One morning about a week after Marcus had left for the southern part of the State, McTeague found an oblong letter thrust through the letter-drop of the door of his "Parlors." The address was typewritten. He opened it. The letter had been sent from the City Hall and was stamped in one corner with the seal of the State of California, very official; the form and file numbers superscribed.
McTeague had been making fillings when this letter arrived. He was in his "Parlors," pottering over his movable rack underneath the bird cage in the bay window. He was making "blocks" to be used in large proximal cavities and "cylinders" for commencing fillings. He heard the postman's step in the hall and saw the envelopes begin to shuttle themselves through the slit of his letter-drop. Then came the fat oblong envelope, with its official seal, that dropped flatwise to the floor with a sodden, dull impact.
The dentist put down the broach and scissors and gathered up his mail. There were four letters altogether. One was for Trina, in Selina's "elegant" handwriting; another was an advertisement of a new kind of operating chair for dentists; the third was a card from a milliner on the next block, announcing an opening; and the fourth, contained in the fat oblong envelope, was a printed form with blanks left for names and dates, and addressed to McTeague, from an office in the City Hall. McTeague read it through laboriously. "I don' know, I don' know," he muttered, looking stupidly at the rifle manufacturer's calendar. Then he heard Trina, from the kitchen, singing as she made a clattering noise with the breakfast dishes. "I guess I'll ask Trina about it," he muttered.
He went through the suite, by the sitting-room, where the sun was pouring in through the looped backed Nottingham curtains upon the clean white matting and the varnished surface of the melodeon, passed on through the bedroom, with its framed lithographs of round-cheeked English babies and alert fox terriers, and came out into the brick-paved kitchen. The kitchen was clean as a new whistle; the freshly blackened cook stove glowed like a negro's hide; the tins and porcelain-lined stew-pans might have been of silver and of ivory. Trina was in the centre of the room, wiping off, with a damp sponge, the oilcloth table-cover, on which they had breakfasted. Never had she looked so pretty. Early though it was, her enormous tiara of swarthy hair was neatly combed and coiled, not a pin was so much as loose. She wore a blue calico skirt with a white figure, and a belt of imitation alligator skin clasped around her small, firmly-corseted waist; her shirt waist was of pink linen, so new and crisp that it crackled with every movement, while around the collar, tied in a neat knot, was one of McTeague's lawn ties which she had appropriated. Her sleeves were carefully rolled up almost to her shoulders, and nothing could have been more delicious than the sight of her small round arms, white as milk, moving back and forth as she sponged the table-cover, a faint touch of pink coming and going at the elbows as they bent and straightened. She looked up quickly as her husband entered, her narrow eyes alight, her adorable little chin in the air; her lips rounded and opened with the last words of her song, so that one could catch a glint of gold in the fillings of her upper teeth.
The whole scene—the clean kitchen and its clean brick floor; the smell of coffee that lingered in the air; Trina herself, fresh as if from a bath, and singing at her work; the morning sun, striking obliquely through the white muslin half-curtain of the window and spanning the little kitchen with a bridge of golden mist—gave off, as it were, a note of gayety that was not to be resisted. Through the opened top of the window came the noises of Polk Street, already long awake. One heard the chanting of street cries, the shrill calling of children on their way to school, the merry rattle of a butcher's cart, the brisk noise of hammering, or the occasional prolonged roll of a cable car trundling heavily past, with a vibrant whirring of its jostled glass and the joyous clanging of its bells.
"What is it, Mac, dear?" said Trina.
McTeague shut the door behind him with his heel and handed her the letter. Trina read it through. Then suddenly her small hand gripped tightly upon the sponge, so that the water started from it and dripped in a little pattering deluge upon the bricks.
The letter—or rather printed notice—informed McTeague that he had never received a diploma from a dental college, and that in consequence he was forbidden to practise his profession any longer. A legal extract bearing upon the case was attached in small type.
"Why, what's all this?" said Trina, calmly, without thought as yet.
"I don' know, I don' know," answered her husband.
