Then the grind began. It would have been easier for the McTeagues to have faced their misfortunes had they befallen them immediately after their marriage, when their love for each other was fresh and fine, and when they could have found a certain happiness in helping each other and sharing each other's privations. Trina, no doubt, loved her husband more than ever, in the sense that she felt she belonged to him. But McTeague's affection for his wife was dwindling a little every day—HAD been dwindling for a long time, in fact. He had become used to her by now. She was part of the order of the things with which he found himself surrounded. He saw nothing extraordinary about her; it was no longer a pleasure for him to kiss her and take her in his arms; she was merely his wife. He did not dislike her; he did not love her. She was his wife, that was all. But he sadly missed and regretted all those little animal comforts which in the old prosperous life Trina had managed to find for him. He missed the cabbage soups and steaming chocolate that Trina had taught him to like; he missed his good tobacco that Trina had educated him to prefer; he missed the Sunday afternoon walks that she had caused him to substitute in place of his nap in the operating chair; and he missed the bottled beer that she had induced him to drink in place of the steam beer from Frenna's. In the end he grew morose and sulky, and sometimes neglected to answer his wife when she spoke to him. Besides this, Trina's avarice was a perpetual annoyance to him. Oftentimes when a considerable alleviation of this unhappiness could have been obtained at the expense of a nickel or a dime, Trina refused the money with a pettishness that was exasperating.
"No, no," she would exclaim. "To ride to the park Sunday afternoon, that means ten cents, and I can't afford it."
"Let's walk there, then."
"I've got to work."
"But you've worked morning and afternoon every day this week."
"I don't care, I've got to work."
There had been a time when Trina had hated the idea of McTeague drinking steam beer as common and vulgar.
"Say, let's have a bottle of beer to-night. We haven't had a drop of beer in three weeks."
"We can't afford it. It's fifteen cents a bottle."
"But I haven't had a swallow of beer in three weeks."
"Drink STEAM beer, then. You've got a nickel. I gave you a quarter day before yesterday."
"But I don't like steam beer now."
It was so with everything. Unfortunately, Trina had cultivated tastes in McTeague which now could not be gratified. He had come to be very proud of his silk hat and "Prince Albert" coat, and liked to wear them on Sundays. Trina had made him sell both. He preferred "Yale mixture" in his pipe; Trina had made him come down to "Mastiff," a five-cent tobacco with which he was once contented, but now abhorred. He liked to wear clean cuffs; Trina allowed him a fresh pair on Sundays only. At first these deprivations angered McTeague. Then, all of a sudden, he slipped back into the old habits (that had been his before he knew Trina) with an ease that was surprising. Sundays he dined at the car conductors' coffee-joint once more, and spent the afternoon lying full length upon the bed, crop-full, stupid, warm, smoking his huge pipe, drinking his steam beer, and playing his six mournful tunes upon his concertina, dozing off to sleep towards four o'clock.
The sale of their furniture had, after paying the rent and outstanding bills, netted about a hundred and thirty dollars. Trina believed that the auctioneer from the second-hand store had swindled and cheated them and had made a great outcry to no effect. But she had arranged the affair with the auctioneer herself, and offset her disappointment in the matter of the sale by deceiving her husband as to the real amount of the returns. It was easy to lie to McTeague, who took everything for granted; and since the occasion of her trickery with the money that was to have been sent to her mother, Trina had found falsehood easier than ever.
"Seventy dollars is all the auctioneer gave me," she told her husband; "and after paying the balance due on the rent, and the grocer's bill, there's only fifty left."
"Only fifty?" murmured McTeague, wagging his head, "only fifty? Think of that."
"Only fifty," declared Trina. Afterwards she said to herself with a certain admiration for her cleverness:
"Couldn't save sixty dollars much easier than that," and she had added the hundred and thirty to the little hoard in the chamois-skin bag and brass match-box in the bottom of her trunk.
In these first months of their misfortunes the routine of the McTeagues was as follows: They rose at seven and breakfasted in their room, Trina cooking the very meagre meal on an oil stove. Immediately after breakfast Trina sat down to her work of whittling the Noah's ark animals, and McTeague took himself off to walk down town. He had by the greatest good luck secured a position with a manufacturer of surgical instruments, where his manual dexterity in the making of excavators, pluggers, and other dental contrivances stood him in fairly good stead. He lunched at a sailor's boarding-house near the water front, and in the afternoon worked till six. He was home at six-thirty, and he and Trina had supper together in the "ladies' dining parlor," an adjunct of the car conductors' coffee-joint. Trina, meanwhile, had worked at her whittling all day long, with but half an hour's interval for lunch, which she herself prepared upon the oil stove. In the evening they were both so tired that they were in no mood for conversation, and went to bed early, worn out, harried, nervous, and cross.
