On that particular morning the McTeagues had risen a half hour earlier than usual and taken a hurried breakfast in the kitchen on the deal table with its oilcloth cover. Trina was house-cleaning that week and had a presentiment of a hard day's work ahead of her, while McTeague remembered a seven o'clock appointment with a little German shoemaker.
At about eight o'clock, when the dentist had been in his office for over an hour, Trina descended upon the bedroom, a towel about her head and the roller-sweeper in her hand. She covered the bureau and sewing machine with sheets, and unhooked the chenille portieres between the bedroom and the sitting-room. As she was tying the Nottingham lace curtains at the window into great knots, she saw old Miss Baker on the opposite sidewalk in the street below, and raising the sash called down to her.
"Oh, it's you, Mrs. McTeague," cried the retired dressmaker, facing about, her head in the air. Then a long conversation was begun, Trina, her arms folded under her breast, her elbows resting on the window ledge, willing to be idle for a moment; old Miss Baker, her market-basket on her arm, her hands wrapped in the ends of her worsted shawl against the cold of the early morning. They exchanged phrases, calling to each other from window to curb, their breath coming from their lips in faint puffs of vapor, their voices shrill, and raised to dominate the clamor of the waking street. The newsboys had made their appearance on the street, together with the day laborers. The cable cars had begun to fill up; all along the street could be seen the shopkeepers taking down their shutters; some were still breakfasting. Now and then a waiter from one of the cheap restaurants crossed from one sidewalk to another, balancing on one palm a tray covered with a napkin.
"Aren't you out pretty early this morning, Miss Baker?" called Trina.
"No, no," answered the other. "I'm always up at half-past six, but I don't always get out so soon. I wanted to get a nice head of cabbage and some lentils for a soup, and if you don't go to market early, the restaurants get all the best."
"And you've been to market already, Miss Baker?"
"Oh, my, yes; and I got a fish--a sole--see." She drew the sole in question from her basket.
"Oh, the lovely sole!" exclaimed Trina.
"I got this one at Spadella's; he always has good fish on Friday. How is the doctor, Mrs. McTeague?"
"Ah, Mac is always well, thank you, Miss Baker."
"You know, Mrs. Ryer told me," cried the little dressmaker, moving forward a step out of the way of a "glass-put-in" man, "that Doctor McTeague pulled a tooth of that Catholic priest, Father--oh, I forget his name--anyhow, he pulled his tooth with his fingers. Was that true, Mrs. McTeague?"
"Oh, of course. Mac does that almost all the time now, 'specially with front teeth. He's got a regular reputation for it. He says it's brought him more patients than even the sign I gave him," she added, pointing to the big golden molar projecting from the office window.
"With his fingers! Now, think of that," exclaimed Miss Baker, wagging her head. "Isn't he that strong! It's just wonderful. Cleaning house to-day?" she inquired, glancing at Trina's towelled head.
"Um hum," answered Trina. "Maria Macapa's coming in to help pretty soon."
At the mention of Maria's name the little old dressmaker suddenly uttered an exclamation.
"Well, if I'm not here talking to you and forgetting something I was just dying to tell you. Mrs. McTeague, what ever in the world do you suppose? Maria and old Zerkow, that red-headed Polish Jew, the rag-bottles-sacks man, you know, they're going to be married."
"No!" cried Trina, in blank amazement. "You don't mean it."
"Of course I do. Isn't it the funniest thing you ever heard of?"
"Oh, tell me all about it," said Trina, leaning eagerly from the window. Miss Baker crossed the street and stood just beneath her.
"Well, Maria came to me last night and wanted me to make her a new gown, said she wanted something gay, like what the girls at the candy store wear when they go out with their young men. I couldn't tell what had got into the girl, until finally she told me she wanted something to get married in, and that Zerkow had asked her to marry him, and that she was going to do it. Poor Maria! I guess it's the first and only offer she ever received, and it's just turned her head."
"But what DO those two see in each other?" cried Trina. "Zerkow is a horror, he's an old man, and his hair is red and his voice is gone, and then he's a Jew, isn't he?"
"I know, I know; but it's Maria's only chance for a husband, and she don't mean to let it pass. You know she isn't quite right in her head, anyhow. I'm awfully sorry for poor Maria. But I can't see what Zerkow wants to marry her for. It's not possible that he's in love with Maria, it's out of the question. Maria hasn't a sou, either, and I'm just positive that Zerkow has lots of money."