"You can't practise any longer," continued Trina,—"'is herewith prohibited and enjoined from further continuing——'" She re-read the extract, her forehead lifting and puckering. She put the sponge carefully away in its wire rack over the sink, and drew up a chair to the table, spreading out the notice before her. "Sit down," she said to McTeague. "Draw up to the table here, Mac, and let's see what this is."
"I got it this morning," murmured the dentist. "It just now came. I was making some fillings—there, in the 'Parlors,' in the window—and the postman shoved it through the door. I thought it was a number of the 'American System of Dentistry' at first, and when I'd opened it and looked at it I thought I'd better——"
"Say, Mac," interrupted Trina, looking up from the notice, "DIDN'T you ever go to a dental college?"
"Huh? What? What?" exclaimed McTeague.
"How did you learn to be a dentist? Did you go to a college?"
"I went along with a fellow who came to the mine once. My mother sent me. We used to go from one camp to another. I sharpened his excavators for him, and put up his notices in the towns—stuck them up in the post-offices and on the doors of the Odd Fellows' halls. He had a wagon."
"But didn't you never go to a college?"
"Huh? What? College? No, I never went. I learned from the fellow."
Trina rolled down her sleeves. She was a little paler than usual. She fastened the buttons into the cuffs and said:
"But do you know you can't practise unless you're graduated from a college? You haven't the right to call yourself, 'doctor.'"
McTeague stared a moment; then:
"Why, I've been practising ten years. More—nearly twelve."
"But it's the law."
"What's the law?"
"That you can't practise, or call yourself doctor, unless you've got a diploma."
"What's that—a diploma?"
"I don't know exactly. It's a kind of paper that—that—oh, Mac, we're ruined." Trina's voice rose to a cry.
"What do you mean, Trina? Ain't I a dentist? Ain't I a doctor? Look at my sign, and the gold tooth you gave me. Why, I've been practising nearly twelve years."
Trina shut her lips tightly, cleared her throat, and pretended to resettle a hair-pin at the back of her head.
"I guess it isn't as bad as that," she said, very quietly. "Let's read this again. 'Herewith prohibited and enjoined from further continuing——'" She read to the end.
"Why, it isn't possible," she cried. "They can't mean—oh, Mac, I do believe—pshaw!" she exclaimed, her pale face flushing. "They don't know how good a dentist you are. What difference does a diploma make, if you're a first-class dentist? I guess that's all right. Mac, didn't you ever go to a dental college?"
"No," answered McTeague, doggedly. "What was the good? I learned how to operate; wa'n't that enough?"
"Hark," said Trina, suddenly. "Wasn't that the bell of your office?" They had both heard the jangling of the bell that McTeague had hung over the door of his "Parlors." The dentist looked at the kitchen clock.
"That's Vanovitch," said he. "He's a plumber round on Sutter Street. He's got an appointment with me to have a bicuspid pulled. I got to go back to work." He rose.
"But you can't," cried Trina, the back of her hand upon her lips, her eyes brimming. "Mac, don't you see? Can't you understand? You've got to stop. Oh, it's dreadful! Listen." She hurried around the table to him and caught his arm in both her hands.
"Huh?" growled McTeague, looking at her with a puzzled frown.
"They'll arrest you. You'll go to prison. You can't work—can't work any more. We're ruined."
Vanovitch was pounding on the door of the sitting-room.
"He'll be gone in a minute," exclaimed McTeague.
"Well, let him go. Tell him to go; tell him to come again."
"Why, he's got an APPOINTMENT with me," exclaimed McTeague, his hand upon the door.
Trina caught him back. "But, Mac, you ain't a dentist any longer; you ain't a doctor. You haven't the right to work. You never went to a dental college."
"Well, suppose I never went to a college, ain't I a dentist just the same? Listen, he's pounding there again. No, I'm going, sure."
"Well, of course, go," said Trina, with sudden reaction. "It ain't possible they'll make you stop. If you're a good dentist, that's all that's wanted. Go on, Mac; hurry, before he goes."
