McTeague, by Frank Norris
Part 6 out of 8
each other quickly. "Look at me, drenched through,
shivering cold. I've walked the city over. Caught in the
rain! Yes, I guess I did get caught in the rain, and it
ain't your fault I didn't catch my death-a-cold; wouldn't
even let me have a nickel for car fare."
"But, Mac," protested Trina, "I didn't know it was going to
The dentist put back his head and laughed scornfully. His
face was very red, and his small eyes twinkled. "Hoh! no,
you didn't know it was going to rain. Didn't I TELL you
it was?" he exclaimed, suddenly angry again. "Oh, you're a
DAISY, you are. Think I'm going to put up with your
foolishness ALL the time? Who's the boss, you or I?"
"Why, Mac, I never saw you this way before. You talk like a
"Well, I AM a different man," retorted the dentist,
savagely. "You can't make small of me ALWAYS."
"Well, never mind that. You know I'm not trying to make
small of you. But never mind that. Did you get a place?"
"Give me my money," exclaimed McTeague, jumping up briskly.
There was an activity, a positive nimbleness about the huge
blond giant that had never been his before; also his
stupidity, the sluggishness of his brain, seemed to be
"Give me my money, the money I gave you as I was going
"I can't," exclaimed Trina. "I paid the grocer's bill with
it while you were gone."
"Don't believe you."
"Truly, truly, Mac. Do you think I'd lie to you? Do you
think I'd lower myself to do that?"
"Well, the next time I earn any money I'll keep it myself."
"But tell me, Mac, DID you get a place?"
McTeague turned his back on her.
"Tell me, Mac, please, did you?"
The dentist jumped up and thrust his face close to
hers, his heavy jaw protruding, his little eyes twinkling
"No," he shouted. "No, no, NO. Do you hear? NO."
Trina cowered before him. Then suddenly she began to sob
aloud, weeping partly at his strange brutality, partly at
the disappointment of his failure to find employment.
McTeague cast a contemptuous glance about him, a glance that
embraced the dingy, cheerless room, the rain streaming down
the panes of the one window, and the figure of his weeping
"Oh, ain't this all FINE?" he exclaimed. "Ain't it
"It's not my fault," sobbed Trina.
"It is too," vociferated McTeague. "It is too. We could
live like Christians and decent people if you wanted to.
You got more'n five thousand dollars, and you're so damned
stingy that you'd rather live in a rat hole--and make me
live there too--before you'd part with a nickel of it. I
tell you I'm sick and tired of the whole business."
An allusion to her lottery money never failed to rouse
"And I'll tell you this much too," she cried, winking back
the tears. "Now that you're out of a job, we can't afford
even to live in your rat hole, as you call it. We've got to
find a cheaper place than THIS even."
"What!" exclaimed the dentist, purple with rage. "What, get
into a worse hole in the wall than this? Well, we'll
SEE if we will. We'll just see about that. You're going
to do just as I tell you after this, Trina McTeague," and
once more he thrust his face close to hers.
"I know what's the matter," cried Trina, with a half
sob; "I know, I can smell it on your breath. You've been
"Yes, I've been drinking whiskey," retorted her husband.
"I've been drinking whiskey. Have you got anything to say
about it? Ah, yes, you're RIGHT, I've been drinking
whiskey. What have YOU got to say about my drinking
whiskey? Let's hear it."
"Oh! Oh! Oh!" sobbed Trina, covering her face with her
hands. McTeague caught her wrists in one palm and
pulled them down. Trina's pale face was streaming with
tears; her long, narrow blue eyes were swimming; her
adorable little chin upraised and quivering.
"Let's hear what you got to say," exclaimed McTeague.
"Nothing, nothing," said Trina, between her sobs.
"Then stop that noise. Stop it, do you hear me? Stop it."
He threw up his open hand threateningly. "STOP!" he
Trina looked at him fearfully, half blinded with weeping.
Her husband's thick mane of yellow hair was disordered and
rumpled upon his great square-cut head; his big red ears
were redder than ever; his face was purple; the thick
eyebrows were knotted over the small, twinkling eyes; the
heavy yellow mustache, that smelt of alcohol, drooped over
the massive, protruding chin, salient, like that of the
carnivora; the veins were swollen and throbbing on his thick
red neck; while over her head Trina saw his upraised palm,
"Stop!" he exclaimed. And Trina, watching fearfully, saw
the palm suddenly contract into a fist, a fist that was hard
as a wooden mallet, the fist of the old-time car-boy. And
then her ancient terror of him, the intuitive fear of the
male, leaped to life again. She was afraid of him. Every
nerve of her quailed and shrank from him. She choked back
her sobs, catching her breath.
"There," growled the dentist, releasing her, "that's more
like. Now," he went on, fixing her with his little eyes,
"now listen to me. I'm beat out. I've walked the city
over--ten miles, I guess--an' I'm going to bed, an' I don't
want to be bothered. You understand? I want to be let
alone." Trina was silent.
"Do you HEAR?" he snarled.
The dentist took off his coat, his collar and necktie,
unbuttoned his vest, and slipped his heavy-soled boots from
his big feet. Then he stretched himself upon the bed and
rolled over towards the wall. In a few minutes the sound of
his snoring filled the room.
Trina craned her neck and looked at her husband over the
footboard of the bed. She saw his red, congested face;
the huge mouth wide open; his unclean shirt, with its frayed
wristbands; and his huge feet encased in thick woollen
socks. Then her grief and the sense of her unhappiness
returned more poignant than ever. She stretched her arms
out in front of her on her work-table, and, burying her face
in them, cried and sobbed as though her heart would break.
The rain continued. The panes of the single window ran with
sheets of water; the eaves dripped incessantly. It grew
darker. The tiny, grimy room, full of the smells of cooking
and of "non-poisonous" paint, took on an aspect of
desolation and cheerlessness lamentable beyond words. The
canary in its little gilt prison chittered feebly from time
to time. Sprawled at full length upon the bed, the dentist
snored and snored, stupefied, inert, his legs wide apart,
his hands lying palm upward at his sides.
At last Trina raised her head, with a long, trembling
breath. She rose, and going over to the washstand, poured
some water from the pitcher into the basin, and washed her
face and swollen eyelids, and rearranged her hair.
Suddenly, as she was about to return to her work, she was
struck with an idea.
"I wonder," she said to herself, "I wonder where he got the
money to buy his whiskey." She searched the pockets of his
coat, which he had flung into a corner of the room, and even
came up to him as he lay upon the bed and went through the
pockets of his vest and trousers. She found nothing.
"I wonder," she murmured, "I wonder if he's got any
money he don't tell me about. I'll have to look out for
A week passed, then a fortnight, then a month. It was a
month of the greatest anxiety and unquietude for Trina.
McTeague was out of a job, could find nothing to do; and
Trina, who saw the impossibility of saving as much money as
usual out of her earnings under the present conditions, was
on the lookout for cheaper quarters. In spite of his
outcries and sulky resistance Trina had induced her husband
to consent to such a move, bewildering him with a torrent of
phrases and marvellous columns of figures by which she
proved conclusively that they were in a condition but one
remove from downright destitution.
The dentist continued idle. Since his ill success with the
manufacturers of surgical instruments he had made but two
attempts to secure a job. Trina had gone to see Uncle
Oelbermann and had obtained for McTeague a position in the
shipping department of the wholesale toy store. However, it
was a position that involved a certain amount of ciphering,
and McTeague had been obliged to throw it up in two days.
Then for a time they had entertained a wild idea that a
place on the police force could be secured for McTeague. He
could pass the physical examination with flying colors, and
Ryer, who had become the secretary of the Polk Street
Improvement Club, promised the requisite political "pull."
If McTeague had shown a certain energy in the matter the
attempt might have been successful; but he was too
stupid, or of late had become too listless to exert himself
greatly, and the affair resulted only in a violent quarrel
McTeague had lost his ambition. He did not care to better
his situation. All he wanted was a warm place to sleep and
three good meals a day. At the first--at the very first--he
had chafed at his idleness and had spent the days with his
wife in their one narrow room, walking back and forth with
the restlessness of a caged brute, or sitting motionless for
hours, watching Trina at her work, feeling a dull glow of
shame at the idea that she was supporting him. This feeling
had worn off quickly, however. Trina's work was only hard
when she chose to make it so, and as a rule she supported
their misfortunes with a silent fortitude.
Then, wearied at his inaction and feeling the need of
movement and exercise, McTeague would light his pipe and
take a turn upon the great avenue one block above Polk
Street. A gang of laborers were digging the foundations for
a large brownstone house, and McTeague found interest and
amusement in leaning over the barrier that surrounded the
excavations and watching the progress of the work. He came
to see it every afternoon; by and by he even got to know the
foreman who superintended the job, and the two had long
talks together. Then McTeague would return to Polk Street
and find Heise in the back room of the harness shop, and
occasionally the day ended with some half dozen drinks of
whiskey at Joe Frenna's saloon.
It was curious to note the effect of the alcohol upon the
dentist. It did not make him drunk, it made him vicious.
So far from being stupefied, he became, after the fourth
glass, active, alert, quick-witted, even talkative; a
certain wickedness stirred in him then; he was intractable,
mean; and when he had drunk a little more heavily than
usual, he found a certain pleasure in annoying and
exasperating Trina, even in abusing and hurting her.
