Norris grew up in an affluent household in Chicago before moving to San Francisco at the age of fourteen. His father’s jewelry and real estate businesses provided for his education in the fine arts while his mother’s interest in romantic literature introduced him to authors such as Sir Walter Scott, whose novel of medieval chivalry, Ivanhoe, heavily influenced the young Norris. At the age of seventeen, Norris left his family for Paris to study painting, revel in the city’s delights, and pen romantic tales of medieval knights that he mailed to his younger brother. Returning home, Norris attended the University of California at Berkeley before transferring to Harvard to study creative writing. Although he never received a degree, Norris’s time at Harvard was crucial to his development as an author. While there, he followed the advice of his professors and developed a more realistic style while beginning the novels McTeague (1899), Blix (1900), and Vandover and the Brute (1914). He also came, in this period, to greatly admire the French novelist Émile Zola, whose emphasis on the power of nature and the environment over individual characters inspired the composition of McTeague in particular. Returning to San Francisco, Norris wrote over 150 articles as a journalist, traveling to remote nations such as South Africa and Cuba as a war reporter for McClure’s Magazine. He then moved to New York to work in publishing, where he is credited with discovering Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) for Doubleday & McClure Company. Before his untimely death from illness at the age of thirty-two, Norris published less than half a dozen novels, most notably the first two novels in his unfinished “Epic of Wheat” trilogy, The Octopus: A Story of California (1901) and (posthumously) The Pit (1903), both of which explore the brutality of the business world.
Like fellow naturalist Jack London, Norris was more interested in the raw, violent human animal than in the polite, civilized human being. In his most memorable stories, he sought to combine the scientific sensibilities of naturalism with the melodrama of romantic fiction. Norris produced a theory of naturalism in his critical essays, seeking to distinguish it from both American realism, which he condemned as too focused on the manners of middle-class society, and historical “cut and thrust” romances, which he saw as merely escapist entertainment. In the essay included here, “A Plea for Romantic Fiction,” Norris describes the Romance genre itself as a woman entering a house, imagining the intense, instructive dramas she would uncover if she were to abandon medieval swordplay and instead visit an average middle-class American home.
Norris puts his theory of naturalism into practice in his novel McTeague, crafting a titular protagonist a “poor crude dentist of Polk Street, stupid, ignorant, vulgar” with “enormous bones and corded muscles” who is more animal than man. The novel traces the upward trajectory of McTeague, from the grim poverty of life in the mining camp to the middle class life of a practicing dentist in San Francisco. However, McTeague, for all his apparent human striving, ultimately ends up where he started: in a mining camp, poor, uneducated, alone, and in trouble. He ends up a victim of instinctive, hereditary, and environmental influences and forces beyond his knowledge or his control.
3.3.1 “A Plea for Romantic Fiction”
Let us at the start make a distinction. Observe that one speaks of romanticism and not sentimentalism. One claims that the latter is as distinct from the former as is that other form of art which is called Realism. Romance has been often put upon and overburdened by being forced to bear the onus of abuse that by right should fall to sentiment; but the two should be kept very distinct, for a very high and illustrious place will be claimed for romance, while sentiment will be handed down the scullery stairs.
Many people to day are composing mere sentimentalism, and calling it and causing it to be called romance; so with those who are too busy to think much up on these subjects, but who none the less love honest literature, Romance, too, has fallen into disrepute. Consider now the cut-and-thrust stories. They are all labeled Romances, and it is very easy to get the impression that Romance must be an affair of cloaks and daggers, or moonlight and golden hair. But this is not so at all. The true Romance is a more serious business than this. It is not merely a conjurer’s trick-box, full of flimsy quackeries, tinsel and claptraps, meant only to amuse, and relying upon deception to do even that. Is it not something better than this? Can we not see in it an instrument, keen, finely tempered, flawless an instrument with which we may go straight through the clothes and tissues and wrappings of flesh down deep into the red, living heart of things?
Is all this too subtle, too merely speculative and intrinsic, too precieuse and nice and “literary”? Devoutly one hopes the contrary. So much is made of so called Romanticism in present-day fiction that the subject seems worthy of discussion, and a protest against the misuse of a really noble and honest formula of literature appeals to be timely misuse, that is, in the sense of limited use. Let us suppose for the moment that a romance can be made out of a cut-and-thrust business. Good Heavens, are there no other things that are romantic, even in this falsely, falsely called humdrum world of today? Why should it be that so soon as the novelist addresses himself seriously to the consideration of contemporary life he must abandon Romance and take up that harsh, loveless, colourless, blunt tool called Realism?
Now, let us understand at once what is meant by Romance and what by Realism. Romance, I take it, is the kind of fiction that takes cognizance of variations from the type of normal life. Realism is the kind of fiction that confines itself to the type of normal life. According to this definition, then, Romance may even treat of the sordid, the unlovely as for instance, the novels of M. Zola. (Zola has been dubbed a Realist, but he is, on the contrary, the very head of the Romanticists.) Also, Realism, used as it sometimes is as a term of reproach, need not be in the remotest sense or degree offensive, but on the other hand respectable as a church and proper as a deacon as, for instance, the novels of Mr. Howells.
The reason why one claims so much for Romance, and quarrels so pointedly with Realism, is that Realism stultifies itself. It notes only the surface of things. For it, Beauty is not even skin deep, but only a geometrical plane, without dimensions and depth, a mere outside. Realism is very excellent so far as it goes, but it goes no further than the Realist himself can actually see, or actually hear. Realism is minute! it is the drama of a broken teacup, the tragedy of a walk down the block, the excitement of an afternoon call, the adventure of an invitation to dinner. It is the visit to my neighbour’s house, a formal visit, from which I may draw no conclusions. I see my neighbour and his friends very, oh, such very! probable people and that is all. Realism bows upon the doormat and goes away and says to me, as we link arms on the sidewalk: “That is life.” And I say it is not. It is not, as you would very well see if you took Romance with you to call upon your neighbour.
Lately you have been taking Romance a weary journey across the water ages and the flood of years and haling her into the fusby, musty, worm-eaten, moth-riddled, rust-corroded “Grandes Salles” of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, and she has found the drama of a bygone age for you there. But would you take her across the street to your neighbour’s front parlour (with the bisque fisher-boy on the mantel and the photograph of Niagara Falls on glass hanging in the front window); would you introduce her there? Not you. Would you take a walk with her on Fifth Avenue, or Beacon Street, or Michigan Avenue? No, indeed. Would you choose her for a companion of a morning spent in Wall Street, or an afternoon in the Waldorf-Astoria? You just guess you would not.
She would be out of place, you say inappropriate. She might be awkward in my neighbour’s front parlour, and knock over the little bisque fisher boy. Well, she might. If she did, you might find underneath the base of the statuette, hidden away, tucked away what? God knows. But something that would be a complete revelation of my neighbour’s secretest life.
So you think Romance would stop in the front parlour and discuss medicated flannels and mineral waters with the ladies? Not for more than five minutes. She would be off upstairs with you, prying, peeping, peering into the closets of the bedroom, into the nursery, into the sitting-room; yes, and into that little iron box screwed to the lower shelf of the closet in the library; and into those compartments and pigeon-holes of the secretaire in the study. She would find a heartache (maybe) between the pillows of the mistress’s bed, and a memory carefully secreted in the master’s deed-box. She would come upon a great hope amid the books and papers of the study table of the young man’s room, and perhaps who knows an affair, or, great Heavens, an intrigue, in the scented ribbons and gloves and hairpins of the young lady’s bureau. And she would pick here a little and there a little, making up a bag of hopes and fears and a package of joys and sorrows great ones, mind you and then come down to the front door, and, stepping out into the street, hand you the bags and package and say to you “That is Life!” Romance does very well in the castles of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance chateaux, and she has the entree there and is very well received. That is all well and good. But let us protest against limiting her to such places and such times. You will find her, I grant you, in the chatelaine’s chamber and the dungeon of the man-at-arms; but, if you choose to look for her, you will find her equally at home in the brownstone house on the corner and in the office building downtown. And this very day, in this very hour, she is sitting among the rags and wretchedness, the dirt and despair of the tenements of the East Side of New York.
“What?” I hear you say, “look for Romance the lady of the silken robes and golden crown, our beautiful, chaste maiden of soft voice and gentle eyes look for her among the vicious ruffians, male and female, of Allen Street and Mulberry Bend?” I tell you she is there, and to your shame be it said you will not know her in those surroundings. You, the aristocrats, who demand the fine linen and the purple in your fiction; you, the sensitive, the delicate, who will associate with your Romance only so long as she wears a silken gown. You will not follow her to the slums, for you believe that Romance should only amuse and entertain you, singing you sweet songs and touching the harp of silver strings with rosy-tipped fingers. If haply she should call to you from the squalour of a dive, or the awful degradation of a disorderly house, crying: “Look! listen! This, too, is life. These, too, are my children! Look at them, know them and, knowing, help!” Should she call thus you would stop your ears! you would avert your eyes and you would answer, “Come from there, Romance. Your place is not there!” And you would make of her a harlequin, a tumbler, a sword-dancer, when, as a matter of fact, she should be by right divine a teacher sent from God.
She will not often wear the robe of silk, the gold crown, the jeweled shoon; will not always sweep the silver harp. An iron note is hers if so she choose, and coarse garments, and stained hands; and, meeting her thus, it is for you to know her as she passes know her for the same young queen of the blue mantle and lilies. She can teach you if you will be humble to learn teach you by showing. God help you if at last you take from Romance her mission of teaching; if you do not believe that she has a purpose a nobler purpose and a mightier than mere amusement, mere entertainment. Let Realism do the entertaining with its meticulous presentation of teacups, rag carpets, wallpaper and haircloth sofas, stopping with these, going no deeper than it sees, choosing the ordinary, the untroubled, the commonplace.
But to Romance belongs the wide world for range, and the unplumbed depths of the human heart, and the mystery of sex, and the problems of life, and the black, unsearched penetralia of the soul of man. You, the indolent, must not always be amused. What matter the silken clothes, what matter the prince’s houses? Romance, too, is a teacher, and if throwing aside the purple she wears the camel’ s-hair and feeds upon the locusts, it is to cry aloud unto the people, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight his path.”
3.3.2 Selections from McTeague
It was Sunday, and, according to his custom on that day, McTeague took his dinner at two in the afternoon at the car conductors’ coffee-joint on Polk Street. He had a thick gray soup; heavy, underdone meat, very hot, on a cold plate; two kinds of vegetables; and a sort of suet pudding, full of strong butter and sugar. On his way back to his office, one block above, he stopped at Joe Frenna’s saloon and bought a pitcher of steam beer. It was his habit to leave the pitcher there on his way to dinner.
Once in his office, or, as he called it on his signboard, “Dental Parlors,” he took off his coat and shoes, unbuttoned his vest, and, having crammed his little stove full of coke, lay back in his operating chair at the bay window, reading the paper, drinking his beer, and smoking his huge porcelain pipe while his food digested; crop full, stupid, and warm. By and by, gorged with steam beer, and overcome by the heat of the room, the cheap tobacco, and the effects of his heavy meal, he dropped off to sleep. Late in the afternoon his canary bird, in its gilt cage just over his head, began to sing. He woke slowly, finished the rest of his beer very flat and stale by this time and taking down his concertina from the bookcase, where in week days it kept the company of seven volumes of “Allen’s Practical Dentist,” played upon it some half-dozen very mournful airs.
McTeague looked forward to these Sunday afternoons as a period of relaxation and enjoyment. He invariably spent them in the same fashion. These were his only pleasures to eat, to smoke, to sleep, and to play upon his concertina.
The six lugubrious airs that he knew, always carried him back to the time when he was a carboy at the Big Dipper Mine in Placer County, ten years before. He remembered the years he had spent there trundling the heavy cars of ore in and out of the tunnel under the direction of his father. For thirteen days of each fortnight his father was a steady, hard-working shift-boss of the mine. Every other Sunday he became an irresponsible animal, a beast, a brute, crazy with alcohol.
McTeague remembered his mother, too, who, with the help of the Chinaman, cooked for forty miners. She was an overworked drudge, fiery and energetic for all that, filled with the one idea of having her son rise in life and enter a profession. The chance had come at last when the father died, corroded with alcohol, collapsing in a few hours. Two or three years later a travelling dentist visited the mine and put up his tent near the bunk-house. He was more or less of a charlatan, but he fired Mrs. McTeague’s ambition, and young McTeague went away with him to learn his profession. He had learnt it after a fashion, mostly by watching the charlatan operate. He had read many of the necessary books, but he was too hopelessly stupid to get much benefit from them.
Then one day at San Francisco had come the news of his mother’s death; she had left him some money not much, but enough to set him up in business; so he had cut loose from the charlatan and had opened his “Dental Parlors” on Polk Street, an “accommodation street” of small shops in the residence quarter of the town. Here he had slowly collected a clientele of butcher boys, shop girls, drug clerks, and car conductors. He made but few acquaintances. Polk Street called him the “Doctor” and spoke of his enormous strength. For McTeague was a young giant, carrying his huge shock of blond hair six feet three inches from the ground; moving his immense limbs, heavy with ropes of muscle, slowly, ponderously. His hands were enormous, red, and covered with a fell of stiff yellow hair; they were hard as wooden mallets, strong as vises, the hands of the old-time car-boy. Often he dispensed with forceps and extracted a refractory tooth with his thumb and finger. His head was square cut, angular; the jaw salient, like that of the carnivora.
McTeague’s mind was as his body, heavy, slow to act, sluggish. Yet there was nothing vicious about the man. Altogether he suggested the draught horse, immensely strong, stupid, docile, obedient.
When he opened his “Dental Parlors,” he felt that his life was a success, that he could hope for nothing better. In spite of the name, there was but one room. It was a corner room on the second floor over the branch post-office, and faced the street. McTeague made it do for a bedroom as well, sleeping on the big bed-lounge against the wall opposite the window. There was a washstand behind the screen in the corner where he manufactured his moulds. In the round bay window were his operating chair, his dental engine, and the movable rack on which he laid out his instruments. Three chairs, a bargain at the second hand store, ranged themselves against the wall with military precision underneath a steel engraving of the court of Lorenzo de’ Medici, which he had bought because there were a great many figures in it for the money. Over the bed-lounge hung a rifle manufacturer’s advertisement calendar which he never used. The other ornaments were a small marble-topped centre table covered with back numbers of “The American System of Dentistry,” a stone pug dog sitting before the little stove, and a thermometer. A stand of shelves occupied one corner, filled with the seven volumes of “Allen’s Practical Dentist.” On the top shelf McTeague kept his concertina and a bag of bird seed for the canary. The whole place exhaled a mingled odor of bedding, creosote, and ether.
But for one thing, McTeague would have been perfectly contented. Just outside his window was his signboard a modest affair that read: “Doctor McTeague. Dental Parlors. Gas Given”; but that was all. It was his ambition, his dream, to have projecting from that corner window a huge gilded tooth, a molar with enormous prongs, something gorgeous and attractive. He would have it some day, on that he was resolved; but as yet such a thing was far beyond his means.
When he had finished the last of his beer, McTeague slowly wiped his lips and huge yellow mustache with the side of his hand. Bull-like, he heaved himself laboriously up, and, going to the window, stood looking down into the street.
The street never failed to interest him. It was one of those cross streets peculiar to Western cities, situated in the heart of the residence quarter, but occupied by small tradespeople who lived in the rooms above their shops. There were corner drug stores with huge jars of red, yellow, and green liquids in their windows, very brave and gay; stationers’ stores, where illustrated weeklies were tacked upon bulletin boards; barber shops with cigar stands in their vestibules; sad-looking plumbers’ offices; cheap restaurants, in whose windows one saw piles of unopenedoysters weighted down by cubes of ice, and china pigs and cows knee deep in layers of white beans. At one end of the street McTeague could see the huge power-house of the cable line. Immediately opposite him was a great market; while farther on, over the chimney stacks of the intervening houses, the glass roof of some huge public baths glittered like crystal in the afternoon sun. Underneath him the branch post-office was opening its doors, as was its custom between two and three o’clock on Sunday afternoons. An acrid odor of ink rose upward to him. Occasionally a cable car passed, trundling heavily, with a strident whirring of jostled glass windows.
On week days the street was very lively. It woke to its work about seven o’clock, at the time when the newsboys made their appearance together with the day laborers. The laborers went trudging past in a straggling file plumbers’ apprentices, their pockets stuffed with sections of lead pipe, tweezers, and pliers; carpenters, carrying nothing but their little pasteboard lunch baskets painted to imitate leather; gangs of street workers, their overalls soiled with yellow clay, their picks and long-handled shovels over their shoulders; plasterers, spotted with lime from head to foot. This little army of workers, tramping steadily in one direction, met and mingled with other toilers of a different description conductors and “swing men” of the cable company going on duty; heavy-eyed night clerks from the drug stores on their way home to sleep; roundsmen returning to the precinct police station to make their night report, and Chinese market gardeners teetering past under their heavy baskets. The cable cars began to fill up; all along the street could be seen the shopkeepers taking down their shutters.
Between seven and eight the street breakfasted. Now and then a waiter from one of the cheap restaurants crossed from one sidewalk to the other, balancing on one palm a tray covered with a napkin. Everywhere was the smell of coffee and of frying steaks. A little later, following in the path of the day laborers, came the clerks and shop girls, dressed with a certain cheap smartness, always in a hurry, glancing apprehensively at the power-house clock. Their employers followed an hour or so later on the cable cars for the most part whiskered gentlemen with huge stomachs, reading the morning papers with great gravity; bank cashiers and insurance clerks with flowers in their buttonholes.
At the same time the school children invaded the street, filling the air with a clamor of shrill voices, stopping at the stationers’ shops, or idling a moment in the doorways of the candy stores. For over half an hour they held possession of the sidewalks, then suddenly disappeared, leaving behind one or two stragglers who hurried along with great strides of their little thin legs, very anxious and preoccupied.
Towards eleven o’clock the ladies from the great avenue a block above Polk Street made their appearance, promenading the sidewalks leisurely, deliberately. They were at their morning’s marketing. They were handsome women, beautifully dressed. They knew by name their butchers and grocers and vegetable men. From his window McTeague saw them in front of the stalls, gloved and veiled and daintily shod, the subservient provision men at their elbows, scribbling hastily in the order books. They all seemed to know one another, these grand ladies from the fashionable avenue. Meetings took place here and there; a conversation was begun; others arrived; groups were formed; little impromptu receptions were held before the chopping blocks of butchers’ stalls, or on the sidewalk, around boxes of berries and fruit.
From noon to evening the population of the street was of a mixed character. The street was busiest at that time; a vast and prolonged murmur arose the mingled shuffling of feet, the rattle of wheels, the heavy trundling of cable cars. At four o’clock the school children once more swarmed the sidewalks, again disappearing with surprising suddenness. At six the great homeward march commenced; the cars were crowded, the laborers thronged the sidewalks, the newsboys chanted the evening papers. Then all at once the street fell quiet; hardly a soul was in sight; the sidewalks were deserted. It was supper hour. Evening began; and one by one a multitude of lights, from the demoniac glare of the druggists’ windows to the dazzling blue whiteness of the electric globes, grew thick from street corner to street corner. Once more the street was crowded. Now there was no thought but for amusement. The cable cars were loaded with theatre goers men in high hats and young girls in furred opera cloaks. On the sidewalks were groups and couples the plumbers’ apprentices, the girls of the ribbon counters, the little families that lived on the second stories over their shops, the dressmakers, the small doctors, the harness makers all the various inhabitants of the street were abroad, strolling idly from shop window to shop window, taking the air after the day’s work. Groups of girls collected on the corners, talking and laughing very loud, making remarks upon the young men that passed them. The tamale men appeared. A band of Salvationists began to sing before a saloon.
Then, little by little, Polk Street dropped back to solitude. Eleven o’clock struck from the power-house clock. Lights were extinguished. At one o’clock the cable stopped, leaving an abrupt silence in the air. All at once it seemed very still. The ugly noises were the occasional footfalls of a policeman and the persistent calling of ducks and geese in the closed market. The street was asleep.
Day after day, McTeague saw the same panorama unroll itself. The bay window of his “Dental Parlors” was for him a point of vantage from which he watched the world go past.
On Sundays, however, all was changed. As he stood in the bay window, after finishing his beer, wiping his lips, and looking out into the street, McTeague was conscious of the difference. Nearly all the stores were closed. No wagons passed. A few people hurried up and down the sidewalks, dressed in cheap Sunday finery. A cable car went by; on the outside seats were a party of returning picnickers. The mother, the father, a young man, and a young girl, and three children. The two older people held empty lunch baskets in their laps, while the bands of the children’s hats were stuckfull of oak leaves. The girl carried a huge bunch of wilting poppies and wild flowers.
As the car approached McTeague’s window the young man got up and swung himself off the platform, waving goodbye to the party. Suddenly McTeague recognized him.
“There’s Marcus Schouler,” he muttered behind his mustache.
Marcus Schouler was the dentist’s one intimate friend. The acquaintance had begun at the car conductors’ coffee-joint, where the two occupied the same table and met at every meal. Then they made the discovery that they both lived in the same flat, Marcus occupying a room on the floor above McTeague. On different occasions McTeague had treated Marcus for an ulcerated tooth and had refused to accept payment. Soon it came to be an understood thing between them. They were “pals.”
McTeague, listening, heard Marcus go up-stairs to his room above. In a few minutes his door opened again. McTeague knew that he had come out into the hall and was leaning over the banisters.
“Oh, Mac!” he called. McTeague came to his door.
“Hullo! ‘sthat you, Mark?” “Sure,” answered Marcus. “Come on up.” “You come on down.”
“No, come on up.”
“Oh, you come on down.”
“Oh, you lazy duck!” retorted Marcus, coming down the stairs.
“Been out to the Cliff House on a picnic,” he explained as he sat down on the bed-lounge, “with my uncle and his people the Sieppes, you know. By damn! it was hot,” he suddenly vociferated. “Just look at that! Just look at that!” he cried, dragging at his limp collar. “That’s the third one since morning; it is it is, for a fact and you got your stove going.” He began to tell about the picnic, talking very loud and fast, gesturing furiously, very excited over trivial details. Marcus could not talk without getting excited.
“You ought t’have seen, y’ought t’have seen. I tell you, it was outa sight. It was; it was, for a fact.”
“Yes, yes,” answered McTeague, bewildered, trying to follow. “Yes, that’s so.”
In recounting a certain dispute with an awkward bicyclist, in which it appeared he had become involved, Marcus quivered with rage. “’Say that again,’ says I to um. ‘Just say that once more, and’” here a rolling explosion of oaths “’you’ll go back to the city in the Morgue wagon. Ain’t I got a right to cross a street even, I’d like to know, without being run down what?’ I say it’s outrageous. I’d a knifed him in another minute. It was an outrage. I say it was an outrage.”
“Sure it was,” McTeague hastened to reply. “Sure, sure.”
“Oh, and we had an accident,” shouted the other, suddenly off on another tack. “It was awful. Trina was in the swing there that’s my cousin Trina, you know who I mean and she fell out. By damn! I thought she’d killed herself; struck her face on a rock and knocked out a front tooth. It’s a wonder she didn’t kill herself. It IS a wonder; it is, for a fact. Ain’t it, now? Huh? Ain’t it? Y’ought t’have seen.”
McTeague had a vague idea that Marcus Schouler was stuck on his cousin Trina. They “kept company” a good deal; Marcus took dinner with the Sieppes every Saturday evening at their home at B Street station, across the bay, and Sunday afternoons he and the family usually made little excursions into the suburbs. McTeague began to wonder dimly how it was that on this occasion Marcus had not gone home with his cousin. As sometimes happens, Marcus furnished the explanation upon the instant.
“I promised a duck up here on the avenue I’d call for his dog at four this afternoon.”
Marcus was Old Grannis’s assistant in a little dog hospital that the latter had opened in a sort of alley just off Polk Street, some four blocks above Old Grannis lived in one of the back rooms of McTeague’s flat. He was an Englishman and an expert dog surgeon, but Marcus Schouler was a bungler in the profession. His father had been a veterinary surgeon who had kept a livery stable near by, on California Street, and Marcus’s knowledge of the diseases of domestic animals had been picked up in a haphazard way, much after the manner of McTeague’s education. Somehow he managed to impress Old Grannis, a gentle, simple-minded old man, with a sense of his fitness, bewildering him with a torrent of empty phrases that he delivered with fierce gestures and with a manner of the greatest conviction.
“You’d better come along with me, Mac,” observed Marcus. “We’ll get the duck’s dog, and then we’ll take a little walk, huh? You got nothun to do. Come along.”
McTeague went out with him, and the two friends proceeded up to the avenue to the house where the dog was to be found. It was a huge mansion-like place, set in an enormous garden that occupied a whole third of the block; and while Marcus tramped up the front steps and rang the doorbell boldly, to show his independence, McTeague remained below on the sidewalk, gazing stupidly at the curtained windows, the marble steps, and the bronze griffins, troubled and a little confused by all this massive luxury.
After they had taken the dog to the hospital and had left him to whimper behind the wire netting, they returned to Polk Street and had a glass of beer in the back room of Joe Frenna’s corner grocery.
Ever since they had left the huge mansion on the avenue, Marcus had been attacking the capitalists, a class which he pretended to execrate. It was a pose which he often assumed, certain of impressing the dentist. Marcus had picked up a few half-truths of political economy it was impossible to say where and as soon as the two had settled themselves to their beer in Frenna’s back room he took up the theme of the labor question. He discussed it at the top of his voice, vociferating, shaking his fists, exciting himself with his own noise. He was continually making use of the stock phrases of the professional politician phrases he had caught at some of the ward “rallies” and “ratification meetings.” These rolled off his tongue with incredible emphasis, appearing at every turn of his conversation ”Outraged constituencies,” “cause of labor,” “wage earners,” “opinions biased by personal interests,” “eyes blinded by party prejudice.” McTeague listened to him, awestruck.
“There’s where the evil lies,” Marcus would cry.
“The masses must learn self-control; it stands to reason. Look at the figures, look at the figures. Decrease the number of wage earners and you increase wages, don’t you? don’t you?”
Absolutely stupid, and understanding never a word, McTeague would answer: “Yes, yes, that’s it self-control that’s the word.”
“It’s the capitalists that’s ruining the cause of labor,” shouted Marcus, banging the table with his fist till the beer glasses danced; “white-livered drones, traitors, with their livers white as snow, eatun the bread of widows and orphuns; there’s where the evil lies.”
Stupefied with his clamor, McTeague answered, wagging his head:
“Yes, that’s it; I think it’s their livers.”
Suddenly Marcus fell calm again, forgetting his pose all in an instant.
“Say, Mac, I told my cousin Trina to come round and see you about that tooth of her’s. She’ll be in to-morrow, I guess.”
After his breakfast the following Monday morning, McTeague looked over the appointments he had written down in the book-slate that hung against the screen.
His writing was immense, very clumsy, and very round, with huge, fullbellied l’s and h’s. He saw that he had made an appointment at one o’clock for Miss Baker, the retired dressmaker, a little old maid who had a tiny room a few doors down the hall. It adjoined that of Old Grannis.
Quite an affair had arisen from this circumstance. Miss Baker and Old Grannis were both over sixty, and yet it was current talk amongst the lodgers of the flat that the two were in love with each other . Singularly enough, they were not even acquaintances; never a word had passed between them. At intervals they met on the stairway; he on his way to his little dog hospital, she returning from a bit of marketing in the street. At such times they passed each other with averted eyes, pretending a certain preoccupation, suddenly seized with a great embarrassment, the timidity of a second childhood. He went on about his business, disturbed and thoughtful. She hurried up to her tiny room, her curious little false curls shaking with her agitation, the faintest suggestion of a flush coming and going in her withered cheeks. The emotion of one of these chance meetings remained with them during all the rest of the day.
Was it the first romance in the lives of each? Did Old Grannis ever remember a certain face amongst those that he had known when he was young Grannis the face of some palehaired girl, such as one sees in the old cathedral towns of England? Did Miss Baker still treasure up in a seldom opened drawer or box some faded daguerreotype, some strange old-fashioned likeness, with its curling hair and high stock? It was impossible to say.
Maria Macapa, the Mexican woman who took care of the lodgers’ rooms, had been the first to call the flat’s attention to the affair, spreading the news of it from room to room, from floor to floor. Of late she had made a great discovery; all the women folk of the flat were yet vibrant with it. Old Grannis came home from his work at four o’clock, and between that time and six Miss Baker would sit in her room, her hands idle in her lap, doing nothing, listening, waiting. Old Grannis did the same, drawing his arm-chair near to the wall, knowing that Miss Baker was upon the other side, conscious, perhaps, that she was thinking of him; and there the two would sit through the hours of the afternoon, listening and waiting, they did not know exactly for what, but near to each other, separated only by the thin partition of their rooms. They had come to know each other’s habits. Old Grannis knew that at quarter of five precisely Miss Baker made a cup of tea over the oil stove on the stand between the bureau and the window. Miss Baker felt instinctively the exact moment when Old Grannis took down his little binding apparatus from the second shelf of his clothes closet and began his favorite occupation of binding pamphlets pamphlets that he never read, for all that.