McTeague went out, closing the door. Trina stood for a moment looking intently at the bricks at her feet. Then she returned to the table, and sat down again before the notice, and, resting her head in both her fists, read it yet another time. Suddenly the conviction seized upon her that it was all true. McTeague would be obliged to stop work, no matter how good a dentist he was. But why had the authorities at the City Hall waited this long before serving the notice? All at once Trina snapped her fingers, with a quick flash of intelligence.
"It's Marcus that's done it," she cried.
It was like a clap of thunder. McTeague was stunned, stupefied. He said nothing. Never in his life had he been so taciturn. At times he did not seem to hear Trina when she spoke to him, and often she had to shake him by the shoulder to arouse his attention. He would sit apart in his "Parlors," turning the notice about in his enormous clumsy fingers, reading it stupidly over and over again. He couldn't understand. What had a clerk at the City Hall to do with him? Why couldn't they let him alone?
"Oh, what's to become of us NOW?" wailed Trina. "What's to become of us now? We're paupers, beggars—and all so sudden." And once, in a quick, inexplicable fury, totally unlike anything that McTeague had noticed in her before, she had started up, with fists and teeth shut tight, and had cried, "Oh, if you'd only KILLED Marcus Schouler that time he fought you!"
McTeague had continued his work, acting from sheer force of habit; his sluggish, deliberate nature, methodical, obstinate, refusing to adapt itself to the new conditions.
"Maybe Marcus was only trying to scare us," Trina had said. "How are they going to know whether you're practising or not?"
"I got a mould to make to-morrow," McTeague said, "and Vanovitch, that plumber round on Sutter Street, he's coming again at three."
"Well, you go right ahead," Trina told him, decisively; "you go right ahead and make the mould, and pull every tooth in Vanovitch's head if you want to. Who's going to know? Maybe they just sent that notice as a matter of form. Maybe Marcus got that paper and filled it in himself."
The two would lie awake all night long, staring up into the dark, talking, talking, talking.
"Haven't you got any right to practise if you've not been to a dental college, Mac? Didn't you ever go?" Trina would ask again and again.
"No, no," answered the dentist, "I never went. I learnt from the fellow I was apprenticed to. I don' know anything about a dental college. Ain't I got a right to do as I like?" he suddenly exclaimed.
"If you know your profession, isn't that enough?" cried Trina.
"Sure, sure," growled McTeague. "I ain't going to stop for them."
"You go right on," Trina said, "and I bet you won't hear another word about it."
"Suppose I go round to the City Hall and see them," hazarded McTeague.
"No, no, don't you do it, Mac," exclaimed Trina. "Because, if Marcus has done this just to scare you, they won't know anything about it there at the City Hall; but they'll begin to ask you questions, and find out that you never HAD graduated from a dental college, and you'd be just as bad off as ever."
"Well, I ain't going to quit for just a piece of paper," declared the dentist. The phrase stuck to him. All day long he went about their rooms or continued at his work in the "Parlors," growling behind his thick mustache: "I ain't going to quit for just a piece of paper. No, I ain't going to quit for just a piece of paper. Sure not."
The days passed, a week went by, McTeague continued his work as usual. They heard no more from the City Hall, but the suspense of the situation was harrowing. Trina was actually sick with it. The terror of the thing was ever at their elbows, going to bed with them, sitting down with them at breakfast in the kitchen, keeping them company all through the day. Trina dared not think of what would be their fate if the income derived from McTeague's practice was suddenly taken from them. Then they would have to fall back on the interest of her lottery money and the pittance she derived from the manufacture of the Noah's ark animals, a little over thirty dollars a month. No, no, it was not to be thought of. It could not be that their means of livelihood was to be thus stricken from them.
A fortnight went by. "I guess we're all right, Mac," Trina allowed herself to say. "It looks as though we were all right. How are they going to tell whether you're practising or not?"
That day a second and much more peremptory notice was served upon McTeague by an official in person. Then suddenly Trina was seized with a panic terror, unreasoned, instinctive. If McTeague persisted they would both be sent to a prison, she was sure of it; a place where people were chained to the wall, in the dark, and fed on bread and water.