Trina was not quite so scrupulously tidy now as in the old days. At one time while whittling the Noah's ark animals she had worn gloves. She never wore them now. She still took pride in neatly combing and coiling her wonderful black hair, but as the days passed she found it more and more comfortable to work in her blue flannel wrapper. Whittlings and chips accumulated under the window where she did her work, and she was at no great pains to clear the air of the room vitiated by the fumes of the oil stove and heavy with the smell of cooking. It was not gay, that life. The room itself was not gay. The huge double bed sprawled over nearly a fourth of the available space; the angles of Trina's trunk and the washstand projected into the room from the walls, and barked shins and scraped elbows. Streaks and spots of the "non-poisonous" paint that Trina used were upon the walls and wood-work. However, in one corner of the room, next the window, monstrous, distorted, brilliant, shining with a light of its own, stood the dentist's sign, the enormous golden tooth, the tooth of a Brobdingnag.
One afternoon in September, about four months after the McTeagues had left their suite, Trina was at her work by the window. She had whittled some half-dozen sets of animals, and was now busy painting them and making the arks. Little pots of "non-poisonous" paint stood at her elbow on the table, together with a box of labels that read, "Made in France." Her huge clasp-knife was stuck into the under side of the table. She was now occupied solely with the brushes and the glue pot. She turned the little figures in her fingers with a wonderful lightness and deftness, painting the chickens Naples yellow, the elephants blue gray, the horses Vandyke brown, adding a dot of Chinese white for the eyes and sticking in the ears and tail with a drop of glue. The animals once done, she put together and painted the arks, some dozen of them, all windows and no doors, each one opening only by a lid which was half the roof. She had all the work she could handle these days, for, from this time till a week before Christmas, Uncle Oelbermann could take as many "Noah's ark sets" as she could make.
Suddenly Trina paused in her work, looking expectantly toward the door. McTeague came in.
"Why, Mac," exclaimed Trina. "It's only three o'clock. What are you home so early for? Have they discharged you?"
"They've fired me," said McTeague, sitting down on the bed.
"Fired you! What for?"
"I don' know. Said the times were getting hard an' they had to let me go."
Trina let her paint-stained hands fall into her lap.
"OH!" she cried. "If we don't have the HARDEST luck of any two people I ever heard of. What can you do now? Is there another place like that where they make surgical instruments?"
"Huh? No, I don' know. There's three more."
"Well, you must try them right away. Go down there right now."
"Huh? Right now? No, I'm tired. I'll go down in the morning."
"Mac," cried Trina, in alarm, "what are you thinking of? You talk as though we were millionaires. You must go down this minute. You're losing money every second you sit there." She goaded the huge fellow to his feet again, thrust his hat into his hands, and pushed him out of the door, he obeying the while, docile and obedient as a big cart horse. He was on the stairs when she came running after him.
"Mac, they paid you off, didn't they, when they discharged you?"
"Then you must have some money. Give it to me."
The dentist heaved a shoulder uneasily.
"No, I don' want to."
"I've got to have that money. There's no more oil for the stove, and I must buy some more meal tickets to-night."
"Always after me about money," muttered the dentist; but he emptied his pockets for her, nevertheless.
"I—you've taken it all," he grumbled. "Better leave me something for car fare. It's going to rain."
"Pshaw! You can walk just as well as not. A big fellow like you 'fraid of a little walk; and it ain't going to rain."
Trina had lied again both as to the want of oil for the stove and the commutation ticket for the restaurant. But she knew by instinct that McTeague had money about him, and she did not intend to let it go out of the house. She listened intently until she was sure McTeague was gone. Then she hurriedly opened her trunk and hid the money in the chamois bag at the bottom.
The dentist presented himself at every one of the makers of surgical instruments that afternoon and was promptly turned away in each case. Then it came on to rain, a fine, cold drizzle, that chilled him and wet him to the bone. He had no umbrella, and Trina had not left him even five cents for car fare. He started to walk home through the rain. It was a long way to Polk Street, as the last manufactory he had visited was beyond even Folsom Street, and not far from the city front.