In his “Parlors” McTeague began his week’s work. He glanced in the glass saucer in which he kept his sponge-gold, and noticing that he had used up all his pellets, set about making some more. In examining Miss Baker’s teeth at the preliminary sitting he had found a cavity in one of the incisors. Miss Baker had decided to have it filled with gold. McTeague remembered now that it was what is called a “proximate case,” where there is not sufficient room to fill with large pieces of gold. He told himself that he should have to use “mats” in the filling. He made some dozen of these “mats” from his tape of non-cohesive gold, cutting it transversely into small pieces that could be inserted edgewise between the teeth and consolidated by packing. After he had made his “mats” he continued with the other kind of gold fillings, such as he would have occasion to use during the week; “blocks” to be used in large proximal cavities, made by folding the tape on itself a number of times and then shaping it with the soldering pliers; “cylinders” for commencing fillings, which he formed by rolling the tape around a needle called a “broach,” cutting it afterwards into different lengths. He worked slowly, mechanically, turning the foil between his fingers with the manual dexterity that one sometimes sees in stupid persons. His head was quite empty of all thought, and he did not whistle over his work as another man might have done. The canary made up for his silence, trilling and chittering continually, splashing about in its morning bath, keeping up an incessant noise and movement that would have been maddening to any one but McTeague, who seemed to have no nerves at all.
After he had finished his fillings, he made a hook broach from a bit of piano wire to replace an old one that he had lost. It was time for his dinner then, and when he returned from the car conductors’ coffee-joint, he found Miss Baker waiting for him.
The ancient little dressmaker was at all times willing to talk of Old Grannis to anybody that would listen, quite unconscious of the gossip of the flat. McTeague found her all a flutter with excitement. Something extraordinary had happened. She had found out that the wall-paper in Old Grannis’s room was the same as that in hers.
“It has led me to thinking, Doctor McTeague,” she exclaimed, shaking her little false curls at him. “You know my room is so small, anyhow, and the wall-paper being the same the pattern from my room continues right into his I declare, I believe at one time that was all one room. Think of it, do you suppose it was? It almost amounts to our occupying the same room. I don’t know why, really do you think I should speak to the landlady about it? He bound pamphlets last night until half-past nine. They say that he’s the younger son of a baronet; that there are reasons for his not coming to the title; his stepfather wronged him cruelly.”
No one had ever said such a thing. It was preposterous to imagine any mystery connected with Old Grannis. Miss Baker had chosen to invent the little fiction, had created the title and the unjust stepfather from some dim memories of the novels of her girlhood.
She took her place in the operating chair. McTeague began the filling. There was a long silence. It was impossible for McTeague to work and talk at the same time.
He was just burnishing the last “mat” in Miss Baker’s tooth, when the door of the “Parlors” opened, jangling the bell which he had hung over it, and which was absolutely unnecessary. McTeague turned, one foot on the pedal of his dental engine, the corundum disk whirling between his fingers.
It was Marcus Schouler who came in, ushering a young girl of about twenty.
“Hello, Mac,” exclaimed Marcus; “busy? Brought my cousin round about that broken tooth.”
McTeague nodded his head gravely.
“In a minute,” he answered.
Marcus and his cousin Trina sat down in the rigid chairs underneath the steel engraving of the Court of Lorenzo de’ Medici. They began talking in low tones. The girl looked about the room, noticing the stone pug dog, the rifle manufacturer’s calendar, the canary in its little gilt prison, and the tumbled blankets on the unmade bed-lounge against the wall. Marcus began telling her about McTeague. “We’re pals,” he explained, just above a whisper. “Ah, Mac’s all right, you bet. Say, Trina, he’s the strongest duck you ever saw. What do you suppose? He can pull out your teeth with his fingers; yes, he can. What do you think of that? With his fingers,mind you; he can, for a fact. Get on to the size of him, anyhow. Ah, Mac’s all right!”
Maria Macapa had come into the room while he had been speaking. She was making up McTeague’s bed. Suddenly Marcus exclaimed under his breath: “Now we’ll have some fun. It’s the girl that takes care of the rooms. She’s a greaser, and she’s queer in the head. She ain’t regularly crazy, but I don’t know, she’s queer. Y’ought to hear her go on about a gold dinner service she says her folks used to own. Ask her what her name is and see what she’ll say.” Trina shrank back, a little frightened.
“No, you ask,” she whispered.
“Ah, go on; what you ‘fraid of?” urged Marcus.
Trina shook her head energetically, shutting her lips together.
“Well, listen here,” answered Marcus, nudging her; then raising his voice, he said:
“How do, Maria?” Maria nodded to him over her shoulder as she bent over the lounge.
“Workun hard nowadays, Maria?”
“Didunt always have to work for your living, though, did you, when you ate offa gold dishes?” Maria didn’t answer, except by putting her chin in the air and shutting her eyes, as though to say she knew a long story about that if she had a mind to talk. All Marcus’s efforts to draw her out on the subject were unavailing. She only responded by movements of her head.
“Can’t always start her going,” Marcus told his cousin.
“What does she do, though, when you ask her about her name?”
“Oh, sure,” said Marcus, who had forgotten. “Say, Maria, what’s your name?” “Huh?” asked Maria, straightening up, her hands on he hips.
“Tell us your name,” repeated Marcus.
“Name is Maria Miranda Macapa.” Then, after a pause, she added, as though she had but that moment thought of it, “Had a flying squirrel an’ let him go.” Invariably Maria Macapa made this answer. It was not always she would talk about the famous service of gold plate, but a question as to her name never failed to elicit the same strange answer, delivered in a rapid undertone: “Name is Maria Miranda Macapa.” Then, as if struck with an after thought, “Had a flying squirrel an’ let him go.”
Why Maria should associate the release of the mythical squirrel with her name could not be said. About Maria the flat knew absolutely nothing further than that she was Spanish-American. Miss Baker was the oldest lodger in the flat, and Maria was a fixture there as maid of all work when she had come. There was a legend to the effect that Maria’s people had been at one time immensely wealthy in Central America.
Maria turned again to her work. Trina and Marcus watched her curiously. There was a silence. The corundum burr in McTeague’s engine hummed in a prolonged monotone. The canary bird chittered occasionally. The room was warm,and the breathing of the five people in the narrow space made the air close and thick. At long intervals an acrid odor of ink floated up from the branch post-office immediately below.
Maria Macapa finished her work and started to leave. As she passed near Marcus and his cousin she stopped, and drew a bunch of blue tickets furtively from her pocket. “Buy a ticket in the lottery?” she inquired, looking at the girl. “Just a dollar.”
“Go along with you, Maria,” said Marcus, who had but thirty cents in his pocket. “Go along; it’s against the law.”
“Buy a ticket,” urged Maria, thrusting the bundle toward Trina. “Try your luck. The butcher on the next block won twenty dollars the last drawing.”
Very uneasy, Trina bought a ticket for the sake of being rid of her. Maria disappeared.
“Ain’t she a queer bird?” muttered Marcus. He was much embarrassed and disturbed because he had not bought the ticket for Trina.
But there was a sudden movement. McTeague had just finished with Miss Baker.
“You should notice,” the dressmaker said to the dentist, in a low voice, “he always leaves the door a little ajar in the afternoon.” When she had gone out, Marcus Schouler brought Trina forward.
“Say, Mac, this is my cousin, Trina Sieppe.” The two shook hands dumbly, McTeague slowly nodding his huge head with its great shock of yellow hair. Trina was very small and prettily made. Her face was round and rather pale; her eyes long and narrow and blue, like the half-open eyes of a little baby; her lips and the lobes of her tiny ears were pale, a little suggestive of anaemia; while across the bridge of her nose ran an adorable little line of freckles. But it was to her hair that one’s attention was most attracted. Heaps and heaps of blue-black coils and braids, a royal crown of swarthy bands, a veritable sable tiara, heavy, abundant, odorous. All the vitality that should have given color to her face seemed to have been absorbed by this marvellous hair. It was the coiffure of a queen that shadowed the pale temples of this little bourgeoise. So heavy was it that it tipped her head backward, and the position thrust her chin outa little. It was a charming poise, innocent, confiding, almost infantile.
She was dressed all in black, very modest and plain. The effect of her pale face in all this contrasting black was almost monastic.
“Well,” exclaimed Marcus suddenly, “I got to go. Must get back to work. Don’t hurt her too much, Mac. S’long, Trina.”
McTeague and Trina were left alone. He was embarrassed, troubled. These young girls disturbed and perplexed him. He did not like them, obstinately cherishing that intuitive suspicion of all things feminine the perverse dislike of an overgrown boy. On the other hand, she was perfectly at her ease; doubtless the woman in her was not yet awakened; she was yet, as one might say, without sex. She was almost like a boy, frank, candid, unreserved.
She took her place in the operating chair and told him what was the matter, looking squarely into his face. She had fallen out of a swing the afternoon of the preceding day; one of her teeth had been knocked loose and the other altogether broken out.
McTeague listened to her with apparent stolidity, nodding his head from time to time as she spoke. The keenness of his dislike of her as a woman began to be blunted. He thought she was rather pretty, that he even liked her because she was so small, so prettily made, so good natured and straightforward.
“Let’s have a look at your teeth,” he said, picking up his mirror. “You better take your hat off.” She leaned back in her chair and opened her mouth, showing the rows of little round teeth, as white and even as the kernels on an ear of green corn, except where an ugly gap came at the side.
McTeague put the mirror into her mouth, touching one and another of her teeth with the handle of an excavator. By and by he straightened up, wiping the moisture from the mirror on his coat-sleeve.
“Well, Doctor,” said the girl, anxiously, “it’s a dreadful disfigurement, isn’t it?” adding, “What can you do about it?” “Well,” answered McTeague, slowly, looking vaguely about on the floor of the room, “the roots of the broken tooth are still in the gum; they’ll have to come out, and I guess I’ll have to pull that other bicuspid. Let me look again. Yes,” he went on in a moment, peering into her mouth with the mirror, “I guess that’ll have to come out, too.” The tooth was loose, discolored, and evidently dead. “It’s a curious case,” McTeague went on. “I don’t know as I ever had a tooth like that before. It’s what’s called necrosis. It don’t often happen. It’ll have to come out sure.”
Then a discussion was opened on the subject, Trina sitting up in the chair, holding her hat in her lap; McTeague leaning against the window frame his hands in his pockets, his eyes wandering about on the floor. Trina did not want the other tooth removed; one hole like that was bad enough; but two ah, no, it was not to be thought of.
But McTeague reasoned with her, tried in vain to make her understand that there was no vascular connection between the root and the gum. Trina was blindly persistent, with the persistency of a girl who has made up her mind.
McTeague began to like her better and better, and after a while commenced himself to feel that it would be a pity to disfigure such a pretty mouth. He became interested; perhaps he could do something, something in the way of a crown or bridge. “Let’s look at that again,” he said, picking up his mirror. He began to study the situation very carefully, really desiring to remedy the blemish.
It was the first bicuspid that was missing, and though part of the root of the second (the loose one) would remain after its extraction, he was sure it would not be strong enough to sustain a crown. All at once he grew obstinate, resolving, with all the strength of a crude and primitive man, to conquer the difficulty in spite of everything. He turned over in his mind the technicalities of the case. No, evidently the root was not strong enough to sustain a crown; besides that, it was placed a little irregularly in the arch. But, fortunately, there were cavities in the two teeth on either side of the gap one in the first molar and one in the palatine surface of the cuspid; might he not drill a socket in the remaining root and sockets in the molar and cuspid, and, partly by bridging, partly by crowning, fill in the gap? He made up his mind to do it.
Why he should pledge himself to this hazardous case McTeague was puzzled to know. With most of his clients he would have contented himself with the extraction of the loose tooth and the roots of the broken one. Why should he risk his reputation in this case? He could not say why.
It was the most difficult operation he had ever performed. He bungled it considerably, but in the end he succeeded passably well. He extracted the loose tooth with his bayonet forceps and prepared the roots of the broken one as if for filling, fitting into them a flattened piece of platinum wire to serve as a dowel. But this was only the beginning; altogether it was a fortnight’s work. Trina came nearly every other day, and passed two, and even three, hours in the chair.
By degrees McTeague’s first awkwardness and suspicion vanished entirely. The two became good friends. McTeague even arrived at that point where he could work and talk to her at the same time a thing that had never before been possible for him.
Never until then had McTeague become so well acquainted with a girl of Trina’s age. The younger women of Polk Street the shop girls, the young women of the soda fountains, the waitresses in the cheap restaurants preferred another dentist, a young fellow just graduated from the college, a poser, a rider of bicycles, a man about town, who wore astonishing waistcoats and bet money on greyhound coursing. Trina was McTeague’s first experience. With her the feminine element suddenly entered his little world. It was not only her that he saw and felt, it was the woman, the whole sex, an entire new humanity, strange and alluring, that he seemed to have discovered. How had he ignored it so long? It was dazzling, delicious, charming beyond all words. His narrow point of view was at once enlarged and confused, and all at once he saw that there was something else in life besides concertinas and steam beer. Everything had to be made over again. His whole rude idea of life had to be changed. The male virile desire in him tardily awakened, aroused itself, strong and brutal. It was resistless, untrained, a thing not to be held in leash an instant.
Little by little, by gradual, almost imperceptible degrees, the thought of Trina Sieppe occupied his mind from day to day, from hour to hour. He found himself thinking of her constantly; at every instant he saw her round, pale face; her narrow, milk-blue eyes; her little out-thrust chin; her heavy, huge tiara of black hair.
At night he lay awake for hours under the thick blankets of the bed-lounge, staring upward into the darkness, tormented with the idea of her, exasperated at the delicate, subtle mesh in which he found himself entangled. During the forenoons, while he went about his work, he thought of her. As he made his plasterof-paris moulds at the washstand in the corner behind the screen he turned over in his mind all that had happened, all that had been said at the previous sitting. Her little tooth that he had extracted he kept wrapped in a bit of newspaper in his vest pocket. Often he took it out and held it in the palm of his immense, horny hand, seized with some strange elephantine sentiment, wagging his head at it, heaving tremendous sighs. What a folly!
At two o’clock on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays Trina arrived and took her place in the operating chair. While at his work McTeague was every minute obliged to bend closely over her; his hands touched her face, her cheeks, her adorable little chin; her lips pressed against his fingers. She breathed warmly on his forehead and on his eyelids, while the odor of her hair, a charming feminine perfume, sweet, heavy, enervating, came to his nostrils, so penetrating, so delicious, that his flesh pricked and tingled with it; a veritable sensation of faintness passed over this huge, callous fellow, with his enormous bones and corded muscles. He drew a short breath through his nose; his jaws suddenly gripped together vise-like.
But this was only at times a strange, vexing spasm, that subsided almost immediately. For the most part, McTeague enjoyed the pleasure of these sittings with Trina with a certain strong calmness, blindly happy that she was there. This poor crude dentist of Polk Street, stupid, ignorant, vulgar, with his sham education and plebeian tastes, whose only relaxations were to eat, to drink steam beer, and to play upon his concertina, was living through his first romance, his first idyl. It was delightful. The long hours he passed alone with Trina in the “Dental Parlors,” silent, only for the scraping of the instruments and the pouring of bud-burrs in the engine, in the foul atmosphere, overheated by the little stove and heavy with the smell of ether, creosote, and stale bedding, had all the charm of secret appointments and stolen meetings under the moon.
By degrees the operation progressed. One day, just after McTeague had put in the temporary gutta-percha fillings and nothing more could be done at that sitting, Trina asked him to examine the rest of her teeth. They were perfect, with one exception a spot of white caries on the lateral surface of an incisor. McTeague filled it with gold, enlarging the cavity with hard-bits and hoe-excavators, and burring in afterward with half-cone burrs. The cavity was deep, and Trina began to wince and moan. To hurt Trina was a positive anguish for McTeague, yet an anguish which he was obliged to endure at every hour of the sitting. It was harrowing he sweated under it to be forced to torture her, of all women in the world; could anything be worse than that?
“Hurt?” he inquired, anxiously.
She answered by frowning, with a sharp intake of breath, putting her fingers over her closed lips and nodding her head. McTeague sprayed the tooth with glycerite of tannin, but without effect. Rather than hurt her he found himself forced to the use of anaesthesia, which he hated. He had a notion that the nitrous oxide gas was dangerous, so on this occasion, as on all others, used ether.
He put the sponge a half dozen times to Trina’s face, more nervous than he had ever been before, watching the symptoms closely. Her breathing became short and irregular; there was a slight twitching of the muscles. When her thumbs turned inward toward the palms, he took the sponge away. She passed off very quickly, and, with a long sigh, sank back into the chair.
McTeague straightened up, putting the sponge upon the rack behind him, his eyes fixed upon Trina’s face. For some time he stood watching her as she lay there, unconscious and helpless, and very pretty. He was alone with her, and she was absolutely without defense.
Suddenly the animal in the man stirred and woke; the evil instincts that in him were so close to the surface leaped to life, shouting and clamoring.
It was a crisis a crisis that had arisen all in an instant; a crisis for which he was totally unprepared. Blindly, and without knowing why, McTeague fought against it, moved by an unreasoned instinct of resistance. Within him, a certain second self, another better McTeague rose with the brute; both were strong, with the huge crude strength of the man himself. The two were at grapples. There in that cheap and shabby “Dental Parlor” a dreaded struggle began. It was the old battle, old as the world, wide as the world the sudden panther leap of the animal, lips drawn, fangs aflash, hideous, monstrous, not to be resisted, and the simultaneous arousing of the other man, the better self that cries, “Down, down,” without knowing why; that grips the monster; that fights to strangle it, to thrust it down and back.
Dizzied and bewildered with the shock, the like of which he had never known before, McTeague turned from Trina, gazing bewilderedly about the room. The struggle was bitter; his teeth ground themselves together with a little raspingsound; the blood sang in his ears; his face flushed scarlet; his hands twisted themselves together like the knotting of cables. The fury in him was as the fury of a young bull in the heat of high summer. But for all that he shook his huge head from time to time, muttering: “No, by God! No, by God!”
Dimly he seemed to realize that should he yield now he would never be able to care for Trina again. She would never be the same to him, never so radiant, so sweet, so adorable; her charm for him would vanish in an instant. Across her forehead, her little pale forehead, under the shadow of her royal hair, he would surely see the smudge of a foul ordure, the footprint of the monster. It would be a sacrilege, an abomination. He recoiled from it, banding all his strength to the issue.
“No, by God! No, by God!”
He turned to his work, as if seeking a refuge in it. But as he drew near to her again, the charm of her innocence and helplessness came over him afresh. It was a final protest against his resolution. Suddenly he leaned over and kissed her, grossly, full on the mouth. The thing was done before he knew it. Terrified at his weakness at the very moment he believed himself strong, he threw himself once more into his work with desperate energy. By the time he was fastening the sheet of rubber upon the tooth, he had himself once more in hand. He was disturbed, still trembling, still vibrating with the throes of the crisis, but he was the master; the animal was downed, was cowed for this time, at least.
But for all that, the brute was there. Long dormant, it was now at last alive, awake. From now on he would feel its presence continually; would feel it tugging at its chain, watching its opportunity. Ah, the pity of it! Why could he not always love her purely, cleanly? What was this perverse, vicious thing that lived within him, knitted to his flesh?
Below the fine fabric of all that was good in him ran the foul stream of hereditary evil, like a sewer. The vices and sins of his father and of his father’s father, to the third and fourth and five hundredth generation, tainted him. The evil of an entire race flowed in his veins. Why should it be? He did not desire it. Was he to blame?
But McTeague could not understand this thing. It had faced him, as sooner or later it faces every child of man; but its significance was not for him. To reason with it was beyond him. He could only oppose to it an instinctive stubborn resistance, blind, inert.
McTeague went on with his work. As he was rapping in the little blocks and cylinders with the mallet, Trina slowly came back to herself with a long sigh. She still felt a little confused, and lay quiet in the chair. There was a long silence, broken only by the uneven tapping of the hardwood mallet. By and by she said, “I never felt a thing,” and then she smiled at him very prettily beneath the rubber dam. McTeague turned to her suddenly, his mallet in one hand, his pliers holding a pellet of sponge-gold in the other. All at once he said, with the unreasoned simplicity and directness of a child: “Listen here, Miss Trina, I like you better than any one else; what’s the matter with us getting married?”
Trina sat up in the chair quickly, and then drew back from him, frightened and bewildered.
“Will you? Will you?” said McTeague. “Say, Miss Trina, will you?”
“What is it? What do you mean?” she cried, confusedly, her words muffled beneath the rubber.
“Will you?” repeated McTeague. “No, no,” she exclaimed, refusing without knowing why, suddenly seized with a fear of him, the intuitive feminine fear of the male. McTeague could only repeat the same thing over and over again. Trina, more and more frightened at his huge hands the hands of the old-time car-boy his immense square-cut head and his enormous brute strength, cried out: “No, no,” behind the rubber dam, shaking her head violently, holding out her hands, and shrinking down before him in the operating chair. McTeague came nearer to her, repeating the samequestion. “No, no,” she cried, terrified. Then, as she exclaimed, “Oh, I am sick,” was suddenly taken with a fit of vomiting. It was the not unusual after effect of the ether, aided now by her excitement and nervousness. McTeague was checked. He poured some bromide of potassium into a graduated glass and held it to her lips.
“Here, swallow this,” he said.
Once every two months Maria Macapa set the entire flat in commotion. She roamed the building from garret to cellar, searching each corner, ferreting through every old box and trunk and barrel, groping about on the top shelves of closets, peering into rag-bags, exasperating the lodgers with her persistence and importunity. She was collecting junks, bits of iron, stone jugs, glass bottles, old sacks, and cast-off garments. It was one of her perquisites. She sold the junk to Zerkow, the rags-bottles-sacks man, who lived in a filthy den in the alley just back of the flat, and who sometimes paid her as much as three cents a pound. The stone jugs, however, were worth a nickel. The money that Zerkow paid her, Maria spent on shirt waists and dotted blue neckties, trying to dress like the girls who tended the soda-water fountain in the candy store on the corner. She was sick with envy of these young women. They were in the world, they were elegant, they were debonair, they had their “young men.”
On this occasion she presented herself at the door of Old Grannis’s room late in the afternoon. His door stood a little open. That of Miss Baker was ajar a few inches. The two old people were “keeping company” after their fashion.
“Got any junk, Mister Grannis?” inquired Maria, standing in the door, a very dirty, half-filled pillowcase over one arm.
“No, nothing nothing that I can think of, Maria,” replied Old Grannis, terribly vexed at the interruption, yet not wishing to be unkind. “Nothing I think of. Yet, however perhaps if you wish to look.”
He sat in the middle of the room before a small pine table. His little binding apparatus was before him. In his fingers was a huge upholsterer’s needle threaded with twine, a bradawl lay at his elbow, on the floor beside him was a great pile of pamphlets, the pages uncut. Old Grannis bought the “Nation” and the “Breeder and Sportsman.” In the latter he occasionally found articles on dogs which interested him. The former he seldom read. He could not afford to subscribe regularly to either of the publications, but purchased their back numbers by the score, almost solely for the pleasure he took in binding them.
“What you alus sewing up them books for, Mister Grannis?” asked Maria, as she began rummaging about in Old Grannis’s closet shelves. “There’s just hundreds of ‘em in here on yer shelves; they ain’t no good to you.”
“Well, well,” answered Old Grannis, timidly, rubbing his chin, “I I’m sure I can’t quite say; a little habit, you know; a diversion, a a it occupies one, you know. I don’t smoke; it takes the place of a pipe, perhaps.”
“Here’s this old yellow pitcher,” said Maria, coming out of the closet with it in her hand. “The handle’s cracked; you don’t want it; better give me it.”
Old Grannis did want the pitcher; true, he never used it now, but he had kept it a long time, and somehow he held to it as old people hold to trivial, worthless things that they have had for many years.
“Oh, that pitcher well, Maria, I I don’t know. I’m afraid you see, that pitcher ” “Ah, go ‘long,” interrupted Maria Macapa, “what’s the good of it?”
“If you insist, Maria, but I would much rather ” he rubbed his chin, perplexed and annoyed, hating to refuse, and wishing that Maria were gone.
“Why, what’s the good of it?” persisted Maria. He could give no sufficient answer. “That’s all right,” she asserted, carrying the pitcher out.
“Ah Maria I say, you you might leave the door ah, don’t quite shut it it’s a bit close in here at times.” Maria grinned, and swung the door wide. Old Grannis was horribly embarrassed; positively, Maria was becoming unbearable.
“Got any junk?” cried Maria at Miss Baker’s door. The little old lady was sitting close to the wall in her rocking-chair; her hands resting idly in her lap.
“Now, Maria,” she said plaintively, “you are always after junk; you know I never have anything laying ‘round like that.”
It was true. The retired dressmaker’s tiny room was a marvel of neatness, from the little red table, with its three Gorham spoons laid in exact parallels, to the decorous geraniums and mignonettes growing in the starch box at the window, underneath the fish globe with its one venerable gold fish. That day Miss Baker had been doing a bit of washing; two pocket handkerchiefs, still moist, adhered to the window panes, drying in the sun.
“Oh, I guess you got something you don’t want,” Maria went on, peering into the corners of the room. “Look a-here what Mister Grannis gi’ me,” and she held out the yellow pitcher. Instantly Miss Baker was in a quiver of confusion. Every word spoken aloud could be perfectly heard in the next room. What a stupid drab was this Maria! Could anything be more trying than this position?
“Ain’t that right, Mister Grannis?” called Maria; “didn’t you gi’ me this pitcher?” Old Grannis affected not to hear; perspiration stood on his forehead; his timidity overcame him as if he were a ten-year-old schoolboy. He half rose from his chair, his fingers dancing nervously upon his chin.
Maria opened Miss Baker’s closet unconcernedly. “What’s the matter with these old shoes?” she exclaimed, turning about with a pair of half-worn silk gaiters in her hand. They were by no means old enough to throw away, but Miss Baker was almost beside herself. There was no telling what might happen next. Her only thought was to be rid of Maria.
“Yes, yes, anything. You can have them; but go, go. There’s nothing else, not a thing.”
Maria went out into the hall, leaving Miss Baker’s door wide open, as if maliciously. She had left the dirty pillow-case on the floor in the hall, and she stood outside, between the two open doors, stowing away the old pitcher and the halfworn silk shoes. She made remarks at the top of her voice, calling now to Miss Baker, now to Old Grannis. In a way she brought the two old people face to face. Each time they were forced to answer her questions it was as if they were talking directly to each other.
“These here are first-rate shoes, Miss Baker. Look here, Mister Grannis, get on to the shoes Miss Baker gi’ me. You ain’t got a pair you don’t want, have you? You two people have less junk than any one else in the flat. How do you manage, Mister Grannis? You old bachelors are just like old maids, just as neat as pins. You two are just alike you and Mister Grannis ain’t you, Miss Baker?”
Nothing could have been more horribly constrained, more awkward. The two old people suffered veritable torture. When Maria had gone, each heaved a sigh of unspeakable relief. Softly they pushed to their doors, leaving open a space of half a dozen inches. Old Grannis went back to his binding. Miss Baker brewed a cup of tea to quiet her nerves. Each tried to regain their composure, but in vain. Old Grannis’s fingers trembled so that he pricked them with his needle. Miss Baker dropped her spoon twice. Their nervousness would not wear off. They were perturbed, upset. In a word, the afternoon was spoiled.
Maria went on about the flat from room to room. She had already paid Marcus Schouler a visit early that morning before he had gone out. Marcus had sworn at her, excitedly vociferating; “No, by damn! No, he hadn’t a thing for her; he hadn’t, for a fact. It was a positive persecution. Every day his privacy was invaded. He would complain to the landlady, he would. He’d move out of the place.” In the end he had given Maria seven empty whiskey flasks, an iron grate, and ten cents the latter because he said she wore her hair like a girl he used to know.
After coming from Miss Baker’s room Maria knocked at McTeague’s door. The dentist was lying on the bed-lounge in his stocking feet, doing nothing apparently, gazing up at the ceiling, lost in thought.
Since he had spoken to Trina Sieppe, asking her so abruptly to marry him, McTeague had passed a week of torment. For him there was no going back. It was Trina now, and none other. It was all one with him that his best friend, Marcus, might be in love with the same girl. He must have Trina in spite of everything; he would have her even in spite of herself. He did not stop to reflect about the matter; he followed his desire blindly, recklessly, furious and raging at every obstacle. And she had cried “No, no!” back at him; he could not forget that. She, so small and pale and delicate, had held him at bay, who was so huge, so immensely strong.
Besides that, all the charm of their intimacy was gone. After that unhappy sitting, Trina was no longer frank and straight-forward. Now she was circumspect, reserved, distant. He could no longer open his mouth; words failed him. At one sitting in particular they had said but goodday and good-by to each other. He felt that he was clumsy and ungainly. He told himself that she despised him.
