One can hold a scrubbing-brush with two good fingers and the stumps of two others even if both joints of the thumb are gone, but it takes considerable practice to get used to it.
Trina became a scrub-woman. She had taken council of Selina, and through her had obtained the position of caretaker in a little memorial kindergarten over on Pacific Street. Like Polk Street, it was an accommodation street, but running through a much poorer and more sordid quarter. Trina had a little room over the kindergarten schoolroom. It was not an unpleasant room. It looked out upon a sunny little court floored with boards and used as the children's playground. Two great cherry trees grew here, the leaves almost brushing against the window of Trina's room and filtering the sunlight so that it fell in round golden spots upon the floor of the room. "Like gold pieces," Trina said to herself.
Trina's work consisted in taking care of the kindergarten rooms, scrubbing the floors, washing the windows, dusting and airing, and carrying out the ashes. Besides this she earned some five dollars a month by washing down the front steps of some big flats on Washington Street, and by cleaning out vacant houses after the tenants had left. She saw no one. Nobody knew her. She went about her work from dawn to dark, and often entire days passed when she did not hear the sound of her own voice. She was alone, a solitary, abandoned woman, lost in the lowest eddies of the great city's tide—the tide that always ebbs.
When Trina had been discharged from the hospital after the operation on her fingers, she found herself alone in the world, alone with her five thousand dollars. The interest of this would support her, and yet allow her to save a little.
But for a time Trina had thought of giving up the fight altogether and of joining her family in the southern part of the State. But even while she hesitated about this she received a long letter from her mother, an answer to one she herself had written just before the amputation of her right-hand fingers—the last letter she would ever be able to write. Mrs. Sieppe's letter was one long lamentation; she had her own misfortunes to bewail as well as those of her daughter. The carpet-cleaning and upholstery business had failed. Mr. Sieppe and Owgooste had left for New Zealand with a colonization company, whither Mrs. Sieppe and the twins were to follow them as soon as the colony established itself. So far from helping Trina in her ill fortune, it was she, her mother, who might some day in the near future be obliged to turn to Trina for aid. So Trina had given up the idea of any help from her family. For that matter she needed none. She still had her five thousand, and Uncle Oelbermann paid her the interest with a machine-like regularity. Now that McTeague had left her, there was one less mouth to feed; and with this saving, together with the little she could earn as scrub-woman, Trina could almost manage to make good the amount she lost by being obliged to cease work upon the Noah's ark animals.
Little by little her sorrow over the loss of her precious savings overcame the grief of McTeague's desertion of her. Her avarice had grown to be her one dominant passion; her love of money for the money's sake brooded in her heart, driving out by degrees every other natural affection. She grew thin and meagre; her flesh clove tight to her small skeleton; her small pale mouth and little uplifted chin grew to have a certain feline eagerness of expression; her long, narrow eyes glistened continually, as if they caught and held the glint of metal. One day as she sat in her room, the empty brass match-box and the limp chamois bag in her hands, she suddenly exclaimed:
"I could have forgiven him if he had only gone away and left me my money. I could have—yes, I could have forgiven him even THIS"—she looked at the stumps of her fingers. "But now," her teeth closed tight and her eyes flashed,
The empty bag and the hollow, light match-box troubled her. Day after day she took them from her trunk and wept over them as other women weep over a dead baby's shoe. Her four hundred dollars were gone, were gone, were gone. She would never see them again. She could plainly see her husband spending her savings by handfuls; squandering her beautiful gold pieces that she had been at such pains to polish with soap and ashes. The thought filled her with an unspeakable anguish. She would wake at night from a dream of McTeague revelling down her money, and ask of the darkness, "How much did he spend to-day? How many of the gold pieces are left? Has he broken either of the two twenty-dollar pieces yet? What did he spend it for?"
The instant she was out of the hospital Trina had begun to save again, but now it was with an eagerness that amounted at times to a veritable frenzy. She even denied herself lights and fuel in order to put by a quarter or so, grudging every penny she was obliged to spend. She did her own washing and cooking. Finally she sold her wedding dress, that had hitherto lain in the bottom of her trunk.
The day she moved from Zerkow's old house, she came suddenly upon the dentist's concertina under a heap of old clothes in the closet. Within twenty minutes she had sold it to the dealer in second-hand furniture, returning to her room with seven dollars in her pocket, happy for the first time since McTeague had left her.
But for all that the match-box and the bag refused to fill up; after three weeks of the most rigid economy they contained but eighteen dollars and some small change. What was that compared with four hundred? Trina told herself that she must have her money in hand. She longed to see again the heap of it upon her work-table, where she could plunge her hands into it, her face into it, feeling the cool, smooth metal upon her cheeks. At such moments she would see in her imagination her wonderful five thousand dollars piled in columns, shining and gleaming somewhere at the bottom of Uncle Oelbermann's vault. She would look at the paper that Uncle Oelbermann had given her, and tell herself that it represented five thousand dollars. But in the end this ceased to satisfy her, she must have the money itself. She must have her four hundred dollars back again, there in her trunk, in her bag and her match-box, where she could touch it and see it whenever she desired.
At length she could stand it no longer, and one day presented herself before Uncle Oelbermann as he sat in his office in the wholesale toy store, and told him she wanted to have four hundred dollars of her money.
"But this is very irregular, you know, Mrs. McTeague," said the great man. "Not business-like at all."
But his niece's misfortunes and the sight of her poor maimed hand appealed to him. He opened his check-book. "You understand, of course," he said, "that this will reduce the amount of your interest by just so much."
"I know, I know. I've thought of that," said Trina.
"Four hundred, did you say?" remarked Uncle Oelbermann, taking the cap from his fountain pen.
"Yes, four hundred," exclaimed Trina, quickly, her eyes glistening.
Trina cashed the check and returned home with the money—all in twenty-dollar pieces as she had desired—in an ecstasy of delight. For half of that night she sat up playing with her money, counting it and recounting it, polishing the duller pieces until they shone. Altogether there were twenty twenty-dollar gold pieces.
