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 bookselling 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 a cup."
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 embarrassment returning.
"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 tray.
"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 it."
"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 him.
"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 insisted.
"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 uneventful lives.
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 it?"
"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 abruptly.
"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 say timidly.
"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 her lips.
"What you doing here'?" growled the dentist as he came up. There was a "Rooms-to-let" sign on the street door of the house.
"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 it."
"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 it."
"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 over.
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 gilt prison.
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 it."
"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 roof.
"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 subsided.
"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 something."
"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. "I'll go."
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 dollar.
"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 soon."
"I guess so," growled McTeague, allowing her to kiss him.
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 alone.
"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 seawater, 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 struck nine.
"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 McTeague's death.
"Oh, no," she cried. "Oh, no. It isn't true. But suppose—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. But suppose—suppose—suppose."
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, 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 strength.
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 woman saying:
"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 lock."
"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.