"I'll bet I know why," exclaimed Trina, with sudden conviction; "yes, I know just why. See here, Miss Baker, you know how crazy old Zerkow is after money and gold and those sort of things."
"Yes, I know; but you know Maria hasn't----"
"Now, just listen. You've heard Maria tell about that wonderful service of gold dishes she says her folks used to own in Central America; she's crazy on that subject, don't you know. She's all right on everything else, but just start her on that service of gold plate and she'll talk you deaf. She can describe it just as though she saw it, and she can make you see it, too, almost. Now, you see, Maria and Zerkow have known each other pretty well. Maria goes to him every two weeks or so to sell him junk; they got acquainted that way, and I know Maria's been dropping in to see him pretty often this last year, and sometimes he comes here to see her. He's made Maria tell him the story of that plate over and over and over again, and Maria does it and is glad to, because he's the only one that believes it. Now he's going to marry her just so's he can hear that story every day, every hour. He's pretty near as crazy on the subject as Maria is. They're a pair for you, aren't they? Both crazy over a lot of gold dishes that never existed. Perhaps Maria'll marry him because it's her only chance to get a husband, but I'm sure it's more for the reason that she's got some one to talk to now who believes her story. Don't you think I'm right?"
"Yes, yes, I guess you're right," admitted Miss Baker.
"But it's a queer match anyway you put it," said Trina, musingly.
"Ah, you may well say that," returned the other, nodding her head. There was a silence. For a long moment the dentist's wife and the retired dressmaker, the one at the window, the other on the sidewalk, remained lost in thought, wondering over the strangeness of the affair.
But suddenly there was a diversion. Alexander, Marcus Schouler's Irish setter, whom his master had long since allowed the liberty of running untrammelled about the neighborhood, turned the corner briskly and came trotting along the sidewalk where Miss Baker stood. At the same moment the Scotch collie who had at one time belonged to the branch post-office issued from the side door of a house not fifty feet away. In an instant the two enemies had recognized each other. They halted abruptly, their fore feet planted rigidly. Trina uttered a little cry.
"Oh, look out, Miss Baker. Those two dogs hate each other just like humans. You best look out. They'll fight sure." Miss Baker sought safety in a nearby vestibule, whence she peered forth at the scene, very interested and curious. Maria Macapa's head thrust itself from one of the top-story windows of the flat, with a shrill cry. Even McTeague's huge form appeared above the half curtains of the "Parlor" windows, while over his shoulder could be seen the face of the "patient," a napkin tucked in his collar, the rubber dam depending from his mouth. All the flat knew of the feud between the dogs, but never before had the pair been brought face to face.
Meanwhile, the collie and the setter had drawn near to each other; five feet apart they paused as if by mutual consent. The collie turned sidewise to the setter; the setter instantly wheeled himself flank on to the collie. Their tails rose and stiffened, they raised their lips over their long white fangs, the napes of their necks bristled, and they showed each other the vicious whites of their eyes, while they drew in their breaths with prolonged and rasping snarls. Each dog seemed to be the personification of fury and unsatisfied hate. They began to circle about each other with infinite slowness, walking stiffed-legged and upon the very points of their feet. Then they wheeled about and began to circle in the opposite direction. Twice they repeated this motion, their snarls growing louder. But still they did not come together, and the distance of five feet between them was maintained with an almost mathematical precision. It was magnificent, but it was not war. Then the setter, pausing in his walk, turned his head slowly from his enemy. The collie sniffed the air and pretended an interest in an old shoe lying in the gutter. Gradually and with all the dignity of monarchs they moved away from each other. Alexander stalked back to the corner of the street. The collie paced toward the side gate whence he had issued, affecting to remember something of great importance. They disappeared. Once out of sight of one another they began to bark furiously.
"Well, I NEVER!" exclaimed Trina in great disgust. "The way those two dogs have been carrying on you'd 'a' thought they would 'a' just torn each other to pieces when they had the chance, and here I'm wasting the whole morning----" she closed her window with a bang.
"Sick 'im, sick 'im," called Maria Macapa, in a vain attempt to promote a fight.
Old Miss Baker came out of the vestibule, pursing her lips, quite put out at the fiasco. "And after all that fuss," she said to herself aggrievedly.