"Oh-h, you beauties!" murmured Trina, running her palms over them, fairly quivering with pleasure. "You beauties! IS there anything prettier than a twenty-dollar gold piece? You dear, dear money! Oh, don't I LOVE you! Mine, mine, mine—all of you mine."
She laid them out in a row on the ledge of the table, or arranged them in patterns—triangles, circles, and squares—or built them all up into a pyramid which she afterward overthrew for the sake of hearing the delicious clink of the pieces tumbling against each other. Then at last she put them away in the brass match-box and chamois bag, delighted beyond words that they were once more full and heavy.
Then, a few days after, the thought of the money still remaining in Uncle Oelbermann's keeping returned to her. It was hers, all hers—all that four thousand six hundred. She could have as much of it or as little of it as she chose. She only had to ask. For a week Trina resisted, knowing very well that taking from her capital was proportionately reducing her monthly income. Then at last she yielded.
"Just to make it an even five hundred, anyhow," she told herself. That day she drew a hundred dollars more, in twenty-dollar gold pieces as before. From that time Trina began to draw steadily upon her capital, a little at a time. It was a passion with her, a mania, a veritable mental disease; a temptation such as drunkards only know.
It would come upon her all of a sudden. While she was about her work, scrubbing the floor of some vacant house; or in her room, in the morning, as she made her coffee on the oil stove, or when she woke in the night, a brusque access of cupidity would seize upon her. Her cheeks flushed, her eyes glistened, her breath came short. At times she would leave her work just as it was, put on her old bonnet of black straw, throw her shawl about her, and go straight to Uncle Oelbermann's store and draw against her money. Now it would be a hundred dollars, now sixty; now she would content herself with only twenty; and once, after a fortnight's abstinence, she permitted herself a positive debauch of five hundred. Little by little she drew her capital from Uncle Oelbermann, and little by little her original interest of twenty-five dollars a month dwindled.
One day she presented herself again in the office of the whole-sale toy store.
"Will you let me have a check for two hundred dollars, Uncle Oelbermann?" she said.
The great man laid down his fountain pen and leaned back in his swivel chair with great deliberation.
"I don't understand, Mrs. McTeague," he said. "Every week you come here and draw out a little of your money. I've told you that it is not at all regular or business-like for me to let you have it this way. And more than this, it's a great inconvenience to me to give you these checks at unstated times. If you wish to draw out the whole amount let's have some understanding. Draw it in monthly installments of, say, five hundred dollars, or else," he added, abruptly, "draw it all at once, now, to-day. I would even prefer it that way. Otherwise it's—it's annoying. Come, shall I draw you a check for thirty-seven hundred, and have it over and done with?"
"No, no," cried Trina, with instinctive apprehension, refusing, she did not know why. "No, I'll leave it with you. I won't draw out any more."
She took her departure, but paused on the pavement outside the store, and stood for a moment lost in thought, her eyes beginning to glisten and her breath coming short. Slowly she turned about and reentered the store; she came back into the office, and stood trembling at the corner of Uncle Oelbermann's desk. He looked up sharply. Twice Trina tried to get her voice, and when it did come to her, she could hardly recognize it. Between breaths she said:
"Yes, all right—I'll—you can give me—will you give me a check for thirty-seven hundred? Give me ALL of my money."
A few hours later she entered her little room over the kindergarten, bolted the door with shaking fingers, and emptied a heavy canvas sack upon the middle of her bed. Then she opened her trunk, and taking thence the brass match-box and chamois-skin bag added their contents to the pile. Next she laid herself upon the bed and gathered the gleaming heaps of gold pieces to her with both arms, burying her face in them with long sighs of unspeakable delight.
It was a little past noon, and the day was fine and warm. The leaves of the huge cherry trees threw off a certain pungent aroma that entered through the open window, together with long thin shafts of golden sunlight. Below, in the kindergarten, the children were singing gayly and marching to the jangling of the piano. Trina heard nothing, saw nothing. She lay on her bed, her eyes closed, her face buried in a pile of gold that she encircled with both her arms.
Trina even told herself at last that she was happy once more. McTeague became a memory—a memory that faded a little every day—dim and indistinct in the golden splendor of five thousand dollars.
"And yet," Trina would say, "I did love Mac, loved him dearly, only a little while ago. Even when he hurt me, it only made me love him more. How is it I've changed so sudden? How COULD I forget him so soon? It must be because he stole my money. That is it. I couldn't forgive anyone that—no, not even my MOTHER. And I never—never—will forgive him."
What had become of her husband Trina did not know. She never saw any of the old Polk Street people. There was no way she could have news of him, even if she had cared to have it. She had her money, that was the main thing. Her passion for it excluded every other sentiment. There it was in the bottom of her trunk, in the canvas sack, the chamois-skin bag, and the little brass match-safe. Not a day passed that Trina did not have it out where she could see and touch it. One evening she had even spread all the gold pieces between the sheets, and had then gone to bed, stripping herself, and had slept all night upon the money, taking a strange and ecstatic pleasure in the touch of the smooth flat pieces the length of her entire body.
One night, some three months after she had come to live at the kindergarten, Trina was awakened by a sharp tap on the pane of the window. She sat up quickly in bed, her heart beating thickly, her eyes rolling wildly in the direction of her trunk. The tap was repeated. Trina rose and went fearfully to the window. The little court below was bright with moonlight, and standing just on the edge of the shadow thrown by one of the cherry trees was McTeague. A bunch of half-ripe cherries was in his hand. He was eating them and throwing the pits at the window. As he caught sight of her, he made an eager sign for her to raise the sash. Reluctant and wondering, Trina obeyed, and the dentist came quickly forward. He was wearing a pair of blue overalls; a navy-blue flannel shirt without a cravat; an old coat, faded, rain-washed, and ripped at the seams; and his woollen cap.
"Say, Trina," he exclaimed, his heavy bass voice pitched just above a whisper, "let me in, will you, huh? Say, will you? I'm regularly starving, and I haven't slept in a Christian bed for two weeks."