But the memory of her was with him constantly. Night after night he lay broad awake thinking of Trina, wondering about her, racked with the infinite desire of her. His head burnt and throbbed. The palms of his hands were dry. He dozed and woke, and walked aimlessly about the dark room, bruising himself against the three chairs drawn up “at attention” under the steel engraving, and stumbling over the stone pug dog that sat in front of the little stove.
Besides this, the jealousy of Marcus Schouler harassed him. Maria Macapa, coming into his “Parlor” to ask for junk, found him flung at length upon the bedlounge, gnawing at his fingers in an excess of silent fury. At lunch that day Marcus had told him of an excursion that was planned for the next Sunday afternoon. Mr. Sieppe, Trina’s father, belonged to a rifle club that was to hold a meet at Schuetzen Park across the bay. All the Sieppes were going; there was to be a basket picnic.
Marcus, as usual, was invited to be one of the party. McTeague was in agony. It was his first experience, and he suffered all the worse for it because he was totally unprepared. What miserable complication was this in which he found himself involved? It seemed so simple to him since he loved Trina to take her straight to himself, stopping at nothing, asking no questions, to have her, and by main strength to carry her far away somewhere, he did not know exactly where, to some vague country, some undiscovered place where every day was Sunday.
“Got any junk?”
“Huh? What? What is it?” exclaimed McTeague, suddenly rousing up from the lounge. Often Maria did very well in the “Dental Parlors.” McTeague was continually breaking things which he was too stupid to have mended; for him anything that was broken was lost. Now it was a cuspidor, now a fire-shovel for the little stove, now a China shaving mug.
“Got any junk?”
“I don’t know I don’t remember,” muttered McTeague. Maria roamed about the room, McTeague following her in his huge stockinged feet. All at once she pounced upon a sheaf of old hand instruments in a coverless cigar-box, pluggers,hard bits, and excavators. Maria had long coveted such a find in McTeague’s “Parlor,” knowing it should be somewhere about. The instruments were of the finest tempered steel and really valuable.
“Say, Doctor, I can have these, can’t I?” exclaimed Maria. “You got no more use for them.” McTeague was not at all sure of this. There were many in the sheaf that might be repaired, reshaped.
“No, no,” he said, wagging his head. But Maria Macapa, knowing with whom she had to deal, at once let loose a torrent of words. She made the dentist believe that he had no right to withhold them, that he had promised to save them for her. She affected a great indignation, pursing her lips and putting her chin in the air as though wounded in some finer sense, changing so rapidly from one mood to another, filling the room with such shrill clamor, that McTeague was dazed and benumbed.
“Yes, all right, all right,” he said, trying to make himself heard. “It WOULD be mean. I don’t want ‘em.” As he turned from her to pick up the box, Maria took advantage of the moment to steal three “mats” of sponge-gold out of the glass saucer. Often she stole McTeague’s gold, almost under his very eyes; indeed, it was so easy to do so that there was but little pleasure in the theft. Then Maria took herself off. McTeague returned to the sofa and flung himself upon it face downward.
A little before supper time Maria completed her search. The flat was cleaned of its junk from top to bottom. The dirty pillow-case was full to bursting. She took advantage of the supper hour to carry her bundle around the corner and up into the alley where Zerkow lived.
When Maria entered his shop, Zerkow had just come in from his daily rounds. His decrepit wagon stood in front of his door like a stranded wreck; the miserable horse, with its lamentable swollen joints, fed greedily upon an armful of spoiled hay in a shed at the back.
The interior of the junk shop was dark and damp, and foul with all manner of choking odors. On the walls, on the floor, and hanging from the rafters was a world of debris, dust-blackened, rust-corroded. Everything was there, every trade was represented, every class of society; things of iron and cloth and wood; all the detritus that a great city sloughs off in its daily life. Zerkow’s junk shop was the last abiding-place, the almshouse, of such articles as had outlived their usefulness.
Maria found Zerkow himself in the back room, cooking some sort of a meal over an alcohol stove. Zerkow was a Polish Jew curiously enough his hair was fiery red. He was a dry, shrivelled old man of sixty odd. He had the thin, eager,cat-like lips of the covetous; eyes that had grown keen as those of a lynx from long searching amidst muck and debris; and claw-like, prehensile fingers the fingers of a man who accumulates, but never disburses. It was impossible to look at Zerkow and not know instantly that greed inordinate, insatiable greed was the dominant passion of the man. He was the Man with the Rake, groping hourly in the muck-heap of the city for gold, for gold, for gold. It was his dream, his passion; at every instant he seemed to feel the generous solid weight of the crude fat metal in his palms. The glint of it was constantly in his eyes; the jangle of it sang forever in his ears as the jangling of cymbals.
“Who is it? Who is it?” exclaimed Zerkow, as he heard Maria’s footsteps in the outer room. His voice was faint, husky, reduced almost to a whisper by his prolonged habit of street crying.
“Oh, it’s you again, is it?” he added, peering through the gloom of the shop. “Let’s see; you’ve been here before, ain’t you? You’re the Mexican woman from Polk Street. Macapa’s your name, hey?”
Maria nodded. “Had a flying squirrel an’ let him go,” she muttered, absently. Zerkow was puzzled; he looked at her sharply for a moment, then dismissed the matter with a movement of his head.
“Well, what you got for me?” he said. He left his supper to grow cold, absorbed at once in the affair.
Then a long wrangle began. Every bit of junk in Maria’s pillow-case was discussed and weighed and disputed. They clamored into each other’s faces over Old Grannis’s cracked pitcher, over Miss Baker’s silk gaiters, over MarcusSchouler’s whiskey flasks, reaching the climax of disagreement when it came to McTeague’s instruments.
“Ah, no, no!” shouted Maria. “Fifteen cents for the lot! I might as well make you a Christmas present! Besides, I got some gold fillings off him; look at um.”
Zerkow drew a quick breath as the three pellets suddenly flashed in Maria’s palm. There it was, the virgin metal, the pure, unalloyed ore, his dream, his consuming desire. His fingers twitched and hooked themselves into his palms, his thin lips drew tight across his teeth.
“Ah, you got some gold,” he muttered, reaching for it.
Maria shut her fist over the pellets. “The gold goes with the others,” she declared. “You’ll gi’ me a fair price for the lot, or I’ll take um back.”
In the end a bargain was struck that satisfied Maria. Zerkow was not one who would let gold go out of his house. He counted out to her the price of all her junk, grudging each piece of money as if it had been the blood of his veins. The affair was concluded.
But Zerkow still had something to say. As Maria folded up the pillow-case and rose to go, the old Jew said:
“Well, see here a minute, we’ll you’ll have a drink before you go, won’t you? Just to show that it’s all right between us.” Maria sat down again.
“Yes, I guess I’ll have a drink,” she answered.
Zerkow took down a whiskey bottle and a red glass tumbler with a broken base from a cupboard on the wall. The two drank together, Zerkow from the bottle, Maria from the broken tumbler. They wiped their lips slowly, drawing breath again. There was a moment’s silence.
“Say,” said Zerkow at last, “how about those gold dishes you told me about the last time you were here?”
“What gold dishes?” inquired Maria, puzzled.
“Ah, you know,” returned the other. “The plate your father owned in Central America a long time ago. Don’t you know, it rang like so many bells? Red gold, you know, like oranges?”
“Ah,” said Maria, putting her chin in the air as if she knew a long story about that if she had a mind to tell it. “Ah, yes, that gold service.”
“Tell us about it again,” said Zerkow, his bloodless lower lip moving against the upper, his claw-like fingers feeling about his mouth and chin.
“Tell us about it; go on.”
He was breathing short, his limbs trembled a little. It was as if some hungry beast of prey had scented a quarry. Maria still refused, putting up her head, insisting that she had to be going.
“Let’s have it,” insisted the Jew. “Take another drink.” Maria took another swallow of the whiskey. “Now, go on,” repeated Zerkow; “let’s have the story.” Maria squared her elbows on the deal table, looking straight in front of her with eyes that saw nothing.
“Well, it was this way,” she began. “It was when I was little. My folks must have been rich, oh, rich into the millions coffee, I guess and there was a large house, but I can only remember the plate. Oh, that service of plate! It was wonderful. There were more than a hundred pieces, and every one of them gold. You should have seen the sight when the leather trunk was opened. It fair dazzled your eyes. It was a yellow blaze like a fire, like a sunset; such a glory, all piled up together, one piece over the other. Why, if the room was dark you’d think you could see just the same with all that glitter there. There wa’n’t a piece that was so much as scratched; every one was like a mirror, smooth and bright, just like a little pool when the sun shines into it. There was dinner dishes and soup tureens and pitchers; and great, big platters as long as that and wide too; and cream-jugs and bowls with carved handles, all vines and things; and drinking mugs, every one a different shape; and dishes for gravy and sauces; and then a great, big punch-bowl with a ladle, and the bowl was all carved out with figures and bunches of grapes. Why, just only that punch-bowl was worth a fortune, I guess. When all that plate was set out on a table, it was a sight for a king to look at. Such a service as that was! Each piece was heavy, oh, so heavy! and thick, you know; thick, fat gold, nothing but gold red, shining, pure gold, orange red and when you struck it with your knuckle, ah, you should have heard! No church bell ever rang sweeter or clearer. It was soft gold, too; you could bite into it, and leave the dent of your teeth. Oh, that gold plate! I can see it just as plain solid, solid, heavy, rich, pure gold; nothing but gold, gold, heaps and heaps of it. What a service that was!”
Maria paused, shaking her head, thinking over the vanished splendor. Illiterate enough, unimaginative enough on all other subjects, her distorted wits called up this picture with marvellous distinctness. It was plain she saw the plate clearly. Her description was accurate, was almost eloquent.
Did that wonderful service of gold plate ever exist outside of her diseased imagination? Was Maria actually remembering some reality of a childhood of barbaric luxury? Were her parents at one time possessed of an incalculable fortune derived from some Central American coffee plantation, a fortune long since confiscated by armies of insurrectionists, or squandered in the support of revolutionary governments?
It was not impossible. Of Maria Macapa’s past prior to the time of her appearance at the “flat” absolutely nothing could be learned. She suddenly appeared from the unknown, a strange woman of a mixed race, sane on all subjects but that of the famous service of gold plate; but unusual, complex, mysterious, even at her best.
But what misery Zerkow endured as he listened to her tale! For he chose to believe it, forced himself to believe it, lashed and harassed by a pitiless greed that checked at no tale of treasure, however preposterous. The story ravished him with delight. He was near someone who had possessed this wealth. He saw someone who had seen this pile of gold. He seemed near it; it was there, somewhere close by, under his eyes, under his fingers; it was red, gleaming, ponderous. He gazed about him wildly; nothing, nothing but the sordid junk shop and the rust-corroded tins. What exasperation, what positive misery, to be so near to it and yet to know that it was irrevocably, irretrievably lost! A spasm of anguish passed through him. He gnawed at his bloodless lips, at the hopelessness of it, the rage, the fury of it.
“Go on, go on,” he whispered; “let’s have it all over again. Polished like a mirror, hey, and heavy? Yes, I know, I know. A punch-bowl worth a fortune. Ah! and you saw it, you had it all!”
Maria rose to go. Zerkow accompanied her to the door, urging another drink upon her.
“Come again, come again,” he croaked. “Don’t wait till you’ve got junk; come any time you feel like it, and tell me more about the plate.”
He followed her a step down the alley.
“How much do you think it was worth?” he inquired, anxiously.
“Oh, a million dollars,” answered Maria, vaguely.
When Maria had gone, Zerkow returned to the back room of the shop, and stood in front of the alcohol stove, looking down into his cold dinner, preoccupied, thoughtful.
“A million dollars,” he muttered in his rasping, guttural whisper, his finger-tips wandering over his thin, cat-like lips. “A golden service worth a million dollars; a punchbowl worth a fortune; red gold plates, heaps and piles. God!”
The days passed. McTeague had finished the operation on Trina’s teeth. She did not come any more to the “Parlors.” Matters had readjusted themselves a little between the two during the last sittings. Trina yet stood upon her reserve, and McTeague still felt himself shambling and ungainly in her presence; but that constraint and embarrassment that had followed upon McTeague’s blundering declaration broke up little by little. In spite of themselves they were gradually resuming the same relative positions they had occupied when they had first met.
But McTeague suffered miserably for all that. He never would have Trina, he saw that clearly. She was too good for him; too delicate, too refined, too prettily made for him, who was so coarse, so enormous, so stupid. She was for someone else Marcus, no doubt or at least for some finergrained man. She should have gone to some other dentist; the young fellow on the corner, for instance, the poser, the rider of bicycles, the courser of grey-hounds. McTeague began to loathe and to envy this fellow. He spied upon him going in and out of his office, and noted hissalmon-pink neckties and his astonishing waistcoats.
One Sunday, a few days after Trina’s last sitting, McTeague met Marcus Schouler at his table in the car conductors’ coffee-joint, next to the harness shop.
“What you got to do this afternoon, Mac?” inquired the other, as they ate their suet pudding.
“Nothing, nothing,” replied McTeague, shaking his head. His mouth was full of pudding. It made him warm to eat, and little beads of perspiration stood across the bridge of his nose. He looked forward to an afternoon passed in his operating chair as usual. On leaving his “Parlors” he had put ten cents into his pitcher and had left it at Frenna’s to be filled.
“What do you say we take a walk, huh?” said Marcus. “Ah, that’s the thing a walk, a long walk, by damn! It’ll be outa sight. I got to take three or four of the dogs out for exercise, anyhow. Old Grannis thinks they need ut. We’ll walk out to the Presidio.”
Of late it had become the custom of the two friends to take long walks from time to time. On holidays and on those Sunday afternoons when Marcus was not absent with the Sieppes they went out together, sometimes to the park, sometimes to the Presidio, sometimes even across the bay. They took a great pleasure in each other’s company, but silently and with reservation, having the masculine horror of any demonstration of friendship.
They walked for upwards of five hours that afternoon, out the length of California Street, and across the Presidio Reservation to the Golden Gate. Then they turned, and, following the line of the shore, brought up at the Cliff House. Here they halted for beer, Marcus swearing that his mouth was as dry as a hay-bin. Before starting on their walk they had gone around to the little dog hospital, and Marcus had let out four of the convalescents, crazed with joy at the release.
“Look at that dog,” he cried to McTeague, showing him a finely-bred Irish setter. “That’s the dog that belonged to the duck on the avenue, the dog we called for that day. I’ve bought ‘um. The duck thought he had the distemper, and just threw ‘um away. Nothun wrong with ‘um but a little catarrh. Ain’t he a bird? Say, ain’t he a bird? Look at his flag; it’s perfect; and see how he carries his tail on a line with his back. See how stiff and white his whiskers are. Oh, by damn! you can’t fool me on a dog. That dog’s a winner.”
At the Cliff House the two sat down to their beer in a quiet corner of the billiard-room. There were but two players. Somewhere in another part of the building a mammoth musicbox was jangling out a quickstep. From outside came the long, rhythmical rush of the surf and the sonorous barking of the seals upon the seal rocks. The four dogs curled themselves down upon the sanded floor.
“Here’s how,” said Marcus, half emptying his glass. “Ah-h!” he added, with a long breath, “that’s good; it is, for a fact.”
For the last hour of their walk Marcus had done nearly all the talking. McTeague merely answering him by uncertain movements of the head. For that matter, the dentist had been silent and preoccupied throughout the whole afternoon. At length Marcus noticed it. As he set down his glass with a bang he suddenly exclaimed:
“What’s the matter with you these days, Mac? You got a bean about somethun, hey? Spit ut out.”
“No, no,” replied McTeague, looking about on the floor, rolling his eyes; “nothing, no, no.”
“Ah, rats!” returned the other. McTeague kept silence. The two billiard players departed. The huge music-box struck into a fresh tune.
“Huh!” exclaimed Marcus, with a short laugh, “guess you’re in love.” McTeague gasped, and shuffled his enormous feet under the table.
“Well, somethun’s bitun you, anyhow,” pursued Marcus. “Maybe I can help you. We’re pals, you know. Better tell me what’s up; guess we can straighten ut out. Ah, go on; spit ut out.”
The situation was abominable. McTeague could not rise to it. Marcus was his best friend, his only friend. They were “pals” and McTeague was very fond of him. Yet they were both in love, presumably, with the same girl, and now Marcus would try and force the secret out of him; would rush blindly at the rock upon which the two must split, stirred by the very best of motives, wishing only to be of service. Besides this, there was nobody to whom McTeague would have better preferred to tell his troubles than to Marcus, and yet about this trouble, the greatest trouble of his life, he must keep silent; must refrain from speaking of it to Marcus above everybody.
McTeague began dimly to feel that life was too much for him. How had it all come about? A month ago he was perfectly content; he was calm and peaceful, taking his little pleasures as he found them. His life had shaped itself; was, no doubt, to continue always along these same lines. A woman had entered his small world and instantly there was discord. The disturbing element had appeared. Wherever the woman had put her foot a score of distressing complications had sprung up, like the sudden growth of strange and puzzling flowers.
“Say, Mac, go on; let’s have ut straight,” urged Marcus, leaning toward him. “Has any duck been doing you dirt?” he cried, his face crimson on the instant.
“No,” said McTeague, helplessly.
“Come along, old man,” persisted Marcus; “let’s have ut. What is the row? I’ll do all I can to help you.”
It was more than McTeague could bear. The situation had got beyond him. Stupidly he spoke, his hands deep in his pockets, his head rolled forward.
“It’s it’s Miss Sieppe,” he said.
“Trina, my cousin? How do you mean?” inquired Marcus sharply.
“I I I don’ know,” stammered McTeague, hopelessly confounded.
“You mean,” cried Marcus, suddenly enlightened, “that you are that you, too.” McTeague stirred in his chair, looking at the walls of the room, avoiding the
other’s glance. He nodded his head, then suddenly broke out:
“I can’t help it. It ain’t my fault, is it?”
Marcus was struck dumb; he dropped back in his chair breathless. Suddenly
McTeague found his tongue.
“I tell you, Mark, I can’t help it. I don’t know how it happened. It came on so
slow that I was, that that that it was done before I knew it, before I could help myself. I know we’re pals, us two, and I knew how how you and Miss Sieppe were. I know now, I knew then; but that wouldn’t have made any difference. Before I knew it it it there I was. I can’t help it. I wouldn’t ‘a’ had ut happen for anything, if I could ‘a’ stopped it, but I don’ know, it’s something that’s just stronger than you are, that’s all. She came there Miss Sieppe came to the parlors there three or four times a week, and she was the first girl I had ever known, and you don’ know! Why, I was so close to her I touched her face every minute, and her mouth, and smelt her hair and her breath oh, you don’t know anything about it. I can’t give you any idea. I don’ know exactly myself; I only know how I’m fixed. I I it’s been done; it’s too late, there’s no going back. Why, I can’t think of anything else night and day. It’s everything. It’s it’s oh, it’s everything! I I why, Mark, it’s everything I can’t explain.” He made a helpless movement with both hands.
Never had McTeague been so excited; never had he made so long a speech. His arms moved in fierce, uncertain gestures, his face flushed, his enormous jaws shut together with a sharp click at every pause. It was like some colossal brute trapped in a delicate, invisible mesh, raging, exasperated, powerless to extricate himself.
Marcus Schouler said nothing. There was a long silence. Marcus got up and walked to the window and stood looking out, but seeing nothing. “Well, who would have thought of this?” he muttered under his breath. Here was a fix. Marcus cared for Trina. There was no doubt in his mind about that. He looked forward eagerly to the Sunday afternoon excursions. He liked to be with Trina. He, too, felt the charm of the little girl the charm of the small, pale forehead; the little chin thrust out as if in confidence and innocence; the heavy, odorous crown of black hair. He liked her immensely. Some day he would speak; he would ask her to marry him. Marcus put off this matter of marriage to some future period; it would be some time a year, perhaps, or two. The thing did not take definite shape in his mind. Marcus “kept company” with his cousin Trina, but he knew plenty of other girls. For the matter of that, he liked all girls pretty well. Just now the singleness and strength of McTeague’s passion startled him. McTeague would marry Trina that very afternoon if she would have him; but would he Marcus? No, he would not; if it came to that, no, he would not. Yet he knew he liked Trina. He could say yes, he could say he loved her. She was his “girl.” The Sieppes acknowledged him as Trina’s “young man.” Marcus came back to the table and sat down sideways upon it.
“Well, what are we going to do about it, Mac?” he said.
“I don’ know,” answered McTeague, in great distress. “I don’ want anything to to come between us, Mark.”
“Well, nothun will, you bet!” vociferated the other. “No, sir; you bet not, Mac.”
Marcus was thinking hard. He could see very clearly that McTeague loved Trina more than he did; that in some strange way this huge, brutal fellow was capable of a greater passion than himself, who was twice as clever. Suddenly Marcus jumped impetuously to a resolution.
“Well, say, Mac,” he cried, striking the table with his fist, “go ahead. I guess you you want her pretty bad. I’ll pull out; yes, I will. I’ll give her up to you, old man.”
The sense of his own magnanimity all at once overcame Marcus. He saw himself as another man, very noble, selfsacrificing; he stood apart and watched this second self with boundless admiration and with infinite pity. He was so good, so magnificent, so heroic, that he almost sobbed. Marcus made a sweeping gesture of resignation, throwing out both his arms, crying:
“Mac, I’ll give her up to you. I won’t stand between you.” There were actually tears in Marcus’s eyes as he spoke. There was no doubt he thought himself sincere. At that moment he almost believed he loved Trina conscientiously, that hewas sacrificing himself for the sake of his friend. The two stood up and faced each other, gripping hands. It was a great moment; even McTeague felt the drama of it. What a fine thing was this friendship between men! the dentist treats his friend for an ulcerated tooth and refuses payment; the friend reciprocates by giving up his girl. This was nobility. Their mutual affection and esteem suddenly increased enormously. It was Damon and Pythias; it was David and Jonathan; nothing could ever estrange them. Now it was for life or death.
“I’m much obliged,” murmured McTeague. He could think of nothing better to say. “I’m much obliged,” he repeated; “much obliged, Mark.”
“That’s all right, that’s all right,” returned Marcus Schouler, bravely, and it occurred to him to add, “You’ll be happy together. Tell her for me tell her -tell her ” Marcus could not go on. He wrung the dentist’s hand silently.
It had not appeared to either of them that Trina might refuse McTeague. McTeague’s spirits rose at once. In Marcus’s withdrawal he fancied he saw an end to all his difficulties. Everything would come right, after all. The strained, exalted state of Marcus’s nerves ended by putting him into fine humor as well. His grief suddenly changed to an excess of gaiety. The afternoon was a success. They slapped each other on the back with great blows of the open palms, and they drank each other’s health in a third round of beer.
Ten minutes after his renunciation of Trina Sieppe, Marcus astounded McTeague with a tremendous feat.
“Looka here, Mac. I know somethun you can’t do. I’ll bet you two bits I’ll stump you.” They each put a quarter on the table. “Now watch me,” cried Marcus. He caught up a billiard ball from the rack, poised it a moment in front of his face, then with a sudden, horrifying distension of his jaws crammed it into his mouth, and shut his lips over it.
For an instant McTeague was stupefied, his eyes bulging. Then an enormous laugh shook him. He roared and shouted, swaying in his chair, slapping his knee. What a josher was this Marcus! Sure, you never could tell what he would do next. Marcus slipped the ball out, wiped it on the tablecloth, and passed it to McTeague. “Now let’s see you do it.”
McTeague fell suddenly grave. The matter was serious. He parted his thick mustaches and opened his enormous jaws like an anaconda. The ball disappeared inside his mouth. Marcus applauded vociferously, shouting, “Good work!” McTeague reached for the money and put it in his vest pocket, nodding his head with a knowing air.
Then suddenly his face grew purple, his jaws moved convulsively, he pawed at his cheeks with both hands. The billiard ball had slipped into his mouth easily enough; now, however, he could not get it out again.
It was terrible. The dentist rose to his feet, stumbling about among the dogs, his face working, his eyes starting. Try as he would, he could not stretch his jaws wide enough to slip the ball out. Marcus lost his wits, swearing at the top of his voice. McTeague sweated with terror; inarticulate sounds came from his crammed mouth; he waved his arms wildly; all the four dogs caught the excitement and began to bark. A waiter rushed in, the two billiard players returned, a little crowd formed. There was a veritable scene.
All at once the ball slipped out of McTeague’s jaws as easily as it had gone in. What a relief! He dropped into a chair, wiping his forehead, gasping for breath.
On the strength of the occasion Marcus Schouler invited the entire group to drink with him.
By the time the affair was over and the group dispersed it was after five. Marcus and McTeague decided they would ride home on the cars. But they soon found this impossible. The dogs would not follow. Only Alexander, Marcus’s new setter, kept his place at the rear of the car. The other three lost their senses immediately, running wildly about the streets with their heads in the air, or suddenly starting off at a furious gallop directly away from the car. Marcus whistled and shouted and lathered with rage in vain. The two friends were obliged to walk. When they finally reached Polk Street, Marcus shut up the three dogs in the hospital. Alexander he brought back to the flat with him.
There was a minute back yard in the rear, where Marcus had made a kennel for Alexander out of an old water barrel. Before he thought of his own supper Marcus put Alexander to bed and fed him a couple of dog biscuits. McTeague had followed him to the yard to keep him company. Alexander settled to his supper at once, chewing vigorously at the biscuit, his head on one side.
“What you going to do about this about that about about my cousin now, Mac?” inquired Marcus.
McTeague shook his head helplessly. It was dark by now and cold. The little back yard was grimy and full of odors. McTeague was tired with their long walk. All his uneasiness about his affair with Trina had returned. No, surely she was not for him. Marcus or some other man would win her in the end. What could she ever see to desire in him in him, a clumsy giant, with hands like wooden mallets? She had told him once that she would not marry him. Was that not final?
“I don’ know what to do, Mark,” he said.
“Well, you must make up to her now,” answered Marcus. “Go and call on her.” McTeague started. He had not thought of calling on her. The idea frightened him a little.
“Of course,” persisted Marcus, “that’s the proper caper. What did you expect?
Did you think you was never going to see her again?”
“I don’ know, I don’ know,” responded the dentist, looking stupidly at the dog. “You know where they live,” continued Marcus Schouler. “Over at B Street station, across the bay. I’ll take you over there whenever you want to go. I tell you what, we’ll go over there Washington’s Birthday. That’s this next Wednesday; sure, they’ll be glad to see you.” It was good of Marcus. All at once McTeague rose to an appreciation of what his friend was doing for him. He stammered:
“Say, Mark you’re you’re all right, anyhow.”
“Why, pshaw!” said Marcus. “That’s all right, old man. I’d like to see you two fixed, that’s all. We’ll go over Wednesday, sure.”
They turned back to the house. Alexander left off eating and watched them go away, first with one eye, then with the other. But he was too self-respecting to whimper. However, by the time the two friends had reached the second landing on the back stairs a terrible commotion was under way in the little yard. They rushed to an open window at the end of the hall and looked down.
A thin board fence separated the flat’s back yard from that used by the branch post-office. In the latter place lived a collie dog. He and Alexander had smelt each other out, blowing through the cracks of the fence at each other. Suddenly the quarrel had exploded on either side of the fence. The dogs raged at each other, snarling and barking, frantic with hate. Their teeth gleamed. They tore at the fence with their front paws. They filled the whole night with their clamor.
“By damn!” cried Marcus, “they don’t love each other. Just listen; wouldn’t that make a fight if the two got together? Have to try it some day.”
Wednesday morning, Washington’s Birthday, McTeague rose very early and shaved himself. Besides the six mournful concertina airs, the dentist knew one song. Whenever he shaved, he sung this song; never at any other time. His voice was a bellowing roar, enough to make the window sashes rattle. Just now he woke up all the lodgers in his hall with it. It was a lamentable wail:
“No one to love, none to caress, Left all alone in this world’s wilderness.”
As he paused to strop his razor, Marcus came into his room, half-dressed, a startling phantom in red flannels.
Marcus often ran back and forth between his room and the dentist’s “Parlors” in all sorts of undress. Old Miss Baker had seen him thus several times through her half-open door, as she sat in her room listening and waiting. The old dressmaker was shocked out of all expression. She was outraged, offended, pursing her lips, putting up her head. She talked of complaining to the landlady. “And Mr. Grannis right next door, too. You can understand how trying it is for both of us.” She would come out in the hall after one of these apparitions, her little false curls shaking, talking loud and shrill to any one in reach of her voice.
“Well,” Marcus would shout, “shut your door, then, if you don’t want to see. Look out, now, here I come again. Not even a porous plaster on me this time.”
On this Wednesday morning Marcus called McTeague out into the hall, to the head of the stairs that led down to the street door.
“Come and listen to Maria, Mac,” said he.
Maria sat on the next to the lowest step, her chin propped by her two fists. The red-headed Polish Jew, the ragman Zerkow, stood in the doorway. He was talking eagerly.
“Now, just once more, Maria,” he was saying. “Tell it to us just once more.” Maria’s voice came up the stairway in a monotone. Marcus and McTeague caught a phrase from time to time.