The little dressmaker bought an envelope of nasturtium seeds at the florist's, and returned to her tiny room in the flat. But as she slowly mounted the first flight of steps she suddenly came face to face with Old Grannis, who was coming down. It was between eight and nine, and he was on his way to his little dog hospital, no doubt. Instantly Miss Baker was seized with trepidation, her curious little false curls shook, a faint--a very faint--flush came into her withered cheeks, and her heart beat so violently under the worsted shawl that she felt obliged to shift the market-basket to her other arm and put out her free hand to steady herself against the rail.
On his part, Old Grannis was instantly overwhelmed with confusion. His awkwardness seemed to paralyze his limbs, his lips twitched and turned dry, his hand went tremblingly to his chin. But what added to Miss Baker's miserable embarrassment on this occasion was the fact that the old Englishman should meet her thus, carrying a sordid market-basket full of sordid fish and cabbage. It seemed as if a malicious fate persisted in bringing the two old people face to face at the most inopportune moments.
Just now, however, a veritable catastrophe occurred. The little old dressmaker changed her basket to her other arm at precisely the wrong moment, and Old Grannis, hastening to pass, removing his hat in a hurried salutation, struck it with his fore arm, knocking it from her grasp, and sending it rolling and bumping down the stairs. The sole fell flat upon the first landing; the lentils scattered themselves over the entire flight; while the cabbage, leaping from step to step, thundered down the incline and brought up against the street door with a shock that reverberated through the entire building.
The little retired dressmaker, horribly vexed, nervous and embarrassed, was hard put to it to keep back the tears. Old Grannis stood for a moment with averted eyes, murmuring: "Oh, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. I--I really--I beg your pardon, really--really."
Marcus Schouler, coming down stairs from his room, saved the situation.
"Hello, people," he cried. "By damn! you've upset your basket--you have, for a fact. Here, let's pick um up." He and Old Grannis went up and down the flight, gathering up the fish, the lentils, and the sadly battered cabbage. Marcus was raging over the pusillanimity of Alexander, of which Maria had just told him.
"I'll cut him in two--with the whip," he shouted. "I will, I will, I say I will, for a fact. He wouldn't fight, hey? I'll give um all the fight he wants, nasty, mangy cur. If he won't fight he won't eat. I'm going to get the butcher's bull pup and I'll put um both in a bag and shake um up. I will, for a fact, and I guess Alec will fight. Come along, Mister Grannis," and he took the old Englishman away.
Little Miss Baker hastened to her room and locked herself in. She was excited and upset during all the rest of the day, and listened eagerly for Old Grannis's return that evening. He went instantly to work binding up "The Breeder and Sportsman," and back numbers of the "Nation." She heard him softly draw his chair and the table on which he had placed his little binding apparatus close to the wall. At once she did the same, brewing herself a cup of tea. All through that evening the two old people "kept company" with each other, after their own peculiar fashion. "Setting out with each other" Miss Baker had begun to call it. That they had been presented, that they had even been forced to talk together, had made no change in their relative positions. Almost immediately they had fallen back into their old ways again, quite unable to master their timidity, to overcome the stifling embarrassment that seized upon them when in each other's presence. It was a sort of hypnotism, a thing stronger than themselves. But they were not altogether dissatisfied with the way things had come to be. It was their little romance, their last, and they were living through it with supreme enjoyment and calm contentment.
Marcus Schouler still occupied his old room on the floor above the McTeagues. They saw but little of him, however. At long intervals the dentist or his wife met him on the stairs of the flat. Sometimes he would stop and talk with Trina, inquiring after the Sieppes, asking her if Mr. Sieppe had yet heard of any one with whom he, Marcus, could "go in with on a ranch." McTeague, Marcus merely nodded to. Never had the quarrel between the two men been completely patched up. It did not seem possible to the dentist now that Marcus had ever been his "pal," that they had ever taken long walks together. He was sorry that he had treated Marcus gratis for an ulcerated tooth, while Marcus daily recalled the fact that he had given up his "girl" to his friend--the girl who had won a fortune--as the great mistake of his life. Only once since the wedding had he called upon Trina, at a time when he knew McTeague would be out. Trina had shown him through the rooms and had told him, innocently enough, how gay was their life there. Marcus had come away fairly sick with envy; his rancor against the dentist--and against himself, for that matter--knew no bounds. "And you might 'a' had it all yourself, Marcus Schouler," he muttered to himself on the stairs. "You mushhead, you damn fool!"