"Oh, Mac, you've got to quit," she wailed. "You can't go on. They can make you stop. Oh, why didn't you go to a dental college? Why didn't you find out that you had to have a college degree? And now we're paupers, beggars. We've got to leave here—leave this flat where I've been—where WE'VE been so happy, and sell all the pretty things; sell the pictures and the melodeon, and—Oh, it's too dreadful!"
"Huh? Huh? What? What?" exclaimed the dentist, bewildered. "I ain't going to quit for just a piece of paper. Let them put me out. I'll show them. They—they can't make small of me."
"Oh, that's all very fine to talk that way, but you'll have to quit."
"Well, we ain't paupers," McTeague suddenly exclaimed, an idea entering his mind. "We've got our money yet. You've got your five thousand dollars and the money you've been saving up. People ain't paupers when they've got over five thousand dollars."
"What do you mean, Mac?" cried Trina, apprehensively.
"Well, we can live on THAT money until—until—until—" he broke off with an uncertain movement of his shoulders, looking about him stupidly.
"Until WHEN?" cried Trina. "There ain't ever going to be any 'until.' We've got the INTEREST of that five thousand and we've got what Uncle Oelbermann gives me, a little over thirty dollars a month, and that's all we've got. You'll have to find something else to do."
"What will I find to do?"
What, indeed? McTeague was over thirty now, sluggish and slow-witted at best. What new trade could he learn at this age?
Little by little Trina made the dentist understand the calamity that had befallen them, and McTeague at last began cancelling his appointments. Trina gave it out that he was sick.
"Not a soul need know what's happened to us," she said to her husband.
But it was only by slow degrees that McTeague abandoned his profession. Every morning after breakfast he would go into his "Parlors" as usual and potter about his instruments, his dental engine, and his washstand in the corner behind his screen where he made his moulds. Now he would sharpen a "hoe" excavator, now he would busy himself for a whole hour making "mats" and "cylinders." Then he would look over his slate where he kept a record of his appointments.
One day Trina softly opened the door of the "Parlors" and came in from the sitting-room. She had not heard McTeague moving about for some time and had begun to wonder what he was doing. She came in, quietly shutting the door behind her.
McTeague had tidied the room with the greatest care. The volumes of the "Practical Dentist" and the "American System of Dentistry" were piled upon the marble-top centre-table in rectangular blocks. The few chairs were drawn up against the wall under the steel engraving of "Lorenzo de' Medici" with more than usual precision. The dental engine and the nickelled trimmings of the operating chair had been furbished till they shone, while on the movable rack in the bay window McTeague had arranged his instruments with the greatest neatness and regularity. "Hoe" excavators, pluggers, forceps, pliers, corundum disks and burrs, even the boxwood mallet that Trina was never to use again, all were laid out and ready for immediate use.
McTeague himself sat in his operating chair, looking stupidly out of the windows, across the roofs opposite, with an unseeing gaze, his red hands lying idly in his lap. Trina came up to him. There was something in his eyes that made her put both arms around his neck and lay his huge head with its coarse blond hair upon her shoulder.
"I—I got everything fixed," he said. "I got everything fixed an' ready. See, everything ready an' waiting, an'—an'—an' nobody comes, an' nobody's ever going to come any more. Oh, Trina!" He put his arms about her and drew her down closer to him.
"Never mind, dear; never mind," cried Trina, through her tears. "It'll all come right in the end, and we'll be poor together if we have to. You can sure find something else to do. We'll start in again."
"Look at the slate there," said McTeague, pulling away from her and reaching down the slate on which he kept a record of his appointments. "Look at them. There's Vanovitch at two on Wednesday, and Loughhead's wife Thursday morning, and Heise's little girl Thursday afternoon at one-thirty; Mrs. Watson on Friday, and Vanovitch again Saturday morning early—at seven. That's what I was to have had, and they ain't going to come. They ain't ever going to come any more."
Trina took the little slate from him and looked at it ruefully.
"Rub them out," she said, her voice trembling; "rub it all out;" and as she spoke her eyes brimmed again, and a great tear dropped on the slate. "That's it," she said; "that's the way to rub it out, by me crying on it." Then she passed her fingers over the tear-blurred writing and washed the slate clean. "All gone, all gone," she said.