“There were more than a hundred pieces, and every one of them gold just that punch-bowl was worth a fortune-thick, fat, red gold.”
“Get onto to that, will you?” observed Marcus. “The old skin has got her started on the plate. Ain’t they a pair for you?”
“And it rang like bells, didn’t it?” prompted Zerkow.
“Sweeter’n church bells, and clearer.”
“Ah, sweeter’n bells. Wasn’t that punch-bowl awful heavy?”
“All you could do to lift it.”
“I know. Oh, I know,” answered Zerkow, clawing at his lips. “Where did it all go to? Where did it go?”
Maria shook her head.
“It’s gone, anyhow.”
“Ah, gone, gone! Think of it! The punch-bowl gone, and the engraved ladle, and the plates and goblets. What a sight it must have been all heaped together!”
“It was a wonderful sight.”
“Yes, wonderful; it must have been.”
On the lower steps of that cheap flat, the Mexican woman and the red-haired
Polish Jew mused long over that vanished, half-mythical gold plate.
Marcus and the dentist spent Washington’s Birthday across the bay. The journey over was one long agony to McTeague. He shook with a formless, uncertain dread; a dozen times he would have turned back had not Marcus been with him. The stolid giant was as nervous as a schoolboy. He fancied that his call upon Miss Sieppe was an outrageous affront. She would freeze him with a stare; he would be shown the door, would be ejected, disgraced.
As they got off the local train at B Street station they suddenly collided with the whole tribe of Sieppes the mother, father, three children, and Trina equipped for one of their eternal picnics. They were to go to Schuetzen Park, within walking distance of the station. They were grouped about four lunch baskets. One of the children, a little boy, held a black greyhound by a rope around its neck. Trina wore a blue cloth skirt, a striped shirt waist, and a white sailor; about her round waist was a belt of imitation alligator skin.
At once Mrs. Sieppe began to talk to Marcus. He had written of their coming, but the picnic had been decided upon after the arrival of his letter. Mrs. Sieppe explained this to him. She was an immense old lady with a pink face and wonderful hair, absolutely white. The Sieppes were a German-Swiss family.
“We go to der park, Schuetzen Park, mit alle dem childern, a little eggs-kursion, eh not soh? We breathe der freshes air, a celubration, a pignic bei der seashore on. Ach, dot wull be soh gay, ah?”
“You bet it will. It’ll be outa sight,” cried Marcus, enthusiastic in an instant. “This is m’ friend Doctor McTeague I wrote you about, Mrs. Sieppe.”
“Ach, der doktor,” cried Mrs. Sieppe.
McTeague was presented, shaking hands gravely as Marcus shouldered him from one to the other.
Mr. Sieppe was a little man of a military aspect, full of importance, taking himself very seriously. He was a member of a rifle team. Over his shoulder was slung a Springfield rifle, while his breast was decorated by five bronze medals.
Trina was delighted. McTeague was dumfounded. She appeared positively glad to see him.
“How do you do, Doctor McTeague,” she said, smiling at him and shaking his hand. “It’s nice to see you again. Look, see how fine my filling is.” She lifted a corner of her lip and showed him the clumsy gold bridge.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sieppe toiled and perspired. Upon him devolved the responsibility of the excursion. He seemed to consider it a matter of vast importance, a veritable expedition.
“Owgooste!” he shouted to the little boy with the black greyhound, “you will der hound und basket number three carry. Der tervins,” he added, calling to the two smallest boys, who were dressed exactly alike, “will releef one unudder mit der camp-stuhl und basket number four. Dat is comprehend, hay? When we make der start, you childern will in der advance march. Dat is your orders. But we do not start,” he exclaimed, excitedly; “we remain. Ach Gott, Selina, who does not arrive.”
Selina, it appeared, was a niece of Mrs. Sieppe’s. They were on the point of starting without her, when she suddenly arrived, very much out of breath. She was a slender, unhealthy looking girl, who overworked herself giving lessons inhand-painting at twenty-five cents an hour. McTeague was presented. They all began to talk at once, filling the little station-house with a confusion of tongues.
“Attention!” cried Mr. Sieppe, his gold-headed cane in one hand, his Spring field in the other. “Attention! We depart.” The four little boys moved off ahead; the greyhound suddenly began to bark, and tug at his leash. The others picked up their bundles.
“Vorwarts!” shouted Mr. Sieppe, waving his rifle and assuming the attitude of a lieutenant of infantry leading a charge. The party set off down the railroad track. Mrs. Sieppe walked with her husband, who constantly left her side to shout an order up and down the line. Marcus followed with Selina. McTeague found himself with Trina at the end of the procession.
“We go off on these picnics almost every week,” said Trina, by way of a beginning, “and almost every holiday, too. It is a custom.”
“Yes, yes, a custom,” answered McTeague, nodding; “a custom that’s the word.”
“Don’t you think picnics are fine fun, Doctor McTeague?” she continued. “You take your lunch; you leave the dirty city all day; you race about in the open air, and when lunchtime comes, oh, aren’t you hungry? And the woods and the grass smell so fine!”
“I don’ know, Miss Sieppe,” he answered, keeping his eyes fixed on the ground between the rails.
“I never went on a picnic.”
“Never went on a picnic?” she cried, astonished.
“Oh, you’ll see what fun we’ll have. In the morning father and the children dig clams in the mud by the shore, an’ we bake them, and oh, there’s thousands of things to do.”
“Once I went sailing on the bay,” said McTeague. “It was in a tugboat; we fished off the heads. I caught three codfishes.”
“I’m afraid to go out on the bay,” answered Trina, shaking her head, “sailboats tip over so easy. A cousin of mine, Selina’s brother, was drowned one Decoration Day. They never found his body. Can you swim, Doctor McTeague?”
“I used to at the mine.”
“At the mine? Oh, yes, I remember, Marcus told me you were a miner once.” “I was a car-boy; all the car-boys used to swim in the reservoir by the ditch every Thursday evening. One of them was bit by a rattlesnake once while he was dressing. He was a Frenchman, named Andrew. He swelled up and began to twitch.”
“Oh, how I hate snakes! They’re so crawly and graceful but, just the same, I like to watch them. You know that drug store over in town that has a showcase full of live ones?”
“We killed the rattler with a cart whip.”
“How far do you think you could swim? Did you ever try? D’you think you could swim a mile?”
“A mile? I don’t know. I never tried. I guess I could.”
“I can swim a little. Sometimes we all go out to the Crystal Baths.”
“The Crystal Baths, huh? Can you swim across the tank?”
“Oh, I can swim all right as long as papa holds my chin up. Soon as he takes his hand away, down I go. Don’t you hate to get water in your ears?”
“Bathing’s good for you.”
“If the water’s too warm, it isn’t. It weakens you.”
Mr. Sieppe came running down the tracks, waving his cane.
“To one side,” he shouted, motioning them off the track; “der drain gomes.” A local passenger train was just passing B Street station, some quarter of a mile behind them. The party stood to one side to let it pass. Marcus put a nickel and two crossed pins upon the rail, and waved his hat to the passengers as the train roared past. The children shouted shrilly. When the train was gone, they all rushed to see the nickel and the crossed pins. The nickel had been jolted off, but the pins had been flattened out so that they bore a faint resemblance to opened scissors. A great contention arose among the children for the possession of these “scissors.” Mr. Sieppe was obliged to intervene. He reflected gravely. It was a matter of tremendous moment. The whole party halted, awaiting his decision.
“Attend now,” he suddenly exclaimed. “It will not be soh soon. At der end of der day, ven we shall have home gecommen, den wull it pe adjudge, eh? A reward of merit to him who der bes’ pehaves. It is an order. Vorwarts!”
“That was a Sacramento train,” said Marcus to Selina as they started off; “it was, for a fact.”
“I know a girl in Sacramento,” Trina told McTeague. “She’s forewoman in a glove store, and she’s got consumption.”
“I was in Sacramento once,” observed McTeague, “nearly eight years ago.”
“Is it a nice place as nice as San Francisco?”
“It’s hot. I practised there for a while.”
“I like San Francisco,” said Trina, looking across the bay to where the city piled itself upon its hills.
“So do I,” answered McTeague. “Do you like it better than living over here?” “Oh, sure, I wish we lived in the city. If you want to go across for anything it takes up the whole day.”
“Yes, yes, the whole day almost.”
“Do you know many people in the city? Do you know anybody named Oelber-mann? That’s my uncle. He has a wholesale toy store in the Mission. They say he’s awful rich.”
“No, I don’ know him.”
“His stepdaughter wants to be a nun. Just fancy! And Mr. Oelbermann won’t have it. He says it would be just like burying his child. Yes, she wants to enter the convent of the Sacred Heart. Are you a Catholic, Doctor McTeague?”
“No. No, I ”
“Papa is a Catholic. He goes to Mass on the feast days once in a while. But mamma’s Lutheran.”
“The Catholics are trying to get control of the schools,” observed McTeague, suddenly remembering one of Marcus’s political tirades.
“That’s what cousin Mark says. We are going to send the twins to the kindergarten next month.”
“What’s the kindergarten?”
“Oh, they teach them to make things out of straw and toothpicks kind of a play place to keep them off the street.”
“There’s one up on Sacramento Street, not far from Polk Street. I saw the sign.” “I know where. Why, Selina used to play the piano there.”
“Does she play the piano?”
“Oh, you ought to hear her. She plays fine. Selina’s very accomplished. She paints, too.”
“I can play on the concertina.”
“Oh, can you? I wish you’d brought it along. Next time you will. I hope you’ll come often on our picnics. You’ll see what fun we’ll have.”
“Fine day for a picnic, ain’t it? There ain’t a cloud.”
“That’s so,” exclaimed Trina, looking up, “not a single cloud. Oh, yes; there is one, just over Telegraph Hill.”
“No, it’s a cloud. Smoke isn’t white that way.”
“’Tis a cloud.”
“I knew I was right. I never say a thing unless I’m pretty sure.”
“It looks like a dog’s head.”
“Don’t it? Isn’t Marcus fond of dogs?” “He got a new dog last week a setter.” “Did he?”
“Yes. He and I took a lot of dogs from his hospital out for a walk to the Cliff House last Sunday, but we had to walk all the way home, because they wouldn’t follow. You’ve been out to the Cliff House?”
“Not for a long time. We had a picnic there one Fourth of July, but it rained. Don’t you love the ocean?”
“Yes yes, I like it pretty well.”
“Oh, I’d like to go off in one of those big sailing ships. Just away, and away, and away, anywhere. They’re different from a little yacht. I’d love to travel.”
“Sure; so would I.”
“Papa and mamma came over in a sailing ship. They were twenty-one days. Mamma’s uncle used to be a sailor. He was captain of a steamer on Lake Geneva, in Switzerland.”
“Halt!” shouted Mr. Sieppe, brandishing his rifle. They had arrived at the gates of the park. All at once McTeague turned cold. He had only a quarter in his pocket. What was he expected to do pay for the whole party, or for Trina and himself, or merely buy his own ticket? And even in this latter case would a quarter be enough? He lost his wits, rolling his eyes helplessly. Then it occurred to him to feign a great abstraction, pretending not to know that the time was come to pay. He looked intently up and down the tracks; perhaps a train was coming. “Here we are,” cried Trina, as they came up to the rest of the party, crowded about the entrance. “Yes, yes,” observed McTeague, his head in the air.
“Gi’ me four bits, Mac,” said Marcus, coming up. “Here’s where we shell out.”
“I I I only got a quarter,” mumbled the dentist, miserably. He felt that he had ruined himself forever with Trina. What was the use of trying to win her? Destiny was against him. “I only got a quarter,” he stammered. He was on the point of adding that he would not go in the park. That seemed to be the only alternative.
“Oh, all right!” said Marcus, easily. “I’ll pay for you, and you can square with me when we go home.”
They filed into the park, Mr. Sieppe counting them off as they entered.
“Ah,” said Trina, with a long breath, as she and McTeague pushed through the wicket, “here we are once more, Doctor.” She had not appeared to notice McTeague’s embarrassment. The difficulty had been tided over somehow. Once more McTeague felt himself saved.
“To der beach!” shouted Mr. Sieppe. They had checked their baskets at the peanut stand. The whole party trooped down to the seashore. The greyhound was turned loose. The children raced on ahead.
From one of the larger parcels Mrs. Sieppe had drawn forth a small tin steamboat August’s birthday present a gaudy little toy which could be steamed up and navigated by means of an alcohol lamp. Her trial trip was to be made this morning.
“Gi’ me it, gi’ me it,” shouted August, dancing around his father.
“Not soh, not soh,” cried Mr. Sieppe, bearing it aloft. “I must first der eggsperimunt make.”
“No, no!” wailed August. “I want to play with ut.”
“Obey!” thundered Mr. Sieppe. August subsided. A little jetty ran part of the way into the water. Here, after a careful study of the directions printed on the cover of the box, Mr. Sieppe began to fire the little boat.
“I want to put ut in the wa-ater,” cried August. “Stand back!” shouted his parent. “You do not know so well as me; dere is dandger. Mitout attention he will eggsplode.”
“I want to play with ut,” protested August, beginning to cry.
“Ach, soh; you cry, bube!” vociferated Mr. Sieppe. “Mommer,” addressing Mrs. Sieppe, “he will soh soon be ge-whipt, eh?”
“I want my boa-wut,” screamed August, dancing.
“Silence!” roared Mr. Sieppe. The little boat began to hiss and smoke.
“Soh,” observed the father, “he gommence. Attention! I put him in der water.” He was very excited. The perspiration dripped from the back of his neck. The little boat was launched. It hissed more furiously than ever. Clouds of steam rolled from it, but it refused to move.
“You don’t know how she wo-rks,” sobbed August.
“I know more soh mudge as der grossest liddle fool as you,” cried Mr. Sieppe, fiercely, his face purple.
“You must give it sh shove!” exclaimed the boy.
“Den he eggsplode, idiot!” shouted his father. All at once the boiler of the steamer blew up with a sharp crack. The little tin toy turned over and sank out of sight before any one could interfere.
“Ah h! Yah! Yah!” yelled August. “It’s go-one!” Instantly Mr. Sieppe boxed his ears. There was a lamentable scene. August rent the air with his outcries; his father shook him till his boots danced on the jetty, shouting into his face:
“Ach, idiot! Ach, imbecile! Ach, miserable! I tol’ you he eggsplode. Stop your cry. Stop! It is an order. Do you wish I drow you in der water, eh? Speak. Silence, bube! Mommer, where ist mein stick? He will der grossest whippun ever of his life receive.”
Little by little the boy subsided, swallowing his sobs, knuckling his eyes, gazing ruefully at the spot where the boat had sunk. “Dot is better soh,” commented Mr. Sieppe, finally releasing him. “Next dime berhaps you will your fat’er better pelief. Now, no more. We will der glams gedig, Mommer, a fire. Ach, himmel! we have der pfeffer forgotten.”
The work of clam digging began at once, the little boys taking off their shoes and stockings. At first August refused to be comforted, and it was not until his father drove him into the water with his gold-headed cane that he consented to join the others.
What a day that was for McTeague! What a never-to-beforgotten day! He was with Trina constantly. They laughed together she demurely, her lips closed tight, her little chin thrust out, her small pale nose, with its adorable little freckles, wrinkling; he roared with all the force of his lungs, his enormous mouth distended, striking sledgehammer blows upon his knee with his clenched fist.
The lunch was delicious. Trina and her mother made a clam chowder that melted in one’s mouth. The lunch baskets were emptied. The party were fully two hours eating. There were huge loaves of rye bread full of grains of chickweed. There were weiner-wurst and frankfurter sausages. There was unsalted butter. There were pretzels. There was cold underdone chicken, which one ate in slices, plastered with a wonderful kind of mustard that did not sting. There were dried apples, that gave Mr. Sieppe the hiccoughs. There were a dozen bottles of beer, and, last of all, a crowning achievement, a marvellous Gotha truffle. After lunch came tobacco. Stuffed to the eyes, McTeague drowsed over his pipe, prone on his back in the sun, while Trina, Mrs. Sieppe, and Selina washed the dishes. In the afternoon Mr.Sieppe disappeared. They heard the reports of his rifle on the range. The others swarmed over the park, now around the swings, now in the Casino, now in the museum, now invading the merry-go-round.
At half-past five o’clock Mr. Sieppe marshalled the party together. It was time to return home.
The family insisted that Marcus and McTeague should take supper with them at their home and should stay over night. Mrs. Sieppe argued they could get no decent supper if they went back to the city at that hour; that they could catch an early morning boat and reach their business in good time. The two friends accepted.
The Sieppes lived in a little box of a house at the foot of B Street, the first house to the right as one went up from the station. It was two stories high, with a funny red mansard roof of oval slates. The interior was cut up into innumerable tiny rooms, some of them so small as to be hardly better than sleeping closets. In the back yard was a contrivance for pumping water from the cistern that interested McTeague at once. It was a dog-wheel, a huge revolving box in which the unhappy black greyhound spent most of his waking hours. It was his kennel; he slept in it. From time to time during the day Mrs. Sieppe appeared on the back doorstep, crying shrilly, “Hoop, hoop!” She threw lumps of coal at him, waking him to his work.
They were all very tired, and went to bed early. After great discussion it was decided that Marcus would sleep upon the lounge in the front parlor. Trina would sleep with August, giving up her room to McTeague. Selina went to her home, a block or so above the Sieppes’s. At nine o’clock Mr. Sieppe showed McTeague to his room and left him to himself with a newly lighted candle.
For a long time after Mr. Sieppe had gone McTeague stood motionless in the middle of the room, his elbows pressed close to his sides, looking obliquely from the corners of his eyes. He hardly dared to move. He was in Trina’s room.
It was an ordinary little room. A clean white matting was on the floor; gray paper, spotted with pink and green flowers, covered the walls. In one corner, under a white netting, was a little bed, the woodwork gayly painted with knots of bright flowers. Near it, against the wall, was a black walnut bureau. A work-table with spiral legs stood by the window, which was hung with a green and gold window curtain. Opposite the window the closet door stood ajar, while in the corner across from the bed was a tiny washstand with two clean towels.
And that was all. But it was Trina’s room. McTeague was in his lady’s bower; it seemed to him a little nest, intimate, discreet. He felt hideously out of place. He was an intruder; he, with his enormous feet, his colossal bones, his crude, brutal gestures. The mere weight of his limbs, he was sure, would crush the little bed-stead like an eggshell.
Then, as this first sensation wore off, he began to feel the charm of the little chamber. It was as though Trina were close by, but invisible. McTeague felt all the delight of her presence without the embarrassment that usually accompanied it. He was near to her nearer than he had ever been before. He saw into her daily life, her little ways and manners, her habits, her very thoughts. And was there not in the air of that room a certain faint perfume that he knew, that recalled her to his mind with marvellous vividness?
As he put the candle down upon the bureau he saw her hairbrush lying there. Instantly he picked it up, and, without knowing why, held it to his face. With what a delicious odor was it redolent! That heavy, enervating odor of her hair her wonderful, royal hair! The smell of that little hairbrush was talismanic. He had but to close his eyes to see her as distinctly as in a mirror. He saw her tiny, round figure, dressed all in black for, curiously enough, it was his very first impression of Trina that came back to him now not the Trina of the later occasions, not the Trina of the blue cloth skirt and white sailor. He saw her as he had seen her the day that Marcus had introduced them: saw her pale, round face; her narrow, half-open eyes, blue like the eyes of a baby; her tiny, pale ears, suggestive of anaemia; the freckles across the bridge of her nose; her pale lips; the tiara of royal black hair; and, above all, the delicious poise of the head, tipped back as though by the weight of all that hair the poise that thrust out her chin a little, with the movement that was so confiding, so innocent, so nearly infantile.
McTeague went softly about the room from one object to another, beholding Trina in everything he touched or looked at. He came at last to the closet door. It was ajar. He opened it wide, and paused upon the threshold.
Trina’s clothes were hanging there skirts and waists, jackets, and stiff white petticoats. What a vision! For an instant McTeague caught his breath, spellbound. If he had suddenly discovered Trina herself there, smiling at him, holding out her hands, he could hardly have been more overcome. Instantly he recognized the black dress she had worn on that famous first day. There it was, the little jacket she had carried over her arm the day he had terrified her with his blundering declaration, and still others, and others a whole group of Trinas faced him there. He went farther into the closet, touching the clothes gingerly, stroking them softly with his huge leathern palms. As he stirred them a delicate perfume disengaged itself from the folds. Ah, that exquisite feminine odor! It was not only her hair now, it was Trina herself her mouth, her hands, her neck; the indescribably sweet, fleshly aroma that was a part of her, pure and clean, and redolent of youth and freshness. All at once, seized with an unreasoned impulse, McTeague opened his huge arms and gathered the little garments close to him, plunging his face deep amongst them, savoring their delicious odor with long breaths of luxury and supreme content.
The picnic at Schuetzen Park decided matters. McTeague began to call on Trina regularly Sunday and Wednesday afternoons. He took Marcus Schouler’s place. Sometimes Marcus accompanied him, but it was generally to meet Selina by appointment at the Sieppes’s house.
But Marcus made the most of his renunciation of his cousin. He remembered his pose from time to time. He made McTeague unhappy and bewildered by wringing his hand, by venting sighs that seemed to tear his heart out, or by giving evidences of an infinite melancholy. “What is my life!” he would exclaim. “What is left for me? Nothing, by damn!” And when McTeague would attempt remonstrance, he would cry: “Never mind, old man. Never mind me. Go, be happy. I forgive you.”
Forgive what? McTeague was all at sea, was harassed with the thought of some shadowy, irreparable injury he had done his friend.
“Oh, don’t think of me!” Marcus would exclaim at other times, even when Trina was by. “Don’t think of me; I don’t count any more. I ain’t in it.” Marcus seemed to take great pleasure in contemplating the wreck of his life. There is no doubt he enjoyed himself hugely during these days.
The Sieppes were at first puzzled as well over this change of front.
“Trina has den a new younge man,” cried Mr. Sieppe. “First Schouler, now der doktor, eh? What die tevil, I say!”
Weeks passed, February went, March came in very rainy, putting a stop to all their picnics and Sunday excursions.
One Wednesday afternoon in the second week in March McTeague came over to call on Trina, bringing his concertina with him, as was his custom nowadays. As he got off the train at the station he was surprised to find Trina waiting for him.
“This is the first day it hasn’t rained in weeks,” she explained, “an’ I thought it would be nice to walk.”
“Sure, sure,” assented McTeague.
B Street station was nothing more than a little shed. There was no ticket office, nothing but a couple of whittled and carven benches. It was built close to the railroad tracks, just across which was the dirty, muddy shore of San Francisco Bay. About a quarter of a mile back from the station was the edge of the town of Oakland. Between the station and the first houses of the town lay immense salt flats, here and there broken by winding streams of black water. They were covered with a growth of wiry grass, strangely discolored in places by enormous stains of orange yellow.
Near the station a bit of fence painted with a cigar advertisement reeled over into the mud, while under its lee lay an abandoned gravel wagon with dished wheels. The station was connected with the town by the extension of B Street, which struck across the flats geometrically straight, a file of tall poles with intervening wires marching along with it. At the station these were headed by an iron electric-light pole that, with its supports and outriggers, looked for all the world like an immense grasshopper on its hind legs.
Across the flats, at the fringe of the town, were the dump heaps, the figures of a few Chinese rag-pickers moving over them. Far to the left the view was shut off by the immense red-brown drum of the gas-works; to the right it was bounded by the chimneys and workshops of an iron foundry.
Across the railroad tracks, to seaward, one saw the long stretch of black mud bank left bare by the tide, which was far out, nearly half a mile. Clouds of sea-gulls were forever rising and settling upon this mud bank; a wrecked and abandoned wharf crawled over it on tottering legs; close in an old sailboat lay canted on her bilge.
But farther on, across the yellow waters of the bay, beyond Goat Island, lay San Francisco, a blue line of hills, rugged with roofs and spires. Far to the westward opened the Golden Gate, a bleak cutting in the sand-hills, through which one caught a glimpse of the open Pacific.
The station at B Street was solitary; no trains passed at this hour; except the distant rag-pickers, not a soul was in sight. The wind blew strong, carrying with it the mingled smell of salt, of tar, of dead seaweed, and of bilge. The sky hung low and brown; at long intervals a few drops of rain fell.
Near the station Trina and McTeague sat on the roadbed of the tracks, at the edge of the mud bank, making the most out of the landscape, enjoying the open air, the salt marshes, and the sight of the distant water. From time to time McTeague played his six mournful airs upon his concertina.
After a while they began walking up and down the tracks, McTeague talking about his profession, Trina listening, very interested and absorbed, trying to understand.
“For pulling the roots of the upper molars we use the cowhorn forceps,” continued the dentist, monotonously. “We get the inside beak over the palatal roots and the cow-horn beak over the buccal roots that’s the roots on the outside, you see. Then we close the forceps, and that breaks right through the alveolus that’s the part of the socket in the jaw, you understand.”
At another moment he told her of his one unsatisfied desire. “Some day I’m going to have a big gilded tooth outside my window for a sign. Those big gold teeth are beautiful, beautiful only they cost so much, I can’t afford one just now.”
“Oh, it’s raining,” suddenly exclaimed Trina, holding out her palm. They turned back and reached the station in a drizzle. The afternoon was closing in dark and rainy. The tide was coming back, talking and lapping for miles along the mud bank. Far off across the flats, at the edge of the town, an electric car went by, stringing out a long row of diamond sparks on the overhead wires.
“Say, Miss Trina,” said McTeague, after a while, “what’s the good of waiting any longer? Why can’t us two get married?”
Trina still shook her head, saying “No” instinctively, in spite of herself. “Why not?” persisted McTeague. “Don’t you like me well enough?” “Yes.”
“Then why not?”
“Ah, come on,” he said, but Trina still shook her head.
“Ah, come on,” urged McTeague. He could think of nothing else to say, repeating the same phrase over and over again to all her refusals.
“Ah, come on! Ah, come on!”
Suddenly he took her in his enormous arms, crushing down her struggle with his immense strength. Then Trina gave up, all in an instant, turning her head to his. They kissed each other, grossly, full in the mouth.
A roar and a jarring of the earth suddenly grew near and passed them in a reek of steam and hot air. It was the Overland, with its flaming headlight, on its way across the continent.
The passage of the train startled them both. Trina struggled to free herself from McTeague. “Oh, please! please!” she pleaded, on the point of tears. McTeague released her, but in that moment a slight, a barely perceptible, revulsion of feeling had taken place in him. The instant that Trina gave up, the instant she allowed him to kiss her, he thought less of her. She was not so desirable, after all. But this reaction was so faint, so subtle, so intangible, that in another moment he had doubted its occurrence. Yet afterward it returned. Was there not something gone from Trina now? Was he not disappointed in her for doing that very thing for which he had longed? Was Trina the submissive, the compliant, the attainable just the same, just as delicate and adorable as Trina the inaccessible? Perhaps he dimly saw that this must be so, that it belonged to the changeless order of things the man desiring the woman only for what she withholds; the woman worshipping the man for that which she yields up to him. With each concession gained the man’s desire cools; with every surrender made the woman’s adoration increases. But why should it be so?
Trina wrenched herself free and drew back from McTeague, her little chin quivering; her face, even to the lobes of her pale ears, flushed scarlet; her narrow blue eyes brimming. Suddenly she put her head between her hands and began to sob.
“Say, say, Miss Trina, listen listen here, Miss Trina,” cried McTeague, coming forward a step.
“Oh, don’t!” she gasped, shrinking. “I must go home,” she cried, springing to her feet. “It’s late. I must. I must. Don’t come with me, please. Oh, I’m so so,” she could not find any words. “Let me go alone,” she went on. “You may you come Sunday. Good-by.”
“Good-by,” said McTeague, his head in a whirl at this sudden, unaccountable change. “Can’t I kiss you again?” But Trina was firm now. When it came to his pleading a mere matter of words she was strong enough.
“No, no, you must not!” she exclaimed, with energy. She was gone in another instant. The dentist, stunned, bewildered, gazed stupidly after her as she ran up the extension of B Street through the rain.
But suddenly a great joy took possession of him. He had won her. Trina was to be for him, after all. An enormous smile distended his thick lips; his eyes grew wide, and flashed; and he drew his breath quickly, striking his mallet-like fist upon his knee, and exclaiming under his breath:
“I got her, by God! I got her, by God!” At the same time he thought better of himself; his self-respect increased enormously. The man that could win Trina Sieppe was a man of extraordinary ability.
Trina burst in upon her mother while the latter was setting a mousetrap in the kitchen.
“Eh? Trina? Ach, what has happun?”
Trina told her in a breath.
“Soh soon?” was Mrs. Sieppe’s first comment. “Eh, well, what you cry for, then?” “I don’t know,” wailed Trina, plucking at the end of her handkerchief.
“You loaf der younge doktor?” “I don’t know.”
“Well, what for you kiss him?” “I don’t know.”