Meanwhile, Marcus was becoming involved in the politics of his ward. As secretary of the Polk Street Improvement Club--which soon developed into quite an affair and began to assume the proportions of a Republican political machine--he found he could make a little, a very little more than enough to live on. At once he had given up his position as Old Grannis's assistant in the dog hospital. Marcus felt that he needed a wider sphere. He had his eye upon a place connected with the city pound. When the great railroad strike occurred, he promptly got himself engaged as deputy-sheriff, and spent a memorable week in Sacramento, where he involved himself in more than one terrible melee with the strikers. Marcus had that quickness of temper and passionate readiness to take offence which passes among his class for bravery. But whatever were his motives, his promptness to face danger could not for a moment be doubted. After the strike he returned to Polk Street, and throwing himself into the Improvement Club, heart, soul, and body, soon became one of its ruling spirits. In a certain local election, where a huge paving contract was at stake, the club made itself felt in the ward, and Marcus so managed his cards and pulled his wires that, at the end of the matter, he found himself some four hundred dollars to the good.
When McTeague came out of his "Parlors" at noon of the day upon which Trina had heard the news of Maria Macapa's intended marriage, he found Trina burning coffee on a shovel in the sitting-room. Try as she would, Trina could never quite eradicate from their rooms a certain faint and indefinable odor, particularly offensive to her. The smell of the photographer's chemicals persisted in spite of all Trina could do to combat it. She burnt pastilles and Chinese punk, and even, as now, coffee on a shovel, all to no purpose. Indeed, the only drawback to their delightful home was the general unpleasant smell that pervaded it--a smell that arose partly from the photographer's chemicals, partly from the cooking in the little kitchen, and partly from the ether and creosote of the dentist's "Parlors."
As McTeague came in to lunch on this occasion, he found the table already laid, a red cloth figured with white flowers was spread, and as he took his seat his wife put down the shovel on a chair and brought in the stewed codfish and the pot of chocolate. As he tucked his napkin into his enormous collar, McTeague looked vaguely about the room, rolling his eyes.
During the three years of their married life the McTeagues had made but few additions to their furniture, Trina declaring that they could not afford it. The sitting-room could boast of but three new ornaments. Over the melodeon hung their marriage certificate in a black frame. It was balanced upon one side by Trina's wedding bouquet under a glass case, preserved by some fearful unknown process, and upon the other by the photograph of Trina and the dentist in their wedding finery. This latter picture was quite an affair, and had been taken immediately after the wedding, while McTeague's broadcloth was still new, and before Trina's silks and veil had lost their stiffness. It represented Trina, her veil thrown back, sitting very straight in a rep armchair, her elbows well in at her sides, holding her bouquet of cut flowers directly before her. The dentist stood at her side, one hand on her shoulder, the other thrust into the breast of his "Prince Albert," his chin in the air, his eyes to one side, his left foot forward in the attitude of a statue of a Secretary of State.
"Say, Trina," said McTeague, his mouth full of codfish, "Heise looked in on me this morning. He says 'What's the matter with a basket picnic over at Schuetzen Park next Tuesday?' You know the paper-hangers are going to be in the 'Parlors' all that day, so I'll have a holiday. That's what made Heise think of it. Heise says he'll get the Ryers to go too. It's the anniversary of their wedding day. We'll ask Selina to go; she can meet us on the other side. Come on, let's go, huh, will you?"
Trina still had her mania for family picnics, which had been one of the Sieppes most cherished customs; but now there were other considerations.
"I don't know as we can afford it this month, Mac," she said, pouring the chocolate. "I got to pay the gas bill next week, and there's the papering of your office to be paid for some time."
"I know, I know," answered her husband. "But I got a new patient this week, had two molars and an upper incisor filled at the very first sitting, and he's going to bring his children round. He's a barber on the next block."
"Well you pay half, then," said Trina. "It'll cost three or four dollars at the very least; and mind, the Heises pay their own fare both ways, Mac, and everybody gets their OWN lunch. Yes," she added, after a pause, "I'll write and have Selina join us. I haven't seen Selina in months. I guess I'll have to put up a lunch for her, though," admitted Trina, "the way we did last time, because she lives in a boarding-house now, and they make a fuss about putting up a lunch."
They could count on pleasant weather at this time of the year--it was May--and that particular Tuesday was all that could be desired. The party assembled at the ferry slip at nine o'clock, laden with baskets. The McTeagues came last of all; Ryer and his wife had already boarded the boat. They met the Heises in the waiting-room.