It had begun on the evening of Thanksgiving Day, when Heise
had taken McTeague out to dinner with him. The dentist on
this occasion had drunk very freely. He and Heise had
returned to Polk Street towards ten o'clock, and Heise
at once suggested a couple of drinks at Frenna's.
"All right, all right," said McTeague. "Drinks, that's the
word. I'll go home and get some money and meet you at
Trina was awakened by her husband pinching her arm.
"Oh, Mac," she cried, jumping up in bed with a little
scream, "how you hurt! Oh, that hurt me dreadfully."
"Give me a little money," answered the dentist, grinning,
and pinching her again.
"I haven't a cent. There's not a--oh, MAC, will you
stop? I won't have you pinch me that way."
"Hurry up," answered her husband, calmly, nipping the flesh
of her shoulder between his thumb and finger. "Heise's
waiting for me." Trina wrenched from him with a sharp
intake of breath, frowning with pain, and caressing her
"Mac, you've no idea how that hurts. Mac, STOP!"
"Give me some money, then."
In the end Trina had to comply. She gave him half a dollar
from her dress pocket, protesting that it was the only piece
of money she had.
"One more, just for luck," said McTeague, pinching her
again; "and another."
"How can you--how CAN you hurt a woman so!" exclaimed
Trina, beginning to cry with the pain.
"Ah, now, CRY," retorted the dentist. "That's right,
CRY. I never saw such a little fool." He went out,
slamming the door in disgust.
But McTeague never became a drunkard in the generally
received sense of the term. He did not drink to excess more
than two or three times in a month, and never upon any
occasion did he become maudlin or staggering. Perhaps his
nerves were naturally too dull to admit of any excitation;
perhaps he did not really care for the whiskey, and only
drank because Heise and the other men at Frenna's did.
Trina could often reproach him with drinking too much; she
never could say that he was drunk. The alcohol had its
effect for all that. It roused the man, or rather the brute
in the man, and now not only roused it, but goaded it to
evil. McTeague's nature changed. It was not only the
alcohol, it was idleness and a general throwing off of the
good influence his wife had had over him in the days of
their prosperity. McTeague disliked Trina. She was a
perpetual irritation to him. She annoyed him because she
was so small, so prettily made, so invariably correct and
precise. Her avarice incessantly harassed him. Her
industry was a constant reproach to him. She seemed to
flaunt her work defiantly in his face. It was the red flag
in the eyes of the bull. One time when he had just come
back from Frenna's and had been sitting in the chair near
her, silently watching her at her work, he exclaimed all of
"Stop working. Stop it, I tell you. Put 'em away. Put 'em
all away, or I'll pinch you."
"But why--why?" Trina protested.
The dentist cuffed her ears. "I won't have you work." He
took her knife and her paint-pots away, and made her sit
idly in the window the rest of the afternoon.
It was, however, only when his wits had been stirred with
alcohol that the dentist was brutal to his wife. At other
times, say three weeks of every month, she was merely an
incumbrance to him. They often quarrelled about Trina's
money, her savings. The dentist was bent upon having at
least a part of them. What he would do with the money once
he had it, he did not precisely know. He would spend it in
royal fashion, no doubt, feasting continually, buying
himself wonderful clothes. The miner's idea of money quickly
gained and lavishly squandered, persisted in his mind. As
for Trina, the more her husband stormed, the tighter she
drew the strings of the little chamois-skin bag that she hid
at the bottom of her trunk underneath her bridal dress. Her
five thousand dollars invested in Uncle Oelbermann's
business was a glittering, splendid dream which came to her
almost every hour of the day as a solace and a compensation
for all her unhappiness.
At times, when she knew that McTeague was far from
home, she would lock her door, open her trunk, and pile all
her little hoard on her table. By now it was four hundred
and seven dollars and fifty cents. Trina would play with
this money by the hour, piling it, and repiling it, or
gathering it all into one heap, and drawing back to the
farthest corner of the room to note the effect, her head on
one side. She polished the gold pieces with a mixture of
soap and ashes until they shone, wiping them carefully on
her apron. Or, again, she would draw the heap lovingly
toward her and bury her face in it, delighted at the smell
of it and the feel of the smooth, cool metal on her cheeks.
She even put the smaller gold pieces in her mouth, and
jingled them there. She loved her money with an intensity
that she could hardly express. She would plunge her small
fingers into the pile with little murmurs of affection, her
long, narrow eyes half closed and shining, her breath coming
in long sighs.
"Ah, the dear money, the dear money," she would whisper. "I
love you so! All mine, every penny of it. No one shall
ever, ever get you. How I've worked for you! How I've
slaved and saved for you! And I'm going to get more; I'm
going to get more, more, more; a little every day."
She was still looking for cheaper quarters. Whenever she
could spare a moment from her work, she would put on her hat
and range up and down the entire neighborhood from Sutter to
Sacramento Streets, going into all the alleys and bystreets,
her head in the air, looking for the "Rooms-to-let" sign.
But she was in despair. All the cheaper tenements were
occupied. She could find no room more reasonable than the
one she and the dentist now occupied.
As time went on, McTeague's idleness became habitual. He
drank no more whiskey than at first, but his dislike for
Trina increased with every day of their poverty, with every
day of Trina's persistent stinginess. At times--fortunately
rare he was more than ever brutal to her. He would box her
ears or hit her a great blow with the back of a hair-brush,
or even with his closed fist. His old-time affection
for his "little woman," unable to stand the test of
privation, had lapsed by degrees, and what little of it was
left was changed, distorted, and made monstrous by the
The people about the house and the clerks at the provision
stores often remarked that Trina's fingertips were swollen
and the nails purple as though they had been shut in a door.
Indeed, this was the explanation she gave. The fact of the
matter was that McTeague, when he had been drinking, used to
bite them, crunching and grinding them with his immense
teeth, always ingenious enough to remember which were the
sorest. Sometimes he extorted money from her by this means,
but as often as not he did it for his own satisfaction.
And in some strange, inexplicable way this brutality made
Trina all the more affectionate; aroused in her a morbid,
unwholesome love of submission, a strange, unnatural
pleasure in yielding, in surrendering herself to the will of
an irresistible, virile power.
Trina's emotions had narrowed with the narrowing of her
daily life. They reduced themselves at last to but two, her
passion for her money and her perverted love for her husband
when he was brutal. She was a strange woman during these
Trina had come to be on very intimate terms with Maria
Macapa, and in the end the dentist's wife and the maid of
all work became great friends. Maria was constantly in and
out of Trina's room, and, whenever she could, Trina threw a
shawl over her head and returned Maria's calls. Trina could
reach Zerkow's dirty house without going into the street.
The back yard of the flat had a gate that opened into a
little inclosure where Zerkow kept his decrepit horse and
ramshackle wagon, and from thence Trina could enter directly
into Maria's kitchen. Trina made long visits to Maria
during the morning in her dressing-gown and curl papers, and
the two talked at great length over a cup of tea served on
the edge of the sink or a corner of the laundry table. The
talk was all of their husbands and of what to do when they
came home in aggressive moods.
"You never ought to fight um," advised Maria. "It only
makes um worse. Just hump your back, and it's soonest
They told each other of their husbands' brutalities, taking
a strange sort of pride in recounting some particularly
savage blow, each trying to make out that her own husband
was the most cruel. They critically compared each other's
bruises, each one glad when she could exhibit the worst.
They exaggerated, they invented details, and, as if proud of
their beatings, as if glorying in their husbands'
mishandling, lied to each other, magnifying their own
maltreatment. They had long and excited arguments as to
which were the most effective means of punishment, the
rope's ends and cart whips such as Zerkow used, or the fists
and backs of hair-brushes affected by McTeague. Maria
contended that the lash of the whip hurt the most; Trina,
that the butt did the most injury.
Maria showed Trina the holes in the walls and the loosened
boards in the flooring where Zerkow had been searching for
the gold plate. Of late he had been digging in the back
yard and had ransacked the hay in his horse-shed for the
concealed leather chest he imagined he would find. But he
was becoming impatient, evidently.
"The way he goes on," Maria told Trina, "is somethun
dreadful. He's gettun regularly sick with it--got a fever
every night--don't sleep, and when he does, talks to
himself. Says 'More'n a hundred pieces, an' every one of
'em gold. More'n a hundred pieces, an' every one of 'em
gold.' Then he'll whale me with his whip, and shout, 'You
know where it is. Tell me, tell me, you swine, or I'll do
for you.' An' then he'll get down on his knees and whimper,
and beg me to tell um where I've hid it. He's just gone plum
crazy. Sometimes he has regular fits, he gets so mad, and
rolls on the floor and scratches himself."
One morning in November, about ten o'clock, Trina pasted a
"Made in France" label on the bottom of a Noah's ark, and
leaned back in her chair with a long sigh of relief. She
had just finished a large Christmas order for Uncle
Oelbermann, and there was nothing else she could do that
morning. The bed had not yet been made, nor had the
breakfast things been washed. Trina hesitated for a moment,
then put her chin in the air indifferently.
"Bah!" she said, "let them go till this afternoon. I don't
care WHEN the room is put to rights, and I know Mac
don't." She determined that instead of making the bed or
washing the dishes she would go and call on Miss Baker on
the floor below. The little dressmaker might ask her to
stay to lunch, and that would be something saved, as the
dentist had announced his intention that morning of taking a
long walk out to the Presidio to be gone all day.