"All gone," echoed the dentist. There was a silence. Then McTeague heaved himself up to his full six feet two, his face purpling, his enormous mallet-like fists raised over his head. His massive jaw protruded more than ever, while his teeth clicked and grated together; then he growled:
"If ever I meet Marcus Schouler—" he broke off abruptly, the white of his eyes growing suddenly pink.
"Oh, if ever you DO," exclaimed Trina, catching her breath.
"Well, what do you think?" said Trina.
She and McTeague stood in a tiny room at the back of the flat and on its very top floor. The room was whitewashed. It contained a bed, three cane-seated chairs, and a wooden washstand with its washbowl and pitcher. From its single uncurtained window one looked down into the flat's dirty back yard and upon the roofs of the hovels that bordered the alley in the rear. There was a rag carpet on the floor. In place of a closet some dozen wooden pegs were affixed to the wall over the washstand. There was a smell of cheap soap and of ancient hair-oil in the air.
"That's a single bed," said Trina, "but the landlady says she'll put in a double one for us. You see——"
"I ain't going to live here," growled McTeague.
"Well, you've got to live somewhere," said Trina, impatiently. "We've looked Polk Street over, and this is the only thing we can afford."
"Afford, afford," muttered the dentist. "You with your five thousand dollars, and the two or three hundred you got saved up, talking about 'afford.' You make me sick."
"Now, Mac," exclaimed Trina, deliberately, sitting down in one of the cane-seated chairs; "now, Mac, let's have this thing——"
"Well, I don't figure on living in one room," growled the dentist, sullenly. "Let's live decently until we can get a fresh start. We've got the money."
"Who's got the money?"
"WE'VE got it."
"Well, it's all in the family. What's yours is mine, and what's mine is yours, ain't it?"
"No, it's not; no, it's not," cried Trina, vehemently. "It's all mine, mine. There's not a penny of it belongs to anybody else. I don't like to have to talk this way to you, but you just make me. We're not going to touch a penny of my five thousand nor a penny of that little money I managed to save—that seventy-five."
"That TWO hundred, you mean."
"That SEVENTY-FIVE. We're just going to live on the interest of that and on what I earn from Uncle Oelbermann—on just that thirty-one or two dollars."
"Huh! Think I'm going to do that, an' live in such a room as this?"
Trina folded her arms and looked him squarely in the face.
"Well, what ARE you going to do, then?"
"I say, what ARE you going to do? You can go on and find something to do and earn some more money, and THEN we'll talk."
"Well, I ain't going to live here."
"Oh, very well, suit yourself. I'M going to live here."
"You'll live where I TELL you," the dentist suddenly cried, exasperated at the mincing tone she affected.
"Then YOU'LL pay the rent," exclaimed Trina, quite as angry as he.
"Are you my boss, I'd like to know? Who's the boss, you or I?"
"Who's got the MONEY, I'd like to know?" cried Trina, flushing to her pale lips. "Answer me that, McTeague, who's got the money?"
"You make me sick, you and your money. Why, you're a miser. I never saw anything like it. When I was practising, I never thought of my fees as my own; we lumped everything in together."
"Exactly; and I'M doing the working now. I'm working for Uncle Oelbermann, and you're not lumping in ANYTHING now. I'm doing it all. Do you know what I'm doing, McTeague? I'm supporting you."
"Ah, shut up; you make me sick."
"You got no RIGHT to talk to me that way. I won't let you. I—I won't have it." She caught her breath. Tears were in her eyes.
"Oh, live where you like, then," said McTeague, sullenly.
"Well, shall we take this room then?"
"All right, we'll take it. But why can't you take a little of your money an'—an'—sort of fix it up?"
"Not a penny, not a single penny."
"Oh, I don't care WHAT you do." And for the rest of the day the dentist and his wife did not speak.
This was not the only quarrel they had during these days when they were occupied in moving from their suite and in looking for new quarters. Every hour the question of money came up. Trina had become more niggardly than ever since the loss of McTeague's practice. It was not mere economy with her now. It was a panic terror lest a fraction of a cent of her little savings should be touched; a passionate eagerness to continue to save in spite of all that had happened. Trina could have easily afforded better quarters than the single whitewashed room at the top of the flat, but she made McTeague believe that it was impossible.