“You don’ know, you don’ know? Where haf your sensus gone, Trina? You kiss der doktor. You cry, and you don’ know. Is ut Marcus den?”
“No, it’s not Cousin Mark.” “Den ut must be der doktor.” Trina made no answer. “Eh?”
“I I guess so.”
“You loaf him?”
“I don’t know.”
Mrs. Sieppe set down the mousetrap with such violence that it sprung with a sharp snap.
No, Trina did not know. “Do I love him? Do I love him?” A thousand times she put the question to herself during the next two or three days. At night she hardly slept, but lay broad awake for hours in her little, gayly painted bed, with its white netting, torturing herself with doubts and questions. At times she remembered the scene in the station with a veritable agony of shame, and at other times she was ashamed to recall it with a thrill of joy. Nothing could have been more sudden, more unexpected, than that surrender of herself. For over a year she had thought that Marcus would some day be her husband. They would be married, she supposed, some time in the future, she did not know exactly when; the matter did not take definite shape in her mind. She liked Cousin Mark very well. And then suddenly this cross-current had set in; this blond giant had appeared, this huge, stolidfellow, with his immense, crude strength. She had not loved him at first, that was certain. The day he had spoken to her in his “Parlors” she had only been terrified. If he had confined himself to merely speaking, as did Marcus, to pleading with her, to wooing her at a distance, forestalling her wishes, showing her little attentions, sending her boxes of candy, she could have easily withstood him. But he had only to take her in his arms, to crush down her struggle with his enormous strength, to subdue her, conquer her by sheer brute force, and she gave up in an instant.
But why why had she done so? Why did she feel the desire, the necessity of being conquered by a superior strength? Why did it please her? Why had it suddenly thrilled her from head to foot with a quick, terrifying gust of passion, the like of which she had never known? Never at his best had Marcus made her feel like that, and yet she had always thought she cared for Cousin Mark more than for any one else.
When McTeague had all at once caught her in his huge arms, something had leaped to life in her something that had hitherto lain dormant, something strong and overpowering. It frightened her now as she thought of it, this second self that had wakened within her, and that shouted and clamored for recognition. And yet, was it to be feared? Was it something to be ashamed of? Was it not, after all, natural, clean, spontaneous? Trina knew that she was a pure girl; knew that this sudden commotion within her carried with it no suggestion of vice.
Dimly, as figures seen in a waking dream, these ideas floated through Trina’s mind. It was quite beyond her to realize them clearly; she could not know what they meant. Until that rainy day by the shore of the bay Trina had lived her life with as little self-consciousness as a tree. She was frank, straightforward, a healthy, natural human being, without sex as yet. She was almost like a boy. At once there had been a mysterious disturbance. The woman within her suddenly awoke.
Did she love McTeague? Difficult question. Did she choose him for better or for worse, deliberately, of her own free will, or was Trina herself allowed even a choice in the taking of that step that was to make or mar her life? The Woman is awakened, and, starting from her sleep, catches blindly at what first her newly opened eyes light upon. It is a spell, a witchery, ruled by chance alone, inexplicable a fairy queen enamored of a clown with ass’s ears.
McTeague had awakened the Woman, and, whether she would or no, she was his now irrevocably; struggle against it as she would, she belonged to him, body and soul, for life or for death. She had not sought it, she had not desired it. The spell was laid upon her. Was it a blessing? Was it a curse? It was all one; she was his, indissolubly, for evil or for good.
And he? The very act of submission that bound the woman to him forever had made her seem less desirable in his eyes. Their undoing had already begun. Yet neither of them was to blame. From the first they had not sought each other. Chance had brought them face to face, and mysterious instincts as ungovernable as the winds of heaven were at work knitting their lives together. Neither of them had asked that this thing should be that their destinies, their very souls, should be the sport of chance. If they could have known, they would have shunned the fearful risk. But they were allowed no voice in the matter. Why should it all be?
It had been on a Wednesday that the scene in the B Street station had taken place. Throughout the rest of the week, at every hour of the day, Trina asked herself the same question: “Do I love him? Do I really love him? Is this what love is like?” As she recalled McTeague recalled his huge, square-cut head, his salient jaw, his shock of yellow hair, his heavy, lumbering body, his slow wits she found little to admire in him beyond his physical strength, and at such moments she shook her head decisively. “No, surely she did not love him.” Sunday afternoon, however, McTeague called. Trina had prepared a little speech for him. She was to tell him that she did not know what had been the matter with her that Wednesday afternoon; that she had acted like a bad girl; that she did not love him well enough to marry him; that she had told him as much once before.
McTeague saw her alone in the little front parlor. The instant she appeared he came straight towards her. She saw what he was bent upon doing. “Wait a minute,” she cried, putting out her hands. “Wait. You don’t understand. I have got some-thing to say to you.” She might as well have talked to the wind. McTeague put aside her hands with a single gesture, and gripped her to him in a bearlike embrace that all but smothered her. Trina was but a reed before that giant strength. McTeague turned her face to his and kissed her again upon the mouth. Where was all Trina’s resolve then? Where was her carefully prepared little speech? Where was all her hesitation and torturing doubts of the last few days? She clasped McTeague’s huge red neck with both her slender arms; she raised her adorable little chin and kissed him in return, exclaiming: “Oh, I do love you! I do love you!” Never afterward were the two so happy as at that moment.
A little later in that same week, when Marcus and McTeague were taking lunch at the car conductors’ coffee-joint, the former suddenly exclaimed:
“Say, Mac, now that you’ve got Trina, you ought to do more for her. By damn! you ought to, for a fact. Why don’t you take her out somewhere to the theatre, or somewhere? You ain’t on to your job.”
Naturally, McTeague had told Marcus of his success with Trina. Marcus had taken on a grand air.
“You’ve got her, have you? Well, I’m glad of it, old man. I am, for a fact. I know you’ll be happy with her. I know how I would have been. I forgive you; yes, I forgive you, freely.”
McTeague had not thought of taking Trina to the theatre.
“You think I ought to, Mark?” he inquired, hesitating. Marcus answered, with his mouth full of suet pudding:
“Why, of course. That’s the proper caper.”
“Well well, that’s so. The theatre that’s the word.”
“Take her to the variety show at the Orpheum. There’s a good show there this week; you’ll have to take Mrs. Sieppe, too, of course,” he added. Marcus was not sure of himself as regarded certain proprieties, nor, for that matter, were any of the people of the little world of Polk Street. The shop girls, the plumbers’ apprentices, the small tradespeople, and their like, whose social position was not clearly defined, could never be sure how far they could go and yet preserve their “respectability.” When they wished to be “proper,” they invariably overdid the thing. It was not as if they belonged to the “tough” element, who had no appearances to keep up. Polk Street rubbed elbows with the “avenue” one block above. There were certain limits which its dwellers could not overstep; but unfortunately for them, these limits were poorly defined. They could never be sure of themselves. At an unguarded moment they might be taken for “toughs,” so they generally erred in the other direction, and were absurdly formal. No people have a keener eye for the amenities than those whose social position is not assured.
“Oh, sure, you’ll have to take her mother,” insisted Marcus. “It wouldn’t be the proper racket if you didn’t.”
McTeague undertook the affair. It was an ordeal. Never in his life had he been so perturbed, so horribly anxious. He called upon Trina the following Wednesday and made arrangements. Mrs. Sieppe asked if little August might be included. It would console him for the loss of his steamboat.
“Sure, sure,” said McTeague. “August too everybody,” he added, vaguely.
“We always have to leave so early,” complained Trina, “in order to catch the last boat. Just when it’s becoming interesting.”
At this McTeague, acting upon a suggestion of Marcus Schouler’s, insisted they should stay at the flat over night. Marcus and the dentist would give up their rooms to them and sleep at the dog hospital. There was a bed there in the sick ward that old Grannis sometimes occupied when a bad case needed watching. All at once McTeague had an idea, a veritable inspiration.
“And we’ll we’ll we’ll have what’s the matter with having something to eat afterward in my “Parlors?”
“Vairy goot,” commented Mrs. Sieppe. “Bier, eh? And some damales.”
“Oh, I love tamales!” exclaimed Trina, clasping her hands.
McTeague returned to the city, rehearsing his instructions over and over. The theatre party began to assume tremendous proportions. First of all, he was to get the seats, the third or fourth row from the front, on the left-hand side, so as to be out of the hearing of the drums in the orchestra; he must make arrangements about the rooms with Marcus, must get in the beer, but not the tamales; must buy for himself a white lawn tie so Marcus directed; must look to it that Maria Macapa put his room in perfect order; and, finally, must meet the Sieppes at the ferry slip at halfpast seven the following Monday night.
The real labor of the affair began with the buying of the tickets. At the theatre McTeague got into wrong entrances; was sent from one wicket to another; was bewildered, confused; misunderstood directions; was at one moment suddenly convinced that he had not enough money with him, and started to return home. Finally he found himself at the box-office wicket.
“Is it here you buy your seats?”
“Is it here ” “What night do you want ‘em? Yes, sir, here’s the place.” McTeague gravely delivered himself of the formula he had been reciting for the last dozen hours.
“I want four seats for Monday night in the fourth row from the front, and on the right-hand side.”
“Right hand as you face the house or as you face the stage?” McTeague was dumfounded.
“I want to be on the right-hand side,” he insisted, stolidly; adding, “in order to be away from the drums.”
“Well, the drums are on the right of the orchestra as you face the stage,” shouted the other impatiently; “you want to the left, then, as you face the house.”
“I want to be on the right-hand side,” persisted the dentist.
Without a word the seller threw out four tickets with a magnificent, supercilious gesture.
“There’s four seats on the right-hand side, then, and you’re right up against the drums.”
“But I don’t want to be near the drums,” protested McTeague, beginning to perspire.
“Do you know what you want at all?” said the ticket seller with calmness, thrusting his head at McTeague. The dentist knew that he had hurt this young man’s feelings.
“I want I want,” he stammered. The seller slammed down a plan of the house in front of him and began to explain excitedly. It was the one thing lacking to complete McTeague’s confusion.
“There are your seats,” finished the seller, shoving the tickets into McTeague’s hands. “They are the fourth row from the front, and away from the drums. Now are you satisfied?”
“Are they on the right-hand side? I want on the right no, I want on the left. I want I don’ know, I don’ know.”
The seller roared. McTeague moved slowly away, gazing stupidly at the blue slips of pasteboard. Two girls took his place at the wicket. In another moment McTeague came back, peering over the girls’ shoulders and calling to the seller:
“Are these for Monday night?”
The other disdained reply. McTeague retreated again timidly, thrusting the tickets into his immense wallet. For a moment he stood thoughtful on the steps of the entrance. Then all at once he became enraged, he did not know exactly why; somehow he felt himself slighted. Once more he came back to the wicket.
“You can’t make small of me,” he shouted over the girls’ shoulders; “you you can’t make small of me. I’ll thump you in the head, you little you little you little little little pup.” The ticket seller shrugged his shoulders wearily. “A dollar and a half,” he said to the two girls.
McTeague glared at him and breathed loudly. Finally he decided to let the matter drop. He moved away, but on the steps was once more seized with a sense of injury and outraged dignity.
“You can’t make small of me,” he called back a last time, wagging his head and shaking his fist. “I will I will I will yes, I will.” He went off muttering.
At last Monday night came. McTeague met the Sieppes at the ferry, dressed in a black Prince Albert coat and his best slate-blue trousers, and wearing the made-up lawn necktie that Marcus had selected for him. Trina was very pretty in the black dress that McTeague knew so well. She wore a pair of new gloves. Mrs. Sieppe had on lisle-thread mits, and carried two bananas and an orange in a net reticule. “For Owgooste,” she confided to him. Owgooste was in a Fauntleroy “costume” very much too small for him. Already he had been crying.
“Woult you pelief, Doktor, dot bube has torn his stockun alreatty? Walk in der front, you; stop cryun. Where is dot berliceman?”
At the door of the theatre McTeague was suddenly seized with a panic terror. He had lost the tickets. He tore through his pockets, ransacked his wallet. They were nowhere to be found. All at once he remembered, and with a gasp of relief removed his hat and took them out from beneath the sweatband.
The party entered and took their places. It was absurdly early. The lights were all darkened, the ushers stood under the galleries in groups, the empty auditorium echoing with their noisy talk. Occasionally a waiter with his tray and clean white apron sauntered up and doun the aisle. Directly in front of them was the great iron curtain of the stage, painted with all manner of advertisements. From behind this came a noise of hammering and of occasional loud voices.
While waiting they studied their programmes. First was an overture by the orchestra, after which came “The Gleasons, in their mirth-moving musical farce, entitled ‘McMonnigal’s Court-ship.’” This was to be followed by “The Lamont Sisters, Winnie and Violet, serio-comiques and skirt dancers.” And after this came a great array of other “artists” and “specialty performers,” musical wonders, acrobats, lightning artists, ventriloquists, and last of all, “The feature of the evening, the crowning scientific achievement of the nineteenth century, the kinetoscope.” McTeague was excited, dazzled. In five years he had not been twice to the theatre. Now he beheld himself inviting his “girl” and her mother to accompany him. He began to feel that he was a man of the world. He ordered a cigar.
Meanwhile the house was filling up. A few side brackets were turned on. The ushers ran up and down the aisles, stubs of tickets between their thumb and finger, and from every part of the auditorium could be heard the sharp clapclapping of the seats as the ushers flipped them down. A buzz of talk arose. In the gallery a street gamin whistled shrilly, and called to some friends on the other side of the house.
“Are they go-wun to begin pretty soon, ma?” whined Owgooste for the fifth or sixth time; adding, “Say, ma, can’t I have some candy?” A cadaverous little boy had appeared in their aisle, chanting, “Candies, French mixed candies, popcorn, peanuts and candy.” The orchestra entered, each man crawling out from an opening under the stage, hardly larger than the gate of a rabbit hutch. At every instant now the crowd increased; there were but few seats that were not taken. The waiters hurried up and down the aisles, their trays laden with beer glasses. A smell of cigar-smoke filled the air, and soon a faint blue haze rose from all corners of the house.
“Ma, when are they go-wun to begin?” cried Owgooste. As he spoke the iron advertisement curtain rose, disclosing the curtain proper underneath. This latter curtain was quite an affair. Upon it was painted a wonderful picture. A flight of marble steps led down to a stream of water; two white swans, their necks arched like the capital letter S, floated about. At the head of the marble steps were two vases filled with red and yellow flowers, while at the foot was moored a gondola. This gondola was full of red velvet rugs that hung over the side and trailed in the water. In the prow of the gondola a young man in vermilion tights held a mandolin in his left hand, and gave his right to a girl in white satin. A King Charles spaniel, dragging a leadingstring in the shape of a huge pink sash, followed the girl. Seven scarlet roses were scattered upon the two lowest steps, and eight floated in the water.
“Ain’t that pretty, Mac?” exclaimed Trina, turning to the dentist.
“Ma, ain’t they go-wun to begin now-wow?” whined Owgooste. Suddenly the lights all over the house blazed up. “Ah!” said everybody all at once.
“Ain’t ut crowdut?” murmured Mr. Sieppe. Every seat was taken; many were even standing up.
“I always like it better when there is a crowd,” said Trina. She was in great spirits that evening. Her round, pale face was positively pink.
The orchestra banged away at the overture, suddenly finishing with a great flourish of violins. A short pause followed. Then the orchestra played a quick-step strain, and the curtain rose on an interior furnished with two red chairs and a green sofa. A girl in a short blue dress and black stockings entered in a hurry and began to dust the two chairs. She was in a great temper, talking very fast, disclaiming against the “new lodger.” It appeared that this latter never paid his rent; that he was given to late hours. Then she came down to the footlights and began to sing in a tremendous voice, hoarse and flat, almost like a man’s. The chorus, of a feeble originality, ran:
“Oh, how happy I will be,
When my darling’s face I’ll see;
Oh, tell him for to meet me in the moonlight,
Down where the golden lilies bloom.”
The orchestra played the tune of this chorus a second time, with certain variations, while the girl danced to it. She sidled to one side of the stage and kicked, then sidled to the other and kicked again. As she finished with the song, a man, evidently the lodger in question, came in. Instantly McTeague exploded in a roar of laughter. The man was intoxicated, his hat was knocked in, one end of his collar was unfastened and stuck up into his face, his watchchain dangled from his pocket, and a yellow satin slipper was tied to a button-hole of his vest; his nose was vermilion, one eye was black and blue. After a short dialogue with the girl, a third actor appeared. He was dressed like a little boy, the girl’s younger brother. He wore an immense turned-down collar, and was continually doing handsprings and wonderful back somersaults. The “act” devolved upon these three people; the lodger making love to the girl in the short blue dress, the boy playing all manner of tricks upon him, giving him tremendous digs in the ribs or slaps upon the back that made him cough, pulling chairs from under him, running on all fours between his legs and upsetting him, knocking him over at inopportune moments. Every one of his falls was accentuated by a bang upon the bass drum. The whole humor of the “act” seemed to consist in the tripping up of the intoxicated lodger.
This horse-play delighted McTeague beyond measure. He roared and shouted every time the lodger went down, slapping his knee, wagging his head. Owgooste crowed shrilly, clapping his hands and continually asking, “What did he say, ma? What did he say?” Mrs. Sieppe laughed immoderately, her huge fat body shaking like a mountain of jelly. She exclaimed from time to time, “Ach, Gott, dot fool!” Even Trina was moved, laughing demurely, her lips closed, putting one hand with its new glove to her mouth.
The performance went on. Now it was the “musical marvels,” two men extravagantly made up as negro minstrels, with immense shoes and plaid vests. They seemed to be able to wrestle a tune out of almost anything glass bottles, cigarbox fiddles, strings of sleigh-bells, even graduated brass tubes, which they rubbed with resined fingers. McTeague was stupefied with admiration.
“That’s what you call musicians,” he announced gravely. “Home, Sweet Home,” played upon a trombone. Think of that! Art could go no farther.
The acrobats left him breathless. They were dazzling young men with beautifully parted hair, continually making graceful gestures to the audience. In one of them the dentist fancied he saw a strong resemblance to the boy who had tormented the intoxicated lodger and who had turned such marvellous somersaults. Trina could not bear to watch their antics. She turned away her head with a little shudder. “It always makes me sick,” she explained.
The beautiful young lady, “The Society Contralto,” in evening dress, who sang the sentimental songs, and carried the sheets of music at which she never looked, pleased McTeague less. Trina, however, was captivated. She grew pensive over
“You do not love me no;
Bid me good-by and go;”
and split her new gloves in her enthusiasm when it was finished.
“Don’t you love sad music, Mac?” she murmured.
Then came the two comedians. They talked with fearful rapidity; their wit andrepartee seemed inexhaustible.
“As I was going down the street yesterday ”
“Ah! as YOU were going down the street all right.”
“I saw a girl at a window ”
“YOU saw a girl at a window.”
“And this girl she was a corker ”
“Ah! as YOU were going down the street yesterday you saw a girl at a window, and this girl she was a corker. All right, go on.”
The other comedian went on. The joke was suddenly evolved. A certain phrase led to a song, which was sung with lightning rapidity, each performer making precisely the same gestures at precisely the same instant. They were irresistible. McTeague, though he caught but a third of the jokes, could have listened all night.
After the comedians had gone out, the iron advertisement curtain was let down. “What comes now?” said McTeague, bewildered.
“It’s the intermission of fifteen minutes now.”
The musicians disappeared through the rabbit hutch, and the audience stirred and stretched itself. Most of the young men left their seats.
During this intermission McTeague and his party had “refreshments.” Mrs.
Sieppe and Trina had Queen Charlottes, McTeague drank a glass of beer, Owgooste ate the orange and one of the bananas. He begged for a glass of lemonade, which was finally given him.
“Joost to geep um quiet,” observed Mrs. Sieppe.
But almost immediately after drinking his lemonade Owgooste was seized with a sudden restlessness. He twisted and wriggled in his seat, swinging his legs violently, looking about him with eyes full of a vague distress. At length, just as the musicians were returning, he stood up and whispered energetically in his mother’s ear. Mrs. Sieppe was exasperated at once. “No, no,” she cried, reseating him brusquely.
The performance was resumed. A lightning artist appeared, drawing caricatures and portraits with incredible swiftness. He even went so far as to ask for subjects from the audience, and the names of prominent men were shouted to him from the gallery. He drew portraits of the President, of Grant, of Washington, of Napoleon Bonaparte, of Bismarck, of Garibaldi, of P. T. Barnum.
And so the evening passed. The hall grew very hot, and the smoke of innumerable cigars made the eyes smart. A thick blue mist hung low over the heads of the audience. The air was full of varied smells the smell of stale cigars, of flat beer, of orange peel, of gas, of sachet powders, and of cheap perfumery.
One “artist” after another came upon the stage. McTeague’s attention never wandered for a minute. Trina and her mother enjoyed themselves hugely. At every moment they made comments to one another, their eyes never leaving the stage.
“Ain’t dot fool joost too funny?”
“That’s a pretty song. Don’t you like that kind of a song?”
“Wonderful! It’s wonderful! Yes, yes, wonderful! That’s the word.”
Owgooste, however, lost interest. He stood up in his place, his back to the stage, chewing a piece of orange peel and watching a little girl in her father’s lap across the aisle, his eyes fixed in a glassy, ox-like stare. But he was uneasy. He danced from one foot to the other, and at intervals appealed in hoarse whispers to his mother, who disdained an answer.
“Ma, say, ma-ah,” he whined, abstractedly chewing his orange peel, staring at the little girl.
“Ma-ah, say, ma.” At times his monotonous plaint reached his mother’s consciousness. She suddenly realized what this was that was annoying her.
“Owgooste, will you sit down?” She caught him up all at once, and jammed him down into his place.
“Be quiet, den; loog; listun at der yunge girls.”
Three young women and a young man who played a zither occupied the stage. They were dressed in Tyrolese costume; they were yodlers, and sang in German about “mountain tops” and “bold hunters” and the like. The yodling chorus was a marvel of flute-like modulations. The girls were really pretty, and were not made up in the least. Their “turn” had a great success. Mrs. Sieppe was entranced. Instantly she remembered her girlhood and her native Swiss village.
“Ach, dot is heavunly; joost like der old country. Mein gran’mutter used to be one of der mos’ famous yodlers. When I was leedle, I haf seen dem joost like dat.”
“Ma-ah,” began Owgooste fretfully, as soon as the yodlers had departed. He could not keep still an instant; he twisted from side to side, swinging his legs with incredible swiftness.
“Ma-ah, I want to go ho-ome.”
“Pehave!” exclaimed his mother, shaking him by the arm; “loog, der leedle girl is watchun you. Dis is der last dime I take you to der blay, you see.”
“I don’t ca-are; I’m sleepy.” At length, to their great relief, he went to sleep, his head against his mother’s arm.
The kinetoscope fairly took their breaths away.
“What will they do next?” observed Trina, in amazement. “Ain’t that wonderful, Mac?”
McTeague was awe-struck. “Look at that horse move his head,” he cried excitedly, quite carried away. “Look at that cable car coming and the man going across the street. See, here comes a truck. Well, I never in all my life! What would Marcus say to this?”
“It’s all a drick!” exclaimed Mrs. Sieppe, with sudden conviction. “I ain’t no fool; dot’s nothun but a drick.”
“Well, of course, mamma,” exclaimed Trina, “it’s ”
But Mrs. Sieppe put her head in the air.
“I’m too old to be fooled,” she persisted. “It’s a drick.” Nothing more could be got out of her than this.
The party stayed to the very end of the show, though the kinetoscope was the last number but one on the programme, and fully half the audience left immediately afterward. However, while the unfortunate Irish comedian went through his “act” to the backs of the departing people, Mrs. Sieppe woke Owgooste, very cross and sleepy, and began getting her “things together.” As soon as he was awake Owgooste began fidgeting again.
“Save der brogramme, Trina,” whispered Mrs. Sieppe. “Take ut home to popper. Where is der hat of Owgooste? Haf you got mein handkerchief, Trina?”
But at this moment a dreadful accident happened to Owgooste; his distress reached its climax; his fortitude collapsed. What a misery! It was a veritable catastrophe, deplorable, lamentable, a thing beyond words! For a moment he gazedwildly about him, helpless and petrified with astonishment and terror. Then his grief found utterance, and the closing strains of the orchestra were mingled with a prolonged wail of infinite sadness. “Owgooste, what is ut?” cried his mother eyeing him with dawning suspicion; then suddenly, “What haf you done? You haf ruin your new Vauntleroy gostume!” Her face blazed; without more ado she smacked him soundly. Then it was that Owgooste touched the limit of his misery, his unhappiness, his horrible discomfort; his utter wretchedness was complete. He filled the air with his doleful outcries. The more he was smacked and shaken, the louder he wept. “What what is the matter?” inquired McTeague. Trina’s face was scarlet. “Nothing, nothing,” she exclaimed hastily, looking away. “Come, we must be going. It’s about over.” The end of the show and the breaking up of the audience tided over the embarrassment of the moment.
The party filed out at the tail end of the audience. Already the lights were being extinguished and the ushers spreading druggeting over the upholstered seats.
McTeague and the Sieppes took an uptown car that would bring them near Polk Street. The car was crowded; McTeague and Owgooste were obliged to stand. The little boy fretted to be taken in his mother’s lap, but Mrs. Sieppe emphatically refused.
On their way home they discussed the performance.
“I I like best der yodlers.”
“Ah, the soloist was the best the lady who sang those sad songs.” “Wasn’t wasn’t that magic lantern wonderful, where the figures moved? Won-derful ah, wonderful! And wasn’t that first act funny, where the fellow fell down all the time? And that musical act, and the fellow with the burnt-cork face who played ‘Nearer, My God, to Thee’ on the beer bottles.”
They got off at Polk Street and walked up a block to the flat. The street was dark and empty; opposite the flat, in the back of the deserted market, the ducks and geese were calling persistently.
As they were buying their tamales from the half-breed Mexican at the street corner, McTeague observed:
“Marcus ain’t gone to bed yet. See, there’s a light in his window. There!” he exclaimed at once, “I forgot the doorkey. Well, Marcus can let us in.”
Hardly had he rung the bell at the street door of the flat when the bolt was shot back. In the hall at the top of the long, narrow staircase there was the sound of a great scurrying. Maria Macapa stood there, her hand upon the rope that drew the bolt; Marcus was at her side; Old Grannis was in the background, looking over their shoulders; while little Miss Baker leant over the banisters, a strange man in a drab overcoat at her side. As McTeague’s party stepped into the doorway a half-dozen voices cried:
“Yes, it’s them.”
“Is that you, Mac?”
“Is that you, Miss Sieppe?”
“Is your name Trina Sieppe?”
Then, shriller than all the rest, Maria Macapa screamed:
“Oh, Miss Sieppe, come up here quick. Your lottery ticket has won five thousand dollars!”
“What nonsense!” answered Trina.
“Ach Gott! What is ut?” cried Mrs. Sieppe, misunderstanding, supposing a calamity.
“What what what,” stammered the dentist, confused by the lights, the crowded stairway, the medley of voices. The party reached the landing. The others surrounded them. Marcus alone seemed to rise to the occasion.
“Le’ me be the first to congratulate you,” he cried, catching Trina’s hand. Every one was talking at once.
“Miss Sieppe, Miss Sieppe, your ticket has won five thousand dollars,” cried Maria. “Don’t you remember the lottery ticket I sold you in Doctor McTeague’s office?”
“Trina!” almost screamed her mother. “Five tausend thalers! five tausend thalers! If popper were only here!”
“What is it what is it?” exclaimed McTeague, rolling his eyes.
“What are you going to do with it, Trina?” inquired Marcus.
“You’re a rich woman, my dear,” said Miss Baker, her little false curls quivering
with excitement, “and I’m glad for your sake. Let me kiss you. To think I was in the room when you bought the ticket!”
“Oh, oh!” interrupted Trina, shaking her head, “there is a mistake. There must be. Why why should I win five thousand dollars? It’s nonsense!”
“No mistake, no mistake,” screamed Maria. “Your number was 400,012. Here it is in the paper this evening. I remember it well, because I keep an account.”
“But I know you’re wrong,” answered Trina, beginning to tremble in spite of herself. “Why should I win?”
“Eh? Why shouldn’t you?” cried her mother.
In fact, why shouldn’t she? The idea suddenly occurred to Trina. After all, it was not a question of effort or merit on her part. Why should she suppose a mistake? What if it were true, this wonderful fillip of fortune striking in there like some chance-driven bolt?
“Oh, do you think so?” she gasped.
The stranger in the drab overcoat came forward.
“It’s the agent,” cried two or three voices, simultaneously.
“I guess you’re one of the lucky ones, Miss Sieppe,” he said. I suppose you have kept your ticket.”
“Yes, yes; four three oughts twelve I remember.”
“That’s right,” admitted the other. “Present your ticket at the local branch office as soon as possible the address is printed on the back of the ticket and you’ll receive a check on our bank for five thousand dollars. Your number will have to be verified on our official list, but there’s hardly a chance of a mistake. Icongratulate you.”