"Hello, Doctor," cried the harness-maker as the McTeagues came up. "This is what you'd call an old folks' picnic, all married people this time."
The party foregathered on the upper deck as the boat started, and sat down to listen to the band of Italian musicians who were playing outside this morning because of the fineness of the weather.
"Oh, we're going to have lots of fun," cried Trina. "If it's anything I do love it's a picnic. Do you remember our first picnic, Mac?"
"Sure, sure," replied the dentist; "we had a Gotha truffle."
"And August lost his steamboat," put in Trina, "and papa smacked him. I remember it just as well."
"Why, look there," said Mrs. Heise, nodding at a figure coming up the companion-way. "Ain't that Mr. Schouler?"
It was Marcus, sure enough. As he caught sight of the party he gaped at them a moment in blank astonishment, and then ran up, his eyes wide.
"Well, by damn!" he exclaimed, excitedly. "What's up? Where you all going, anyhow? Say, ain't ut queer we should all run up against each other like this?" He made great sweeping bows to the three women, and shook hands with "Cousin Trina," adding, as he turned to the men of the party, "Glad to see you, Mister Heise. How do, Mister Ryer?" The dentist, who had formulated some sort of reserved greeting, he ignored completely. McTeague settled himself in his seat, growling inarticulately behind his mustache.
"Say, say, what's all up, anyhow?" cried Marcus again.
"It's a picnic," exclaimed the three women, all speaking at once; and Trina added, "We're going over to the same old Schuetzen Park again. But you're all fixed up yourself, Cousin Mark; you look as though you were going somewhere yourself."
In fact, Marcus was dressed with great care. He wore a new pair of slate-blue trousers, a black "cutaway," and a white lawn "tie" (for him the symbol of the height of elegance). He carried also his cane, a thin wand of ebony with a gold head, presented to him by the Improvement Club in "recognition of services."
"That's right, that's right," said Marcus, with a grin. "I'm takun a holiday myself to-day. I had a bit of business to do over at Oakland, an' I thought I'd go up to B Street afterward and see Selina. I haven't called on----"
But the party uttered an exclamation.
"Why, Selina is going with us."
"She's going to meet us at the Schuetzen Park station" explained Trina.
Marcus's business in Oakland was a fiction. He was crossing the bay that morning solely to see Selina. Marcus had "taken up with" Selina a little after Trina had married, and had been "rushing" her ever since, dazzled and attracted by her accomplishments, for which he pretended a great respect. At the prospect of missing Selina on this occasion, he was genuinely disappointed. His vexation at once assumed the form of exasperation against McTeague. It was all the dentist's fault. Ah, McTeague was coming between him and Selina now as he had come between him and Trina. Best look out, by damn! how he monkeyed with him now. Instantly his face flamed and he glanced over furiously at the dentist, who, catching his eye, began again to mutter behind his mustache.
"Well, say," began Mrs. Ryer, with some hesitation, looking to Ryer for approval, "why can't Marcus come along with us?"
"Why, of course," exclaimed Mrs. Heise, disregarding her husband's vigorous nudges. "I guess we got lunch enough to go round, all right; don't you say so, Mrs. McTeague?"
Thus appealed to, Trina could only concur.
"Why, of course, Cousin Mark," she said; "of course, come along with us if you want to."
"Why, you bet I will," cried Marcus, enthusiastic in an instant. "Say, this is outa sight; it is, for a fact; a picnic--ah, sure--and we'll meet Selina at the station."
Just as the boat was passing Goat Island, the harness-maker proposed that the men of the party should go down to the bar on the lower deck and shake for the drinks. The idea had an immediate success.
"Have to see you on that," said Ryer.
"By damn, we'll have a drink! Yes, sir, we will, for a fact."
"Sure, sure, drinks, that's the word."
At the bar Heise and Ryer ordered cocktails, Marcus called for a "creme Yvette" in order to astonish the others. The dentist spoke for a glass of beer.
"Say, look here," suddenly exclaimed Heise as they took their glasses. "Look here, you fellahs," he had turned to Marcus and the dentist. "You two fellahs have had a grouch at each other for the last year or so; now what's the matter with your shaking hands and calling quits?"
McTeague was at once overcome with a great feeling of magnanimity. He put out his great hand.
"I got nothing against Marcus," he growled.