At sight at him standing there in the moonlight, Trina could only think of him as the man who had beaten and bitten her, had deserted her and stolen her money, had made her suffer as she had never suffered before in all her life. Now that he had spent the money that he had stolen from her, he was whining to come back—so that he might steal more, no doubt. Once in her room he could not help but smell out her five thousand dollars. Her indignation rose.
"No," she whispered back at him. "No, I will not let you in."
"But listen here, Trina, I tell you I am starving, regularly——"
"Hoh!" interrupted Trina scornfully. "A man can't starve with four hundred dollars, I guess."
"Well—well—I—well—" faltered the dentist. "Never mind now. Give me something to eat, an' let me in an' sleep. I've been sleeping in the Plaza for the last ten nights, and say, I—Damn it, Trina, I ain't had anything to eat since—"
"Where's the four hundred dollars you robbed me of when you deserted me?" returned Trina, coldly.
"Well, I've spent it," growled the dentist. "But you CAN'T see me starve, Trina, no matter what's happened. Give me a little money, then."
"I'll see you starve before you get any more of MY money."
The dentist stepped back a pace and stared up at her wonder-stricken. His face was lean and pinched. Never had the jaw bone looked so enormous, nor the square-cut head so huge. The moonlight made deep black shadows in the shrunken cheeks.
"Huh?" asked the dentist, puzzled. "What did you say?"
"I won't give you any money—never again—not a cent."
"But do you know that I'm hungry?"
"Well, I've been hungry myself. Besides, I DON'T believe you."
"Trina, I ain't had a thing to eat since yesterday morning; that's God's truth. Even if I did get off with your money, you CAN'T see me starve, can you? You can't see me walk the streets all night because I ain't got a place to sleep. Will you let me in? Say, will you? Huh?"
"Well, will you give me some money then—just a little? Give me a dollar. Give me half a dol—Say, give me a DIME, an' I can get a cup of coffee."
The dentist paused and looked at her with curious intentness, bewildered, nonplussed.
"Say, you—you must be crazy, Trina. I—I—wouldn't let a DOG go hungry."
"Not even if he'd bitten you, perhaps."
The dentist stared again.
There was another pause. McTeague looked up at her in silence, a mean and vicious twinkle coming into his small eyes. He uttered a low exclamation, and then checked himself.
"Well, look here, for the last time. I'm starving. I've got nowhere to sleep. Will you give me some money, or something to eat? Will you let me in?"
Trina could fancy she almost saw the brassy glint in her husband's eyes. He raised one enormous lean fist. Then he growled:
"If I had hold of you for a minute, by God, I'd make you dance. An' I will yet, I will yet. Don't you be afraid of that."
He turned about, the moonlight showing like a layer of snow upon his massive shoulders. Trina watched him as he passed under the shadow of the cherry trees and crossed the little court. She heard his great feet grinding on the board flooring. He disappeared.
Miser though she was, Trina was only human, and the echo of the dentist's heavy feet had not died away before she began to be sorry for what she had done. She stood by the open window in her nightgown, her finger upon her lips.
"He did looked pinched," she said half aloud. "Maybe he WAS hungry. I ought to have given him something. I wish I had, I WISH I had. Oh," she cried, suddenly, with a frightened gesture of both hands, "what have I come to be that I would see Mac—my husband—that I would see him starve rather than give him money? No, no. It's too dreadful. I WILL give him some. I'll send it to him to-morrow. Where?—well, he'll come back." She leaned from the window and called as loudly as she dared, "Mac, oh, Mac." There was no answer.
When McTeague had told Trina he had been without food for nearly two days he was speaking the truth. The week before he had spent the last of the four hundred dollars in the bar of a sailor's lodging-house near the water front, and since that time had lived a veritable hand-to-mouth existence.
He had spent her money here and there about the city in royal fashion, absolutely reckless of the morrow, feasting and drinking for the most part with companions he picked up heaven knows where, acquaintances of twenty-four hours, whose names he forgot in two days. Then suddenly he found himself at the end of his money. He no longer had any friends. Hunger rode him and rowelled him. He was no longer well fed, comfortable. There was no longer a warm place for him to sleep. He went back to Polk Street in the evening, walking on the dark side of the street, lurking in the shadows, ashamed to have any of his old-time friends see him. He entered Zerkow's old house and knocked at the door of the room Trina and he had occupied. It was empty.
Next day he went to Uncle Oelbermann's store and asked news of Trina. Trina had not told Uncle Oelbermann of McTeague's brutalities, giving him other reasons to explain the loss of her fingers; neither had she told him of her husband's robbery. So when the dentist had asked where Trina could be found, Uncle Oelbermann, believing that McTeague was seeking a reconciliation, had told him without hesitation, and, he added:
"She was in here only yesterday and drew out the balance of her money. She's been drawing against her money for the last month or so. She's got it all now, I guess."
"Ah, she's got it all."
The dentist went away from his bootless visit to his wife shaking with rage, hating her with all the strength of a crude and primitive nature. He clenched his fists till his knuckles whitened, his teeth ground furiously upon one another.
"Ah, if I had hold of you once, I'd make you dance. She had five thousand dollars in that room, while I stood there, not twenty feet away, and told her I was starving, and she wouldn't give me a dime to get a cup of coffee with; not a dime to get a cup of coffee. Oh, if I once get my hands on you!" His wrath strangled him. He clutched at the darkness in front of him, his breath fairly whistling between his teeth.
That night he walked the streets until the morning, wondering what now he was to do to fight the wolf away. The morning of the next day towards ten o'clock he was on Kearney Street, still walking, still tramping the streets, since there was nothing else for him to do. By and by he paused on a corner near a music store, finding a momentary amusement in watching two or three men loading a piano upon a dray. Already half its weight was supported by the dray's backboard. One of the men, a big mulatto, almost hidden under the mass of glistening rosewood, was guiding its course, while the other two heaved and tugged in the rear. Something in the street frightened the horses and they shied abruptly. The end of the piano was twitched sharply from the backboard. There was a cry, the mulatto staggered and fell with the falling piano, and its weight dropped squarely upon his thigh, which broke with a resounding crack.