All at once a great shrill of gladness surged up in Trina. She was to possess five thousand dollars. She was carried away with the joy of her good fortune, a natural, spontaneous joy the gaiety of a child with a new and wonderful toy. “
Oh, I’ve won, I’ve won, I’ve won!” she cried, clapping her hands. “Mamma, think of it. I’ve won five thousand dollars, just by buying a ticket. Mac, what do you say to that? I’ve got five thousand dollars. August, do you hear what’s happened to sister?”
“Kiss your mommer, Trina,” suddenly commanded Mrs. Sieppe. “What efer will you do mit all dose money, eh, Trina?”
“Huh!” exclaimed Marcus. “Get married on it for one thing. Thereat they all shouted with laughter. McTeague grinned, and looked about sheepishly. “Talk about luck,” muttered Marcus, shaking his head at the dentist; then suddenly he added:
“Well, are we going to stay talking out here in the hall all night? Can’t we all come into your ‘Parlors,’ Mac?”
“Sure, sure,” exclaimed McTeague, hastily unlocking his door.
“Efery botty gome,” cried Mrs. Sieppe, genially. “Ain’t ut so, Doktor?” “Everybody,” repeated the dentist. “There’s there’s some beer.”
“We’ll celebrate, by damn!” exclaimed Marcus. “It ain’t every day you win five thousand dollars. It’s only Sundays and legal holidays.” Again he set the company off into a gale of laughter. Anything was funny at a time like this. In some way every one of them felt elated. The wheel of fortune had come spinning close to them. They were near to this great sum of money. It was as though they too had won.
“Here’s right where I sat when I bought that ticket,” cried Trina, after they had come into the “Parlors,” and Marcus had lit the gas. “Right here in this chair.” She sat down in one of the rigid chairs under the steel engraving. “And, Marcus, you sat here ”
“And I was just getting out of the operating chair,” interposed Miss Baker.
“Yes, yes. That’s so; and you,” continued Trina, pointing to Maria, “came up and said, ‘Buy a ticket in the lottery; just a dollar.’ Oh, I remember it just as plain as though it was yesterday, and I wasn’t going to at first ”
“And don’t you know I told Maria it was against the law?”
“Yes, I remember, and then I gave her a dollar and put the ticket in my pocketbook. It’s in my pocketbook now at home in the top drawer of my bureau oh, suppose it should be stolen now,” she suddenly exclaimed.
“It’s worth big money now,” asserted Marcus.
“Five thousand dollars. Who would have thought it? It’s wonderful.” Everybody started and turned. It was McTeague. He stood in the middle of the floor, wagging his huge head. He seemed to have just realized what had happened.
“Yes, sir, five thousand dollars!” exclaimed Marcus, with a sudden unaccountable mirthlessness. “Five thousand dollars! Do you get on to that? Cousin Trina and you will be rich people.”
“At six per cent, that’s twenty-five dollars a month,” hazarded the agent.
“Think of it. Think of it,” muttered McTeague. He went aimlessly about the room, his eyes wide, his enormous hands dangling.”
A cousin of mine won forty dollars once,” observed Miss Baker. “But he spent every cent of it buying more tickets, and never won anything.”
Then the reminiscences began. Maria told about the butcher on the next block who had won twenty dollars the last drawing. Mrs. Sieppe knew a gasfitter in Oakland who had won several times; once a hundred dollars. Little Miss Baker announced that she had always believed that lotteries were wrong; but, just the same, five thousand was five thousand.
“It’s all right when you win, ain’t it, Miss Baker?” observed Marcus, with a certain sarcasm. What was the matter with Marcus? At moments he seemed singularly out of temper.
But the agent was full of stories. He told his experiences, the legends and myths that had grown up around the history of the lottery; he told of the poor newsboy with a dying mother to support who had drawn a prize of fifteen thousand; of the man who was driven to suicide through want, but who held (had he but known it) the number that two days after his death drew the capital prize of thirty thousand dollars; of the little milliner who for ten years had played the lottery without success, and who had one day declared that she would buy but one more ticket and then give up trying, and of how this last ticket had brought her a fortune upon which she could retire; of tickets that had been lost or destroyed, and whose numbers had won fabulous sums at the drawing; of criminals, driven to vice by poverty, and who had reformed after winning competencies; of gamblers who played the lottery as they would play a faro bank, turning in their winnings again as soon as made, buying thousands of tickets all over the country; of superstitions as to terminal and initial numbers, and as to lucky days of purchase; of marvellous coincidences three capital prizes drawn consecutively by the same town; a ticket bought by a millionaire and given to his boot-black, who won athousand dollars upon it; the same number winning the same amount an indefinite number of times; and so on to infinity. Invariably it was the needy who won, the destitute and starving woke to wealth and plenty, the virtuous toiler suddenly found his reward in a ticket bought at a hazard; the lottery was a great charity, the friend of the people, a vast beneficent machine that recognized neither rank nor wealth nor station.
The company began to be very gay. Chairs and tables were brought in from the adjoining rooms, and Maria was sent out for more beer and tamales, and also commissioned to buy a bottle of wine and some cake for Miss Baker, who abhorred beer.
The “Dental Parlors” were in great confusion. Empty beer bottles stood on the movable rack where the instruments were kept; plates and napkins were upon the seat of the operating chair and upon the stand of shelves in the corner, side by side with the concertina and the volumes of “Allen’s Practical Dentist.” The canary woke and chittered crossly, his feathers puffed out; the husks of tamales littered the floor; the stone pug dog sitting before the little stove stared at the unusual scene, his glass eyes starting from their sockets.
They drank and feasted in impromptu fashion. Marcus Schouler assumed the office of master of ceremonies; he was in a lather of excitement, rushing about here and there, opening beer bottles, serving the tamales, slapping McTeague upon the back, laughing and joking continually. He made McTeague sit at the head of the table, with Trina at his right and the agent at his left; he when he sat down at all occupied the foot, Maria Macapa at his left, while next to her was Mrs. Sieppe, opposite Miss Baker. Owgooste had been put to bed upon the bed-lounge.
“Where’s Old Grannis?” suddenly exclaimed Marcus. Sure enough, where had the old Englishman gone? He had been there at first.
“I called him down with everybody else,” cried Maria Macapa, “as soon as I saw in the paper that Miss Sieppe had won. We all came down to Mr. Schouler’s room and waited for you to come home. I think he must have gone back to his room. I’ll bet you’ll find him sewing up his books.”
“No, no,” observed Miss Baker, “not at this hour.”
Evidently the timid old gentleman had taken advantage of the confusion to slip unobtrusively away.
“I’ll go bring him down,” shouted Marcus; “he’s got to join us.”
Miss Baker was in great agitation.
“I I hardly think you’d better,” she murmured; “he he I don’t think he drinks beer.”
“He takes his amusement in sewin’ up books,” cried Maria.
Marcus brought him down, nevertheless, having found him just preparing for bed. “I I must apologize,” stammered Old Grannis, as he stood in the doorway. “I had not quite expected I find find myself a little unprepared.” He was without collar and cravat, owing to Marcus Schouler’s precipitate haste. He was annoyed beyond words that Miss Baker saw him thus. Could anything be more embarrassing?
Old Grannis was introduced to Mrs. Sieppe and to Trina as Marcus’s employer. They shook hands solemnly.
“I don’t believe that he an’ Miss Baker have ever been introduced,” cried Maria Macapa, shrilly, “an’ they’ve been livin’ side by side for years.”
The two old people were speechless, avoiding each other’s gaze. It had come at last; they were to know each other, to talk together, to touch each other’s hands.
Marcus brought Old Grannis around the table to little Miss Baker, dragging him by the coat sleeve, exclaiming: “Well, I thought you two people knew each other long ago. Miss Baker, this is Mr. Grannis; Mr. Grannis, this is Miss Baker.” Neither spoke. Like two little children they faced each other, awkward, constrained, tongue-tied with embarrassment. Then Miss Baker put out her hand shyly. Old Grannis touched it for an instant and let it fall.
“Now you know each other,” cried Marcus, “and it’s about time.” For the first time their eyes met; Old Grannis trembled a little, putting his hand uncertainly to his chin. Miss Baker flushed ever so slightly, but Maria Macapa passed suddenly between them, carrying a half empty beer bottle. The two old people fell back from one another, Miss Baker resuming her seat.
“Here’s a place for you over here, Mr. Grannis,” cried Marcus, making room for him at his side. Old Grannis slipped into the chair, withdrawing at once from the company’s notice. He stared fixedly at his plate and did not speak again. Old Miss Baker began to talk volubly across the table to Mrs. Sieppe about hot-house flowers and medicated flannels.
It was in the midst of this little impromptu supper that the engagement of Trina and the dentist was announced. In a pause in the chatter of conversation Mrs. Sieppe leaned forward and, speaking to the agent, said:
“Vell, you know also my daughter Trina get married bretty soon. She and der dentist, Doktor McTeague, eh, yes?”
There was a general exclamation.
“I thought so all along,” cried Miss Baker, excitedly. “The first time I saw them together I said, ‘What a pair!’”
“Delightful!” exclaimed the agent, “to be married and win a snug little fortune at the same time.”
“So So,” murmured Old Grannis, nodding at his plate.
“Good luck to you,” cried Maria.
“He’s lucky enough already,” growled Marcus under his breath, relapsing for a moment into one of those strange moods of sullenness which had marked him throughout the evening.
Trina flushed crimson, drawing shyly nearer her mother. McTeague grinned from ear to ear, looking around from one to another, exclaiming “Huh! Huh!”
But the agent rose to his feet, a newly filled beer glass in his hand. He was a man of the world, this agent. He knew life. He was suave and easy. A diamond was on his little finger.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he began. There was an instant silence. “This is indeed a happy occasion. I I am glad to be here to-night; to be a witness to such good fortune; to partake in these in this celebration. Why, I feel almost as gladas if I had held four three oughts twelve myself; as if the five thousand were mine instead of belonging to our charming hostess. The good wishes of my humble self go out to Miss Sieppe in this moment of her good fortune, and I think in fact, I am sure I can speak for the great institution, the great company I represent. The company congratulates Miss Sieppe. We they ah They wish her every happiness her new fortune can procure her. It has been my duty, my ah cheerful duty to call upon the winners of large prizes and to offer the felicitation of the company. I have, in my experience, called upon many such; but never have I seen fortune so happily bestowed as in this case. The company have dowered the prospective bride. I am sure I but echo the sentiments of this assembly when I wish all joy and happiness to this happy pair, happy in the possession of a snug little fortune, and happy happy in ” he finished with a sudden inspiration ”in the possession of each other; I drink to the health, wealth, and happiness of the future bride and groom. Let us drink standing up.” They drank with enthusiasm. Marcus was carried away with the excitement of the moment.
“Outa sight, outa sight,” he vociferated, clapping his hands. “Very well said. To the health of the bride. McTeague, McTeague, speech, speech!”
In an instant the whole table was clamoring for the dentist to speak. McTeague was terrified; he gripped the table with both hands, looking wildly about him.
“Speech, speech!” shouted Marcus, running around the table and endeavoring to drag McTeague up.
“No no no,” muttered the other. “No speech.” The company rattled upon the table with their beer glasses, insisting upon a speech. McTeague settled obstinately into his chair, very red in the face, shaking his head energetically.
“Ah, go on!” he exclaimed; “no speech.”
“Ah, get up and say somethun, anyhow,” persisted Marcus; “you ought to do it. It’s the proper caper.”
McTeague heaved himself up; there was a burst of applause; he looked slowly about him, then suddenly sat down again, shaking his head hopelessly.
“Oh, go on, Mac,” cried Trina.
“Get up, say somethun, anyhow, cried Marcus, tugging at his arm; “you GOT to.” Once more McTeague rose to his feet.
“Huh!” he exclaimed, looking steadily at the table. Then he began:
“I don’ know what to say I I I ain’t never made a speech before; I I ain’t never made a speech before. But I’m glad Trina’s won the prize ”
“Yes, I’ll bet you are,” muttered Marcus.
“I I I’m glad Trina’s won, and I I want to I want to I want to want to say that you’re all welcome, an’ drink hearty, an’ I’m much obliged to the agent. Trina and I are goin’ to be married, an’ I’m glad everybody’s here tonight, an’ you’re all welcome, an’ drink hearty, an’ I hope you’ll come again, an’ you’re always welcome an’ I an’ an’ That’s about all I gotta say.” He sat down, wiping his forehead, amidst tremendous applause.
Soon after that the company pushed back from the table and relaxed into couples and groups. The men, with the exception of Old Grannis, began to smoke, the smell of their tobacco mingling with the odors of ether, creosote, and stale bedding, which pervaded the “Parlors.” Soon the windows had to be lowered from the top. Mrs. Sieppe and old Miss Baker sat together in the bay window exchanging confidences. Miss Baker had turned back the overskirt of her dress; a plate of cake was in her lap; from time to time she sipped her wine with the delicacy of a white cat. The two women were much interested in each other. Miss Baker told Mrs. Sieppe all about Old Grannis, not forgetting the fiction of the title and the unjust stepfather.
“He’s quite a personage really,” said Miss Baker. Mrs. Sieppe led the conversation around to her children. “Ach, Trina is sudge a goote girl,” she said; “always gay, yes, und sing from morgen to night. Und Owgooste, he is soh smart also, yes, eh? He has der genius for machines, always making somethun mit wheels und sbrings.”
“Ah, if if I had children,” murmured the little old maid a trifle wistfully, “one would have been a sailor; he would have begun as a midshipman on my brother’s ship; in time he would have been an officer. The other would have beena landscape gardener.”
“Oh, Mac!” exclaimed Trina, looking up into the dentist’s face, “think of all this money coming to us just at this very moment. Isn’t it wonderful? Don’t it kind of scare you?”
“Wonderful, wonderful!” muttered McTeague, shaking his head. “Let’s buy a lot of tickets,” he added, struck with an idea.
“Now, that’s how you can always tell a good cigar,” observed the agent to Marcus as the two sat smoking at the end of the table. “The light end should be rolled to a point.”
“Ah, the Chinese cigar-makers,” cried Marcus, in a passion, brandishing his fist. “It’s them as is ruining the cause of white labor. They are, they are for a fact.
Ah, the rat-eaters! Ah, the white-livered curs!”
Over in the corner, by the stand of shelves, Old Grannis was listening to Maria Macapa. The Mexican woman had been violently stirred over Trina’s sudden wealth; Maria’s mind had gone back to her younger days. She leaned forward, her elbows on her knees, her chin in her hands, her eyes wide and fixed. Old Grannis listened to her attentively.
“There wa’n’t a piece that was so much as scratched,” Maria was saying. “Every piece was just like a mirror, smooth and bright; oh, bright as a little sun. Such a service as that was platters and soup tureens and an immense big punchbowl. Five thousand dollars, what does that amount to? Why, that punch-bowl alone was worth a fortune.”
“What a wonderful story!” exclaimed Old Grannis, never for an instant doubting its truth. “And it’s all lost now, you say?”
“Lost, lost,” repeated Maria.
“Tut, tut! What a pity! What a pity!”
Suddenly the agent rose and broke out with:
“Well, I must be going, if I’m to get any car.”
He shook hands with everybody, offered a parting cigar to Marcus, congratu-lated McTeague and Trina a last time, and bowed himself out.
“What an elegant gentleman,” commented Miss Baker.
“Ah,” said Marcus, nodding his head, “there’s a man of the world for you. Right on to himself, by damn!”
The company broke up.
“Come along, Mac,” cried Marcus; “we’re to sleep with the dogs to-night, you know.”
The two friends said “Good-night” all around and departed for the little dog hospital.
Old Grannis hurried to his room furtively, terrified lest he should again be brought face to face with Miss Baker. He bolted himself in and listened until he heard her foot in the hall and the soft closing of her door. She was there close beside him; as one might say, in the same room; for he, too, had made the discovery as to the similarity of the wallpaper. At long intervals he could hear a faint rustling as she moved about. What an evening that had been for him! He had met her, had spoken to her, had touched her hand; he was in a tremor of excitement. In a like manner the little old dressmaker listened and quivered. HE was there in that same room which they shared in common, separated only by the thinnest board partition. He was thinking of her, she was almost sure of it. They were strangers no longer; they were acquaintances, friends. What an event that evening had been in their lives!
Late as it was, Miss Baker brewed a cup of tea and sat down in her rocking chair close to the partition; she rocked gently, sipping her tea, calming herself after the emotions of that wonderful evening.
Old Grannis heard the clinking of the tea things and smelt the faint odor of the tea. It seemed to him a signal, an invitation. He drew his chair close to his side of the partition, before his work-table. A pile of half-bound “Nations” was in the little binding apparatus; he threaded his huge upholsterer’s needle with stout twine and set to work.
It was their tete-a-tete. Instinctively they felt each other’s presence, felt each other’s thought coming to them through the thin partition. It was charming; they were perfectly happy. There in the stillness that settled over the flat in the half hour after midnight the two old people “kept company,” enjoying after their fashion their little romance that had come so late into the lives of each.
On the way to her room in the garret Maria Macapa paused under the single gas-jet that burned at the top of the well of the staircase; she assured herself that she was alone, and then drew from her pocket one of McTeague’s “tapes” of non-cohesive gold. It was the most valuable steal she had ever yet made in the dentist’s “Parlors.” She told herself that it was worth at least a couple of dollars. Suddenly an idea occurred to her, and she went hastily to a window at the end of the hall, and, shading her face with both hands, looked down into the little alley just back of the flat. On some nights Zerkow, the red-headed Polish Jew, sat up late, taking account of the week’s ragpicking. There was a dim light in his window now.
Maria went to her room, threw a shawl around her head, and descended into the little back yard of the flat by the back stairs. As she let herself out of the back gate into the alley, Alexander, Marcus’s Irish setter, woke suddenly with a gruff bark. The collie who lived on the other side of the fence, in the back yard of the branch post-office, answered with a snarl. Then in an instant the endless feud between the two dogs was resumed. They dragged their respective kennels to the fence, and through the cracks raged at each other in a frenzy of hate; their teeth snapped and gleamed; the hackleson their backs rose and stiffened. Their hideous clamor could have been heard for blocks around. What a massacre should the two ever meet!
Meanwhile, Maria was knocking at Zerkow’s miserable hovel.
“Who is it? Who is it?” cried the rag-picker from within, in his hoarse voice, that was half whisper, starting nervously, and sweeping a handful of silver into his drawer. “It’s me, Maria Macapa;” then in a lower voice, and as if speaking to herself,
“had a flying squirrel an’ let him go.”
“Ah, Maria,” cried Zerkow, obsequiously opening the door. “Come in, come in, my girl; you’re always welcome, even as late as this. No junk, hey? But you’re welcome for all that. You’ll have a drink, won’t you?” He led her into his back room and got down the whiskey bottle and the broken red tumbler.
After the two had drunk together Maria produced the gold “tape.” Zerkow’s eyes glittered on the instant. The sight of gold invariably sent a qualm all through him; try as he would, he could not repress it. His fingers trembled and clawed at his mouth; his breath grew short.
“Ah, ah, ah!” he exclaimed, “give it here, give it here; give it to me, Maria. That’s a good girl, come give it to me.”
They haggled as usual over the price, but to-night Maria was too excited over other matters to spend much time in bickering over a few cents.
“Look here, Zerkow,” she said as soon as the transfer was made, “I got something to tell you. A little while ago I sold a lottery ticket to a girl at the flat; the drawing was in this evening’s papers. How much do you suppose that girl has won?”
“I don’t know. How much? How much?”
“Five thousand dollars.”
It was as though a knife had been run through the Jew; a spasm of an almost physical pain twisted his face his entire body. He raised his clenched fists into the air, his eyes shut, his teeth gnawing his lip.
“Five thousand dollars,” he whispered; “five thousand dollars. For what? For nothing, for simply buying a ticket; and I have worked so hard for it, so hard, so hard. Five thousand dollars, five thousand dollars. Oh, why couldn’t it have come to me?” he cried, his voice choking, the tears starting to his eyes; “why couldn’t it have come to me? To come so close, so close, and yet to miss me me who have worked for it, fought for it, starved for it, am dying for it every day. Think of it, Maria, five thousand dollars, all bright, heavy pieces ”
“Bright as a sunset,” interrupted Maria, her chin propped on her hands. “Such a glory, and heavy. Yes, every piece was heavy, and it was all you could do to lift the punch-bowl. Why, that punch-bowl was worth a fortune alone ”
“And it rang when you hit it with your knuckles, didn’t it?” prompted Zerkow, eagerly, his lips trembling, his fingers hooking themselves into claws.
“Sweeter’n any church bell,” continued Maria.
“Go on, go on, go on,” cried Zerkow, drawing his chair closer, and shutting his eyes in ecstasy.
“There were more than a hundred pieces, and every one of them gold ”
“Ah, every one of them gold.”
“You should have seen the sight when the leather trunk was opened. There wa’n’t a piece that was so much as scratched; every one was like a mirror, smooth and bright, polished so that it looked black you know how I mean.”
“Oh, I know, I know,” cried Zerkow, moistening his lips.
Then he plied her with questions questions that covered every detail of that service of plate. It was soft, wasn’t it? You could bite into a plate and leave a dent? The handles of the knives, now, were they gold, too? All the knife was made from one piece of gold, was it? And the forks the same? The interior of the trunk was quilted, of course? Did Maria ever polish the plates herself? When the company ate off this service, it must have made a fine noise these gold knives and forks clinking together upon these gold plates.
“Now, let’s have it all over again, Maria,” pleaded Zerkow. “Begin now with ‘There were more than a hundred pieces, and every one of them gold.’ Go on, begin, begin, begin!”
The red-headed Pole was in a fever of excitement. Maria’s recital had become a veritable mania with him. As he listened, with closed eyes and trembling lips, he fancied he could see that wonderful plate before him, there on the table, under his eyes, under his hand, ponderous, massive, gleaming. He tormented Maria into a second repetition of the story into a third. The more his mind dwelt upon it, the sharper grew his desire. Then, with Maria’s refusal to continue the tale, came the reaction. Zerkow awoke as from some ravishing dream. The plate was gone, was irretrievably lost. There was nothing in that miserable room but grimy rags and rust-corroded iron. What torment! what agony! to be so near so near, to see it in one’s distorted fancy as plain as in a mirror. To know every individual piece as an old friend; to feel its weight; to be dazzled by its glitter; to call it one’s own, own; to have it to oneself, hugged to the breast; and then to start, to wake, to come down to the horrible reality.
“And you, you had it once,” gasped Zerkow, clawing at her arm; “you had it once, all your own. Think of it, and now it’s gone.”
“Gone for good and all.”
“Perhaps it’s buried near your old place somewhere.”
“It’s gone gone gone,” chanted Maria in a monotone.
Zerkow dug his nails into his scalp, tearing at his red hair.
“Yes, yes, it’s gone, it’s gone lost forever! Lost forever!”
Marcus and the dentist walked up the silent street and reached the little dog hospital. They had hardly spoken on the way. McTeague’s brain was in a whirl; speech failed him. He was busy thinking of the great thing that had happened that night, and was trying to realize what its effect would be upon his life his life and Trina’s. As soon as they had found themselves in the street, Marcus had relapsed at once to a sullen silence, which McTeague was too abstracted to notice.
They entered the tiny office of the hospital with its red carpet, its gas stove, and its colored prints of famous dogs hanging against the walls. In one corner stood the iron bed which they were to occupy.
“You go on an’ get to bed, Mac,” observed Marcus. “I’ll take a look at the dogs before I turn in.”
He went outside and passed along into the yard, that was bounded on three sides by pens where the dogs were kept. A bull terrier dying of gastritis recognized him and began to whimper feebly.
Marcus paid no attention to the dogs. For the first time that evening he was alone and could give vent to his thoughts. He took a couple of turns up and down the yard, then suddenly in a low voice exclaimed:
“You fool, you fool, Marcus Schouler! If you’d kept Trina you’d have had that money. You might have had it yourself. You’ve thrown away your chance in life to give up the girl, yes but this,” he stamped his foot with rage ”to throw five thousand dollars out of the window to stuff it into the pockets of someone else, when it might have been yours, when you might have had Trina and the money and all for what? Because we were pals . Oh, ‘pals’ is all right but five thousand dollars to have played it right into his hands God damn the luck!”
The next two months were delightful. Trina and McTeague saw each other regularly, three times a week. The dentist went over to B Street Sunday and Wednesday afternoons as usual; but on Fridays it was Trina who came to the city. She spent the morning between nine and twelve o’clock down town, for the most part in the cheap department stores, doing the weekly shopping for herself and the family. At noon she took an uptown car and met McTeague at the corner of Polk Street. The two lunched together at a small uptown hotel just around the corner on Sutter Street. They were given a little room to themselves. Nothing could have been more delicious. They had but to close the sliding door to shut themselves off from the whole world.
Trina would arrive breathless from her raids upon the bargain counters, her pale cheeks flushed, her hair blown about her face and into the corners of her lips, her mother’s net reticule stuffed to bursting. Once in their tiny private room, she would drop into her chair with a little groan.
“Oh, Mac, I am so tired; I’ve just been all over town. Oh, it’s good to sit down. Just think, I had to stand up in the car all the way, after being on my feet the whole blessed morning. Look here what I’ve bought. Just things and things. Look, there’s some dotted veiling I got for myself; see now, do you think it looks pretty?” she spread it over her face ”and I got a box of writing paper, and a roll of crepe paper to make a lamp shade for the front parlor; and what do you suppose I saw a pair of Nottingham lace curtains for forty-nine cents; isn’t that cheap? and some chenille portieres for two and a half. Now what have you been doing since I last saw you? Did Mr. Heise finally get up enough courage to have his tooth pulled yet?” Trina took off her hat and veil and rearranged her hair before the looking-glass.
“No, no not yet. I went down to the sign painter’s yesterday afternoon to see about that big gold tooth for a sign. It costs too much; I can’t get it yet a while. There’s two kinds, one German gilt and the other French gilt; but the German gilt is no good.”
McTeague sighed, and wagged his head. Even Trina and the five thousand dollars could not make him forget this one unsatisfied longing.
At other times they would talk at length over their plans, while Trina sipped her chocolate and McTeague devoured huge chunks of butterless bread. They were to be married at the end of May, and the dentist already had his eye on a couple of rooms, part of the suite of a bankrupt photographer. They were situated in the flat, just back of his “Parlors,” and he believed the photographer would sublet them furnished.
McTeague and Trina had no apprehensions as to their finances. They could be sure, in fact, of a tidy little income. The dentist’s practice was fairly good, and they could count upon the interest of Trina’s five thousand dollars. To McTeague’s mind this interest seemed woefully small. He had had uncertain ideas about that five thousand dollars; had imagined that they would spend it in some lavish fashion; would buy a house, perhaps, or would furnish their new rooms with overwhelming luxury luxury that implied red velvet carpets and continued feasting. The oldtime miner’s idea of wealth easily gained and quickly spent persisted in his mind. But when Trina had begun to talk of investments and interests and per cents, he was troubled and not a little disappointed. The lump sum of five thousand dollars was one thing, a miserable little twenty or twenty-five a month was quite another; and then someone else had the money.
“But don’t you see, Mac,” explained Trina, “it’s ours just the same. We could get it back whenever we wanted it; and then it’s the reasonable way to do. We mustn’t let it turn our heads, Mac, dear, like that man that spent all he won in buying more tickets. How foolish we’d feel after we’d spent it all! We ought to go on just the same as before; as if we hadn’t won. We must be sensible about it, mustn’t we?”
“Well, well, I guess perhaps that’s right,” the dentist would answer, looking slowly about on the floor.
Just what should ultimately be done with the money was the subject of endless discussion in the Sieppe family. The savings bank would allow only three per cent., but Trina’s parents believed that something better could be got.
“There’s Uncle Oelbermann,” Trina had suggested, remembering the rich relative who had the wholesale toy store in the Mission.
Mr. Sieppe struck his hand to his forehead. “Ah, an idea,” he cried. In the end an agreement was made. The money was invested in Mr. Oelbermann’s business. He gave Trina six per cent.
Invested in this fashion, Trina’s winning would bring in twenty-five dollars a month. But, besides this, Trina had her own little trade. She made Noah’s ark animals for Uncle Oelbermann’s store. Trina’s ancestors on both sides were German-Swiss, and some long-forgotten forefather of the sixteenth century, some worsted-leggined wood-carver of the Tyrol, had handed down the talent of the national industry, to reappear in this strangely distorted guise.
She made Noah’s ark animals, whittling them out of a block of soft wood with a sharp jack-knife, the only instrument she used. Trina was very proud to explain her work to McTeague as he had already explained his own to her.
“You see, I take a block of straight-grained pine and cut out the shape, roughly at first, with the big blade; then I go over it a second time with the little blade, more carefully; then I put in the ears and tail with a drop of glue, and paint it with a ‘non-poisonous’ paint Vandyke brown for the horses, foxes, and cows; slate gray for the elephants and camels; burnt umber for the chickens, zebras, and so on; then, last, a dot of Chinese white for the eyes, and there you are, all finished. They sell for nine cents a dozen. Only I can’t make the manikins.”