"Well, I don't care if I shake," admitted Marcus, a little shamefacedly, as their palms touched. "I guess that's all right."
"That's the idea," exclaimed Heise, delighted at his success. "Come on, boys, now let's drink." Their elbows crooked and they drank silently.
Their picnic that day was very jolly. Nothing had changed at Schuetzen Park since the day of that other memorable Sieppe picnic four years previous. After lunch the men took themselves off to the rifle range, while Selina, Trina, and the other two women put away the dishes. An hour later the men joined them in great spirits. Ryer had won the impromptu match which they had arranged, making quite a wonderful score, which included three clean bulls' eyes, while McTeague had not been able even to hit the target itself.
Their shooting match had awakened a spirit of rivalry in the men, and the rest of the afternoon was passed in athletic exercises between them. The women sat on the slope of the grass, their hats and gloves laid aside, watching the men as they strove together. Aroused by the little feminine cries of wonder and the clapping of their ungloved palms, these latter began to show off at once. They took off their coats and vests, even their neckties and collars, and worked themselves into a lather of perspiration for the sake of making an impression on their wives. They ran hundred-yard sprints on the cinder path and executed clumsy feats on the rings and on the parallel bars. They even found a huge round stone on the beach and "put the shot" for a while. As long as it was a question of agility, Marcus was easily the best of the four; but the dentist's enormous strength, his crude, untutored brute force, was a matter of wonder for the entire party. McTeague cracked English walnuts--taken from the lunch baskets--in the hollow of his arm, and tossed the round stone a full five feet beyond their best mark. Heise believed himself to be particularly strong in the wrists, but the dentist, using but one hand, twisted a cane out of Heise's two with a wrench that all but sprained the harnessmaker's arm. Then the dentist raised weights and chinned himself on the rings till they thought he would never tire.
His great success quite turned his head; he strutted back and forth in front of the women, his chest thrown out, and his great mouth perpetually expanded in a triumphant grin. As he felt his strength more and more, he began to abuse it; he domineered over the others, gripping suddenly at their arms till they squirmed with pain, and slapping Marcus on the back so that he gasped and gagged for breath. The childish vanity of the great fellow was as undisguised as that of a schoolboy. He began to tell of wonderful feats of strength he had accomplished when he was a young man. Why, at one time he had knocked down a half-grown heifer with a blow of his fist between the eyes, sure, and the heifer had just stiffened out and trembled all over and died without getting up.
McTeague told this story again, and yet again. All through the afternoon he could be overheard relating the wonder to any one who would listen, exaggerating the effect of his blow, inventing terrific details. Why, the heifer had just frothed at the mouth, and his eyes had rolled up--ah, sure, his eyes rolled up just like that--and the butcher had said his skull was all mashed in--just all mashed in, sure, that's the word--just as if from a sledge-hammer.
Notwithstanding his reconciliation with the dentist on the boat, Marcus's gorge rose within him at McTeague's boasting swagger. When McTeague had slapped him on the back, Marcus had retired to some little distance while he recovered his breath, and glared at the dentist fiercely as he strode up and down, glorying in the admiring glances of the women.
"Ah, one-horse dentist," he muttered between his teeth. "Ah, zinc-plugger, cow-killer, I'd like to show you once, you overgrown mucker, you--you--COW-KILLER!"
When he rejoined the group, he found them preparing for a wrestling bout.
"I tell you what," said Heise, "we'll have a tournament. Marcus and I will rastle, and Doc and Ryer, and then the winners will rastle each other."
The women clapped their hands excitedly. This would be exciting. Trina cried:
"Better let me hold your money, Mac, and your keys, so as you won't lose them out of your pockets." The men gave their valuables into the keeping of their wives and promptly set to work.
The dentist thrust Ryer down without even changing his grip; Marcus and the harness-maker struggled together for a few moments till Heise all at once slipped on a bit of turf and fell backwards. As they toppled over together, Marcus writhed himself from under his opponent, and, as they reached the ground, forced down first one shoulder and then the other.
"All right, all right," panted the harness-maker, goodnaturedly, "I'm down. It's up to you and Doc now," he added, as he got to his feet.
The match between McTeague and Marcus promised to be interesting. The dentist, of course, had an enormous advantage in point of strength, but Marcus prided himself on his wrestling, and knew something about strangle-holds and half-Nelsons. The men drew back to allow them a free space as they faced each other, while Trina and the other women rose to their feet in their excitement.