"I can still save a little," she said to herself, after the room had been engaged; "perhaps almost as much as ever. I'll have three hundred dollars pretty soon, and Mac thinks it's only two hundred. It's almost two hundred and fifty; and I'll get a good deal out of the sale."
But this sale was a long agony. It lasted a week. Everything went—everything but the few big pieces that went with the suite, and that belonged to the photographer. The melodeon, the chairs, the black walnut table before which they were married, the extension table in the sitting-room, the kitchen table with its oilcloth cover, the framed lithographs from the English illustrated papers, the very carpets on the floors. But Trina's heart nearly broke when the kitchen utensils and furnishings began to go. Every pot, every stewpan, every knife and fork, was an old friend. How she had worked over them! How clean she had kept them! What a pleasure it had been to invade that little brick-paved kitchen every morning, and to wash up and put to rights after breakfast, turning on the hot water at the sink, raking down the ashes in the cook-stove, going and coming over the warm bricks, her head in the air, singing at her work, proud in the sense of her proprietorship and her independence! How happy had she been the day after her marriage when she had first entered that kitchen and knew that it was all her own! And how well she remembered her raids upon the bargain counters in the house-furnishing departments of the great down-town stores! And now it was all to go. Some one else would have it all, while she was relegated to cheap restaurants and meals cooked by hired servants. Night after night she sobbed herself to sleep at the thought of her past happiness and her present wretchedness. However, she was not alone in her unhappiness.
"Anyhow, I'm going to keep the steel engraving an' the stone pug dog," declared the dentist, his fist clenching. When it had come to the sale of his office effects McTeague had rebelled with the instinctive obstinacy of a boy, shutting his eyes and ears. Only little by little did Trina induce him to part with his office furniture. He fought over every article, over the little iron stove, the bed-lounge, the marble-topped centre table, the whatnot in the corner, the bound volumes of "Allen's Practical Dentist," the rifle manufacturer's calendar, and the prim, military chairs. A veritable scene took place between him and his wife before he could bring himself to part with the steel engraving of "Lorenzo de' Medici and His Court" and the stone pug dog with its goggle eyes.
"Why," he would cry, "I've had 'em ever since—ever since I BEGAN; long before I knew you, Trina. That steel engraving I bought in Sacramento one day when it was raining. I saw it in the window of a second-hand store, and a fellow GAVE me that stone pug dog. He was a druggist. It was in Sacramento too. We traded. I gave him a shaving-mug and a razor, and he gave me the pug dog."
There were, however, two of his belongings that even Trina could not induce him to part with.
"And your concertina, Mac," she prompted, as they were making out the list for the second-hand dealer. "The concertina, and—oh, yes, the canary and the bird cage."
"Mac, you MUST be reasonable. The concertina would bring quite a sum, and the bird cage is as good as new. I'll sell the canary to the bird-store man on Kearney Street."
"If you're going to make objections to every single thing, we might as well quit. Come, now, Mac, the concertina and the bird cage. We'll put them in Lot D."
"You'll have to come to it sooner or later. I'M giving up everything. I'm going to put them down, see."
And she could get no further than that. The dentist did not lose his temper, as in the case of the steel engraving or the stone pug dog; he simply opposed her entreaties and persuasions with a passive, inert obstinacy that nothing could move. In the end Trina was obliged to submit. McTeague kept his concertina and his canary, even going so far as to put them both away in the bedroom, attaching to them tags on which he had scrawled in immense round letters, "Not for Sale."
One evening during that same week the dentist and his wife were in the dismantled sitting-room. The room presented the appearance of a wreck. The Nottingham lace curtains were down. The extension table was heaped high with dishes, with tea and coffee pots, and with baskets of spoons and knives and forks. The melodeon was hauled out into the middle of the floor, and covered with a sheet marked "Lot A," the pictures were in a pile in a corner, the chenille portieres were folded on top of the black walnut table. The room was desolate, lamentable. Trina was going over the inventory; McTeague, in his shirt sleeves, was smoking his pipe, looking stupidly out of the window. All at once there was a brisk rapping at the door.