But Trina rapped on Miss Baker's door in vain that morning.
She was out. Perhaps she was gone to the florist's to buy
some geranium seeds. However, Old Grannis's door stood a
little ajar, and on hearing Trina at Miss Baker's room, the
old Englishman came out into the hall.
"She's gone out," he said, uncertainly, and in a half
whisper, "went out about half an hour ago. I--I think she
went to the drug store to get some wafers for the goldfish."
"Don't you go to your dog hospital any more, Mister
Grannis?" said Trina, leaning against the balustrade in the
hall, willing to talk a moment.
Old Grannis stood in the doorway of his room, in his carpet
slippers and faded corduroy jacket that he wore when at
"Why--why," he said, hesitating, tapping his chin
thoughtfully. "You see I'm thinking of giving up the little
"Giving it up?"
"You see, the people at the book store where I buy my
pamphlets have found out--I told them of my contrivance for
binding books, and one of the members of the firm came up to
look at it. He offered me quite a sum if I would sell him
the right of it--the--patent of it--quite a sum. In fact--
in fact--yes, quite a sum, quite." He rubbed his chin
tremulously and looked about him on the floor.
"Why, isn't that fine?" said Trina, good-naturedly. "I'm
very glad, Mister Grannis. Is it a good price?"
"Quite a sum--quite. In fact, I never dreamed of
having so much money."
"Now, see here, Mister Grannis," said Trina, decisively, "I
want to give you a good piece of advice. Here are you and
Miss Baker----" The old Englishman started nervously--"You
and Miss Baker, that have been in love with each other for----"
"Oh, Mrs. McTeague, that subject--if you would please--Miss
Baker is such an estimable lady."
"Fiddlesticks!" said Trina. "You're in love with each
other, and the whole flat knows it; and you two have been
living here side by side year in and year out, and you've
never said a word to each other. It's all nonsense. Now, I
want you should go right in and speak to her just as soon as
she comes home, and say you've come into money and you want
her to marry you."
"Impossible--impossible!" exclaimed the old Englishman,
alarmed and perturbed. "It's quite out of the question. I
"Well, do you love her, or not?"
"Really, Mrs. McTeague, I--I--you must excuse me. It's a
matter so personal--so--I--Oh, yes, I love her. Oh, yes,
indeed," he exclaimed, suddenly.
"Well, then, she loves you. She told me so."
"She did. She said those very words."
Miss Baker had said nothing of the kind--would have died
sooner than have made such a confession; but Trina had drawn
her own conclusions, like every other lodger of the flat,
and thought the time was come for decided action.
"Now you do just as I tell you, and when she comes home, go
right in and see her, and have it over with. Now, don't say
another word. I'm going; but you do just as I tell you."
Trina turned about and went down-stairs. She had decided,
since Miss Baker was not at home, that she would run over
and see Maria; possibly she could have lunch there. At any
rate, Maria would offer her a cup of tea.
Old Grannis stood for a long time just as Trina had
left him, his hands trembling, the blood coming and going in
his withered cheeks.
"She said, she--she--she told her--she said that--that----"
he could get no farther.
Then he faced about and entered his room, closing the door
behind him. For a long time he sat in his armchair, drawn
close to the wall in front of the table on which stood his
piles of pamphlets and his little binding apparatus.
"I wonder," said Trina, as she crossed the yard back of
Zerkow's house, "I wonder what rent Zerkow and Maria pay for
this place. I'll bet it's cheaper than where Mac and I are."
Trina found Maria sitting in front of the kitchen stove, her
chin upon her breast. Trina went up to her. She was dead.
And as Trina touched her shoulder, her head rolled sideways
and showed a fearful gash in her throat under her ear. All
the front of her dress was soaked through and through.
Trina backed sharply away from the body, drawing her hands
up to her very shoulders, her eyes staring and wide, an
expression of unutterable horror twisting her face.
"Oh-h-h!" she exclaimed in a long breath, her voice hardly
rising above a whisper. "Oh-h, isn't that horrible!"
Suddenly she turned and fled through the front part of the
house to the street door, that opened upon the little alley.
She looked wildly about her. Directly across the way a
butcher's boy was getting into his two-wheeled cart drawn up
in front of the opposite house, while near by a peddler of
wild game was coming down the street, a brace of ducks in
"Oh, say--say," gasped Trina, trying to get her voice, "say,
come over here quick."
The butcher's boy paused, one foot on the wheel, and stared.
Trina beckoned frantically.
"Come over here, come over here quick."
The young fellow swung himself into his seat.
"What's the matter with that woman?" he said, half aloud.
"There's a murder been done," cried Trina, swaying in
The young fellow drove away, his head over his shoulder,
staring at Trina with eyes that were fixed and absolutely
devoid of expression.
"What's the matter with that woman?" he said again to
himself as he turned the corner.
Trina wondered why she didn't scream, how she could keep
from it--how, at such a moment as this, she could remember
that it was improper to make a disturbance and create a
scene in the street. The peddler of wild game was looking
at her suspiciously. It would not do to tell him. He would
go away like the butcher's boy.
"Now, wait a minute," Trina said to herself, speaking aloud.
She put her hands to her head. "Now, wait a minute. It
won't do for me to lose my wits now. What must I do?" She
looked about her. There was the same familiar aspect of
Polk Street. She could see it at the end of the alley. The
big market opposite the flat, the delivery carts rattling up
and down, the great ladies from the avenue at their morning
shopping, the cable cars trundling past, loaded with
passengers. She saw a little boy in a flat leather cap
whistling and calling for an unseen dog, slapping his small
knee from time to time. Two men came out of Frenna's
saloon, laughing heartily. Heise the harness-maker stood in
the vestibule of his shop, a bundle of whittlings in his
apron of greasy ticking. And all this was going on, people
were laughing and living, buying and selling, walking about
out there on the sunny sidewalks, while behind her in there
--in there--in there----
Heise started back from the sudden apparition of a white-
lipped woman in a blue dressing-gown that seemed to rise up
before him from his very doorstep.
"Well, Mrs. McTeague, you did scare me, for----"
"Oh, come over here quick." Trina put her hand to her neck;
swallowing something that seemed to be choking her.
"Maria's killed--Zerkow's wife--I found her."
"Get out!" exclaimed Heise, "you're joking."
"Come over here--over into the house--I found her--she's
Heise dashed across the street on the run, with Trina at his
heels, a trail of spilled whittlings marking his course.
The two ran down the alley. The wild-game peddler, a woman
who had been washing down the steps in a neighboring house,
and a man in a broad-brimmed hat stood at Zerkow's doorway,
looking in from time to time, and talking together. They
"Anything wrong in here?" asked the wild-game peddler as
Heise and Trina came up. Two more men stopped on the corner
of the alley and Polk Street and looked at the group. A
woman with a towel round her head raised a window opposite
Zerkow's house and called to the woman who had been washing
the steps, "What is it, Mrs. Flint?"
Heise was already inside the house. He turned to Trina,
panting from his run.
"Where did you say--where was it--where?"
"In there," said Trina, "farther in--the next room." They
burst into the kitchen.
"LORD!" ejaculated Heise, stopping a yard or so from the
body, and bending down to peer into the gray face with its
"By God! he's killed her."
"Zerkow, by God! he's killed her. Cut her throat. He
always said he would."
"He's killed her. Her throat's cut. Good Lord, how she did
bleed! By God! he's done for her in good shape this time."
"Oh, I told her--I TOLD her," cried Trina.
"He's done for her SURE this time."
"She said she could always manage--Oh-h! It's horrible."
"He's done for her sure this trip. Cut her throat.
LORD, how she has BLED! Did you ever see so much--
that's murder--that's cold-blooded murder. He's killed
her. Say, we must get a policeman. Come on."
They turned back through the house. Half a dozen people--
the wild-game peddler, the man with the broad-brimmed hat,
the washwoman, and three other men--were in the front room
of the junk shop, a bank of excited faces surged at the
door. Beyond this, outside, the crowd was packed solid from
one end of the alley to the other. Out in Polk Street the
cable cars were nearly blocked and were bunting a way slowly
through the throng with clanging bells. Every window had
its group. And as Trina and the harness-maker tried to
force the way from the door of the junk shop the throng
suddenly parted right and left before the passage of two
blue-coated policemen who clove a passage through the press,
working their elbows energetically. They were accompanied
by a third man in citizen's clothes.
Heise and Trina went back into the kitchen with the two
policemen, the third man in citizen's clothes cleared the
intruders from the front room of the junk shop and kept the
crowd back, his arm across the open door.
"Whew!" whistled one of the officers as they came out into
the kitchen, "cutting scrape? By George! SOMEBODY'S
been using his knife all right." He turned to the other
officer. "Better get the wagon. There's a box on the
second corner south. Now, then," he continued, turning to
Trina and the harness-maker and taking out his note-book and
pencil, "I want your names and addresses."
It was a day of tremendous excitement for the entire street.
Long after the patrol wagon had driven away, the crowd
remained. In fact, until seven o'clock that evening groups
collected about the door of the junk shop, where a policeman
stood guard, asking all manner of questions, advancing all
manner of opinions.
"Do you think they'll get him?" asked Ryer of the policeman.
A dozen necks craned forward eagerly.
"Hoh, we'll get him all right, easy enough," answered the
other, with a grand air.