An hour later McTeague had found his job. The music store engaged him as handler at six dollars a week. McTeague's enormous strength, useless all his life, stood him in good stead at last.
He slept in a tiny back room opening from the storeroom of the music store. He was in some sense a watchman as well as handler, and went the rounds of the store twice every night. His room was a box of a place that reeked with odors of stale tobacco smoke. The former occupant had papered the walls with newspapers and had pasted up figures cut out from the posters of some Kiralfy ballet, very gaudy. By the one window, chittering all day in its little gilt prison, hung the canary bird, a tiny atom of life that McTeague still clung to with a strange obstinacy.
McTeague drank a good deal of whiskey in these days, but the only effect it had upon him was to increase the viciousness and bad temper that had developed in him since the beginning of his misfortunes. He terrorized his fellow-handlers, powerful men though they were. For a gruff word, for an awkward movement in lading the pianos, for a surly look or a muttered oath, the dentist's elbow would crook and his hand contract to a mallet-like fist. As often as not the blow followed, colossal in its force, swift as the leap of the piston from its cylinder.
His hatred of Trina increased from day to day. He'd make her dance yet. Wait only till he got his hands upon her. She'd let him starve, would she? She'd turn him out of doors while she hid her five thousand dollars in the bottom of her trunk. Aha, he would see about that some day. She couldn't make small of him. Ah, no. She'd dance all right—all right. McTeague was not an imaginative man by nature, but he would lie awake nights, his clumsy wits galloping and frisking under the lash of the alcohol, and fancy himself thrashing his wife, till a sudden frenzy of rage would overcome him, and he would shake all over, rolling upon the bed and biting the mattress.
On a certain day, about a week after Christmas of that year, McTeague was on one of the top floors of the music store, where the second-hand instruments were kept, helping to move about and rearrange some old pianos. As he passed by one of the counters he paused abruptly, his eye caught by an object that was strangely familiar.
"Say," he inquired, addressing the clerk in charge, "say, where'd this come from?"
"Why, let's see. We got that from a second-hand store up on Polk Street, I guess. It's a fairly good machine; a little tinkering with the stops and a bit of shellac, and we'll make it about's good as new. Good tone. See." And the clerk drew a long, sonorous wail from the depths of McTeague's old concertina.
"Well, it's mine," growled the dentist.
The other laughed. "It's yours for eleven dollars."
"It's mine," persisted McTeague. "I want it."
"Go 'long with you, Mac. What do you mean?"
"I mean that it's mine, that's what I mean. You got no right to it. It was STOLEN from me, that's what I mean," he added, a sullen anger flaming up in his little eyes.
The clerk raised a shoulder and put the concertina on an upper shelf.
"You talk to the boss about that; t'ain't none of my affair. If you want to buy it, it's eleven dollars."
The dentist had been paid off the day before and had four dollars in his wallet at the moment. He gave the money to the clerk.
"Here, there's part of the money. You—you put that concertina aside for me, an' I'll give you the rest in a week or so—I'll give it to you tomorrow," he exclaimed, struck with a sudden idea.
McTeague had sadly missed his concertina. Sunday afternoons when there was no work to be done, he was accustomed to lie flat on his back on his springless bed in the little room in the rear of the music store, his coat and shoes off, reading the paper, drinking steam beer from a pitcher, and smoking his pipe. But he could no longer play his six lugubrious airs upon his concertina, and it was a deprivation. He often wondered where it was gone. It had been lost, no doubt, in the general wreck of his fortunes. Once, even, the dentist had taken a concertina from the lot kept by the music store. It was a Sunday and no one was about. But he found he could not play upon it. The stops were arranged upon a system he did not understand.
Now his own concertina was come back to him. He would buy it back. He had given the clerk four dollars. He knew where he would get the remaining seven.
The clerk had told him the concertina had been sold on Polk Street to the second-hand store there. Trina had sold it. McTeague knew it. Trina had sold his concertina—had stolen it and sold it—his concertina, his beloved concertina, that he had had all his life. Why, barring the canary, there was not one of all his belongings that McTeague had cherished more dearly. His steel engraving of "Lorenzo de' Medici and his Court" might be lost, his stone pug dog might go, but his concertina!
"And she sold it—stole it from me and sold it. Just because I happened to forget to take it along with me. Well, we'll just see about that. You'll give me the money to buy it back, or——"
His rage loomed big within him. His hatred of Trina came back upon him like a returning surge. He saw her small, prim mouth, her narrow blue eyes, her black mane of hair, and up-tilted chin, and hated her the more because of them. Aha, he'd show her; he'd make her dance. He'd get that seven dollars from her, or he'd know the reason why. He went through his work that day, heaving and hauling at the ponderous pianos, handling them with the ease of a lifting crane, impatient for the coming of evening, when he could be left to his own devices. As often as he had a moment to spare he went down the street to the nearest saloon and drank a pony of whiskey. Now and then as he fought and struggled with the vast masses of ebony, rosewood, and mahogany on the upper floor of the music store, raging and chafing at their inertness and unwillingness, while the whiskey pirouetted in his brain, he would mutter to himself:
"An' I got to do this. I got to work like a dray horse while she sits at home by her stove and counts her money—and sells my concertina."
Six o'clock came. Instead of supper, McTeague drank some more whiskey, five ponies in rapid succession. After supper he was obliged to go out with the dray to deliver a concert grand at the Odd Fellows' Hall, where a piano "recital" was to take place.
"Ain't you coming back with us?" asked one of the handlers as he climbed upon the driver's seat after the piano had been put in place.
"No, no," returned the dentist; "I got something else to do." The brilliant lights of a saloon near the City Hall caught his eye. He decided he would have another drink of whiskey. It was about eight o'clock.