"I bet Mac will throw him, all the same," said Trina.
"All ready!" cried Ryer.
The dentist and Marcus stepped forward, eyeing each other cautiously. They circled around the impromptu ring. Marcus watching eagerly for an opening. He ground his teeth, telling himself he would throw McTeague if it killed him. Ah, he'd show him now. Suddenly the two men caught at each other; Marcus went to his knees. The dentist threw his vast bulk on his adversary's shoulders and, thrusting a huge palm against his face, pushed him backwards and downwards. It was out of the question to resist that enormous strength. Marcus wrenched himself over and fell face downward on the ground.
McTeague rose on the instant with a great laugh of exultation.
"You're down!" he exclaimed.
Marcus leaped to his feet.
"Down nothing," he vociferated, with clenched fists. "Down nothing, by damn! You got to throw me so's my shoulders touch."
McTeague was stalking about, swelling with pride.
"Hoh, you're down. I threw you. Didn't I throw him, Trina? Hoh, you can't rastle ME."
Marcus capered with rage.
"You didn't! you didn't! you didn't! and you can't! You got to give me another try."
The other men came crowding up. Everybody was talking at once.
"You didn't throw him."
"Both his shoulders at the same time."
Trina clapped and waved her hand at McTeague from where she stood on the little slope of lawn above the wrestlers. Marcus broke through the group, shaking all over with excitement and rage.
"I tell you that ain't the WAY to rastle. You've got to throw a man so's his shoulders touch. You got to give me another bout."
"That's straight," put in Heise, "both his shoulders down at the same time. Try it again. You and Schouler have another try."
McTeague was bewildered by so much simultaneous talk. He could not make out what it was all about. Could he have offended Marcus again?
"What? What? Huh? What is it?" he exclaimed in perplexity, looking from one to the other.
"Come on, you must rastle me again," shouted Marcus.
"Sure, sure," cried the dentist. "I'll rastle you again. I'll rastle everybody," he cried, suddenly struck with an idea. Trina looked on in some apprehension.
"Mark gets so mad," she said, half aloud.
"Yes," admitted Selina. "Mister Schouler's got an awful quick temper, but he ain't afraid of anything."
"All ready!" shouted Ryer.
This time Marcus was more careful. Twice, as McTeague rushed at him, he slipped cleverly away. But as the dentist came in a third time, with his head bowed, Marcus, raising himself to his full height, caught him with both arms around the neck. The dentist gripped at him and rent away the sleeve of his shirt. There was a great laugh.
"Keep your shirt on," cried Mrs. Ryer.
The two men were grappling at each other wildly. The party could hear them panting and grunting as they labored and struggled. Their boots tore up great clods of turf. Suddenly they came to the ground with a tremendous shock. But even as they were in the act of falling, Marcus, like a very eel, writhed in the dentist's clasp and fell upon his side. McTeague crashed down upon him like the collapse of a felled ox.
"Now, you gotta turn him on his back," shouted Heise to the dentist. "He ain't down if you don't."
With his huge salient chin digging into Marcus's shoulder, the dentist heaved and tugged. His face was flaming, his huge shock of yellow hair fell over his forehead, matted with sweat. Marcus began to yield despite his frantic efforts. One shoulder was down, now the other began to go; gradually, gradually it was forced over. The little audience held its breath in the suspense of the moment. Selina broke the silence, calling out shrilly:
"Ain't Doctor McTeague just that strong!"
Marcus heard it, and his fury came instantly to a head. Rage at his defeat at the hands of the dentist and before Selina's eyes, the hate he still bore his old-time "pal" and the impotent wrath of his own powerlessness were suddenly unleashed.
"God damn you! get off of me," he cried under his breath, spitting the words as a snake spits its venom. The little audience uttered a cry. With the oath Marcus had twisted his head and had bitten through the lobe of the dentist's ear. There was a sudden flash of bright-red blood.
Then followed a terrible scene. The brute that in McTeague lay so close to the surface leaped instantly to life, monstrous, not to be resisted. He sprang to his feet with a shrill and meaningless clamor, totally unlike the ordinary bass of his speaking tones. It was the hideous yelling of a hurt beast, the squealing of a wounded elephant. He framed no words; in the rush of high-pitched sound that issued from his wide-open mouth there was nothing articulate. It was something no longer human; it was rather an echo from the jungle.