"What? What's that? What did he say?" asked the
people on the outskirts of the group. Those in front passed
the answer back.
"He says they'll get him all right, easy enough."
The group looked at the policeman admiringly.
"He's skipped to San Jose."
Where the rumor started, and how, no one knew. But every
one seemed persuaded that Zerkow had gone to San Jose.
"But what did he kill her for? Was he drunk?"
"No, he was crazy, I tell you--crazy in the head. Thought
she was hiding some money from him."
Frenna did a big business all day long. The murder was the
one subject of conversation. Little parties were made up in
his saloon--parties of twos and threes--to go over and have
a look at the outside of the junk shop. Heise was the most
important man the length and breadth of Polk Street; almost
invariably he accompanied these parties, telling again and
again of the part he had played in the affair.
"It was about eleven o'clock. I was standing in front of
the shop, when Mrs. McTeague--you know, the dentist's wife--
came running across the street," and so on and so on.
The next day came a fresh sensation. Polk Street read of it
in the morning papers. Towards midnight on the day of the
murder Zerkow's body had been found floating in the bay near
Black Point. No one knew whether he had drowned himself or
fallen from one of the wharves. Clutched in both his hands
was a sack full of old and rusty pans, tin dishes--fully a
hundred of them--tin cans, and iron knives and forks,
collected from some dump heap.
"And all this," exclaimed Trina, "on account of a set of
gold dishes that never existed."
One day, about a fortnight after the coroner's inquest had
been held, and when the excitement of the terrible affair
was calming down and Polk Street beginning to resume its
monotonous routine, Old Grannis sat in his clean, well-kept
little room, in his cushioned armchair, his hands lying idly
upon his knees. It was evening; not quite time to light the
lamps. Old Grannis had drawn his chair close to the wall--
so close, in fact, that he could hear Miss Baker's grenadine
brushing against the other side of the thin partition, at
his very elbow, while she rocked gently back and forth, a
cup of tea in her hands.
Old Grannis's occupation was gone. That morning the book-
selling firm where he had bought his pamphlets had taken his
little binding apparatus from him to use as a model. The
transaction had been concluded. Old Grannis had received
his check. It was large enough, to be sure, but when all
was over, he returned to his room and sat there sad and
unoccupied, looking at the pattern in the carpet and
counting the heads of the tacks in the zinc guard that was
fastened to the wall behind his little stove. By and by he
heard Miss Baker moving about. It was five o'clock, the time
when she was accustomed to make her cup of tea and "keep
company" with him on her side of the partition. Old Grannis
drew up his chair to the wall near where he knew she was
sitting. The minutes passed; side by side, and separated by
only a couple of inches of board, the two old people sat
there together, while the afternoon grew darker.
But for Old Grannis all was different that evening. There
was nothing for him to do. His hands lay idly in his lap.
His table, with its pile of pamphlets, was in a far corner
of the room, and, from time to time, stirred with an
uncertain trouble, he turned his head and looked at it
sadly, reflecting that he would never use it again. The
absence of his accustomed work seemed to leave something out
of his life. It did not appear to him that he could be the
same to Miss Baker now; their little habits were
disarranged, their customs broken up. He could no longer
fancy himself so near to her. They would drift apart now,
and she would no longer make herself a cup of tea and "keep
company" with him when she knew that he would never again
sit before his table binding uncut pamphlets. He had sold
his happiness for money; he had bartered all his tardy
romance for some miserable banknotes. He had not foreseen
that it would be like this. A vast regret welled up within
him. What was that on the back of his hand? He wiped it
dry with his ancient silk handkerchief.
Old Grannis leant his face in his hands. Not only did an
inexplicable regret stir within him, but a certain great
tenderness came upon him. The tears that swam in his faded
blue eyes were not altogether those of unhappiness. No,
this long-delayed affection that had come upon him in his
later years filled him with a joy for which tears seemed to
be the natural expression. For thirty years his eyes had
not been wet, but tonight he felt as if he were young again.
He had never loved before, and there was still a part of him
that was only twenty years of age. He could not tell
whether he was profoundly sad or deeply happy; but he was
not ashamed of the tears that brought the smart to his eyes
and the ache to his throat. He did not hear the timid
rapping on his door, and it was not until the door itself
opened that he looked up quickly and saw the little retired
dressmaker standing on the threshold, carrying a cup of tea
on a tiny Japanese tray. She held it toward him.
"I was making some tea," she said, "and I thought you would
like to have a cup."
Never after could the little dressmaker understand how she
had brought herself to do this thing. One moment she had
been sitting quietly on her side of the partition, stirring
her cup of tea with one of her Gorham spoons. She was
quiet, she was peaceful. The evening was closing down
tranquilly. Her room was the picture of calmness and order.
The geraniums blooming in the starch boxes in the window,
the aged goldfish occasionally turning his iridescent flank
to catch a sudden glow of the setting sun. The next moment
she had been all trepidation. It seemed to her the most
natural thing in the world to make a steaming cup of tea and
carry it in to Old Grannis next door. It seemed to her that
he was wanting her, that she ought to go to him. With the
brusque resolve and intrepidity that sometimes seizes upon
very timid people--the courage of the coward greater than
all others--she had presented herself at the old
Englishman's half-open door, and, when he had not heeded her
knock, had pushed it open, and at last, after all these
years, stood upon the threshold of his room. She had found
courage enough to explain her intrusion.
"I was making some tea, and I thought you would like to have
Old Grannis dropped his hands upon either arm of his chair,
and, leaning forward a little, looked at her blankly. He
did not speak.
The retired dressmaker's courage had carried her thus far;
now it deserted her as abruptly as it had come. Her cheeks
became scarlet; her funny little false curls trembled with
her agitation. What she had done seemed to her indecorous
beyond expression. It was an enormity. Fancy, she had gone
into his room, INTO HIS ROOM--Mister Grannis's room.
She had done this--she who could not pass him on the stairs
without a qualm. What to do she did not know. She stood, a
fixture, on the threshold of his room, without even
resolution enough to beat a retreat. Helplessly, and with a
little quaver in her voice, she repeated obstinately:
"I was making some tea, and I thought you would like to have
a cup of tea." Her agitation betrayed itself in the
repetition of the word. She felt that she could not hold
the tray out another instant. Already she was trembling so
that half the tea was spilled.
Old Grannis still kept silence, still bending forward,
with wide eyes, his hands gripping the arms of his chair.
Then with the tea-tray still held straight before her, the
little dressmaker exclaimed tearfully:
"Oh, I didn't mean--I didn't mean--I didn't know it would
seem like this. I only meant to be kind and bring you some
tea; and now it seems SO improper. I--I--I'm SO
ashamed! I don't know what you will think of me. I--" she
caught her breath--"improper"--she managed to exclaim,
"unlady-like--you can never think well of me--I'll go. I'll
go." She turned about.
"Stop," cried Old Grannis, finding his voice at last. Miss
Baker paused, looking at him over her shoulder, her eyes
very wide open, blinking through her tears, for all the
world like a frightened child.
"Stop," exclaimed the old Englishman, rising to his feet.
"I didn't know it was you at first. I hadn't dreamed--I
couldn't believe you would be so good, so kind to me. Oh,"
he cried, with a sudden sharp breath, "oh, you ARE kind.
I--I--you have--have made me very happy."
"No, no," exclaimed Miss Baker, ready to sob. "It was
unlady-like. You will--you must think ill of me." She
stood in the hall. The tears were running down her cheeks,
and she had no free hand to dry them.
"Let me--I'll take the tray from you," cried Old Grannis,
coming forward. A tremulous joy came upon him. Never in
his life had he been so happy. At last it had come--come
when he had least expected it. That which he had longed for
and hoped for through so many years, behold, it was come to-
night. He felt his awkwardness leaving him. He was almost
certain that the little dressmaker loved him, and the
thought gave him boldness. He came toward her and took the
tray from her hands, and, turning back into the room with
it, made as if to set it upon his table. But the piles of
his pamphlets were in the way. Both of his hands were
occupied with the tray; he could not make a place for it on
the table. He stood for a moment uncertain, his
"Oh, won't you--won't you please--" He turned his head,
looking appealingly at the little old dressmaker.
"Wait, I'll help you," she said. She came into the room, up
to the table, and moved the pamphlets to one side.
"Thanks, thanks," murmured Old Grannis, setting down the
"Now--now--now I will go back," she exclaimed, hurriedly.
"No--no," returned the old Englishman. "Don't go, don't go.
I've been so lonely to-night--and last night too--all this
year--all my life," he suddenly cried.
"I--I--I've forgotten the sugar."
"But I never take sugar in my tea."
"But it's rather cold, and I've spilled it--almost all of
"I'll drink it from the saucer." Old Grannis had drawn up
his armchair for her.
"Oh, I shouldn't. This is--this is SO--You must think
ill of me." Suddenly she sat down, and resting her elbows
on the table, hid her face in her hands.
"Think ILL of you?" cried Old Grannis, "think ILL of
you? Why, you don't know--you have no idea--all these
years--living so close to you, I--I--" he paused suddenly.
It seemed to him as if the beating of his heart was choking
"I thought you were binding your books to-night," said Miss
Baker, suddenly, "and you looked tired. I thought you
looked tired when I last saw you, and a cup of tea, you
know, it--that--that does you so much good when you're
tired. But you weren't binding books."