The following day was to be a fete day at the kindergarten, the Christmas and New Year festivals combined. All that afternoon the little two-story building on Pacific Street had been filled with a number of grand ladies of the Kindergarten Board, who were hanging up ropes of evergreen and sprays of holly, and arranging a great Christmas tree that stood in the centre of the ring in the schoolroom. The whole place was pervaded with a pungent, piney odor. Trina had been very busy since the early morning, coming and going at everybody's call, now running down the street after another tack-hammer or a fresh supply of cranberries, now tying together the ropes of evergreen and passing them up to one of the grand ladies as she carefully balanced herself on a step-ladder. By evening everything was in place. As the last grand lady left the school, she gave Trina an extra dollar for her work, and said:
"Now, if you'll just tidy up here, Mrs. McTeague, I think that will be all. Sweep up the pine needles here—you see they are all over the floor—and look through all the rooms, and tidy up generally. Good night—and a Happy New Year," she cried pleasantly as she went out.
Trina put the dollar away in her trunk before she did anything else and cooked herself a bit of supper. Then she came downstairs again.
The kindergarten was not large. On the lower floor were but two rooms, the main schoolroom and another room, a cloakroom, very small, where the children hung their hats and coats. This cloakroom opened off the back of the main schoolroom. Trina cast a critical glance into both of these rooms. There had been a great deal of going and coming in them during the day, and she decided that the first thing to do would be to scrub the floors. She went up again to her room overhead and heated some water over her oil stove; then, re-descending, set to work vigorously.
By nine o'clock she had almost finished with the schoolroom. She was down on her hands and knees in the midst of a steaming muck of soapy water. On her feet were a pair of man's shoes fastened with buckles; a dirty cotton gown, damp with the water, clung about her shapeless, stunted figure. From time to time she sat back on her heels to ease the strain of her position, and with one smoking hand, white and parboiled with the hot water, brushed her hair, already streaked with gray, out of her weazened, pale face and the corners of her mouth.
It was very quiet. A gas-jet without a globe lit up the place with a crude, raw light. The cat who lived on the premises, preferring to be dirty rather than to be wet, had got into the coal scuttle, and over its rim watched her sleepily with a long, complacent purr.
All at once he stopped purring, leaving an abrupt silence in the air like the sudden shutting off of a stream of water, while his eyes grew wide, two lambent disks of yellow in the heap of black fur.
"Who is there?" cried Trina, sitting back on her heels. In the stillness that succeeded, the water dripped from her hands with the steady tick of a clock. Then a brutal fist swung open the street door of the schoolroom and McTeague came in. He was drunk; not with that drunkenness which is stupid, maudlin, wavering on its feet, but with that which is alert, unnaturally intelligent, vicious, perfectly steady, deadly wicked. Trina only had to look once at him, and in an instant, with some strange sixth sense, born of the occasion, knew what she had to expect.
She jumped up and ran from him into the little cloakroom. She locked and bolted the door after her, and leaned her weight against it, panting and trembling, every nerve shrinking and quivering with the fear of him.
McTeague put his hand on the knob of the door outside and opened it, tearing off the lock and bolt guard, and sending her staggering across the room.
"Mac," she cried to him, as he came in, speaking with horrid rapidity, cringing and holding out her hands, "Mac, listen. Wait a minute—look here—listen here. It wasn't my fault. I'll give you some money. You can come back. I'll do ANYTHING you want. Won't you just LISTEN to me? Oh, don't! I'll scream. I can't help it, you know. The people will hear."
McTeague came towards her slowly, his immense feet dragging and grinding on the floor; his enormous fists, hard as wooden mallets, swinging at his sides. Trina backed from him to the corner of the room, cowering before him, holding her elbow crooked in front of her face, watching him with fearful intentness, ready to dodge.
"I want that money," he said, pausing in front of her.
"What money?" cried Trina.
"I want that money. You got it—that five thousand dollars. I want every nickel of it! You understand?"
"I haven't it. It isn't here. Uncle Oelbermann's got it."
"That's a lie. He told me that you came and got it. You've had it long enough; now I want it. Do you hear?"
"Mac, I can't give you that money. I—I WON'T give it to you," Trina cried, with sudden resolution.
"Yes, you will. You'll give me every nickel of it."
"You ain't going to make small of me this time. Give me that money."
"For the last time, will you give me that money?"
"You won't, huh? You won't give me it? For the last time."
Usually the dentist was slow in his movements, but now the alcohol had awakened in him an ape-like agility. He kept his small eyes upon her, and all at once sent his fist into the middle of her face with the suddenness of a relaxed spring.
Beside herself with terror, Trina turned and fought him back; fought for her miserable life with the exasperation and strength of a harassed cat; and with such energy and such wild, unnatural force, that even McTeague for the moment drew back from her. But her resistance was the one thing to drive him to the top of his fury. He came back at her again, his eyes drawn to two fine twinkling points, and his enormous fists, clenched till the knuckles whitened, raised in the air.
Then it became abominable.
In the schoolroom outside, behind the coal scuttle, the cat listened to the sounds of stamping and struggling and the muffled noise of blows, wildly terrified, his eyes bulging like brass knobs. At last the sounds stopped on a sudden; he heard nothing more. Then McTeague came out, closing the door. The cat followed him with distended eyes as he crossed the room and disappeared through the street door.
The dentist paused for a moment on the sidewalk, looking carefully up and down the street. It was deserted and quiet. He turned sharply to the right and went down a narrow passage that led into the little court yard behind the school. A candle was burning in Trina's room. He went up by the outside stairway and entered.
The trunk stood locked in one corner of the room. The dentist took the lid-lifter from the little oil stove, put it underneath the lock-clasp and wrenched it open. Groping beneath a pile of dresses he found the chamois-skin bag, the little brass match-box, and, at the very bottom, carefully thrust into one corner, the canvas sack crammed to the mouth with twenty-dollar gold pieces. He emptied the chamois-skin bag and the matchbox into the pockets of his trousers. But the canvas sack was too bulky to hide about his clothes. "I guess I'll just naturally have to carry YOU," he muttered. He blew out the candle, closed the door, and gained the street again.