Sluggish enough and slow to anger on ordinary occasions, McTeague when finally aroused became another man. His rage was a kind of obsession, an evil mania, the drunkenness of passion, the exalted and perverted fury of the Berserker, blind and deaf, a thing insensate.
As he rose he caught Marcus's wrist in both his hands. He did not strike, he did not know what he was doing. His only idea was to batter the life out of the man before him, to crush and annihilate him upon the instant. Gripping his enemy in his enormous hands, hard and knotted, and covered with a stiff fell of yellow hair--the hands of the old-time car-boy--he swung him wide, as a hammer-thrower swings his hammer. Marcus's feet flipped from the ground, he spun through the air about McTeague as helpless as a bundle of clothes. All at once there was a sharp snap, almost like the report of a small pistol. Then Marcus rolled over and over upon the ground as McTeague released his grip; his arm, the one the dentist had seized, bending suddenly, as though a third joint had formed between wrist and elbow. The arm was broken.
But by this time every one was crying out at once. Heise and Ryan ran in between the two men. Selina turned her head away. Trina was wringing her hands and crying in an agony of dread:
"Oh, stop them, stop them! Don't let them fight. Oh, it's too awful."
"Here, here, Doc, quit. Don't make a fool of yourself," cried Heise, clinging to the dentist. "That's enough now. LISTEN to me, will you?"
"Oh, Mac, Mac," cried Trina, running to her husband. "Mac, dear, listen; it's me, it's Trina, look at me, you----"
"Get hold of his other arm, will you, Ryer?" panted Heise. "Quick!"
"Mac, Mac," cried Trina, her arms about his neck.
"For God's sake, hold up, Doc, will you?" shouted the harness-maker. "You don't want to kill him, do you?"
Mrs. Ryer and Heise's lame wife were filling the air with their outcries. Selina was giggling with hysteria. Marcus, terrified, but too brave to run, had picked up a jagged stone with his left hand and stood on the defensive. His swollen right arm, from which the shirt sleeve had been torn, dangled at his side, the back of the hand twisted where the palm should have been. The shirt itself was a mass of grass stains and was spotted with the dentist's blood.
But McTeague, in the centre of the group that struggled to hold him, was nigh to madness. The side of his face, his neck, and all the shoulder and breast of his shirt were covered with blood. He had ceased to cry out, but kept muttering between his gripped jaws, as he labored to tear himself free of the retaining hands:
"Ah, I'll kill him! Ah, I'll kill him! I'll kill him! Damn you, Heise," he exclaimed suddenly, trying to strike the harness-maker, "let go of me, will you!"
Little by little they pacified him, or rather (for he paid but little attention to what was said to him) his bestial fury lapsed by degrees. He turned away and let fall his arms, drawing long breaths, and looking stupidly about him, now searching helplessly upon the ground, now gazing vaguely into the circle of faces about him. His ear bled as though it would never stop.
"Say, Doctor," asked Heise, "what's the best thing to do?"
"Huh?" answered McTeague. "What--what do you mean? What is it?"
"What'll we do to stop this bleeding here?"
McTeague did not answer, but looked intently at the blood-stained bosom of his shirt.
"Mac," cried Trina, her face close to his, "tell us something--the best thing we can do to stop your ear bleeding."
"Collodium," said the dentist.
"But we can't get to that right away; we--"
"There's some ice in our lunch basket," broke in Heise. "We brought it for the beer; and take the napkins and make a bandage."
"Ice," muttered the dentist, "sure, ice, that's the word."
Mrs. Heise and the Ryers were looking after Marcus's broken arm. Selina sat on the slope of the grass, gasping and sobbing. Trina tore the napkins into strips, and, crushing some of the ice, made a bandage for her husband's head.'
The party resolved itself into two groups; the Ryers and Mrs. Heise bending over Marcus, while the harness-maker and Trina came and went about McTeague, sitting on the ground, his shirt, a mere blur of red and white, detaching itself violently from the background of pale-green grass. Between the two groups was the torn and trampled bit of turf, the wrestling ring; the picnic baskets, together with empty beer bottles, broken egg-shells, and discarded sardine tins, were scattered here and there. In the middle of the improvised wrestling ring the sleeve of Marcus's shirt fluttered occasionally in the sea breeze.
Nobody was paying any attention to Selina. All at once she began to giggle hysterically again, then cried out with a peal of laughter:
"Oh, what a way for our picnic to end!"