"No, no," returned Old Grannis, drawing up a chair and
sitting down. "No, I--the fact is, I've sold my apparatus;
a firm of booksellers has bought the rights of it."
"And aren't you going to bind books any more?" exclaimed the
little dressmaker, a shade of disappointment in her manner.
"I thought you always did about four o'clock. I used to
hear you when I was making tea."
It hardly seemed possible to Miss Baker that she was
actually talking to Old Grannis, that the two were really
chatting together, face to face, and without the dreadful
embarrassment that used to overwhelm them both when they met
on the stairs. She had often dreamed of this, but had always
put it off to some far-distant day. It was to come
gradually, little by little, instead of, as now, abruptly
and with no preparation. That she should permit herself the
indiscretion of actually intruding herself into his room had
never so much as occurred to her. Yet here she was, IN
HIS ROOM, and they were talking together, and little by
little her embarrassment was wearing away.
"Yes, yes, I always heard you when you were making tea,"
returned the old Englishman; "I heard the tea things. Then
I used to draw my chair and my work-table close to the wall
on my side, and sit there and work while you drank your tea
just on the other side; and I used to feel very near to you
then. I used to pass the whole evening that way."
"And, yes--yes--I did too," she answered. "I used to make
tea just at that time and sit there for a whole hour."
"And didn't you sit close to the partition on your side?
Sometimes I was sure of it. I could even fancy that I could
hear your dress brushing against the wall-paper close beside
me. Didn't you sit close to the partition?"
"I--I don't know where I sat."
Old Grannis shyly put out his hand and took hers as it lay
upon her lap.
"Didn't you sit close to the partition on your side?" he
"No--I don't know--perhaps--sometimes. Oh, yes," she
exclaimed, with a little gasp, "Oh, yes, I often did."
Then Old Grannis put his arm about her, and kissed her faded
cheek, that flushed to pink upon the instant.
After that they spoke but little. The day lapsed slowly
into twilight, and the two old people sat there in the gray
evening, quietly, quietly, their hands in each other's
hands, "keeping company," but now with nothing to separate
them. It had come at last. After all these years they
were together; they understood each other. They stood at
length in a little Elysium of their own creating. They
walked hand in hand in a delicious garden where it was
always autumn. Far from the world and together they entered
upon the long retarded romance of their commonplace and
That same night McTeague was awakened by a shrill scream,
and woke to find Trina's arms around his neck. She was
trembling so that the bed-springs creaked.
"Huh?" cried the dentist, sitting up in bed, raising his
clinched fists. "Huh? What? What? What is it? What is
"Oh, Mac," gasped his wife, "I had such an awful dream. I
dreamed about Maria. I thought she was chasing me, and I
couldn't run, and her throat was--Oh, she was all covered
with blood. Oh-h, I am so frightened!"
Trina had borne up very well for the first day or so after
the affair, and had given her testimony to the coroner with
far greater calmness than Heise. It was only a week later
that the horror of the thing came upon her again. She was
so nervous that she hardly dared to be alone in the daytime,
and almost every night woke with a cry of terror, trembling
with the recollection of some dreadful nightmare. The
dentist was irritated beyond all expression by her
nervousness, and especially was he exasperated when her
cries woke him suddenly in the middle of the night. He
would sit up in bed, rolling his eyes wildly, throwing out
his huge fists--at what, he did not know--exclaiming, "What
what--" bewildered and hopelessly confused. Then when
he realized that it was only Trina, his anger kindled
"Oh, you and your dreams! You go to sleep, or I'll give you
a dressing down." Sometimes he would hit her a great thwack
with his open palm, or catch her hand and bite the tips of
her fingers. Trina would lie awake for hours afterward,
crying softly to herself. Then, by and by, "Mac," she would
"Mac, do you love me?"
"Huh? What? Go to sleep."
"Don't you love me any more, Mac?"
"Oh, go to sleep. Don't bother me."
"Well, do you LOVE me, Mac?"
"I guess so."
"Oh, Mac, I've only you now, and if you don't love me, what
is going to become of me?"
"Shut up, an' let me go to sleep."
"Well, just tell me that you love me."
The dentist would turn abruptly away from her, burying his
big blond head in the pillow, and covering up his ears with
the blankets. Then Trina would sob herself to sleep.
The dentist had long since given up looking for a job.
Between breakfast and supper time Trina saw but little of
him. Once the morning meal over, McTeague bestirred
himself, put on his cap--he had given up wearing even a hat
since his wife had made him sell his silk hat--and went out.
He had fallen into the habit of taking long and solitary
walks beyond the suburbs of the city. Sometimes it was to
the Cliff House, occasionally to the Park (where he would
sit on the sun-warmed benches, smoking his pipe and reading
ragged ends of old newspapers), but more often it was to the
Presidio Reservation. McTeague would walk out to the end of
the Union Street car line, entering the Reservation at the
terminus, then he would work down to the shore of the bay,
follow the shore line to the Old Fort at the Golden Gate,
and, turning the Point here, come out suddenly upon the full
sweep of the Pacific. Then he would follow the beach
down to a certain point of rocks that he knew. Here he
would turn inland, climbing the bluffs to a rolling grassy
down sown with blue iris and a yellow flower that he did not
know the name of. On the far side of this down was a broad,
well-kept road. McTeague would keep to this road until he
reached the city again by the way of the Sacramento Street
car line. The dentist loved these walks. He liked to be
alone. He liked the solitude of the tremendous, tumbling
ocean; the fresh, windy downs; he liked to feel the gusty
Trades flogging his face, and he would remain for hours
watching the roll and plunge of the breakers with the
silent, unreasoned enjoyment of a child. All at once he
developed a passion for fishing. He would sit all day
nearly motionless upon a point of rocks, his fish-line
between his fingers, happy if he caught three perch in
twelve hours. At noon he would retire to a bit of level
turf around an angle of the shore and cook his fish, eating
them without salt or knife or fork. He thrust a pointed
stick down the mouth of the perch, and turned it slowly over
the blaze. When the grease stopped dripping, he knew that
it was done, and would devour it slowly and with tremendous
relish, picking the bones clean, eating even the head. He
remembered how often he used to do this sort of thing when
he was a boy in the mountains of Placer County, before he
became a car-boy at the mine. The dentist enjoyed himself
hugely during these days. The instincts of the old-time
miner were returning. In the stress of his misfortune
McTeague was lapsing back to his early estate.
One evening as he reached home after such a tramp, he was
surprised to find Trina standing in front of what had been
Zerkow's house, looking at it thoughtfully, her finger on
"What you doing here'?" growled the dentist as he came up.
There was a "Rooms-to-let" sign on the street door of the
"Now we've found a place to move to," exclaimed Trina.
"What?" cried McTeague. "There, in that dirty house, where
you found Maria?"
"I can't afford that room in the flat any more, now that you
can't get any work to do."
"But there's where Zerkow killed Maria--the very house
--an' you wake up an' squeal in the night just thinking of
"I know. I know it will be bad at first, but I'll get used
to it, an' it's just half again as cheap as where we are
now. I was looking at a room; we can have it dirt cheap.
It's a back room over the kitchen. A German family are
going to take the front part of the house and sublet the
rest. I'm going to take it. It'll be money in my pocket."
"But it won't be any in mine," vociferated the dentist,
angrily. "I'll have to live in that dirty rat hole just
so's you can save money. I ain't any the better off for
"Find work to do, and then we'll talk," declared Trina.
"I'M going to save up some money against a rainy day; and if
I can save more by living here I'm going to do it, even if
it is the house Maria was killed in. I don't care."
"All right," said McTeague, and did not make any further
protest. His wife looked at him surprised. She could not
understand this sudden acquiescence. Perhaps McTeague was
so much away from home of late that he had ceased to care
where or how he lived. But this sudden change troubled her
a little for all that.
The next day the McTeagues moved for a second time. It did
not take them long. They were obliged to buy the bed from
the landlady, a circumstance which nearly broke Trina's
heart; and this bed, a couple of chairs, Trina's trunk, an
ornament or two, the oil stove, and some plates and kitchen
ware were all that they could call their own now; and this
back room in that wretched house with its grisly memories,
the one window looking out into a grimy maze of back yards
and broken sheds, was what they now knew as their home.
The McTeagues now began to sink rapidly lower and lower.
They became accustomed to their surroundings. Worst of all,
Trina lost her pretty ways and her good looks. The combined
effects of hard work, avarice, poor food, and her husband's
brutalities told on her swiftly. Her charming little figure
grew coarse, stunted, and dumpy. She who had once been of a
catlike neatness, now slovened all day about the room
in a dirty flannel wrapper, her slippers clap-clapping after
her as she walked. At last she even neglected her hair, the
wonderful swarthy tiara, the coiffure of a queen, that
shaded her little pale forehead. In the morning she braided
it before it was half combed, and piled and coiled it about
her head in haphazard fashion. It came down half a dozen
times a day; by evening it was an unkempt, tangled mass, a
veritable rat's nest.
Ah, no, it was not very gay, that life of hers, when one had
to rustle for two, cook and work and wash, to say nothing of
paying the rent. What odds was it if she was slatternly,
dirty, coarse? Was there time to make herself look
otherwise, and who was there to be pleased when she was all
prinked out? Surely not a great brute of a husband who bit
you like a dog, and kicked and pounded you as though you
were made of iron. Ah, no, better let things go, and take
it as easy as you could. Hump your back, and it was soonest
The one room grew abominably dirty, reeking with the odors
of cooking and of "non-poisonous" paint. The bed was not
made until late in the afternoon, sometimes not at all.