“The little figures, you know Noah and his wife, and Shem, and all the others.” It was true. Trina could not whittle them fast enough and cheap enough to com-pete with the turning lathe, that could throw off whole tribes and peoples of manikins while she was fashioning one family. Everything else, however, she made the ark itself, all windows and no door; the box in which the whole was packed; even down to pasting on the label, which read, “Made in France.” She earned from three to four dollars a week.
The income from these three sources, McTeague’s profession, the interest of the five thousand dollars, and Trina’s whittling, made a respectable little sum taken altogether. Trina declared they could even lay by something, adding to the five thousand dollars little by little.
It soon became apparent that Trina would be an extraordinarily good housekeeper. Economy was her strong point. A good deal of peasant blood still ran undiluted in her veins, and she had all the instinct of a hardy and penurious mountain race the instinct which saves without any thought, without idea of consequence saving for the sake of saving, hoarding without knowing why. Even McTeague did not know how closely Trina held to her new-found wealth.
But they did not always pass their luncheon hour in this discussion of incomes and economies. As the dentist came to know his little woman better she grew to be more and more of a puzzle and a joy to him. She would suddenly interrupt a grave discourse upon the rents of rooms and the cost of light and fuel with a brusque outburst of affection that set him all a-tremble with delight. All at once she would set down her chocolate, and, leaning across the narrow table, would exclaim:
“Never mind all that! Oh, Mac, do you truly, really love me love me big?”
McTeague would stammer something, gasping, and wagging his head, beside himself for the lack of words.
“Old bear,” Trina would answer, grasping him by both huge ears and swaying his head from side to side. “Kiss me, then. Tell me, Mac, did you think any less of me that first time I let you kiss me there in the station? Oh, Mac, dear, what a funny nose you’ve got, all full of hairs inside; and, Mac, do you know you’ve got a bald spot ” she dragged his head down towards her “right on the top of your head.” Then she would seriously kiss the bald spot in question, declaring:
“That’ll make the hair grow.”
Trina took an infinite enjoyment in playing with McTeague’s great squarecut head, rumpling his hair till it stood on end, putting her fingers in his eyes, or stretching his ears out straight, and watching the effect with her head on one side. It was like a little child playing with some gigantic, good-natured Saint Bernard.
One particular amusement they never wearied of. The two would lean across the table towards each other, McTeague folding his arms under his breast. Then Trina, resting on her elbows, would part his mustache-the great blond mustache of a viking with her two hands, pushing it up from his lips, causing his face to assume the appearance of a Greek mask. She would curl it around either forefinger, drawing it to a fine end. Then all at once McTeague would make a fearful snorting noise through his nose. Invariably though she was expecting this, though it was part of the game Trina would jump with a stifled shriek. McTeague would bellow with laughter till his eyes watered. Then they would recommence upon the instant, Trina protesting with a nervous tremulousness:
“Now now now, Mac, don’t; you scare me so.”
But these delicious tete-a-tetes with Trina were offset by a certain coolness that Marcus Schouler began to affect towards the dentist. At first McTeague was unaware of it; but by this time even his slow wits began to perceive that his best friend his “pal” was not the same to him as formerly. They continued to meet at lunch nearly every day but Friday at the car conductors’ coffee-joint. But Marcus was sulky; there could be no doubt about that. He avoided talking to McTeague, read the paper continually, answering the dentist’s timid efforts at conversation in gruff monosyllables. Sometimes, even, he turned sideways to the table and talked at great length to Heise the harness-maker, whose table was next to theirs. They took no more long walks together when Marcus went out to exercise the dogs. Nor did Marcus ever again recur to his generosity in renouncing Trina.
One Tuesday, as McTeague took his place at the table in the coffee-joint, he found Marcus already there.
“Hello, Mark,” said the dentist, “you here already?”
“Hello,” returned the other, indifferently, helping himself to tomato catsup. There was a silence. After a long while Marcus suddenly looked up.
“Say, Mac,” he exclaimed, “when you going to pay me that money you owe me?” McTeague was astonished.
“Huh? What? I don’t do I owe you any money, Mark?”
“Well, you owe me four bits,” returned Marcus, doggedly. “I paid for you and
Trina that day at the picnic, and you never gave it back.”
“Oh oh!” answered McTeague, in distress. “That’s so, that’s so. I you ought to have told me before. Here’s your money, and I’m obliged to you.”
“It ain’t much,” observed Marcus, sullenly. “But I need all I can get now-a-days.” “Are you are you broke?” inquired McTeague.
“And I ain’t saying anything about your sleeping at the hospital that night, ei-ther,” muttered Marcus, as he pocketed the coin.
“Well well do you mean should I have paid for that?”
“Well, you’d ‘a’ had to sleep somewheres, wouldn’t you?” flashed out Marcus.
“You ‘a’ had to pay half a dollar for a bed at the flat.”
“All right, all right,” cried the dentist, hastily, feeling in his pockets. “I don’t want you should be out anything on my account, old man. Here, will four bits do?” “I don’t want your damn money,” shouted Marcus in a sudden rage, throwing back the coin. “I ain’t no beggar.”
McTeague was miserable. How had he offended his pal?
“Well, I want you should take it, Mark,” he said, pushing it towards him.
“I tell you I won’t touch your money,” exclaimed the other through his clenched teeth, white with passion. “I’ve been played for a sucker long enough.”
“What’s the matter with you lately, Mark?” remonstrated McTeague. “You’ve got a grouch about something. Is there anything I’ve done?”
“Well, that’s all right, that’s all right,” returned Marcus as he rose from the table. “That’s all right. I’ve been played for a sucker long enough, that’s all. I’ve been played for a sucker long enough.” He went away with a parting malevolent glance. At the corner of Polk Street, between the flat and the car conductors’ coffee-joint, was Frenna’s. It was a corner grocery; advertisements for cheap butter and eggs, painted in green marking-ink upon wrapping paper, stood about on the sidewalk outside. The doorway was decorated with a huge Milwaukee beer sign.
Back of the store proper was a bar where white sand covered the floor. A few tables and chairs were scattered here and there. The walls were hung with gorgeously-colored tobacco advertisements and colored lithographs of trotting horses. On the wall behind the bar was a model of a full-rigged ship enclosed in a bottle.
It was at this place that the dentist used to leave his pitcher to be filled on Sunday afternoons. Since his engagement to Trina he had discontinued this habit. However, he still dropped into Frenna’s one or two nights in the week. He spent a pleasant hour there, smoking his huge porcelain pipe and drinking his beer. He never joined any of the groups of piquet players around the tables. In fact, he hardly spoke to anyone but the bartender and Marcus.
For Frenna’s was one of Marcus Schouler’s haunts; a great deal of his time was spent there. He involved himself in fearful political and social discussions with Heise the harness-maker, and with one or two old German, habitues of the place. These discussions Marcus carried on, as was his custom, at the top of his voice, gesticulating fiercely, banging the table with his fists, brandishing the plates and glasses, exciting himself with his own clamor.
On a certain Saturday evening, a few days after the scene at the coffee-joint, the dentist bethought him to spend a quiet evening at Frenna’s. He had not been there for some time, and, besides that, it occurred to him that the day was his birthday. He would permit himself an extra pipe and a few glasses of beer. When McTeague entered Frenna’s back room by the street door, he found Marcus and Heise already installed at one of the tables. Two or three of the old Germans sat opposite them, gulping their beer from time to time. Heise was smoking a cigar, but Marcus had before him his fourth whiskey cocktail. At the moment of McTeague’s entrance Marcus had the floor.
“It can’t be proven,” he was yelling. “I defy any sane politician whose eyes are not blinded by party prejudices, whose opinions are not warped by a personal bias, to substantiate such a statement. Look at your facts, look at your figures. I am a free American citizen, ain’t I? I pay my taxes to support a good government, don’t I? It’s a contract between me and the government, ain’t it? Well, then, by damn! if the authorities do not or will not afford me protection for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then my obligations are at an end; I withhold my taxes. I do I do I say I do. What?” He glared about him, seeking opposition.
“That’s nonsense,” observed Heise, quietly. “Try it once; you’ll get jugged.” But this observation of the harness-maker’s roused Marcus to the last pitch of frenzy.
“Yes, ah, yes!” he shouted, rising to his feet, shaking his finger in the other’s face. “Yes, I’d go to jail; but because I I am crushed by a tyranny, does that make the tyranny right? Does might make right?”
“You must make less noise in here, Mister Schouler,” said Frenna, from behind the bar.
“Well, it makes me mad,” answered Marcus, subsiding into a growl and resuming his chair. “Hullo, Mac.” “Hullo, Mark.”
But McTeague’s presence made Marcus uneasy, rousing in him at once a sense of wrong. He twisted to and fro in his chair, shrugging first one shoulder and then another. Quarrelsome at all times, the heat of the previous discussion had awakened within him all his natural combativeness. Besides this, he was drinking his fourth cocktail.
McTeague began filling his big porcelain pipe. He lit it, blew a great cloud of smoke into the room, and settled himself comfortably in his chair. The smoke of his cheap tobacco drifted into the faces of the group at the adjoining table, andMarcus strangled and coughed. Instantly his eyes flamed.
“Say, for God’s sake,” he vociferated, “choke off on that pipe! If you’ve got to smoke rope like that, smoke it in a crowd of muckers; don’t come here amongst gentlemen.”
“Shut up, Schouler!” observed Heise in a low voice.
McTeague was stunned by the suddenness of the attack. He took his pipe from his mouth, and stared blankly at Marcus; his lips moved, but he said no word. Marcus turned his back on him, and the dentist resumed his pipe.
But Marcus was far from being appeased. McTeague could not hear the talk that followed between him and the harnessmaker, but it seemed to him that Marcus was telling Heise of some injury, some grievance, and that the latter was trying to pacify him. All at once their talk grew louder. Heise laid a retaining hand upon his companion’s coat sleeve, but Marcus swung himself around in his chair, and, fixing his eyes on McTeague, cried as if in answer to some protestation on the part of Heise:
“All I know is that I’ve been soldiered out of five thousand dollars.”
McTeague gaped at him, bewildered. He removed his pipe from his mouth a second time, and stared at Marcus with eyes full of trouble and perplexity.
“If I had my rights,” cried Marcus, bitterly, “I’d have part of that money. It’s my due it’s only justice.” The dentist still kept silence.
“If it hadn’t been for me,” Marcus continued, addressing himself directly to McTeague, “you wouldn’t have had a cent of it no, not a cent. Where’s my share, I’d like to know? Where do I come in? No, I ain’t in it any more. I’ve been played for a sucker, an’ now that you’ve got all you can out of me, now that you’ve done me out of my girl and out of my money, you give me the go-by. Why, where would you have been to-day if it hadn’t been for me?” Marcus shouted in a sudden exasperation, “You’d a been plugging teeth at two bits an hour. Ain’t you got any gratitude? Ain’t you got any sense of decency?”
“Ah, hold up, Schouler,” grumbled Heise. “You don’t want to get into a row.”
“No, I don’t, Heise,” returned Marcus, with a plaintive, aggrieved air. “But it’s too much sometimes when you think of it. He stole away my girl’s affections, and now that he’s rich and prosperous, and has got five thousand dollars that I might have had, he gives me the go-by; he’s played me for a sucker. Look here,” he cried, turning again to McTeague, “do I get any of that money?”
“It ain’t mine to give,” answered McTeague. “You’re drunk, that’s what you are.” “Do I get any of that money?” cried Marcus, persistently.
The dentist shook his head. “No, you don’t get any of it.”
“Now now,” clamored the other, turning to the harnessmaker, as though this explained everything. “Look at that, look at that. Well, I’ve done with you from now on.” Marcus had risen to his feet by this time and made as if to leave, but at every instant he came back, shouting his phrases into McTeague’s face, moving off again as he spoke the last words, in order to give them better effect.
“This settles it right here. I’ve done with you. Don’t you ever dare speak to me again” his voice was shaking with fury “and don’t you sit at my table in the restaurant again. I’m sorry I ever lowered myself to keep company with such dirt. Ah, one-horse dentist! Ah, ten-cent zincplugger hoodlum mucker! Get your damn smoke outa my face.”
Then matters reached a sudden climax. In his agitation the dentist had been pulling hard on his pipe, and as Marcus for the last time thrust his face close to his own, McTeague, in opening his lips to reply, blew a stifling, acrid cloud directly in Marcus Schouler’s eyes. Marcus knocked the pipe from his fingers with a sudden flash of his hand; it spun across the room and broke into a dozen fragments in a far corner.
McTeague rose to his feet, his eyes wide. But as yet he was not angry, only surprised, taken all aback by the suddenness of Marcus Schouler’s outbreak as well as by its unreasonableness. Why had Marcus broken his pipe? What did it all mean, anyway? As he rose the dentist made a vague motion with his right hand. Did Marcus misinterpret it as a gesture of menace? He sprang back as though avoiding a blow. All at once there was a cry. Marcus had made a quick, peculiar motion, swinging his arm upward with a wide and sweeping gesture; his jack-knife lay open in his palm; it shot forward as he flung it, glinted sharply by McTeague’s head, and struck quivering into the wall behind.
A sudden chill ran through the room; the others stood transfixed, as at the swift passage of some cold and deadly wind. Death had stooped there for an instant, had stooped and past, leaving a trail of terror and confusion. Then the door leading to the street slammed; Marcus had disappeared.
Thereon a great babel of exclamation arose. The tension of that all but fatal instant snapped, and speech became once more possible.
“He would have knifed you.”
“What kind of a man do you call that?”
“’Tain’t his fault he ain’t a murderer.”
“I’d have him up for it.”
“And they two have been the greatest kind of friends.”
“He didn’t touch you, did he?”
“No no no.”
“What a what a devil! What treachery! A regular greaser trick!”
“Look out he don’t stab you in the back. If that’s the kind of man he is, you never can tell.”
Frenna drew the knife from the wall.
“Guess I’ll keep this toad-stabber,” he observed. “That fellow won’t come round for it in a hurry; goodsized blade, too.” The group examined it with intense interest.
“Big enough to let the life out of any man,” observed Heise.
“What what what did he do it for?” stammered McTeague. “I got no quarrel with him.”
He was puzzled and harassed by the strangeness of it all. Marcus would have killed him; had thrown his knife at him in the true, uncanny “greaser” style. It was inexplicable. McTeague sat down again, looking stupidly about on the floor. In a corner of the room his eye encountered his broken pipe, a dozen little fragments of painted porcelain and the stem of cherry wood and amber.
At that sight his tardy wrath, ever lagging behind the original affront, suddenly blazed up. Instantly his huge jaws clicked together.
“He can’t make small of ME,” he exclaimed, suddenly. “I’ll show Marcus Schouler I’ll show him I’ll ”
He got up and clapped on his hat.
“Now, Doctor,” remonstrated Heise, standing between him and the door, “don’t go make a fool of yourself.”
“Let ‘um alone,” joined in Frenna, catching the dentist by the arm; “he’s full, anyhow.”
“He broke my pipe,” answered McTeague.
It was this that had roused him. The thrown knife, the attempt on his life, was beyond his solution; but the breaking of his pipe he understood clearly enough.
“I’ll show him,” he exclaimed.
As though they had been little children, McTeague set Frenna and the harness-maker aside, and strode out at the door like a raging elephant. Heise stood rubbing his shoulder.
“Might as well try to stop a locomotive,” he muttered. “The man’s made of iron.”
Meanwhile, McTeague went storming up the street toward the flat, wagging his head and grumbling to himself. Ah, Marcus would break his pipe, would he? Ah, he was a zinc-plugger, was he? He’d show Marcus Schouler. No one should make small of him. He tramped up the stairs to Marcus’s room. The door was locked. The dentist put one enormous hand on the knob and pushed the door in, snapping the wood-work, tearing off the lock. Nobody the room was dark and empty. Never mind, Marcus would have to come home some time that night. McTeague would go down and wait for him in his “Parlors.” He was bound to hear him as he came up the stairs.
As McTeague reached his room he stumbled over, in the darkness, a big packing-box that stood in the hallway just outside his door. Puzzled, he stepped over it, and lighting the gas in his room, dragged it inside and examined it.
It was addressed to him. What could it mean? He was expecting nothing. Never since he had first furnished his room had packing-cases been left for him in this fashion. No mistake was possible. There were his name and address unmistakably. “Dr. McTeague, dentist Polk Street, San Francisco, Cal.,” and the red Wells Fargo tag.
Seized with the joyful curiosity of an overgrown boy, he pried off the boards with the corner of his fireshovel. The case was stuffed full of excelsior. On the top lay an envelope addressed to him in Trina’s handwriting. He opened it and read, “For my dear Mac’s birthday, from Trina;” and below, in a kind of post-script, “The man will be round to-morrow to put it in place.” McTeague tore away the excelsior. Suddenly he uttered an exclamation.
It was the Tooth the famous golden molar with its huge prongs his sign, his ambition, the one unrealized dream of his life; and it was French gilt, too, not the cheap German gilt that was no good. Ah, what a dear little woman was this Trina, to keep so quiet, to remember his birthday!
“Ain’t she ain’t she just a just a jewel,” exclaimed McTeague under his breath, “a jewel yes, just a jewel; that’s the word.”
Very carefully he removed the rest of the excelsior, and lifting the ponderous Tooth from its box, set it upon the marble-top centre table. How immense it looked in that little room! The thing was tremendous, overpowering the tooth of a gigantic fossil, golden and dazzling. Beside it everything seemed dwarfed. Even McTeague himself, big boned and enormous as he was, shrank and dwindled in the presence of the monster. As for an instant he bore it in his hands, it was like a puny Gulliver struggling with the molar of some vast Brobdingnag.
The dentist circled about that golden wonder, gasping with delight and stupefaction, touching it gingerly with his hands as if it were something sacred. At every moment his thought returned to Trina. No, never was there such a little woman as his the very thing he wanted how had she remembered? And the money, where had that come from? No one knew better than he how expensive were these signs; not another dentist on Polk Street could afford one. Where, then, had Trina found the money? It came out of her five thousand dollars, no doubt.
But what a wonderful, beautiful tooth it was, to be sure, bright as a mirror, shining there in its coat of French gilt, as if with a light of its own! No danger of that tooth turning black with the weather, as did the cheap German gilt impostures. What would that other dentist, that poser, that rider of bicycles, that courser of greyhounds, say when he should see this marvellous molar run out from McTeague’s bay window like a flag of defiance? No doubt he would suffer veritable convulsions of envy; would be positively sick with jealousy. If McTeague could only see his face at the moment!
For a whole hour the dentist sat there in his little “Parlor,” gazing ecstatically at his treasure, dazzled, supremely content. The whole room took on a different aspect because of it. The stone pug dog before the little stove reflected it in his protruding eyes; the canary woke and chittered feebly at this new gilt, so much brighter than the bars of its little prison. Lorenzo de’ Medici, in the steel engraving, sitting in the heart of his court, seemed to ogle the thing out of the corner of one eye, while the brilliant colors of the unused rifle manufacturer’s calendar seemed to fade and pale in the brilliance of this greater glory.
At length, long after midnight, the dentist started to go to bed, undressing himself with his eyes still fixed on the great tooth. All at once he heard Marcus Schouler’s foot on the stairs; he started up with his fists clenched, but immediately dropped back upon the bed-lounge with a gesture of indifference.
He was in no truculent state of mind now. He could not reinstate himself in that mood of wrath wherein he had left the corner grocery. The tooth had changed all that. What was Marcus Schouler’s hatred to him, who had Trina’s affection?What did he care about a broken pipe now that he had the tooth? Let him go. As Frenna said, he was not worth it. He heard Marcus come out into the hall, shouting aggrievedly to anyone within sound of his voice:
“An’ now he breaks into my room into my room, by damn! How do I know how many things he’s stolen? It’s come to stealing from me, now, has it?” He went into his room, banging his splintered door.
McTeague looked upward at the ceiling, in the direction of the voice, muttering: “Ah, go to bed, you.”
He went to bed himself, turning out the gas, but leaving the window-curtains up so that he could see the tooth the last thing before he went to sleep and the first thing as he arose in the morning.
But he was restless during the night. Every now and then he was awakened by noises to which he had long since become accustomed. Now it was the cackling of the geese in the deserted market across the street; now it was the stoppage of the cable, the sudden silence coming almost like a shock; and now it was the infuriated barking of the dogs in the back yard Alec, the Irish setter, and the collie that belonged to the branch post-office raging at each other through the fence, snarling their endless hatred into each other’s faces. As often as he woke, McTeague turned and looked for the tooth, with a sudden suspicion that he had only that moment dreamed the whole business. But he always found it Trina’s gift, his birthday from his little woman a huge, vague bulk, looming there through the half darkness in the centre of the room, shining dimly out as if with some mysterious light of its own.
Trina and McTeague were married on the first day of June, in the photogra-pher’s rooms that the dentist had rented. All through May the Sieppe household had been turned upside down. The little box of a house vibrated with excitement and confusion, for not only were the preparations for Trina’s marriage to be made, but also the preliminaries were to be arranged for the hegira of the entire Sieppe family.
They were to move to the southern part of the State the day after Trina’s marriage, Mr. Sieppe having bought a third interest in an upholstering business in the suburbs of Los Angeles. It was possible that Marcus Schouler would go with them.
Not Stanley penetrating for the first time into the Dark Continent, not Napoleon leading his army across the Alps, was more weighted with responsibility, more burdened with care, more overcome with the sense of the importance of his undertaking, than was Mr. Sieppe during this period of preparation. From dawn to dark, from dark to early dawn, he toiled and planned and fretted, organizing and reorganizing, projecting and devising. The trunks were lettered, A, B, and C, the packages and smaller bundles numbered. Each member of the family had his especial duty to perform, his particular bundles to oversee. Not a detail was forgotten fares, prices, and tips were calculated to two places of decimals. Even the amount of food that it would be necessary to carry for the black greyhound was determined. Mrs. Sieppe was to look after the lunch, “der gomisariat.” Mr. Sieppe would assume charge of the checks, the money, the tickets, and, of course, general supervision. The twins would be under the command of Owgooste, who, in turn, would report for orders to his father.
Day in and day out these minutiae were rehearsed. The children were drilled in their parts with a military exactitude; obedience and punctuality became cardinal virtues. The vast importance of the undertaking was insisted upon with scrupulous iteration. It was a manoeuvre, an army changing its base of operations, a veritable tribal migration.
On the other hand, Trina’s little room was the centre around which revolved another and different order of things. The dressmaker came and went, congratulatory visitors invaded the little front parlor, the chatter of unfamiliar voices resounded from the front steps; bonnet-boxes and yards of dress-goods littered the beds and chairs; wrapping paper, tissue paper, and bits of string strewed the floor; a pair of white satin slippers stood on a corner of the toilet table; lengths of white veiling, like a snow-flurry, buried the little work-table; and a mislaid box of artificial orange blossoms was finally discovered behind the bureau.
The two systems of operation often clashed and tangled. Mrs. Sieppe was found by her harassed husband helping Trina with the waist of her gown when she should have been slicing cold chicken in the kitchen. Mr. Sieppe packed his frock coat, which he would have to wear at the wedding, at the very bottom of “Trunk C.” The minister, who called to offer his congratulations and to make arrangements, was mistaken for the expressman.
McTeague came and went furtively, dizzied and made uneasy by all this bustle. He got in the way; he trod upon and tore breadths of silk; he tried to help carry the packing-boxes, and broke the hall gas fixture; he came in upon Trina and the dress-maker at an ill-timed moment, and retiring precipitately, overturned the piles of pictures stacked in the hall.
There was an incessant going and coming at every moment of the day, a great calling up and down stairs, a shouting from room to room, an opening and shutting of doors, and an intermittent sound of hammering from the laundry, where Mr. Sieppe in his shirt sleeves labored among the packing-boxes. The twins clattered about on the carpetless floors of the denuded rooms. Owgooste was smacked from hour to hour, and wept upon the front stairs; the dressmaker called over the banisters for a hot flatiron; expressmen tramped up and down the stairway. Mrs. Sieppe stopped in the preparation of the lunches to call “Hoop, Hoop” to the greyhound, throwing lumps of coal. The dog-wheel creaked, the front door bell rang, delivery wagons rumbled away, windows rattled the little house was in a positive uproar.
Almost every day of the week now Trina was obliged to run over to town and meet McTeague. No more philandering over their lunch now-a-days. It was business now. They haunted the house-furnishing floors of the great department houses, inspecting and pricing ranges, hardware, china, and the like. They rented the photographer’s rooms furnished, and fortunately only the kitchen and dining-room utensils had to be bought.
The money for this as well as for her trousseau came out of Trina’s five thousand dollars. For it had been finally decided that two hundred dollars of this amount should be devoted to the establishment of the new household. Now that Trina had made her great winning, Mr. Sieppe no longer saw the necessity of dowering her further, especially when he considered the enormous expense to which he would be put by the voyage of his own family.
It had been a dreadful wrench for Trina to break in upon her precious five thousand. She clung to this sum with a tenacity that was surprising; it had become for her a thing miraculous, a god-from-the-machine, suddenly descending upon the stage of her humble little life; she regarded it as something almost sacred and inviolable. Never, never should a penny of it be spent. Before she could be induced to part with two hundred dollars of it, more than one scene had been enacted between her and her parents.
Did Trina pay for the golden tooth out of this two hundred? Later on, the dentist often asked her about it, but Trina invariably laughed in his face, declaring that it was her secret. McTeague never found out.
One day during this period McTeague told Trina about his affair with Marcus. Instantly she was aroused.
“He threw his knife at you! The coward! He wouldn’t of dared stand up to you like a man. Oh, Mac, suppose he had hit you?”
“Came within an inch of my head,” put in McTeague, proudly.
“Think of it!” she gasped; “and he wanted part of my money. Well, I do like his cheek; part of my five thousand! Why, it’s mine, every single penny of it. Marcus hasn’t the least bit of right to it. It’s mine, mine. I mean, it’s ours, Mac, dear.”
The elder Sieppes, however, made excuses for Marcus. He had probably been drinking a good deal and didn’t know what he was about. He had a dreadful temper, anyhow. Maybe he only wanted to scare McTeague.
The week before the marriage the two men were reconciled. Mrs. Sieppe brought them together in the front parlor of the B Street house.
“Now, you two fellers, don’t be dot foolish. Schake hands und maig ut oop, soh.”
Marcus muttered an apology. McTeague, miserably embarrassed, rolled his eyes about the room, murmuring, “That’s all right that’s all right that’s all right.” However, when it was proposed that Marcus should be McTeague’s best man, he flashed out again with renewed violence. Ah, no! ah, no! He’d make up with the dentist now that he was going away, but he’d be damned yes, he would before
he’d be his best man. That was rubbing it in. Let him get Old Grannis.
“I’m friends with um all right,” vociferated Marcus, “but I’ll not stand up with um. I’ll not be anybody’s best man, I won’t.”
The wedding was to be very quiet; Trina preferred it that way. McTeague would invite only Miss Baker and Heise the harness-maker. The Sieppes sent cards to Selina, who was counted on to furnish the music; to Marcus, of course; and to Uncle Oelbermann.
At last the great day, the first of June, arrived. The Sieppes had packed their last box and had strapped the last trunk. Trina’s two trunks had already been sent to her new home the remodelled photographer’s rooms. The B Street house was deserted; the whole family came over to the city on the last day of May and stopped over night at one of the cheap downtown hotels. Trina would be married the following evening, and immediately after the wedding supper the Sieppes would leave for the South.
McTeague spent the day in a fever of agitation, frightened out of his wits each time that Old Grannis left his elbow.
Old Grannis was delighted beyond measure at the prospect of acting the part of best man in the ceremony. This wedding in which he was to figure filled his mind with vague ideas and half-formed thoughts. He found himself continually wondering what Miss Baker would think of it. During all that day he was in a reflective mood.
“Marriage is a a noble institution, is it not, Doctor?” he observed to McTeague. “The the foundation of society. It is not good that man should be alone. No, no,” he added, pensively, “it is not good.”
“Huh? Yes, yes,” McTeague answered, his eyes in the air, hardly hearing him. “Do you think the rooms are all right? Let’s go in and look at them again.”
They went down the hall to where the new rooms were situated, and the dentist inspected them for the twentieth time.
The rooms were three in number first, the sitting-room, which was also the dining-room; then the bedroom, and back of this the tiny kitchen.
The sitting-room was particularly charming. Clean matting covered the floor, and two or three bright colored rugs were scattered here and there. The backs of the chairs were hung with knitted worsted tidies, very gay. The bay window should have been occupied by Trina’s sewing machine, but this had been moved to the other side of the room to give place to a little black walnut table with spiral legs, before which the pair were to be married. In one corner stood the parlor melodeon, a family possession of the Sieppes, but given now to Trina as one of her parents’ wedding presents. Three pictures hung upon the walls. Two were companion pieces. One of these represented a little boy wearing huge spectacles and trying to smoke an enormous pipe. This was called “I’m Grandpa,” the title being printed in large black letters; the companion picture was entitled “I’m Grandma,” a little girl in cap and “specs,” wearing mitts, and knitting. These pictures were hung on either side of the mantelpiece. The other picture was quite an affair, very large and striking. It was a colored lithograph of two little golden-haired girls in their nightgowns. They were kneeling down and saying their prayers; their eyes very large and very blue rolled upward. This picture had for name, “Faith,” and was bordered with a red plush mat and a frame of imitation beaten brass.