"Come in," called Trina, apprehensively. Now-a-days at every unexpected visit she anticipated a fresh calamity. The door opened to let in a young man wearing a checked suit, a gay cravat, and a marvellously figured waistcoat. Trina and McTeague recognized him at once. It was the Other Dentist, the debonair fellow whose clients were the barbers and the young women of the candy stores and soda-water fountains, the poser, the wearer of waistcoats, who bet money on greyhound races.
"How'do?" said this one, bowing gracefully to the McTeagues as they stared at him distrustfully.
"How'do? They tell me, Doctor, that you are going out of the profession."
McTeague muttered indistinctly behind his mustache and glowered at him.
"Well, say," continued the other, cheerily, "I'd like to talk business with you. That sign of yours, that big golden tooth that you got outside of your window, I don't suppose you'll have any further use for it. Maybe I'd buy it if we could agree on terms."
Trina shot a glance at her husband. McTeague began to glower again.
"What do you say?" said the Other Dentist.
"I guess not," growled McTeague
"What do you say to ten dollars?"
"Ten dollars!" cried Trina, her chin in the air.
"Well, what figure DO you put on it?"
Trina was about to answer when she was interrupted by McTeague.
"You go out of here."
"You go out of here."
The other retreated toward the door.
"You can't make small of me. Go out of here."
McTeague came forward a step, his great red fist clenching. The young man fled. But half way down the stairs he paused long enough to call back:
"You don't want to trade anything for a diploma, do you?"
McTeague and his wife exchanged looks.
"How did he know?" exclaimed Trina, sharply. They had invented and spread the fiction that McTeague was merely retiring from business, without assigning any reason. But evidently every one knew the real cause. The humiliation was complete now. Old Miss Baker confirmed their suspicions on this point the next day. The little retired dressmaker came down and wept with Trina over her misfortune, and did what she could to encourage her. But she too knew that McTeague had been forbidden by the authorities from practising. Marcus had evidently left them no loophole of escape.
"It's just like cutting off your husband's hands, my dear," said Miss Baker. "And you two were so happy. When I first saw you together I said, 'What a pair!'"
Old Grannis also called during this period of the breaking up of the McTeague household.
"Dreadful, dreadful," murmured the old Englishman, his hand going tremulously to his chin. "It seems unjust; it does. But Mr. Schouler could not have set them on to do it. I can't quite believe it of him."
"Of Marcus!" cried Trina. "Hoh! Why, he threw his knife at Mac one time, and another time he bit him, actually bit him with his teeth, while they were wrestling just for fun. Marcus would do anything to injure Mac."
"Dear, dear," returned Old Grannis, genuinely pained. "I had always believed Schouler to be such a good fellow."
"That's because you're so good yourself, Mr. Grannis," responded Trina.
"I tell you what, Doc," declared Heise the harness-maker, shaking his finger impressively at the dentist, "you must fight it; you must appeal to the courts; you've been practising too long to be debarred now. The statute of limitations, you know."
"No, no," Trina had exclaimed, when the dentist had repeated this advice to her. "No, no, don't go near the law courts. I know them. The lawyers take all your money, and you lose your case. We're bad off as it is, without lawing about it."
Then at last came the sale. McTeague and Trina, whom Miss Baker had invited to her room for that day, sat there side by side, holding each other's hands, listening nervously to the turmoil that rose to them from the direction of their suite. From nine o'clock till dark the crowds came and went. All Polk Street seemed to have invaded the suite, lured on by the red flag that waved from the front windows. It was a fete, a veritable holiday, for the whole neighborhood. People with no thought of buying presented themselves. Young women—the candy-store girls and florist's apprentices—came to see the fun, walking arm in arm from room to room, making jokes about the pretty lithographs and mimicking the picture of the two little girls saying their prayers.
"Look here," they would cry, "look here what she used for curtains—NOTTINGHAM lace, actually! Whoever thinks of buying Nottingham lace now-a-days? Say, don't that JAR you?"