Dirty, unwashed crockery, greasy knives, sodden fragments of
yesterday's meals cluttered the table, while in one corner
was the heap of evil-smelling, dirty linen. Cockroaches
appeared in the crevices of the woodwork, the wall-paper
bulged from the damp walls and began to peel. Trina had
long ago ceased to dust or to wipe the furniture with a bit
of rag. The grime grew thick upon the window panes and in
the corners of the room. All the filth of the alley invaded
their quarters like a rising muddy tide.
Between the windows, however, the faded photograph of the
couple in their wedding finery looked down upon the
wretchedness, Trina still holding her set bouquet straight
before her, McTeague standing at her side, his left foot
forward, in the attitude of a Secretary of State; while near
by hung the canary, the one thing the dentist clung to
obstinately, piping and chittering all day in its little
And the tooth, the gigantic golden molar of French gilt,
enormous and ungainly, sprawled its branching prongs in
one corner of the room, by the footboard of the bed. The
McTeague's had come to use it as a sort of substitute for a
table. After breakfast and supper Trina piled the plates
and greasy dishes upon it to have them out of the way.
One afternoon the Other Dentist, McTeague's old-time rival,
the wearer of marvellous waistcoats, was surprised out of
all countenance to receive a visit from McTeague. The Other
Dentist was in his operating room at the time, at work upon
a plaster-of-paris mould. To his call of "'Come right in.
Don't you see the sign, 'Enter without knocking'?" McTeague
came in. He noted at once how airy and cheerful was the
room. A little fire coughed and tittered on the hearth, a
brindled greyhound sat on his haunches watching it intently,
a great mirror over the mantle offered to view an array of
actresses' pictures thrust between the glass and the frame,
and a big bunch of freshly-cut violets stood in a glass bowl
on the polished cherrywood table. The Other Dentist came
forward briskly, exclaiming cheerfully:
"Oh, Doctor--Mister McTeague, how do? how do?"
The fellow was actually wearing a velvet smoking jacket. A
cigarette was between his lips; his patent leather boots
reflected the firelight. McTeague wore a black surah
neglige shirt without a cravat; huge buckled brogans, hob-
nailed, gross, encased his feet; the hems of his trousers
were spotted with mud; his coat was frayed at the sleeves
and a button was gone. In three days he had not shaved; his
shock of heavy blond hair escaped from beneath the visor of
his woollen cap and hung low over his forehead. He stood
with awkward, shifting feet and uncertain eyes before the
dapper young fellow who reeked of the barber shop, and whom
he had once ordered from his rooms.
"What can I do for you this morning, Mister McTeague?
Something wrong with the teeth, eh?"
"No, no." McTeague, floundering in the difficulties of his
speech, forgot the carefully rehearsed words with which he
had intended to begin this interview.
"I want to sell you my sign," he said, stupidly. "That big
tooth of French gilt--YOU know--that you made an
offer for once."
"Oh, I don't want that now," said the other loftily. "I
prefer a little quiet signboard, nothing pretentious--just
the name, and "Dentist" after it. These big signs are
vulgar. No, I don't want it."
McTeague remained, looking about on the floor, horribly
embarrassed, not knowing whether to go or to stay.
"But I don't know," said the Other Dentist, reflectively.
"If it will help you out any--I guess you're pretty hard up
--I'll--well, I tell you what--I'll give you five dollars for
"All right, all right."
On the following Thursday morning McTeague woke to hear the
eaves dripping and the prolonged rattle of the rain upon the
"Raining," he growled, in deep disgust, sitting up in bed,
and winking at the blurred window.
"It's been raining all night," said Trina. She was already
up and dressed, and was cooking breakfast on the oil stove.
McTeague dressed himself, grumbling, "Well, I'll go, anyhow.
The fish will bite all the better for the rain."
"Look here, Mac," said Trina, slicing a bit of bacon as
thinly as she could. "Look here, why don't you bring some
of your fish home sometime?"
"Huh!" snorted the dentist, "so's we could have 'em for
breakfast. Might save you a nickel, mightn't it?"
"Well, and if it did! Or you might fish for the market.
The fisherman across the street would buy 'em of you."
"Shut up!" exclaimed the dentist, and Trina obediently
"Look here," continued her husband, fumbling in his trousers
pocket and bringing out a dollar, "I'm sick and tired of
coffee and bacon and mashed potatoes. Go over to the market
and get some kind of meat for breakfast. Get a steak, or
chops, or something.
"Why, Mac, that's a whole dollar, and he only gave you five
for your sign. We can't afford it. Sure, Mac. Let me put
that money away against a rainy day. You're just as
well off without meat for breakfast."
"You do as I tell you. Get some steak, or chops, or
"Please, Mac, dear."
"Go on, now. I'll bite your fingers again pretty soon."
The dentist took a step towards her, snatching at her hand.
"All right, I'll go," cried Trina, wincing and shrinking.
She did not get the chops at the big market, however.
Instead, she hurried to a cheaper butcher shop on a side
street two blocks away, and bought fifteen cents' worth of
chops from a side of mutton some two or three days old. She
was gone some little time.
"Give me the change," exclaimed the dentist as soon as she
returned. Trina handed him a quarter; and when McTeague was
about to protest, broke in upon him with a rapid stream of
talk that confused him upon the instant. But for that
matter, it was never difficult for Trina to deceive the
dentist. He never went to the bottom of things. He would
have believed her if she had told him the chops had cost a
"There's sixty cents saved, anyhow," thought Trina, as she
clutched the money in her pocket to keep it from rattling.
Trina cooked the chops, and they breakfasted in silence.
"Now," said McTeague as he rose, wiping the coffee from his
thick mustache with the hollow of his palm, "now I'm going
fishing, rain or no rain. I'm going to be gone all day."
He stood for a moment at the door, his fish-line in his
hand, swinging the heavy sinker back and forth. He looked
at Trina as she cleared away the breakfast things.
"So long," said he, nodding his huge square-cut head. This
amiability in the matter of leave taking was unusual. Trina
put the dishes down and came up to him, her little chin,
once so adorable, in the air:
"Kiss me good-by, Mac," she said, putting her arms around
his neck. "You DO love me a little yet, don't you,
Mac? We'll be happy again some day. This is hard times
now, but we'll pull out. You'll find something to do pretty
"I guess so," growled McTeague, allowing her to kiss
The canary was stirring nimbly in its cage, and just now
broke out into a shrill trilling, its little throat bulging
and quivering. The dentist stared at it. "Say," he remarked
slowly, "I think I'll take that bird of mine along."
"Sell it?" inquired Trina.
"Yes, yes, sell it."
"Well, you ARE coming to your senses at last," answered
Trina, approvingly. "But don't you let the bird-store man
cheat you. That's a good songster; and with the cage, you
ought to make him give you five dollars. You stick out for
that at first, anyhow."
McTeague unhooked the cage and carefully wrapped it in an
old newspaper, remarking, "He might get cold. Well, so
long," he repeated, "so long."
When he was gone, Trina took the sixty cents she had stolen
from him out of her pocket and recounted it. "It's sixty
cents, all right," she said proudly. "But I DO believe
that dime is too smooth." She looked at it critically. The
clock on the power-house of the Sutter Street cable struck
eight. "Eight o'clock already," she exclaimed. "I must get
to work." She cleared the breakfast things from the table,
and drawing up her chair and her workbox began painting the
sets of Noah's ark animals she had whittled the day before.
She worked steadily all the morning. At noon she lunched,
warming over the coffee left from breakfast, and frying a
couple of sausages. By one she was bending over her table
again. Her fingers--some of them lacerated by McTeague's
teeth--flew, and the little pile of cheap toys in the basket
at her elbow grew steadily.
"Where DO all the toys go to?" she murmured. "The
thousands and thousands of these Noah's arks that I have
made--horses and chickens and elephants--and always there
never seems to be enough. It's a good thing for me that
children break their things, and that they all have to
have birthdays and Christmases." She dipped her brush into
a pot of Vandyke brown and painted one of the whittled toy
horses in two strokes. Then a touch of ivory black with a
small flat brush created the tail and mane, and dots of
Chinese white made the eyes. The turpentine in the paint
dried it almost immediately, and she tossed the completed
little horse into the basket.
At six o'clock the dentist had not returned. Trina waited
until seven, and then put her work away, and ate her supper
"I wonder what's keeping Mac," she exclaimed as the clock
from the power-house on Sutter Street struck half-past
seven. "I KNOW he's drinking somewhere," she cried,
apprehensively. "He had the money from his sign with him."
At eight o'clock she threw a shawl over her head and went
over to the harness shop. If anybody would know where
McTeague was it would be Heise. But the harness-maker had
seen nothing of him since the day before.
"He was in here yesterday afternoon, and we had a drink or
two at Frenna's. Maybe he's been in there to-day."
"Oh, won't you go in and see?" said Trina. "Mac always came
home to his supper--he never likes to miss his meals--and
I'm getting frightened about him."
Heise went into the barroom next door, and returned with no
definite news. Frenna had not seen the dentist since he had
come in with the harness-maker the previous afternoon.
Trina even humbled herself to ask of the Ryers--with whom
they had quarrelled--if they knew anything of the dentist's
whereabouts, but received a contemptuous negative.