By the time McTeague reached Polk Street his teeth were chattering with the cold. He was wet from head to foot. As he was passing Heise's harness shop a sudden deluge of rain overtook him and he was obliged to dodge into the vestibule for shelter. He, who loved to be warm, to sleep and to be well fed, was icy cold, was exhausted and footsore from tramping the city. He could look forward to nothing better than a badly-cooked supper at the coffee-joint—hot meat on a cold plate, half done suet pudding, muddy coffee, and bad bread, and he was cold, miserably cold, and wet to the bone. All at once a sudden rage against Trina took possession of him. It was her fault. She knew it was going to rain, and she had not let him have a nickel for car fare—she who had five thousand dollars. She let him walk the streets in the cold and in the rain. "Miser," he growled behind his mustache. "Miser, nasty little old miser. You're worse than old Zerkow, always nagging about money, money, and you got five thousand dollars. You got more, an' you live in that stinking hole of a room, and you won't drink any decent beer. I ain't going to stand it much longer. She knew it was going to rain. She KNEW it. Didn't I TELL her? And she drives me out of my own home in the rain, for me to get money for her; more money, and she takes it. She took that money from me that I earned. 'Twasn't hers; it was mine, I earned it—and not a nickel for car fare. She don't care if I get wet and get a cold and DIE. No, she don't, as long as she's warm and's got her money." He became more and more indignant at the picture he made of himself. "I ain't going to stand it much longer," he repeated.
"Why, hello, Doc. Is that you?" exclaimed Heise, opening the door of the harness shop behind him. "Come in out of the wet. Why, you're soaked through," he added as he and McTeague came back into the shop, that reeked of oiled leather. "Didn't you have any umbrella? Ought to have taken a car."
"I guess so—I guess so," murmured the dentist, confused. His teeth were chattering.
"YOU'RE going to catch your death-a-cold," exclaimed Heise. "Tell you what," he said, reaching for his hat, "come in next door to Frenna's and have something to warm you up. I'll get the old lady to mind the shop." He called Mrs. Heise down from the floor above and took McTeague into Joe Frenna's saloon, which was two doors above his harness shop.
"Whiskey and gum twice, Joe," said he to the barkeeper as he and the dentist approached the bar.
"Huh? What?" said McTeague. "Whiskey? No, I can't drink whiskey. It kind of disagrees with me."
"Oh, the hell!" returned Heise, easily. "Take it as medicine. You'll get your death-a-cold if you stand round soaked like that. Two whiskey and gum, Joe."
McTeague emptied the pony glass at a single enormous gulp.
"That's the way," said Heise, approvingly. "Do you good." He drank his off slowly.
"I'd—I'd ask you to have a drink with me, Heise," said the dentist, who had an indistinct idea of the amenities of the barroom, "only," he added shamefacedly, "only—you see, I don't believe I got any change." His anger against Trina, heated by the whiskey he had drank, flamed up afresh. What a humiliating position for Trina to place him in, not to leave him the price of a drink with a friend, she who had five thousand dollars!
"Sha! That's all right, Doc," returned Heise, nibbling on a grain of coffee. "Want another? Hey? This my treat. Two more of the same, Joe."
McTeague hesitated. It was lamentably true that whiskey did not agree with him; he knew it well enough. However, by this time he felt very comfortably warm at the pit of his stomach. The blood was beginning to circulate in his chilled finger-tips and in his soggy, wet feet. He had had a hard day of it; in fact, the last week, the last month, the last three or four months, had been hard. He deserved a little consolation. Nor could Trina object to this. It wasn't costing a cent. He drank again with Heise.
"Get up here to the stove and warm yourself," urged Heise, drawing up a couple of chairs and cocking his feet upon the guard. The two fell to talking while McTeague's draggled coat and trousers smoked.
"What a dirty turn that was that Marcus Schouler did you!" said Heise, wagging his head. "You ought to have fought that, Doc, sure. You'd been practising too long." They discussed this question some ten or fifteen minutes and then Heise rose.
"Well, this ain't earning any money. I got to get back to the shop." McTeague got up as well, and the pair started for the door. Just as they were going out Ryer met them.
"Hello, hello," he cried. "Lord, what a wet day! You two are going the wrong way. You're going to have a drink with me. Three whiskey punches, Joe."
"No, no," answered McTeague, shaking his head. "I'm going back home. I've had two glasses of whiskey already."
