahead with Zero’s plan anyway.
That night, as he is falling asleep, Stanley realizes where he has previously seen a gold tube like the one he found in his hole. His mother had one in her make-up kit, and so did the Warden. It was a lipstick tube. Stanley puts this together with the initials K.B. and thinks of Kissin’ Kate Barlow, the woman who supposedly robbed his great grandfather. Is it possible the tube he found in the lake belonged to her?