"Maybe he's come in while I've been out," said Trina to
herself. She went down Polk Street again, going towards the
flat. The rain had stopped, but the sidewalks were still
glistening. The cable cars trundled by, loaded with
theatregoers. The barbers were just closing their shops.
The candy store on the corner was brilliantly lighted and
was filling up, while the green and yellow lamps from the
drug store directly opposite threw kaleidoscopic reflections
deep down into the shining surface of the asphalt. A
band of Salvationists began to play and pray in front
of Frenna's saloon. Trina hurried on down the gay street,
with its evening's brilliancy and small activities, her
shawl over her head, one hand lifting her faded skirt from
off the wet pavements. She turned into the alley, entered
Zerkow's old home by the ever-open door, and ran up-stairs
to the room. Nobody.
"Why, isn't this FUNNY," she exclaimed, half aloud,
standing on the threshold, her little milk-white forehead
curdling to a frown, one sore finger on her lips. Then a
great fear seized upon her. Inevitably she associated the
house with a scene of violent death.
"No, no," she said to the darkness, "Mac is all right.
HE can take care of himself." But for all that she had a
clear-cut vision of her husband's body, bloated with sea-
water, his blond hair streaming like kelp, rolling inertly
in shifting waters.
"He couldn't have fallen off the rocks," she declared
firmly. "There--THERE he is now." She heaved a great
sigh of relief as a heavy tread sounded in the hallway
below. She ran to the banisters, looking over, and calling,
"Oh, Mac! Is that you, Mac?" It was the German whose
family occupied the lower floor. The power-house clock
"My God, where is Mac?" cried Trina, stamping her foot.
She put the shawl over her head again, and went out and
stood on the corner of the alley and Polk Street, watching
and waiting, craning her neck to see down the street. Once,
even, she went out upon the sidewalk in front of the flat
and sat down for a moment upon the horse-block there. She
could not help remembering the day when she had been driven
up to that horse-block in a hack. Her mother and father and
Owgooste and the twins were with her. It was her wedding
day. Her wedding dress was in a huge tin trunk on the
driver's seat. She had never been happier before in all her
life. She remembered how she got out of the hack and stood
for a moment upon the horse-block, looking up at McTeague's
windows. She had caught a glimpse of him at his shaving,
the lather still on his cheek, and they had waved their
hands at each other. Instinctively Trina looked up at the
flat behind her; looked up at the bay window where her
husband's "Dental Parlors" had been. It was all dark; the
windows had the blind, sightless appearance imparted by
vacant, untenanted rooms. A rusty iron rod projected
mournfully from one of the window ledges.
"There's where our sign hung once," said Trina. She turned
her head and looked down Polk Street towards where the Other
Dentist had his rooms, and there, overhanging the street
from his window, newly furbished and brightened, hung the
huge tooth, her birthday present to her husband, flashing
and glowing in the white glare of the electric lights like a
beacon of defiance and triumph.
"Ah, no; ah, no," whispered Trina, choking back a sob.
"Life isn't so gay. But I wouldn't mind, no I wouldn't mind
anything, if only Mac was home all right." She got up from
the horse-block and stood again on the corner of the alley,
watching and listening.
It grew later. The hours passed. Trina kept at her post.
The noise of approaching footfalls grew less and less
frequent. Little by little Polk Street dropped back into
solitude. Eleven o'clock struck from the power-house clock;
lights were extinguished; at one o'clock the cable stopped,
leaving an abrupt and numbing silence in the air. All at
once it seemed very still. The only noises were the
occasional footfalls of a policeman and the persistent
calling of ducks and geese in the closed market across the
way. The street was asleep.
When it is night and dark, and one is awake and alone, one's
thoughts take the color of the surroundings; become gloomy,
sombre, and very dismal. All at once an idea came to Trina,
a dark, terrible idea; worse, even, than the idea of
"Oh, no," she cried. "Oh, no. It isn't true. But suppose
She left her post and hurried back to the house.
"No, no," she was saying under her breath, "it isn't
possible. Maybe he's even come home already by another way.
She ran up the stairs, opened the door of the room, and
paused, out of breath. The room was dark and empty. With
cold, trembling fingers she lighted the lamp, and, turning
about, looked at her trunk. The lock was burst.
"No, no, no," cried Trina, "it's not true; it's not true."
She dropped on her knees before the trunk, and tossed back
the lid, and plunged her hands down into the corner
underneath her wedding dress, where she always kept the
savings. The brass match-safe and the chamois-skin bag were
there. They were empty.
Trina flung herself full length upon the floor, burying her
face in her arms, rolling her head from side to side. Her
voice rose to a wail.
"No, no, no, it's not true; it's not true; it's not true.
Oh, he couldn't have done it. Oh, how could he have done
it? All my money, all my little savings--and deserted me.
He's gone, my money's gone, my dear money--my dear, dear
gold pieces that I've worked so hard for. Oh, to have
deserted me--gone for good--gone and never coming back--gone
with my gold pieces. Gone-gone--gone. I'll never see them
again, and I've worked so hard, so so hard for him--for
them. No, no, NO, it's not true. It IS true. What
will become of me now? Oh, if you'll only come back you can
have all the money--half of it. Oh, give me back my money.
Give me back my money, and I'll forgive you. You can leave
me then if you want to. Oh, my money. Mac, Mac, you've
gone for good. You don't love me any more, and now I'm a
beggar. My money's gone, my husband's gone, gone, gone,
Her grief was terrible. She dug her nails into her scalp,
and clutching the heavy coils of her thick black hair tore
it again and again. She struck her forehead with her
clenched fists. Her little body shook from head to foot with
the violence of her sobbing. She ground her small teeth
together and beat her head upon the floor with all her
Her hair was uncoiled and hanging a tangled, dishevelled
mass far below her waist; her dress was torn; a spot of
blood was upon her forehead; her eyes were swollen; her
cheeks flamed vermilion from the fever that raged in
her veins. Old Miss Baker found her thus towards five
o'clock the next morning.
What had happened between one o'clock and dawn of that
fearful night Trina never remembered. She could only recall
herself, as in a picture, kneeling before her broken and
rifled trunk, and then--weeks later, so it seemed to her--
she woke to find herself in her own bed with an iced bandage
about her forehead and the little old dressmaker at her
side, stroking her hot, dry palm.
The facts of the matter were that the German woman who lived
below had been awakened some hours after midnight by the
sounds of Trina's weeping. She had come upstairs and into
the room to find Trina stretched face downward upon the
floor, half-conscious and sobbing, in the throes of an
hysteria for which there was no relief. The woman,
terrified, had called her husband, and between them they had
got Trina upon the bed. Then the German woman happened to
remember that Trina had friends in the big flat near by, and
had sent her husband to fetch the retired dressmaker, while
she herself remained behind to undress Trina and put her to
bed. Miss Baker had come over at once, and began to cry
herself at the sight of the dentist's poor little wife. She
did not stop to ask what the trouble was, and indeed it
would have been useless to attempt to get any coherent
explanation from Trina at that time. Miss Baker had sent
the German woman's husband to get some ice at one of the
"all-night" restaurants of the street; had kept cold, wet
towels on Trina's head; had combed and recombed her
wonderful thick hair; and had sat down by the side of the
bed, holding her hot hand, with its poor maimed fingers,
waiting patiently until Trina should be able to speak.
Towards morning Trina awoke--or perhaps it was a mere
regaining of consciousness--looked a moment at Miss Baker,
then about the room until her eyes fell upon her trunk with
its broken lock. Then she turned over upon the pillow and
began to sob again. She refused to answer any of the little
dressmaker's questions, shaking her head violently, her face
hidden in the pillow.
By breakfast time her fever had increased to such a point
that Miss Baker took matters into her own hands and had the
German woman call a doctor. He arrived some twenty
minutes later. He was a big, kindly fellow who lived over
the drug store on the corner. He had a deep voice and a
tremendous striding gait less suggestive of a physician than
of a sergeant of a cavalry troop.
By the time of his arrival little Miss Baker had divined
intuitively the entire trouble. She heard the doctor's
swinging tramp in the entry below, and heard the German
"Righd oop der stairs, at der back of der halle. Der room
mit der door oppen."
Miss Baker met the doctor at the landing, she told him in a
whisper of the trouble.
"Her husband's deserted her, I'm afraid, doctor, and took
all of her money--a good deal of it. It's about killed the
poor child. She was out of her head a good deal of the
night, and now she's got a raging fever."
The doctor and Miss Baker returned to the room and entered,
closing the door. The big doctor stood for a moment looking
down at Trina rolling her head from side to side upon the
pillow, her face scarlet, her enormous mane of hair spread
out on either side of her. The little dressmaker remained
at his elbow, looking from him to Trina.
"Poor little woman!" said the doctor; "poor little woman!"
Miss Baker pointed to the trunk, whispering:
"See, there's where she kept her savings. See, he broke the
"Well, Mrs. McTeague," said the doctor, sitting down by the
bed, and taking Trina's wrist, "a little fever, eh?"
Trina opened her eyes and looked at him, and then at Miss
Baker. She did not seem in the least surprised at the
unfamiliar faces. She appeared to consider it all as a
matter of course.
"Yes," she said, with a long, tremulous breath, "I have a
fever, and my head--my head aches and aches."