The dentist crossed the city, going back to the music store. It was a little after eleven o'clock. The night was moonless, filled with a gray blur of faint light that seemed to come from all quarters of the horizon at once. From time to time there were sudden explosions of a southeast wind at the street corners. McTeague went on, slanting his head against the gusts, to keep his cap from blowing off, carrying the sack close to his side. Once he looked critically at the sky.
"I bet it'll rain to-morrow," he muttered, "if this wind works round to the south."
Once in his little den behind the music store, he washed his hands and forearms, and put on his working clothes, blue overalls and a jumper, over cheap trousers and vest. Then he got together his small belongings—an old campaign hat, a pair of boots, a tin of tobacco, and a pinchbeck bracelet which he had found one Sunday in the Park, and which he believed to be valuable. He stripped his blanket from his bed and rolled up in it all these objects, together with the canvas sack, fastening the roll with a half hitch such as miners use, the instincts of the old-time car-boy coming back to him in his present confusion of mind. He changed his pipe and his knife—a huge jackknife with a yellowed bone handle—to the pockets of his overalls.
Then at last he stood with his hand on the door, holding up the lamp before blowing it out, looking about to make sure he was ready to go. The wavering light woke his canary. It stirred and began to chitter feebly, very sleepy and cross at being awakened. McTeague started, staring at it, and reflecting. He believed that it would be a long time before anyone came into that room again. The canary would be days without food; it was likely it would starve, would die there, hour by hour, in its little gilt prison. McTeague resolved to take it with him. He took down the cage, touching it gently with his enormous hands, and tied a couple of sacks about it to shelter the little bird from the sharp night wind.
Then he went out, locking all the doors behind him, and turned toward the ferry slips. The boats had ceased running hours ago, but he told himself that by waiting till four o'clock he could get across the bay on the tug that took over the morning papers.
* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Trina lay unconscious, just as she had fallen under the last of McTeague's blows, her body twitching with an occasional hiccough that stirred the pool of blood in which she lay face downward. Towards morning she died with a rapid series of hiccoughs that sounded like a piece of clockwork running down.
The thing had been done in the cloakroom where the kindergarten children hung their hats and coats. There was no other entrance except by going through the main schoolroom. McTeague going out had shut the door of the cloakroom, but had left the street door open; so when the children arrived in the morning, they entered as usual.
About half-past eight, two or three five-year-olds, one a little colored girl, came into the schoolroom of the kindergarten with a great chatter of voices, going across to the cloakroom to hang up their hats and coats as they had been taught.
Half way across the room one of them stopped and put her small nose in the air, crying, "Um-o-o, what a funnee smell!" The others began to sniff the air as well, and one, the daughter of a butcher, exclaimed, "'Tsmells like my pa's shop," adding in the next breath, "Look, what's the matter with the kittee?"
In fact, the cat was acting strangely. He lay quite flat on the floor, his nose pressed close to the crevice under the door of the little cloakroom, winding his tail slowly back and forth, excited, very eager. At times he would draw back and make a strange little clacking noise down in his throat.
"Ain't he funnee?" said the little girl again. The cat slunk swiftly away as the children came up. Then the tallest of the little girls swung the door of the little cloakroom wide open and they all ran in.
The day was very hot, and the silence of high noon lay close and thick between the steep slopes of the cañóns like an invisible, muffling fluid. At intervals the drone of an insect bored the air and trailed slowly to silence again. Everywhere were pungent, aromatic smells. The vast, moveless heat seemed to distil countless odors from the brush—odors of warm sap, of pine needles, and of tar-weed, and above all the medicinal odor of witch hazel. As far as one could look, uncounted multitudes of trees and manzanita bushes were quietly and motionlessly growing, growing, growing. A tremendous, immeasurable Life pushed steadily heavenward without a sound, without a motion. At turns of the road, on the higher points, cañóns disclosed themselves far away, gigantic grooves in the landscape, deep blue in the distance, opening one into another, ocean-deep, silent, huge, and suggestive of colossal primeval forces held in reserve. At their bottoms they were solid, massive; on their crests they broke delicately into fine serrated edges where the pines and redwoods outlined their million of tops against the high white horizon. Here and there the mountains lifted themselves out of the narrow river beds in groups like giant lions rearing their heads after drinking. The entire region was untamed. In some places east of the Mississippi nature is cosey, intimate, small, and homelike, like a good-natured housewife. In Placer County, California, she is a vast, unconquered brute of the Pliocene epoch, savage, sullen, and magnificently indifferent to man.
But there were men in these mountains, like lice on mammoths' hides, fighting them stubbornly, now with hydraulic "monitors," now with drill and dynamite, boring into the vitals of them, or tearing away great yellow gravelly scars in the flanks of them, sucking their blood, extracting gold.
Here and there at long distances upon the cañón sides rose the headgear of a mine, surrounded with its few unpainted houses, and topped by its never-failing feather of black smoke. On near approach one heard the prolonged thunder of the stamp-mill, the crusher, the insatiable monster, gnashing the rocks to powder with its long iron teeth, vomiting them out again in a thin stream of wet gray mud. Its enormous maw, fed night and day with the car-boys' loads, gorged itself with gravel, and spat out the gold, grinding the rocks between its jaws, glutted, as it were, with the very entrails of the earth, and growling over its endless meal, like some savage animal, some legendary dragon, some fabulous beast, symbol of inordinate and monstrous gluttony.
McTeague had left the Overland train at Colfax, and the same afternoon had ridden some eight miles across the mountains in the stage that connects Colfax with Iowa Hill. Iowa Hill was a small one-street town, the headquarters of the mines of the district. Originally it had been built upon the summit of a mountain, but the sides of this mountain have long since been "hydrau-licked" away, so that the town now clings to a mere back bone, and the rear windows of the houses on both sides of the street look down over sheer precipices, into vast pits hundreds of feet deep.