A door hung with chenille portieres a bargain at two dollars and a half admitted one to the bedroom. The bedroom could boast a carpet, three-ply ingrain, the design being bunches of red and green flowers in yellow baskets on a white ground. The wall-paper was admirable hundreds and hundreds of tiny Japanese mandarins, all identically alike, helping hundreds of almond-eyed ladies into hundreds of impossible junks, while hundreds of bamboo palms overshadowed the pair, and hundreds of long-legged storks trailed contemptuously away from the scene. This room was prolific in pictures. Most of them were framed colored prints from Christmas editions of the London “Graphic” and “Illustrated News,” the subject of each picture inevitably involving very alert fox terriers and very pretty moon-faced little girls.
Back of the bedroom was the kitchen, a creation of Trina’s, a dream of a kitchen, with its range, its porcelain-lined sink, its copper boiler, and its overpowering array of flashing tinware. Everything was new; everything was complete.
Maria Macapa and a waiter from one of the restaurants in the street were to prepare the wedding supper here. Maria had already put in an appearance. The fire was crackling in the new stove, that smoked badly; a smell of cooking was in the air. She drove McTeague and Old Grannis from the room with great gestures of her bare arms.
This kitchen was the only one of the three rooms they had been obliged to furnish throughout. Most of the sittingroom and bedroom furniture went with the suite; a few pieces they had bought; the remainder Trina had brought over from the B Street house.
The presents had been set out on the extension table in the sitting-room. Besides the parlor melodeon, Trina’s parents had given her an ice-water set, and a carving knife and fork with elk-horn handles. Selina had painted a view of the Golden Gate upon a polished slice of redwood that answered the purposes of a paper weight. Marcus Schouler after impressing upon Trina that his gift was to HER, and not to McTeague had sent a chatelaine watch of German silver; Uncle Oelbermann’s present, however, had been awaited with a good deal of curiosity. What would he send? He was very rich; in a sense Trina was his protege. A couple of days before that upon which the wedding was to take place, two boxes arrived with his card. Trina and McTeague, assisted by Old Grannis, had opened them. The first was a box of all sorts of toys.
“But what what I don’t make it out,” McTeague had exclaimed. “Why should he send us toys? We have no need of toys.” Scarlet to her hair, Trina dropped into a chair and laughed till she cried behind her handkerchief.
“We’ve no use of toys,” muttered McTeague, looking at her in perplexity. Old Grannis smiled discreetly, raising a tremulous hand to his chin.
The other box was heavy, bound with withes at the edges, the letters and stamps burnt in.
“I think I really think it’s champagne,” said Old Grannis in a whisper. So it was. A full case of Monopole. What a wonder! None of them had seen the like before. Ah, this Uncle Oelbermann! That’s what it was to be rich. Not one of the other presents produced so deep an impression as this.
After Old Grannis and the dentist had gone through the rooms, giving a last look around to see that everything was ready, they returned to McTeague’s “Parlors.” At the door Old Grannis excused himself.
At four o’clock McTeague began to dress, shaving himself first before the handglass that was hung against the woodwork of the bay window. While he shaved he sang with strange inappropriateness:
“No one to love, none to Caress, Left all alone in this world’s wilderness.”
But as he stood before the mirror, intent upon his shaving, there came a roll of wheels over the cobbles in front of the house. He rushed to the window. Trina had arrived with her father and mother. He saw her get out, and as she glanced upward at his window, their eyes met.
Ah, there she was. There she was, his little woman, looking up at him, her adorable little chin thrust upward with that familiar movement of innocence and confidence. The dentist saw again, as if for the first time, her small, pale face looking out from beneath her royal tiara of black hair; he saw again her long, narrow blue eyes; her lips, nose, and tiny ears, pale and bloodless, and suggestive of anaemia, as if all the vitality that should have lent them color had been sucked up into the strands and coils of that wonderful hair.
As their eyes met they waved their hands gayly to each other; then McTeague heard Trina and her mother come up the stairs and go into the bedroom of the photographer’s suite, where Trina was to dress.
No, no; surely there could be no longer any hesitation. He knew that he loved her. What was the matter with him, that he should have doubted it for an instant? The great difficulty was that she was too good, too adorable, too sweet, too delicate for him, who was so huge, so clumsy, so brutal.
There was a knock at the door. It was Old Grannis. He was dressed in his one black suit of broadcloth, much wrinkled; his hair was carefully brushed over his bald forehead.
“Miss Trina has come,” he announced, “and the minister. You have an hour yet.”
The dentist finished dressing. He wore a suit bought for the occasion a ready made “Prince Albert” coat too short in the sleeves, striped “blue” trousers, and new patent leather shoes veritable instruments of torture. Around his collar was a wonderful necktie that Trina had given him; it was of salmon-pink satin; in its centre Selina had painted a knot of blue forget-me-nots.
At length, after an interminable period of waiting, Mr. Sieppe appeared at the door.
“Are you reatty?” he asked in a sepulchral whisper. “Gome, den.” It was like King Charles summoned to execution. Mr. Sieppe preceded them into the hall, moving at a funereal pace. He paused. Suddenly, in the direction of the sitting-room, came the strains of the parlor melodeon. Mr. Sieppe flung his arm in the air.
“Vowaarts!” he cried.
He left them at the door of the sitting-room, he himself going into the bedroom where Trina was waiting, entering by the hall door. He was in a tremendous state of nervous tension, fearful lest something should go wrong. He had employed the period of waiting in going through his part for the fiftieth time, repeating what he had to say in a low voice. He had even made chalk marks on the matting in the places where he was to take positions.
The dentist and Old Grannis entered the sitting-room; the minister stood behind the little table in the bay window, holding a book, one finger marking the place; he was rigid, erect, impassive. On either side of him, in a semi-circle, stood the invited guests. A little pock-marked gentleman in glasses, no doubt the famous Uncle Oelbermann; Miss Baker, in her black grenadine, false curls, and coral brooch; Marcus Schouler, his arms folded, his brows bent, grand and gloomy; Heise the harness-maker, in yellow gloves, intently studying the pattern of the matting; and Owgooste, in his Fauntleroy “costume,” stupefied and a little frightened, rolling his eyes from face to face. Selina sat at the parlor melodeon, fingering the keys, her glance wandering to the chenille portieres. She stopped playing as McTeague and Old Grannis entered and took their places. A profound silence ensued. Uncle Oelbermann’s shirt front could be heard creaking as he breathed. The most solemn expression pervaded every face.
All at once the portieres were shaken violently. It was a signal. Selina pulled open the stops and swung into the wedding march.
Trina entered. She was dressed in white silk, a crown of orange blossoms was around her swarthy hair dressed high for the first time her veil reached to the floor. Her face was pink, but otherwise she was calm. She looked quietly around the room as she crossed it, until her glance rested on McTeague, smiling at him then very prettily and with perfect self-possession.
She was on her father’s arm. The twins, dressed exactly alike, walked in front, each carrying an enormous bouquet of cut flowers in a “lace-paper” holder. Mrs. Sieppe followed in the rear. She was crying; her handkerchief was rolled into a wad. From time to time she looked at the train of Trina’s dress through her tears. Mr. Sieppe marched his daughter to the exact middle of the floor, wheeled at right angles, and brought her up to the minister. He stepped back three paces, and stood planted upon one of his chalk marks, his face glistening with perspiration.
Then Trina and the dentist were married. The guests stood in constrained attitudes, looking furtively out of the corners of their eyes. Mr. Sieppe never moved a muscle; Mrs. Sieppe cried into her handkerchief all the time. At the melodeon Selina played “Call Me Thine Own,” very softly, the tremulo stop pulled out. She looked over her shoulder from time to time. Between the pauses of the music one could hear the low tones of the minister, the responses of the participants, and the suppressed sounds of Mrs. Sieppe’s weeping. Outside the noises of the street rose to the windowsin muffled undertones, a cable car rumbled past, a newsboy went by chanting the evening papers; from somewhere in the building itself came a persistent noise of sawing.
Trina and McTeague knelt. The dentist’s knees thudded on the floor and he presented to view the soles of his shoes, painfully new and unworn, the leather still yellow, the brass nail heads still glittering. Trina sank at his side very gracefully, setting her dress and train with a little gesture of her free hand. The company bowed their heads, Mr. Sieppe shutting his eyes tight. But Mrs. Sieppe took advantage of the moment to stop crying and make furtive gestures towards Owgooste, signing him to pull down his coat. But Owgooste gave no heed; his eyes were starting from their sockets, his chin had dropped upon his lace collar, and his head turned vaguely from side to side with a continued and maniacal motion.
All at once the ceremony was over before any one expected it. The guests kept their positions for a moment, eyeing one another, each fearing to make the first move, not quite certain as to whether or not everything were finished. But the couple faced the room, Trina throwing back her veil. She perhaps McTeague as well felt that there was a certain inadequateness about the ceremony. Was that all there was to it? Did just those few muttered phrases make them man and wife? It had been over in a few moments, but it had bound them for life. Had not something been left out? Was not the whole affair cursory, superficial? It was disappointing.
But Trina had no time to dwell upon this. Marcus Schouler, in the manner of a man of the world, who knew how to act in every situation, stepped forward and, even before Mr. or Mrs. Sieppe, took Trina’s hand.
“Let me be the first to congratulate Mrs. McTeague,” he said, feeling very noble and heroic. The strain of the previous moments was relaxed immediately, the guests crowded around the pair, shaking hands a babel of talk arose.
“Owgooste, WILL you pull down your goat, den?”
“Well, my dear, now you’re married and happy. When I first saw you two together, I said, ‘What a pair!’ We’re to be neighbors now; you must come up and see me very often and we’ll have tea together.”
“Did you hear that sawing going on all the time? I declare it regularly got on my nerves.”
Trina kissed her father and mother, crying a little herself as she saw the tears in Mrs. Sieppe’s eyes.
Marcus came forward a second time, and, with an air of great gravity, kissed his cousin upon the forehead. Heise was introduced to Trina and Uncle Oelbermann to the dentist.
For upwards of half an hour the guests stood about in groups, filling the little sitting-room with a great chatter of talk. Then it was time to make ready for supper. This was a tremendous task, in which nearly all the guests were obliged to assist. The sitting-room was transformed into a dining-room. The presents were removed from the extension table and the table drawn out to its full length. The cloth was laid, the chairs rented from the dancing academy hard by drawn up, the dishes set out, and the two bouquets of cut flowers taken from the twins under their shrill protests, and “arranged” in vases at either end of the table.
There was a great coming and going between the kitchen and the sitting-room. Trina, who was allowed to do nothing, sat in the bay window and fretted, calling to her mother from time to time:
“The napkins are in the right-hand drawer of the pantry.”
“Yes, yes, I got um. Where do you geep der zoup blates?”
“The soup plates are here already.”
“Say, Cousin Trina, is there a corkscrew? What is home without a corkscrew?” “In the kitchen-table drawer, in the left-hand corner.”
“Are these the forks you want to use, Mrs. McTeague?”
“No, no, there’s some silver forks. Mamma knows where.”
They were all very gay, laughing over their mistakes, getting in one another’s way, rushing into the sitting-room, their hands full of plates or knives or glasses, and darting out again after more. Marcus and Mr. Sieppe took their coats off. Old Grannis and Miss Baker passed each other in the hall in a constrained silence, her grenadine brushing against the elbow of his wrinkled frock coat. Uncle Oelbermann superintended Heise opening the case of champagne with the gravity of a magistrate. Owgooste was assigned the task of filling the new salt and pepper canisters of red and blue glass.
In a wonderfully short time everything was ready. Marcus Schouler resumed his coat, wiping his forehead, and remarking:
“I tell you, I’ve been doing chores for my board.”
“To der table!” commanded Mr. Sieppe.
The company sat down with a great clatter, Trina at the foot, the dentist at the head, the others arranged themselves in haphazard fashion. But it happened that Marcus Schouler crowded into the seat beside Selina, towards which Old Grannis was directing himself. There was but one other chair vacant, and that at the side of Miss Baker. Old Grannis hesitated, putting his hand to his chin. However, there was no escape. In great trepidation he sat down beside the retired dressmaker. Neither of them spoke. Old Grannis dared not move, but sat rigid, his eyes riveted on his empty soup plate.
All at once there was a report like a pistol. The men started in their places. Mrs. Sieppe uttered a muffled shriek. The waiter from the cheap restaurant, hired as Maria’s assistant, rose from a bending posture, a champagne bottle frothing in his hand; he was grinning from ear to ear.
“Don’t get scairt,” he said, reassuringly, “it ain’t loaded.”
When all their glasses had been filled, Marcus proposed the health of the bride, “standing up.” The guests rose and drank. Hardly one of them had ever tasted champagne before. The moment’s silence after the toast was broken by McTeague exclaiming with a long breath of satisfaction: “That’s the best beer I ever drank.”
There was a roar of laughter. Especially was Marcus tickled over the dentist’s blunder; he went off in a very spasm of mirth, banging the table with his fist, laughing until his eyes watered. All through the meal he kept breaking out into cackling imitations of McTeague’s words: “That’s the best beer I ever drank. Oh, Lord, ain’t that a break!”
What a wonderful supper that was! There was oyster soup; there were sea bass and barracuda; there was a gigantic roast goose stuffed with chestnuts; there were egg-plant and sweet potatoes Miss Baker called them “yams.” There was calf’s head in oil, over which Mr. Sieppe went into ecstasies; there was lobster salad; there were rice pudding, and strawberry ice cream, and wine jelly, and stewed prunes, and cocoanuts, and mixed nuts, and raisins, and fruit, and tea, and coffee, and mineral waters, and lemonade.
For two hours the guests ate; their faces red, their elbows wide, the perspiration beading their foreheads. All around the table one saw the same incessant movement of jaws and heard the same uninterrupted sound of chewing. Three times Heise passed his plate for more roast goose. Mr. Sieppe devoured the calf’s head with long breaths of contentment; McTeague ate for the sake of eating, without choice; everything within reach of his hands found its way into his enormous mouth.
There was but little conversation, and that only of the food; one exchanged opinions with one’s neighbor as to the soup, the egg-plant, or the stewed prunes. Soon the room became very warm, a faint moisture appeared upon the windows, the air was heavy with the smell of cooked food. At every moment Trina or Mrs. Sieppe urged some one of the company to have his or her plate refilled. They were constantly employed in dishing potatoes or carving the goose or ladling gravy. The hired waiter circled around the room, his limp napkin over his arm, his hands full of plates and dishes. He was a great joker; he had names of his own for different articles of food, that sent gales of laughter around the table. When he spoke of a bunch of parsley as “scenery,” Heise all but strangled himself over a mouthful of potato. Out in the kitchen Maria Macapa did the work of three, her face scarlet, her sleeves rolled up; every now and then she uttered shrill but unintelligible outcries, supposedly addressed to the waiter.
“Uncle Oelbermann,” said Trina, “let me give you another helping of prunes.”
The Sieppes paid great deference to Uncle Oelbermann, as indeed did the whole company. Even Marcus Schouler lowered his voice when he addressed him. At the beginning of the meal he had nudged the harness-maker and had whispered behind his hand, nodding his head toward the wholesale toy dealer, “Got thirty thousand dollars in the bank; has, for a fact.”
“Don’t have much to say,” observed Heise.
“No, no. That’s his way; never opens his face.”
As the evening wore on, the gas and two lamps were lit. The company were still eating. The men, gorged with food, had unbuttoned their vests. McTeague’s cheeks were distended, his eyes wide, his huge, salient jaw moved with a machinelike regularity; at intervals he drew a series of short breaths through his nose. Mrs. Sieppe wiped her forehead with her napkin.
“Hey, dere, poy, gif me some more oaf dat what you call ‘bubble-water.’”
That was how the waiter had spoken of the champagne “bubble-water.” The guests had shouted applause, “Outa sight.” He was a heavy josher was that waiter. Bottle after bottle was opened, the women stopping their ears as the corks were drawn. All of a sudden the dentist uttered an exclamation, clapping his hand to his nose, his face twisting sharply.
“Mac, what is it?” cried Trina in alarm.
“That champagne came to my nose,” he cried, his eyes watering. “It stings like everything.”
“Great BEER, ain’t ut?” shouted Marcus.
“Now, Mark,” remonstrated Trina in a low voice. “Now, Mark, you just shut up; that isn’t funny any more. I don’t want you should make fun of Mac. He called it beer on purpose. I guess HE knows.”
Throughout the meal old Miss Baker had occupied herself largely with Owgooste and the twins, who had been given a table by themselves the black walnut table before which the ceremony had taken place. The little dressmaker was continually turning about in her place, inquiring of the children if they wanted for anything; inquiries they rarely answered other than by stare, fixed, ox-like, expressionless.
Suddenly the little dressmaker turned to Old Grannis and exclaimed:
“I’m so very fond of little children.”
“Yes, yes, they’re very interesting. I’m very fond of them, too.”
The next instant both of the old people were overwhelmed with confusion.
What! They had spoken to each other after all these years of silence; they had for the first time addressed remarks to each other.
The old dressmaker was in a torment of embarrassment. How was it she had come to speak? She had neither planned nor wished it. Suddenly the words had escaped her, he had answered, and it was all over over before they knew it.
Old Grannis’s fingers trembled on the table ledge, his heart beat heavily, his breath fell short. He had actually talked to the little dressmaker. That possibility to which he had looked forward, it seemed to him for years that companionship, that intimacy with his fellow-lodger, that delightful acquaintance which was only to ripen at some far distant time, he could not exactly say when behold, it had suddenly come to a head, here in this over-crowded, over-heated room, in the midst of all this feeding, surrounded by odors of hot dishes, accompanied by the sounds of incessant mastication. How different he had imagined it would be! They were to be alone he and Miss Baker in the evening somewhere, withdrawn from the world, very quiet, very calm and peaceful. Their talk was to be of their lives, their lost illusions, not of other people’s children.
The two old people did not speak again. They sat there side by side, nearer than they had ever been before, motionless, abstracted; their thoughts far away from that scene of feasting. They were thinking of each other and they were conscious of it. Timid, with the timidity of their second childhood, constrained and embarrassed by each other’s presence, they were, nevertheless, in a little Elysium of their own creating. They walked hand in hand in a delicious garden where it was always autumn; together and alone they entered upon the long retarded romance of their commonplace and uneventful lives.
At last that great supper was over, everything had been eaten; the enormous roast goose had dwindled to a very skeleton. Mr. Sieppe had reduced the calf’s head to a mere skull; a row of empty champagne bottles “dead soldiers,” as the facetious waiter had called them lined the mantelpiece. Nothing of the stewed prunes remained but the juice, which was given to Owgooste and the twins. The platters were as clean as if they had been washed; crumbs of bread, potato parings, nutshells, and bits of cake littered the table; coffee and ice-cream stains and spots of congealed gravy marked the position of each plate. It was a devastation, a pillage; the table presented the appearance of an abandoned battlefield.
“Ouf,” cried Mrs. Sieppe, pushing back, “I haf eatun und eatun, ach, Gott, how I haf eatun!”
“Ah, dot kaf’s het,” murmured her husband, passing his tongue over his lips.
The facetious waiter had disappeared. He and Maria Macapa foregathered in the kitchen. They drew up to the washboard of the sink, feasting off the remnants of the supper, slices of goose, the remains of the lobster salad, and half a bottle of champagne. They were obliged to drink the latter from teacups.
“Here’s how,” said the waiter gallantly, as he raised his tea-cup, bowing to Maria across the sink. “Hark,” he added, “they’re singing inside.”
The company had left the table and had assembled about the melodeon, where Selina was seated. At first they attempted some of the popular songs of the day, but were obliged to give over as none of them knew any of the words beyond the first line of the chorus. Finally they pitched upon “Nearer, My God, to Thee,” as the only song which they all knew. Selina sang the “alto,” very much off the key; Marcus intoned the bass, scowling fiercely, his chin drawn into his collar. They sang in very slow time. The song became a dirge, a lamentable, prolonged wail of distress:
“Nee-rah, my Gahd, to Thee, Nee-rah to Thee-ah.”
At the end of the song, Uncle Oelbermann put on his hat without a word of warning. Instantly there was a hush. The guests rose.
“Not going so soon, Uncle Oelbermann?” protested Trina, politely. He only nodded. Marcus sprang forward to help him with his overcoat. Mr. Sieppe came up and the two men shook hands.
Then Uncle Oelbermann delivered himself of an oracular phrase. No doubt he had been meditating it during the supper. Addressing Mr. Sieppe, he said:
“You have not lost a daughter, but have gained a son.”
These were the only words he had spoken the entire evening. He departed; the company was profoundly impressed.
About twenty minutes later, when Marcus Schouler was entertaining the guests by eating almonds, shells and all, Mr. Sieppe started to his feet, watch in hand.
“Haf-bast elevun,” he shouted. “Attention! Der dime haf arrive, shtop eferyting. We depart.”
This was a signal for tremendous confusion. Mr. Sieppe immediately threw off his previous air of relaxation, the calf’s head was forgotten, he was once again the leader of vast enterprises.
“To me, to me,” he cried. “Mommer, der tervins, Owgooste.” He marshalled his tribe together, with tremendous commanding gestures. The sleeping twins were suddenly shaken into a dazed consciousness; Owgooste, whom the almond-eating of Marcus Schouler had petrified with admiration, was smacked to a realization of his surroundings.
Old Grannis, with a certain delicacy that was one of his characteristics, felt instinctively that the guests the mere outsiders should depart before the family began its leave-taking of Trina. He withdrew unobtrusively, after a hasty goodnight to the bride and groom. The rest followed almost immediately.
“Well, Mr. Sieppe,” exclaimed Marcus, “we won’t see each other for some time.” Marcus had given up his first intention of joining in the Sieppe migration. He spoke in a large way of certain affairs that would keep him in San Francisco till the fall. Of late he had entertained ambitions of a ranch life, he would breed cattle, he had a little money and was only looking for some one “to go in with.” He dreamed of a cowboy’s life and saw himself in an entrancing vision involving silver spurs and untamed bronchos. He told himself that Trina had cast him off, that his best friend had “played him for a sucker,” that the “proper caper” was to withdraw from the world entirely.
“If you hear of anybody down there,” he went on, speaking to Mr. Sieppe, “that wants to go in for ranching, why just let me know.”
“Soh, soh,” answered Mr. Sieppe abstractedly, peering about for Owgooste’s cap.
Marcus bade the Sieppes farewell. He and Heise went out together. One heard them, as they descended the stairs, discussing the possibility of Frenna’s place being still open.
Then Miss Baker departed after kissing Trina on both cheeks. Selina went with her. There was only the family left.
Trina watched them go, one by one, with an increasing feeling of uneasiness and vague apprehension. Soon they would all be gone.
“Well, Trina,” exclaimed Mr. Sieppe, “goot-py; perhaps you gome visit us somedime.”
Mrs. Sieppe began crying again.
“Ach, Trina, ven shall I efer see you again?”
Tears came to Trina’s eyes in spite of herself. She put her arms around her mother. “Oh, sometime, sometime,” she cried. The twins and Owgooste clung to Trina’s skirts, fretting and whimpering.
McTeague was miserable. He stood apart from the group, in a corner. None of them seemed to think of him; he was not of them.
“Write to me very often, mamma, and tell me about everything about August and the twins.”
“It is dime,” cried Mr. Sieppe, nervously. “Goot-py, Trina. Mommer, Owgooste, say goot-py, den we must go. Goot-py, Trina.” He kissed her. Owgooste and the twins were lifted up. “Gome, gome,” insisted Mr. Sieppe, moving toward the door. “Goot-py, Trina,” exclaimed Mrs. Sieppe, crying harder than ever. “Doktor where is der doktor Doktor, pe goot to her, eh? pe vairy goot, eh, won’t you? Zum day, Dokter, you vill haf a daughter, den you know berhaps how I feel, yes.”
They were standing at the door by this time. Mr. Sieppe, half way down the stairs, kept calling “Gome, gome, we miss der drain.”
Mrs. Sieppe released Trina and started down the hall, the twins and Owgooste following. Trina stood in the doorway, looking after them through her tears. They were going, going. When would she ever see them again? She was to be left alone with this man to whom she had just been married. A sudden vague terror seized her; she left McTeague and ran down the hall and caught her mother around the neck.
“I don’t WANT you to go,” she whispered in her mother’s ear, sobbing. “Oh, mamma, I I’m ‘fraid.”
“Ach, Trina, you preak my heart. Don’t gry, poor leetle girl.” She rocked Trina in her arms as though she were a child again. “Poor leetle scairt girl, don’ gry soh soh soh, dere’s nuttun to pe ‘fraid oaf. Dere, go to your hoasban’. Listen, popper’s galling again; go den; goot-by.”
She loosened Trina’s arms and started down the stairs. Trina leaned over the banisters, straining her eyes after her mother.
“What is ut, Trina?”
“Oh, good-by, good-by.”
“Gome, gome, we miss der drain.”
“Mamma, oh, mamma!”
“What is ut, Trina?”
“Goot-py, leetle daughter.”
“Good-by, good-by, good-by.”
The street door closed. The silence was profound.
For another moment Trina stood leaning over the banisters, looking down into the empty stairway. It was dark. There was nobody. They her father, her mother, the children had left her, left her alone. She faced about toward the rooms faced her husband, faced her new home, the new life that was to begin now.
The hall was empty and deserted. The great flat around her seemed new and huge and strange; she felt horribly alone. Even Maria and the hired waiter were gone. On one of the floors above she heard a baby crying. She stood there an in-stant in the dark hall, in her wedding finery, looking about her, listening. From the open door of the sittingroom streamed a gold bar of light.
She went down the hall, by the open door of the sittingroom, going on toward the hall door of the bedroom.
As she softly passed the sitting-room she glanced hastily in. The lamps and the gas were burning brightly, the chairs were pushed back from the table just as the guests had left them, and the table itself, abandoned, deserted, presented to view the vague confusion of its dishes, its knives and forks, its empty platters and crumpled napkins. The dentist sat there leaning on his elbows, his back toward her; against the white blur of the table he looked colossal. Above his giant shoulders rose his thick, red neck and mane of yellow hair. The light shone pink through the gristle of his enormous ears.
Trina entered the bedroom, closing the door after her. At the sound, she heard McTeague start and rise.
“Is that you, Trina?”
She did not answer; but paused in the middle of the room, holding her breath, trembling.
The dentist crossed the outside room, parted the chenille portieres, and came in. He came toward her quickly, making as if to take her in his arms. His eyes were alight. “No, no,” cried Trina, shrinking from him. Suddenly seized with the fear of him the intuitive feminine fear of the male her whole being quailed before him. She was terrified at his huge, square-cut head; his powerful, salient jaw; his huge, red hands; his enormous, resistless strength.
“No, no I’m afraid,” she cried, drawing back from him to the other side of the room.
“Afraid?” answered the dentist in perplexity. “What are you afraid of, Trina?
I’m not going to hurt you. What are you afraid of?”
What, indeed, was Trina afraid of? She could not tell. But what did she know of McTeague, after all? Who was this man that had come into her life, who had taken her from her home and from her parents, and with whom she was now left alone here in this strange, vast flat?
“Oh, I’m afraid. I’m afraid,” she cried.
McTeague came nearer, sat down beside her and put one arm around her. “What are you afraid of, Trina?” he said, reassuringly. “I don’t want to frighten you.”
She looked at him wildly, her adorable little chin quivering, the tears brimming in her narrow blue eyes. Then her glance took on a certain intentness, and she peered curiously into his face, saying almost in a whisper:
“I’m afraid of you.”
But the dentist did not heed her. An immense joy seized upon him the joy of possession. Trina was his very own now. She lay there in the hollow of his arm, helpless and very pretty.
Those instincts that in him were so close to the surface suddenly leaped to life, shouting and clamoring, not to be resisted. He loved her. Ah, did he not love her? The smell of her hair, of her neck, rose to him.
Suddenly he caught her in both his huge arms, crushing down her struggle with his immense strength, kissing her full upon the mouth. Then her great love for McTeague suddenly flashed up in Trina’s breast; she gave up to him as she had done before, yielding all at once to that strange desire of being conquered and subdued. She clung to him, her hands clasped behind his neck, whispering in his ear:
“Oh, you must be good to me very, very good to me, dear for you’re all that I have in the world now.”
3.3.3 Reading and Review Questions
- As you read the first nine chapters of McTeague, pay close attention to how Norris describes his antihero protagonist. What environmental forces and natural drives motivate McTeague to descend from his position of workingclass respectability to that of fugitive murderer?
- Norris argues that true naturalistic romance can “teach you by showing.” What does McTeague teach us about the human condition by showing “the animal in the man”?