"And a melodeon," another one would exclaim, lifting the sheet. "A melodeon, when you can rent a piano for a dollar a week; and say, I really believe they used to eat in the kitchen."
"Dollarn-half, dollarn-half, dollarn-half, give me two," intoned the auctioneer from the second-hand store. By noon the crowd became a jam. Wagons backed up to the curb outside and departed heavily laden. In all directions people could be seen going away from the house, carrying small articles of furniture—a clock, a water pitcher, a towel rack. Every now and then old Miss Baker, who had gone below to see how things were progressing, returned with reports of the foray.
"Mrs. Heise bought the chenille portieres. Mister Ryer made a bid for your bed, but a man in a gray coat bid over him. It was knocked down for three dollars and a half. The German shoe-maker on the next block bought the stone pug dog. I saw our postman going away with a lot of the pictures. Zerkow has come, on my word! the rags-bottles-sacks man; he's buying lots; he bought all Doctor McTeague's gold tape and some of the instruments. Maria's there too. That dentist on the corner took the dental engine, and wanted to get the sign, the big gold tooth," and so on and so on. Cruelest of all, however, at least to Trina, was when Miss Baker herself began to buy, unable to resist a bargain. The last time she came up she carried a bundle of the gay tidies that used to hang over the chair backs.
"He offered them, three for a nickel," she explained to Trina, "and I thought I'd spend just a quarter. You don't mind, now, do you, Mrs. McTeague?"
"Why, no, of course not, Miss Baker," answered Trina, bravely.
"They'll look very pretty on some of my chairs," went on the little old dressmaker, innocently. "See." She spread one of them on a chair back for inspection. Trina's chin quivered.
"Oh, VERY pretty," she answered.
At length that dreadful day was over. The crowd dispersed. Even the auctioneer went at last, and as he closed the door with a bang, the reverberation that went through the suite gave evidence of its emptiness.
"Come," said Trina to the dentist, "let's go down and look—take a last look."
They went out of Miss Baker's room and descended to the floor below. On the stairs, however, they were met by Old Grannis. In his hands he carried a little package. Was it possible that he too had taken advantage of their misfortunes to join in the raid upon the suite?
"I went in," he began, timidly, "for—for a few moments. This"—he indicated the little package he carried—"this was put up. It was of no value but to you. I—I ventured to bid it in. I thought perhaps"—his hand went to his chin, "that you wouldn't mind; that—in fact, I bought it for you—as a present. Will you take it?" He handed the package to Trina and hurried on. Trina tore off the wrappings.
It was the framed photograph of McTeague and his wife in their wedding finery, the one that had been taken immediately after the marriage. It represented Trina sitting very erect in a rep armchair, holding her wedding bouquet straight before her, McTeague standing at her side, his left foot forward, one hand upon her shoulder, and the other thrust into the breast of his "Prince Albert" coat, in the attitude of a statue of a Secretary of State.
"Oh, it WAS good of him, it WAS good of him," cried Trina, her eyes filling again. "I had forgotten to put it away. Of course it was not for sale."
They went on down the stairs, and arriving at the door of the sitting-room, opened it and looked in. It was late in the afternoon, and there was just light enough for the dentist and his wife to see the results of that day of sale. Nothing was left, not even the carpet. It was a pillage, a devastation, the barrenness of a field after the passage of a swarm of locusts. The room had been picked and stripped till only the bare walls and floor remained. Here where they had been married, where the wedding supper had taken place, where Trina had bade farewell to her father and mother, here where she had spent those first few hard months of her married life, where afterward she had grown to be happy and contented, where she had passed the long hours of the afternoon at her work of whittling, and where she and her husband had spent so many evenings looking out of the window before the lamp was lit—here in what had been her home, nothing was left but echoes and the emptiness of complete desolation. Only one thing remained. On the wall between the windows, in its oval glass frame, preserved by some unknown and fearful process, a melancholy relic of a vanished happiness, unsold, neglected, and forgotten, a thing that nobody wanted, hung Trina's wedding bouquet.