The dentist stayed over night at the Hill, and the next morning started off on foot farther into the mountains. He still wore his blue overalls and jumper; his woollen cap was pulled down over his eye; on his feet were hob-nailed boots he had bought at the store in Colfax; his blanket roll was over his back; in his left hand swung the bird cage wrapped in sacks.
Just outside the town he paused, as if suddenly remembering something.
"There ought to be a trail just off the road here," he muttered. "There used to be a trail—a short cut."
The next instant, without moving from his position, he saw where it opened just before him. His instinct had halted him at the exact spot. The trail zigzagged down the abrupt descent of the cañón, debouching into a gravelly river bed.
"Indian River," muttered the dentist. "I remember—I remember. I ought to hear the Morning Star's stamps from here." He cocked his head. A low, sustained roar, like a distant cataract, came to his ears from across the river. "That's right," he said, contentedly. He crossed the river and regained the road beyond. The slope rose under his feet; a little farther on he passed the Morning Star mine, smoking and thundering. McTeague pushed steadily on. The road rose with the rise of the mountain, turned at a sharp angle where a great live-oak grew, and held level for nearly a quarter of a mile. Twice again the dentist left the road and took to the trail that cut through deserted hydraulic pits. He knew exactly where to look for these trails; not once did his instinct deceive him. He recognized familiar points at once. Here was Cold cañón, where invariably, winter and summer, a chilly wind was blowing; here was where the road to Spencer's branched off; here was Bussy's old place, where at one time there were so many dogs; here was Delmue's cabin, where unlicensed whiskey used to be sold; here was the plank bridge with its one rotten board; and here the flat overgrown with manzanita, where he once had shot three quail.
At noon, after he had been tramping for some two hours, he halted at a point where the road dipped suddenly. A little to the right of him, and flanking the road, an enormous yellow gravel-pit like an emptied lake gaped to heaven. Farther on, in the distance, a cañón zigzagged toward the horizon, rugged with pine-clad mountain crests. Nearer at hand, and directly in the line of the road, was an irregular cluster of unpainted cabins. A dull, prolonged roar vibrated in the air. McTeague nodded his head as if satisfied.
"That's the place," he muttered.
He reshouldered his blanket roll and descended the road. At last he halted again. He stood before a low one-story building, differing from the others in that it was painted. A verandah, shut in with mosquito netting, surrounded it. McTeague dropped his blanket roll on a lumber pile outside, and came up and knocked at the open door. Some one called to him to come in.
McTeague entered, rolling his eyes about him, noting the changes that had been made since he had last seen this place. A partition had been knocked down, making one big room out of the two former small ones. A counter and railing stood inside the door. There was a telephone on the wall. In one corner he also observed a stack of surveyor's instruments; a big drawing-board straddled on spindle legs across one end of the room, a mechanical drawing of some kind, no doubt the plan of the mine, unrolled upon it; a chromo representing a couple of peasants in a ploughed field (Millet's "Angelus") was nailed unframed upon the wall, and hanging from the same wire nail that secured one of its corners in place was a bullion bag and a cartridge belt with a loaded revolver in the pouch.
The dentist approached the counter and leaned his elbows upon it. Three men were in the room—a tall, lean young man, with a thick head of hair surprisingly gray, who was playing with a half-grown great Dane puppy; another fellow about as young, but with a jaw almost as salient as McTeague's, stood at the letter-press taking a copy of a letter; a third man, a little older than the other two, was pottering over a transit. This latter was massively built, and wore overalls and low boots streaked and stained and spotted in every direction with gray mud. The dentist looked slowly from one to the other; then at length, "Is the foreman about?" he asked.
The man in the muddy overalls came forward.
"What you want?"
He spoke with a strong German accent.
The old invariable formula came back to McTeague on the instant.
"What's the show for a job?"
At once the German foreman became preoccupied, looking aimlessly out of the window. There was a silence.
"You hev been miner alretty?"
"Know how to hendle pick'n shov'le?"
"Yes, I know."
The other seemed unsatisfied. "Are you a 'cousin Jack'?"
The dentist grinned. This prejudice against Cornishmen he remembered too.
"How long sence you mine?"
"Oh, year or two."
"Show your hends." McTeague exhibited his hard, callused palms.
"When ken you go to work? I want a chuck-tender on der night-shift."
"I can tend a chuck. I'll go on to-night."
"What's your name?"
The dentist started. He had forgotten to be prepared for this.
"What's the name?"
McTeague's eye was caught by a railroad calendar hanging over the desk. There was no time to think.
"Burlington," he said, loudly.
The German took a card from a file and wrote it down.
"Give dis card to der boarding-boss, down at der boarding-haus, den gome find me bei der mill at sex o'clock, und I set you to work."
Straight as a homing pigeon, and following a blind and unreasoned instinct, McTeague had returned to the Big Dipper mine. Within a week's time it seemed to him as though he had never been away. He picked up his life again exactly where he had left it the day when his mother had sent him away with the travelling dentist, the charlatan who had set up his tent by the bunk house. The house McTeague had once lived in was still there, occupied by one of the shift bosses and his family. The dentist passed it on his way to and from the mine.
He himself slept in the bunk house with some thirty others of his shift. At half-past five in the evening the cook at the boarding-house sounded a prolonged alarm upon a crowbar bent in the form of a triangle, that hung upon the porch of the boarding-house. McTeague rose and dressed, and with his shift had supper. Their lunch-pails were distributed to them. Then he made his way to the tunnel mouth, climbed into a car in the waiting ore train, and was hauled into the mine.
Once inside, the hot evening air turned to a cool dampness, and the forest odors gave place to the smell of stale dynamite smoke, suggestive of burning rubber. A cloud of steam came from McTeague's mouth; underneath, the water swashed and rippled around the car-wheels, while the light from the miner's candlesticks threw wavering blurs of pale yellow over the gray rotting quartz of the roof and walls. Occasionally McTeague bent down his head to avoid the lagging of the roof or the projections of an overhanging shute. From car to car all along the line the miners called to one another as the train trundled along, joshing and laughing.