"Sha!" cried Heise, catching his arm. "A strapping big chap like you ain't afraid of a little whiskey."
"Well, I—I—I got to go right afterwards," protested McTeague.
About half an hour after the dentist had left to go down town, Maria Macapa had come in to see Trina. Occasionally Maria dropped in on Trina in this fashion and spent an hour or so chatting with her while she worked. At first Trina had been inclined to resent these intrusions of the Mexican woman, but of late she had begun to tolerate them. Her day was long and cheerless at the best, and there was no one to talk to. Trina even fancied that old Miss Baker had come to be less cordial since their misfortune. Maria retailed to her all the gossip of the flat and the neighborhood, and, which was much more interesting, told her of her troubles with Zerkow.
Trina said to herself that Maria was common and vulgar, but one had to have some diversion, and Trina could talk and listen without interrupting her work. On this particular occasion Maria was much excited over Zerkow's demeanor of late.
"He's gettun worse an' worse," she informed Trina as she sat on the edge of the bed, her chin in her hand. "He says he knows I got the dishes and am hidun them from him. The other day I thought he'd gone off with his wagon, and I was doin' a bit of ir'ning, an' by an' by all of a sudden I saw him peeping at me through the crack of the door. I never let on that I saw him, and, honest, he stayed there over two hours, watchun everything I did. I could just feel his eyes on the back of my neck all the time. Last Sunday he took down part of the wall, 'cause he said he'd seen me making figures on it. Well, I was, but it was just the wash list. All the time he says he'll kill me if I don't tell."
"Why, what do you stay with him for?" exclaimed Trina. "I'd be deathly 'fraid of a man like that; and he did take a knife to you once."
"Hoh! HE won't kill me, never fear. If he'd kill me he'd never know where the dishes were; that's what HE thinks."
"But I can't understand, Maria; you told him about those gold dishes yourself."
"Never, never! I never saw such a lot of crazy folks as you are."
"But you say he hits you sometimes."
"Ah!" said Maria, tossing her head scornfully, "I ain't afraid of him. He takes his horsewhip to me now and then, but I can always manage. I say, 'If you touch me with that, then I'll NEVER tell you.' Just pretending, you know, and he drops it as though it was red hot. Say, Mrs. McTeague, have you got any tea? Let's make a cup of tea over the stove."
"No, no," cried Trina, with niggardly apprehension; "no, I haven't got a bit of tea." Trina's stinginess had increased to such an extent that it had gone beyond the mere hoarding of money. She grudged even the food that she and McTeague ate, and even brought away half loaves of bread, lumps of sugar, and fruit from the car conductors' coffee-joint. She hid these pilferings away on the shelf by the window, and often managed to make a very creditable lunch from them, enjoying the meal with the greater relish because it cost her nothing.
"No, Maria, I haven't got a bit of tea," she said, shaking her head decisively. "Hark, ain't that Mac?" she added, her chin in the air. "That's his step, sure."
"Well, I'm going to skip," said Maria. She left hurriedly, passing the dentist in the hall just outside the door. "Well?" said Trina interrogatively as her husband entered. McTeague did not answer. He hung his hat on the hook behind the door and dropped heavily into a chair.
"Well," asked Trina, anxiously, "how did you make out, Mac?"
Still the dentist pretended not to hear, scowling fiercely at his muddy boots.
"Tell me, Mac, I want to know. Did you get a place? Did you get caught in the rain?"
"Did I? Did I?" cried the dentist, sharply, an alacrity in his manner and voice that Trina had never observed before.
"Look at me. Look at me," he went on, speaking with an unwonted rapidity, his wits sharp, his ideas succeeding 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 rain."
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 different man."
"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 unusually stimulated.
"Give me my money, the money I gave you as I was going away."
"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 meanly.
"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 wife.
"Oh, ain't this all FINE?" he exclaimed. "Ain't it lovely?"
"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 Trina.
"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 drinking whiskey."
"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 exclaimed.
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, callused, enormous.
"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 that."
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 with Ryer.
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 Joe's."
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 shoulder.
"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 a sudden:
"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 alcohol.
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 days.
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 over."
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 home.
"Why—why," he said, hesitating, tapping his chin thoughtfully. "You see I'm thinking of giving up the little hospital."
"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 wouldn't presume."
"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 his hand.
"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 doorway.
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 dead."
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 seemed puzzled.
"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 brown lips.
"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."