The doctor prescribed rest and mild opiates. Then his eye
fell upon the fingers of Trina's right hand. He looked at
them sharply. A deep red glow, unmistakable to a
physician's eyes, was upon some of them, extending from
the finger tips up to the second knuckle.
"Hello," he exclaimed, "what's the matter here?" In fact
something was very wrong indeed. For days Trina had noticed
it. The fingers of her right hand had swollen as never
before, aching and discolored. Cruelly lacerated by
McTeague's brutality as they were, she had nevertheless gone
on about her work on the Noah's ark animals, constantly in
contact with the "non-poisonous" paint. She told as much to
the doctor in answer to his questions. He shook his head
with an exclamation.
"Why, this is blood-poisoning, you know," he told her; "the
worst kind. You'll have to have those fingers amputated,
beyond a doubt, or lose the entire hand--or even worse."
"And my work!" exclaimed Trina.
One can hold a scrubbing-brush with two good fingers and the
stumps of two others even if both joints of the thumb are
gone, but it takes considerable practice to get used to it.
Trina became a scrub-woman. She had taken council of
Selina, and through her had obtained the position of care-
taker in a little memorial kindergarten over on Pacific
Street. Like Polk Street, it was an accommodation street,
but running through a much poorer and more sordid quarter.
Trina had a little room over the kindergarten schoolroom.
It was not an unpleasant room. It looked out upon a sunny
little court floored with boards and used as the children's
playground. Two great cherry trees grew here, the leaves
almost brushing against the window of Trina's room and
filtering the sunlight so that it fell in round golden spots
upon the floor of the room. "Like gold pieces," Trina said
Trina's work consisted in taking care of the kindergarten
rooms, scrubbing the floors, washing the windows, dusting
and airing, and carrying out the ashes. Besides this she
earned some five dollars a month by washing down the front
steps of some big flats on Washington Street, and by
cleaning out vacant houses after the tenants had left. She
saw no one. Nobody knew her. She went about her work from
dawn to dark, and often entire days passed when she did not
hear the sound of her own voice. She was alone, a solitary,
abandoned woman, lost in the lowest eddies of the great
city's tide--the tide that always ebbs.
When Trina had been discharged from the hospital after the
operation on her fingers, she found herself alone in the
world, alone with her five thousand dollars. The interest
of this would support her, and yet allow her to save a
But for a time Trina had thought of giving up the fight
altogether and of joining her family in the southern part of
the State. But even while she hesitated about this she
received a long letter from her mother, an answer to one she
herself had written just before the amputation of her right-
hand fingers--the last letter she would ever be able to
write. Mrs. Sieppe's letter was one long lamentation; she
had her own misfortunes to bewail as well as those of her
daughter. The carpet-cleaning and upholstery business had
failed. Mr. Sieppe and Owgooste had left for New Zealand
with a colonization company, whither Mrs. Sieppe and the
twins were to follow them as soon as the colony established
itself. So far from helping Trina in her ill fortune, it
was she, her mother, who might some day in the near future
be obliged to turn to Trina for aid. So Trina had given up
the idea of any help from her family. For that matter she
needed none. She still had her five thousand, and Uncle
Oelbermann paid her the interest with a machine-like
regularity. Now that McTeague had left her, there was one
less mouth to feed; and with this saving, together with the
little she could earn as scrub-woman, Trina could
almost manage to make good the amount she lost by being
obliged to cease work upon the Noah's ark animals.
Little by little her sorrow over the loss of her precious
savings overcame the grief of McTeague's desertion of her.
Her avarice had grown to be her one dominant passion; her
love of money for the money's sake brooded in her heart,
driving out by degrees every other natural affection. She
grew thin and meagre; her flesh clove tight to her small
skeleton; her small pale mouth and little uplifted chin grew
to have a certain feline eagerness of expression; her long,
narrow eyes glistened continually, as if they caught and
held the glint of metal. One day as she sat in her room,
the empty brass match-box and the limp chamois bag in her
hands, she suddenly exclaimed:
"I could have forgiven him if he had only gone away and left
me my money. I could have--yes, I could have forgiven him
even THIS"--she looked at the stumps of her fingers.
"But now," her teeth closed tight and her eyes flashed,
The empty bag and the hollow, light match-box troubled her.
Day after day she took them from her trunk and wept over
them as other women weep over a dead baby's shoe. Her four
hundred dollars were gone, were gone, were gone. She would
never see them again. She could plainly see her husband
spending her savings by handfuls; squandering her beautiful
gold pieces that she had been at such pains to polish with
soap and ashes. The thought filled her with an unspeakable
anguish. She would wake at night from a dream of McTeague
revelling down her money, and ask of the darkness, "How much
did he spend to-day? How many of the gold pieces are left?
Has he broken either of the two twenty-dollar pieces yet?
What did he spend it for?"
The instant she was out of the hospital Trina had begun to
save again, but now it was with an eagerness that amounted
at times to a veritable frenzy. She even denied herself
lights and fuel in order to put by a quarter or so, grudging
every penny she was obliged to spend. She did her own
washing and cooking. Finally she sold her wedding dress,
that had hitherto lain in the bottom of her trunk.
The day she moved from Zerkow's old house, she came suddenly
upon the dentist's concertina under a heap of old clothes in
the closet. Within twenty minutes she had sold it to the
dealer in second-hand furniture, returning to her room with
seven dollars in her pocket, happy for the first time since
McTeague had left her.
But for all that the match-box and the bag refused to fill
up; after three weeks of the most rigid economy they
contained but eighteen dollars and some small change. What
was that compared with four hundred? Trina told herself
that she must have her money in hand. She longed to see
again the heap of it upon her work-table, where she could
plunge her hands into it, her face into it, feeling the
cool, smooth metal upon her cheeks. At such moments she
would see in her imagination her wonderful five thousand
dollars piled in columns, shining and gleaming somewhere at
the bottom of Uncle Oelbermann's vault. She would look at
the paper that Uncle Oelbermann had given her, and tell
herself that it represented five thousand dollars. But in
the end this ceased to satisfy her, she must have the money
itself. She must have her four hundred dollars back again,
there in her trunk, in her bag and her match-box, where she
could touch it and see it whenever she desired.
At length she could stand it no longer, and one day
presented herself before Uncle Oelbermann as he sat in his
office in the wholesale toy store, and told him she wanted
to have four hundred dollars of her money.
"But this is very irregular, you know, Mrs. McTeague," said
the great man. "Not business-like at all."
But his niece's misfortunes and the sight of her poor maimed
hand appealed to him. He opened his check-book. "You
understand, of course," he said, "that this will reduce the
amount of your interest by just so much."
"I know, I know. I've thought of that," said Trina.
"Four hundred, did you say?" remarked Uncle Oelbermann,
taking the cap from his fountain pen.
"Yes, four hundred," exclaimed Trina, quickly, her eyes
Trina cashed the check and returned home with the money--all
in twenty-dollar pieces as she had desired--in an ecstasy of
delight. For half of that night she sat up playing with her
money, counting it and recounting it, polishing the duller
pieces until they shone. Altogether there were twenty
twenty-dollar gold pieces.
"Oh-h, you beauties!" murmured Trina, running her palms over
them, fairly quivering with pleasure. "You beauties!
IS there anything prettier than a twenty-dollar gold piece?
You dear, dear money! Oh, don't I LOVE you! Mine, mine,
mine--all of you mine."
She laid them out in a row on the ledge of the table, or
arranged them in patterns--triangles, circles, and squares--
or built them all up into a pyramid which she afterward
overthrew for the sake of hearing the delicious clink of the
pieces tumbling against each other. Then at last she put
them away in the brass match-box and chamois bag, delighted
beyond words that they were once more full and heavy.
Then, a few days after, the thought of the money still
remaining in Uncle Oelbermann's keeping returned to her. It
was hers, all hers--all that four thousand six hundred. She
could have as much of it or as little of it as she chose.
She only had to ask. For a week Trina resisted, knowing
very well that taking from her capital was proportionately
reducing her monthly income. Then at last she yielded.
"Just to make it an even five hundred, anyhow," she told
herself. That day she drew a hundred dollars more, in
twenty-dollar gold pieces as before. From that time Trina
began to draw steadily upon her capital, a little at a time.
It was a passion with her, a mania, a veritable mental
disease; a temptation such as drunkards only know.
It would come upon her all of a sudden. While she was about
her work, scrubbing the floor of some vacant house; or in
her room, in the morning, as she made her coffee on the oil
stove, or when she woke in the night, a brusque access
of cupidity would seize upon her. Her cheeks flushed, her
eyes glistened, her breath came short. At times she would
leave her work just as it was, put on her old bonnet of
black straw, throw her shawl about her, and go straight to
Uncle Oelbermann's store and draw against her money. Now it
would be a hundred dollars, now sixty; now she would content
herself with only twenty; and once, after a fortnight's
abstinence, she permitted herself a positive debauch of five
hundred. Little by little she drew her capital from Uncle
Oelbermann, and little by little her original interest of
twenty-five dollars a month dwindled.
One day she presented herself again in the office of the
whole-sale toy store.
"Will you let me have a check for two hundred dollars, Uncle
Oelbermann?" she said.
The great man laid down his fountain pen and leaned back in
his swivel chair with great deliberation.
"I don't understand, Mrs. McTeague," he said. "Every week
you come here and draw out a little of your money. I've told
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