A mile from the entrance the train reached the breast where McTeague's gang worked. The men clambered from the cars and took up the labor where the day shift had left it, burrowing their way steadily through a primeval river bed.
The candlesticks thrust into the crevices of the gravel strata lit up faintly the half dozen moving figures befouled with sweat and with wet gray mould. The picks struck into the loose gravel with a yielding shock. The long-handled shovels clinked amidst the piles of bowlders and scraped dully in the heaps of rotten quartz. The Burly drill boring for blasts broke out from time to time in an irregular chug-chug, chug-chug, while the engine that pumped the water from the mine coughed and strangled at short intervals.
McTeague tended the chuck. In a way he was the assistant of the man who worked the Burly. It was his duty to replace the drills in the Burly, putting in longer ones as the hole got deeper and deeper. From time to time he rapped the drill with a pole-pick when it stuck fast or fitchered.
Once it even occurred to him that there was a resemblance between his present work and the profession he had been forced to abandon. In the Burly drill he saw a queer counterpart of his old-time dental engine; and what were the drills and chucks but enormous hoe excavators, hard bits, and burrs? It was the same work he had so often performed in his "Parlors," only magnified, made monstrous, distorted, and grotesqued, the caricature of dentistry.
He passed his nights thus in the midst of the play of crude and simple forces—the powerful attacks of the Burly drills; the great exertions of bared, bent backs overlaid with muscle; the brusque, resistless expansion of dynamite; and the silent, vast, Titanic force, mysterious and slow, that cracked the timbers supporting the roof of the tunnel, and that gradually flattened the lagging till it was thin as paper.
The life pleased the dentist beyond words. The still, colossal mountains took him back again like a returning prodigal, and vaguely, without knowing why, he yielded to their influence—their immensity, their enormous power, crude and blind, reflecting themselves in his own nature, huge, strong, brutal in its simplicity. And this, though he only saw the mountains at night. They appeared far different then than in the daytime. At twelve o'clock he came out of the mine and lunched on the contents of his dinner-pail, sitting upon the embankment of the track, eating with both hands, and looking around him with a steady ox-like gaze. The mountains rose sheer from every side, heaving their gigantic crests far up into the night, the black peaks crowding together, and looking now less like beasts than like a company of cowled giants. In the daytime they were silent; but at night they seemed to stir and rouse themselves. Occasionally the stamp-mill stopped, its thunder ceasing abruptly. Then one could hear the noises that the mountains made in their living. From the cañón, from the crowding crests, from the whole immense landscape, there rose a steady and prolonged sound, coming from all sides at once. It was that incessant and muffled roar which disengages itself from all vast bodies, from oceans, from cities, from forests, from sleeping armies, and which is like the breathing of an infinitely great monster, alive, palpitating.
McTeague returned to his work. At six in the morning his shift was taken off, and he went out of the mine and back to the bunk house. All day long he slept, flung at length upon the strong-smelling blankets—slept the dreamless sleep of exhaustion, crushed and overpowered with the work, flat and prone upon his belly, till again in the evening the cook sounded the alarm upon the crowbar bent into a triangle.
Every alternate week the shifts were changed. The second week McTeague's shift worked in the daytime and slept at night. Wednesday night of this second week the dentist woke suddenly. He sat up in his bed in the bunk house, looking about him from side to side; an alarm clock hanging on the wall, over a lantern, marked half-past three.
"What was it?" muttered the dentist. "I wonder what it was." The rest of the shift were sleeping soundly, filling the room with the rasping sound of snoring. Everything was in its accustomed place; nothing stirred. But for all that McTeague got up and lit his miner's candlestick and went carefully about the room, throwing the light into the dark corners, peering under all the beds, including his own. Then he went to the door and stepped outside. The night was warm and still; the moon, very low, and canted on her side like a galleon foundering. The camp was very quiet; nobody was in sight. "I wonder what it was," muttered the dentist. "There was something—why did I wake up? Huh?" He made a circuit about the bunk house, unusually alert, his small eyes twinkling rapidly, seeing everything. All was quiet. An old dog who invariably slept on the steps of the bunk house had not even wakened. McTeague went back to bed, but did not sleep.
"There was SOMETHING," he muttered, looking in a puzzled way at his canary in the cage that hung from the wall at his bedside; "something. What was it? There is something NOW. There it is again—the same thing." He sat up in bed with eyes and ears strained. "What is it? I don' know what it is. I don' hear anything, an' I don' see anything. I feel something—right now; feel it now. I wonder—I don' know—I don' know."
Once more he got up, and this time dressed himself. He made a complete tour of the camp, looking and listening, for what he did not know. He even went to the outskirts of the camp and for nearly half an hour watched the road that led into the camp from the direction of Iowa Hill. He saw nothing; not even a rabbit stirred. He went to bed.
But from this time on there was a change. The dentist grew restless, uneasy. Suspicion of something, he could not say what, annoyed him incessantly. He went wide around sharp corners. At every moment he looked sharply over his shoulder. He even went to bed with his clothes and cap on, and at every hour during the night would get up and prowl about the bunk house, one ear turned down the wind, his eyes gimleting the darkness. From time to time he would murmur:
"There's something. What is it? I wonder what it is."
What strange sixth sense stirred in McTeague at this time? What animal cunning, what brute instinct clamored for recognition and obedience? What lower faculty was it that roused his suspicion, that drove him out into the night a score of times between dark and dawn, his head in the air, his eyes and ears keenly alert?
One night as he stood on the steps of the bunk house, peering into the shadows of the camp, he uttered an exclamation as of a man suddenly enlightened. He turned back into the house, drew from under his bed the blanket roll in which he kept his money hid, and took the canary down from the wall. He strode to the door and disappeared into the night. When the sheriff of Placer County and the two deputies from San Francisco reached the Big Dipper mine, McTeague had been gone two days.